November 08, 2016

Gearing up for figuing the (right?) sentence for the various convicted "Bridgegate" federal criminals

As I mentioned in class today, our coming exploration of the federal sentencing system will be based in part on using the real-world "Bridgegate" case into a real-world sentencing exercise.  To get started in preparation to that end, I recommend some review of at least the following two links:

This Wikipedia page, titled "Fort Lee lane closure scandal" provides lots of background on the scandal, at it provides this very helpful initial summary of the crime and the three protagonists now facing federal sentencing:

The Fort Lee lane closure scandal, also known as the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal, or Bridgegate, is a U.S. political scandal in which a staff member and political appointees of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R) colluded to create traffic jams in Fort Lee, New Jersey, by closing lanes at the main toll plaza for the upper level of the George Washington Bridge.

The problems began on Monday, September 9, 2013, when two of three toll lanes for a local street entrance were closed during morning rush hour. Local officials, emergency services, and the public were not notified of the lane closures, which Fort Lee declared a threat to public safety. The resulting back-ups and gridlock on local streets ended only when the two lanes were reopened on Friday, September 13, 2013, by an order from Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye. He said that the "hasty and ill-informed decision" could have endangered lives and violated federal and state laws.

The ensuing investigations centered on several of Christie's appointees and staff, including David Wildstein, who ordered the lanes closed, and Bill Baroni, who had told the New Jersey Assembly Transportation Committee that the closures were for a traffic study.

The United States Attorney for the District of New Jersey Paul J. Fishman launched a massive federal investigation, resulting in a sweeping nine-count indictment against Bridget Anne Kelly, the deputy chief of staff, Baroni and Wildstein. Wildstein entered a guilty plea, and testified against Baroni and Kelly, who were found guilty on all counts in November 2016.

The copy of the plea agreement in which Mr. Wildstein agreed to plead guilty and which also has a copy of his charging "information."

November 8, 2016 in Aggravators and mitigators, Class activities, Guideline sentencing systems, Offense Conduct, Scope of imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1)

October 24, 2016

The full opinions in Graham and Miller....

are worth checking out if you are eager to think deeply about the future of Eighth Amendment limitations on extreme prison sentences.  And here are links to the original SCOTUS slip opinions:

October 24, 2016 in Scope of imprisonment, SCOTUS cases of note, Supreme Court rulings, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 22, 2016

Eastern State Penitentiary and other (in)famous US prisons past and present

This post is to facilitate discussion an reflection on prison history in the United States, building on the video about Eastern State Penitentiary and more generally about the reality that time in jail or prisons is now something of a modern default sentencing "output."  If you are interested in learning more about Eastern State, check out this terrific website.   Notably, in recent years Eastern State Penitentiary has been trying to incorporate more modern art and education into its tours; it recently has been working on an ambitious exhibit titled "Prisons in the Age of Mass Incarceration."

In addition, there are lots of other (in)famous prisons that tell stories about not only American crime and punishment, but also stories about America.  A number of notable Ohio-centric stories are to be found within in the history, as documented by this book entitled "Central Ohio's Historic Prisons."  That book is summarized this way:

With the opening of the Ohio State Reformatory in 1896, the state legislature had put in place "the most complete prison system, in theory, which exists in the United States."  The reformatory joined the Ohio Penitentiary and the Boys Industrial School, also central-Ohio institutions, to form the first instance of "graded prisons; with the reform farm on one side of the new prison, for juvenile offenders, and the penitentiary on the other, for all the more hardened and incorrigible class."  However, even as the concept was being replicated throughout the country, the staffs of the institutions were faced with the day-to-day struggle of actually making the system work.

The Ohio State Reformatory referenced in this passage is located in Mansfield, and is now an historic site.   I urge everyone to take a virtual tour via this huge photo gallery.  And if you are ever looking for some web-surfing fun, check out these additional links to some good sites about some of the United States' most (in)famous prisons:

Notably, a few years ago, students had a lot to say in the wake of watching the ESP video, and you might be interested to read these 2011 student comments about prison history. This coming week, we will be shifting back into a discussion of sentencing law and the (non-capital) sentencing process, but everyone should keep thinking about both the theory and practices of imprisonment as a form of punishment as we get into the nitty-gritty of modern sentencing doctrines.

October 22, 2016 in Race and gender issues, Scope of imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 17, 2016

Lies, damn lies and federal prison and commutations statistics

As I mentioned in class, as we turn our attention more to the history and modern realities of non-capital sentencing and especially to the history and modern realities of incarceration, having a basic understanding of a lot of number becomes important.   The title of this post is designed to make sure, before you dive too much into these data, that you keep in mind perhaps the most famous quote about statistics.  Once you have that quote in mind, consider some of the data and their sources.

The latest detailed breakdown of the federal prison population comes from this terrific "Quick Facts" document released this month by the US Sentencing Commission titled "Federal Offenders in Prison – March 2016."  Here are just some of the data therein that caught my eye:

• A large majority of offenders in the federal prison population are male (93.3%).

• Hispanic offenders make up the largest group of the federal prison population(35.2%), followed by Black offenders (34.4%), White offenders (27.0%), and Other Races (3.5%).

• More than three-quarters (77.9%) of these offenders are United States citizens.

• The majority of offenders pleaded guilty (88.5%).

• Nearly one-quarter (23.9%) of all offenders serving a sentence for a federal conviction possessed a firearm or other weapon in connection with their offenses.

• Half of all offenders (50.2%) in the federal prison population were sentenced to more than ten years in prison, while 5.2% were sentenced to 30 years or longer, and 2.7% were sentenced to life in prison.

• Approximately 17,000 offenders (9.9% of all incarcerated offenders) have served more than 10 years in prison.

• More than half (56.8%) of offenders in the federal prison population were convicted of an offense carrying a mandatory minimum penalty.

The data in the USSC report is already significantly dated because it analyzed a federal prison population of 195,676 "offenders in the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons on March 27, 2016."   But, just a little more than six months later according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons latest inmate population report, it is now only in charge of 191,322 total federal inmates.  In other words, in just the last 6 months alone, there has been more than a 2% decline in the overall federal prison population!

Speaking of changes over time in the population levels in the Federal Bureau of Prison, check out this BOP year-by-year report of the past federal prison population in modern times, which includes these numbers:

Fiscal Year      BOP Population

1983                 33,216

1993                 88,565

2003                 172,499

2013                 219,218

In other words, in just the last 20 years up to 2013 (12 of which had a Democrat in charge in the Oval Office and his appointees running the US Department of justice), there was 250% increase in the overall federal prison population!

As you may now realize, the number of federal prisoners for fiscal year 2013 was the year with the highest ever federal prison population (it was also, of course, the first year of Prez Obama's second term in office and the fifth year of the US Department of Justice being run by former US Attorney General Eric Holder). 

Also, as of the end of Fiscal Year 2013, this webpage from the Office of the Pardon Attorney reports that Prez Obama had received well over 8,000 federal commutation petitions and had granted a grand total of 1 commutation.  (If you are running the numbers, this means that as of the end of 2013, Prez Obama had granted only about .01% of commutation petitions received from federal prisoners.)

Of course, Prez Obama has picked up the pace on commutation grants: as this White House website highlights, by having now granted a total of 774 commutations, Prez Obama "has granted commutations to more prisoners than the past 11 presidents combined."  But his actions here ought to be put in some other statistical context, as does this webpage from the Office of Pardon Attorney, which reports that Prez Obama has received 29,078 commutation petitions during his time an office.  So, by having now granted 774 commutations from among the 29,078 commutation petitions received, Prez Obama has now upped his granted rate to about 2.5% of all commutation petitions received from federal prisoners.

As always, a great way for students to earn extra credit for the class would be to mine these numbers for further insights and data points worthy of highlighting in the comments to the blog (or in class).  And any student who can find good data on the race/gender of the 774 persons to have received commutations from Prez Obama and compares them to the general federal prison population will be sure to receive extra, extra, extra credit.

October 17, 2016 in Class activities, Clemency, Data on sentencing, Race and gender issues, Scope of imprisonment, Sentencing data, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 02, 2015

Some more on prisons past, present and future

This post provides a space for discussion of last week's video about Eastern State Penitentiary and more generally about prisons as out modern default sentencing "output."  If you are interested in learning more about Eastern State, check out this terrific website.   Notably, in recent years ESP has been trying to incorporate more modern art and education into its tours; it is working now on an ambitious new exhibit for 2016 titled "Prisons in the Age of Mass Incarceration."

In addition, there are lots of other (in)famous prisons that tell stories about not only American crime and punishment, but also stories about America.  A number of notable Ohio-centric stories to be found within in this history, as documented by this book entitled "Central Ohio's Historic Prisons," which is summarized this way:

With the opening of the Ohio State Reformatory in 1896, the state legislature had put in place "the most complete prison system, in theory, which exists in the United States."  The reformatory joined the Ohio Penitentiary and the Boys Industrial School, also central-Ohio institutions, to form the first instance of "graded prisons; with the reform farm on one side of the new prison, for juvenile offenders, and the penitentiary on the other, for all the more hardened and incorrigible class."  However, even as the concept was being replicated throughout the country, the staffs of the institutions were faced with the day-to-day struggle of actually making the system work.

The Ohio State Reformatory referenced in this passage is located in Mansfield, and is now an historic site.   I urge everyone to take a virtual tour via this huge photo gallery.  And if you are ever looking for some web-surfing fun, check out these additional links to some good sites about some of the United States' most (in)famous prisons:

Notably, a few years ago, students had a lot to say in the wake of watching the ESP video, and you might be interested to read these 2011 student comments about prison history. This coming week, we will be shifting back into a discussion of sentencing law and the (non-capital) sentencing process, but everyone should keep thinking about both the theory and practices of imprisonment as a form of punishment as we get into the nitty-gritty of modern sentencing doctrines.

Also, of course, everyone should be thinking not just about the past and present of prisons, but also the future.  To that end, check out this forward-looking video:

March 2, 2015 in Scope of imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 04, 2015

Link to Ohio Supreme Court oral argument in Ohio v. Moore

This morning (Feb 4, 2015), the Ohio Supreme Court heard argument in Ohio v. Moore to examine whether the SCOTUS 2010 Graham ruling declaring unconstitutional LWOP for juvenile non-homicide offenses should apply to a lengthy term-of-year sentence. The Justices asked many questions of both sides, and I believe only one of the seven Justices failed to ask at least one question.

The argument lasted for approximately an hour, and here is a link to the oral argument.  I highly recommend all students interested in Eighth Amendment issues take the time to watch these proceedings.

I suspect and fear we will not get a ruling from the Court before the end of the semester (but maybe that will be a kind of good news allowing me to ask a take-home exam question about the case).

February 4, 2015 in Ohio news and commentary, Scope of imprisonment, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 25, 2014

"Parolable Lifers in Michigan: Paying the price of unchecked discretion"

The title of this post is the title of this February 2014 report by the Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending concerning the sentencing policies and practices in a state that, as this article notes, "abolished the death penalty on March 1, 1847, making it the first U.S. state and possibly the first in a democratic country in the world to do so."

I thought it useful to spotlight this new report as we begin our transition from capital to non-capital sentencing as a reminder that (1) not all US states and localities are impacted by modern capital punishment debates and doctrines, that (2) all US states and localities are impacted by modern non-capital sentencing debates and doctrines, especially with respect to the impact and import of "unchecked discretion," and that (3) there might be a variety of dynamic and complicated relationships between how states with and without the death penalty approach modern non-capital sentencing debates and doctrines.

February 25, 2014 in Scope of imprisonment, Sentencing data | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 19, 2011

Student guest-post asks great questions about prison labor

LaborSo far, one student has succeeded in earning extra credit by sending me "top-flight" guest posting material.  Here is the content of this guest-post (along with the picture) that was sent my way this past weekend:

One topic that we have not had time to discuss in detail in class this year has been prison labor.  See, for example, this article from the New York Times, published earlier this year and headlined "Enlisting Prison Labor to Close Budget Gaps."  And this article from the Dayton Daily Newss published about a month ago, which is headlined "Bureaucracy, politics hinder prison labor force," and explains problems with Ohio’s prison labor force.

As the first article explains, nearly all states have some form of prison labor, and the use of prison labor seems to be rising in response to cuts in federal financing and decreased tax revenue. Supporters of prison labor say that this could be a win-win for prisons because it could (1) allow prisons to use the labor to reduce their own costs and (2) help inmates develop skills which will help them to re-enter society. Because of these advantages, coalitions supporting prison labor have included both conservative budget hawks and liberal humanitarian groups.

But prison labor continues to have its share of critics as well (e.g. labor unions and civil rights advocates).  What do you think?  

Is prison labor a good idea?  

Does it matter whether it is required or voluntary?

Should it only be available to some inmates?

Other comments?

Students should remember that they can earn class participation by simply commenting on this effective post.  And the offer to send me guest-post fodder for extra credit remains open at least through this week.

December 19, 2011 in Class activities, Scope of imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

November 07, 2011

SCOTUS grants cert on juve LWOP for young murderers ... and creates new final paper opportunity

Big sentencing news from the Supreme Court today, as reported in this blog post at SL&P: "Supreme Court grants cert on two Eighth Amendment LWOP challenges for 14-year-old murderers!"  These cases now on the Supreme Court's agenda are Miller v. Alabama and Jackson v. Hobbs (which comes from Arkansas).

I will discuss these two new SCOTUS cases briefly in class this week (in part to explain how writing an amicus brief for filing in the Supreme Court can be an alternative to the final take-home paper in the class).  In the meantime, here are links to the state court rulings now to be reviewed by SCOTUS: 

November 7, 2011 in Class activities, Scope of imprisonment, SCOTUS cases of note | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

October 20, 2011

Do we need to worry about (complex) guidelines enhancing disparity or severity or both?

I know I did not leave enough time at the end of class today for a complete discussion of all the early results of the guideline part of the Rob Anon sentencing exercise, but I went slow today because (1) I wanted to get out more general themes before jumping into the USSG weeds, and (2) I wanted to make sure everyone have a chance to work through the FSG basics for Rob Anon before our sentencing law weed-whacking the rest of the semester.  Nevertheless, even the hasty report of different offense level calculations for Rob prompts the question in the title of this post. 

Consider especially the disparity in guideline sentencing ranges that could result from even seemingly minor differences in offense level and criminal history computations.   Specifically, if the person who calculated Rob's offense level to be "only" 31 also had him in criminal history category II, his guideline range would have been 121-151 months in federal prison (roughly 10 to 12.5 years).  Meanwhile, if  whomever calculated Rob's offense level to be 35 also had him in criminal history category III, then his guideline range would have been 210-262 months in federal prison (roughly 17.5 to nearly 22 years).  And, of course, anyone scoring Rob's offense level at 39 or above would be getting a guideline range calling for near or above the 25-year statutory maximum for his offense of conviction.

Obviously, all of these guideline-calculated sentences are significantly longer than the 8 years imposed by many in our pre-guideline group-sentencing exercise earlier this week.  And, remember, in the pre-SRA federal sentencing world with parole eligibility, even a sentence of 25 years (300 months) for Rob would in fact mean he would become eligible for release on parole in 100 months.  In the post-SRA world in which defendants can only earn a 15% reduction for good time, Rob would actually have to serve at least 103 months of even a sentence of "only" 121 months.

Reactions?  Comments?  Concerns?

October 20, 2011 in Class activities, Scope of imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

October 17, 2011

Reminder: Before Tuesday's class, do/review the pre-modern-reform federal sentencing exercise!

This coming week we are going to shift our look into modern (non-capital) sentencing reforms into high gear.  To have everyone on the same page, it is essential that you come to class on Tuesday having completed the pre-modern-reform sentencing exercise I handed out at the end of last Tuesday's class.

The front page of the exercise requires you to sentence Rob Anon (whose crime and history appear in short form at pp. 273-74 of our text) as if you were a federal judge sentencing in the pre-modern-reform era (say, around 1972, which was when US District Judge Marvin Frankel wrote his book criticizing then-common discretionary sentencing practices).  The only key legal concerns for you as a federal judge sentencing circa 1972 are (1) that Rob Anon's statutory sentencing range is 0 to 25 years in federal prison and 0 to $250,000 in a fine, and (2) that federal parole officials will have discretionary authority (but no requirement) to release Rob Anon after he has served at least one-third of the sentence you impose.

You need not yet (and I suggest you do not yet) try to sentence Rob Anon under current post-reform (and post-Booker) modern federal sentencing laws.  After we have had a chance in class to talk about your experiences and judgments concerning Rob Anon's sentencing circa 1972, then I will give you guidance and help in sentencing him under modern federal sentencing laws and guidelines.

UPDATE:  Please feel free (indeed, encouraged) now to comment with thoughts and insights as a result of our in-class sentencing exercise/discussion on Tuesday 10/18.  In particular, I am eager to hear perspectives on any special virtues or special vices that you identify in the pre-guideline sentencing world in which very little law limited or shaped your sentencing discretion.  (We will later discuss special virtues and vices of the modern structured sentencing system.)

October 17, 2011 in Class activities, Course requirements, Scope of imprisonment, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 13, 2011

Eastern State Penitentiary and other historic prisons

Frontpc1This post provides a space for discussion of today's video about Eastern State Penitentiary and more generally about prisons as out modern default sentencing "output."  If you are interested in learning more about Eastern State, check out this terrific website.  

In addition, there are lots of other (in)famous prisons that tell stories about not only American crime and punishment, but also stories about America.  A number of notable Ohio-centric stories to be found within in this history, as documented by a relatively recent book entitled "Central Ohio's Historic Prisons."  Here is a snippet from the book:

With the opening of the Ohio State Reformatory in 1896, the state legislature had put in place "the most complete prison system, in theory, which exists in the United States."  The reformatory joined the Ohio Penitentiary and the Boys Industrial School, also central-Ohio institutions, to form the first instance of "graded prisons; with the reform farm on one side of the new prison, for juvenile offenders, and the penitentiary on the other, for all the more hardened and incorrigible class."  However, even as the concept was being replicated throughout the country, the staffs of the institutions were faced with the day-to-day struggle of actually making the system work.

Excerpts from this book can be accessed at this link.  The Ohio State Reformatory referenced in this passage is located in Mansfield, and is now an historic site (and also where the great movie The Shawshank Redemption was shot).  I could be readily talked into a class field-trip to this site (for extra credit, of course, and we can skip "Glamour in the Slammer").  Even without a trip north, I urge everyone to take a virtual tour via this huge photo gallery.

Especially if you are looking for some weekend web-surfing fun, check out these additional links to some good sites about some of the United States' most famous or most interesting prisons and jails:

October 13, 2011 in Ohio news and commentary, Scope of imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack

October 06, 2011

Ohio sentencing news and resources

Intriguingly, there has been a good bit of Ohio sentencing and punishment coverage in the Columbus Dispatch during our break this week, and I have linked some of the biggest stories via this post on my main blog.  In addition, I encourage everyone interesting in Ohio non-capital sentencing law and policy to look around the website of the Ohio Criminal Sentencing Commission.  

There are lots of notable (and intricate) materials to be found on the "Resources" sections of the OCSC website  here and here.  And I will likely assign for required or recommended reading later this month these particular OCSC documents:

October 6, 2011 in Class activities, Ohio news and commentary, Scope of imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 31, 2010

Seeking reactions to Eastern State video and on prison as a sentencing output

Mug-set  As promised, here is a space to enable discussion of today's video about Eastern State Penitentiary and more generally about prisons as out modern default sentencing "output."  If you are interested in learning more about Eastern State, check out this terrific website (and also this special opportunity to get your own ESP "mug-shot" mug shown here).

More broadly, I plan to start our next class together discussing whether there is a modern viable alternative to imprisonment as a default presumptive sentence for most serious crimes.  It would be great if this discussion could get a running start in the comments to this post. 

March 31, 2010 in Scope of imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

February 26, 2010

Snow day readings on revising the MPC sentencing provisions

I briefly mentioned at the end of class this past week that the American Law Institute is in the midst of revising the Model Penal Code's sentencing provisions, and that I have been critical of some of the structural changes that the MPC revision is advocating.  If you want to do some snow day reading of my writings on these matters, check out this piece from the September 2009 issue of the Florida Law Review, which is titled "The Enduring (and Again Timely) Wisdom of the Original MPC Sentencing Provisions."

In addition, you can find other terrific (and relatively short) readings on the Model Penal Code's new sentencing proposals in this issue of the Florida Law Review.  As always, comments are welcome and encouraged on these topics.

February 26, 2010 in Scope of imprisonment, Theories of punishment | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 03, 2009

Pew Center report brings attention to state punishment rates in Ohio and nationwide

Population-large Though we likely won't formally transition to non-capital sentencing topics until next week (or maybe even the week after), I wanted to start that transition on the blog by highlighting a new report from the Pew Center on the States, titled "One in 31: The Long Reach of America Corrections."  The full report -- which provide an effective "gold-standard" model for what a great final paper might look like -- is available at this link.  I have blog coverage of the report at SL&P here and here.

The Columbus Dispatch provides a local spin on the report with this article, headlined "Punished population soars in Ohio, U.S." Here is the start of the Dispatch article:

One in every 25 adult Ohioans is in prison, jail or on parole or probation, a study by the Pew Center on the States shows. While the national average is one in 31 U.S. adults, the numbers are more dramatic for Latinos (one in 27), men (one in 18), and blacks (one in 11), according to One in 31: The Long Reach of American Corrections, released yesterday.

Ohio's one-in-25 rate was sixth among the states. Georgia had the highest at one in 13, and New Hampshire the lowest at one in 88.

The first-of-a-kind study showed a huge jump in the corrections rate since 1984, when it was one in 77 Americans. Nationally, there were 7.3 million people in prison, jail, on parole or on probation in 2007. Of those, 351,879 were in Ohio -- about 50,000 in state prisons, with the vast majority in community corrections facilities, on parole or on probation.

At a time when states are facing the worst financial crunch in decades, spending on corrections continues to be one of the fastest-growing pieces of state budgets, second only to Medicaid in the past two decades, the Pew Center concluded. The national cost to taxpayers for all forms of corrections is $68 billion annually. The study said $1 out of every $15 in discretionary state spending goes to prisons.

The Dispatch also has this webpage seeking reader input, titled "The Hot Issue: Would you rather see Ohio build more prisons or put more offenders on probation?".  As of this writing, the on-line voting is very close (but on-line voter "turn-out" is low).

March 3, 2009 in Scope of imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack