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Incarceration’s Front Door: The Misuse of Jails in America

February 13, 2015 Comments off

Incarceration’s Front Door: The Misuse of Jails in America
Source: Vera Institute of Justice

Local jails, which exist in nearly every town and city in America, are built to hold people deemed too dangerous to release pending trial or at high risk of flight. This, however, is no longer primarily what jails do or whom they hold, as people too poor to post bail languish there and racial disparities disproportionately impact communities of color. This report reviews existing research and data to take a deeper look at our nation’s misuse of local jails and to determine how we arrived at this point. It also highlights jurisdictions that have taken steps to mitigate negative consequences, all with the aim of informing local policymakers and their constituents who are interested in in reducing recidivism, improving public safety, and promoting stronger, healthier communities.

Relief in Sight? States Rethink the Collateral Consequences of Criminal Conviction, 2009 – 2014

January 23, 2015 Comments off

Relief in Sight? States Rethink the Collateral Consequences of Criminal Conviction, 2009-2014
Source: Vera Institute of Justice

For millions of Americans, the legal and life-restricting consequences of a criminal conviction continue even after they’ve repaid their debt to society as barriers to voting, housing, jobs, education, and a raft of social services limit their ability to provide for their families and successfully reenter society. In recognition of the damaging effects these collateral consequences can have, 41 states have enacted legislation since 2009 that allows certain individuals to move beyond their convictions. This report reviews that legislative activity, discusses the limitations of current approaches, and offers recommendations to states and localities considering similar reforms.

Recalibrating Justice: A Review of 2013 State Sentencing and Corrections Trends

August 28, 2014 Comments off

Recalibrating Justice: A Review of 2013 State Sentencing and Corrections Trends
Source: Vera Institute

In 2013, 35 states passed at least 85 bills to change some aspect of how their criminal justice systems address sentencing and corrections. In reviewing this legislative activity, the Vera Institute of Justice found that policy changes have focused mainly on the following five areas: reducing prison populations and costs; expanding or strengthening community-based corrections; implementing risk and needs assessments; supporting offender reentry into the community; and making better informed criminal justice policy through data-driven research and analysis. By providing concise summaries of representative legislation in each area, this report aims to be a practical guide for policymakers in other states and the federal government looking to enact similar changes in criminal justice policy.

Putting a Value on Crime Analysts: Considerations for Law Enforcement Executives

April 23, 2014 Comments off

Putting a Value on Crime Analysts: Considerations for Law Enforcement Executives (PDF)
Source: Vera Institute of Justice (via Bureau of Justice Assistance

Crime analysis has become a common feature of U.S. law enforcement agencies. According to a 2008 Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) survey, 89 percent of responding agencies reported having staff whose primary or secondary duty was crime analysis, and the number of analysts has likely increased since then.

But in light of ongoing budget woes, elected officials are asking law enforcement executives to explain how civilian positions, especially those of crime analysts, contribute to the goals and mission of policing. Law enforcement professionals want to know how they can articulate the value of crime analysts, and whether cost-benefit analysis (CBA) can help demonstrate a return on investment for these positions. To put the bottom line up front: the field has not provided many cost-benefit studies of crime analysts to date.

This paper offers guidance for police executives grappling with this issue. The first section gives an overview of the steps involved in CBA and the challenges of using this technique. The second section poses questions about crime analysts that police executives need to answer as part of conducting a CBA. The final section of the paper discusses key considerations when performing a CBA of crime analysts.

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.

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.

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