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JS Publication February 27, 2009

Local Democracy on ICE: Why State and Local Governments Have No Business in Federal Immigration Law Enforcement

287(g) is a tiny provision in federal immigration law that allows Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to take local police away from their mission of fighting crime, and pull them into the murky territory of targeting immigrants for arrest without suspicion of crime. ICE described the 287(g) program as a public safety measure to target “criminal illegal aliens,” but its largest impact has been on law-abiding immigrant communities. Rather than focusing on serious crime, police resources are spent targeting day-laborers, corn-vendors and people with broken tail-lights. This report details findings from a year-long investigation of 287(g) by Justice Strategies, and recommends that the ICE program be terminated.

People who live in immigrant communities say that 287(g) brings the problem of racial profiling to their neighborhoods. Our analysis shows that 61 percent of jurisdictions that have entered into 287(g) agreements have crime rates that are lower than the national average. Census data show that 87 percent, however, are undergoing an increase in their Latino populations higher than the national average. Read more »

JS Publication April 1, 2008

Diversion Works: How Connecticut Can Downsize Prisons, Improve Public Safety and Save Money with a Comprehensive Mental Health and Substance Abuse Approach

This report, prepared by Judy Greene and Russ Immarigeon, Justice Strategies consultant and editor of various national criminal justice publications, presents information about the incarceration of mentally ill people, many with co-occurring substance abuse problems. It identifies effective program models that could be used to ease the Connecticut’s prison population pressures and reverse its growth trend.

News Article Washington Post July 18, 2007

Washington Post on Gangs and Public Safety

When it comes to fighting gangs, there's the New York City approach, and there's the Los Angeles approach, according to the Justice Policy Institute. And one statistic dramatizes the difference:

Two years ago, Los Angeles police reported 11,402 gang-related crimes; New York police, 520.

News Article thestar.com July 18, 2007

U.S. gang crackdowns called a 'tragic failure'

More police, more prisons and more punitive measures aren't the answer to reducing gang activity, concludes a new U.S. study that experts here say underscores the need for Canada to reject that approach in favour of investing in jobs, schools and programs for disenfranchised youth.

The study, released today by the Washington, D.C.-based Justice Policy Institute, says popular suppression approaches to gang violence are a "tragic failure" in Los Angeles and Chicago, while promoting jobs, education and healthy communities draws youth away from gangs and violence.

"Despite decades of aggressive gang enforcement – including mass arrests and surveillance, huge gang databases, and increased prison sentences for gang crimes – gang violence continues at unacceptable rates," the authors conclude.

Former Liberal MPP Alvin Curling, appointed by the province to conduct a youth violence review, said the report supports his opinion that putting more people in prison won't curb gang violence over time.

It also confirms the need for the provincial review to "go beyond the criminal aspects of things," Curling said yesterday.

Robert Gordon, director of Simon Fraser University's criminology department, has studied gangs on the West Coast and said the report confirms the "wisdom of the Canadian way." Read more »

JS Publication July 19, 2007

Gang Wars: The Failure of Enforcement Tactics and the Need for Effective Public Safety Strategies

Youth crime in the United States remains near the lowest levels seen in the past three decades, yet public concern and media coverage of gang activity has skyrocketed since 2000. Fear has spread from neighborhoods with longstanding gang problems to communities with historically low levels of crime, and some policy makers have declared the arrival of a national gang “crisis.” Yet many questions remain unanswered. How can communities and policy makers differentiate between perceived threats and actual challenges presented by gangs? Which communities are most affected by gangs, and what is the nature of that impact? How much of the crime that plagues poor urban neighborhoods is attributable to gangs? And what approaches work to promote public safety?

This report attempts to clarify some of the persistent misconceptions about gangs and to assess the successes and failures of approaches that have been employed to respond to gangs. We undertook an extensive review of the research literature on gangs because we believe that the costs of uninformed policy making—including thousands of lives lost to violence or imprisonment—are simply too high. Read more »

News Article New York Times July 19, 2007

The Wrong Approach to Gangs

No city has failed to control its street gangs more spectacularly than Los Angeles. The region has six times as many gangs and double the number of gang members as a quarter-century ago, even after spending countless billions on the problem. But unless Congress changes course quickly, the policies that seem to have made the gang problem worse in Los Angeles could become enshrined as national doctrine in a so-called gang control bill making its way through both the House and Senate.

This issue is underscored in a study released this week by the Justice Policy Institute in Washington. It shows that police dragnets that criminalize whole communities and land large numbers of nonviolent children in jail don’t reduce gang involvement or gang violence. Law enforcement tools need to be used in a targeted way ­ and directed at the 10 percent or so of gang members who commit violent crimes. The main emphasis needs to be on proven prevention programs that change children’s behavior by getting them involved in community and school-based programs that essentially keep them out of gangs. Read more »

JS Publication January 1, 2007

Doing borrowed time: The high cost of back-door prison finance

In the face of tight budgets and growing public opposition to new prison spending, officials in many states have employed a variety of "back-door" schemes to finance new prison construction. The mechanisms vary but the consequences are the same: rapid prison expansion that takes place with little public involvement or oversight.

A review of recent prison, jail and detention expansion initiatives shows that such back-door financing mechanisms are becoming more common at the federal, state and local level. Behind this trend is a cottage industry of investment bankers, architects, building contractors and consultants who have made enormous profits by encouraging local and state governments to borrow tens and hundreds of millions of dollars to build prisons and detention centers that the public does not want and cannot afford. The U.S. prison population doubled during the 1980s and nearly doubled again in the following decade. By the end of the 1990s the nation's prisons held more than 1.3 million prisoners while the total incarcerated population - including jails and detention centers - fell just short of two million.

Prison population growth has continued since the turn of the century but at a much slower pace. Average annual growth rates fell from nearly seven percent during the 1990s to just under two percent in the past half-decade. Read more »

News Article WPA Online

Hard Hit: The Growth in the Imprisonment of Women, 1977-2004 (extra)

A new report coauthored by Justice Strategies analysts Judy Greene and Kevin Pranis, and Dr. Natasha Frost of Northeastern University, finds that female imprisonment in the U.S. has skyrocketed 757 percent since 1977. The rise in the female prison population has been punctuated by growth spikes that reached higher, lasted longer and often began earlier than those affecting men. Female prison population growth has surpassed male prison population growth in all 50 states. The increase was particularly dramatic in the Mountain states where the women's prison population jumped 1,600 percent over the period.

Women are the fastest-growing segment of the prison population, surpassing male prison population growth in all 50 states and climbing 757 percent between 1977 and 2004. The majority of women in U.S. prison systems are incarcerated for nonviolent drug and property offenses. Many suffer from chemical dependency, mental illness or both. Read more »

JS Publication September 19, 2006

Progress and Challenges: An analysis of drug treatment and imprisonment in Maryland

Maryland is making slow progress toward the goal of providing "treatment, not incarceration" to nonviolent substance abusers. The number of criminal justice-referred drug treatment admissions grew by 28 percent between 2000 and 2004, while drug imprisonment dropped by seven percent.

But the state still spends too little on drug treatment for patients referred by the justice system - roughly 26 cents for every dollar spent to imprison people convicted of drug offenses. Jurisdictions that relied on drug treatment were more likely to achieve significant crime rate reductions since 2000 than those that relied on drug imprisonment. In the past five years, elected officials in a majority of states have responded to fiscal pressures and the public's waning enthusiasm for the war on drugs by enacting sentencing and correctional reforms designed to reduce costs and improve outcomes. Two years ago, Maryland lawmakers enacted a set of reforms designed to expand the options available to judges, prosecutors, and the state's parole commission for placing addicted defendants in community-based treatment rather than prison. In doing so, the state's elected leaders recognized that the long-term solution to the drug problem lies in "treatment, not incarceration." Read more »

News Article

Alabama's crisis continues

Since the release of the Justice Strategies report Alabama Prison Crisis, state lawmakers have taken a major step forward by adopting a system of voluntary sentencing standards for judges. The Alabama Sentencing Commission predicts that the standards will eventually create "breathing room" for corrections officials to strengthen community supervision and create a more rational "punishment continuum." Meanwhile, Alabama prisons remain dangerously overcrowded while hundreds of prisoners are housed in private facilities outside the state. Read more about Alabama Prison Crisis.