Retiring Arizona Prison Watch...

This site was originally started in July 2009 as an independent endeavor to monitor conditions in Arizona's criminal justice system, as well as offer some critical analysis of the prison industrial complex from a prison abolitionist/anarchist's perspective. It was begun in the aftermath of the death of Marcia Powell, a 48 year old AZ state prisoner who was left in an outdoor cage in the desert sun for over four hours while on a 10-minute suicide watch. That was at ASPC-Perryville, in Goodyear, AZ, in May 2009.

Marcia, a seriously mentally ill woman with a meth habit sentenced to the minimum mandatory 27 months in prison for prostitution was already deemed by society as disposable. She was therefore easily ignored by numerous prison officers as she pleaded for water and relief from the sun for four hours. She was ultimately found collapsed in her own feces, with second degree burns on her body, her organs failing, and her body exceeding the 108 degrees the thermometer would record. 16 officers and staff were disciplined for her death, but no one was ever prosecuted for her homicide. Her story is here.

Marcia's death and this blog compelled me to work for the next 5 1/2 years to document and challenge the prison industrial complex in AZ, most specifically as manifested in the Arizona Department of Corrections. I corresponded with over 1,000 prisoners in that time, as well as many of their loved ones, offering all what resources I could find for fighting the AZ DOC themselves - most regarding their health or matters of personal safety.

I also began to work with the survivors of prison violence, as I often heard from the loved ones of the dead, and learned their stories. During that time I memorialized the Ghosts of Jan Brewer - state prisoners under her regime who were lost to neglect, suicide or violence - across the city's sidewalks in large chalk murals. Some of that art is here.

In November 2014 I left Phoenix abruptly to care for my family. By early 2015 I was no longer keeping up this blog site, save occasional posts about a young prisoner in solitary confinement in Arpaio's jail, Jessie B.

I'm deeply grateful to the prisoners who educated, confided in, and encouraged me throughout the years I did this work. My life has been made all the more rich and meaningful by their engagement.

I've linked to some posts about advocating for state prisoner health and safety to the right, as well as other resources for families and friends. If you are in need of additional assistance fighting the prison industrial complex in Arizona - or if you care to offer some aid to the cause - please contact the Phoenix Anarchist Black Cross at PO Box 7241 / Tempe, AZ 85281.

until all are free -

MARGARET J PLEWS (June 1, 2015)


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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Video Visitation at the MCSO: InSecurus and Sheriff Joe's newest money-making scheme...

So, for those of you who missed it, there's no longer such a thing as a "contact visit" at the Maricopa County Jails. Prisoners are also now only allowed one "free" visit a week, which must be conducted via videophone from 4th Ave Jail or the Lower Buckeye Jail. All video visits from off-site are unlimited, however - so long as you are able to access a computer with a camera and the internet, and can afford the $12.95 every 20 minute visit will cost you. 

As for the "inmate Services" fund this extra money is supposed to be going to: he should just refund it straight to the families, since the last time he had a chunk of change in the "Inmate Services" fund (where MCSO profits from the canteen sales presumably go, as well) he "misappropriated" it. Remember that $99 million he lost - almost $15 million of which came from this "Inmate Services" fund he likes to force prisoners and their loved ones to contribute to?

There never was actual contact allowed that could have facilitated smuggling at "contact" visits when they had them anyway - not at Estrella, at least - the women were always chained to the tables when visitors sat across from them. Mothers weren't even allowed to hug their kids. MOre access to prisoners from family the world is great - but should be affordable and not result in fewer visitation privileges for those who can't afford it. 

This is just more of the same: extortion and exploitation of what is largely a population of individuals who haven't yet even been convicted of a crime.  Arpaio needs to rein in his departmental corruption, really, if he wants to get that contraband issue under control, as far as I can see.

Anyway, this is what you should really be checking out - we got taken for a ride, people!

#inSecurus | Ensuring Visitation for Prisoners and their Loved Ones

.... (among other resources...)

---------or settle for this, from

Video chats replace in-person visits at county jails

Face-to-face visitation has a new meaning for inmates at Maricopa County jails now that in-person visits have been swapped for Skype-like video chats.

On Thursday, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office launched a Web-based video-visitation platform that eliminates in-person visitations and expands visitation hours.

The system, developed by Texas-based Securus Technologies, allows people from all over the world to talk to any of the 8,500 inmates in the county's six jails via video, as long as they have a high-speed Internet connection and a webcam.

The Sheriff's Office is offering a promotional price of $5 for a 20-minute conversation, but that price will increase to $12.95 for 20 minutes after Jan. 1.

Securus is paying $2.3million to provide 600 video stations to the six jails at no expense to the taxpayers, according to Securus CEO Rick Smith.

The system, which Securus says is the largest in the country, is expected to generate thousands of dollars for the Sheriff's Office while increasing jail security by eliminating the potential for contraband smuggling, an issue during the more than 20,000 in-person visitations each month, according to sheriff's officials.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio said it will also allow friends and family members to schedule visits without having to miss work or drive down to a facility.

"It's a win for everyone involved," Arpaio said.

Remote visitations can be scheduled seven days a week between 7 a.m. and 9:30 p.m at Visits must be scheduled at least 24 hours in advance.

Inmates can receive one free on-site visit per week, but they will be held through the video platform at either the Fourth Avenue or Lower Buckeye jails.

On-site visitation hours at those jails have expanded to seven days a week between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., up from a single visit on Sunday or Monday.

Sheriff's officials say on-site visits will no longer be conducted at the Durango, Estrella, Tent City or Towers jails, but inmates there have access to video chats.

Securus will receive 100 percent of the revenue until the number of calls reaches 8,000 per month. Ten percent of the excess revenue will then go to MCSO, and that will increase to 20 percent once the company's initial investment is recovered.

Money generated from the system will go toward the Sheriff's Office Inmate Services Fund for education.
The Sheriff's Office will store video calls for 60 days and will monitor calls for criminal or sexual activity.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

How greedy states and profiteers bleed prisoners and families dry.

The following article is the good work of my friend Vikki Law, who edits the zine Tenacious, which is by and for women in prison. She wrote the book on women's resistance in prison - literally. Vikki's pretty prolific, and covers a lot of issues re: prisoners, crime and punishment - find links to her other articles here.

Info about the AZ DOC revised (OCT 15, 2014) money policy is here:

here's the director's instruction, modifying the existing policy:

----from TRUTH-OUT.ORG (inserted art is mine)------

Public Prisons, Private Profits

Saturday, 01 November 2014 09:39 By Victoria Law, Truthout | Report
When her daughter was first incarcerated in Arizona's Perryville State Prison, "Rae" sent her money orders bought at the local cash-checking place or from Walmart. But those took too long to clear, leaving her daughter without needed supplies, so she began driving to the post office to buy money orders. Throughout her daughter's four years in prison, Rae has sent her money twice a month - $100 on the first of the month and whatever she can afford (usually $50 or less) on the 15th of the month.

"When she first got there, she was issued two pairs of underwear, which had been worn by someone else," Rae told Truthout. So Rae sent her daughter money to buy her own underwear, bras and socks as well as tennis shoes and a TV set. "It was $300 for the TV," she recalled.

Her daughter earns 35 cents an hour cleaning inside the prison. Although the prison supplies some necessities, like one roll of toilet paper each week and a limited number of tampons or pads, Rae's daughter relies on the money from home to get her through each week. These money orders enable her to buy the additional toilet paper and feminine hygiene supplies she needs each month. It also enables her to buy Tylenol and cold medicine as well as pay the $4 co-pay on each medical visit. "Occasionally she can splurge and buy herself a candy bar, but that's rare," Rae said.

Services that had previously been provided by the jail or prison, such as medical care, transportation, phone and communication services, food, and even money exchanges, are increasingly handled by private companies.

On October 15, 2014, however, Arizona changed the way family members like Rae can send money. Now, instead of paying $1.25 for a money order at the post office, Rae must use one of three companies - JPay, Global TelLink or Keefe - to send her daughter money. To send $50 through Keefe, Rae also needs to pay a $4.75 internet transaction fee. Families without internet access can deposit money by phone - for a fee of $5.75 - or in a storefront transaction for $5.95. (Global TelLink and JPay have different fee structures.)

Despite the added cost, Rae is determined to send her daughter the same amount of money. "I'm going to have to eat the fees and make up the money somewhere else," she said. "I'll have to give something up. So will my husband." The couple has already had to sell their camper to cover the cost of visiting their daughter once a month. They've cut down on going out and other activities that cost money. On occasion, they've also had to choose between sending money to their daughter in prison or helping their son, who is not. "I feel bad that I can't help him because all our money is going to his sister," Rae said.

Only 8 percent of the nation's prison population is held in private prisons. But, as Rae's experience and recent news stories have demonstrated, private companies have found other ways to profit from bodies in government-run prisons. Services that had previously been provided by the jail or prison, such as medical care, transportation, phone and communication services, food, and even money exchanges, are increasingly handled by private companies.

Sending in Money Costs Money
As Rae's story shows, prison systems have contracted with private companies to handle money sent by family members to their loved ones inside. In the federal prison system, the contract was awarded to Bank of America. In 32 state systems, the contract belongs to private company JPay.

In February 2014, New Jersey prisons began utilizing JPay to handle these monetary transactions. "Before, it would only cost a stamp and the cost of the money order," said "Pam," currently incarcerated at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women. "Now, it cost our families or friends $4.95 in addition to whatever amount they send us." Loved ones also have the option of mailing a money order to JPay, but the money takes seven to 10 days to be credited to a woman's account. Pam's mother balked at paying an additional $7 and mailed a money order. The money was not credited to Pam for 14 days.

At Edna Mahan, commissary - or the prison store - is only available every other week. For women like "Pam" whose family chooses to save money and mail money orders, the delay means missing the chance to buy necessities, such as shampoo and feminine hygiene supplies.

"If a person owes restitution, the prison takes 55 percent of whatever money he receives," a mother told Truthout. Thus, to put $56 in his prison account so that he can buy food, she had to send $125.

"Gwen" has also experienced delays of up to four weeks when her family mails a money order to JPay. She told Truthout that, while women can order from commissary every two weeks, certain items, such as photos, clothing and beauty supplies, are only available once a month. In addition, many women rely on food items at commissary to supplement the prison's meals, which she described as "truly inedible."

Daily wages at Edna Mahan range from $5 at the top-paying commissary job to $2.40 for working in the kitchen or cleaning housing units. If a woman is sick or unable to work, as in Gwen's case, she must either learn to go without supplies or rely on money from family. "It isn't a lot of money, but $28 can mean a whole commissary for me," Gwen explained.

California is another state that has instituted JPay to handle money sent to prisoners. But the fees make sending money an exorbitant expense for many family members. "Samantha," for instance, must send her son twice the amount of money that he needs. "If a person owes restitution, the prison takes 55 percent of whatever money he receives," she told Truthout. Thus, to put $56 in his prison account so that he can buy food, she had to send $125. And that's not including JPay's service fees, which vary depending on the amount of money sent. "There's no readily available list of charges," she told Truthout. "I literally had to call and hunt down how much would be charged."

"If you put money in a couple of times a month, you pay that fee a couple of times a month. Families with the least amount of money get hit the hardest."

JPay provides money transfers to more than 1.7 million people or nearly 70 percent of the US prison population. It charges state prison systems nothing for handling payments and, for every payment processed, it sends between 50 cents and $2.50 back to the prison. According to an exposé in Time, JPay sent approximately $4,000 each month to the Illinois Department of Corrections in 2013.

"Jill"'s daughter has less than two years on her sentence at Arizona's Perryville prison. When Arizona announced the switch to electronic money transfers, Jill decided to skip the fees and send a money order for the total amount her daughter would need during her last year behind bars. But, she told Truthout, many of the family members she has met cannot afford that option. "Many families have to budget in order to send money," she said. "If you put money in a couple of times a month, you pay that fee a couple of times a month. Families with the least amount of money get hit the hardest."

The Kick-Out Fee - and the Fees That Go With It

A person leaving the Arizona prison system for the first time is given $100 upon her release. The money, saved from the wages earned at prison jobs, is called the "kick-out fee."

Until 2013, people released from Arizona's prisons were given the kick-out fee in the form of a check. However, banks often refused to cash the check with a prison ID, usually the only form of identification many women have after years in prison. Thus, accessing their only $100 first required a trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles for identification or finding a friend willing to deposit the check for them.

Now, they are issued a debit card through Bank of America. "If women are coming out after a long time, they don't know how to use debit cards," Jill explained. "They're scared to death about using them." In addition, Bank of America charges a $1.50 monthly maintenance fee and, like many other banks, charges a $1.50 withdrawal fee if a person uses a non-Bank of America ATM and a 25 cent point-of-sale fee for every transaction.

No staff member explains the various fee structures, which means that people are unaware that they deplete their funds each time they use the card. If a person chooses to withdraw the entire amount from her debit card, she is charged a $5 fee.

In addition, if she loses the card, no replacement is issued. Her money is simply gone. For a woman in a halfway house, shelter or other temporary living situation, this means sleeping with the card tucked into her bra or panties.

Arizona is not alone in utilizing this new method. The Center for Public Integrity recently reported on Bank of America's contract with the Federal Bureau of Prisons to issue debit cards to people upon release. Under that contract, they've issued cards to nearly 50,000 people. The Center's report has spurred a government audit into the contract.

Privatizing Health Care - But at What Cost?

"We live by violence, but we die by neglect."

Handling prisoner accounts is not the only service that has been privatized. Across the country, jails and prisons have been contracting with private, for-profit companies to provide medical services to people inside.

Cecily McMillan experienced this firsthand during her 58 days on Rikers Island, New York City's island jail complex. When she arrived, she was denied her prescribed medications for mild anxiety and ADHD. Instead, jail medical staff gave her BuSpar, the same medication, McMillan says, that every woman was prescribed regardless of her actual needs. After three weeks of fighting for her proper medication, a fight that included help from sympathetic city council members, McMillan had her medications reinstated. But that was not the only medical horror she encountered.

She recalled making an appointment to see a gynecologist. Warned that the jail's male gynecologist was "kind of handsy," she requested to see the jail's female gynecologist only to be told that she wasn't available for six weeks. When she saw the doctor, he informed her that she needed to undergo a gynecological scrape even though McMillan had had a check-up before entering Rikers. "He scraped me until I was bleeding," she recalled. When he finished, McMillan realized that his fly had been open the whole time.

During her 58 days on the island, McMillan also saw how medical care could be deadly: Judith had been prescribed low-dose methadone pills for back pain, McMillan recalled. But when Judith arrived at Rikers, the doctors insisted that she take methadone in high-dose liquid form. Taking higher dosages of methadone induced intense vomiting in Judith, who had hepatitis C. McMillan recalls seeing her friend vomit blood and what she described as "chunks of her liver." The women in the housing unit demanded that the officers call the doctor. When medical staff failed to respond, they physically carried Judith to the clinic. Days later, Judith was dead.

Judith's death is only one of a string of recent deaths on Rikers Island. In 2013, 19-year-old Andy Henriquez died from a tear in his aorta after his pleas for medical attention were ignored. That same year, 46-year-old Carlos Mercado and 39-year-old Bradley Ballard died after their medications were withheld. The families of all three men are suing Corizon, the private medical provider that has held the contract for medical services at Rikers since 2003. However, according to DNAinfo, Corizon's contract with New York City stipulates that the city will represent the firm in lawsuits arising from its care. It also ensures that the city will cover costs arising from medical malpractice or civil rights violations.

New York is not alone in turning to privatized health care for people behind bars. In 2011, Florida governor Rick Scott contracted with Corizon to provide medical care in its state prison system for $1.2 billion. Corizon took complete control in 2013. According to an investigation by The Palm Beach Post, three months later the number of deaths "shot to a 10-year high," with 30 deaths in four of the past seven months.

Corizon currently holds contracts in 27 states with approximately 345,000 people under their care. (In October 2013, Therese Brumfeld, vice president of Corizon's provider operations and purchasing, stated that Corizon had contracts in 29 states with over 400,000 people.) From 2008 to 2013, Corizon has been sued 660 times for malpractice.

In Alabama, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal suit against the state's prison system for ignoring the medical and mental health needs of its prisoners. (Corizon provides medical care only. MHM, another private company, holds the contract for mental health care.) Unlike its contract with New York City, Corizon's 34-month, $224 million contract with Alabama requires it to pay for any legal work in the event of a lawsuit, even if it is not named in the suit.

Arizona recently settled class-action suit Parsons v. Ryan. The suit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 2012, charged that the state ignored the basic needs, including medical needs, of people in its prison system for years. Corizon took over the state prison's health care system in March 2013 after the state terminated its contract with private health care provider Wexford following multiple deaths and accusations of medical neglect.

However, medical care did not improve under Corizon and the ACLU continued its suit. On October 14, 2014, Arizona settled the suit, agreeing to meet more than 100 health care performance measures, including monitoring people with chronic conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension as well as improving pregnancy and dental care.

Before the court decides whether to approve the settlement, however, each of the 33,000 people in Arizona state prisons must receive notice of the settlement and an opportunity to submit comments to the court. David Fathi, director of the ACLU National Prison Project and co-lead counsel on Parsons, estimated that the process would probably take two months. The settlement does not become effective until the court grants its approval.

In the meantime, health care needs continue to go unaddressed. The day after the settlement was announced, Jill spoke with her daughter who told her that her yard had no health needs request forms, which every person must fill out to start the process of receiving medical attention.

"We live by violence, but we die by neglect," a woman told McMillan when she entered Rikers.

After hearing stories from her daughter, Jill doesn't dispute this. She recalls her daughter telling her about a woman on her yard whose complaints about bleeding and pain were ignored. She was finally taken to the hospital where she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She died in her 30s.

"My daughter went in a very healthy 25-year-old," Jill said. "She was not given a life sentence or death. She should be given enough medical care so that when she comes out, she can resume living a normal life."

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Social Workers and Solitary Confinement

If you aren't fighting it, you're condoning it. Please help end the solitary confinement of prisoners...


Are Social Workers Helping Inmates Rot in Solitary Confinement?

Posted: 10/22/2014 8:29
As I wrote in a blog post several weeks ago, there are about 25,000 people held in solitary confinement in supermax prison units called SHUs—security housing units—and another 80,000 inmates housed in isolation cells in regular prisons and jails.  Many of these individuals are mentally ill.  Some are juveniles and/or pretrial detainees.  No question they are being subjected to cruel and unusual punishment regardless what different courts may decide.  The purpose of solitary confinement—if it should be used at all—is to segregate the most dangerous criminals.  But even dangerous criminals should not be isolated for extended periods and never indefinitely.  Social workers and other mental health practitioners are assigned to these units to provide care for the inmates.  Often they wind up feeding them medication and sleeping pills so they will not totally lose their minds.  In a warped sense, they are helping them rot in their cells.

This ethical nightmare was brought to my attention recently by Moya Atkinson, a dynamic social worker who is very passionate about this issue.  Nearing 80 years old, you would think she would leave this fight to younger advocates.  She has organized a task force of social workers committed to significantly restricting the use of solitary confinement and eliminating its use for vulnerable populations such as the mentally ill, juveniles, pregnant women, people with disabilities and pretrial detainees.  After she read my blog we met to discuss the issue and I agreed to join the task force.  While my focus was on the cruel and unusual punishment individuals incur because of extended, indefinite and indiscriminate use of solitary confinement, she was equally concerned about ethical dilemmas faced by social workers and other mental health professionals charged with providing care for individuals in solitary confinement.

Ethical dilemmas are familiar to social workers who often find themselves in environments and situations that challenge their code of ethics.  But working in solitary confinement is a level of horror that few encounter.  Social work in correctional facilities which falls under the umbrella of forensic social work is ripe with these challenges.  What should social workers do when they believe mentally ill inmates are being mistreated in jails or prisons?  Who does she or he complain to?  Often locked in an environment with violent individuals who are both inmates and guards, how do social workers look out for their personal safety concerns while seeking just treatment for inmates?  These are tough questions with no easy answers that the task force will wrestle with.

Task force member Mary E. Buser, whose op-ed piece in the Washington Post about her work with mentally ill inmates in solitary confinement at New York City’s Rikers Island jail provided the impetus that spurred Moya into organizing the task force, wrote about “doling out antidepressants, antipsychotics, and mountains of sleeping pills,” in an effort to keep the psyches of people in solitary from unraveling.  Her job was to determine if those in solitary confinement might reach the point where they would kill themselves.  How do you do that as a social worker or mental health practitioner?  Her brief time as acting chief of mental health took her into the segregation unit on Rikers Island known as the Bing.  It was an experience she will never forget.  Yet social workers must provide services to people in solitary confinement unless the practice is discontinued.

National social work organizations are involved in this effort.  Task force member Mel Wilson, manager of the Department of Social Justice and Human Rights for the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) has been active on this issue for years.  He provided testimony during a hearing of the Senate Judiciary’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights on the use of solitary confinement.  Dr. Michel Coconis, chair of the Association for Community Organizing and Social Administration (ACOSA) and a long-time activist against the death penalty, also joined the task force which held its kickoff meeting Wednesday at Columbia University School of Social Work.

Confronting the misuse of solitary confinement will be a challenge as many in the “tough on crime” crowd see solitary confinement as necessary and useful.  However, there is mounting opposition to the growing use of solitary confinement in our nation’s jails and prisons.  Conservative columnist George Will has equated solitary confinement with torture.  The New York City Department of Corrections recently ended solitary confinement for 16 and 17 year olds.  Illinois Sen. Richard Durbin, chair of the Judiciary Committee has held two subcommittee hearings on solitary confinement.  Two bills have been introduced in the House—H.R. 4618 sponsored by Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA2) would create a commission to study its use, and H.R. 4124 sponsored by Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-CA29) would eliminate the use of solitary confinement in federal juvenile facilities.

The post Are Social Workers Helping Inmates Rot in Solitary Confinement? appeared first on Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy.

Written By Charles E. Lewis Jr., Ph.D

Are Social Workers Helping Inmates Rot in Solitary Confinement? was originally published @ Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy » Charles Lewis and has been syndicated with permission.

California Dreaming: Major sentencing reform Prop 47 passes!

The AZ CJ system is growing even more draconian, as expected, but the folks in California finally did something right. Maybe we will someday learn from their success...

---from the LA TIMES---

Prop. 47 jolts landscape of California justice system


Prosecutors and jailers scramble to deal with the effects of the law that reduces penalties for some crimes
California is the first state to downgrade certain drug possession cases from felonies to misdemeanors
Thousands of felons are now eligible for immediate release from prisons and jails after Prop 47's passage
Los Angeles County Public Defender Ron Brown walked into a Pomona court Wednesday and saw first-hand the impact of Proposition 47 — the voter-approved initiative that reduces penalties for drug possession and other nonviolent crimes.

His office had deliberately postponed sentencing for a defendant facing more than a year behind bars for possessing heroin and methamphetamine to the day after Tuesday's election, waiting to see what voters would do.

The gambit worked. The man was sentenced and released from custody with no further jail time.

"They were felonies yesterday. They're misdemeanors today," Brown said. "This is the law now."

The day after California voted to reduce punishments, police agencies, defense attorneys, prosecutors and even some advocates were scrambling to figure out exactly how it was going to work.
The greatest effect, experts said, would be in drug possession cases, noting that California is now the first state in the nation to downgrade those cases from felonies to misdemeanors. Thousands of felons are now eligible for immediate release from prisons and jails.

City attorneys accustomed to handling traffic tickets and zoning violations are now responsible for prosecuting crimes that used to be felonies, including forgeries, theft and shoplifting. District attorneys who used to threaten drug offenders with felony convictions to force them into rehabilitation programs no longer have that as an option. Social workers said they worried that offenders who voluntarily seek treatment will have trouble finding services.
"It's going to take a little while to figure out," said Molly Rysman, who operates a housing program for the destitute who sleep on sidewalks in L.A.'s skid row. She is glad that drug users now face only brief stays in jail, if any time at all, but said options for someplace else to go in L.A. are "dismal." Rysman said caseworkers now spend weeks trying to find an opening for clients who need a detox bed or room in a treatment program.

Proposition 47 sets aside funding for such programs, but the money may not materialize for another year, advocates said.

"I can't say I agree with Proposition 47. It should have mandated treatment," said Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey. "Most of the money from the initiative will go to mental health and substance abuse treatment, but how we will get people to accept that treatment is the question."

Lacey said her office would reevaluate the more serious cases downgraded by Proposition 47 to determine whether there were other felony charges that could be filed. Under the measure, thefts, bad check writing and forgery charges are downgraded to misdemeanors if the stolen value is $950 or less. Lacey said she was particularly concerned about cases involving the theft of guns. Prosecutors, she said, "will be looking at alternative charges for some of those cases, because we should all be a little nervous when a firearm is involved."

Los Angeles City Atty. Mike Feuer on Wednesday asked the City Council for $510,000 to hire 15 lawyers and assistants to handle the anticipated influx of misdemeanor prosecutions, which previously would have been prosecuted as felonies by the district attorney's office. He said his office expected to handle 13,500 new cases a year, most involving drug offenses.

Meanwhile, jailers in Los Angeles County made preparations to deal with an unknown number of inmates charged with felonies that are now misdemeanors.

Because of severe overcrowding and court-ordered population caps, the Los Angeles County jails do not typically hold those charged with misdemeanors.
"It is going to take time to evaluate that, but we're not conducting a mass release, today or tomorrow," said Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Nicole Nishida.

Legislative analysts predict that about 40,000 California offenders each year will now draw misdemeanor convictions instead of felonies. Prison officials said they have identified 4,770 felons in custody who are eligible to seek resentencing. And L.A. prosecutors have identified almost 4,000 offenders in the pipeline between arrest and sentencing who might qualify for more lenient treatment under the new law.

To get released, current inmates must prove that they are not a threat to the public.

Proposition 47 will also give a fresh chance to some three-strikes prisoners serving life terms who have recently failed to obtain reduced sentences.
Under a 2012 ballot measure, Proposition 36, most inmates serving three-strikes sentences for relatively minor crimes can receive shorter sentences unless a judge decides that they pose an "unreasonable risk of danger to public safety." Michael Romano, an attorney who helped write the measure, said the initiative did not define that risk for judges, many of whom used their own criteria to decide whether someone was too risky to release. The vast majority of three-strikers who have asked for reduced sentences have been successful, but about 118 inmates have been declared a risk to public safety, said Romano, who directs the Stanford Law School Three Strikes Project.

Proposition 47 gives inmates in that small group another opportunity to ask for shorter sentences if their third strikes were for one of the minor felonies downgraded under Proposition 47, Romano said.

Inmates whose strikes don't fall into that category, he said, can also return to court and cite Proposition 47's new definition of an "unreasonable risk of danger," which Tuesday's ballot measure defined as likely to commit serious or violent crimes that include homicide, sexual assault and child molestation.

"It's a clear message from voters that our law enforcement resources should not be spent on three-strikes sentences or long felony sentences for these types of crimes," Romano said.

The new law also derails drug court, where felony charges were set aside for offenders who completed treatment regimens. Those who succeed have a high success in staying sober, but without the threat of jail, there is little incentive to participate, said Mark Delgado, executive director of the Countywide Criminal Justice Coordination Committee, which runs those programs. Delgado said county officials are seeking a substitute.

"Regardless of what the laws are on the books, we're asking, 'How do we best engage the individuals who need treatment?'" he said.

Brown, L.A. County's chief public defender, acknowledged that the proposition will change the "carrot and stick" approach used to entice people into rehabilitation with the promise of a lighter sentence. But he thinks that can be managed.

"We're going to have to work a lot harder to convince people it's the best thing for you," Brown said.

Educate, don't incarcerate: new CBPP report.

As many folks may know, the AZ DOC recently sought an increase in their funding (apparently a Billion dollars isn't enough to feed that beast), partly to assure they have the necessary resources allocated to comply with the Parsons v Ryan settlement agreement, which compels the health care provider to hire more staff (people just aren't lining up for the jobs...). But the DOC also reports a rising prison population last year, for the first year in several. And they're opening that new 500-man Supermax unit at Lewis early next year - they can't get the staff they need at Lewis as it is, though, so I don't know how they plan to staff it even if they have the money to.

Chuck Ryan is nearing retirement, I hope, as Jan Brewer bows out of office in January - there's another Republican coming in, but I'd think that guy would really want to start off clean at the AZ DOC and not keep putting more of the Good Old Boys in power there - they've done enough damage as it is. Maybe we should consider evidence-based, effective  alternatives to throwing more money at the DOC to solve our growing prison population problem - especially to reduce recidivism.

That's not to say that I think the public education system is any less coercive and hostile  to already-oppressed communities, though, than the prison system is - it seeks to cultivate good citizens and workers to serve the state and corporate elite, basically. Simply throwing more money there isn't going to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline so many kids are quickly tracked into. 

There are some great programs though, and schools can be a good site of intervention to reduce incarceration rates for communities. Likewise, if you think some portion of your public is getting too upwardly-mobile, school systems are sites for undermining progressive programs, an example being when the dolt Tom Horne was state superintendent. Unfortunately, I don't see Arizona restoring the Tucson Ethnic Studies program anytime soon, despite the success it had with improving graduation and resiliency rates for students of color. Honestly, the election results this week were pretty grim. I guess people are going to have to hurt even more before they become ready to cast off their chains.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is an excellent resource for folks researching poverty, income inequality, funding criminal justice initiatives, and legislative reforms - arm yourselves with the facts here, at least. It's considered a liberal think tank - keep that in mind when you look at their policy recommendations, and know that I'm even left of that - but their sources and stats are pretty solid, and we've got to start somewhere. I'd say investing in our communities instead of the prisons is the place to begin to build anew.

There are some great links at the end of this report, as well.


Changing Priorities: State Criminal Justice Reforms and Investments in Education

By Michael Mitchell and Michael Leachman
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
October 28, 2014
Most states’ prison populations are at historic highs after decades of extraordinary growth; in 36 states, the prison population has more than tripled as a share of the state population since 1978.  This rapid growth, which continued even after crime rates fell substantially in the 1990s, has been costly.  Corrections spending is now the third-largest category of spending in most states, behind education and health care.  If states were still spending on corrections what they spent in the mid-1980s, adjusted for inflation, they would have about $28 billion more each year that they could choose to spend on more productive investments or a mix of investments and tax reductions.

Even as states spend more on corrections, they are underinvesting in educating children and young adults, especially those in high-poverty neighborhoods.  At least 30 states are providing less general funding per student this year for K-12 schools than before the recession, after adjusting for inflation; in 14 states the reduction exceeds 10 percent.  Higher education cuts have been even deeper:  the average state has cut higher education funding per student by 23 percent since the recession hit, after adjusting for inflation.  Eleven states spent more of their general funds on corrections than on higher education in 2013.  And some of the states with the biggest education cuts in recent years also have among the nation’s highest incarceration rates.

This is not sound policy.  State economies would be much stronger over time if states invested more in education and other areas that can boost long-term economic growth and less in maintaining extremely high prison populations.  The economic health of many low-income neighborhoods, which face disproportionately high incarceration rates, could particularly improve if states reordered their spending in such a way.  States could use the freed-up funds in a number of ways, such as expanding access to high-quality preschool, reducing class sizes in high-poverty schools, and revising state funding formulas to invest more in high-poverty neighborhoods.

State incarceration rates have risen primarily because states are sending a much larger share of offenders to prison and keeping them there longer.  States can reduce their incarceration rates – without harming public safety – by reclassifying low-level felonies to misdemeanors where appropriate, expanding the use of alternatives to prison (such as fines and victim restitution), shortening jail and prison terms, and eliminating prison sentences for technical violations of parole/probation where no new crime has been committed.

A number of states have enacted criminal justice reforms in recent years.  Some have reduced prison populations sharply; reforms in New Jersey, New York, and California for example, helped drive down prison populations in each of those states by roughly 25 percent – while crime rates have continued to fall.[1]  In most states, though, reforms have not had a large impact on the size of prison populations, which remain extremely high nationally.  Moreover, states rarely have directed the savings from reform explicitly to human capital investments (such as education) or low-income neighborhoods.

States wishing to use the savings from criminal justice reforms for productive purposes would do well to adopt planning and budgeting mechanisms that can help them shift priorities. These include:
  • A high-quality, long-term forecast of the savings from specific reforms, made available to lawmakers when they are considering reform bills;
  • An accepted process to estimate the annual savings from the reforms once enacted;
  • An established mechanism to shift those savings to productive uses, especially human capital investments; and
  • An independent commission to monitor implementation and enforce compliance with the reforms.
This is not to say that states can use criminal justice reforms to fully finance the increased education investments they need.  First, there is a timing issue; major savings from reducing incarceration likely will accrue over a number of years, as reforms lead to prison closures and a reduction in the prison population, but states need to invest more in education more rapidly than that.  In addition, states will likely spend much of the savings from criminal justice reforms elsewhere, in investments such as effective rehabilitative programs that allow formerly incarcerated people to address mental illness and addiction and lead productive lives, or in a mix of investments and tax reductions.

State Prison Populations Have Grown Rapidly in Past 35 Years

State corrections systems incarcerate the vast majority of prisoners in the United States.  State prisons account for 87 percent of the total prisoner population, with the remaining 13 percent under federal jurisdiction.[2] When one considers the broader population of incarcerated people — that is, including inmates in local jails either awaiting sentence or serving a term of less than one year — state prisons account for just under 60 percent of all people behind bars at any given point in time.[3]

The overall state prison population has grown sizably since the late 1970s, from roughly 270,000 inmates in 1978 to more than 1.3 million in 2013.[4]  That growth far outpaced U.S. population growth.  In the late seventies, states imprisoned around 120 individuals for every 100,000 U.S. residents; in 2007 the state incarceration rate peaked at 450 individuals per 100,000 residents and has fallen only slightly since.[5]

Incarceration rates have more than tripled in 36 states since 1978 and have increased six-fold in four states (Mississippi, New Hampshire, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania).  Rates remain at near-peak levels:
  • Ten states had incarceration rates above 500 prisoners per 100,000 residents in 2013:  Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas.
  • Five of those states — Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas — had incarceration rates above 600 prisoners per 100,000 residents.
  • In one of those states, Louisiana, the incarceration rate stood at nearly 850 prisoners per 100,000 residents.

State Policies, Not Crime Levels, Are Biggest Drivers of Rising Incarceration Rates

Incarceration rates are a function of four variables:  the crime rate, the ratio of arrests to crimes, the share of offenders sent to prison, and the length of prison sentences.  Research shows that the last two of these are the biggest drivers of the increase in state incarceration rates over the past several decades.  Both the share of people sent to prison and the length of their prison stays are under policymakers’ direct control.  Reforms aimed at reducing prison populations will need to target these two areas.

More specifically, research on the causes of rising incarceration rates has found:
  • Crime rates have risen and fallen independently of incarceration rates.  Crime rates began rising in the early 1960s, roughly a decade before state incarceration rates began rising.  In the 1980s, violent and property crime rates fluctuated (falling in the first half of the decade, then rising in the second), while incarceration rates continued rising, undergoing their greatest decade of growth.  By the end of the 1990s, crime rates had fallen to levels not seen since the 1970s, and they have continued to fall throughout the 2000s; yet incarceration rates continued to grow well into the 2000s, peaking in 2007.[6] 
  • Arrests per crime have been relatively stable.  Incarceration rates may rise even when crime rates remain stable if police become more effective at apprehending offenders (in other words, if the arrest rate per crime increases).  However, the likelihood of arresting someone who has committed a crime remained relatively stable between 1980 and 2010.  “[B]y the measure of the ratio of arrests to crimes, no increase in policing effectiveness occurred from 1980 to 2010 that might explain higher rates of incarceration,” a recent National Research Council report concluded.[7]
  • The share of offenders sent to prison has climbed dramatically.  For all major crime types, the likelihood that an offender will go to prison has risen sharply over the past 30 years.  This is especially true for drug offenses; the likelihood of being sent to prison for a drug-related crime rose by 350 percent between 1980 and 2010.  The National Research Council study estimated that the increase in the share of offenders sent to prison accounts for 44 to 49 percent of the long-term growth in state incarceration rates.[8]  
  • Length of stay in prison has grown for all types of crimes.  Between 1990 and 2009, the average time served rose by nearly 25 percent for property crimes and by roughly 37 percent for violent and drug crimes, the Pew Center on the States estimates.  Overall, Pew estimated that individuals released from prison in 2009 spent nine months longer behind bars than offenders released 20 years ago.[9]  The increase in average sentences has contributed as much to the growth in incarceration rates as the rise in the share of offenders sent to prison, and possibly slightly more.

High Incarceration Rates Impose Significant Human Costs, Especially in Certain Neighborhoods

While incarceration rates have risen in every state in recent decades, the impacts have been most acute for a small but geographically concentrated number of neighborhoods.  A 2010 paper by two Harvard criminologists found that incarceration rates in the early and mid-2000s were below 500 per 100,000 adult residents for the majority of Chicago neighborhoods but were more than eight times greater— over 4,000 per 100,000 adult residents — for a small subset of clustered Chicago neighborhoods.[10]  Another study found that North Carolina’s incarceration rate in 2000 was 335 per 100,000 residents statewide, well below the national average at the time, but was 8,000 per 100,000 adult residents in one neighborhood.[11]

Communities most afflicted by high incarceration rates have high levels of poverty, unemployment, and racial segregation.  “To state the claim bluntly, imprisonment and its effects are concentrated in neighborhoods where black people and poor people live,” political scientist Traci Burch has written.[12]

High levels of incarceration impose significant human and economic costs.  People with criminal convictions face serious challenges in finding stable and adequate employment.[13]  Time behind bars is generally time lost developing the skills and education increasingly necessary in today’s labor market, a particular problem given that formerly incarcerated people typically have lower levels of education.[14]  (Nearly 40 percent of state prisoners had not finished high school and only 11 percent had attended college, a Justice Department study conducted in 2003 found.)[15]  For many, incarceration also carries a strong stigma, which can discourage potential employers from hiring.  In addition, in some states, legal barriers prevent people with criminal convictions from holding certain jobs.[16]

Even those who do find employment typically earn less than otherwise-similar people who have not been incarcerated.[17]  A Pew study found that men with a previous criminal conviction worked roughly nine fewer weeks, and earned 40 percent less, each year than otherwise similar non-offenders.  These effects accumulate over time.  The study also found that men’s total earnings by age 48 are less than half among men who have been incarcerated than among comparable men who have not been incarcerated.  In addition, the study found that overall, incarceration reduces the total earnings of all black men — not just ex-offenders — by 9 percent.[18]

Incarceration also increases poverty, for those who have been to prison as well as other household members, including children.  Many inmates are also parents and/or partners, and their incarceration leaves households with one less potential wage earner.  One study examining poverty and state-level incarceration rates between 1980 and 2004 determined that if incarceration rates had not increased, the official poverty rate would have fallen by roughly 20 percent over that period instead of remaining relatively stable.[19]  A 2008 study estimated that more than 2.7 million children had a parent behind bars, and that this significantly increased the children’s likelihood of being poor.[20]

Because high levels of incarceration are heavily localized, the individual and family effects of imprisonment accumulate to limit entire communities’ economic and social opportunities.  Removing large numbers of working-age men and women from the community depletes the human capital needed to build stable neighborhoods.[21]  That depletion, in turn, tends to reduce economic and social opportunities even for community members with no interaction with the criminal justice system.  A 2003 study found that as incarceration rates rise in a given county, unemployment rates subsequently rise for the county’s non-incarcerated African Americans.[22]

High Incarceration Rates Present Mounting Fiscal Challenge

As the number of individuals connected to the criminal justice system has ballooned, so has state corrections spending, which more than doubled between 1986 and 2013 (after adjusting for inflation), from $20 billion to over $47 billion.[23]  Spending rose in every state except Virginia, by more than four times in nine states (Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming) and by five times in three of those states (Colorado, Idaho, and Pennsylvania).

The share of state general-fund dollars going to corrections rose as well between 1986 and 2013, from 4.7 percent to nearly 7 percent nationally.[24]  For most states, corrections spending is now the third-largest category of spending, behind only education and health care.[25]  In four states (Arizona, Michigan, Oregon, and Vermont), corrections accounts for more than 11 percent of state general fund spending.

Growth in corrections spending has outpaced growth in expenditures in other critical areas of state budgets, such as K-12 and higher education.  State spending on higher education — that is, money spent through the state budget, not by students and families through tuition — rose by less than 6 percent between 1986 and 2013, after adjusting for inflation.  State support for K-12 education grew by 69 percent over this period.[26]  But corrections spending jumped by 141 percent.  Eleven states spent more general funds on corrections than on higher education in 2013; Oregon spent more than twice as much.  In 12 other states, corrections spending was at least 70 percent of state support for higher education.[27]

If states were still spending the same amount on corrections as they did in the mid-1980s, adjusted for inflation, they would have about $28 billion more available each year for education and other productive investments.

Table 1
State Corrections Spending Has Risen Significantly Since 1986
(in millions of dollars)
Fiscal Year 1986 (in 2013 $’s) Fiscal Year 2013* Difference
Alabama $270 $460 $190
Alaska $166 $349 $183
Arizona $347 $965 $618
Arkansas $81 $385 $304
California $3,329 $8,618 $5,289
Colorado $130 $670 $540
Connecticut $225 $642 $417
Delaware $100 $265 $165
Florida $772 $2,316 $1,544
Georgia $449 $1,467 $1,018
Hawaii $79 $218 $139
Idaho $32 $213 $181
Illinois $782 $1,295 $513
Indiana $296 $687 $391
Iowa $155 $362 $207
Kansas $151 $354 $203
Kentucky $196 $558 $362
Louisiana $389 $713 $324
Maine $74 $133 $59
Maryland $780 $1,313 $533
Massachusetts $353 $1,261 $908
Michigan $836 $2,064 $1,228
Minnesota $185 $469 $284
Mississippi $117 $312 $195
Missouri $204 $589 $385
Montana $45 $178 $133
Nebraska $74 $198 $124
Nevada $96 $247 $151
New Hampshire $32 $95 $63
New Jersey $670 $1,511 $841
New Mexico $140 $266 $126
New York $2,762 $2,918 $156
North Carolina $538 $1,717 $1,179
North Dakota $17 $81 $64
Ohio $668 $1,798 $1,130
Oklahoma $208** $459 $251
Oregon $196 $802 $606
Pennsylvania $393 $2,111 $1,718
Rhode Island $74 $185 $111
South Carolina $257 $492 $235
South Dakota $28 $85 $57
Tennessee $472 $880 $408
Texas $872 $3,191 $2,319
Utah $115 $239 $124
Vermont $34 $131 $97
Virginia $940** $1,174 $234
Washington $344 $913** $569
West Virginia $45 $219 $174
Wisconsin $279 $1,138 $859
Wyoming $30 $123 $93
Total Spending Increase: $28,006 

*FY 2013 spending levels are estimates collected by the National Association of State Budget Officers. Actual state spending levels may differ.
**Oklahoma data reflect corrections spending in FY 1987; Virginia data reflect FY 1990;  Washington State data reflect FY 2012.
Source: CBPP analysis Data from National Association of State Budget Officers.

States Are Underinvesting in Educating Children in Low-Income Neighborhoods

State economies — and, in particular, the economies of many low-income neighborhoods — would be stronger over time if states spent less in maintaining extremely high prison populations and more to educate children and young adults.

In recent years, though, states have cut education funding, in some cases by large amounts.  At least 30 states are providing less general funding per student this year for K-12 schools than in state fiscal year 2008, before the Great Recession hit, after adjusting for inflation.[28]  In 14 states, the reduction exceeds 10 percent.  The three states with the deepest funding cuts since the recession hit - Alabama, Arizona, and Oklahoma - are among the ten states with the highest incarceration rates.

Cuts in state funding for colleges and universities have been even deeper.  The average state has cut higher education funding per student by 23 percent since the recession hit, after adjusting for inflation.  The two states with the deepest cuts - ver 40 percent - are Arizona and Louisiana, both in the top ten for incarceration rates.[29]

Many states have also cut funding substantially for preschool programs.  Of the 40 states that help fund preschools, 28 now have lower per-child funding than before the recession hit.[30]  Many of the deepest cuts occurred in the highest-incarcerating states.  Six of the ten states with the highest incarceration rates - Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas - cut preschool funding per child by more than 15 percent between 2008 and 2013.[31]

By reordering their priorities to invest more in education, states could start repairing the damage done by these recession-era cuts and otherwise improve their education systems, especially in high-poverty neighborhoods most directly affected by high incarceration rates.  They could, for example:

  • Expand access to high-quality preschool.  A substantial body of research indicates that children from low-income families who attend a high-quality preschool program improve their cognitive skills and tend to earn more as adults.[32]  Yet only a little over one-third of 3- and 4-year-olds from low-income families nationally are enrolled in preschool, including both public and private programs.[33]  Only New Jersey and the District of Columbia have enrollment rates exceeding 50 percent.

    While some high-incarcerating states perform comparatively well on this measure, others do not.  Mississippi enrolls nearly half of its low-income 3- and 4-year-olds in preschool, for example, but Arizona enrolls only about 27 percent.

  • Reduce class sizes in high-poverty schools.  Evidence suggests that reducing class sizes can boost achievement, especially in the early grades and for low-income students.[34]  After the recession hit, though, class sizes rose nationally and in a number of states.[35]  Kansas schools, for example, had 19,000 more students last school year than they did in 2009, but 665 fewer teachers.[36]  Further, in a handful of states, teachers in high-poverty schools have more students, on average, than teachers in low-poverty schools - the opposite of what is generally required to produce an equitable education system.[37]  In Alabama, for example, the average teacher in a high-poverty school district had 19 students in 2011, while the average teacher in a low-poverty district had 13.  Four of the states with this backward arrangement - Alabama, Arizona, Florida, and Texas - are among the ten highest-incarceration states.

  • Revise state funding formulas to invest more in high-poverty neighborhoods.  Schools receive most of their funding from a combination of state and local sources.  The primary local source is the property tax, which tends to generate more revenue for schools in wealthier areas than in poorer ones because it is based on property values.  State funding can help counteract that inequity.[38]  Unfortunately, a number of states provide less funding for high-poverty schools than for low-poverty schools, while some others provide about the same funding to high- and low-poverty districts.  As of 2011, only 14 states provided at least 5 percent more funding per student for high-poverty districts than low-poverty districts.

    Further, many states provide inadequate funding for schools overall.  While some interstate differences in funding levels are to be expected, given variations in wage rates, poverty levels, population density, and other factors, a number of states have low per-student funding levels even after controlling for these factors.  Based on one study that accounted for these factors, none of the states with the ten highest incarceration rates ranked in the top half of states for school funding per student in 2011.

  • Increase college enrollment and graduation rates for students from low-income families.  Students from low-income families are much less likely to enroll in college than students from wealthier households.  Only about half of recent high school graduates from households in the lowest income quintile (earning less than $18,300) enrolled in postsecondary education in 2012, compared to more than 80 percent of students from households in the top quintile (earning over $90,500 a year).

    In addition, low-income students who enroll in college are much less likely to graduate than their higher-income counterparts.  One study found that only a quarter of low-income students who began college in the 2003-04 school year had attained a bachelor’s degree six years later, compared to nearly 60 percent of high-income students.[41]

    Adding to the difficulties facing low-income students, sharp reductions in state funding for higher education have led to significant tuition increases.  Tuition at the average public college or university nationally is up $1,936 (28 percent) since the 2007-08 school year, after adjusting for inflation.[42]  While more federal financial aid is now available to offset rising tuition for low-income students, increases in costs of room and board along with a higher “sticker price” at many colleges and universities likely cause some students to choose not to enroll.[43]

Reforms Can Reduce Incarceration Rates and Produce Savings 

States can reduce their incarceration rates and realize significant long-term budget savings without harming public safety.[44]  To do this, state policymakers need to enact reforms that target the main drivers of high incarceration rates:  the number of people admitted (or re-admitted) into correctional facilities and the length of their prison stays.  States should consider four basic kinds of reforms:
  • Decriminalize certain activities and reclassify certain low-level felonies.  The increased use of prison — and longer prison sentences — to punish crimes such as the possession of certain drugs, like marijuana, has contributed heavily to the growth in mass incarceration.  Lawmakers should look to reduce or eliminate criminal penalties for such crimes when doing so would not affect public safety. 

  • Expand the use of alternatives to prison for non-violent crimes and divert people with mental health or substance abuse issues away from the criminal justice system altogether.  Policymakers should assess the range of sentencing alternatives available in their state, such as drug and mental health courts and related treatment, community correction centers, community service, sex offender treatment, and fines and victim restitution.  Whenever possible, people whose crimes stem from addiction or mental illness should be diverted into treatment programs rather than sent to prison.  These treatment programs should be high-quality and adequately funded.[45]

  • Reduce the length of prison terms and parole/probation periods.  Policymakers should reform unnecessarily harsh sentencing policies, including “truth-in-sentencing” requirements and mandatory minimum sentences, and allow inmates to reduce their sentences through good time or earned time policies.  States also should expand programs that enable inmates meeting certain requirements to receive favorable decisions in parole hearings, especially in states where parole grant rates remain low.  Funding for programs to help inmates meet these requirements, in areas such as substance abuse, anger management, literacy, or higher education, has not kept pace with the growth in state prison populations.[46]

  • Restrict the use of prison for technical violations of parole/probation.  The share of individuals entering prison due to a parole violation grew rapidly between the late 1970s and the late 2000s.  While it has fallen more recently, parole revocations accounted for more than a quarter of admissions to state prisons in 2013.[47]  Some of these violations are technical, such as missing a meeting with a probation officer or failing a drug test.  States should heavily restrict the use of prison for technical parole violators and implement graduated sanctions for more serious parole violations.

    States can also adopt more effective probation policies.  For example, Hawaii has sharply reduced probation revocations with a program that punishes infractions more quickly and with more certainty, but with much shorter periods of incarceration.[48]
These reforms are complementary; adopting just one or two won’t shrink a state’s prison population as much as a more comprehensive set of reforms that improves “front-end” sentencing and admission policies as well as “back-end” release and re-entry policies.

What Policy Mechanisms Do States Need to Support Those Reforms?

States wishing to use savings from criminal justice reforms for more productive purposes would do well to adopt planning and budgeting mechanisms that can help them shift priorities, including the following.

High-Quality, Long-Term Forecast of Potential Savings

Lawmakers often don’t have the information needed to make educated decisions on proposed criminal justice reform legislation because they lack an official estimate of the fiscal impact of the reforms, also known as a “fiscal note.”  Roughly 40 percent of the major criminal justice bills enacted in states in 2009-2011 had no fiscal note.  In about half of the states where a fiscal note was produced, the notes projected fiscal impacts no more than two years into the future.  Moreover, some states had little or no process to ensure that the fiscal notes were credible, such as a review by independent analysts. (See Box 1.)[49]

Box 1: Fiscal Note Best Practices

When drafting fiscal notes, states should strive to make them:a

Consistent.  Fiscal notes should be produced in a consistent format by trusted, non-partisan staff.  All major bills that have reached a certain stage in the legislative process should be analyzed for their fiscal impact.

Properly researched.  Fiscal notes should estimate savings and potential costs and include a detailed explanation in instances where an estimate cannot be calculated.  At a minimum, they should seek to forecast five years into the future.

Detailed.  In complex reform bills, the analysis should extend to the bills’ individual major provisions.  Fiscal notes should also attempt to estimate impacts on local as well as state finances and on the size of prison and jail populations.

Accessible.  Fiscal notes should be clearly written and available online and should include contact information for the analyst or staff responsible.

a See Michael Leachman et al., “Improving Budget Analysis of State Criminal Justice Reforms: A Strategy for Better Outcomes and Saving Money,” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and American Civil Liberties Union, January 11, 2012,

Accepted Process to Estimate Annual Savings Once Reforms Are Enacted

To capture the savings from criminal justice reforms for more productive human capital investments (including education), states need to estimate how much specific reforms save following enactment.  These estimates need to be produced each time a state writes its budget - annually in most states - so that lawmakers can incorporate the savings into the budget.  Estimates need to be produced in a manner that is accepted as credible by legislators, other policymakers, and the public, so that the process does not bog down in arguments over the numbers.

A California ballot initiative (Proposition 47) could serve as a model.  It would reform sentencing policies and place all resulting savings in a special fund to be used for certain specified purposes, primarily addiction and mental health treatment and school programs for high-risk youth.  (See Box 2.)  To determine how much to deposit into the fund, Proposition 47 would require the state finance department to estimate the savings attributable to the measure annually.

Alternatively, states can choose to allocate savings based on estimates produced during the initial fiscal note process.  For this to occur, it is important that fiscal notes be properly researched, consistent, and provide detailed estimates of savings far enough into the future.  Such a process would be similar to what occurs at the federal level when the Congressional Budget Office estimates the potential costs or savings of proposed legislation and these estimates are then used to determine the savings that can be spent in subsequent years.[50]

Established Mechanism to Shift Savings to Investments in Human Capital

States typically have three alternative ways to shift savings from criminal justice reforms into human capital investments.  They can:
  • Establish a mechanism to automatically estimate the savings and divert them into a special fund.  One approach is for policymakers enacting criminal justice reforms to simultaneously create a “reinvestment fund” that captures savings from the reforms and allocates those savings largely to human capital investments, including educational programming targeted to high-poverty communities and improved mental health and substance abuse treatment programs.  As the state reports each year the estimated savings from the reforms, an equal amount is automatically deposited into the fund.  The legislation establishing the fund would specify how the money is to be spent.  California’s Proposition 47 follows this approach.

  • Appropriate savings through state budget processes.  Through the annual budget process, policymakers can estimate the savings from criminal justice reforms and determine how much of those savings to reinvest and in what programs.  This option gives policymakers greater flexibility and control.  On the other hand, it can place reinvestments in future years in jeopardy as political priorities change or fiscal and economic conditions shift.

  • Reallocate spending at the department or agency level.  Within departments or agencies, states can shift dollars away from incarceration and into human capital investments.  For instance, after North Carolina enacted criminal justice reforms in 2011, policymakers shifted $16 million into community-based treatments by drawing on resources that were already in the Department of Public Safety’s budget but would no longer be needed for corrections costs.[51]

--------(THIS JUST PASSED IN CALIFORNIA!!!!)--------

Box 2:  California Ballot Proposal Offers Model

Proposition 47 (“The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act”), which will appear on California’s statewide ballot on November 4, contains criminal justice reforms designed to reduce the state prison population, coupled with measures to reinvest the savings.

California has the nation’s second-largest prison system, with over 130,000 individuals under state jurisdiction.a  With the system operating at roughly 140 percent of capacity, California has located more than 15,000 prisoners in private prison facilities and out-of-state prisons.b  In addition, a federal court ruling that prison overcrowding is preventing the state from giving prisoners adequate medical and mental health care means that California must reduce its prison population.

To accomplish this, Proposition 47 would:
  • Make targeted sentencing reductions by reclassifying certain offenses from felonies to misdemeanors, for both current and future offenders.  Proposition 47 would reclassify seven types of non-violent drug and property crimes (such as shoplifting, drug possession, and petty theft) from felonies to misdemeanors,c thereby shortening the maximum penalty from a multi-year prison sentence to one year in jail.  Since the change would be retroactive, qualifying prisoners could apply for resentencing and see their sentences reduced. 
  • Require the state to calculate the savings from the reforms each year and deposit them in a dedicated fund.  The initiative would require California’s Department of Finance to estimate the state savings attributable to the measure each year and deposit them in a special fund.
  • Earmark the savings for specific investments.  Savings deposited in the fund could only be used for three explicit purposes and in specified proportions:  65 percent would go to mental health services, drug treatment, and “diversion programs” designed to enable offenders to avoid criminal charges and a criminal record; 25 percent would go to supporting at-risk youth in schools; and 10 percent would go to victim services.
California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office has estimated that Proposition 47 would likely cut the state’s prison population by “several thousand” inmates while generating corrections savings in the “low hundreds of millions” of dollars annually.d

a CBPP calculations, Bureau of Justice Statistics, “National Prisoner Statistics,”
b “Proposition 47: Should California Reduce Penalties for Drug and Property Crimes and Invest in Treatment?” California Budget Project, September 2014,
c These seven categories are check fraud, drug possession, forgery, petty theft, shoplifting, receiving stolen property, and petty theft with a prior theft-related conviction.  This change would not apply to individuals with prior convictions for violent offenses or registerable sex offences.
d “Proposition 47: Criminal Sentences. Misdemeanor Penalties Initiative Statute,” California Legislative Analyst’s Office,


Independent Commission to Monitor Implementation and Enforce Compliance

States adopting significant criminal justice reforms can create an oversight commission to craft and recommend further reforms, propose legislation, assist in implementation, and evaluate the results.  The commission should include experts and individuals rooted in communities most affected by high incarceration rates.

South Carolina, for instance, created a bipartisan sentencing reform commission in 2008 to recommend changes to state law.  The commission proposed a set of reforms in 2009 that, among other things, required fiscal impact statements for future criminal justice legislation, eliminated mandatory minimum sentences for drug possession, and expanded parole eligibility for certain offenses.  Projections indicated that these reforms, enacted in 2010, would slow the growth of the prison population over the next five years by 7.3 percent and save roughly $241 million over that period.  At the commission’s urging, policymakers also created a standing oversight committee with the authority to spend part of the resulting savings.[52]


[1] New York and New Jersey reduced their prison populations by 26 percent between 1999 and 2012. California reduced its prison population by 23 percent between 2006 and 2012. See Marc Mauer and Nazgol Ghandnoosh, “Fewer Prisoners, Less Crime: A Tale of Three States,”The Sentencing Project, July 2014,
[2] CBPP calculations, Bureau of Justice Statistics, “Sentenced prisoners under the jurisdiction of state or federal correctional authorities, December 31, 1978-2013,” Note that while the average person often uses the terms “prison” and “jail” interchangeably, they refer to different criminal justice facilities.  As defined by the Bureau of Justice Statistics; “[j]ails are locally-operated, short term facilities that hold inmates awaiting trial or sentencing or both, and inmates sentenced to a term of less than 1 year, typically misdemeanants.  Prisons are long-term facilities run by the state or the federal government and typically hold felons and inmates with sentences of more than 1 year.” See
[3] Jeremy Travis, Bruce Western, and Steve Redburn (editors), The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences, National Academies Press, 2014.
[4] CBPP calculations, Bureau of Justice Statistics, “National Prisoner Statistics,”
[5] CBPP calculations, Bureau of Justice Statistics, “Imprisonment rate of sentenced prisoners under the jurisdiction of state or federal correctional authorities per 100,000 U.S. residents, December 31, 1978-2013,”
[6] CBPP analysis of incarceration data from BJS and FBI, Uniform Crime Reports, prepared by the National Archive of Criminal Justice Data.
[7] Travis et al., p. 49.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Pew Center on the States, “Time Served: The High Cost, Low Return of Longer Prison Terms,” 2012.  Other studies have produced similar findings. The National Research Council found that between 1980 and 2010, the time served for aggravated assault, burglary, and robbery increased by 83, 41, and 79 percent, respectively.
[10] Robert J. Sampson and Charles Loeffler, “Punishment’s Place: The Local Concentration of Mass Incarceration,” Daedalus, Summer 2010, pp. 20-31.  (See Figure 3, “Spatial Concentration of Incarceration in Chicago, 2000-2005,” on p. 24.)  See also Visher and Farrell (2005), which found that over half of former male prisoners reentering Chicago from prison returned to just seven of the city’s 77 distinct community areas.
[11] The study looked at census “block groups.” Traci Burch, “The Old Jim Crow: Racial Residential Segregation and Neighborhood Imprisonment,” American Bar Foundation, 2008,
[12] Traci Burch, “The Spatial Concentration of Imprisonment and Racial Political Inequality,”
[13] See, for example, Holzer et al. (2003), Raphael (2007), and Schmitt (2010) on the impacts of incarceration on employment and wage prospects.
[14] Steven Raphael, “Improving Employment Prospects for Former Prison Inmates: Challenges and Policy,” National Bureau of Economic Research, April 2010,
[15] Caroline W. Harlow, “Education and Correctional Populations,” U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, March 2003.
[16] Jon Schmitt and Kris Warner, “Ex-offenders and the Labor Market,” Center for Economic and Policy Research, November 2010.
[17] Bruce Western, “The Impact of Incarceration on Wage Mobility and Inequality,” American Sociological Review, August 2002,
[18] Pew Charitable Trusts, “Collateral Costs: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility,” 2010.
[19] Robert H. DeFina and Lance Hannon, “The Impact of Mass Incarceration on Poverty,” Crime and Delinquency, February 23, 2009.  Available at SSRN:
[20] “Collateral Costs.”
[21] Todd R. Clear, Imprisoning Communities: How Mass Incarceration Makes Disadvantaged Neighborhoods Worse, Oxford University Press, 2007.
[22] Clear, citing William J. Sabol and James P. Lynch, “Assessing the Longer-run Effects of Incarceration: Impact on Families and Employment,” 2003.
[23] CBPP calculations, National Association of State Budget Officers.  The year 1986 represents the first year of complete budget data on corrections spending that states reported to NASBO.  State spending levels from years prior to 2013 are expressed in 2013 dollars.
[24] The share declined in only six states: Alaska, Maryland, Nevada, New York, Virginia, and Washington.
[25] CBPP calculations, data from NASBO.  Education spending includes spending for higher education.  Overall in FY 2012, roughly 45 percent of state general fund dollars went to education (K-12 and higher education combined), with another 20 percent going to health care.
[26] The number of K-12 students also rose over this period, by about 10 million students or about 25 percent.
[27] CBPP calculations, data from NASBO.
[28] Michael Leachman and Chris Mai, “Most States Still Funding Schools Less Than Before the Recession,” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, October 16, 2014,
[29] Michael Mitchell, Vincent Palacios, and Michael Leachman, “States Still Funding Higher Education Below Pre-Recession Levels,” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, May 1, 2014,
[30] From 2007-08 to 2012-13, the latest data available.  Authors’ analysis of data from National Institute for Early Education Research, The State of Preschool 2013,
[31] Ibid.  Louisiana, also among the ten highest-incarcerating states, is excluded from this list because most or all of its very deep (76 percent) cut in state pre-K funding was offset by an increase in the state’s use of federal TANF funds for the same purpose.
[32] See Timothy J. Bartik, “From Preschool to Prosperity,” W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, 2014, See also Julia Isaacs, “Research Brief #1: State Pre-Kindergarten,” Brookings Institution, September 2008,
[33] Bruce Baker, David Sciarra, and Danielle Farrie, “Is School Funding Fair: A National Report Card,” Education Law Center, Third Edition, February 2014, p. 32, .
[34] See Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, “Does Class Size Matter?” National Education Policy Center, February 2014,  See also Matthew M. Chingos and Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst, “Class Size:  What Research Says and What it Means for State Policy,” Brookings Institution, May 11, 2011,
[35] See National Center for Educational Statistics, Schools and Staffing Survey, 2007-08, Table 8 and 2011-12, Table 7.
[36] Kansas Center for Economic Growth, “Quality at Risk: Impact of Education Cuts,” August 2014,
[37] Baker, Sciarra, and Farrie, Table 8.  A “high-poverty district” in this study has a poverty rate of 30 percent, while a “low-poverty district” has a poverty rate of zero.
[38] See, for example, Bruce D. Baker, “Evaluating the Recession’s Impact on State School Finance Systems,” Education Policy Analysis Archives, Volume 22, Number 91, September 15, 2014.
[39] Baker, Sciarra, and Farrie, pp. 17-18.
[40] Baker, Sciarra, and Farrie, p. 13.
[41] Sandy Baum et al., “Education Pays 2013: The Benefits of Higher Education for Individuals and Society,” College Board, October 2013,
[42] Mitchell, Palacios, and Leachman.
[43] Overall, the cost of attending college has risen for low-income students because the cost of room and board has increased, too.  As a result, the net cost of attendance at four-year public institutions for these students increased 12 percent from 2008 to 2012, after adjusting for inflation.
[44] Marc Mauer and Jenni Gainsborough, “Diminishing Returns: Crime and Incarceration in the 1990s,”The Sentencing Project, September 2000,
[45] See ACLU of Southern California, “A Way Forward: Diverting People with Mental Illness from Inhumane and Expensive Jails into Community-Based Treatment that Works,” July 2014,  See also Families Against Mandatory Minimums, “Alternatives to Incarceration in a Nutshell,” July 8, 2011,
[46] Sarah Lawrence et al., “The Practice and Promise of Prison Programming,” Urban Institute, May 2002,  See also Rand Corporation, “Evaluating the Effectiveness of Correctional Education: A Meta-Analysis of Programs that Provide Education to Incarcerated Adults” 2013, p. 60.
[47] Bureau of Justice Statistics, Number of parole violation admissions of sentenced prisoners to state or federal prisons, 1978-2013.
[48] Significant research has been done on Hawaii’s HOPE program.  See Hawken, Angela & Mark Klaiman “Managing Drug Involved Probationers with Swift and Certain Sanctions: Evaluating Hawaii’s HOPE,” December 2009, U.S. Department of Justice.  For a summary of the program and its results see, Pew Center on the States, “The Impact of Hawaii’s HOPE Program on Drug Use, Crime and Recidivism,” January 2010, and VERA Institute of Justice, “More than the Sum of Its Parts: Why Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement (HOPE) Program Works,” 2012.
[49] Michael Leachman et al., “Improving Budget Analysis of State Criminal Justice Reforms: A Strategy for Better Outcomes and Saving Money,” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and American Civil Liberties Union, January 11, 2012,
[50] Regardless of which method is used, states would do well to adopt the practice of publishing a “current services baseline” — a projection of the state’s costs to maintain the same level of services, absent any relevant policy changes —in order to more easily estimate the savings attributable to criminal justice reforms.  Current services baseline projections take into account inflation and other changes in the cost of providing services, changes in the size of the population being served, and past rule changes that are still being phased in.  Such projections are fairly uncommon at the state level; a 2011 CBPP report found that fewer than half of states prepare current services baselines.  See Elizabeth McNichol and Dylan Grundman, “The Current Services Baseline: A Tool for Understanding Budget Choices,” October 21, 2011,
[51] Nancy Lavigne et al., “Justice Reinvestment Initiative State Assessment Report,” Urban Institute, Bureau of Justice Assistance, 2014,
[52]  The committee was required to spend the savings only on stronger parole and probation programs.  American Civil Liberties Union, “Smart Reform is Possible: States Reducing Incarceration Rates and Costs While Protecting Communities,” 2011,