Wednesday, December 27, 2006
News of the Day, Wednesday, December 27, 2006
As states consider sentencing commissions as a means to control their prison populations, they invariably turn to MN and NC as the states they want to model. However, MN is now loading up inmates as fast as or faster than anyone, and look at what's happening in NC, where, despite prison building, they'll still be short in 2008 and looking at a need for over 6000 more beds 8 years later. It's not that the commission there hasn't been trying but here's the money quote that should be in everyone's ears: "The N.C. Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission has proposed several law changes to achieve that, but lawbreakers have not warmed to the suggestions." There you go. For a commission to be effective, a supportive political environment and practitioner context have to exist. That context is what makes their guidelines work and, frankly, probably has more to do with subsequent declines or slowing of population growth than the guidelines themselves. As these states show, guidelines solve nothing if the political support and will are lacking. NC deserves its reputation, but, if it can't close the deal with one of the best traditional commissions, then isn't it clear by now that something far more than a traditional commission is needed? . . . Nice article here on the development of a mental health court in Cleveland if you're interested. . . . CrimProf Blog links to the news of the lethal effects of a new and improved heroin coming out of Afghanistan, a 75% jump in deaths in 3 years, especially good at taking out middle-aged types. . . . Heroin scaring you now? Thinking about switching to crystal meth (yes, I know they're different types of drugs)? Want some strokes and tears in neck arteries with that? No? Well, looks like you may get them anyway if you make the change. Maybe you should just stop. No, seriously. . . . A KY poll shows that residents there, given a choice, favor long prison sentences over the death penalty for aggravated murder by a 2-1 margin. KY? Concerns about the long-term legitimacy of the crim just sys and about, you know, killing guys who didn't do it seem to be the motivating opinions. Just more evidence for the importance of law's legitimacy for a sense of justice to be possible. . . . Remember a while back when I talked about using Second Life or other virtual life programming to simulate crime conditions and when the initial feedback indicated that the energy and computing power necessary would be prohibitive? Well, others, it turns out, have had something of the same idea. Here, at an interesting new blog on judicial performance measures that doesn't post enough, they've suggested mirroring case processing conditions to see what happens when those conditions can be controlled (unlike Real Life prosecutors, defense, and judges). The estimated costs were between $100,000 and $300,000. Prohibitive for me or you, but isn't there some university or non-profit with some spare change lying around? (h/t Governing) . . . Finally, IL looks like it may get heavy into criminal code revisions. This is always a good idea but extraordinarily hard, especially if you haven't done it for a while. It also is a very good way to rethink your punishments within the context of consistency and equal justice rather than simply as a means of hiking pain for offenders or instituting "reform." It's especially helpful, however, if you really are thinking "guidelines." Chances are you will be wanting to categorize common offenses together for your sentencing grids, and that will likely lead to joining by either common penalties and/or felony classifications. If you don't link the two, you might end up with two different classification systems in effect. But linking them isn't always a salvation. In WI, the reclassification was done by the same people who developed the state's temporary guidelines and recommended the sentencing commission there. However, when possible permanent guidelines were proposed there, using the felony classification scheme approved based on the prior recs, one of the commissioners who had worked on and voted for the resulting classifications threw a less than mature fit over how some offenses had been linked. Yes, it was all politics and pique, but it could have been avoided (and the state might now have real and meaningful guidelines rather than the Zen restrictions it has) had the guidelines and classification happened at the same time. At the very least, a review of your current classifications should go on parallel with your guidelines development. You'll save yourself a lot of trouble (and silliness) later.