Public Defender Fees Must Go

Imagine you just moved to Los Angeles. You can’t find a job and are temporarily homeless. And just when you think things can’t get worse, you’re arrested for blocking a sidewalk when you set up a tent to sleep. You appear at your court date and because you can’t afford a lawyer, the judge tells you to speak with a public defender. But that’s not free. The public defender immediately hands you a form that says that you must send a check for $50 to a private collections agency to “register” for … [Read more...]

Era of Mass Expansion: Why State Officials Should Fight Jail Growth

One out of every three people behind bars is being held in a local jail, yet jails get almost none of the attention that prisons do. Jails are ostensibly locally controlled, but the people held there are generally accused of violating state law, and all too often state policymakers (and state reform advocates) ignore jails. In terms of raw numbers state prison reform is the larger prize, but embracing the myth that jails are only a local matter undermines current and future state-level reforms. … [Read more...]

Less on Prisons, More on Prevention? California Starts the Shift

Two and a half years after 60 percent of Californians voted for Proposition 47, the initiative is coming to a head. The measure reduced nonviolent drug and property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors and reallocated the money saved into programs for mental health, substance abuse treatment, victim services and truancy prevention. Now the money is finally going somewhere, and it’s a lot of money. $103 million, to be exact. What took so long? “The intent of the measure was to capture … [Read more...]

Making America’s Failing Prisons Work

A lot is known about how to reform prisoners. Far too little is done Shirley Schmitt is no one’s idea of a dangerous criminal. She lived quietly on a farm in Iowa, raising horses and a daughter, until her husband died in 2006. Depressed and suffering from chronic pain, she started using methamphetamine. Unable to afford her habit, she and a group of friends started to make the drug, for their own personal use. She was arrested in 2012, underwent drug treatment, and has been sober ever since. … [Read more...]

What Inmates Learn in Prison? Not Much

A new survey of 2,000 federal prisoners reveals big gaps in teaching reentry skills. Crocheting. How to play bridge or the game show “Jeopardy.” Tips on reviewing movies. Those are the continuing education options one inmate described in a new survey (Using Time To Reduce Crime) of 2,000 federal inmates that offers an inside look at how U.S. prisons fail to teach useful skills to help ease the path back home. “No one ever fails any class,” said another inmate. “Everyone receives a … [Read more...]

False Claims Stoke Fears about Reforming California’s Bail System

Assemblyman Travis Allen and reality TV star “Dog the Bounty Hunter” have a message: California bail reform is a threat to public safety. In a recent video, Allen insists, “Senate Bill 10 would eliminate the bail system in California.” He’s wrong. “If it passes, criminals would no longer have to post bail and would be free to roam our neighborhoods.” He’s wrong about that, too. “My good friend Duane ‘Dog’ Chapman joined me at the Capitol to fight SB 10 and protect our communities and keep … [Read more...]

Weakening Prop 57 Reinforces Mass Incarceration

Proposition 57, passed in November 2016 by 64 percent of California voters, was a long awaited, much needed criminal and juvenile justice reform measure. Not only did it scale back overly punitive juvenile justice sentencing practices, it also created a way to reduce mass incarceration in California’s prisons. Prop 57 now faces opposition in the form of new legislation from those who believe the law goes too far in extending sentencing reductions to people convicted of serious or violent … [Read more...]

The Price of Prisons

Examining State Spending Trends, 2010 - 2015 After decades of a stable rate of incarceration, the U.S. prison population experienced unprecedented growth from the early 1970s into the new millennium —with the number of people confined to state prisons increasing by more than 600 percent, reaching just over 1.4 million people by the end of 2009. The engine driving this growth was the enactment and implementation over time of a broad array of tough-on-crime policies, including the rapid and … [Read more...]

Race, Incarceration, and Women’s HIV Rates

Over 7,000 women in the United States received a new HIV diagnosis in 2015, and over 60% of those women were Black, despite the fact that Black people represent just 12% of the overall U.S. population. While policymakers seem oblivious to this pressing health problem, Prof. Laurie Shrage’s 2015 New York Times op-ed drew our attention to research that unravels the complicated nature of HIV risk factors among Black women. In general, Black men and women report less risky drug use and less risky … [Read more...]

The Making of a California Prison Town

‘If you don’t want us, tell us to go back’ Of all the details Abdul Khan remembers of his flight from his home country, Ghana, perhaps the clearest is the glint of light on the machetes. He was 25 years old, and his textile business was failing. There were few jobs in his isolated village in Ghana’s mountainous interior, and Khan had started working for two gay men, who ran an underground male prostitution business. In Ghana, homosexuality is not tolerated. You can be imprisoned for it, and you … [Read more...]