Sentencing Policy

JS Publication February 7, 2011

Turning the Corner: Opportunities for Effective Sentencing and Correctional Practices in Arizona

On February 1, 2011, Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice, a statewide not-for-profit membership organization of criminal defense lawyers, law students and associated professionals, released Turning the Corner: Opportunities for Effective Sentencing and Correctional Practices in Arizona, a report prepared by Justice Strategies' Director Judy Greene. With a state corrections budget of $1 billion dollars threatening cuts to education and other important human services, Turning the Corner points Arizonians to important reforms in other states that have reduced prison populations while maintaining public safety.

The trend in state prison population reductions that began in 2005 included 24 states by 2009. However, Arizona's prison incarceration rate went from 1 in every 749 persons in 1980 to 1 in every 170 by the end of June 2008. Its average annual prison-population growth rate between 2000 and 2008 was 5.1 percent, compared to a national average of 1.5 percent, giving Arizona the third highest incarceration rate of all states and the highest in the West. Read more »

JS Publication May 6, 2009

Positive Trends and Best Practices in Criminal Justice Reform: A National Overview

This report reviews more than a decade of drug sentencing reform efforts in the states of Washington, Kansas, Michigan and New York. The positive impact of reducing reliance on incarceration in these states shows the way towards increasing opportunities for effective drug treatment, and safer, healthier communities. The report also includes a brief example of how Kansas produced a net savings to taxpayers of $7.5 million, from FY 2004 to FY2008, through reductions in prison population levels. In addition, Positive Trends surveys strategies from Massachusetts, Arizona and Wisconsin for reducing racial disparity in the criminal justice system. Read more »

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 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 The Stamford Advocate March 25, 2006

Supporters Urge Change to Laws on Drug-free School Zones (CT)

HARTFORD -- Calling current law racist, activists yesterday pushed for a bill that would shrink the size of zones around schools, day-care centers and public housing that carry stiffer penalties for drug offenses.

The bill would reduce the current 1,500 foot "drug free" radius around those facilities to 200 feet, within which additional mandatory three-year sentences are tacked on to drug offenses, including possession, sale and intent to sell drugs.

Advocates said the law hurts minorities disproportionately because prohibited zones blanket most of Connecticut's mostly minority central cities much more than suburban or rural areas. Bridgeport, Hartford and New Haven, for example, are almost totally covered with drug-free zones, according to a national study released this week by the Justice Policy Institute.

Supporters of the bill held a news conference before testifying at a Judiciary Committee public hearing on the bill and several others. "All these laws do is be tough on people of color and poor people in our communities," said Barbara Fair, a licensed clinical social worker and member of New Haven-based People Against Injustice. "It's giving the prosecutors a (plea bargaining) tool to use to coerce people to plead guilty to crimes they may not have even committed." Read more »

News Article The Press of Atlantic City March 24, 2006

Study Concludes Drug-free Zones Not Protecting Children (NJ)

Drug-free zones not only don't protect children, but instead have put a disproportionate number of minorities in jail, according to experts who have been studying the policy.

A national study — spawned by a New Jersey commission's findings — was released Thursday. In it, the Justice Policy Institute found that the zones are too large and therefore do not deter drug sales within school zones and other protected areas.

JS Publication March 23, 2006

Disparity by Design: How drug-free zone laws impact racial disparity – and fail to protect youth

A new report coauthored by Justice Strategies analysts Judy Greene and Kevin Pranis, and Jason Ziedenberg of The Justice Policy Institute, finds that drug-free zone laws have no deterrent effect on drug sales near schools but instead fuel racial disparity in imprisonment.

A stunning 96 percent of New Jersey prisoners sentenced under the state's drug-free zone laws are black or Hispanic. In Connecticut, majority nonwhite cities had ten times more zones per square mile than cities where less than 10 percent of residents were black or Hispanic. Several states, including Connecticut, New Jersey and Utah, are currently considering reforming or repealing drug-free zone laws.

Laws that heighten penalties for drug activity near schools and other locations frequented by youth have been enacted in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Yet until New Jersey's sentencing commission undertook an investigation in 2005, no state policymakers had taken a comprehensive look at whether "drug-free zone" laws in fact deter drug activity near schools, or what unintended consequences might result from casting wide zones around a long list of proscribed locations. Read more »

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