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JS Publication July 19, 2007

Gang Wars: The Failure of Enforcement Tactics and the Need for Effective Public Safety Strategies

Youth crime in the United States remains near the lowest levels seen in the past three decades, yet public concern and media coverage of gang activity has skyrocketed since 2000. Fear has spread from neighborhoods with longstanding gang problems to communities with historically low levels of crime, and some policy makers have declared the arrival of a national gang “crisis.” Yet many questions remain unanswered. How can communities and policy makers differentiate between perceived threats and actual challenges presented by gangs? Which communities are most affected by gangs, and what is the nature of that impact? How much of the crime that plagues poor urban neighborhoods is attributable to gangs? And what approaches work to promote public safety?

This report attempts to clarify some of the persistent misconceptions about gangs and to assess the successes and failures of approaches that have been employed to respond to gangs. We undertook an extensive review of the research literature on gangs because we believe that the costs of uninformed policy making—including thousands of lives lost to violence or imprisonment—are simply too high. Read more »

News Article New York Times July 19, 2007

The Wrong Approach to Gangs

No city has failed to control its street gangs more spectacularly than Los Angeles. The region has six times as many gangs and double the number of gang members as a quarter-century ago, even after spending countless billions on the problem. But unless Congress changes course quickly, the policies that seem to have made the gang problem worse in Los Angeles could become enshrined as national doctrine in a so-called gang control bill making its way through both the House and Senate.

This issue is underscored in a study released this week by the Justice Policy Institute in Washington. It shows that police dragnets that criminalize whole communities and land large numbers of nonviolent children in jail don’t reduce gang involvement or gang violence. Law enforcement tools need to be used in a targeted way ­ and directed at the 10 percent or so of gang members who commit violent crimes. The main emphasis needs to be on proven prevention programs that change children’s behavior by getting them involved in community and school-based programs that essentially keep them out of gangs. Read more »

JS Publication January 1, 2007

Doing borrowed time: The high cost of back-door prison finance

In the face of tight budgets and growing public opposition to new prison spending, officials in many states have employed a variety of "back-door" schemes to finance new prison construction. The mechanisms vary but the consequences are the same: rapid prison expansion that takes place with little public involvement or oversight.

A review of recent prison, jail and detention expansion initiatives shows that such back-door financing mechanisms are becoming more common at the federal, state and local level. Behind this trend is a cottage industry of investment bankers, architects, building contractors and consultants who have made enormous profits by encouraging local and state governments to borrow tens and hundreds of millions of dollars to build prisons and detention centers that the public does not want and cannot afford. The U.S. prison population doubled during the 1980s and nearly doubled again in the following decade. By the end of the 1990s the nation's prisons held more than 1.3 million prisoners while the total incarcerated population - including jails and detention centers - fell just short of two million.

Prison population growth has continued since the turn of the century but at a much slower pace. Average annual growth rates fell from nearly seven percent during the 1990s to just under two percent in the past half-decade. Read more »

News Article WPA Online

Hard Hit: The Growth in the Imprisonment of Women, 1977-2004 (extra)

A new report coauthored by Justice Strategies analysts Judy Greene and Kevin Pranis, and Dr. Natasha Frost of Northeastern University, finds that female imprisonment in the U.S. has skyrocketed 757 percent since 1977. The rise in the female prison population has been punctuated by growth spikes that reached higher, lasted longer and often began earlier than those affecting men. Female prison population growth has surpassed male prison population growth in all 50 states. The increase was particularly dramatic in the Mountain states where the women's prison population jumped 1,600 percent over the period.

Women are the fastest-growing segment of the prison population, surpassing male prison population growth in all 50 states and climbing 757 percent between 1977 and 2004. The majority of women in U.S. prison systems are incarcerated for nonviolent drug and property offenses. Many suffer from chemical dependency, mental illness or both. Read more »

JS Publication September 19, 2006

Progress and Challenges: An analysis of drug treatment and imprisonment in Maryland

Maryland is making slow progress toward the goal of providing "treatment, not incarceration" to nonviolent substance abusers. The number of criminal justice-referred drug treatment admissions grew by 28 percent between 2000 and 2004, while drug imprisonment dropped by seven percent.

But the state still spends too little on drug treatment for patients referred by the justice system - roughly 26 cents for every dollar spent to imprison people convicted of drug offenses. Jurisdictions that relied on drug treatment were more likely to achieve significant crime rate reductions since 2000 than those that relied on drug imprisonment. In the past five years, elected officials in a majority of states have responded to fiscal pressures and the public's waning enthusiasm for the war on drugs by enacting sentencing and correctional reforms designed to reduce costs and improve outcomes. Two years ago, Maryland lawmakers enacted a set of reforms designed to expand the options available to judges, prosecutors, and the state's parole commission for placing addicted defendants in community-based treatment rather than prison. In doing so, the state's elected leaders recognized that the long-term solution to the drug problem lies in "treatment, not incarceration." Read more »

News Article

Alabama's crisis continues

Since the release of the Justice Strategies report Alabama Prison Crisis, state lawmakers have taken a major step forward by adopting a system of voluntary sentencing standards for judges. The Alabama Sentencing Commission predicts that the standards will eventually create "breathing room" for corrections officials to strengthen community supervision and create a more rational "punishment continuum." Meanwhile, Alabama prisons remain dangerously overcrowded while hundreds of prisoners are housed in private facilities outside the state. Read more about Alabama Prison Crisis.

News Article The Associated Press May 21, 2006

Mountain States Imprisoning More Women

NEW YORK -- Oklahoma, Mississippi and the Mountain states have set the pace in increasing the imprisonment of women, while several Northeastern states are curtailing the practice, according to a new report detailing sharp regional differences in the handling of female offenders.

The report, to be released Sunday by the New York-based Women's Prison Association, is touted as the most comprehensive state-by-state breakdown of the huge increase in incarceration of women over the past 30 years.

News Article

Number of women prisoners climbs in Ohio, bucking downward trend among men

Women's prison population growth outstripped growth in the men's population in every state during the past 27 years. A different trend has emerged since the end of 1999. Women continue to be disproportionately impacted in states where overall growth rates remain high. But among states that experienced little or no prison population growth, a large majority saw growth rates for female prisoners fall below rates for males.

Women led the growth trend in 29 of 30 states where the total prison population (male and female) rose by 10 percent or more over the last half-decade. The opposite was true of states that experienced slower growth or a net decline in their total prison population: 13 of 20 saw their male prison population rise more quickly, or decline more slowly, than their female population.

Ohio has proven a major exception to the rule. Between 1999 and 2004 the state's male prison population fell by 5.4 percent while the number of women behind state prison bars shot up by 12 percent. The growth in Ohio's female prison population should be cause for particular concern because of the unique strains on children or families that can result from the incarceration of mothers. Read more »

News Article

Oregon women hard-hit by prison population growth

Women's prison population growth outstripped growth in the men's population in every state during the past 27 years. A different trend has emerged since the end of 1999. Women continue to be disproportionately impacted in states where overall growth rates remain high. But among states that experienced little or no prison population growth, a large majority saw growth rates for female prisoners fall below rates for males.

News Article The Stamford Advocate March 25, 2006

Supporters Urge Change to Laws on Drug-free School Zones (CT)

HARTFORD -- Calling current law racist, activists yesterday pushed for a bill that would shrink the size of zones around schools, day-care centers and public housing that carry stiffer penalties for drug offenses.

The bill would reduce the current 1,500 foot "drug free" radius around those facilities to 200 feet, within which additional mandatory three-year sentences are tacked on to drug offenses, including possession, sale and intent to sell drugs.

Advocates said the law hurts minorities disproportionately because prohibited zones blanket most of Connecticut's mostly minority central cities much more than suburban or rural areas. Bridgeport, Hartford and New Haven, for example, are almost totally covered with drug-free zones, according to a national study released this week by the Justice Policy Institute.

Supporters of the bill held a news conference before testifying at a Judiciary Committee public hearing on the bill and several others. "All these laws do is be tough on people of color and poor people in our communities," said Barbara Fair, a licensed clinical social worker and member of New Haven-based People Against Injustice. "It's giving the prosecutors a (plea bargaining) tool to use to coerce people to plead guilty to crimes they may not have even committed." Read more »