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JULY 21, 2011: Peg's Blogs on Hiatus...

As many friends and regular readers know, I've been dealing with a lot in my personal life, lately, while my workload has continued to grow. Rest assured that I'm in the best of company, and getting by with a little help from my friends. Still, I need to take a break and focus on centering myself. That means this site will be neglected even more than it has been.

Until I'm able to get a grip on blogging regularly and thoughtfully again here (or until someone else steps in to anchor the site), I encourage people to check out Carl Toersbijns' blog (he's a former Deputy Warden for the AZ Department of Corrections, and while not an abolitionist, he's a strong advocate for the prisoners with mental illness, and for broad-based prison reform in AZ). You may also want to drop in on Middle Ground Prison Reform's site for news.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Re-entry for youth with disabilities.

When young people with disabilities end up in the juvenile justice system, they're less likely to return to youth prisons after their sentence is up if they have jobs or go to school quickly after being released, a new paper says.

However, comprehensive programs that help these youth go from prison to the outside world are scarce, says this piece from Project Forum at the National Association of State Directors of Special Education. And juveniles with disabilities have a high recidivism rate—more than the 55 percent rate for youth without disabilities.

The report looks closely at the practices in four states—Arizona, Georgia, Hawaii, and Oregon—when it comes to supporting all juveniles, including those with disabilities, who are leaving the justice system.

Some common practices the report found in states with programs intended to reduce recidivism for these young people include: a continuum of supports for youth that begins in prison and keeps going once they leave; transition facilitators or coordinators who are dedicated to working with these youth; and programs for reentering society that are comprehensive, addressing education, employment, social and behavioral skills, mental health, substance-abuse issues, housing, and transportation. Another common theme in the report? Budget problems often keep these programs from going long-term.

Here are some details of individual state's programs:

•Before youths' release, Arizona's Department of Juvenile Corrections assigns them a transition coordinator who establishes a relationship and supports them after they leave. Four of these coordinators travel the state and work with parole officers, the state director of special education, and school districts to ensure these juveniles are enrolled in the right programs at the end of their sentences. These coordinators even go to students' IEP meetings.

•Georgia's "Think Exit at Entry" program provides educational planning, progress reviews, transition facilitators, and other supports to youth in the juvenile justice system, including those with disabilities. The program has been scaled back since a federal grant expired in 2007, although some parts of it have kept going because of the partnerships already established among state agencies.

•Hawaii's Olomana School serves students in the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility, and youth participate in regular meetings about their behavior and school work. Because the state runs all schools in Hawaii, transferring records back to schools when students are released is seamless—and transfer of records is critical to a successful reentry for students with disabilities, the report says.

•Oregon's Project STAY OUT—Strategies Teaching Adolescent Young Offenders to Use Transition Skills—is specifically for youth with an IEP, 504 plan, or mental health diagnosis. Youth work on self-determination skills, social skills, finding work, and other goals. One study found that 66 percent of STAY OUT participants were either employed or in school during the first six months after their release from juvenile justice programs, the very things that are likely to keep them from returning.

For the full report on re-entry programs for youth with disabilities in the juvenile justice system, go here.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Children's Action Alliance Research and Report

Children's Action Alliance does a lot of good work on juvenile justice issues in Arizona - check them out and support them when you can:

Phoenix Office:
Children's Action Alliance
4001 North Third Street, Suite 160
Phoenix, AZ 85012
Phone: (602) 266-0707
Fax: (602) 263-8792

Tucson Office
2033 East Speedway Boulevard, Suite 102
Tucson, AZ 85719
Phone: (520) 795-4199
Fax: (520) 319-2979

What follows is their page of reports on juvenile justice issues:

Juvenile Justice - Research & Reports

Who's For Kids and Who's Just Kidding? (July 27, 2011) Each year CAA keeps track of which state legislators voted for kids and which ones had other priorities. Today, CAA releases the 2011 legislative wrap-up and report card for kids, Who's For Kids and Who's Just Kidding?

In this wrap-up you will find the bills that we felt were the most important to the children and families of Arizona during the 2011 Arizona legislative session along with a record of the way your legislators voted on these bills.

Find out how your legislators voted!

Improving Public Safety by Keeping Youth Out of the Adult Criminal Justice System (November 2010)  This report documents recent research showing that Arizona youth and communities are safer and better served by keeping more youth in the juvenile justice system instead of the adult criminal justice system. With enhancements to current policies, Arizona can reduce recidivism, save unnecessary expenses and lead more youth to becoming law-abiding and productive. CAA outlines ten specific policy changes to help avoid unintended, undesirable and unjust consequences in cases of youth being prosecuted as adults. Read/Download the Executive Summary and/or the Full Report.

2010 Legislative Wrap-Up (May 7, 2010) The 2010 legislative session was again dominated by painful budget cuts and intense disagreements over policy. Many large budget cuts are still phasing in, with families losing behavioral health services, therapy for special needs, basic cash assistance for food and shelter – and more.

With a whole range of services being dismantled, there were some bright spots for kids from the legislative session. A few new laws will help children in foster care and one new law will clarify and improve juvenile justice policy. Thanks to a strong and strategic coalition and Arizona voices speaking loud and clear from all over the state, payday loans and their triple digit interest rates will sunset on June 30, 2010.

Click here to read our legislative wrap-up and see how representatives and senators voted on key issues for kids and families.

Prosecution of Youths as Adults(January 25, 2010) SB 1009 is designed to bring our justice policies for youth more in line with the current research, to recognize that youth are different from adults, and to minimize the unintended consequences of our laws that allow youth to be prosecuted in the adult system.

Please Support SB 1088 (January 25, 2010) SB 1088 is designed to bring our justice policies for youth more in line with the current research, to recognize that youth are different from adults, and to minimize the unintended consequences of our laws that allow youth to be prosecuted in the adult system.

Legislative Report Card for Kids(December 22, 2009) CAA today released its 2009 Legislative Report Card for Kids. Each year, the 90 members of our state legislature vote on dozens of pieces of legislation that shape the health, education, and safety of Arizona children and families. Children’s Action Alliance believes that every lawmaker has the responsibility to vote for kids. And our legislators should be held accountable and measured on their performance.

No on SB 1420(June 24, 2009) SB 1420 increases minimum incarceration periods and fines for youth involved in DUI offenses. If a youth completes a drug/alcohol screening and treatment program, the sentence may be suspended. This bill is an expensive mandate for locking up youth with no prospect for improvements in public safety or youth rehabilitation. 

Racial Disproportionality in the Juvenile Justice System in Maricopa County(2008) In most juvenile justice systems across the country, youth of color are overrepresented. Data examined for Maricopa County show that at each stage of the juvenile justice system and as consequences become more restrictive, the gap between Anglo youth and youth of color becomes much greater. This report presents the data and asks important questions for decision-makers and stakeholders to examine why this is happening so that strategies can be developed to assure equal justice for all youth. 

Children Charged with Sexual Offenses Are Different Than Adult Sex Offenders (2007) - Provides information on SB1628, recently signed into law by Governor Napolitano, regarding treatment of youth sex offenders.

Juvenile Justice Publications

Prosecuting Juveniles in the Adult Criminal Justice System (June 2003) CAA and the Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee have released this publication that includes Key Issues and Recommendations in treating juveniles in Arizona's criminal system.


Criminalizing youth resistance: Truancy in MESA

I swear I don't know I escaped being criminalized in my youth...

-------from the Arizona Republic------

Courts cracking down on truancy

Students warned of charges that can stem from skipping school

The excuses for missing dozens of days of school this year ranged from insomnia to asthma to not liking the "drama" in high-school hallways.

But Judge Dan Dodge wasn't having any of it at a new special hearing he holds for truants and their parents once a month.

"Chronic truancy is a criminal offense. Do you want to start out your life with a criminal record?" Dodge said as he stared down from the bench at Gilbert's Highland Justice Court at a sleepy-eyed 15-year-old Dobson High School student.The freshman said he has missed dozens of days of school this year because he usually struggles to fall asleep until 3 a.m. He then has trouble getting up for his 8 a.m. class. And Mom, typically asleep herself at the hour school starts, is no help, the student said.

"I don't really care about school," he had said before walking into the courtroom. "I would rather stay up late and play music."

Dodge was unsympathetic, saying the problem could easy be solved with fewer late-night jam sessions and a louder morning alarm clock. Or maybe Mom should just pour a glass of water on his head every morning at 6 a.m., the judge said.

Dodge told the young insomniac to have no more unexcused absences this year or he could lose his right to apply for an Arizona driver's license until he turns 18.

Potential prosecution

On a recent afternoon, Dodge looked around a courtroom full of accused truants, their parents and their guardians and told everyone to shape up or face prosecution by the Maricopa County Attorney's Office.

Parents in the room eyed each other with chagrin as Dodge told them that they, along with their teens, could face Class 3 misdemeanor charges -- meaning fines and possible jail sentences -- if they did not get their kids to school on time or make arrangements for them to study at home because of chronic illnesses.

"And if you want to drop out and ruin your life at age 16, that is your prerogative. But before that, it is not your privilege," Dodge told the students, who are not identified because The Arizona Republic typically does not print the names of juveniles accused of crimes.

Dodge ordered the kids and parents to return to his courtroom in March with report cards and attendance records. If things have improved by then, charges will be dropped.

At least one student in the courtroom was already on her way to a new life. Wearing a charter-school uniform, she told Dodge that she hated the "drama" at her former district high school and had been in class every day since she transferred.

Truancy court is a no-nonsense year-old partnership between the Mesa Public Schools Safety and Security Department and East Valley justice of the peace courts, including Dodge's.

Mesa, the largest school district in the state, has a long history of being the toughest on truants.

Most schools traditionally let attendance clerks and counselors deal with kids who play hooky occasionally and report chronic truants to local police. Peoria Unified School District in the West Valley has an innovative on-campus program called "Sweeps" that requires kids who are late or loitering around campus to spend at least one class period away from other students explaining to a teacher why they were AWOL.

In contrast, Mesa employs nine uniformed, body-armor-wearing, pepper-spray-carrying security officers who spend at least half of their time tracking truants and their parents. The officers are not sworn law-enforcement officials but have been trained to restrain young offenders until police arrive.

The annual cost in salaries is about $140,000 for the anti-truancy program, said Mesa schools security director Allen Moore, who believes the expense is more than worth it.

Pathway to crime

While the district wants as many kids in school as possible -- it gets nearly $5,000 a year in funding for each child enrolled and has lost 9,000 students in the past decade -- it's even more important to turn around truant kids before they get involved in crime, Moore said.

After performing normal school-security duties, the nine officers patrol areas that truants like to frequent -- shopping malls, electronics stores and restaurants with deals on breakfast -- in search of kids who should be in a classroom.

While one ditch day here or there probably does not mean the start of a criminal career, juvenile-crime experts say habitual truancy often is the first step toward involvement with drugs, vandalism, burglaries and gangs.

"We get calls from the parks, from the malls ... sometimes the kids have already been involved in burglaries," said Tim Pinsonneault, security supervisor for Mesa Public Schools.

"Habitual truants like to hang out with each other," Mesa security officer Nathan Wax said. "Kids all have cellphones. They text each other and meet up at houses where parents aren't home."

In most cases, truancy problems are solved with a simple visit with the child and parents from a school security officer.

"We meet with parents and the student, we explain the state law to them. We say our goal is not to cite them," Pinsonneault said. "But if they don't correct the behavior, they are served by a process server and they have to go to court. If they don't show up, a warrant is issued for their arrest."

Moore said his officers have stumbled onto meth labs and dwellings where the conditions were so uninhabitable that they called Mesa police and the state's Child Protective Services.

But, he said, truancy is a middle-class problem, too.

"We have parents who want to take their kids out of school for a cruise," he said. "That is not allowed. And some parents want to start holiday break by going on vacation early. We don't call that vacation. We call it truancy."

Tutoring, counseling and parenting classes are made available to kids and parents who need them. But Moore said in many cases families just need to be made aware of the law. He said in the last calendar year, his officers have tracked down and given warnings to 1,184 truant junior-high and high-school students and 1,972 parents of truant elementary-schoolers. All but 606 middle- and high-school students and 234 elementary-school students returned to school with no additional action, he said. Those who did not heed the security officers' warnings were summoned to truancy hearings in a court like Dodge's.

Pinsonneault said that before last year, Mesa schools, like most other districts in the county, referred its habitual truants to the county's Juvenile Probation Department. The problem, he said, was that some parents failed to take the juvenile citations seriously.

"Bringing everyone to a justice court gives the process more teeth," he said.

Of the 79 chronic truants who appeared in Dodge's court last spring, only 12 still have charges pending, Moore said. The rest "have corrected their behavior and are attending school successfully," he said.

"It amazed me what a difference a little bit of the fear of the law would make," Dodge said.

Arizona's truancy law

Arizona law requires students to attend a public, private or home school until they turn 16 or finish 10th grade.

Students must be present 90 percent of the time -- 162 days of a 180-day school year -- to get a passing grade and credit in a class.
Kids are considered chronically truant after they miss 18 days of school, even if some of the days were excused absences.

Schools can issue citations that refer students to court or truancy-diversion programs after five unexcused absences.

Kids who fail to return to school after getting warnings face penalties ranging from fines to loss of eligibility for an Arizona driver's license until age 18.
Parents who fail to get their kids back to school can face fines or, in extreme cases, jail time.

Sources: Mesa Public Schools, Highland Justice Court, Maricopa County Juvenile Probation Department

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Prosecuting children as adults rejected by most Americans

from the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange:

Americans Believe in Treatment Over Incarceration for Youth, New Poll Finds

A majority of Americans favor rehabilitation and treatment of youth over incarceration, new national poll found. The survey, commissioned by the Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ), also found most Americans, 76 percent, believe youth should not automatically be sent to adult court. The poll was given to 1,000 U.S. adults.

“This public opinion research demonstrates Americans’ strong support for rehabilitation and treatment for court-involved youth, over incarceration and automatic prosecution in adult criminal court,” stated CFYJ’s President and CEO Liz Ryan in a press release. “In light of this research, it is urgent that state officials accelerate youth justice reforms to reduce the incarceration of youth and prosecution in adult criminal court, and that Congress and the Administration reject deep cuts to juvenile justice funding.”

Other highlights from the poll include:

  • A large majority of the public, 89 percent, would prefer youth to receive treatment, counseling and education.
  • Family is an important component in the juvenile justice system. Eighty-six percent of Americans favor involving the youth’s family in treatment while ensuring youth remains connected to their families.
  • Sixty-nine percent of Americans believe children should not be placed in adult prisons and jails.
  • Many Americans, 71 percent, favor providing more funds to public defenders to represent youth in court.
  • Eighty-one percent of Americans trust judges over prosecutors when determining if a child should be tried as an adult.

The full report can be read here. The survey also found that most Americans favor creating an independent community commission to ensure youth are protected from abuse. Further, 66 percent believe the juvenile justice system should reduce “ethnic and racial disparities in the system.

DOJ: Prosecuting children as adults yields poor results and racial disparities.

Any state that refuses to allow a young woman to get an abortion without parental consent - presumably because youth don't have the maturity to make such life and death decisions on their own - should be compelled by the same rationale to abandon laws that try and sentence juveniles as adults. Unfortunately, many such laws are made out of a place of fear, economics, or politics than out of reason based on hard evidence of what does and doesn't work.

Here is the full Justice Department report referenced below:

----------posted at ----------

Trying Juveniles as Adults Doesn't Reduce Juvenile Crime

By Kenneth J. Cooper,

Special to the NNPA from –

Only eight states publicly report the race and ethnicity of juveniles transferred to adult courts for criminal prosecution, the Justice Department has found, and it’s no wonder that more states do not. Those that do are sending disproportionate numbers of African-American and Hispanic teenagers to face the possibility of the most serious punishment that a juvenile offender can face—getting locked up in a state prison alongside hardened adult criminals.

During a juvenile crime wave that began in the 1980s and peaked in 1994, almost every state expanded the range of juvenile offenders who could face conviction in adult court for serious or repeat offenses, the Justice Department says in a new report.

Since 1994 states have been trying many fewer teenagers in regular courts, but at least 14,000 faced that sort of prosecution in 2009, according to information available from 21 states.

State lawmakers may believe their tough legislation has led to the drop in juvenile offending, but they are deluding themselves if they do. It has been long established that the biggest factor behind crime rates are demographic trends: the more teenagers in the population, the more juvenile crime, and vice versa. Similarly, adult crime rates are strongly associated with the number of people under age 30, particularly males.

Current members of state legislatures would be more on target asking whether adult transfer laws have served any beneficial purpose. No national study has been conducted on the impact of those laws, but most state-level research indicates they do not reduce juvenile crime.

“The weight of the evidence suggests that state transfer laws have little or no tendency to deter would-be juvenile criminals,” concludes the report from the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. “Possible explanations include juveniles’ general ignorance of transfer laws, tendency to discount or ignore risks in decision-making, and lack of impulse control.”

The report suggests legislatures take another look at the laws: “States have shown little tendency to reverse or even reconsider the expanded transfer laws already in place. Despite the steady decline in juvenile crime and violence rates since 1994, there has as yet been no discernible pendulum swing away from transfer.”

Less than a paragraph in the report is devoted to racial-ethnic disparities in adult prosecution of juveniles, perhaps because so few states make those breakdowns available. That limited pool of information provides another reason for legislative reconsideration—one that African-American and Hispanic lawmakers should push.

According to the report, “In Florida most transferred youth in 2008 were black (54%) whereas whites (29%) and Hispanics (12%) were considerably underrepresented. By contrast transfers were predominantly Hispanic in Arizona (57%) and California (56%).”

To put that undesirable Black majority in Florida into context, the state had the highest rate of adult transfer of the states that make report such information. In 2007-2008, Florida sent a whopping 3,600 juveniles of all races into adult courts—about five times as many as more populous California. Florida’s adult prosecutions of juveniles were concentrated in the counties that include Miami, St. Petersburg, Palm Beach, Orlando and Pensacola.

California prosecuted 742 juveniles as adults in 2008, a number that dipped a little the next year before jumping to 976 last year. Hispanics made up a majority of those juveniles in each of those three years, reaching a peak of 59 percent in 2009. African-Americans hovered just under 30 percent—a level out of line with the state’s 13 percent Black population. About 38 percent of state residents are Hispanic.

In Arizona, Hispanics have been tried as adults at about the same rates as in California—between 57 percent and 59 percent between 2008 and 2010. Blacks have been overrepresented too, at between 12 percent and 18 percent. The state is 30 percent Hispanic and four percent Black. Most adult prosecutions occurred in Maricopa County, where Phoenix, the state’s largest city, is located.

Hispanic juveniles were treated as adults in disparate numbers in Oregon, where they made up 30 percent of the 2008 total of 391 juveniles in adults courts. The state is 12 percent Hispanic.

In Missouri, 64 percent of juveniles statewide prosecuted as adults in 2009 were African American, nearly double the 2001 level of 36 percent. Black youth make up 15 percent of the state’s population between 10 and 17 that falls under the jurisdiction of juvenile courts. St. Louis and surrounding St. Louis County prosecuted as adults 70 percent of Black juveniles treated that way statewide.

The disparity was even greater for Black teen offenders in Tennessee: they made up 77 percent of children prosecuted as adults in 2008, and 67 percent the next year. There were about a total of 400 adult prosecutions in both years, and they were concentrated in the county that includes Memphis. Tennessee is 17 percent Black.

The Tennessee figures and one other statistic in the report suggest racial disparities are likely to be the greatest in the South, where states with the highest percentages of Black residents are located. The report says the bulk of all juveniles incarcerated in state prisons are doing their adult time in the South.

In Montana, the limited data published indicates that adult prosecution of Native American juveniles has been an issue. The statistics for Ohio that the Justice Department cites could not be found online.

To provide a fuller picture, the Justice Department recently commissioned a national survey to create the first national database of how juveniles are treated in adult courts. The survey will examine a sample of felony and misdemeanor cases against juveniles—and will include the demographics of those offenders.

Kenneth J. Cooper, a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, is a freelancer based in Boston. He also edits the Trotter Review at the University of Massachusetts-Boston.

Foster care and Indigenous youth: Big Business

A disturbing NPR series on native youth in foster care, with a focus on South Dakota's foster care industry.


Derrin Yellow Robe, 3, stands in his great-grandparents' backyard on the Crow Creek Reservation in South Dakota. Along with his twin sister and two older sisters, he was taken off the reservation by South Dakota's Department of Social Services in July 2009 and spent a year and a half in foster care before being returned to his family.
Enlarge John Poole/NPR

Derrin Yellow Robe, 3, stands in his great-grandparents' backyard on the Crow Creek Reservation in South Dakota. Along with his twin sister and two older sisters, he was taken off the reservation by South Dakota's Department of Social Services in July 2009 and spent a year and a half in foster care before being returned to his family.

October 25, 2011

Overview of a three-part investigation

Nearly 700 Native American children in South Dakota are being removed from their homes every year, sometimes under questionable circumstances. An NPR News investigation has found that the state is largely failing to place them according to the law. The vast majority of native kids in foster care in South Dakota are in nonnative homes or group homes, according to an NPR analysis of state records.

More From This Investigation

Years ago, thousands of Native American children were forcibly removed from their homes and sent to boarding schools, where the motto of the schools' founder was "Kill the Indian, Save the Man." Children lost touch with their culture, traditions and families. Many suffered horrible abuse, leaving entire generations missing from the one place whose future depended on them — their tribes.

In 1978, Congress tried to put a stop to it. They passed the Indian Child Welfare Act, which says except in the rarest circumstances, Native American children must be placed with their relatives or tribes. It also says states must do everything it can to keep native families together.

But 32 states are failing to abide by the act in one way or another, and, an NPR investigation has found, nowhere is that more apparent than in South Dakota.

"Cousins are disappearing; family members are disappearing," said Peter Lengkeek, a Crow Creek Tribal Council member. "It's kidnapping. That's how we see it."

State officials say they have to do what's in the best interest of the child, but the state does have a financial incentive to remove the children. The state receives thousands of dollars from the federal government for every child it takes from a family, and in some cases the state gets even more money if the child is Native American. The result is that South Dakota is now removing children at a rate higher than the vast majority of other states in the country.

Native American families feel the brunt of this. Their children make up less than 15 percent of the child population, yet they make up more than half of the children in foster care.

Critics say foster care in South Dakota has become a powerhouse for private group home providers who bring in millions of dollars in state contracts to care for kids. Among them is Children's Home Society, the state's largest foster care provider, which has close ties with top government officials. It used to be run by South Dakota's Gov. Dennis Daugard. An NPR investigation has found that Daugard was on the group's payroll while he was lieutenant governor — and while the group received tens of millions of dollars in no-bid state contracts. It's an unusual relationship highlighting the powerful role money and politics play in South Dakota's foster care system.

"They make a living off of our children," said Juanita Sherick, the tribal social worker for the Pine Ridge reservation.

Some children are removed from their homes for legitimate reasons. But in South Dakota very few are taken because they've been physically or sexually abused. Most are taken under a far more subjective set of circumstances. The state says the parents are neglectful. But NPR's investigation shows that even Native American children who grow up to become foster care success stories, living happy, productive lives, say the loss of their culture and identities leaves a deep hole they spend years trying hopelessly to fill.

Read the complete first part of our yearlong investigation here.

Juvenile Diversion: Second Chances.

Good piece by NPR - follow the link to the site to hear the radio broadcast.


Second Chances, Not Jail Time, For Criminals

National Public Radio
Talk of the Nation
November 3, 2011

NEAL CONAN, host: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. If the threat of prison is supposed to deter crime, it's not working; record numbers are behind bars. And while all those bad actors off the street may contribute to lower crime rates in recent years, many believe there have to be better ways.

Today we'll focus on two ideas to offer kids and nonviolent offenders a second chance, and they're not just theories. Criminologist David Kennedy and Judge Steve Teske tried out their ideas on the streets and in the courts. Now others are trying them, too...

We begin with Clayton County Juvenile Judge Steve Teske, who joins us from a studio in Atlanta. Nice to have you with us today.

JUDGE STEVE TESKE: Thank you, good to be with you.

CONAN: And when you started, I understand you found your juvenile court filling up with kids under - facing minor offenses. What was the problem?

TESKE: Well, the problem was we had school resource officers, you know, after Columbine a lot of schools had police on campus to protect them from violence, and the thing is that, you know, police are trained to do their job, and you've got to be careful not to blame them. The only problem was we didn't train them. We put them on the campus, and so they did exactly what they were trained to do. They arrest everything that was a crime, including what I call soft offenses, school frights or frays, disorderly conduct, mouthing off and disrupting public school.

And so as a result, most of the cases coming in were your low-level misdemeanor offenses, and it clogged up the courts.

CONAN: So these are things that in an earlier day might have ended up at the principal's office, and these days they ended up in handcuffs.

TESKE: That's correct.

CONAN: And what did you do?

TESKE: Well, first of all, I brought everyone together, the chief of police and the school superintendent. I showed them the statistics. I showed them the research that the more you arrest, the more you suspend, your dropout rates are going to go up, and that wasn't helping at all because most of these kids were not delinquent in the first place.

I mean the fact remains is that just because you commit a delinquent act doesn't make you delinquent. I committed delinquent acts. I didn't find myself in handcuffs.

CONAN: I did, too, and neither did I. but in other words, what you were trying to do was interrupt what some have described as the school-to-prison pipeline.

TESKE: Absolutely, and so we got together. It took us nine months, and we developed a protocol to find another alternative. And what we did is that we decided not to arrest these kids and focus only on the more serious offenses. And so as a result, we had a dramatic decrease in the referrals to the juvenile court by 72 percent.

But since then, our graduation rates have gone up 24 percent, and our serious weapon charges have gone down 70 percent.

CONAN: So it seems to be working.

TESKE: It is working. It's all based on relationships because now the school police are on the campus all the time. The kids don't see them as the bad guys. And so they're building these relationships with the kids, and as a result, they're getting more information, and they're able to stop things from happening before they get on the campus.

CONAN: Stay with us, Judge, we want to hear your response to some of our callers, but there are other ways to try to keep low-level offenders out of prison. Also joining us is David Kennedy, a criminologist, author of the book "Don't Shoot: One Man, A Street Fellowship and the End of Violence in Inner-city America." He joins us from our bureau in New York. Nice to have you with us today.


CONAN: And I know you've been brought in to different cities, Boston and Highpoint, North Carolina, for two, to work with law enforcement. And what is the approach that you've pioneered when you're dealing with low-level drug dealers?

KENNEDY: Well, the judge said it: It's all based on relationships. And he's really exactly right. That's a wonderful story he's telling. And this stuff works not just with low-level offending but with, as it turns out, some extremely serious stuff.

And what we do with the drug dealers is recognize again what the judge just said, that in our quest to protect these institutions, his are schools and mine are these neighborhoods, we are doing tremendous unintended damage. And these are neighborhoods with open-air drug markets and crack houses and white drive-through buyers and all that kind of thing.

And most of the men can end up with criminal records, at which point they're doomed, and their community is damaged. And so what we do instead is identify the drug dealers - there are never that many, even in the most distressed neighborhood - get a case ready to go, look at whether they're violent or not. If they're violent, then they get arrested and prosecuted in a traditional way.

If they're not, rather than arresting them, we go to their parents and grandparents. We talk to everybody. We have a community meeting, and in the community meeting, the community says we need you to stop what you're doing. We are for you, but we are against a couple of things you're doing. We would like to help you. We would like you to succeed and thrive.

And the police say we don't want to ruin your life. If you stop, we will suspend this case, but we are putting you on notice that the next time you go to the corner and sell drugs, we need no more evidence, we need no new information, we open the jacket, we sign the warrant, you will go to jail, and you are now on prior notice. And nearly everybody stops.

CONAN: Nearly everybody stops.

KENNEDY: Nearly everybody stops.

CONAN: Because most of those people who are selling drugs are users, too.

KENNEDY: It's not so much that, although there's truth to that. The main thing that happens is the community norm that says we don't want this is very clear. The community and the police start seeing each other in different ways, just as the judge said happens with the police and his kids. They're not the antagonists at odds that they were before all this began.

The potential offenders know that the next time they offend, there's an almost certain likelihood that there will be a sanction, which is not the world they usually live in, and you disrupt the pattern in the neighborhood that keeps this drug market cycle going.

The guys on the corner, so the buyers come in, so the sellers go to the corner and so the buyers come in, you can break that dynamic, and the neighborhood is a different place.

CONAN: And also instead of the generalized deterrence - if you commit a crime, the police will find you and send you to jail - this is very specific. You, Mr. Jones, the next time we see you, if you're bad, you're going to jail.

KENNEDY: That's right.

CONAN: I wonder, Judge, what's your reaction to that?

TESKE: Well, I agree. In fact, I have to confess I'm familiar with David's work, and his work was cited as part of the research around the part about building relationships and trying to help the police to take a cognitive shift in looking at how to do what I call better policing.

And let me say this. You know, I agree - and this whole thing around school safety has extended beyond the scope of the schools because what's happened is that, you know, our police, our school police used to be called kiddie cops. No one calls them kiddie cops anymore.

For example, you know, we've had a couple school resource officers been named officer of the year and cited for solving more crimes in the community, including homicides, than any other police officer because the detectives know that they need the SROs because they're a rich resource because of the type of relationship-building that they have done.

I mean, think about it. Police, one of the greatest tactics for police is gathering intelligence to prevent crime and to solve crimes. You're not going to do that if you're going to distort relationships. It's like, you know, the wolves and the sheep. You don't - you know, you've got to protect the sheep but, you know, so don't go after the sheep. Don't eat them up. If you want to go after the wolves, then use the sheep, protect the sheep and build a relationship with them.

Schools are a microcosm of the community. But you know what? The kids can tell you what's going on, but they're not going to talk to you if you're beating them up.

CONAN: And that goes, I assume, David Kennedy, as I read, a lot of the evidence that you have against these street-corner drug dealers is videotape evidence. It's not necessarily snitches.

KENNEDY: That's right, but there are all kinds of clever ways, it turns out, to use very traditional legal powers in new and strategy ways and get very different results. And that's important. What's even more important is what you just heard from Judge Teske, which is that the most important force for good in a community or school or any of those places is that the people of those communities and institutions want to live in good ways.

And they need help. They need help from law enforcement. They need help from the rest of us. But no community wants to be dangerous or sick or frightened or worry about its kids dying or all of its men going to prison. Communities don't want to live like that.

And over about 30 years, this country has locked up more and more and more and more people. This is a country now where if you are a black man, you stand a one in three chance that you will go to prison during your lifetime. Those men overwhelmingly come from historically distressed minority communities, especially black communities.

And in the name of protecting them, we have been locking everybody up. We have been kicking their doors in. We have been stopping them on the street. One of my black friends says if you want to destroy a civilization, lock it up, and he's right.

And just as happened with Judge Teske's kids, we have alienated these neighborhoods. They don't want to talk to us. They don't want to talk to the cops. They see the outside as an oppressive force, and things just get worse. You can reverse that, and you can bring out the norm, the standards, the desire of any community to live well and be safe.

CONAN: Briefly, we just have a few seconds before the break, but Judge Teske, you mentioned some categories of minor crimes that this program works on in schools. Does that include drug crimes?

TESKE: Yes. I mean, the program was not initially designed for drug crimes, but the police have started to broaden it on their own. Even though the protocol is specific about these certain what we call focus acts or soft offenses, over the last several years, the police, in seeing it work, have stopped making their own arrests on those offenses not included in the written protocol, which includes possession of drugs and things of that nature.

I mean, instead of making the referral, they'll work with the kids and call it in to the court.

CONAN: Steve Teske, Clayton County Juvenile Court judge. Also with us, David Kennedy, co-chair of the National Network for Safe Communities and director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control. We're talking about ideas to keep people out of jail.

If you've had experience with the criminal justice system, what was your first experience with the cops and the courts? How did it change your life? 800-989-8255. Email Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan, TALK OF THE NATION, NPR News.


CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan. It costs on average over $60 a day to house someone in state prison. Budgets are tight, and many officials are looking for ways to keep people out of those prisons. According to a report in USA Today, more than a half-dozen states are reclassifying a variety of property crimes.

Instead of felonies, which often require jail time, some offenses are now considered misdemeanors: offenses like theft, criminal mischief and check-kiting, an approach that might save money but not necessarily prevent crime.

That's the goal of two programs we're talking about today. Both offer low-level offenders a second chance and help them avoid jail time in the name of safer communities. Our guests are Judge Steve Teske, a juvenile court judge in Clayton County, Georgia; and David Kennedy, who directs the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. He's also the other of "Don't Shoot: One Man, a Street Fellowship and the End of Violence in Inner-city America."

We want to hear from those of you with experience in the criminal justice system. How did your first experience with the cops and courts change you? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Our first caller is Jimmy(ph), Jimmy with us from Morrison in Illinois.

JIMMY: Hello.

CONAN: Hi, you're on the air.

JIMMY: Okay. Well, yeah, I don't think it's going to do much good. When I first ran into trouble with the police when I was younger, I got arrested. It didn't change my mind at all, it just made me more angry. It didn't stop me from wanting to do things I was doing already. I didn't see where I was harming anyone.

CONAN: And was this a drug crime?

JIMMY: Yeah, it was. I got arrested for drug paraphernalia. I think... Huh?

CONAN: What was the disposition of your case? Did you do time in jail?

JIMMY: Not for that one, no. I did for another one that came later on in life.

CONAN: And so you just got angry, being given - essentially allowed to walk for the first one did not help you.

JIMMY: I didn't get to walk for the first one. I had to pay a whole lot of money out of my pocket. I was on probation for a while.

CONAN: I see, and it just irritated you?

JIMMY: Yeah, it just irritated me. I think what irritated me the most about it was that my rights were violated in the first place, for them to arrest me. I was minding my own business. They asked me for ID in a bar – I was in college. I gave them the same ID I gave the doorman, and then they said they didn't believe it was me. I explained that it was, and if they weren't happy with me being there, I'd be glad to leave. And instead, they grabbed me, drug me down a staircase and searched me.

Then they slammed my head into the side of a police car door.

CONAN: I can understand being a little irritated.

JIMMY: Yeah.


CONAN: And later, you did time for what?

JIMMY: For drugs again. I had a terrible cocaine problem for a while. And I got away from that, but I wouldn't credit them with any bit of that. I just got in trouble. When I got out of jail from that, I was still getting in trouble, still doing things that could get me in trouble.

I ended up quitting on my own, not because of anything they did.

CONAN: Congratulations on that, Jimmy, and thanks very much for the phone call. And by illustration, David Kennedy, how does Jimmy's experience differ from the idea of a focused deterrence that you're promoting?

KENNEDY: It doesn't. So, if you will, imagine entire American communities, whole neighborhoods and blocks of neighborhoods, where everybody feels the way Jimmy feels. That it is the normal experience of men in those neighborhoods that they are treated that he just told he that he was treated, and they feel exactly the same way about it that he does.

And now it's not just one person. It is the men in the neighborhood. It is their families. It is their friends. It is how the neighborhood feels. They are angry. They feel abused. In many instances, they have been abused. They see the police as neither helping nor caring about them, nor treating them either with respect or legally.

And we should not expect communities to like being treated like that, and they don't talk to us. They don't snitch. You know, everything that people read as a natural condition of the neighborhood is, in a real way, helped along, even caused by the way we are treating them. And if we treat people differently, they respond differently.

One of the initiatives described in "Don't Shoot" is not even aimed at low-level offenders. It is aimed at the most serious gun and gang offenders in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Chicago. And it a carefully evaluated fact that sitting down with those guys as they come back into the neighborhood from actually having served prison time, and talking with them, respectfully, for an hour about what the community wants from them, what the community wants for them and having them informed in a businesslike way by law enforcement what their legal vulnerabilities are, led to an almost 40-percent reduction of homicide in that neighborhood, and the people who go through the meetings do dramatically better for years.

This is work we are learning how to do. It is very powerful.

CONAN: I wanted to ask an email question from Cooper(ph) in Toledo to Judge Teske. Two questions for the judge. Where do you actually live? Have you ever had to ask your 12-year-old to get down on the floor when shots were fired in your neighborhood? I make the assumption, in asking this question, that he does not live in a neighborhood where criminal teenagers and young adults affect him and his family directly. It's a purely academic question to him.

I live in a strong, solid, middle-class neighborhood that has been thrown to the wolves by a school system and a city administration that have made us a crossroads for criminal adolescents. We had five shots fired in the middle of trick-or-treating this week by out-of-neighborhood gangs that have been allowed free rein by politicians and judges. I have no more patience for youth crime anymore: Lock them up.

TESKE: Well, that's the frustration I hear from a number of communities. First on point, well, Clayton County, Georgia, is a suburb of Atlanta. It's the poorest county in the metro area. We have the most free lunches, the highest foreclosure rates.

Yeah, I've heard gunshots. I was a parole officer for 10 years - the streets of Atlanta, carried a gun, made many arrests myself, former peace officer. I've been there. I've been thrown through drywall, I've fallen from a ceiling. Look, I understand all that stuff.

Here's the thing, though: I think your community needs to use David's approach. You know, the thing is that we know that punishment alone only increases re-offense rates. It's treatment and a balanced approach that's going to do it.

You take Jimmy, the last caller. He brings up a very good point. The thing is, what Jimmy needed, was help. We need to be looking at alternatives to just mere punishment alone that deals with the underlying causes of why people do what they do. And that's what we'd done in our school system.

I mean, I understand you want to lock them all up, but how can I go back to locking them all up when I have a 70 percent reduction in weapons on campus? I have a decline in juvenile crime in my county. Why would I want to go back to that? Because it works. It's just not working where you are because, for whatever reason, they're not using the right strategies.

CONAN: Let's get another caller in. This is Josh(ph), Josh with us from Yukon, Oklahoma.

JOSH: Yes, how are you doing?

CONAN: I'm well, thank you.

JOSH: First, let me just say it's kind of ironic I'm talking to a judge and an ex-parole officer. That was one of my goals, to stay away from that.


JOSH: I was charged with a possession of a firearm. The charge came from me actually using drugs. And I went to a one-year program that usually takes three years, and I finished it in one year. I did not completely complete the program, but it did teach me a lot of life lessons, and I'll take my comments off the air.

CONAN: Okay, a lot of life lessons, have you stopped using?

JOSH: Yes, sir. I've been clean and sober for the last eight years. I got out in - I went in in '04, and that was the last time I used. And it really did make me realize the goals I had in front of me, as well as realizing even now I'm part of other school programs. One is called DOGS, D-O-G-S, Dads of Great Students, and even though I'm a convicted felon, some of the teachers know, and I've walked in, and there's been school fights right there in the front of the school, and I'll break it up.

And principals will call me in and say hey, I've got a troubled youth. Would you mind coming in and talking to him? And I do, and I let them realize, you know, you're young. You've got your life in front of you.

CONAN: Judge Teske, and Joshua promising not to use our call identification number and forward it to anybody. So don't worry about that. We appreciate the phone call.


CONAN: But Judge Teske, there's an experience of somebody who went to prison, and it - sometimes it works.

TESKE: Well, yeah, sometimes it does work, and it's really a matter of the personalities as well. You know, I mean, it's like the old adage, you know, you get want you, you know, you put into it. You get out of it what you put into it. And some folks, they realize it, and they get it. But statistically speaking, though, that's not the case. I mean, we have, you know, this country incarcerates more people than any other country in the world. We have the highest re-offense rates, you know, in this country.

You know, here in Georgia, we used to have boot camps for kids. We got rid of them because the re-offense rates were like 75 percent. Incarceration alone isn't going to do it. You can't just anecdotally, you know, measure things. You can't say, well, this worked for this person and say then it works for everybody. And I'm glad it worked for him, but I think it had a lot to do - I think it's to his credit, his personality, who he is and what he put into it and got out of it.

CONAN: You mentioned boot camps. The other approach that a lot of people tried was the scared straight approach. Again, good TV didn't seem to work.

TESKE: No, it didn't work. And I know there's been a recent pitch to bring it back. And I'm really saddened about that because I think it's - I can't remember who's doing that, and so I'm not going to take a chance of throwing some channels out there, you know? But the bottom line is is that it's a disservice to the public - getting - I call it politics of fear. You scare people enough, OK, into believing this whether it's for a vote to get elected or whatever the case may be.

And all we're doing is lying not only to ourselves, we're lying to the public. And we're going down a road, and we're continuing to hurt ourselves and our kids.

CONAN: You talked about politics of fear. Zero tolerance, as you suggest, came up after Columbine. It's a good slogan for somebody running for office. Are you not vulnerable to somebody saying you are coddling criminals?

TESKE: Oh, absolutely. And I get that from time to time. You know, that's one nice thing about being a judge and wearing a robe, I have absolute immunity, and I have to have a thick skin. But be that as it may, the fact of the matter is I do believe in zero tolerance. I mean, I believe we've got to get out of the semantics here, OK? It's like, you know, this word or this word, the problem with zero tolerance the way it's used is that it's zero tolerance with everything. Zero tolerance was intended only for weapons and serious drugs, OK?

What's happened since then is that it is now being used in soft crimes, soft offenses, and as a result, what we're doing - the research shows this. If you take low-level offenses, you treat them like they're hardened criminals, you will make them hardened criminals. We are doing a disservice. We are actually creating criminals with this type of politics.

CONAN: We're talking with Judge Steve Teske of Clayton County Juvenile Court in - near Atlanta, Georgia, also David Kennedy, who's co-chair of the National Network for Safe Communities. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And, David Kennedy, the same question to you. For your program to work, you have to have obviously cooperation from the district attorney's office to not prosecute those cases or not pressure the police to prosecute those cases, the district attorneys tend to get elected. They like to have a lot of prosecutions.

KENNEDY: Well, the good ones want to have impact on the ground, and the good ones in a very nuts-and-bolts way would rather do what the judge is saying and focus their energies on serious offenses by serious people. They would rather differentiate. They would rather have priorities. And not all district attorneys like this idea. Some people will say straight out, you know, these people are heartless and incorrigible, and they won't change. And the fact is that they're wrong.

And the record is very, very, very clear that these approaches not only keep people out of prison, which is very important as long as the public safety is served by it, but they are also much more effective at actually changing behavior, which is the point. The point of prison and everything that leads to prison is not to get people in prison. The point is to serve the public's safety. And what the neighborhoods that I am committed to are dealing with is both far too much crime and far too much imprisonment, and they feed on each other, just as the judge has said.

CONAN: Let's get Brianna(ph) on the line. Brianna is with us from East Lansing.

BRIANNA: Hi. I was 16 when my daughter's father went to prison, and I was 15 when I had her. She was 8 months old. And he went to prison. He was in a gang locally, a small gang in Lansing, and probably committed a lot of petty crimes, drug-related crimes. He sold drugs. He finally got caught and charged with conspiracy to commit armed robbery and got four to 15 years in prison at 19 years - he was 19 years old. And it, obviously, led to me raising my daughter by myself, but it also set him up for failure because he didn't have an education when he went in. And, of course, he got his GED in prison. But he didn't know how to care of himself from that point on.

He was in and out of the system - has been in and out of the system. My daughter is now 17, no relationship with her dad because she never had a chance. And it's my firm belief that had he been diverted into some kind of program like what you're talking about, you know, he could have gotten a sense of self and what his future could have been like. He could have - he grew up not seeing anything but crime.

And had he understood that people were looking out for him and invested in him, I really believe he could have invested in his community, and he would have been involved in his daughter's life. And it would have changed her life, and probably for generations would have an impact.

CONAN: And that's an illustration - Brianna, thanks very much for the story...

BRIANNA: (Unintelligible).

CONAN: ...David Kennedy, of how one arrest can change a family. Many families make up a community. Many communities make up a city.

KENNEDY: That's exactly right. And the ripple effect of mass incarceration is toxic. The ripple effect of stop and frisk is toxic. The ripple effect of locking down neighborhoods in the name of protecting them is toxic. And the people who are doing it are good people. That's not the question. They are doing what they know how to do. They are following the logic that they understand. It's not ill-intentioned. And that part of the tragedy of it is that, you know, the folks who locked up the caller's boyfriend and her daughter's father would say - and they would mean it - that they were tying to protect that community. And they do not mean to cause this damage, and we are learning that we don't have to cause it.

CONAN: David Kennedy, professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, author of the book "Don't Shoot: One Man, A Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner-City America." Thanks very much for your time.

KENNEDY: Pleasure.

CONAN: And our thanks as well to Steve Teske, Clayton County Juvenile Court judge. Appreciate your time, Judge. Thank you.

TESKE: Thank you. Thank you.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Risking prison rape for graffiti fame: counter-revolutionary.

This was released today by the Maricopa County Attorney's office (they kicked my own felony down to 3 misdemeanors, apparently. I hope that's all I'm facing, anyway). This 18-year-old is on his way to prison, and he's bragging about being a "king".

King of what, exactly?

He has no idea what he's really facing if he ends up in an Arizona state prison. Guys who are masters at beating, raping and killing cocky youth like him - not writing on church walls - are running the yards. They're going to eat him alive in there - he'll be candy for them. That's why so many others are just killing themselves once they arrive.

I hope not all the young taggers out there are really this naive'...please respect our hoods and find a way to express yourselves legally, people. I get some of what you're doing, guys, but don't go to prison for this kind of shit. Come Occupy Phoenix or protest police brutality with us and just bring chalk - or a piece of cardboard with your paint. Teach me some new techniques - I learn a lot from real writers and artists. Think of it as a challenge....I dare you to drop your cans for one day. Then we'll talk revolution, if that's what you're really all about.

-----------------from the MCAO---------------------

Graffiti Tagger “Shaggy” Faces Criminal Damage Charges

PHOENIX, AZ (October 12, 2011) – A Maricopa County Grand Jury has charged Daniel Alexander Lopez (D.O.B. 5/13/1993) with one class 6 felony count of Aggravated Criminal Damage and one class 5 felony count of Criminal Damage for allegedly committing multiple acts of graffiti that defaced property and structures throughout the Phoenix metro area over a three year period. He is believed to be one of the most prolific graffiti vandals currently in Maricopa County.

“Graffiti is not a harmless form of creative expression. It’s a destructive crime that victimizes entire communities by creating blight and encouraging additional criminal activity,” said Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery. “In conjunction with the diligent efforts of Phoenix Police and the Phoenix Graffiti Busters program, my office will continue to aggressively pursue graffiti vandals and hold them accountable for their destructive actions,” he added.

On May 10, 2011 Phoenix Police Officers spotted Lopez trespassing on State property near an onramp to State Route 51 at McDowell Road. This area is near multiple freeway overpasses that are frequently targeted by graffiti vandals. Lopez was found in possession of a tip to an aerosol spray paint can and had white paint on his hands that matched the paint on the spray tip. Officers also found fresh graffiti tags in white paint on structures near the location where Lopez was apprehended.

Lopez later admitted to investigators that he had been “tagging” throughout the Phoenix area since 2006 using the name “Shag,” “Shaggy” and “Shagone.” The current indictment lists more than 30 victims who suffered damages in excess of $5,500. Victims include Family Dollar Stores, Sears, Arizona Department of Transportation, New Hope in Christ Church, and multiple private citizens.

Lopez told investigators he was well aware of the risk he was taking by engaging in graffiti vandalism, adding that he had no plans to stop until he was caught. “If you become a King you will get caught eventually and that’s the risk you have to take,” he said.

Referrals of juvenile graffiti cases to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office have spiked 46% in the last five years, while referrals of cases involving possession of graffiti tools have more than tripled. The County Attorney’s Office typically files formal charges on roughly 90% of criminal damage case submittals (ARS §13-1604), with resulting sentences ranging from probation to two years in prison or longer.

The indictment and information announced today is not evidence of guilt. Mr. Lopez is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Sentencing Reform: Arizona's time has come.

This is exceptional, in-depth coverage by Bob Ortega at the Arizona Republic. He and Mary K. Reinhart have been doing outstanding research on our state's collapsing public service systems and incarceration crisis - read them, leave comments at the sites of their original articles, and write a quick note to the Republic to commend their coverage of these critical issues. Ask them to go one step further, now, and get inside the prisons where some of our most vulnerable people are dying violently.

Send a letter to the editor with their online form.

By US Mail: Letters to the Editor, The Arizona Republic, P.O. Box 1950, Phoenix, AZ 85001.

Letters may also be faxed to (602) 444-8933.

Homes not Jails
Phoenix City Hall
December 22, 2010

---------------from the Arizona Republic-------------

Arizona prison sentences among toughest for many crimes

Bob Ortega

Oct. 9, 2011 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic

Whether it's putting a shoplifter behind bars for three years or a child-porn user away for 200 years, Arizona imposes among the longest, harshest sentences of any state in the country for a wide variety of crimes.

Politically, that has been popular, but the practice carries a hefty price tag. This year, the state will spend more than $1 billion to keep prisoners behind bars, and that figure will balloon if Arizona carries out plans to build or contract for as many as 6,500 new prison beds over the next five years.

Many other states, to cut costs as budget deficits have soared, have adopted sentencing alternatives over the past decade that have slashed their prison populations.

They diverted non-violent offenders into drug- or alcohol-treatment programs, increased tightly supervised probation, and took other steps that experts say save money while helping cut the likelihood that convicts will reoffend.

Nationally, crime rates have been falling for decades. Even with more convicted criminals on the street, many of these states have seen their crime rates fall as far or farther than in Arizona, where the prison population has climbed 50 percent over the past decade.

But those calling for similar reforms here have been unable to persuade Arizona's political leaders to give up their tough-on-crime stance.

"We incarcerate 40,000 people; Washington has a slightly larger population than Arizona and it has 18,000 prisoners," says Rep. Cecil Ash, a Mesa Republican and sentencing-reform advocate. "Bottom line, we're spending a huge amount of money when we have better alternatives."

But Ash has found almost no support in his own party for changing sentencing.

Former House Speaker Kirk Adams says he and most other legislators agree with prosecutors that Arizona's tough sentencing laws are the reason for the state's falling crime rate.

"If we're talking about having some people not go to prison, or letting some out earlier, it's natural lawmakers would want to proceed very, very carefully," he said.

Over the past three decades, Arizona's population has leapt one and a half times to just under 6.4 million people. The state's prison population has grown five times as fast.

In 1980, one out of every 749 people in Arizona was behind bars. Today, it's one out of 159, based on U.S. Census and Arizona Department of Corrections data. Arizona has the highest proportion of people in prison of any state in the West and ranks sixth in the country. The U.S. has the highest rate of incarceration in the world.

One big reason for the high rate across the country, and especially in Arizona, is a series of "tough on crime" and "truth in sentencing" measures that lawmakers began adopting in the 1970s and continue to enact. Those laws have sent more people to prison for longer periods of time.

Arizona politicians from former Gov. Fife Symington to Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio have campaigned on the belief that putting more bad guys away for longer keeps communities safer.

But the numbers don't back that up. Despite a high incarceration rate, Arizona also has had some of the highest crime rates in the country, averaging between sixth and seventh among all states and the District of Columbia over the past decade, according to FBI data. A study soon to be released by the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission will report that Arizona's murder rate rose last year, and that rape has risen over the last decade, even though both those rates have fallen nationally.

Over the past few years, some two dozen states - including the traditionally punitive state of Texas - have passed sentencing and other criminal-justice reforms, many specifically aimed at cutting prison populations.

Reforms include scaling back or eliminating mandatory sentences, giving judges more discretion in sentencing, creating commissions to study sentencing practices, and adopting so-called "evidence-based practices." These policies encourage probation for non-violent offenders, electronic monitoring and community-based rehabilitation programs. Criminologists credit such reforms for reducing crime and prison populations.

But the Arizona Legislature has moved mostly in the opposite direction, rejecting efforts at sentencing reform. Last session, after being lobbied by Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery and other prosecutors, leaders buried bills by Ash and another member of their own Republican majority who proposed reforms - creating a sentencing commission, expanding rehabilitation practices - similar to those adopted in Texas, Michigan, Kansas and New York. They also rejected a bill for a study of sentencing reforms. Arizona prosecutors and most Republican lawmakers insist that tough sentencing laws are essential to fighting crime by ensuring violent criminals get long sentences that keep them out of society.

Lawmakers did pass bills that increased sentences for child prostitution and sex crimes involving children, and created new crimes relating to human smuggling. Sponsors said the public supports tough measures for such crimes.

Spending on prisons rises

But putting more people in prison for longer is costly. Last year, as the state slashed spending on education, health care and almost every other area, the Department of Corrections was the only agency to see a budget increase.

In 1979, the state spent 4.3 percent of its annual budget on Corrections; this fiscal year, Corrections will take 11.2 percent of the budget. By contrast, over that time period, Arizona's spending on higher education dropped from 19.1 percent of the state budget to 10.5 percent.

The Corrections Department plans shortly to award one or more contracts for up to 5,000 more private-prison beds. The state's auditor general projects that those contracts will cost an additional $585 million over the next five years. And if further planned expansions to add 1,500 more prison beds go ahead, those would add nearly $400 million more in spending over the next five years, according to the auditor general.

Those kinds of mounting costs have led leaders in other states to push for sentencing reforms, saying it isn't a question of being soft or hard on crime but of being smart on crime.

"We recognize the need to have public safety, but at the same time we have to make the best use of our money," said Texas state Rep. Jerry Madden, who spearheaded a series of bills in his state that diverted people from prisons into mental-health, alcohol- and drug-treatment programs, increased community supervision and the use of electronic monitoring for non-violent offenders. Those changes are credited with reducing the need for thousands of prison beds.

"When I arrived at the Legislature, I had one message from my speaker: 'Don't build new prisons; they cost too much,' " Madden said.

The new treatment programs and other measures cost $241 million but saved far more. Texas scrapped plans to spend $523 million on new prisons in 2008 and 2009, and saved $36 million a year it had been paying to house prisoners in county jails. The changes also helped cut the recidivism rate. Madden notes that treating underlying mental-health, drug- and alcohol-addiction issues helps remove some of the triggers that lead to crime.

Shifting priorities

Travis Pratt, a criminologist and criminal-justice professor at Arizona State University, believes cost issues will eventually drive change in Arizona, too.

"Most states that have started to back off from the get-tough approach haven't done so because of some ideological shift; they've done so because they're broke," Pratt said. "They don't want to be less punitive, but they recognize that they've hit the fiscal limits of that agenda.

"Arizona will eventually hit that. It will become too expensive to maintain one of the highest incarceration rates in the nation."

While "policy makers found long ago that there's political capital to be gained by being tough on crime - the same philosophy that gets Arpaio elected and re-elected - that's not at the top of the political agenda anymore," Pratt said. "Now it's all about the economy, jobs, health care. Crime is slipping down the list, and policy makers won't get the same political capital out of the issue as they did in the past."

Others aren't so sure.

"We see a lot of pushback, even against things we know will work here, because right now the system is very favorable to prosecutors . . . and the benefits of sentencing reform are more difficult to see, so politically it's a tough sell," said ASU law professor Carissa Byrne Hessick, who has worked on sentencing-reform proposals.

"The prosecutors in this state seem to be well-organized, and they're very opposed to any sentencing changes," agreed Donna Hamm, a prison-reform activist and former state judge. "Judges don't have a lot of power over the length of sentences . . . there are a lot of mandatory minimums that have to be imposed. So the prosecutors are really driving that engine, because they decide which charges will be filed and which ones won't be."

Kim MacEachern, staff attorney for the Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys' Advisory Council, agrees with Hamm on one point: Prosecutors see no need for change.

"When we look at who is in prison, we believe the right people are there," she said. "And that has to be playing a role in the decrease in the crime rate."

Most criminologists, however, don't agree with that assessment.

"The research shows that incarceration is way overrated in terms of its ability to control crime. The ups and downs in the crime rate have a low correlation with incarceration rates," said Mona Lynch, director of the Center in Law, Society and Culture at the University of California-Irvine. Five other criminologists interviewed for this story agreed with Lynch, saying that scores of studies have shown that it's possible to lock up fewer people while still cutting crime.

A 2010 analysis of more than 400 studies for the National Institute of Corrections found not only that the longer the sentence, the more likely a convict is to reoffend, but that rehabilitation succeeds far more often in a community rather than prison.

Tougher penalties

Arizona has had a well-deserved reputation for handing down tough sentences since territorial days. But beginning in 1978, state lawmakers began to adopt an ever-wider variety of laws that increased the number of crimes, imposed harsher penalties and reduced the ability of judges to use their own discretion in handing down sentences or revoking probation.

Much of this coincided with nationwide sentencing trends, but as Lynch, the criminologist, describes in her book, "Sunbelt Justice," Arizona led rather than followed in tightening the screws.

These changes included, in 1978, presumptive sentencing, which imposed specific ranges of sentences for each type of crime. The idea was to make sentencing more consistent, but the change also put more power in the hands of prosecutors, who decide what violations to charge. Another change, mandatory sentencing, imposed specific longer sentences and eliminated the option of probation for violent crimes, sex offenses, repeat offenses and certain drug and DUI crimes.

Under those laws, in 1988, Jay Martin Jonas of Bisbee was sentenced to 25 years in prison for selling a marijuana cigarette, for a dollar, to a 14-year-old juvenile delinquent. He got 22 1/2 years more tacked on for agreeing to fence a handgun the boy had stolen. Jonas, then 21, had a prior felony, so the two sentences were imposed consecutively without any possibility of parole.

On appeal, Arizona Supreme Court Justice Robert Corcoran, writing for the majority, noted that Jonas' sentence "is among the harshest in the nation," but he upheld it. In his dissent, Justice Stanley Feldman replied, "Actually, it's the harshest. Arizona is the only state that would or could incarcerate a first-time seller of one marijuana cigarette to twenty-five years in prison without parole to be served consecutively to any other sentence imposed."

Jonas' attorney eventually won him some relief. He was released last year, after serving 22 1/2 years in prison.

"Sometimes," said Feldman, now in private practice, "common sense tells you a thing is so unjust it violates the Eighth Amendment," which bans cruel and unusual punishment. He said Arizona's criminal code can and does result in sentences that are "counterproductive, unjust and create too much expense."

Prosecutors wield more power

In 1993, Arizona adopted "truth in sentencing" laws. These abolished the ability of parole boards to award early release for new crimes. They required offenders to serve at least 85 percent of their sentence before being eligible for community supervision; and required serving 100 percent of the sentence for many felonies. Before, inmates typically had been eligible for parole after serving from half to two-thirds of their sentences. While most states adopted "truth in sentencing" laws for violent crimes, Arizona was one of only four to impose the rules on non-violent crimes.

Another change greatly reduced the option to let sentences run concurrently, as most states allow, when someone is convicted on more than one charge. It made consecutive sentences the default option and mandated them for certain crimes, including most crimes against children.

For Phoenix teacher Milton Berger, who was convicted in state court in 2003 on 20 counts of possession of child pornography, each with a mandatory minimum of 10 years, the consecutive-sentencing rule put him behind bars for 200 years with no parole. If Berger, now 61, reaches the median life expectancy for a man his age - 81 - Arizona taxpayers will spend more than half a million dollars to keep him in prison. Berger took his chances at trial because the plea bargain he was offered - 40 years with no parole - would essentially have been a life sentence.

In contrast, Deewayne Bowdoin of Willcox was prosecuted in U.S. District Court in Phoenix for possession of child pornography last year. He received five years in federal prison, "a just sentence for his role in the sexual exploitation of children," said then-U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke.

Critics say Arizona's mandatory-sentencing laws, meant to provide consistency, instead have moved discretion out of the hands of judges and into the hands of prosecutors, giving them enormous leverage to pry plea bargains from those accused and resulting in huge disparities.In the last fiscal year, plea bargains accounted for 95.6 percent of all felony criminal convictions in Maricopa County; only 1.6% of felony criminal cases filed went to trial, according to court records.

"Sentencing is nearly all done by plea bargaining instead of before a judge in open court," said Pima County Public Defender Robert Hirsh. "The deal is always driven by the risk of a higher sentence."

In 2009, William Johnson was charged in Maricopa County with felony shoplifting. To avoid a sentence of 10 years at trial, he agreed to plead guilty and received three years in prison for stealing a $3 bottle of wine. The plea bargain was considerably longer than the norm for similar crimes in most states, say defense attorneys.

States cut costs, decrease crime

While many states went down the same sentencing path as Arizona, in recent years most have walked back from such practices. Even the few states with higher incarceration rates than Arizona, such as Mississippi and Texas, saved money by cutting prison populations while also seeing deep drops in crime.

New York cut its prison population by 20 percent over the past decade, and New Jersey by 19 percent, while both states saw overall crime rates fall by similar rates as in Arizona and violent crime rates fall farther. Both states scaled back mandatory sentences for drug offenses and gave judges more discretion to send offenders into drug-treatment programs.

Mississippi, in 2008, brought back parole and scaled back mandatory sentences for a variety of non-violent offenses, retroactive to 1995. Over the next year, the state released more than 3,000 prisoners on parole an average of 13 months sooner, saving more than $40 million. Mississippi also saved roughly $12 million a year by expanding the use of home arrest with electronic monitoring. Its crime rate fell nearly 7 percent.

Many other states, including Georgia, Kansas, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina and South Carolina, have taken similar measures. Across the country, crime rates have been dropping for years, even as "we see an increasing trend of states turning to alternative sentencing measures and reforms," said Judith Greene, director of Justice Strategies, a non-profit group that studies incarceration policies. Like ASU's Pratt, she said the budget crisis has been an impetus; but with the declines in crime "people are a little less ready for the kinds of old, knee-jerk solutions proposed when crime was rising and people were feeling a desperation about what to do about it."

After peaking in October 2009 at just under 40,800, Arizona's prison population has dropped by about 700 inmates; officials say changes in probation practices are sending fewer people back to prison for minor infringements of probation.

Arizona's auditor general, in an audit last year, said the state could cut its prison growth by adopting sentencing reforms other states have put in place, and by expanding who is eligible for the diversion program voters created in 1996 through Proposition 200. Except for methamphetamine users, who are excluded, that proposition requires first- or second-time non-violent drug offenders to be put on probation and sent to a treatment program instead of prison. A 2006 Arizona Supreme Court study estimated this measure keeps more than 1,000 people a year out of prison, at an annual savings of about $11.7 million. ASU's Hessick said extending the program to meth possession could save $6 million a year more.

State legislator Ash said he plans to propose sentencing reforms again next session, for the fourth year in a row.

Report on the private-prison system

document Read the documents
• Arizona private-prison delay urged
• Coolidge voices desire to land new prison
• 2010 escape at Kingman an issue for MTC's bid
• La. firm says prison escapes led to changes
• Private-prison bidder Geo's record an issue
• Proposal to build private prison in Goodyear draws fire
• Firm presents Arizona prison proposal
• Arizona prison oversight lacking for private facilities
graphic Kingman prison empty bed payments
document Documents show security lapses in prisons
• Public hearings on prison plans
• State to expand private prisons
• Kingman private prison slow to fix flaws
• Arizona DOC faces systemwide security lapses