Problem-Solving Courts Can Produce Better Outcomes for Participants, But Do White Defendants Benefit More Than Black?

The emergence of drug-treatment courts and other specialized “problem-solving courts” (PSCs) has been among the most important developments in American criminal justice over the past three decades. Founded in 1989, Miami’s drug-treatment court is often credited as the nation’s first PSC. The court was developed out of a sense of frustration that conventional criminal-justice responses to drug crime failed to address underlying addiction problems, resulting in a seemingly never-ending cycle of arrest, incarceration, return to use, and rearrest for many individuals. Treatment might be offered, or even required, within the conventional system, but the results were often disappointing. However, the drug-treatment court aimed to provide treatment within a different framework. The judge kept close tabs on the defendant’s progress, working with a team of court personnel and treatment providers to ensure adequate support for the defendant’s rehabilitation and appropriate accountability for backsliding.

The drug-treatment court concept spread rapidly. Hundreds of such courts were created by the late 1990’s, and thousands exist today. Moreover, the drug-treatment court model—specialized caseload handled by an interdisciplinary team, provision of social services to address underlying causes of criminal behavior, close judicial supervision, and use of carrots and sticks to keep defendants progressing through treatment—has been adapted to handle a wide range of other offender groups. The PSCs now in operation in many jurisdictions include mental health courts, homelessness courts, DUI courts, prisoner reentry courts, and veterans courts.

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Farewell to Professor Julian Kossow

Many of us on the Marquette Law School faculty were saddened to learn of the death earlier this month of Professor Julian Kossow. Julian had a long and varied career, primarily in academia and real estate. As he recounted in this blog post, Julian went to law school because of his frustration as a developer in dealing with lawyers. Once in law school, though, he found that he was fascinated by the law as a field of study. Legal academia was so much to his liking, in fact, that he returned to it as a professor after graduation and a clerkship on the D.C. Circuit, joining the Georgetown faculty in 1970. Later, he practiced as a real-estate lawyer and then resumed his career as a developer.

Julian could not resist the call of law-teaching indefinitely, though. In the 1990’s, he began a second career as a law professor, teaching at St. Thomas and Stetson in Florida, and then landing at Marquette in 2004. We were delighted to have him as a faculty colleague for the next decade. (more…)

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Violent Crime & Recidivism: Symposium Issue Now Available

The threat of violent recidivism looms large in policy debates about sentencing and corrections. Prison populations in Wisconsin and across the United States remain near historic highs. Yet, efforts to bring down those populations often run into the objection that most of the individuals in prison have been convicted of violent crimes. What if these individuals reoffend after release? The stakes seem frighteningly high when we contemplate the possibility of shorter sentences for individuals who have physically harmed others in the most damaging and disturbing ways–shootings, stabbings, sexual assaults, and so forth.

Last summer, Marquette Law School hosted a conference that brought together leading researchers to address the question of whether there might be better alternatives than long-term incapacitation  for responding to the threat of violent recidivism. Those of us in attendance enjoyed a thought-provoking series of presentations and some lively Q&A with audience members. Now, the papers from the conference have been published in a symposium issue of the Marquette Law Review.

Here are the contents:

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Who Are the Old Folks in Prison? Part II

An image of a prison guard towerAs discussed in Part I, I have gathered data on the Wisconsin prison inmates who are 70 or older. Out of an initial set of 299 inmates, I selected a representative subset of 100 in order to take a closer look at the inmates’ most recent convictions. Thirty-eight of the 100 were convicted of more than one offense in their most recent felony cases. In these cases, I focused only on the conviction that resulted in the longest sentence[1].

In reviewing the offenses of conviction, what stands out most starkly is the prevalence of sexual offenses.  (more…)

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Who Are the Old Folks in Prison? Part I

An image of a prison guard towerNationally, the number of senior citizens in prison has grown dramatically in recent years. In Wisconsin, for instance, the number of prisoners aged 60 or older grew from just 202 (or 1.2 percent of the total) in 2000 to 1,231 (5.4 percent) by the end of 2016. Such increases should be of public concern for a number of reasons, including the exceptionally high costs of incarcerating the elderly. To a great extent, these costs are related to the prevalence of chronic illnesses and physical and mental disabilities among older inmates. One national study estimated that the average cost of imprisoning a senior is about twice the overall average. In general, it is less costly to manage chronic health problems in the community than in prisons, which are not designed to function as assisted living facilities, and which tend to be located in rural areas at some distance from specialized treatment providers.

Fiscal and humanitarian concerns alike have sparked considerable interest in recent years in “compassionate release” and other mechanisms that might hasten the return of elderly prisoners to the community. On the other hand, there are also countervailing concerns that early release might endanger the public or depreciate the seriousness of the underlying criminal offenses. On both sides of the debate, there seems a tendency to rely on unexamined stereotypes about who the old folks in prison are—the frail, harmless grandparent serving an excessively harsh sentence for a long-ago offense, versus the confirmed predator whose dangerousness can never be fully erased by age.

In order to develop a clearer picture of this population, and with the help of two diligent research assistants[1], I set out to gather some data on the Wisconsin prisoners who are aged 70 or older.  (more…)

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