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Leading state corrections chiefs say a new report showing that 45 percent of prison admissions nationwide are driven by violations of parole or probation is forcing them to rethink their approach to community supervision.
The report released Tuesday by the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center represents the first state-by-state analysis of the issue. According to the report, the high numbers of individuals sent back behind bars either for new crimes or simply for breaking supervision rules adds a huge burden for taxpayers and conflicts with the goal of reducing recidivism.
“This has forced us to look at our rules,” said John Wetzel, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.
Wetzel noted that the CSG report showed Pennsylvania spent over $100 million on tracking parole violators.
”If we need to spend $100 million to ensure that the citizens of Pennsylvania were safe we would do that,” he said in a conference call in advance the report’s release.
“But the reality of it is that often times, these technical parole violations—when they result in incarceration—really lead to further crime and further violations.”
The report, Confined and Costly: How Supervision Violations are Filling Prisons and Burdening Budgets, found that 25 percent of prison admission nationally were the result of technical violations such as failed drug tests or missed curfews.
“No one thinks people should be sent to prison for a missed curfew or faulty paperwork, and yet this report shows these kinds of minor technical violations are contributing significantly to state prison populations,” said Julienne James, director of criminal justice for Arnold Ventures, which provided funding for the analysis.
“This should serve as a wakeup call that our probation and parole systems are not healthy, not functioning as intended, and need to be reformed.
In Tuesday’s conference call, Anne Precythe, director of the Missouri Department of Corrections, said her state plans to implement this month a “behavior matrix” which refines the tools used by community supervision authorities to assess whether a given violation merits a return to prison.
“(The CSG ) report is really going to help us get our story out there.”
In Missouri more than half of prison admissions are due to technical violations, Precythe said.
Taxpayers are footing a huge bill, according to the report, froim a practice that, on any given day, leaves nearly 280,000 people in prison as a result of supervision violations—and costs over $9 billion annually.
For a copy of the report, including a tool that allows numbers to be broken down by state, please click here.
TCR News Intern Brian Demo contributed to this summary.
President Trump’s ambitious deportation goals, such as his latest pledge to deport “millions of illegal aliens,” have crashed again and again into the reality of the U.S. immigration enforcement system, the Washington Post reports. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is averaging 7,000 deportations per month from the U.S. interior. With unauthorized border crossings soaring to their highest levels in more than a decade, ICE has been facing a shortage of funds and detention beds. Experts say a large-scale push to arrest and deport hundreds of thousands of migrants would be exorbitantly expensive and highly unlikely. For ICE, making “at large” arrests in homes and neighborhoods — the key to chipping away at the “millions” Trump wants to expel — will require significant amounts of planning, coordination and secrecy.
By telegraphing plans for a nationwide roundup, the president risked undermining the effectiveness of ICE’s most complex enforcement operation in years. The plan is aimed at sweeping up and deporting thousands of migrant family members in major cities who were ordered to leave after their cases were evaluated by immigration judges. On Tuesday, officials acknowledged that Trump’s unexpected tweet had blown the cover off the plan. They predicted that would-be deportees could scatter from known addresses, diminishing the agency’s chances for success. ICE director Mark Morgan said Tuesday on “PBS NewsHour” that he hoped immigrants facing deportation would “work with us” and “come and turn themselves in to ICE agents and we will work with them to remove them to their countries.” At its peak, ICE deported more than 400,000 immigrants during the entire 2012 fiscal year, and more than half of those were border-crossers who could be quickly sent home. Trump told a cheering crowd in Phoenix three months before his election that he would deport millions of immigrants who had allegedly committed crimes.
Some 2,600 people packed a Phoenix church Tuesday night for a community meeting after a young couple’s violent encounter with Phoenix police made international news, reports Phoenix New Times. Tensions ran high at the meeting where several people whose loved ones had been shot and killed by police officers addressed Police Chief Jeri Williams and Mayor Kate Gallego. Many decried the department’s lack of transparency surrounding the deaths of their sons and brothers. When Williams took the microphone, she was quickly drowned out by boos and infuriated yells from the crowd. Gallego was also met with boos when she spoke at the end of the three-hour meeting.
“This is a very difficult conversation, and it will continue. We are going to come back in 30 days with recommendations. We have listened to you,” Gallego promised. Dravon Ames, 22, his pregnant fiancée, Iesha Harper, and their two young children were accosted by police last month after their daughter walked out of a dollar store with a doll. Video of the encounter, filmed by local residents, has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times worldwide and has brought renewed scrutiny to a department reeling from the revelation that 97 officers shared racist posts on social media. “The police department is a part of the community. I am listening to what you say …” Emotions ran high as community members vented frustrations with a police department responsible for a record-high number of police shootings.
Denver’s violent crime rate is rising faster than any other large U.S. city, though the number of homicides, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults remains low compared with many other metro areas, reports the Denver Post. The per-capita violent crime rate in Denver grew nine percent between 2017 and 2018, while most large cities in the U.S. saw a decline, said a survey from the Brennan Center. On average, violent crime rates in 25 of the nation’s most populous cities dropped 4 percent in that time period. Denver police say data from the first five months of 2019 show the upward trend may be shifting, said Deputy Police Chief Barb Archer.
Police Chief Paul Pazen has attributed last year’s high homicide rate in part to gang disputes and domestic violence. Sixty-seven people were shot, stabbed or beaten to death in Denver last year, the highest number since 2004. Nonfatal shootings and other gun violence have also increased. Overall crime rates in the Mile High City have increased every year since 2014, reaching 4,260 crimes per 100,000 residents in 2018. That’s a nearly 7 percent increase in four years. Still, Denver’s violent crime rate — 629 violent crimes per 100,000 residents — is about a third of what is reported in the most violent large cities, Detroit and Baltimore. The rate is also nowhere near Denver’s record of 987 violent crimes set in 1992. Denver crime data for the first five months of 2019 show improvement compared with the same time period last year. All categories of crime have declined or stayed level. Archer attributed this year’s declines to a series of new crime prevention programs, including an initiative to educate potential domestic abusers about their harmful behavior. The police department recently switched back to four 10-hour shifts for patrol officers, which means there is more overlap between shifts and more resources at crucial times, she said.
In the past 18 months, Utah’s prison population has grown by 362 inmates, corrections director Mike Haddon said Tuesday, bringing the total count to 6,766, That growth rate is “simply not sustainable,” Haddon told lawmakers, with the maximum prison capacity topping out at under 7,000. “We only have 199 beds available within the prison system,” he said, the Salt Lake Tribune reports. He is exploring short- and long-term options for addressing capacity and staffing shortages, like new but unfunded partnerships with county jails to house prisoners and prioritizing moderate- and high-risk offenders in probation and parole work.
Utah’s prison population growth rate is among the nation’s highest, despite recent criminal justice reform efforts aimed at diverting both adults and juveniles to alternative programs. Haddon said previously closed areas of the prison in Draper could be reopened to allow for additional beds, but he cautioned that staffing there is low and that beds have been intentionally capped at 3,600 to match the size of a new prison under construction in Salt Lake City that will replace the current site. The new prison was originally planned to house 4,000 inmates, at a disputed construction cost of $650 million. In April, state officials announced that the planned capacity had been reduced to 3,600 beds to offset roughly $130 million in higher-than-expected construction costs. Rep. Eric Hutchings suggested that pressure on prison capacity is likely to continue, if not increase, as Utah’s population continues to grow. “To add a million people to the state and not give you any more beds is just kind of reckless,” Hutchings said. Utah’s prison population had been in decline between 2013 and 2017.
Thousands of sick, dying, and elderly federal prisoners who are eligible for early release will have access to free legal representation through a newly established Compassionate Release Clearinghouse. The clearinghouse is a collaborative pro bono effort involving Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) It will match qualified prisoners with legal counsel if they need to pursue a case in court.
“People who can barely make it out of their beds in the morning should not have to go into court alone against the largest law firm in the nation,” said FAMM’s Kevin Ring, The clearinghouse is being assisted by the Washington, D.C., law firm of Zuckerman Spaeder LLP through partner Steve Salky. “Sick and dying prisoners for years were unjustly denied release on compassionate release grounds by the Bureau of Prisons,” said Jonathan Smith of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. The effort was made possible by the passage of the First Step Act, which allows prisoners to appeal to a sentencing judge if their petitions for release are denied or unanswered.
A majority of Americans believe that heated or aggressive rhetoric from politicians can lead to violence. A new report from the Pew Research Center found that 78 percent of Americans believe such rhetoric from elected officials makes violence against targeted groups more likely, The Guardian reports. A similar majority, 73 percent, believe elected officials should avoid heated language because it encourages violence. Though no leaders were mentioned in the survey question, the report broadly focuses on the public’s opinion of political discourse under President Trump. Of those surveyed, 55 percent said Trump had changed the tone and nature of political debate for the worse. Given a list of positive and negative sentiments, ranging from “hopeful” to “concerned”, a large majority said the president’s statements often or sometimes made them “concerned”, “confused” and “embarrassed”.
Research has shown that Trump’s election is likely to have made those who hold racist beliefs more comfortable with their views. Studies have pointed to an increase in crimes against some groups after Trump’s election. After years of falling, hate crimes have risen in the last three years. Susan Benesch of Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Security coined the term “dangerous speech” expressing fear that a group of people is facing an existential or moral threat from another group. Benesch says Trump “absolutely uses the language of threat,” describing non-citizens as “invaders.”
More than 3,000 times a day, New York State yanks a motorist’s driving privileges simply because he or she couldn’t afford to pay their traffic fines or failed to show up for a court date over it.
And nowhere in the state is this practice more concentrated than in the impoverished neighborhoods of Rochester, N.Y.
While the reasons for that may be unclear — and whether aggressive policing, population density, and limited public transportation options are factors — the implications for residents are not, say anti-poverty advocates striving to bring attention to what they say is an unfair system that punishes people just for being poor.
“This is counterproductive,” said Joanna Weiss, executive director of the Fines and Fees Justice Center, which recently studied the state’s distribution of debt-related license suspensions as part of the organization’s Driven to Justice campaign.
“At a high level, if you want someone to pay a fine, then taking away their means of getting to work is counterproductive and makes no sense.”
Driving is recognized as being such a necessity that the state allows people convicted of driving while intoxicated to obtain a conditional license so they can still drive to and from work or school. But the same doesn’t apply for traffic fines.
“The state doesn’t take licenses away from people who have clearly committed public safety offenses, but they take it away if you can’t pay a $200 or $300 fine,” said Timothy Donaher, Monroe County public defender and a member of the Driven to Justice coalition.
The group comprises an array of grassroots, economic justice and civil rights organizations, public defenders and people impacted by suspensions.
Recognizing that the current license suspension scheme disproportionately hits people who can least afford to lose their means of transportation, legislative efforts are underway to scuttle the practice and make it easier for all motorists to pay non-criminal traffic fines.
A state Senate bill — supported by the coalition — that would do just that is under consideration by the Finance Committee.
If that bill and its Assembly companion pass before the legislative session ends June 19 and are signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York would join a growing number of states that have recently stopped suspending drivers’ licenses for unpaid debt, including California, Idaho, Maine, Mississippi and Virginia.
The practice is also under scrutiny in states including Alabama, Oregon, Montana and Michigan where there have been successful constitutional challenges to its legality.
“The reality is that here in Monroe County, you need a driver’s license to be a productive citizen,” said Donaher. “You need it to get to your place of employment, to your doctor, to the grocery store, to take your kids to child care. Try to live as a poor person in the city and do all that on the bus, it’s simply not feasible. It’s impossible.”
No License, No Job
Angel Pagan lives in Rochester’s 14621 neighborhood.
Earlier this year, he lost his part-time (and only) job when he needed to take a day off to answer charges he’d been driving without a license.
“I made a mistake, I guess I had my bright lights on and didn’t know it,” said Pagan. “Irondequoit police pulled me over and asked me for my license and that’s when I found out it was suspended.”
Turns out, it was suspended nearly five years ago as a result of an unpaid fine from the time he got pulled over in East Rochester while driving an unregistered car he’d just bought a few blocks over to his house.
He said he never got a mailed notice, but he’d moved a couple of times since then so it was possible that any mail got lost.
“This is so confusing,” he said. “It’s terrifying, they suspended your license and you can’t make it to work and you can’t pay your bills and you lose your job, you lose everything.”
Pagan is on disability. He gets $748 per month. His rent is $650. His boss told him if he needed to take a day off from work to make his court date, he shouldn’t bother coming back.
A recent study in New Jersey showed that 42 percent of people who had their licenses suspended for nonpayment of debt lost their jobs within six months. And, nearly half of those people were unable to obtain new employment for the duration of the suspension.
A Wisconsin study revealed that among recipients of public assistance, having a valid driver’s license was a more accurate predictor of sustained employment than even a high school diploma.
To pay for his tickets — both old and new — Pagan stopped paying his RG&E bill and thought about giving up his apartment so he could use the rent money.
He sold his car instead.
In court in mid-May, Pagan pleaded guilty to third-degree facilitating aggravated unlicensed operation — a traffic violation, rather than the initial misdemeanor he’d been charged with — and was fined $200 plus the mandatory $93 state surcharge.
75% of Suspended Motorists Continue to Drive
The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators found that about 75 percent of drivers with suspensions continue to drive.
And, the group says, when licenses are suspended for non-safety-related reasons, suspension becomes less serious in the eyes of law enforcement, courts and the public.
Estimates are that at least 10 percent of all unlicensed operator tickets written nationally are connected to debt-related suspensions.
“We are charging people for their poverty and getting people entrenched in the criminal justice system that don’t belong there,” said Weiss. “If you have money, you pay and walk away and there’s this whole other justice system for people who can’t afford to pay their tickets.”
The Fines and Fees Justice Center’s Driven by Justice study focused on license suspensions issued between January 2016 and April 2018.
In all, nearly 1.7 million suspensions solely for unpaid traffic court debt were issued by the state Department of Motor Vehicles during that time.
In 2016 alone, there were 43 suspensions issued statewide for every 1,000 New Yorkers of driving age,
“This is a misuse of justice resources,” said Weiss. “It makes sense to suspend licenses in order to keep a dangerous driver off the road, but if you can’t pay a ticket or miss a court date, that’s not an indication you’re a dangerous driver. We’re using our police resources, and clogging our court systems.”
Meaghan McDermott is a 2019 John Jay/Arnold Justice Reporting Fellow. This is a condensed version of a story that appeared in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle this week as part of her fellowship project. The complete story is available by subscription only here. Read her first project story here.
In order to make a substantial impact on the safety of struggling neighborhoods, advocates and law enforcement must focus on identifying and healing those who are most vulnerable to violence, a conference at John Jay College was told Tuesday.
Speakers at John Jay Panel (L-R): Right: Moderator Louisa Aviles, Panelists Eric L. Cumberbatch, Timothy Ellenberger, Rachel Teicher, Sandi Tibbetts Murphy. Photo by Andrea Cipriano
“Hurt people hurt people,” she said.
While it may seem like an overused cliché in the criminal justice and mental health field, Teicher said its lesson still rings true, especially in cases of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV).
Individual who are victims of violence, whether at home or in the community, can often evolve into abusers, and what are called “high risk individuals.”
Teicher was speaking at a panel on the first day of the NNSC’s fifth biennial conference, which marked 10 years of the NNSC’s work in violence prevention and intervention around the country.
The challenge of identifying those at “high risk” to commit violence is often addressed by police strategies involving crime mapping and so-called “hot spot” detection. But several panelists questioned the strategies as not probing deeply enough to locate the most vulnerable people.
Eric L. Cumberbatch, Photo by Andrea Cipriano
“We need to start identifying [hot spots] as ‘areas that need healing,’” said Eric L. Cumberbatch, executive director of the New York City Mayor’s Office to Prevent Gun Violence, to applause from the audience of just over 100 people.
Cumberbatch, who wore a graphic t-shirt with the slogan “Guns Down, Life Up,” said changing the terminology used to describe high-risk areas will “empower” more community members to step forward when they need help.
“Not a lot of us have tons of resources…we need to be able to provide more diverse resources,” and that goes for both victims of gun violence and IPV, she said.
Asked by moderator Louisa Aviles, director of the NNSC’s Group Violence Intervention project, about the changes required to develop violence prevention tactics that can help victims, Cumberbatch responded, “It needs to start with the communities.”
He continued by painting a narrative for the audience, saying if a violent crime happens in someone’s home, that traumatic experience is felt through the whole neighborhood.
That impacts adult, and children alike, said Cumberbatch, explaining that if an individual grows up in an “area that needs healing,” he or she is going to normalize and internalize that violence, which can lead to future offenses.
Timothy Ellenberger/ Photo by Andrea Cipriano
The fourth panelist, Timothy Ellenberger, Commander of the Major Crimes Section of the High Point (NC) police department, agreed that by instituting more peer support programs, communities will build themselves up and not tolerate crime.
“When there’s an act of violence, typically within 48 hours, we try to go back to that neighborhood with a flyer full of information about what we know, and what we don’t know,” he said.
High Point police are motivated by the understanding that community cooperation is the key to solving some of their cases, Ellenberger said, noting that transparency between community members and law enforcement helps build the trust that can lead to the arrests of violent offenders.
“If a neighborhood doesn’t have strong values or a sense of connection, they will fall into a pattern of crime,” he said.
But while better community-police relations aids in solving homicides, that doesn’t necessarily translate in IPV cases, said Teicher.
“Despite the great work to see if she is safe, we’re not paying enough attention to him,” or his potential rehabilitation,” she said, noting that more resources need to be available for abusers as well as survivors.
“It shouldn’t take a strangulation, which is essentially a failed murder attempt, or a ‘shots fired’ incident to escalate into a murder for action to happen,” added Murphy of the Battered Women’s Justice Project.
As another violence prevention tactic, the simple question in hospital discharge paperwork that asks, “Are you safe at home?” was cited by the panelists as being a step in the right direction.
Overall, it’s not to say that every panelist believes that rehabilitation, therapy, or peer support is the right response against offenders all the time.
“There are definitely situations where the handcuffs have to come out,” Murphy said. “But those are the situations where we have to work with survivors’ and victims’ families alike.”
It takes more than law enforcement to reduce violence in troubled neighborhoods, a conference on the “emerging science of violence prevention” was told Tuesday.
A combination of community outreach, peer support, and the involvement of civilian professionals from other disciplines can help isolate the individuals responsible for violence in America’s most at-risk neighborhoods, said David Kennedy, director of the National Network for Safe Communities (NNSC).
Inaugurating the NNSC’s fifth biennial summit at John Jay College, Kennedy said such combined multi-faceted efforts were critical.
“The homicide and gun violence that fundamentally affects the fabric of communities is acted out by a very, very small number of high-risk people,” Kennedy said. “We can tell who they are and we can give them a special kind of care and attention.”
The NNSC’s work over the past ten years has helped establish the potential for the “science” of violence prevention techniques to make a major impact on communities’ ability to reduce violent crime, he said.
In his keynote speech, Kennedy cited the dramatic decline of violence in cities such as Oakland, Ca., and New York City, as examples of the successful application of intervention techniques.
“This is work we now know how to do,” said Kennedy. “I consider that an incredible victory.”
In subsequent panels, representatives of different disciplines provided illustrations.
Fatimah Muhammad, executive director of the National Network of Hospital-Based Violence Intervention Programs (NNHVIP), explained her organization’s approach, which views “violence as a public health issue,” and uses hospitals as entry points to connect with victims of violence, and continues to work with them once they return to their communities.
“The idea is we need an opportunity to intervene as soon as possible… as people are beginning to think about their lives, and say ‘how can we wrap around them services of support?’” said Muhammad.
After describing their respective models for violence reduction, the panelists all reiterated the theme from the keynote speech that an investment in community engagement is key to the reduction of violent crimes.
In New York, the Mayor’s Office to Prevent Gun Violence, provides grants to influential figures in communities that suffer from gun violence, allowing them the resources to become leaders with the ability decide how to address the issue.
“We can recognize the power that’s in community, equip them with the skill set, take a step back, continue to supply them with data, and let community actually thrive,” said executive director Eric L. Cumberbatch.
DeVone Boggan, Founder and CEO of Advance Peace in Richmond, Ca., said that while working as neighborhood safety director for the city government, he successfully hired four formerly incarcerated people involved in gun violence to work for him.
“It’s also about involving those who are at the center of the issue that we’re trying to address—empowering those young people or young adults to become a part of the solution equation. They have to be there,” said Boggan.
Following the panel and concluding the morning session of the conference’s first day was a speech entitled “The Oakland Story,” given by Reygan Cunningham, senior partner in the California Partnership for Safe Communities (CPSC).
Cunningham gave an overview of the city of Oakland and its long history with violent crime all the way back to when the Black Panthers fought to protect themselves against the Oakland Police Department.
She also outlined her own history with the city, having grown up there and working in violent crime prevention for the city before joining CPSC.
Cunningham said that around the time when she started this work, Oakland was the third most violent city in the US and the most violent city in California. Since then, and in the past five years particularly, this has significantly changed for the better.
While Cunningham acted as the project manager for Operation Ceasefire, credited with Oakland’s drop in violent crime, her speech also focused on the community involvement aspect of the operation’s effectiveness.
“It was the community that brought the strategy to Oakland and it was the community that kept it there,” said Cunningham.
Attributing the project’s success to the city’s community, Cunningham went on to apply Oakland’s success to other cities attempting to reduce their rate of violent crimes.
“I just suggest to all cities, that whatever violence intervention you all decide to embark on… is to not enter into that space without the support and engagement—and real engagement—of the community,” said Cunningham.