David Kirkpatrick

February 28, 2008

More than one in 100 jailed in US

Is the US a police state? For the first time in our history more than one in 100 United States citizens are incarcerated.

From a NYT article:

Nationwide, the prison population grew by 25,000 last year, bringing it to almost 1.6 million. Another 723,000 people are in local jails. The number of American adults is about 230 million, meaning that one in every 99.1 adults is behind bars.

Incarceration rates are even higher for some groups. One in 36 Hispanic adults is behind bars, based on Justice Department figures for 2006. One in 15 black adults is, too, as is one in nine black men between the ages of 20 and 34.

The report, from the Pew Center on the States, also found that only one in 355 white women between the ages of 35 and 39 is behind bars, but that one in 100 black women is.

The report’s methodology differed from that used by the Justice Department, which calculates the incarceration rate by using the total population rather than the adult population as the denominator. Using the department’s methodology, about one in 130 Americans is behind bars.

This situation is not cheap. Also from the linked article:

Now, with fewer resources available to the states, the report said, “prison costs are blowing a hole in state budgets.” On average, states spend almost 7 percent on their budgets on corrections, trailing only healthcare, education and transportation.

In 2007, according to the National Association of State Budgeting Officers, states spent $44 billion in tax dollars on corrections. That is up from $10.6 billion in 1987, a 127 increase once adjusted for inflation. With money from bond issues and from the federal government included, total state spending on corrections last year was $49 billion. By 2011, the report said, states are on track to spend an additional $25 billion.

It cost an average of $23,876 to imprison someone in 2005, the most recent year for which data is available. But state spending varies widely, from $45,000 a year for each inmate in Rhode Island to just $13,000 in Louisiana.

The cost of medical care is growing by 10 percent annually, the report said, a rate that will accelerate as the prison population ages.

Sure, a lot those behind bars ought to be there, but are we, as a nation, more criminal right now than any other period of our history? Asinine minimum sentencing rules, three-strikes laws and the utter failure and policy of suck that is the “war” on drugs contribute heavily to this situation.

As a society it would behoove us to remember when we turn a petty problem into a criminal offense (e.g., much of our drug statutes, turning a third-time convicted shoplifter into a felon, sentencing a women to six years for touching an adolescent’s hair) we are actually creating criminals. Maybe hardened criminals if they are forced to do hard time with actual criminals. You know — murderers, rapists, b-and-e specialists, armed thieves, child predators.

Since I’m in Texas I’d throw in cattle rustlers and trespassers, but those types don’t usually make it to trial.

February 24, 2008

Nanny state in action Oregon-style

Filed under: et.al., Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 5:47 pm

Okay, this is more an offshoot of nanny-statism — minimum sentencing laws. This poor woman faces six years behind bars for a non-crime.

From the linked editorial:

An appeal last week to the state Supreme Court may be the final chance for justice for a former Boys and Girls Club staffer, found guilty of sexual assault in a case one ex-cop calls the worst travesty of justice he’s seen in 20 years as an investigator.

If the court refuses to take up the case or rules against 27-year-old Veronica Rodriguez, she’ll go to prison for five more years, after already serving one year for a crime she denies committing.

“I feel like a fountain overflowing on this. I feel as strongly about Veronica’s innocence as anything I have ever investigated in my life, and I am a very seasoned investigator,” says Michael Hintz, a former Tigard police detective who worked for Rodriguez’s defense team.

A Washington County jury found Rodriguez guilty in 2005 of first-degree sexual assault after police accused her of running her hands through a 13-year-old boy’s hair and pulling the back of his head against her covered chest in the middle of a crowded game room at the Boys and Girls Club in Hillsboro.

Under Measure 11, a 1994 voter-approved ballot initiative setting mandatory minimum sentences, Rodriguez faced six years and three months in prison. But Circuit Judge Nancy Campbell gave her 16 months instead, saying the Measure 11 sentence would violate the state constitution as cruel and unusual punishment.

(Hat tip: Fark)

Update 7/27/08 — This update comes courtesy of Chip Shields who since 2005 has been the Oregon State Representative for District 43.

From the link:

Should juries know the likely sentence when deciding guilt?

In the run up to the primary election, you may have missed this important criminal-justice story. On May 9, the Oregon Supreme Court decided it will consider whether, in the words of James Pitkin at Willamette Week, grazing a boy’s head with your breasts should get you over six years in the slammer. The case is State v. Veronica Rodriguez. Pitkin says, “The jury voted 10-2 to convict Rodriguez for allegedly pulling the back of the boy’s head against her chest.” She is facing a six year and three months sentence for Sex Abuse I under Measure 11, the 1994 voter-approved ballot measure penned by Kevin Mannix.

Judge Nancy Campbell, now retired, set aside the Measure 11 sentence and instead sentenced her to 16 months using the state’s sentencing guidelines. She stated that applying Measure 11 in this case would violate the Oregon constitution’s cruel and unusual punishment clause. The Court of Appeals overruled her and reinstated the six year-three month mandatory minimum sentence and in May the Oregon Supreme Court agreed to take up the case.

Click here and here for Willamette Week coverage of the case. The Oregonian covers it here.