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...]

Harnessing the Power of the Public for Bold Change

  Monday, February 13th, marked the five-year anniversary of the founding of Californians for Safety and Justice, an advocacy organization seeking to replace prison and justice system waste with smarter safety solutions that save public dollars, in the state with the largest corrections system in the nation. We began this journey with a fundamental belief: Californians of all walks of life were ready for large-scale change. The incarceration-first approaches of the … [Read more...]

Everything You Think You Know About Mass Incarceration Is Wrong

Or at least misleading, says this contrarian scholar. Here’s why it matters. Critics of the prison-happy American criminal justice system tend to subscribe to a narrative that goes like this: Mass incarceration was ignited by the war on drugs (blame Nixon or Reagan), was pumped up by draconian sentencing and is now sustained by a “prison industrial complex” that puts profit before humane treatment and rehabilitation. John Pfaff, in his provocative new book, “Locked In,” calls this the “Standard … [Read more...]

Dutch Get Creative to Solve a Prison Problem: Too Many Empty Cells

The Netherlands has a problem many countries can only dream of: a shortage of prison inmates. While countries like Belgium, Britain, Haiti, Italy, the United States and Venezuela have grappled with prison overcrowding, the Netherlands has such a surplus of unused cells that it has rented some of its prisons to Belgium and Norway. It has also turned about a dozen former prisons into centers for asylum seekers. About a third of Dutch prison cells sit empty, according to the Ministry of … [Read more...]

Obama Legacy of Freeing Prisoners May Come Under Trump Siege

More than any administration in recent history, the Obama White House has focused on a law enforcement mission that might seem antithetical to hard-nosed prosecutors: getting criminal offenders out of jail early and trying to give them the skills to stay out. With a flurry of prison and sentencing initiatives in recent months, the Justice Department has worked to finish an eight-year initiative that Mr. Obama’s attorney general, Loretta Lynch, predicted in an interview would make a “significant … [Read more...]

Gang Database Criticized for Denying Due Process May Be Used for Deportations

Peter Arellano was standing on the street with his father last year when an officer from the Los Angeles Police Department handcuffed him, supposedly for vandalism a few blocks away. Before asking him for any information about the incident, the police officer asked him for his gang moniker, Mr. Arellano said. He told the officer he had none. But moments later, Mr. Arellano was served with a gang injunction, restricting where he could go in public and with whom. “There wasn’t a chance to argue … [Read more...]