Saturday, December 16, 2006

News of the Day 12-17-06

A few items to catch up from the days I was off conferencing. AL (Alabama, not Alaska) is getting very needed sentencing help from our friends at the Vera Institute and the Pew Trusts. Vera probably doesn't surprise you but you may not have known that Pew is getting involved in a big way with new initiatives to assist states find their own ways. In the past, foundations have gotten heat for pushing specific agendas, but the presentations I've heard on this indicates that Pew is very aware of the long-term drawbacks of that. Vera is certainly a great example and model for them to partner with. Good luck to them and all the states that get to work with them. . . . A couple of items from Science Daily. First, a study of emergency care in Wales, according to Prevention, indicates that feet, not fists, are the most dangerous body attachments in assaults. Might be something helpful to keep in mind when sentencing "assault with a dangerous weapon" offenses. And here we have a great example of something I've talked about occasionally, the increasing interface of minds and machines, in this case, a brain-controlled robot for people unable to move. My point about these things is that, if you can make minds control machines, won't someone start messing with making machines control minds (all such controls would, of course, be voluntarily agreed to)? Oh, that's just science fiction, you say? Like mind-controlled robots aren't? . . . Finally, I've mentioned before the growing demand for private prison beds wherever they can be found, which can lead to bidding up of bedspace and existing contracts not being renewed despite the impacts that will have on the states with prisoners there now needing new beds. Here's a story on CO's displacement of OK inmates in an OK private prison. Now, as you might suspect (and I do have special connections to this), this has aggravated OK prison administrators immensely, to the point of declaring that the state would never do business with this contractor again, no matter what. So why would the provider risk p--sing off a very good customer (OK has a quarter of its inmates in private beds) to the point of losing all future business? Well, for one, it may consider it an empty threat. OK isn't going to stop locking people away and needing bedspace. I wouldn't bet against the current director following through with the threat, but who knows about the next one? For another, do we really think the current national demand for bedspace is going to diminish? Even if CO miraculously got its prison problem under control or just built until its treasury runs dry, there's always CA. And finally, most businesses that want long-term success engage in future planning, looking down the road at future prospects. And I bet the prison industries have done something very simple that most public policymakers have yet to do. The impact of the long sentences of the 1990s to date is just now hitting the US prison system. Guys who would have gotten out after 7, 10, 14 years have just started returning or have yet to return to the streets, may not return for another 7, 10, 14 years, plus the ones we've added since the start of the increase. The pileup of bodies in bunks that comes from holding onto these guys for longer terms, coupled with our overall national population increase adding to people convicted, will continue to multiply bed needs for at least another decade or so, even if reentry efforts are fully implemented and work as predicted. One more thing. The longer these guys are in, the older they get, and the more their health care needs eat into prison budgets. The estimates are that an inmate 50 or older sucks up 2-3 times the resources as those younger. I published an article a decade or so back estimating just what the renal and cardiac costs of those inmates would do the OK prison budget and they're even more substantial. You want to do the estimate of what Alzheimer's will do? Not to mention any increase in the mental illnesses that Kim discusses a couple of posts down? Add to that the fact that county jails, which frequently hold many offenders who should be in the prisons, are getting hit as bad or worse with health care costs for their entire populations and may not be able to keep holding state inmates to the same extent, and voila!!! An industry that will never be short of business. As I used to tell my criminal justice advisees when I was their faculty advisor, we'll close the last school before crim just jobs will be in danger of going out of existence. So, while I admire and appreciate OK's corrections director, I can see why the private vendor took the CO inmates at a better rate and has no fear whatsoever of retribution in the marketplace. I wouldn't either. Of course, that's not to say the rest of us shouldn't be really, really afraid of the future they're clearly seeing.

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