Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Article Explores "America's Toughest Federal Prison"

The New York Times has an interesting article examining the federal supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, known as the ADX.  As noted in the article, the prison houses many infamous criminals, including Ted Kaczynski, Eric Rudolph, Zacarias Moussaoui, Ramzi Yousef, and Terry Nichols.  Little is known about the facility and its operation.  Using interviews with former inmates at the ADX, information obtained as part of an ongoing lawsuit against the facility, and other sources, the article offers readers a glimpse inside.
The ADX can house up to 500 prisoners in its eight units. Inmates spend their days in 12-by-7-foot cells with thick concrete walls and double sets of sliding metal doors (with solid exteriors, so prisoners can’t see one another). A single window, about three feet high but only four inches wide, offers a notched glimpse of sky and little else. Each cell has a sink-toilet combo and an automated shower, and prisoners sleep on concrete slabs topped with thin mattresses. Most cells also have televisions (with built-in radios), and inmates have access to books and periodicals, as well as certain arts-and-craft materials. Prisoners in the general population are allotted a maximum of 10 hours of exercise a week outside their cells, alternating between solo trips to an indoor “gym” (a windowless cell with a single chin-up bar) and group visits to the outdoor rec yard (where each prisoner nonetheless remains confined to an individual cage). All meals come through slots in the interior door, as does any face-to-face human interaction (with a guard or psychiatrist, chaplain or imam). The Amnesty report said that ADX prisoners “routinely go days with only a few words spoken to them.”
The entire article is available here.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Judge Rakoff and Professor Garrett on Deferred Prosecution Agreements

Deferred prosecution agreements (DPAs) are now a common aspect of the corporate criminal enforcement landscape.  While DPAs do not result in a criminal conviction for the corporation, these types of agreements share many of the same characteristics as plea bargains.  In a recent article featured in the New York Review of Books, Judge Jed Rakoff discusses a recent book published by Professor Brandon Garrett entitled Too Big to Jail: How Prosecutors Compromise with Corporations.

From Judge Rakoff's review:
So-called “deferred prosecutions” were developed in the 1930s as a way of helping juvenile offenders. A juvenile who had been charged with a crime would agree with the prosecutor to have his prosecution deferred while he entered a program designed to rehabilitate such offenders. If he successfully completed the program and committed no other crime over the course of a year, the charge would then be dropped.

The analogy of a Fortune 500 company to a juvenile delinquent is, perhaps, less than obvious. Nonetheless, beginning in the early 1990s and with increasing frequency thereafter, federal prosecutors began entering into “deferred prosecution” agreements with major corporations and large financial institutions.
Read the entire book review here.

You can purchase a copy of Professor Garrett's excellent book here.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Interesting Op-Ed Re "Serial" and Plea Bargaining

Many people have listed to the hit podcast "Serial" by now.  For those who have not, it is an extremely interesting show detailing the prosecution of Adnan Syed for the 1999 murder of his former high school girlfriend.

This weekend, The New York Times published an Op-Ed about the case.  This is not surprising given the recent publicity around the Podcast.  What was surprising, however, was that the Op-Ed dealt less with the evidence against Syed and more with the fact that he did not plead guilty.

From the introduction:

OUR modern criminal justice system is designed to avoid jury trials. Through investigation and considered use of discretion, prosecutors are expected to charge only when there is sufficient evidence to convict. Once charged, defendants are encouraged to plead guilty in part to avoid a “trial penalty” — a longer sentence after a trial, often a much longer one. And 95 percent of them do just that. The Supreme Court acknowledged this reality in 2012 when it described our criminal process as “a system of pleas.”
You can read the entire Op-Ed here.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Excellent Opportunity for Doctoral Students and Recent Ph.D. Graduates re Guilty Pleas

Are you interested in researching the processes that generate guilty pleas? Are you currently studying guilty pleas or plea bargaining (e.g., criminal sentencing outcomes)?  The Research Coordination Network (RCN) on Understanding Guilty Pleas is hosting a research workshop June 2-3, 2015, at the University at Albany, in Albany NY. We are seeking doctoral-level graduate students and recent Ph.D. graduates from any discipline interested in participating. This is an excellent opportunity to network with an interdisciplinary group of well-known scholars keenly focused on making groundbreaking progress in this important but under-researched area.

The RCN, funded by the National Science Foundation and led by Professor Shawn Bushway, was created to invigorate interdisciplinary research on guilty pleas and related decision-making processes. The RCN includes three cores focused on prosecutorial, defense, and courtroom workgroup decision-making. More about the RCN and its members can be found at http://www.albany.edu/understanding-guilty-pleas/index.php

The conference will host approximately 40 scholars interested in the empirical study of guilty pleas, representing the fields of economics, criminology/criminal justice, psychology, sociology, law, public policy, political science, etc. There will be plenary presentations of current or recent research on the cutting edge of guilty plea research, a group-networking dinner, and a poster session.

Funding is available for up to 10 doctoral students and individuals who have received their doctorate within the past three years (2012 or later). Funding includes travel to and from the conference, lodging, and a per diem. The workshop is open to both individuals who are interested in getting more involved in this important area of research and to individuals who are actively conducting research in the area of guilty pleas.  Applications from minorities are strongly encouraged.

1) For Individuals Interested in Plea Research. To apply, email the following materials by March 1, 2015 to PleaResearch@albany.edu:
  • A one-to two-page (single-spaced, 12-point font) essay explaining your interest in guilty plea research. Applicants who are able to integrate their past or current research endeavors to plea-relevant research will have a higher chance of success. Applicants with viable research questions/ideas will also have a higher chance of success
  •  Curriculum vitae
  •  Name and contact information (email, phone number) of your graduate advisor or main reference

2) For Individuals Already Conducting Plea Research. To apply, email the following materials by March 1, 2015 to PleaResearch@albany.edu:
  • A 750-word abstract of a current plea-related project.  The project does not need to be finished and can be on any element that affects the process that generates guilty pleas.  If selected, you will present your research as a poster at the workshop poster session
  •  Curriculum vitae
  • Name and contact information (email, phone number) of your graduate advisor or main reference

For questions, please contact Professor Allison Redlich, aredlich@albany.edu, 518-442-4217.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Judge Rakoff on "Why Innocent People Plead Guilty"

Judge Jed Rakoff has published a very interesting piece in The New York Review of Books entitled "Why Innocent People Plead Guilty." I would encourage readers of this blog to take a look at this in-depth analysis of how we came to have a system in which 95%-97% of convictions are the result of a plea of guilt.

The opening paragraphs:

The criminal justice system in the United States today bears little relationship to what the Founding Fathers contemplated, what the movies and television portray, or what the average American believes.

To the Founding Fathers, the critical element in the system was the jury trial, which served not only as a truth-seeking mechanism and a means of achieving fairness, but also as a shield against tyranny. As Thomas Jefferson famously said, “I consider [trial by jury] as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.”
In 2013, while 8 percent of all federal criminal charges were dismissed (either because of a mistake in fact or law or because the defendant had decided to cooperate), more than 97 percent of the remainder were resolved through plea bargains, and fewer than 3 percent went to trial. The plea bargains largely determined the sentences imposed.
It was not always so.
The entire article is available here.