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Is a total overhaul of parole and probation possible?

What you’ll read today

  • Spotlight: Is a total overhaul of parole and probation possible?

  • New study finds body cameras aren’t objective witnesses

  • In 1 Day, New Mexico prison had 2 suicides in solitary confinement

  • San Francisco considering ban on government use of facial recognition technology

  • While some sheriffs have been ending ICE cooperation, one Colorado sheriff formalizes an agreement

  • When the police lineup is a ‘dead giveaway’

In the Spotlight

Is a total overhaul of parole and probation possible?

Last week, Meek Mill and Jay-Z announced the launch of their criminal justice organization, REFORM Alliance. The organization, to be headed by Van Jones of #Cut50, aims to “[advance] criminal justice reform and [eliminate] outdated laws that perpetuate injustice, starting with probation and parole.” [Michelle Kim / Pitchfork]

The organization’s goals are directly tied to the issues that led to Meek Mill’s incarceration in November 2017. A decade-old case had resulted in first a five-year and then a 10-year sentence. When he was then sentenced to a two-to-four year prison term for a technical violation of probation, it set off intense criticism of the judge in his case and the wider system, in Pennsylvania and nationally, that made such an outcome possible. [P.R. Lockhart / Vox]

Writing in the Crime Report the day after REFORM Alliance’s launch, Vincent Schiraldi of the Justice Lab at Columbia University called for this and other efforts to take an “elemental, rather than incremental, approach to reforming probation and parole.” He offered examples of some of the nonsensical ways people can lose their freedom under these systems. In one New York case, a man who had been under parole supervision for nine years was sent back to prison for, in parole parlance, associating with someone with a criminal record. He had simply married his girlfriend. Cases like this, Schiraldi writes, “represent the broad range of behavior─some of it barely illegal, some illegal only for those under supervision, some not illegal at all─for which a person under probation or parole can be deprived of their liberty.” [Vincent Schiraldi / Crime Report]

Nationally, the era of mass incarceration has corresponded with an era of mass supervision, and parole and probation systems have received less attention and been allowed to grow unchecked for longer. In a series of reports since last year, the Justice Lab has highlighted the problem of mass supervision. By 2007, there were over 5 million people under probation or parole supervision. In 2016, that number was still over 4.5 million. Any decline has been driven solely by a drop in the use of probation. The number of people under parole supervision has actually gone up since 2007. [“The Wisconsin Community Corrections Story” /  Justice Lab]

These systems impose “conditions” that severely curtail the freedom of people subject to them. On average, people under probation or parole supervision are subject to an average of 10 to 20 conditions. These conditions can include curfews, restrictions on travel, mandated attendance in treatment programs, urine testing, and restrictions on association—as in the case of the man sent to prison for getting married. [“Too Big to Succeed” /  Justice Lab]

Besides constituting their own bloated system, probation and parole supervision have become a major pipeline to prison. “Mass supervision,” a recent Justice Lab report observes, “has functioned as a net widener and a driver of mass incarceration, rather than serving as a true alternative to incarceration.” [“The Wisconsin Community Corrections Story” / Justice Lab]

The Justice Lab’s most recent report, released last week, looks at community supervision in Wisconsin. The state’s parole supervision rate is one and a half times the national average. Unlike most states, Wisconsin’s rate of parole supervision began rising sharply the early 2000s and continues to climb. The length of time people spend under parole supervision is nearly twice the national average and rates at which people “fail” are also far higher than other states. And while nationally, Black people are disproportionately supervised and disproportionately reincarcerated for supervision violations, the picture in Wisconsin is even worse.  [“The Wisconsin Community Corrections Story” / Justice Lab]

Experts and community supervision administrators nationally have begun to recognize the problem, and some states have made progress addressing it. New York State’s parole system has had a runaway rate of reincarceration for parole violations but New York City, between 1996 and 2014, was able to significantly reduce the size of the probation system and incarceration driven by it. Declining numbers of people under probation supervision has meant more expenditure per person on probation, which allows for lower caseloads, more contracts with nonprofits that provide services, and more neighborhood offices. Louisiana, in 2017, passed legislation that capped parole violation terms and also prohibited the use of jail for first and second low-level violations. [“Less Is More in New York” / Justice Lab]

In Pennsylvania, Meek Mill’s case has spurred reform efforts. The state “supervises its citizens at one of the highest rates in the Western world,” according to the Justice Lab. This week, a state senator introduced legislation that would cap terms of probation supervision at five years for felonies and three years for misdemeanors. This is consistent with recommended best practices and would end the state’s current practice of allowing probation terms as long as the maximum possible sentence. The bill would also introduce shortened terms for good behavior and curbs on judicial discretion. [Cherri Gregg / KYW Newsradio ]

A courtroom scene last spring from Philadelphia, where 44,000 people are on probation, showed how troubling judges’ approaches to probation can be. A probation officer appears in court to argue for the termination of probation for a man under supervision since 2013. Ordered to complete substance abuse treatment, he had been repeatedly jailed over the five years for technical violations. His probation officer argued, “I don’t think what’s going on necessarily warrants jail time. He’s a young man who can’t beat his addiction … the more time he spends in jail … the more he is going to be in front of your honor for years to come.” The judge disagreed. “The problem I face here,” he said, “is I need leverage to hold over his head.” [Samantha Melamed / Philadelphia Inquirer]

Stories From The Appeal


Photo illustration by Anagraph. Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

New Study Finds Body Cameras Aren’t Objective Witnesses. People who view body cam footage of an incident are less likely to attribute blame to a police officer than those who see the same incident through the lens of a dashboard camera. [Nicole Wetsman]

In 1 Day, New Mexico Prison Had 2 Suicides in Solitary Confinement. The state uses solitary at one of the highest rates in the nation. [Kira Lerner]

Stories From Around the Country

San Francisco considering ban on government use of facial recognition technology: A city lawmaker introduced legislation yesterday that includes a blanket ban on city departments purchasing or using facial recognition technology. The Stop Secret Surveillance Ordinance, proposed by supervisor Aaron Peskin, would also require departments to seek approval from the Board of Supervisors before using or buying surveillance technology, a requirement already in place in cities like Berkeley and Oakland. The legislation would require annual audits of surveillance technology to ensure its proper use. The proposal comes at a time when issues of error and bias in facial recognition technology are getting increased attention. [Colin Lecher / Verge] Peskin portrayed the bill as an extension of the “Privacy First Policy,” approved by voters in November, which created limits and imposed transparency requirements on the collection and use of personal data by city agencies and by companies doing business with the city. [Sara Geiser / San Francisco Examiner]

While some sheriffs have been ending ICE cooperation, one Colorado sheriff formalizes an agreement: The sheriff of Teller County, Colorado, has entered a 287(g) agreement with ICE, formalizing cooperation with the federal agency. Sheriff’s deputies will question people held in the local jail about their immigration status, serve arrest warrants on immigration violations, and issue immigration detainers. The ACLU of Colorado sued the Teller County sheriff’s office in 2018. The organization’s legal director told KOAA News that the sheriff’s office is breaking state law, which does not permit sheriffs to enforce immigration laws. “The sheriff is signing up to do the federal government’s job at the expense of taxpayers and without any reimbursement from ICE,” he said. He also noted the effect the sheriff’s actions could have on law enforcement. “When local law enforcement is viewed as a funnel into the deportation network, immigrants are more hesitant to report crime.” [Sam Kraemer / KOAA News]

When the police lineup is a dead giveaway: “Suggestive lineups,” Joseph Goldstein of the New York Times writes, “are not yet a thing of the past” in New York City. In cases that the Times reviewed, some of the “dead giveaways” that police use to improperly steer a witness include “a shackle”; noticeable age disparities; or hairdo, facial hair, or clothing that sets the police’s suspect apart from the other people in the lineup and is similar to that described by the witness to the crime. The article includes photos of some of the almost comically unfair lineups created by detectives.  “By using fillers who bear little resemblance to how witnesses described the perpetrator, detectives increase the odds their suspect is selected.” In a lineup last February, detectives seated a 145-pound 17-year-old in a lineup along with grown men, some of whom weighed over 200 pounds. After a trial judge excused similar disparities in a 2010 lineup, an appellate court overturned his decision, writing that, ‘“The age disparity was sufficiently apparent as to orient the viewer toward the defendant.” [Joseph Goldstein / New York Times]

Thanks for reading. We’ll see you tomorrow.

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