Some notes on criminal justice reform in the U.S.

  1. Vox’s German Lopez reviews Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration and How to Achieve Real Reform, by John Pfaff.
    1. Prison population growing because violent offenders being incarcerated at state and local level, not Federal.  Pfaff: “In reality, only about 16 percent of state prisoners are serving time on drug charges — and very few of them, perhaps only around 5 or 6 percent of that group, are both low level and nonviolent,” he writes. “At the same time, more than half of all people in state prisons have been convicted of a violent crime.”
    2. Forgotten locus of incarceration is prosecutors, “More than 90 percent of criminal convictions are resolved through a plea agreement.”
      1. Pfaff : “No major piece of state-level reform legislation has directly challenged prosecutorial power (although some reforms do in fact impede it), and other than a few, generally local exceptions, their power is rarely a topic in the national debate over criminal justice reform.”
    3. Confusion of stock and flow. Great graph from Brookings.
    4. “Hiring a police officer is probably about as expensive as hiring a prison guard, for example, but investing in police has a much bigger deterrent effect and avoids all the capital expenditures of prisons,” Pfaff argues. “Steven Levitt has estimated that $1 spent on policing is at least 20 percent more effective than $1 spent on prisons.”
  2. Heritage Foundation’s John Malcolm, a very clear overview of criminal justice issues and policies.
    1. “In my opinion, under our current system, too many relatively low-level drug offenders are locked up for 5, 10, and 20 years when lesser sentences would, in all likelihood, more than satisfy the legitimate penological goals of general deterrence, specific deterrence, and retribution.”
    2. “To those who fear that reforming mandatory minimum laws will invariably lead to increases in crime, I would note that over 30 states have taken steps to roll back mandatory sentences, especially for low level drug offenders, since 2000.[41] Crime rates have, for the most part, continued to drop in those states. For example, Michigan eliminated mandatory minimum sentencing for most drug offenses in 2002 and applied the change retroactively (nearly 1,200 inmates became eligible for immediate release), yet between 2003 and 2012, violent crime rates dropped 13 percent and property crime rates dropped 24 percent. Texas has implemented a number of changes, including reduced sentences for drug offenders,[42] and crime rates are their lowest level in that state since 1968.[43]
    3. “develop a robust, scientifically-sound and statistically-valid, post-sentencing risk and needs assessment tool that incorporates both static and dynamic factors”
  3. William A. Galston and Elizabeth McElvein of Brookings have a nice piece that reviewed legislative proposals in 2016, none of which passed.
    1. “If lawmakers are serious about reducing the federal prison population, reforms that target low-level drug offenders and certain weapons offenders will have the greatest impact.”


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Roadblocks for Project Loon delivering Internet over Puerto Rico

Seems like a lot of technical glitches still have to be worked out. See what happens next month!

La esperanza de que los globos de Project Loon pudieran conectar a Puerto Rico tan pronto como esta semana -como se había anticipado- se desvaneció ayer al conocerse que X, una de las empresas de Alphabet, aún no ha podido culminar los trabajos de reparación de su estación terrestre en la antigua base Roosevelt Roads en Ceiba, luego del paso del huracán María.El equipo de X, compañía hermana de Google, se encuentra en estos momentos en el proceso de reparar la grúa de lanzamientos de los globos conocida como “Chicken Little” y preparando los detalles para que el proyecto experimental pueda iniciar lo antes posible, así lo confirmó a El Nuevo Día, Luis Arocho, principal oficial de informática del Gobierno de Puerto Rico, quien dijo que el proceso podría demorar otras dos semanas.

Source: Demoran el lanzamiento de Project Loon en la isla | El Nuevo Día

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Long analysis by El Nuevo Día on cost of restoring electric grid in Puerto Rico; close to $2 billion…. and likely not until December

Ante el colapso financiero y operacional de la Autoridad de Energía Eléctrica (AEE) y la incapacidad fiscal del gobierno de Puerto Rico, los estragos causados por el huracán María al sistema eléctrico de la isla se han convertido en una factura para la Agencia Federal de Manejo de Emergencias (FEMA, en inglés) y el Cuerpo de Ingenieros del Ejército de los Estados Unidos (Usace, en inglés) que ronda -por el momento- los $1,680 millones.  Esta cifra de nueve dígitos, que surgió ayer durante una entrevista con el gobernador Ricardo Rosselló Nevares, no es parte de la línea de crédito por $4,700 millones que el gobierno puertorriqueño solicitó a FEMA para lidiar con su crisis de liquidez.

Source: Rosselló reafirma que su plan es restablecer el sistema eléctrico | El Nuevo Día

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Dramatic story of struggling to make do in Puerto Rico… slightly undermined

It is a great story and dramatic photo, residents of Charco Abajo (“the puddle underneath”) whose bridge washed away, using a supermarket cart and pulley system to get stuff more easily across the river.  But wait, what is that in the background?  A backhoe and a dump truck?  Maybe the government hasn’t forgotten them… maybe it takes a long time to repair a washed out bridge, and repairs have indeed started?  Maybe goldminers are looting the river in the post-hurricane chaos? The reporter (Caitlin Dickerson) does not say… it would have been nice to have a short paragraph about who has organized the recovery (or looting!?) underway in the background of the photo.

NY times photo

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Why I think simple narratives of Thomas Sankara need to approached critically #lwili

From my review of Thomas Sankara Speaks: The Burkina Faso Revolution 1983-87:

There is no doubt that Sankara’s heart was in the right place. But the DOP speech and others illustrate three features of Sankara’s rule that I find troubling: (1) a readiness to substitute abstraction and jargon when specificity was called for; (2) an impatient and wishful understanding of the world; and (3) a tone of false modesty. For example, in one speech Sankara discussed the state’s nationalization of land. There was no entertaining the prospect that perhaps the regime had little idea of the effects of such a hasty and broad-stroked legal change. In another speech, Sankara derided the formal legal system of Upper Volta, proposing an informal and possibly oral-based people’s justice. But he did not explain how this justice was to be applied without written rules, or how such written rules would not once again quickly become the mechanism by which the powerful evaded…

And see more of my thoughts here.

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Traditional son jarocho from Veracruz, “El Colas”

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Sharp criticism of Ricardo Ramos, head of Puerto Rico electric authority

De entre el aluvión de mentiras hay unas que irritan más que otras. El pueblo las identifica todo el tiempo y deja pasar la mayoría. Entre las que se quedan alimentando la ira son las relacionadas con la Autoridad de Energía Eléctrica, ahora dirigida por un embustero patológico llamado Ricardo Ramos. Al otro día del huracán este señor dijo urbi et orbi que ya mismo llegaría desde Estados Unidos un torrente de brigadas de técnicos diestros a ayudarnos a reparar el sistema eléctrico. Luego resultó que era falso, que ni siquiera había solicitado tal ayuda. Ahora sabemos que estábamos y estamos solos, que la AEE no estaba ni mínimamente preparada y que no tenía los materiales necesarios para reemplazar lo que el viento se llevó.

Source: Claridad / Acciones que despejan la mentira

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