To judge by some of the political rhetoric last fall, violent crime must be surging in our nation’s cities. Is that true? The answer may depend on which city you are talking about, and which neighborhood within that city.
Consider the contrast between Chicago and New York. The Windy City had about 762 homicides in 2016, while the Big Apple had just 334. The difference is shocking, especially when you consider that New York has three times Chicago’s population.
To some extent, the contrasting figures from 2016 reflect longstanding trends. Although murders did spike in Chicago last year, New York has been doing better than Chicago on this score for a long time. The two cities had essentially identical per capita homicide rates in the late 1980s, but New York’s fell much faster and further than Chicago’s in the 1990s. New York has maintained a wide advantage ever since.
Still, the dramatic widening of that advantage in 2016 should be of great concern to Chicagoans. The chart below indicates the trends in recent years, based on FBI data. Note that the two cities moved in sync from 2013 through 2015: homicides down the first year, basically unchanged the next, and then up a little in 2015. However, in 2016, even as Chicago’s homicides shot up, New York’s dropped back down to where they had been in 2013 and 2014.
One should not get the sense, however, that one faces a dramatically elevated risk of violence throughout the Windy City. Continue reading “Chicago, New York Heading in Opposite Directions on Crime; Where Does Milwaukee Stand?”
Ringing in the new year, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics recently released its data on prisoners in the United States in 2015. After rising consistently for about four decades, the U.S. prison population (state and federal combined) peaked at a little over 1.6 million in 2009. Since then, the population has declined steadily, but very slowly. For 2015, the total was a little over 1.5 million, or about 35,000 less than 2014. The continued reductions are encouraging, but must be kept in perspective: the population remains many times above its historic norms. The current rate of 458 prisoners per 100,000 U.S. residents is over four times greater than the long-term rate of about 100 per 100,000 from before the imprisonment boom. We are still very much in the era of mass incarceration.
The Wisconsin numbers continue to be lower than the national norms, but are moving in the opposite direction. At yearend 2015, Wisconsin’s prison population numbered 22,975, up 1.7 percent from 2014. This amounts to 377 prisoners per 100,000. By comparison, Minnesota’s rate was just 196 per 100,000.
Here are a few additional observations: Continue reading “U.S. Prison Population Continues Slow Decline; Wisconsin’s Inches Up”
Nine months ago, Dean Strang’s life changed. A well-known criminal defense attorney from Madison, he had been involved in cases that attracted public attention, especially the murder trial a decade ago of Steven Avery, who was accused of murdering a freelance photographer, Teresa Halbach, in 2005 in Manitowoc County. The case attracted attention especially because it came two years after Avery was exonerated and freed after serving 18 years for a previous, unrelated murder. Strang and Jerry Buting, a Waukesha attorney, defended Avery in a trial that ended with Avery being convicted in 2007.
But nothing that happened at that time or in connection with any other case he had worked on prepared Strang for the impact on his life when a Netflix series, “Making a Murderer,” began running in December 2015 and became an international sensation. The case went into great detail in documenting the Avery case. It was widely regarded as supporting the argument that Avery was unfairly convicted.
Strang and Buting found themselves the centers of enormous attention. “It’s sort of like Jerry and I had been handed a microphone,” Strang said at an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at Marquette Law School on Monday. “Now, what are you going to do with the microphone?” Continue reading ““On the Issues”: Former Avery Attorney Criticizes Criminal Justice System”
In the Marquette Law School Poll conducted earlier this month, fifty-nine percent of registered Wisconsin voters agreed that marijuana “should be fully legalized and regulated like alcohol.” Only thirty-nine percent disagreed.
Support for legalization in Wisconsin follows the recent decisions to legalize marijuana in Colorado and Washington in 2012, and in Oregon and Alaska in 2014. Nationally, support for legalization has grown steadily since the early 1990s and finally crossed the fifty-percent threshold in 2013. (On the local level, the Public Policy Forum published a thoughtful assessment of the costs of marijuana enforcement in Milwaukee earlier this year.)
In the Law School Poll, respondents were asked which arguments for legalization they found most convincing.
Continue reading “Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization in Law School Poll, But Results for Other Drugs Harder to Interpret”
For the past four years, Darren Wheelock and I have collaborated with Charles Franklin and the Marquette Law School Poll on a series of surveys of public attitudes toward sentencing and corrections policy in Wisconsin. Our 2015 results, released last week, seem to show remarkably high levels of support for prisoner rehabilitation. Of those who were asked, more than 80% expressed support for each of the following:
- Expanding counseling programs for prisoners
- Expanding job training programs for prisoners
- Expanding educational programs for prisoners
- Helping released offenders find jobs
At the same time, there are also indications of substantial, if somewhat lower, levels of support for various punitive policies:
- About 47% supported making sentences more severe for all crimes
- About 45% supported locking up more juvenile offenders
- About 62% supported increasing the use of mandatory minimum sentences for repeat offenders
- About 45% supported trying more juvenile offenders as adults
It is puzzling that many respondents expressed support for both pro-rehabilitation and tough-on-crime policies. We have also seen this phenomenon in earlier rounds of our polling. Continue reading “Marquette Poll Reveals Support for Rehabilitation of Prisoners”
As I discussed in this post, Wisconsin has achieved one of the nation’s higher rates of reduction in imprisonment over the past decade. To be sure, New York, California, and a few other states have far outpaced Wisconsin in this regard, and Wisconsin’s prison population remains nearly ten times larger than it was in the early 1970s. Still, we may appreciate some overall net progress in the Badger State’s numbers since the mid-2000s. As indicated in the chart after the jump, reduced imprisonment of drug offenders has played a central role in driving this trend. Continue reading “Decline in Wisconsin Prison Population Results From Fewer Drug Offenders Behind Bars”
I have a new article in the Wisconsin Lawyer about good conduct time, a program that permits prisoners to earn accelerated release based on how well they do behind bars. Most states offer GCT to their prison inmates, but Wisconsin does not. (Inmates in local jail facilities here may earn GCT, but not the 20,000+ longer-term inmates in state prisons.) In the new article, I argue that Wisconsin policymakers should consider adopting a GCT program for prisoners as part of their ongoing efforts to reduce the size of the state prison population, which remains near historic highs. For readers interested in more on this topic, I’ve created a page on my personal blog that collects my writings on GCT.
In a couple of recent posts (here and here), I have discussed the possibility of reinstituting “good time” in Wisconsin. I have developed the argument for good time at much greater depth in a new article that is now available on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Wisconsin is one of about twenty states not offering good conduct time (GCT) to prisoners. In most states, prisoners are able to earn GCT credits toward accelerated release through good behavior. Wisconsin itself had GCT for more than a century, but eliminated it as part of a set of reforms in the 1980s and 1990s that left the state with what may be the nation’s most inflexible system for the release of prisoners. Although some of these reforms helpfully brought greater certainty to punishment, they went too far in eliminating nearly all meaningful recognition and encouragement of good behavior and rehabilitative progress. This article explains why and how Wisconsin should reinstitute GCT, drawing on social scientific research on the effects of GCT, public opinion surveys in Wisconsin and across the United States regarding sentencing policy, and an analysis of the GCT laws in place in other jurisdictions. Although the article focuses particularly on Wisconsin’s circumstances, the basic argument for GCT is more generally applicable, and much of the analysis should be of interest to policymakers in other states, too.
Entitled “Good Conduct Time for Prisoners: Why (and How) Wisconsin Should Provide Credits Toward Early Release,” the article is forthcoming in the Marquette Law Review.
In an earlier post, I argued that Wisconsin should consider reinstituting “good time” for prisoners, that is, credits toward accelerated release that can be earned based on good behavior. An established program that Wisconsin might emulate is Washington’s.
Washington has long been regarded as a national leader in criminal justice. Indeed, Wisconsin has previously borrowed from other Washington innovations, such as its “three strikes and you are out” law and its civil commitment program for sexually violent offenders. Washington’s good-time law takes a balanced, moderate approach. It is neither among the most generous nor the most stringent in the nation.
Notably, Washington’s recidivism rate has been consistently lower than both the national average and Wisconsin’s. Although many factors contribute to a state’s recidivism rate, some research suggests that the incentives established by a well-designed good-time program may help to reduce repeat offending.
With the rules set forth here, the Washington program works like this: Continue reading ““Good Time” in Washington: A Model for Wisconsin?”
Unlike most other states, Wisconsin does not recognize prisoners’ good behavior with credits toward accelerated release. Wisconsin had such a “good time” program for well over a century, but eliminated it as part of the policy changes in the 1980s and 1990s that collectively left the state unusually — perhaps even uniquely — inflexible in its terms of imprisonment. I’ve been researching the history of good time in Wisconsin in connection with a forthcoming law review article.
Wisconsin adopted its first good time law in 1860, which placed it among the first states to embrace this new device for improving prison discipline. Twenty years later, in 1880, the Legislature expanded good time and restructured the program in the form it would retain for about a century. In the first year of imprisonment, an inmate could earn one month of credit for good behavior; in the second, two months; in the third, three; and so forth. Credits maxed out at six months per year. A model prisoner with a ten-year term, for instance, might earn enough credits to knock off nearly three years from the time served.
In Wisconsin and elsewhere, good time has had a distinct history, structure, and purpose from parole. Continue reading “Why No “Good Time” in Wisconsin?”
In 1998, Wisconsin adopted what may have been the nation’s most rigid truth-in-sentencing law, eliminating parole across the board and declining to put into place any alternative system of back-end release flexibility, such as credits for good behavior in prison. Subsequent reforms to this system have been either short-lived or very modest in scope. However, new results from the Marquette Law School Poll confirm and strengthen findings from other recent surveys that Wisconsin residents would actually welcome a more flexible system.
As I noted in an earlier post, the Law School Poll has asked Wisconsinites their views about criminal-justice policies in each of the past three summers. Although the Poll has revealed significant support for truth in sentencing, it has also revealed comparable or even greater support for enhanced flexibility.
In 2012, Poll results included the following:
- 85% of respondents agreed that “criminals who have genuinely turned their lives around deserve a second chance.”
- 67% agreed that “Wisconsin should recognize prisoners’ rehabilitative accomplishments by awarding credits toward early release.”
- 55% agreed that “once a prisoner has served at least half of his term, he should be released from prison and given a less costly form of punishment if he can demonstrate that he is no longer a threat to society.”
Continue reading “Two-Thirds of Wisconsinites Support More Flexibility for Prisoner Releases”
We expect a lot from our criminal-justice system, and we don’t seem very impressed with the results we are getting. These are two of the notable lessons that emerge from the most recent Marquette Law School Poll of Wisconsin residents, the results of which were released earlier today.
In one part of the survey, respondents were asked to assess the importance of five competing priorities for the criminal-justice system. As to each of the five, a majority indicated that the priority was either “very important” or “absolutely essential.” The five priorities were:
- Making Wisconsin a safer place to live (91.6% said either very important or absolutely essential)
- Ensuring that people who commit crimes receive the punishment they deserve (88.1%)
- Keeping crime victims informed about their cases and helping them to understand how the system works (81.0%)
- Rehabilitating offenders and helping them to become contributing members of society (74.1%)
- Reducing the amount of money we spend on imprisoning criminals (51.2%)
Continue reading “Wisconsinites Give Criminal-Justice System Low Marks, Especially for Offender Rehabilitation”