Excellent article by Seattle Times staff reporter Agatha Pacheco discusses how a birpartisan group of lawmakers is continuing to push for change in a law that legislators, civil-rights groups and others say disproportionately burdens the poor and communities of color.
The bill has been referred to the Senate’s Law and Justice Committee but not yet scheduled for a hearing. Sen. Jamie Pederson, D-Seattle, who chairs the committee, said he agreed the issue is important, but with a short legislative session and many bills to review, he was hesitant to say if he will schedule a hearing on a proposal that in the past hasn’t been successful.
According to a 2017 report by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, Driving While License Suspended Third Degree is the state’s most commonly charged crime. SB 6189 would remove its misdemeanor status and make the charge a traffic infraction with a $250 penalty. The penalty would be reduced to $50 if a defendant could show he or she got the license reinstated.
Pacheco reports that since 1994, prosecutors in Washington state have filed some 1.4 million charges and obtained 860,000 convictions, according to the ACLU report. Native Americans were twice as likely as whites to be charged with the crime of third-degree driving while license suspended (DWLS-III), and blacks were three times as likely.
According to Pacheco, unpaid traffic infractions can pile up quickly, with some people accumulating thousands of dollars in fines that must be paid off to reinstate their license, said Rick Eichstaedt, executive director of theCenter for Justice, which operates a program in Spokane that helps people reinstate a suspended license.
In 2009, in conjunction with King County District Court, the prosecutor’s office stopped charging stand-alone DWLS-III cases, but Fain said prosecutors still spent a lot of time handling such cases tied to other crimes.
“I want to spend more of my time on things that will actually improve public safety,” Fain said. “I think individuals, especially lower-income people, living paycheck to paycheck need to be able to go to work and pay their fines,” Fain said, “so you want to make sure you’re not inhibiting a person’s ability to comply with the law.”
Pacheco correctly states that DWLS-III charges are the least serious of the DWLS charges. First- and second-degree driving with a suspended license are charges aimed at habitual offenders and those who lost their licenses due to drunken-driving or reckless-driving convictions.
Co-sponsor Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, said fines and the possibility of jail time under the current law effectively criminalize poverty and hurt communities of color.
“Putting people into this cycle where people get fined and they can’t pay and get further fined,” said Frockt, “there’s other alternatives.”
Pacheco says that if a measure is passed, Washington would join a handful of states that have decriminalized driving with a suspended license, including Oregon, Wisconsin and Maine, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
In 1993, Senate Bill 1741 made driving with a suspended license due to unpaid traffic infractions a misdemeanor.
My opinion? I hope the legislature decriminalizes DWLS-III. These charges essentially hook people into the criminal justice system for failing to pay traffic fines. The charges also expose people to a search incident to arrest with the very real possibility of police finding illegal contraband which may lead to heavier charges. Also, a DWLS-III conviction makes it difficult for people to get to work and further holds back those working their way toward paying off fines and avoiding more fines or jail time. Please contact me if you, a friend or family member is charged with DWLS III.
In In re Personal Restraint of Sandoval, the WA Supreme Court held that it was improper for the prosecutor to refer to the defendant as an “OG” (original gangster) in closing argument, where no one testified that simply being a longtime gang member was sufficient for “OG” status.
Sandoval is a member of the Eastside Lokotes Surefios (ELS) gang in Tacoma.
On February 7, 2010, ELS members, in a stolen van, pulled up to a car and fired no less
than 12 gunshots from at least two firearms into the passenger door of the car. The
driver, Camilla Love, was hit three times and died from her injuries.
During trial, the Prosecutor presented evidence indicating that Sandoval was a longtime ELS member. Sandoval concedes this. Evidence was also presented that OGs have elevated status. The trial court found this evidence sufficient to support a reasonable inference that
Sandoval was an OG.
Later, the jury ultimately convicted Sandoval as charged. The court sentenced Sandoval to a total sentence of 904 months of confinement. The ELS members who pleaded guilty received reduced charges.
Sandoval appealed. Among other issues on appeal, he argued that comments made by the prosecutor during rebuttal closing argument constituted misconduct and that this misconduct violated his constitutional right to a fair trial.
COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS
The Prosecutor’s “OG” References were Improper But Did Not Prejudice Sandoval.
The court explained that in order to make a successful claim of prosecutor misconduct, the defense must establish that the prosecuting attorney’s conduct was both improper and prejudicial. To be prejudicial, a substantial likelihood must exist that the misconduct affected the jury’s verdict. The Court further reasoned that when a defendant objects to an allegedly improper comment, it evaluates the trial court’s ruling for an abuse of discretion. Failure to object to an allegedly improper remark constitutes waiver unless the remark is so flagrant and ill-intentioned that it evinces an enduring and resulting prejudice that could not have been neutralized by an admonition to the jury.
“While some of the prosecutor’s comments were improper, Sandoval fails to demonstrate prejudice,” said the Court. The Supreme Court agreed that the prosecutor’s repeated references to Sandoval being an “OG” during his rebuttal closing argument was an improper attempt to embellish Sandoval’s culpability to the jury because the inference was not reasonably supported by the record.
“But no one testified that simply being a longtime gang member was sufficient for OG status,” said the Court. The court reasoned that although a witness testified that an OG was one of the older original members of the gang, the witness did not identify Sandoval as such, instead naming older gang members who were incarcerated at the time of the Love shooting. “Thus, the evidence presented at trial was insufficient for the prosecutor to reasonably infer that Sandoval was an OG,” said the Court. “As a result, the OG comments were improper.”
Nevertheless, the Supreme Court also reasoned that the prejudice generated from such comments is negligible. Sandoval freely admitted he needed to be involved in the attack, attended planning meetings for the attack, and voluntarily assisted a co-defendant in searching out a target and keeping an eye on police that evening. “Given these admissions, it is not substantially likely that the jury’s mistaken belief that Sandoval may have been an OG would have affected the outcome in this case. “This claim has no merit,” said the Court.
2. The Prosecutor’s Racial Comments Were Not Improper.
Here, Sandoval claimed that the prosecutor improperly distinguished between the
gang status of Asian/Pacific Islanders and Latinos during rebuttal closing argument.
The Supreme Court explained that it is improper and a Sixth Amendment violation for a
prosecutor to “flagrantly or apparently intentionally appeals to racial bias in a way that
undermines the defendant’s credibility or the presumption of innocence.”
The court explained that when racial bias is implicated, the normal prejudicial standard for prosecutorial misconduct is elevated. To avoid a constitutional violation from prosecutorial misconduct based on comments appealing to racial bias, the State must demonstrate that the misconduct did not affect the verdict “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
“However, this heightened standard does not apply every time a prosecutor mentions
race,” said the Court. “It applies only when a prosecutor mentions race in an effort to appeal to a juror’s potential racial bias, i.e., to support assertions based on stereotypes rather than evidence.”
The Supreme Court reasoned that here, the prosecutor referred to Asian/Pacific Islanders one time and did so to explain the hierarchy of the ELS membership; that is, only Latinos such as Sandoval could be full-fledged members.
The Supreme Court further reasoned that Sandoval, rather than the State, has the burden of demonstrating that the prosecutor’s comment regarding the role of Asian/Pacific Islanders was improper and prejudicial, and he fails to do so. The trial court did not err when it held that the prosecutor’s statement about gang hierarchy was a reasonable inference based on all the testimony that came out at trial.
“It is not substantially likely that any alleged improper comments by the prosecutor
prejudiced Sandoval,” said the Supreme Court. “This claim has no merit.”
With that, the Supreme Court upheld Sandoval’s conviction and sentence.
My opinion? Prosecutors are bound by a sets of rules which outline fair and dispassionate conduct, especially during trial. Generally, prosecutorial misconduct is an illegal act or failing to act, on the part of a prosecutor, especially an attempt to sway the jury to wrongly convict a defendant or to impose a harsher than appropriate punishment. If prosecutors break these rules, then misconduct might have happened.
Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member faces criminal charges, especially if it appears the prosecution is unfairly prosecuting your case. It’s important to hire defense counsel who know the scope and limits of which the government can go about proving its case.
Excellent article by Jeremy Raff of the Atlantic claims that although only 7 percent of non-citizens in the U.S. are black, they make up 20 percent of those facing deportation on criminal grounds.
The reason for higher deportation rates? Research suggests that because black people in the United States are more likely to be stopped, arrested, and incarcerated, black immigrants may be disproportionately vulnerable to deportation.
Raff reports that while the Obama administration prioritized immigrants with felony convictions for deportation, President Trump’s executive orders effectively made anyone in the country illegally a target for removal. Arrests of non-criminals more than doubled, and among those who have been charged with a crime, the top three categories are “traffic offenses—DUI,” “dangerous drugs,” and “immigration,” which means illegal entry, illegal reentry, false claim to U.S. citizenship, and trafficking, according to ICE. In fiscal year 2017, almost 74 percent of people arrested by ICE had a criminal conviction—arrests the agency uses to argue “that its officers know how to prioritize enforcement without overly prescriptive mandates.”
But Hernández sees something different in the large number of criminal convictions among ICE detainees.
“Racial bias present in the criminal-justice system plays itself out in the immigration context,” he said. “There are so many entry points” to deportation, said Das, and “when you are a person of color who is also an immigrant, you face a double punishment.”
Raff also reports that a 2016 report by the NYU Immigrant Rights Clinic, where Das is the co-director, and the Black Alliance for Just Immigration found that although black immigrants represent about 7 percent of the non-citizen population, they make up more than 10 percent of immigrants in removal proceedings. Criminal convictions amplify the disparity: Twenty percent of immigrants facing deportation on criminal grounds are black.
Today, almost 10 percent of the black population in the United States is foreign-born, up from about 3 percent in 1980. As the number of black immigrants has grown, so, too, have the linkages between cops, courts, and the immigration system.
Raff reports that in the early 1990s, there were around 5,000 immigrants detained each day; by 2001, the population quadrupled. And the Trump administration wants to keep that number growing: The president’s 2018 budget called for increasing the daily detainee population to 51,000, a 25 percent bump over last year.
“Additional detention space does make Americans safer,” argued Jessica Vaughan of the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that advocates for stricter enforcement. Detention also ensures that undocumented immigrants don’t “disappear into the woodwork,” Vaughan said. “The benefit of keeping illegal aliens in custody,” she said, is that “it prevents the release of criminal aliens back into the community to have the opportunity to reoffend.”
My opinion? Immigration and race relations certainly are hot-button topics in today’s administration. Hopefully,equitable decisions in the criminal justice system can be made which don’t unduly and/or specifically affect immigrants; regardless of their race.
Please contact my office you have a non-American friend or family member who faces criminal charges. Immigration issues play a huge factor in how criminal cases are resolved.
“From his crackdown on illegal immigration to his reversal of Obama administration policies on criminal justice and policing, Sessions is methodically reshaping the Justice Department to reflect his nationalist ideology and hard-line views — moves drawing comparatively less public scrutiny than the ongoing investigations into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with the Kremlin.”
Zapotsky and Horwitz write that Sessions has implemented a new charging and sentencing policy that calls for prosecutors to pursue the most serious charges possible, even if that might meanminority defendants face stiff, mandatory minimum penalties. He has defended the president’s travel ban and tried to strip funding from cities with policies he considers too friendly toward undocumented immigrants.Apprently, Sessions has even adjusted the department’s legal stances in cases involving voting rights and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues in a way that advocates warn might disenfranchise poor minorities and give certain religious people a license to discriminate.“The Attorney General is committed to rebuilding a Justice Department that respects the rule of law and separation of powers,” Justice Department spokesman Ian Prior said in a statement, adding, “It is often our most vulnerable communities that are most impacted and victimized by the scourge of drug trafficking and the accompanying violent crime.”
Zapotsky and Horwitz write that unlike past attorneys general, Sessions has been especially aggressive on immigration. He served as the public face of the administration’s rolling back of a program that granted a reprieve from deportation to people who had come here without documentation as children, and he directed federal prosecutors to make illegal-immigration cases a higher priority. The attorney general has long held the view that the United States should even reduce the number of those immigrating here legally.
Zapotsky and Horwitz said that in an interview with Breitbart News in 2015, then-Sen. Sessions (R-Ala.) spoke favorably of a 1924 law that excluded all immigrants from Asia and set strict caps on others.
“When the numbers reached about this high in 1924, the president and Congress changed the policy and it slowed down immigration significantly,” Sessions said. “We then assimilated through 1965 and created really the solid middle class of America, with assimilated immigrants, and it was good for America.”
“On issue after issue, it’s very easy to see what his worldview is of what this country is and who belongs in this country,” she said, adding that his view is “distinctly anti-immigrant.”
Police Oversight & Sentencing
Zapotsky and Horwitz write that questions about Sessions’s attitudes toward race and nationality have swirled around him since a Republican-led Senate committee in 1986 rejected his nomination by President Ronald Reagan for a federal judgeship, amid allegations of racism. In January, his confirmation hearing to become attorney general turned bitter when, for the first time, a sitting senator, Cory Booker (D-N.J.), testified against a colleague up for a Cabinet position. Booker said he did so because of Sessions’s record on civil rights.
Sessions ultimately won confirmation on a 52-to-47 vote, and he moved quickly to make the Justice Department his own. Two months into the job, he told the department’s lawyers to review police oversight agreements nationwide, currying favor with officers who often resent the imposition of such pacts but upsetting those who think they are necessary to force change.
Zapotsky and Horwitz also said that Sessions imposed a new charging and sentencing policy that critics on both sides of the aisle have said might disproportionately affect minority communities and hit low-level drug offenders with stiff sentences.
“Allies of Sessions say the policy is driven not by racial animus but by a desire to respond to increasing crime,” write Zapotsky and Horwitz. “The latest FBI crime data, for 2016, showed violent crimes were up 4.1 percent over the previous year and murders were up 8.6 percent — although crime remains at historically low levels. The Bureau of Prisons projects that — because of increased enforcement and prosecution efforts — the inmate population will increase by about 2 percent in fiscal 2018, according to a Justice Department inspector general report.”
According to Zapotsy and Horwitz, Sessions’s moves to empower prosecutors have led to a concerted focus on hate-crimes prosecutions — a point his defenders say undercuts the notion that he is not interested in protecting the rights of minorities or other groups. Prosecutors have brought several such cases since he became attorney general and recently sent an attorney to Iowa to help the state prosecute a man who was charged with killing a gender-fluid 16-year-old high school student last year. The man was convicted of first-degree murder.
The Justice Department has similarly rolled back Obama administration positions in court cases over voting rights.
In February, the department dropped its stance that Texas intended to discriminate when it passed its law on voter identification. And in August, it sided with Ohio in its effort to purge thousands of people from its rolls for not voting in recent elections — drawing complaints from civil liberties advocates.
At a recent congressional hearing, Sessions said the department would “absolutely, resolutely defend the right of all Americans to vote, including our African American brothers and sisters.”
According to Zapotsky and Horwitz, critics say that Sessions’ record shows otherwise. “We are seeing a federal government that is pulling back from protecting vulnerable communities in every respect,” Clarke said. “That appears to be the pattern that we are seeing with this administration — an unwillingness to use their enforcement powers in ways that can come to the defense of groups who are otherwise powerless and voiceless.”
My opinion? Watching the actions of the feds – and especially the top federal prosecutor for the United States – gives us a litmus test which defines the shape of things to come on a more local level. The reason why it’s important to watch the movements of federal prosecutions is because they impress upon – and persuade – the priorities of state prosecutions.
The commission’s analysis of demographic prison data from 2012 to 2016 found that black men serve sentences that are on average 19.1 percent longer than those for white men for similar crimes.
The racial disparity in sentencing can’t be accounted for by whether an offender has a history of violence, according to the study by the commission, an independent bipartisan agency that is part of the U.S. federal judiciary branch.
“Violence in an offender’s criminal history does not appear to contribute to the sentence imposed” except as it may factor into a score under sentencing guidelines, the study said.
When accounting for violence in an offender’s past, black men received sentences that were on average 20.4 percent longer than that of white men, according to the commission’s analysis of fiscal year 2016 data, the only year for which such data is available.
The new study updates an earlier commission report in 2012, known as the Booker report, that came after a Supreme Court decision in 2005, United States vs. Booker, which permitted judges to enhance an offender’s sentence based on “facts” determined by their own judgment. Before then, federal judges were only allowed to sentence an offender based on guidelines provided by the sentencing commission
According to the non-profit organization, The Sentencing Project, the U.S. is the world’s leader in incarceration, with 2.2 million people in prison as of 2015, a 500 percent increase over the last 40 years.
The Sentencing Project also found that black men are nearly six times as likely as white men to be incarcerated, and Hispanic men are 2.3 times as likely. For black men in their 30s, one in every 10 is in prison or jail on any given day, according to 2015 data cited by the organization.
The poll reveals the consequences of these stops for black Americans personally and across society — 31 percent of poll respondents say that fear of discrimination has led them to avoid calling the police when in need. And 61 percent say that where they live, police are more likely to use unnecessary force on a person who is black than on a white person in the same situation.
A Pew Research poll in 2016 asked whether people had been unfairly stopped by police because of race or ethnicity in the previous 12 months and found that 18 percent of black people said yes. A 2015 CBS News/New York Times poll asked whether this had ever happened and found 41 percent of black people said yes.
Neel reports that the NPR poll differs from Pew in that NPR asked not only about a much longer period but also whether people had been unfairly stopped or treated because of their race or ethnicity. Also the NPR poll differ from CBS in that NPR included the word “unfairly.” Finally, the NPR poll differs from both the Pew and CBS polls because NPR asked whether a person or a family member had had this experience, which gives a better sense of the presence of these experiences in respondents’ life and surroundings.
Neel also reports that the black American data from our poll, released Tuesday, were compiled from 802 black Americans as part of a large national representative probability survey of 3,453 adults from Jan. 26 to April 9. The margin of error for the full black American sample is plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.
It is imperative to contact a competent attorney if you, a friend or family member were pulled over, searched and/or seized by police under suspicious circumstances. Please contact my office for a free consultation.
“Now they will go after MS-13 with a renewed vigor and a sharpened focus,” Mr. Sessions said Monday as he addressed the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Philadelphia. “Just like we took Al Capone off the streets with our tax laws, we will use whatever laws we have to get MS-13 off of our streets.”
Ms. Noble wrote that prior to this year, the task force was only able to get involved in cases when they involved the drug trade or money laundering. But changes to the task force’s authority in this year’s budget allow the Justice Department to directly name an organization as a priority.
The change will mean that the task force can now get involved in a broad range of cases involving MS-13, also known as Mara Salvatrucha, including anything from murder prosecutions to firearms violations.
Noble says that Mr. Sessions has singled out MS-13’s involvement in the drug trade as a priority as his department has sought to combat both illegal immigration and an influx of drugs brought in the country from overseas.
“Drugs are killing more Americans than ever before in large part thanks to powerful cartels and international gangs and deadly new synthetic opioids like fentanyl,” Mr. Sessions said.
During his address to law enforcement leaders Monday, Mr. Sessions also highlighted a number of recent Justice Department grants awarded to police and sheriffs agencies:
The report indicates that the increase can be attributed in large part to victims feeling more comfortable reporting bias crimes due to enhanced trust, improved reporting mechanisms and ongoing community outreach by the Department.
“SPD continues to be a national leader in investigating and reporting bias crimes as well as outreach to communities experiencing these acts,” said Chief of Police, Kathleen O’Toole. “In the spirit of transparency and accountability we continue to release these reports letting the community know that the Department works hard every day to make sure our most vulnerable victims are heard and we pursue the justice they deserve.”
Highlights From the Report:
Bias crimes often occur between complete strangers and take victims by surprise. Many of them are property crimes committed anonymously under the cover of darkness. The Seattle Police Department’s clearance rate for these incidents is 39%. Many of these arrests are made by patrol officers arriving on the scene soon after an incident has occurred. Detectives work hard to locate suspects not found at the time of the incident. 13 cases from this period remain open and may be cleared by arrest.
The Seattle Police Department’s Bias Crime Coordinator partnered with community organizations to reach out to some of Seattle’s most vulnerable populations. Refugee and immigrant populations were a focus for outreach during this period. Information has been distributed in 18 different languages describing how to report a crime.
The highest rate of increase in reporting is in the category of crimes with bias elements, which are incidents which are not primarily motivated by bias, but bias language is used during the commission of a crime. These incidents went up 64%. Officers and the community recognize and report bias when they observe it.
“The first half of 2017 was characterized by a high level of interest in the community regarding hate crimes, as evidenced by the high rate of reporting in Seattle. I was contacted many times by people wanting to report incidents they had witnessed, or asking how they could help if they were to see someone being victimized,” said Detective Beth Wareing, Bias Crimes Coordinator. “We rely on the community to stay involved and aware for our efforts in combating hate crimes to be successful. The community is our most valuable partner.”
“SPD has adopted a number of best practices with regards to hate crime prevention, response and reporting,” said Dr. Jack McDevitt, Director of Institute on Race and Justice, at Northeastern University and a leading expert in bias crimes. “The Department has made numerous efforts toward improving both the data collection and reporting of bias crimes incidents. This data is not only collected, but analyzed monthly, a rarity in law enforcement.”
The Seattle Police Department encourages you to call 911 immediately if you’ve been a victim or witnessed a bias crime and lists the following resources available to victims of hate crimes:
Interesting article by Stephen Dinan of The Washington Times claims that a stunning 22 percent of the federal prison population is immigrants who have either already been deemed to be in the country illegally or who the government is looking to put in deportation proceedings, the administration said Tuesday.
All told, the government counted more than 42,000 aliens in federal prisons as of June 24. About 47 percent already face final deportation orders, making them illegal immigrants, and 3 percent are currently in immigration courts facing deportation proceedings.
Almost all of the rest are being probed by federal agents looking to deport them.
Immigrants who commit serious crimes, even if they once had legal status, can have that status revoked and can be subject to deportation, which explains the high number of cases where an alien is still being probed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The U.S. Marshal Service, meanwhile, is holding about 12,000 “self-reporting” aliens, and almost all of them have already been ordered deported.
Government officials said they’re still trying to collect information on the foreign-born population in state and local prisons and jails.
Kelly suggest reforms to rein in the charging powers of prosecutors. He recommends the creation of independent panels of clinical experts that would screen offenders and recommend to prosecutors who ought to be diverted to treatment.
“There is nothing about punishment that changes the underlying conditions, disorders and deficits that the majority of criminal offenders bring into the justice system,” Kelly says. Arrestees with mental illness, substance-use disorders, homelessness and other problems churn through the system and into prison, where the underlying issues that led to a lawless life are ignored.
In a conversation with TCR Contributing Editor David J. Krajicek, Kelly explains why he believes the system should incorporate more carrot and less stick for offenders and how the Trump administration’s approach threatens to make things worse. He also suggests that the public already has a more sophisticated view of how to fix the system than our political leaders.
The Crime Report: What is the impact of the country’s justice policy failures?
William R. Kelly: The short financial and statistical answer is that over the past 45 years, we have spent $1 trillion on the war on crime, $1 trillion on the war on drugs and have accomplished a recidivism rate of 65 percent. Nearly all of this effort has focused on trying to punish crime out of people, based on naïve conceptions of criminality such as “hanging around with the wrong people” and “making bad decisions.” The evidence is quite clear that crime has much more complex origins and correlates.
What we have accomplished is a nearly perfect recidivism machine, placing all of us at the unnecessary and avoidable risk of criminal victimization, and wasting extraordinary amounts of money.
TCR: You refer to “the culture of American criminal justice.” What are its key characteristics and how do you change it?
Kelly: It is squarely based on the “tough on crime” mantra. This has dictated the decisions of legislators, prosecutors, judges, and corrections officials. The focus over the past 45 years has been driven by retribution and misguided assumptions that punishment deters re-offending. The question that has been routinely asked is how much punishment does this offender deserve. A more productive question for many offenders is how do we reduce the likelihood a particular offender will reoffend…
We need to provide clear incentives to motivate changing how we think about crime and punishment. Cost-benefit analyses conclusively show that behavioral change through clinical intervention like mental health and substance use disorder treatment is much more effective and cost efficient. The financial advantages should motivate legislators and local government officials. Reducing recidivism should be an incentive for prosecutors, judges, public defenders, and probation and parole officers, who will benefit from reductions in caseloads. Then there is the greater good of enhanced public safety, something we incorrectly assume the justice system already does.
TCR: You say the facile American view of crime and punishment got us here. Have voters grown more sophisticated, or are reform-minded pols still at risk of being Willie Hortoned?
Kelly: Public opinion data demonstrate that much of the public has a more nuanced view of crime and punishment than many legislators, prosecutors and judges. The public believes that the purpose of corrections is to rehabilitate offenders and therefore reduce recidivism. Many have moved beyond “lock ‘em up and throw away the key.”
Unfortunately, many policymakers, elected officials and some segments of the public still seem to be holding on to the idea that criminals are just bad people deserving maximum punishment. I’m sorry to say that Willie Horton is alive and well…There appears to be a reluctance to really embrace meaningful, comprehensive criminal justice reform.
TCR: You write, “We have arrived at the nadir of politics and policy.” Did you write that before or after Donald Trump’s election?
Kelly: I wrote that before Trump was elected when I incorrectly believed that we had already reached bottom. Who would have thought that anyone with any sense of history and even a superficial exposure to the evidence would run as the law-and-order candidate and resurrect the war on drugs?
TCR: How do you demonstrate that “tough” and “dumb” are synonyms when it comes to criminal justice?
TCR: Who’s to blame for the state of “correctional malpractice” you say we are in?
Kelly: First and foremost, elected officials who have blindly championed “tough on crime” policies to their political benefit, but to the detriment of public safety and the prudent use of tax dollars. State legislators and Congress have provided the mechanisms for tough on crime—mandatory sentences, restrictive parole release laws, and an ever-expanding criminal code that seems to make criminal justice the go-to system for just about every social ill.
But the culpability of elected officials goes well beyond that. The vast majority of offenders in the criminal justice system have a substance-use disorder, 40 percent are mentally ill, and 60 percent have had a least one traumatic brain injury often leading to neurocognitive dysfunction…The decision to not properly fund public health, schools and social welfare agencies has created problems that by default are managed by the criminal justice system.
Criminal justice reform means much more than merely reforming the criminal justice system. It requires massive changes to and investment in a variety of collateral institutions.
TCR: Your book articulates and recommends a scientific approach to justice reform. Yet science is out of favor in Washington and many state houses. Is there a scientific path forward?
Kelly: Yes there is, but I am afraid that we need to disguise it for some, by minimizing the science and emphasizing the public safety benefits and cost savings.
TCR: You note an overlooked data point: The country has 21 million people with substance-use disorders, the world’s third-highest rate. What explains this particular American exceptionalism?
Kelly: It is largely a result of the lack of public substance abuse resources, including inadequate treatment capacity and insurance coverage. Much of it can be attributed to the failure of the war on drugs and the belief that we can either punish or threaten substance abuse out of people. Criminalizing substance abuse rather than treating it as a public health problem has led to the failure to provide adequate funding for treatment.
Unfortunately, the picture is bleaker. The majority of substance abuse and mental health treatment in the U.S. is paid for by Medicaid. Current versions of repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act call for substantial cuts to Medicaid. That does not bode well for a problem that is crippling the country, the economy, communities, families, and the justice system.
TCR: You write that we have used an absurdly simplistic approach (lock ‘em up) for a boundlessly complex problem. Explain briefly the research on co-morbidity among inmates.
Kelly: The vast majority of offenders in the criminal justice system have clearly identifiable disorders, deficits and impairments. Many have more than one disorder, known as co-morbidity or co-occurring disorders. For example, the majority of offenders with a mental illness also have a substance-use disorder. Neuro-cognitive problems are often co-morbid with mental health and substance abuse. It does not require a clinician to appreciate that “lockin’ ‘em up” does nothing to alleviate these conditions and in fact typically exacerbates them.
When we do attempt to address these problems–diversion to a drug court or a mental health court–our focus is on just one crime-related condition. Our correctional treatment and rehabilitation efforts typically ignore co-morbidity.
TCR: What do the rest of us in a presumably civilized society owe these damaged people?
Kelly: I don’t think it’s so much what we owe them, but what do we owe ourselves: lower crime and recidivism, lower risk of being victims of crime, and lower cost of criminal justice. We have the tools to accomplish these things, but making it a political priority has been elusive.
TCR: You compare the U.S. system to those of Germany and Holland; it doesn’t stack up well. You cite one lesson we can learn from those countries: “If you treat inmates like humans, they will act like humans.” How is it possible that we don’t know that already?
Kelly: In order to justify our draconian and dysfunctional reliance on punishment, we need to think of criminals as “not like us” in fundamental ways, as deserving retribution and harsh punishment. Punishment is what we have been told is the only thing “these people” will understand.
Psychological research confirmed a long time ago that, in most cases, incentives work much better than punishment for changing behavior. This is another example of the disjuncture between scientific evidence and criminal justice policy.
TCR: Your key recommendation is an “unprecedented expansion” of diversion away from court toward intervention and treatment. Describe the panel review process you suggest.
Kelly: Traditional criminal prosecution, conviction and punishment are entirely appropriate for many offenders. For example, violent offenders and chronic, habitual offenders probably need to be separated from society through incarceration in the interest of public safety. For many others, such as non-violent offenders and many drug offenders, we have a much better chance of reducing recidivism by diverting them and mitigating the factors that are associated with their criminality. One of the key issues here is making good decisions about who to divert and who to prosecute.
We developed the concept of independent panels of clinical experts to facilitate better decision-making, both in terms of who should be diverted and what treatment or intervention will decrease the probability of recidivism. Offenders often have complex clinical needs that require the special expertise of psychiatrists, psychologists and clinical social workers who can assess and diagnose, determine the risk of re-offending, and make recommendations to prosecutors.
The goal is to divert appropriate individuals away from traditional prosecution to situations where their risk can be supervised and managed and where they can receive adequate treatment and intervention.
TCR: And this is the “disruptive innovation” of your book title?
Kelly: The panels are part of it. Implementing this concept will require a substantial shift in how prosecutors do their jobs, as well as how we think about crime and punishment. In effect, this requires changing the criminal justice culture.
We also argue that all levels of government need to address major deficiencies in public health, a fundamental consideration in assuring adequate capacity and expertise for intervention and treatment. The bigger picture is that criminal justice reform requires disruptive innovation of collateral institutions, such as public health.
TCR: And how might it be greeted by prosecutors, who hold all the power right now?
Kelly: This will not be easy. However, reasonable incentives for prosecutors should be recidivism reduction, in turn reducing caseloads.
The primary reasons that prosecutors’ caseloads are so large and unmanageable relate to the failure to reduce recidivism.
TCR: You say these changes will force us to redefine success in our justice system. How so?
Kelly: Success should be measured by recidivism rates, something directly related to performance of criminal justice. As it stands now, there really is no accountability. Everyone involved in criminal justice–legislators, police, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, and corrections officials–should all be held responsible for recidivism reduction. That would also be a disruptive change.
TCR: Tell me about the process of partnering with Robert Pitman and William Streusand in this book.
Kelly: I wrote the book, but both Pitman and Streusand played very important roles in devising solutions. For example, Pitman, a former U.S. Attorney who is now a federal judge, brought his knowledge and expertise to the task of developing statutory and procedural details for how the expert panels would fit into the roles and responsibilities of prosecutors, defense counsel and judges.
The input of Streusand, a psychiatrist, was crucial in the development of the clinical protocol for the expert panels and assessing offender dysfunction, as well as the discussions about fixing public health.
TCR: You were going through a serious health crisis while writing this book, as you point out in the introduction. I hope you are doing well. I wonder if that diversionsomehow informed the book’s content.
Kelly: Thank you. I am in complete remission and feel very blessed. To be honest, it could not have worked out any better. I was diagnosed in early March of 2016, when I had a rough draft of one chapter written. I was so fortunate that I had this project to distract me from the reality of being pretty sick and going through some difficult chemo. It was also fortuitous that I had two collaborators who are very good friends and played important roles in my recovery.
I’m not sure that being sick informed the content, but I suspect it influenced the tone. If I sound impatient at times in the book, it is probably a result of being confronted with the reality that life is short.
**Excellent article, and excellent book by Mr. Kelly.