SMART ￼￼￼on CRIME Reforming The Criminal Justice System for the 21st Century ￼
August 2013 ￼￼￼
“By targeting the most serious offenses, prosecuting the most dangerous criminals, directing assistance to crime ‘hot spots,’ and pursuing new ways to promote public safety, deterrence, efficiency, and fairness – we can become both
INTRODUCTION At the direction of the Attorney General, in early 2013 the Justice Department launched a comprehensive review of the criminal justice system in order to identify reforms that would ensure federal laws are enforced more fairly and—in an era of reduced budgets—more efficiently. Specifically, this project identified five goals:
- To ensure finite resources are devoted to the most important law enforcement priorities; To promote fairer enforcement of the laws and alleviate disparate impacts of the criminal justice system;
- To ensure just punishments for low-level, nonviolent convictions; To bolster prevention and reentry efforts to deter crime and reduce recidivism;
- To strengthen protections for vulnerable populations.
As part of its review, the Department studied all phases of the criminal justice system—including charging, sentencing, incarceration and reentry—to examine which practices are most successful at deterring crime and protecting the public, and which aren’t. The review also considered demographic disparities that have provoked questions about the fundamental fairness of the criminal justice system.
The preliminary results of this review suggest a need for a significant change in our approach to enforcing the nation’s laws. Today, a vicious cycle of poverty, criminality, and incarceration traps too many Americans and weakens too many communities. However, many aspects of our criminal justice system may actually exacerbate this problem, rather than alleviate it. smarter and tougher on crime.” Remarks to American Bar Association’s Annual Convention in San Francisco, CA —Attorney General Eric Holder August 12, 2013
￼￼￼The reality is, while the aggressive enforcement of federal criminal statutes remains necessary, we cannot prosecute our way to becoming a safer nation. To be effective, federal efforts must also focus on prevention and reentry. In addition, it is time to rethink the nation’s system of mass imprisonment. The United States today has the highest rate of incarceration of any nation in the world, and the nationwide cost to state and federal budgets was $80 billion in 2010 alone. This pattern of incarceration is disruptive to families, expensive to the taxpayer, and may not serve the goal of reducing recidivism. We must marshal resources, and use evidence-based strategies, to curb the disturbing rates of recidivism by those reentering our communities.
These findings align with a growing movement at the state level to scrutinize the cost-effectiveness of our corrections system. In recent years, states such as Texas and Arkansas have reduced their prison populations by pioneering approaches that seek alternatives to incarceration for people convicted of low-level, nonviolent drug offenses.
It is time to apply some of the lessons learned from these states at the federal level. By shifting away from our over-reliance on incarceration, we can focus resources on the most important law enforcement priorities, such as violence prevention and protection of vulnerable populations.
The initial package of reforms described below—dubbed the Justice Department’s “Smart on Crime” initiative—is only the beginning of an ongoing effort to modernize the criminal justice system. In the months ahead, the Department will continue to hone an approach that is not only more efficient, and not only more effective at deterring crime and reducing recidivism, but also more consistent with our nation’s commitment to treating all Americans as equal under the law.
We of course must remain tough on crime. But we must also be smart on crime.
FIVE PRINCIPLES OF “SMART ON CRIME”
I. PRIORITIZE PROSECUTIONS TO FOCUS ON MOST SERIOUS CASES Given scarce resources, federal law enforcement efforts should focus on the most serious cases that implicate clear, substantial federal interests. Currently, the Department’s interests are:
- Protecting Americans from national security threats
- Protecting Americans from violent crime
- Protecting Americans from financial fraud
- Protecting the most vulnerable members of society
Based on these federal priorities, the Attorney General is, for the first time, requiring the development of district-specific guidelines for determining when federal prosecutions should be brought. This necessarily will mean focusing resources on fewer but the most significant cases, as opposed to fixating on the sheer volume of cases.
For more: http://www.justice.gov/ag/smart-on-crime.pdf .
“In 2010, President Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act, reducing unfair disparities in sentences imposed on people for offenses involving different forms of cocaine.
“But there are still too many people in federal prison who were sentenced under the old regime – and who, as a result, will have to spend far more time in prison than they would if sentenced today for exactly the same crime.
“This is simply not right.
“Legislation pending in Congress would help address these types of cases. In the meantime, President Obama took a sensible step towards addressing this situation by granting commutations last December to eight men and women who had each served more than 15 years in prison for crack cocaine offenses. For two of these individuals, it was the first conviction they’d ever received – yet, due to mandatory minimum guidelines that were considered severe at the time, and are profoundly out of date today – they and four others received life sentences.
“These stories illustrate the vital role that the clemency process can play in America’s justice system.
“The White House has indicated it wants to consider additional clemency applications, to restore a degree of justice, fairness, and proportionality for deserving individuals who do not pose a threat to public safety. The Justice Department is committed to recommending as many qualified applicants as possible for reduced sentences.
“Later this week, the deputy attorney general will announce new criteria that the department will consider when recommending applications for the President’s review. This new and improved approach will make the criteria for clemency recommendation more expansive. This will allow the Department of Justice and the president to consider requests from a larger field of eligible individuals.
“Once these reforms go into effect, we expect to receive thousands of additional applications for clemency. And we at the Department of Justice will meet this need by assigning potentially dozens of lawyers – with backgrounds in both prosecution and defense – to review applications and provide the rigorous scrutiny that all clemency applications require.
“As a society, we pay much too high a price whenever our system fails to deliver the just outcomes necessary to deter and punish crime, to keep us safe, and to ensure that those who have paid their debts have a chance to become productive citizens.
“Our expanded clemency application process will aid in this effort. And it will advance the aims of our innovative new Smart on Crime initiative – to strengthen the criminal justice system, promote public safety and deliver on the promise of equal justice under law.”
The full video message is available at http://www.justice.gov/agwa.php.
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole at the Press Conference Announcing the Clemency Initiative
Washington, D.C. ~ Wednesday, April 23, 2014 doj.gov
Good morning and thank you all for being here. I am pleased to announce a Department of Justice initiative to encourage qualified federal inmates to petition to have their sentences commuted, or reduced, by the President of the United States.
Last year, the Attorney General launched a new “Smart on Crime” initiative. Smart on Crime was conceived with an eye toward addressing the crises caused by a vastly overcrowded prison population and with a goal of redirecting some of the dollars we spend on prisons to prosecutors and law enforcement agents working to keep our streets safer. It is designed to strengthen the criminal justice system, promote public safety, and deliver on the promise of equal justice under law.
In 2010, President Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced unfair disparities in sentences for offenses involving crack cocaine. But the Fair Sentencing Act did not apply to those who were sentenced before its passage. And now there are many people in federal prison who were sentenced under the old regime – and who, as a result, will have to spend far more time in prison than they would if sentenced today for exactly the same crime. The fundamental American concept, equal justice under law, requires that our laws be enforced fairly – and not just going forward, but it is equally important that we extend this fairness to those who are already serving prison sentences for their crimes.
Last December, President Obama took steps toward addressing this situation by granting commutations to eight men and women who had each served more than 15 years in prison for crack cocaine offenses. For two of these individuals, it was the first conviction they’d ever received – yet, due to mandatory guidelines that were considered severe at the time, and are out of date today – they and four others had received life sentences. Since that time, the President has indicated that he wants to be able to consider additional, similar applications for commutation of sentence, to restore a degree of fairness and proportionality for deserving individuals. The Justice Department is committed to responding to the President’s directive by finding additional candidates who are similarly situated to those granted clemency last year, and recommending qualified applicants for reduced sentences.
We are launching this clemency initiative in order to quickly and effectively identify appropriate candidates, candidates who have a clean prison record, do not present a threat to public safety, and were sentenced under out-of-date laws that have since been changed, and are no longer seen as appropriate. While those sentenced prior to the Fair Sentencing Act may be the most obvious candidates, this initiative is not limited to crack offenders. Rather, the initiative is open to candidates who meet six criteria: they must be
(1) inmates who are currently serving a federal sentence in prison and, by operation of law, likely would have received a substantially lower sentence if convicted of the same offense today
(2) are non-violent, low-level offenders without significant ties to large-scale criminal organizations, gangs, or cartels
(3) have served at least 10 years of their sentence
(4) do not have a significant criminal history
(5) have demonstrated good conduct in prison; and (6) have no history of violence prior to or during their current term of imprisonment.
4/2/14 By Richard Martin – KQED Perspectives
Whether you’re trying to get a job or rent an apartment, you know the application will ask The Question: “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?”
For most people it’s an automatic “no.” But for millions The Question is an automatic disqualifier – a reminder that even though they’ve paid their debt to society they’re still shadowed by the stigma of a felony conviction.
I’m one of them.
More than 20 years ago – after growing up in San Francisco, going to Catholic schools, and playing music in the city’s nightclubs – I was convicted of drug possession for a third time. That earned me a sentence of three to five years in state prison.
I was lucky. The judge offered me rehab rather than prison. I knew I needed treatment. I entered a residential drug program and emerged 18 months later, clean and sober.
It turned my life around. I earned my master’s degree in English, published stories and books. But because of my record, I’m barred from what I really want to do – teach high-school English.
I’ve stopped applying for jobs in the private sector, where my answer to The Question sends my application to the trash. I’ve been turned down twice for places to live. My wife and I weren’t allowed to adopt children.
My felony conviction is a life sentence. But the stigma is starting to fade.
Last year California prohibited state and local governments from asking about conviction history in the first stage of job applications. Recently San Francisco limited the power of most private companies, as well as landlords for affordable housing, from asking about criminal records. They also must consider how long ago an offense occurred and whether it’s relevant to the application.
Punishing prisoners after they’ve done their time is unfair. It makes finding a job or an apartment harder and is one reason why recidivism is up 500 percent in California since my convictions and the prison population is so high a federal judge has ruled it cruel and unusual punishment.
Listen, if I can turn my life around, anyone can. Our jails and prisons are filled with untapped potential, people who could help lift our country up. We just need a fair chance.
With a Perspective, I’m Richard Martin. Richard Martin is development director for a nonprofit that helps incarcerated people and their families. He lives in San Francisco.
For the audio interview: http://www.kqed.org/a/perspectives/R201404020735 .
National Institute of Justice Recidivism is one of the most fundamental concepts in criminal justice. It refers to a person’s relapse into criminal behavior, often after the person receives sanctions or undergoes intervention for a previous crime. Recidivism is measured by criminal acts that resulted in the rearrest, reconviction or return to prison with or without a new sentence during a three-year period following the prisoner’s release.
Current National Statistics on Recidivism
Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) studies have found high rates of recidivism among released prisoners. One study tracked 272,111 prisoners in 15 states after their release from prison in 1994. The researchers found that:
- Within three years:
- 67.5 percent were rearrested (almost exclusively for felonies or serious misdemeanors)
- 46.9 percent were reconvicted
- 25.4 percent were resentenced to prison for a new crime
- The offenders accumulated 4.1 million arrest charges before their most recent imprisonment and another 744,000 charges within three years of release.
- Released prisoners with the highest rearrest rates were robbers (70.2 percent), those in prison for possessing, using or selling illegal weapons (70.2 percent), burglars (74.0 percent), larcenists (74.6 percent), those in prison for possessing or selling stolen property (77.4 percent), and motor vehicle thieves (78.8 percent).
Within three years, 2.5 percent of released rapists were arrested for another rape, and 1.2 percent of those who had served time for homicide were arrested for another homicide.
Desistance from Crime
In an effort to build on what is currently known about desistance from crime, NIJ issued a directed solicitation in 2012. RTI International, in partnership with Pennsylvania State University’s Justice Center for Research, was awarded funds to conduct research that builds on earlier work that examined the main effects of re-entry programming on recidivism.
The research team theorizes that although offender services and programs may have a direct effect on desistance, individuals must decide independently to transform themselves into ex-offenders. Programs and services may facilitate transformation, just as individual transformation — or the lack thereof — may moderate the effects of re-entry assistance.
To examine the cognitive transformation theory of desistance, the RTI-Penn State study involves a long-term follow-up of more than 700 individuals who were originally interviewed between 2004 and 2005 as participants in the Multisite Evaluation of the Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative (SVORI).
The participants include 582 men, 79 of whom were juveniles at the time of the original interviews, and 168 women. These individuals have extensive criminal histories, and more than 80 percent of the men and 75 percent of the women experienced at least one arrest in the four-and-a-half-year period following their release from prison in 2004-2005. Researchers will conduct interviews with participants focusing on cognitive transformation. These interviews will take place about a decade after the participants were first interviewed as part of SVORI and an average of 20 to 25 years after they were first arrested. In addition to conducting interviews for their study, the RTI-Penn State researchers are using existing administrative and interview data from SVORI, as well as current official arrest and reincarceration data.