Friday, November 15, 2013

Urban Institute projects that Senator Mike Lee's prison reform bill would save $2.5 Billion

The Senator from Utah, Mike Lee, has sponsored a prison reform bill that would do more than just rely on judicial discretion by loosening the rules regarding mandatory minimums and certain drug related offenses. It would cut those minimums in half.
It includes a provision to decrease certain drug-related mandatory minimum sentences by half — a change [the Urban Institute] calls “monumental,” with savings of 240,000 bed-years over a decade. As this chart shows, that would take a substantial bite out of overcrowding. It also translates into savings of at least $2.5 billion – a conservative estimate, because it is based on the assumption that inmates would be added at marginal cost, without the price of building new facilities to house them... 
Estimating the cumulative impact of these changes is difficult, because they have overlapping effects. For now, Urban has only plotted them out in isolation. But the bottom line is that no single option the think tank considered is likely to solve the federal crowding problem – and with it, the Justice Department’s budget problem. 
“If you want to reduce the overcrowding to zero, you're going to need to do more than one of these,” said Nancy La Vigne, a co-author of the report.

Prison Reformer State Rep. Joe Rhodes Jr. of Pennsylvania dies

We lost one of the good ones this week:
Joseph Rhodes Jr., 66, formerly of Pittsburgh, served three terms as Democratic representative for the 24th District (Allegheny County), starting in 1973. He was the youngest African-American elected to the house. 
His interest in prison reform was sparked by seeing juveniles housed with adult criminals at the State Correctional Institution in Camp Hill, said his former wife, Dr. Linda Rhodes. He sponsored legislation in 1977 that amended the Juvenile Justice Act, which diverted status offenders from the juvenile justice system and made it unlawful to hold juveniles in adult jails. He considered passage of Act 41 as his greatest achievement during his three-terms as a lawmaker, Linda Rhodes said. In all, he marshaled passage of nine bills. 
He was an advocate of elderly residents of boarding homes, and introduced several bills to license and raise the standards of such facilities.

How Georgian Child Advocates Helped Bring Transparency to Juvenile Courts

With the recent controversies surrounding Georiga's DFCS, Atlanta's local NBC affiliate talks about how a group of women, originally derided as "martini-sipping, tennis-playing, ladies who lunch", brought some much needed transparency to Georgia's juvenile courts:
So real that the group wanted others to see what they saw as child advocates. They created And in addition to their paying jobs, they spent thousands of hours and drove thousands of miles to personally lobby lawmakers to open the juvenile court for cases involving abused kids.

"What I'd like to see is as many people who can get in to visit their juvenile court," said Alice McQuade, an attorney and another member of the group. "To see what's going on in their neighborhood; see what's happening to the children in their neighborhood; see how the judges are performing."

And that was important, they say, because some of the judges were putting children in danger -- kids like little Adrianna Swain.
Back in 2008, a judge sent her back home from foster care on the advice of DFCS and against the advice of everyone else. Her parents beat her so badly, she was read the last rites, but miraculously survived... 
It turned out that lawmakers cared as well. The very next year they overwhelmingly passed SB-207 to open the juvenile court in cases of deprivation.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Alabama man, found guilty of raping child, may serve no jail time

While I generally argue for leniency, this sentence seems absolutely absurd. Raping a 14 year-old child is not a "non-violent" offense.
An Alabama man convicted of raping a teenage girl will serve no prison time. On Wednesday, a judge in Athens, Alabama, ruled that the rapist will be punished by serving two years in a program aimed at nonviolent criminals and three years of probation....
Limestone County Circuit Judge James Woodroof sentenced Clem to 10 years in prison for each of the second-degree rape charges and 20 years for first-degree rape. But Woodroofstructured the sentence in such a way that Clem will only be hit with community corrections and probation. Clem will have to register as a sex offender and pay fines and restitution—a total of $2,381, according to the sentencing document provided to Mother Jones—but he will not serve jail time unless he violates the terms of his sentencing.

On Wednesday, attorneys for the state questioned whether Clem's sentence was even legal. Andrews asked Woodroof to reconsider the sentence, she said, to no avail. "The judge still chooses to send him home to his three little girls," she said. "I don't understand that. I can't fathom that."
Totten notes that had Woorfood sent Clem to prison with that sentence, Alabama statutes would have required Clem to serve more than 20 years before he would be eligible for probation. In light of that, Totten says, a stint in community corrections was more appropriate. However, noted that Alabama statutes would have allowed Woodroof to hand down a shorter prison term.

Crooked former prosecuter Ken Anderson's previous cases to be reviewed

Regardless of whether justice was served, a single, extraordinary fact—which was announced last Friday after Anderson’s plea, though it garnered little attention—will ensure accountability. Innocence Project director Barry Scheck told reporters that the current Williamson County D.A., Jana Duty, had agreed to allow an independent review of every single case that Anderson had ever prosecuted. The audit will hopefully answer the question that many people have wondered since Morton’s exoneration in 2011. Was Anderson’s misconduct in the Morton case the exception or the rule? 
Such an audit would be unusual for any district attorney’s office, but for Williamson County, it’s nothing less than extraordinary. During the more than quarter-century in which Anderson and his protégé, John Bradley, ran the office, it was one of the most secretive and adversarial in the state. Now Duty will be allowing some sunlight to shine in, opening Anderson’s old files up to scrutiny.

Marissa Alexander denied bail for now

Marissa Alexander case: No decision on bond:
The judge in the case of Marissa Alexander, the Florida mother of three who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot over the head of her husband, who she claimed abused her, made no decision on whether to release her on bond Wednesday. 
Alexander’s attorneys filed the motion for release this week, before Judge James Daniel in Jacksonville. Daniel was the trial judge in Alexander’s original case. 
In court, they argued that Alexander argued that she poses no threat to society, or to Rico Gray, her husband, with whom she is finalizing a divorce. The lawyers said there is no longer animosity between the two. The state attorney’s office opposed bail, saying there was nothing new about the case, no new evidence, and “nothing new about Marissa” that would indicate she should be granted bond. 
Alexander has spent 1,007 days behind bars, including a 365-day sentence on a misdemeanor battery charge stemming from a December incident at Gray’s home, months after the August gun incident.

Is New Orleans Juvenile Court Bloated?

N.O. Juvenile Court judges, coroner tell council they need more money, but:
Orleans Parish Juvenile Court has long been in the mayor’s cross-hairs. 
It has six judges, but a 2010 caseload analysis by the state Supreme Court found that the city has an overall abundance of judges, and that Juvenile Court is the most bloated of all: One juvenile judge is all the city needs, the study found. 
That finding was echoed by a report this fall by the Bureau of Governmental Research, which also put the proper number of juvenile judges at one. 
Landrieu pushed a bill in the Legislature that would have reduced the court from six judges to four. He said the move would redirect $827,000 a year from judicial salaries, benefits and support staff to youth outreach services. 
The bill was considered a sure bet to pass — so sure that the administration designed a new courthouse, now under construction, with only four courtrooms. The bill failed to pass, and the six judgeships remain.
 Meanwhile it looks as though New Orleans's "Evening Reporting Center" program that supervised a handful of children from the end of the school day to 9 p.m. and cost $110,000. Was a new, smaller courtroom really necessary?