Honoring the Life and Work of Edward J. Latessa
Dr. Latessa, a special friend of the NASC, passed away this month. He had a multifaceted influence on the field of criminal justice over a remarkable career that spanned more than four decades. He was instrumental in building the School of Criminal Justice and a nationally recognized doctoral program at the University of Cincinnati, contributed defining scholarly research, and did more to shape correctional policy and practice than perhaps anyone else. The foundation of his impact, however, was his unique personality and his commitment to improving the lives of others. See this special issue of Victims & Offenders, published in September, now with free access.
An Assessment of Probation Sentencing Reform in Louisiana and Georgia
Louisiana and Georgia took different approaches to reforming probation sentencing through policy, but some conclusions can be generalized from the two states based on this analysis, e.g., sentence lengths among the overall probation populations have decreased in both states postreform. Georgia has experienced greater challenges applying its changes to probation sentencing policy, which rely heavily on judicial discretion.
Michigan’s Sentencing Guidelines and Prison Terms for Life-Maximum Offenses
This is an extraordinary study of 30 years of sentencing data and policy in Michigan, which concludes: “When the Michigan Felony Sentencing Project issued its report in 1979, it identified three primary concerns about sentencing in Michigan: disparity unrelated to offense severity or to the defendant’s criminal history, lack of accountability, and the diffusion of authority over the actual sentence to be served among prosecutors, judges, and parole boards. Unfortunately, despite the development of three sets of sentencing guidelines and the temporary existence of two sentencing commissions, the same concerns remain.”
Based on a much larger meta-analysis of 116 studies, the current analysis shows that custodial sanctions have no effect on reoffending or slightly increase it when compared with the effects of noncustodial sanctions such as probation. This finding is robust regardless of variations in methodological rigor, types of sanctions examined, and sociodemographic characteristics of samples. All sophisticated assessments of the research have independently reached the same conclusion. The null effect of custodial compared with noncustodial sanctions is considered a “criminological fact.” Incarceration cannot be justified on the grounds it affords public safety by decreasing recidivism.
Justice Counts 50-State Data Scan
An early deliverable from the Justice Counts project is now live, the 50-State Data Scan. This is an up-to-date source of public, aggregate criminal justice data to provide policymakers in each state with timely information about their criminal justice systems and existing gaps in data collection.
Pennsylvania’s Comprehensive Sentencing Guidelines Review
This summary provides a brief history of the development of sentencing guidelines in Pennsylvania, the critical events that determined the trajectory of the guidelines, the efforts underway since 2014 as part of this second comprehensive review of the sentencing guidelines, and information on the most recent phase of that review: a summary of the work and recommendations of the Academic Review Panel.
Factors that Drive Probation Violations and Revocations
Ten jurisdictions have released their action research reports that identify the local practices and factors that lead to probation being revoked and how revocation can be prevented, with the goal of informing specific policy and practice interventions. The ten sites are:
Cook County (Chicago), IL: Action research report
Denver, CO: Action research report
Harris County (Houston), TX: Action research report
Monroe County (Bloomington), IN: Action research report
Niagara County, NY: Action research report
Pima County (Tucson), AZ
Pulaski County (Little Rock), AR: Action research report
Ramsey County (Saint Paul), MN: Action research report
Santa Cruz County, CA: Action research report
Spokane, WA: Action research report
Making Sense of Sentencing Data
The entire April 2021 issue of Federal Sentencing Reporter will be of interest to sentencing commissions, with articles such as:
Harnessing the Power of Data: The Role of Sentencing Commissions in the Information Age;
Good Data, Good Law; and
The Relationship of Judicial and Prosecutorial Elections to the Availability of Sentencing Data in the United States.
California Sentencing Reforms and Race
This is an analysis of the effects of California sentencing reforms on the arrest, booking, and incarceration rates experienced by California residents from different racial and ethnic groups. There were sizable declines in the overall incarceration rate for African Americans, with the largest declines observed for African American males. The one quarter decline in total correctional populations in the state coincided with sizable narrowing in interracial differences in incarceration rates.
Deferred Adjudication Improves Outcomes
This study finds that defendants without a prior felony conviction who participated in the Texas deferred adjudication program experienced an immediate and dramatic reduction in subsequent offending. The total number of future convictions fell by 75% over a 10-year follow-up period, compared to similarly situated defendants who did not receive diversion. The results also suggest large improvements in labor market outcomes, including a 50% increase in formal employment rates.
Reducing Racial Disparity in Sentencing
This recent article by Kelly Mitchell, Chair of the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission, examines racial disparities in sentencing as the cumulative result of multiple types of discretion exercised at the state, court, and individual levels through policies, practices, and individual acts.
Sentencing and COVID
In “Sentencing, Interrupted,” Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing experts provide a data-focused view of how the disruption associated with COVID-19 affected sentencing and resentencing patterns in the Commonwealth.
Earned Compliance Credit
This is an excellent 2017 report on earned compliance credit: a correctional practice that incentivizes probationers or parolees to adhere to the rules of their supervision by reducing the length of their terms, in order to reduce probation caseloads and allow supervising agents to focus on the highest risk individuals under supervision. It was developed by the Minnesota Department of Corrections pursuant to a legislative mandate, with strong support from Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission Chair and NASC member Kelly Mitchell.
Courts and Data
Two judges in Ohio ask “How does a court system lack basic statistics in this technological day and age? The answer varies by state, but typically, antiquated IT infrastructure in state courts, no uniform requirements on compiling numbers, and a lack of coordination across jurisdictions precludes gathering meaningful numbers and demographics. And, in many corners, institutional interests are aligned to resist transparency out of a fear of what might show up.” How a Spreadsheet Could Change the Criminal-Justice System, The Atlantic, Dec. 12, 2020.
Prosecutorial Performance Indicators (PPIs)
The Safety and Justice Challenge (supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation) has produced an implementation manual for PPIs to measure inputs, outputs, activities, and impacts of prosecutorial offices. They include timeliness of decision making, case prioritization, diversity of prosecutors, violent recidivism, participation in community events, frequency of contact with victims, diversion success rates, racial disparities in plea offers, accuracy in charging, and conviction integrity reviews, among others.
Research on Expunction
Harvard Law Review has published a comprehensive statewide study of expungement recipients and comparable nonrecipients in Michigan. Findings include: among those legally eligible for expungement, just 6.5% obtain it within five years of eligibility, labelled an “uptake gap”; those who do obtain expungement have extremely low subsequent crime rates, comparing favorably to the general population; and, those who obtain expungement experience a sharp upturn in their wage and employment trajectories.
Sentencing Research on Judicial Age and Gender
Research published in September 2020 finds that young female judges punished high harm crimes substantially more than their male and older female colleagues. Age alone had no impact on sentencing; neither did gender. The study used sentencing data from sixteen years of criminal trials in Colorado, consisting of almost 3,000 individual sentences.
The Council of State Governments Justice Center has launched “Justice Counts,” a national coalition of leading criminal justice organizations that combines the collection, analysis, and reporting of criminal justice data to meet the needs of policymakers at a time when up-to-date, accessible data is more crucial than ever. NASC member Bennet Wright of Alabama is a member of the steering committee.
This remarkably thorough and well-written report from Massachusetts may be a useful template for racial disparity analysis across decision points in the criminal justice system. Briefly it concludes, “In addition to being overrepresented relative to their share of the state population, Black and Latinx people are less likely than White people to have their cases resolved through less severe dispositions such as pretrial probation or continuances without finding."
The Role of Substance Abuse in Probation Outcomes
The Pennsylvania Sentencing Commission recently published a study of The Role of Substance Abuse in Probation Outcomes. NASC Executive Committee member Matt Kleiman is a co-author.