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From Courts to Communities: The Right Response to Truancy, Running Away, and Other Status Offenses

March 18, 2014 Comments off

From Courts to Communities: The Right Response to Truancy, Running Away, and Other Status Offenses
Source: Vera Institute of Justice

Young people who run away from home, skip school, or engage in other risky behaviors that are only prohibited because of their age end up in courtrooms every year by the thousands. Responding to these cases, called “status offenses,” in the juvenile justice system can lead to punitive outcomes that are out of proportion to the young person’s actions and do nothing to assess or address the underlying circumstances at the root of this misbehavior. With From Courts to Communities: The Right Response to Truancy, Running Away, and Other Status Offenses, Vera’s Center on Youth Justice, supported by funding from the MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change Resource Center Partnership, aims to raise awareness about status offenses and spur conversations about how to effectively handle these cases by offering promising examples of state and local reform.

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Playbook for Change? States Reconsider Mandatory Sentences

March 3, 2014 Comments off

Playbook for Change? States Reconsider Mandatory Sentences
Source: Vera Institute of Justice

Since 2000, at least 29 states have taken steps to roll back mandatory sentences, with 32 bills passed in just the last five years. Most legislative activity has focused on adjusting penalties for nonviolent drug offenses through the use of one or a combination of the following reform approaches: 1) expanding judicial discretion through the creation of so-called “safety value” provisions, 2) limiting automatic sentence enhancements, and 3) repealing or revising mandatory minimum sentences. In this policy report, Vera’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections summarizes state-level mandatory sentencing reforms since 2000, raises questions about their impact, and offers recommendations to jurisdictions considering similar efforts.

A Generation Later: What We’ve Learned about Zero Tolerance in Schools

February 18, 2014 Comments off

A Generation Later: What We’ve Learned about Zero Tolerance in Schools (PDF)
Source: Vera Institute of Justice

In considering different strategies for promoting productive and safe school environments, it can be difficult to know what works and what doesn’t. In particular, longstanding debates about zero tolerance policies leave many people confused about the basic facts. How do these policies that mandate specific and harsh punishments affect individual students and the overall school environment? Have zero tolerance policies helped to create a school-to-prison pipeline as many people argue? And if the costs outweigh the benefits, are there alternatives to zero tolerance that are more effective?

This publication aims to answer these questions by drawing on the best empirical research produced to date, and to identify the questions that remain unanswered. Most importantly, this publication strives to be practical. We believe that with a clearer understanding of the facts, policymakers and school administrators can join with teachers and concerned parents to maintain order and safety in ways that enhance education and benefit the public interest.

The Impact of Federal Budget Cuts from FY10-FY13 on State and Local Public Safety

December 20, 2013 Comments off

The Impact of Federal Budget Cuts from FY10-FY13 on State and Local Public Safety (PDF)
Source: Vera Institute of Justice

In the summer of 2013, the National Criminal Justice Association (NCJA) and the Vera Institute of Justice conducted an informal nationwide online survey of 1,226 state and local criminal justice stakeholder organizations. The questionnaire’s purpose was to gather information from a wide range of jurisdictions about the impact of budget cuts, both already enacted and anticipated. This document is a summary of self-reported responses.

Sentencing and Prison Practices in Germany and the Netherlands: Implications for the United States

December 2, 2013 Comments off

Sentencing and Prison Practices in Germany and the Netherlands: Implications for the United States
Source: Vera Institute for Justice

Germany and the Netherlands have significantly lower incarceration rates than the United States and make much greater use of non-custodial penalties, particularly for nonviolent crimes. In addition, conditions and practices within correctional facilities in these countries—grounded in the principle of “normalization” whereby life in prison is to resemble as much as possible life in the community—also differ markedly from the U.S. In February 2013—as part of the European-American Prison Project funded by the California-based Prison Law Office and managed by Vera—delegations of corrections and justice system leaders from Colorado, Georgia, and Pennsylvania together visited Germany and the Netherlands to tour prison facilities, speak with corrections officials and researchers, and interact with inmates. Although variations in the definitions of crimes, specific punishments, and recidivism limit the availability of comparable justice statistics, this report describes the considerably different approaches to sentencing and corrections these leaders observed in Europe and the impact this exposure has had (and continues to have) on the policy debate and practices in their home states. It also explores some of the project’s practical implications for reform efforts throughout the United States to reduce incarceration and improve conditions of confinement while maintaining public safety.

Coming of Age with Stop and Frisk: Experiences, Self-Perceptions, and Public Safety Implications

October 7, 2013 Comments off

Coming of Age with Stop and Frisk: Experiences, Self-Perceptions, and Public Safety Implications
Source: Vera Institute of Justice

Amid the debate about stop and frisk in New York City, its relationship to reductions in crime, and concerns about racial profiling, one question has gone largely unexplored: How does being stopped by police, and the frequency of those stops, affect those who experience them at a young age? In New York City, at least half of all recorded stops annually involve those between the ages of 13 and 25.

This new study from Vera’s Center on Youth Justice examines this question. The results reveal a great deal about the experiences and perceptions of young New Yorkers who are most likely to be stopped. Trust in law enforcement among these young people is alarmingly low. This has significant public safety implications as young people who have been stopped more often are less willing to report crimes, even when they themselves are the victims. The report includes a set of recommendations aimed at restoring trust and improving police-community relations. It also features an infographic summarizing the findings.

Guide to Calculating Justice-System Marginal Costs

August 27, 2013 Comments off

Guide to Calculating Justice-System Marginal Costs (PDF)
Source: Vera Institute for Justice

In recent years, U.S. government agencies have operated with tight budgets and limited resources, and criminal justice systems are no exception. As a result, interest is growing in data-driven strategies to maintain public safety by maximizing justice investments. Cost-benefit analysis (CBA) is a tool that weighs an investment’s pros and cons and evaluates a policy’s long-run effects on government budgets and society at large.

Criminal justice investments include taxpayer costs for law enforcement, courts, corrections (mainly jail and prison), and community corrections (such as probation and parole). This guide instructs policy analysts how to calculate a particular kind of taxpayer costs called marginal costs for use in CBAs of criminal justice programs and policies. The marginal cost is the amount total costs change when a unit of output (such as an arrest or court case) changes. As cost-benefit analysts and budget officials know, any detailed discussion about government costs requires an understanding of marginal costs because these are the costs that policy changes affect. Although obtaining government budget information might be simple, accurately calculating marginal taxpayer costs is challenging, because the specific type of cost data required for CBA is sometimes not readily available.

Using marginal costs to measure a program’s impact on taxpayers is important, but it is just one step in a CBA. A cost-benefit analysis aims to measure the net benefit to society, but this guide covers only costs to taxpayers and not societal costs of crime, which include fear of crime, avoidance costs, and emotional and physical harm to victims. (For more information on societal costs and other steps of CBA such as conducting a sensitivity analysis, and reporting CBA results, go to cbkb.org/toolkit .)

The first section of this guide is an overview of the marginal costs used in a cost-benefit analysis. Next is a summary of the methods to calculate these costs. The third section provides guidance on how to calculate marginal costs in specific segments of the criminal justice system. The guide ends with recommended steps that cost-benefit analysts and justice agencies can take to improve the quality and relevance of CBAs for policymaking. The glossary on page 7 includes several important terms that are highlighted in bold through out the guide.

Treatment Alternatives to Incarceration for People with Mental Health Needs in the Criminal Justice System: The Cost-Savings Implications

July 16, 2013 Comments off

Treatment Alternatives to Incarceration for People with Mental Health Needs in the Criminal Justice System: The Cost-Savings Implications (PDF)
Source: Vera Institute of Justice

Jails and prisons are expensive to operate and costs are even greater when the person entering custody requires treatment for a mental health condition. Because they are so costly, providing access to treatment in lieu of a prison or jail sentence can save money while also improving health outcomes and reducing the likelihood of rearrest in the future.

States are increasingly realizing the potential for non-custodial options to improve the health of individuals and the well being of communities. However, many people with serious mental illness still find themselves caught in a revolving door of repeat incarceration. By compiling the research on the benefits and cost savings that can be realized by providing treatment as an alternative to incarceration, we hope that this brief is helpful to decision makers and practitioners as they consider more cost-effective and humane policy options.

Measuring Success: A Guide to Becoming an Evidence-Based Practice

July 12, 2013 Comments off

Measuring Success: A Guide to Becoming an Evidence-Based Practice
Source: Vera Institute of Justice

Demonstrating that a program accomplishes its stated goals is increasingly important for social service organizations—funders and clients want to see the evidence of successful outcomes. Although a full-scale evaluation can be a costly and overwhelming goal, adopting the information-gathering and self-reflective approaches that lead up to an evaluation can strengthen an agency’s focus and procedural consistency. As part of the MacArthur Foundation Models for Change initiative, the Vera Institute of Justice created this guide, which describes the process that assesses whether a program qualifies as evidence based—which often determines an organization’s funding and the growth of its client pool—and explains how programs can prepare to be evaluated.

A Guide to Calculating Justice-System Marginal Costs

June 14, 2013 Comments off

A Guide to Calculating Justice-System Marginal Costs

Source: Vera Institute of Justice

The costs and benefits of criminal justice policies and activities affect everyone. Understanding what goes into the costs of operating jails, prisons, probation and parole, courts, law enforcement agencies, treatment programs, and other segments of the criminal justice system is important for taxpayers, politicians, practitioners, and society as a whole.

Any economic study of a justice-related investment needs to use the right cost information in its calculations. The type of cost used makes a difference in the accuracy of a study’s findings, as well as its relevance for policymaking, budgeting, and practice. Vera’s Cost-Benefit Knowledge Bank for Criminal Justice has published this guide to help technical users and general readers understand marginal cost—the amount of change in total cost when a unit of output changes.

Reallocating Justice Resources: A Review of 2011 State Sentencing Trends

June 3, 2012 Comments off

Reallocating Justice Resources: A Review of 2011 State Sentencing Trends (PDF)
Source: Vera Institute of Justice

Most states are facing budget crises, and criminal justice agencies are not exempt. With fewer dollars available, they are challenged to increase public safety while coping with smaller budgets. This report distills lessons from 14 states that passed research-driven sentencing and corrections reform in 2011 and is based on interviews with stakeholders and experts, and the experience of technical assistance staff at the Vera Institute of Justice. It is intended to serve as a guide to policy makers and others interested in pursuing evidence-based justice reform in their jurisdiction.

Legislatures throughout the United States enacted sentencing and corrections policy changes in 2011 that were based on data analysis of their prison populations and the growing body of research on practices that can reduce recidivism. Although this emphasis on using evidence to inform practice is not new in criminal justice, legislators are increasingly relying on this science to guide the use of taxpayer dollars more effectively to improve public safety outcomes.

In highlighting important legislative changes enacted in the past year, this report documents a new approach to reform in which bipartisan, multidisciplinary policy groups are using analysis of state population and sentencing data, harnessing the political will emerging from the budget crisis, relying on decades of criminal justice research, and reaching out to key constituencies. The result is legislation that aims to make more targeted use of incarceration and to reinvest the cost savings into community programs geared toward reducing recidivism and victimization.

See also: State of Sentencing 2011: Developments in Policy and Practice (PDF)

The Price of Prisons: What Incarceration Costs Taxpayers

March 22, 2012 Comments off

The Price of Prisons: What Incarceration Costs Taxpayers (PDF)
Source: Vera Institute of Justice

Vera researchers found that the total taxpayer cost of prisons in the 40 states that participated in this study was 13.9 percent higher than the cost reflected in those states’ combined corrections budgets. The total price to taxpayers was $39 billion, $5.4 billion more than the $33.6 billion reflected in corrections budgets alone. The greatest cost drivers outside corrections departments were as follows:

  • underfunded contributions to retiree health care for corrections employees ($1.9 billion);
  • states’ contributions to retiree health care on behalf of their corrections departments ($837 million);
  • employee benefits, such as health insurance ($613 million);
  • states’ contributions to pensions on behalf of their corrections departments ($598 million);
  • capital costs ($485 million); > hospital and other health care for the prison population ($335 million); and
  • underfunded pension contributions for corrections employees ($304 million).

Reallocating Justice Resources: A Review of State 2011 Sentencing Trends

March 21, 2012 Comments off

Reallocating Justice Resources: A Review of State 2011 Sentencing Trends
Source: Vera Institute of Justice

Most states are facing budget crises as they plan FY 2013 and beyond. With fewer dollars available, state criminal justice agencies are challenged to increase public safety while coping with smaller budgets. This report distills lessons from 14 states that passed research-driven sentencing and corrections reform in 2011 and is based on interviews with stakeholders and experts, and the experience of technical assistance staff at the Vera Institute of Justice. It is intended to serve as a guide to policy makers and others interested in pursuing evidence-based justice reform in their jurisdiction.

+ Full Report (PDF)

Why Ask About Family? A Guide for Corrections

May 6, 2011 Comments off

Why Ask About Family? A Guide for Corrections (PDF)
Source: Vera Institute of Justice

Working in corrections can be rewarding. But it is also extremely challenging. The daily demands don’t always leave room to think about the families of people who are in jail or prison. Yet families and other social supports can help individuals succeed while they are incarcerated and afterward, leading to better outcomes for the facility and greater public safety.

Corrections professionals can help—without starting new programs or taking on additional tasks—just by adopting a few simple concepts, tools, and techniques.

This guide describes the principles of a strength-based, family-focused approach in corrections practices, policy, and reentry planning that can make a difference. It was developed for correctional administrators, case managers, reentry and discharge planners, treatment-team members, institutional parole officers, and other personnel working in and around jails, prisons, and other corrections institutions.

It’s About Time: Aging Prisoners, Increasing Costs, and Geriatric Release

March 9, 2011 Comments off

It’s About Time: Aging Prisoners, Increasing Costs, and Geriatric Release (PDF)
Source: Vera Institute of Justice

As harsher policies have led to longer prison sentences, often with a limited possibility of parole, correctional facilities throughout the United States are home to a growing number of elderly adults. Because this population has extensive and costly medical needs, states are confronting the complex, expensive repercussions of their sentencing practices. To reduce the costs of caring for aging inmates–or to avert future costs–legislators and policymakers have been increasingly willing to consider early release for those older prisoners who are seen as posing a relatively low risk to public safety. This report is based upon a statutory review of geriatric release provisions, including some medical release practices that specifically refer to elderly inmates. The review was supplemented by interviews and examination of data in publicly available documents.

At the end of 2009, 15 states and the District of Columbia had provi- sions for geriatric release. However, the jurisdictions are rarely using these provisions. Four factors help explain the difference between the stated intent and the actual impact of geriatric release laws: political considerations and public opinion; narrow eligibility criteria; proce- dures that discourage inmates from applying for release; and compli- cated and lengthy referral and review processes.

This report offers recommendations for responding to the disparities between geriatric release policies and practice…

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