Tagged: sentencing

A commentary on CCJ’s recommendations for sentencing reform

In Spring 2022, the Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ) launched a Task Force on Long Sentences with the aim of assessing our nation’s use of long prison terms (i.e., 10+ years) and the impact on public safety and justice. Most recently, the Task Force released a report detailing their 14 recommendations about how to reduce mass incarceration without negatively impacting public safety.

The recommendations are questionable, though, as they seem overly optimistic about the state of the research. For example, they propose various alternatives to incarceration that are supposedly effective, though they make the research sound much more conclusive than it actually is. Perhaps they ought to be reminded of the old adage: “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” In this post, I will highlight some of the more controversial “recommendations” and provide some points for consideration. In a future post, I will critically assess each recommendation in more detail and provide additional points for consideration.

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The problem with reducing reliance on incarceration: A commentary on Vera’s “new paradigm” on sentencing

The United States should move away from incarceration and ultimately work toward a system that creates “real safety,” according to a new, widely circulated report from the Vera Institute of Justice. In the report, the authors claim that severe sentences do not deter crime nor help survivors of crime heal, and therefore are not achieving their intended purpose. However, the argument seems to be rooted in emotion rather than facts. The research actually presents a more nuanced picture.

The controversy regarding incarceration is not new, and has remained a major topic of debate in recent years. Clearly, there are many different opinions regarding the utility of incarceration and its effectiveness, many of which are emotionally-driven and not rooted in facts. Rather, the research on incarceration presents a very nuanced picture. It is simply naive to think that any one policy would be 100% effective or 0% effective, and these types of “all-or-nothing” arguments are often rooted in emotion rather than facts.

In this post, I’ll give an overview of the lengthy report’s executive summary and give my thoughts regarding their key points. Stay tuned for part two of this post, where I will perform a deeper assessment of the report in its entirety.

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Krasner insists that his policies are “working,” seemingly unconcerned about homicide rates

Over the last several years, the progressive prosecutor movement has grown in popularity, with more and more policy changes reducing penalties for certain crimes. A common theme is for district attorneys to restrict prosecutions for certain offenses, and to reduce the severity of punishments for cases that are prosecuted.

One example is Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, who has been dismissing more and more cases each year, despite the fact that the city recently reached its highest murder rate in history. He thinks that his approach is “working,” per a recent local news interview (originally reported by Heather McDonald in the Daily Mail and summarized in a CJLF post). In the interview, he incessently denied that his policies have negative consequences and was seemingly unconcerned about the homicide increase.

The sheer fact that homicides have increased in Philadelphia every year of Krasner’s term should be cause for concern. Not surprisingly, a deep dive into the research confirms that Krasner’s policies are at least partially to blame for the increase in homicides in Philadelphia.

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What do federal firearms offenses really look like?

A recent report from the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) published this month provided in-depth information on federal firearms offenders sentenced in 2021 under the primary firearms guideline, §2K2.1. This report is part of a larger series that examines various aspects of firearms offenses, such as mandatory minimum penalties and firearms offenders’ recidivism rates. USSC’s past research has found that firearms offenders are generally younger, have more extensive criminal histories, are more likely to recidivate, and are more likely to engage in violent criminal behavior. The number of firearms offenses has risen in recent years, and this report provides details that may be useful to policymakers. Continue reading . . .

Sentence length and recidivism: An updated review of the research

Back in May 2021, we released a comprehensive research review examining the literature on the relationship between length of incarceration and recidivism. To date, this paper is the most comprehensive literature review on the topic. Over the last several months though, we have made some important updates and revisions. The updated version is now available via the Social Science Research Network.

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Firearms offenders recidivate at higher rates, and progressive prosecutors don’t care

A new article by Thomas Hogan of the Manhattan Institute discusses some of the recent data on crime trends presented by the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC). One important point brought up in that piece concerns the recidivism of federal firearms offenders. Federal firearms offenders are usually convicted of being felons-in-possession of firearms, or they are convicted of carrying a firearm related to another crime such as drug trafficking or robbery. Per the USSC’s 2021 annual report, firearms offenders recidivate at a higher rate than all other offenders, with almost 70 percent being re-arrested within eight years of release. A complementary USSC report discusses these findings in more detail, noting that recidivism rates for firearms offender were consistently higher than non-firearms offenders regardless of age and criminal history.

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Lengthier sentences lead to recidivism reductions: New Sentencing Commission report

Yesterday the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) published their seventh study in their recidivism series. This study examined the relationship between length of incarceration and recidivism and serves as an update to a prior USSC report published in 2020. Both studies were conducted by Ryan Cotter and are part of a larger multi-year recidivism series of more than 32,000 federal offenders. The older study examined federal offenders released in 2005, and the newer study replicated the analysis but with a cohort released in 2010. Recidivism was measured by re-arrest within eight years post-release. Results of both studies were almost identical, revealing that lengthier sentences were associated with decreased recidivism rates.  UPDATE:   CJLF researcher was interviewed on this subject on LA’s John & Ken Show at this link. Continue reading . . .

Compassionate release and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic: New USSC report

A recent publication by the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) describes trends in federal compassionate release decisions during fiscal year 2020. It includes detailed information about offenders who received compassionate release, the nature of relief received, and reasons behind court decisions to grant or deny compassionate release motions. The report focuses on federal compassionate release decisions that occurred during the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic and is not reflective of 2021 or 2022 trends. This report builds from previous USSC reports, including the First Step Act Year One Report and the Compassionate Release Data Report.

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Firearms offenders recidivate at higher rates: New USSC report

On November 30, 2021, the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) published new findings on 8-year recidivism rates of 5,659 federal firearms offenders released in 2010. This report is part of a larger multi-year recidivism study of more than 32,000 federal offenders and also serves as an update to a previous USSC report on firearms and recidivism that examined an earlier cohort released in 2005.

The data showed that 69% of firearms offenders were re-arrested within eight years post-release, compared with 45% of all other offenders (a difference of 24%), and the overall median time to re-arrest was 16 months. For both firearms offenders and non-firearms offenders, the most common offense at re-arrest was assault (26% and 19%, respectively), followed by drug trafficking (11.9% and 11.4%, respectively). Importantly, these findings support the idea that firearms-related offenders are more dangerous and more likely to recidivate than other types of offenders. This finding held regardless of criminal history and age, and may justify the need for sentence enhancements based on certain factors (e.g., use of a firearm).

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Sentence Length and Recidivism: A Review of the Research

In response to increasing concerns about jail and prison overcrowding, many officials across the U.S. have undertaken different efforts aimed at reducing the prison population, including Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón. In December 2020, Gascón introduced a policy to eliminate all prison sentence enhancements, thereby sharply reducing sentence lengths for offenders committing crimes with aggravating factors such as causing great bodily injury or use of a deadly weapon. In Special Directive 20-08, the new DA claimed that research and data show that longer sentence lengths are more likely to increase recidivism relative to shorter sentences.

While the directive cites one unpublished study in support of the finding, it is unclear whether this finding holds when considering the wider body of research on the topic. Namely, research findings can vary quite a bit across studies, so we argue that a critical examination of the research literature is warranted. When considering the research on the relationship between incarceration and recidivism, many studies compare custodial with non-custodial sentences, and fewer examine the impact of varying incarceration lengths on recidivism. Considering that everyone subject to a possible sentence enhancement will be serving some type of custodial sentence, the latter is more relevant concerning Gascón’s recent policy change. To assess the claims mentioned in Special Directive 20-08, my colleague Kent Scheidegger and I conducted a detailed review of the research on this topic.

UPDATE: The full-length version of this paper has been posted through the Social Science Research Network.

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