Prisons of Poverty: Uncovering the Pre-Incarceration Incomes of the Imprisoned

Correctional experts of all political persuasions have long understood that releasing incarcerated people to the streets without job training, an education, or money is the perfect formula for recidivism and re-incarceration. While the fact that people released from prison have difficulties finding employment is well-documented, there is much less information on the role that poverty and opportunity play in who ends up behind bars in the first place. Using an underutilized data set from the … [Read more...]

Protecting Incarcerated People and Their Loved Ones from the Video Visitation Industry

As our research has shown, local jails are increasingly replacing in-person visits with expensive and poorly implemented video visitation systems. Fortunately, some policymakers are taking notice. Illinois State Rep. Carol Ammons introduced a bill earlier this year that would protect in-person visitation from being eliminated in Illinois correctional facilities and limit the cost of video visits. There is also active legislation in New Jersey that would guarantee face-to-face family visits … [Read more...]

Green Is the Old Black

California looks to phase out private prison partnerships as Trump administration doubles down A bill to end California’s reliance on for-profit prisons jumped a major hurdle last week, passing the Assembly Public Safety Committee just days before students demanded that Sacramento State University divest its financial ties to those very corporations. According to Assemblyman Rob Bonta, California is still contracting to house 6,000 state inmates inside private prisons. “I don’t agree with … [Read more...]

Rattling the Cage: How We Misunderstand Mass Incarceration

Reformers are famously prey to the fanaticism of reform. A sense of indignation and a good cause lead first to moral urgency, and then soon afterward to repetition, whereby the reformers become captive to their own rhetoric, usually at a cost to their cause. Crusaders against widespread alcoholism (as acute a problem in 1910 as the opioid epidemic is today) advanced to the folly of Prohibition, which created a set of organized-crime institutions whose effects have scarcely just passed. … [Read more...]

Sentencing Reform in California

On February 27th, I had the opportunity to present to the California Assembly Budget Subcommittee Number 5: Public Safety on the crucial topic of California sentencing policy. I have been involved in this issue for the past 31 years at the CJCJ, and have witnessed the explosive and unprecedented growth of the state’s prison population that began after passage of the Determinate Sentencing Law in 1977. The Determinant Sentencing Law ushered in a period of unprecedented prison expansion as the … [Read more...]

Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2017

Wait, does the United States have 1.3 million or more than 2 million people in prison? Are most people in state and federal prisons locked up for drug offenses? Frustrating questions like these abound because our systems of confinement are so fragmented and controlled by various entities. There is a lot of interesting and valuable research out there, but varying definitions make it hard — for both people new to criminal justice and for experienced policy wonks — to get the big picture. This … [Read more...]

LA County Tiptoes Forward on Bail Reform

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors should give quick approval Wednesday to a proposal by Supervisor Sheila Kuehl to consider overhauling the county’s money bail system. Too bad it’s the only thing about this vital effort that could be done with any urgency. It should be obvious that it’s long past time to reconsider a system that keeps L.A. County jails crowded with people who are just cooling their heels awaiting trial because they can’t afford to pay bail, while their riskier but … [Read more...]

Prison Food: A Public Health Problem

This past fall, a new report from Prison Voice Washington detailed the decline in food quality served in the state's correctional facilities. While incarcerated people often voice complaints about (very real) quality-of-life issues related to food service, there is a broader public health concern here: the long-term health consequences of forcing incarcerated people to consume unhealthy food. The Prison Voice Washington report The report from Prison Voice Washington reveals how changes in food … [Read more...]

Feeling ‘Dirty’ About Sentencing

Last month, retired federal judge Shira A. Scheindlin shared her experiences imposing mandatory minimum sentences in a Washington Post “Perspective”piece. “Mandatory minimums were almost always excessive,” she wrote, “and they made me feel unethical, even dirty.” According to Judge Scheindlin, “The fact that the United States, with less than 5 percent of the world’s population, incarcerates 25 percent of the world’s prisoners is largely due to mandatory minimum sentences.” Scheindlin … [Read more...]

California’s Budget Flies in Face of Voter-Mandated Incarceration Reductions

When people talk about criminal justice reform most progressive perspectives will support the notion that we spend too much money on imprisoning people, that we should reduce imprisoned populations, and reinvest funding into community based programs. Since 2011, the concept of reducing imprisoned populations to save money has actually moved forward in California through the efforts of Governor Jerry Brown and the legislature to implement Public Safety Realignment. And voters have overwhelmingly … [Read more...]