Senator Leno’s bill to end solitary confinement as punishment for juvenile offenders, SB 1143, passed the Assembly last week, and should now be headed to Governor Brown’s desk. As the LA Times points out:
“The bill caps an extraordinary evolution in the way troubled youths are treated while held at juvenile halls, probation camps and prisons. Solitary confinement for hours, days or even weeks was until recently a standard way to punish wards for misbehavior, and attempts to stop it were blocked by lawmakers in 2011 and every year since.”
The Harvard Law and Policy Review argues that jurisdictions should consider expanding the types of criminal record information that are eligible for expungement, and provide incentives to stop discrimination based on criminal records.
Although several states have enacted laws to expand “the range of expungement remedies” available to people with criminal records, the laws have not provided sufficient relief for people who face discrimination, writes Brian M. Murray, Abraham Freedman Fellow at Temple University’s Beasley School of Law in a paper entitled “A New Era for Expungement Law Reform? Recent Developments at the State and Federal Levels.”
An estimated 25-30 percent of the adult population of Americans have criminal records—a “staggering” number which continues to increase, as the FBI adds some 10,000 names to its database every day, the study says.
That makes it a priority to address the barriers faced by individuals with criminal records, which include difficultly finding employment or enrolling in educational programs, the author writes. They may also be disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits, cash assistance and medical benefits.
“Perhaps the best way to limit the effect of criminal record history information is to prevent its systematic creation in the first place, even after an individual encounters the system,” Murray writes. “Arrest and conviction records attach scarlet letters to individuals.”
The Sentencing Project reports that 5,850,000 Americans are disenfranchised by restrictive voting rights laws that prevent people with felony convictions from voting. The report found that:
-Approximately 2.5 percent of the total U.S. voting age population – 1 of every 40 adults – is disenfranchised due to a current or previous felony conviction.
-Ex-felons in the eleven states that disenfranchise people after they have completed their sentences make up about 45 percent of the entire disenfranchised population, totaling over 2.6 million people.
-The number of people disenfranchised due to a felony conviction has escalated dramatically in recent decades as the population under criminal justice supervision has increased. There were an estimated 1.17 million people disenfranchised in 1976, 3.34 million in 1996, and over 5.85 million in 2010.
-Rates of disenfranchisement vary dramatically by state due to broad variations in voting prohibitions. In six states – Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Virginia – more than 7 percent of the adult population is disenfranchised.
-1 of every 13 African Americans of voting age is disenfranchised, a rate more than four times greater than non-African Americans. Nearly 7.7 percent of the adult African American population is disenfranchised, compared to 1.8 percent of the non-African American population.
-African American disenfranchisement rates also vary significantly by state. In three states – Florida (23 percent), Kentucky (22 percent), and Virginia (20 percent) – more than one in five African Americans is disenfranchised.
A survey of victims of violent crime by the Alliance for Safety and Justice found that the overwhelming majority of crime victims believe that the criminal justice system relies too heavily on incarceration, and strongly prefer investments in treatment and prevention to more spending on prisons and jails. By two-to-one, victims said the criminal justice system should focus more on rehabilitating people who commit crimes, as opposed to punishing them. By similar margins, the victims preferred shorter prison sentences over keeping criminals incarcerated “as long as possible.”
A bill that would make certain types of prosecutorial misconduct a felony passed out of committee yesterday. The bill, AB1909, is in significant part a response to recent events in Orange County, where accusations by defense attorneys that Orange County prosecutors and police illegally use jailhouse snitches and regularly withhold information favorable to the defense resulted in the removal of the Orange County District Attorney’s Office from the penalty phase trial of Scott Dekraai, who murdered eight people at a Seal Beach salon in 2011. That decision is being appealed by the state Attorney General’s Office, which inherited the case.
You can follow the bill’s progress here.
Former Attorney General Eric Holder speaks out on the issue of mandatory minimum sentencing in today’s NY Times. The gist:
“The nation’s lawmakers must stiffen their spines, ignore divisive language and schedule votes in this congressional session on reform legislation. An opportunity like this comes once in a generation. We must not miss it.”
The Treatment Advocacy Center has published a report on the perspective of county jail staff members on inmates with serious mental illness in their charge. The findings:
- Overall, the vast majority (95.7%) of the jails reported having some inmates with serious mental illnesses from September 1, 2010, to August 31, 2011. While 49 (21.3%) of all jails reported that 16% or more of their inmate population were seriously mentally ill, more large jails reported having such large proportions of these inmates. Specifically, 31.3% of large, 13.2% of medium and only 4.2% of small jails reported that 16% or more of their inmates were seriously mentally ill.
- Per our adopted definition of a large seriously mentally ill inmate population (where seriously mentally ill inmates made up 6% or more of the population), more than a third (40.4%) of the jails reported having a large seriously mentally ill population. In contrast, more than half (58.3%) of the jails reported having a small seriously mentally ill population (i.e., seriously mentally ill inmates made up 5% or fewer of the population).
- Three-quarters of the jails reported seeing more or far more numbers of seriously mentally ill inmates, compared to five to 10 years ago.
- A third of the jails described the recidivism rate for these inmates as higher or much higher than that of the general inmate population.
- Segregation of inmates with serious mental illnesses was reported in 68.7% of the jails, particularly in those with smaller percentages of inmates who were seriously mentally ill.
- Most jails reported major problems with the seriously mentally ill inmates, including the necessity of watching them more closely for suicide, their need for additional attention, their disruption of normal jail activities, and their being abusive of, or abused by, other inmates.
- Caring for the seriously mentally ill in county jails was particularly challenging for law enforcement staff, who have limited training in dealing with these inmates. Almost half of the jails reported that only 2% or less of the initial training they provide to their staff and sheriff’s deputies was allotted to issues specifically dealing with seriously mentally ill inmates, and 60.4% reported that only two hours or less of annual training were allotted to such issues. Despite the limited training, about a third of the jails reported that 11% or more of their staff and sheriff’s deputies’ time involved handling seriously mentally ill inmates.