Thursday, February 4, 2010

Correction on Prison Reform Post (February 2)

If you read the February 2 post on prison reform, please note that I edited the post this afternoon to correct a mis-statement. Contrary to the prior post, the new report on the low recisidivism of offenders released since the 2009 legislation repealing, in part, the "so-called "truth-in-sentencing" law, was not a Pew report. It was, instead, memorandum to Pew from the JFA Institute. The analysis is all from the JFA Institute, not from Pew.

I regret the error.

Congrats to JFA for its analysis and to Pew for making the report available.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Animal Cruelty Bill Faces Senate Vote Tomorrow (Feb 4)

I have just received this e-mail from MS-FACT (Mississippi -Fighting Animal Cruelty Together):
The Senate is set to vote on SB2623 tomorrow morning, Thursday, February 4th! PLEASE try to attend! We will be meeting on the 3rd floor of the Capitol building on the Senate side at 9:30 am. The Senate goes into session at 10:00. We will have to wait for our bill to be called but voting usually takes place in the morning, so it shouldn't be too long!

PLEASE ATTEND THIS CRITICAL VOTE AND BRING YOUR FRIENDS! We will be meeting with our Senators PRIOR to the vote so it is imperative that we have folks from all districts there!

Thank you for all that you do to help the animals!
As reported by the Clarion-Ledger, SB 2623 passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee last week. The bill would make it a felony on first offense to "torture, mutilate, maim, burn or maliciously starve, disfigure or kill any domesticated dog or cat." Mississippians who commit acts of cruelty against dogs or cats could go to prison for up to five years and pay a $10,000 fine.

Sounds like a good idea to me.

Don't Ink, Don't Tell?

I have to admit that I wasn't crazy about the idea of including the repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy in the military as part of President Obama's State of the Union speech last week. It has the potential as coming across as a "liberal-elite" agenda item while working Americans are struggling to pay bills.

But after reading about the testimony of Admiral Mullen, the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (appointed for his first term by President Bush and for his second term by President Obama) in the Senate Armed Services Committee, it's possible that the White House made a timely move.

Admiral Mullen started his testimony by proclaiming, "Speaking for myself and myself only, it is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do."

He went on to make this compelling point:

"No matter how I look at the issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens."
As the Washington Post's Dana Milbank noted,

Mike Mullen's 42 years in the military earned him a chest full of ribbons, but never did he do something braver than what he did on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.

In a packed committee room, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff looked hostile Republican senators in the eye and told them unwelcome news: He thinks gays should be allowed to serve openly in the armed forces he commands.

But what may have made this, in addition to a moral imperative, a wise political move, was the ridiculous response of the Republican Senators in opposition to an open policy on homosexuality.

Senator McCain, for example, reneged on his 2006 promise to consider repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" if the top brass recommended it.

But surely the Senator was not surprised by Adm. Mullen's statement that he had knowingly served with gays since 1968, when he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. Did Senator McCain know some of his fellow officers were homosexual? Or is he totally ignorant?

By far the most interesting comment, however, was made by Georgia Republican Senator Chambliss. As Milbanks reports:

After Sessions and Wicker took their shots at the admiral, it was time for Sen. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.). "In my opinion, the presence in the armed forces of persons who demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts would very likely create an unacceptable risk," he said, putting homosexuality in a category with "adultery, fraternization and body art."
Body art?

My father was in the Navy in the South Pacific, and came back emblazoned with a tattoo on his arm. My uncles came back from World War II with similar "body art." I guess that was dangerous to unit morale. Good thing they got past that, or Philip Dick's classic "The Man in the High Castle" would be history instead of fiction.

Fortunately, Senator Udall from Arizona brought common sense back to the debate, by recalling the views of a Republican icon on the subject: "As Barry Goldwater once said, 'You don't have to be straight to shoot straight.'"

The Republican opponents of repeal

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Mississippi: Leading the Way on Prison Reform?

The Pew Center on the States, part of the Pew Charitable Trusts, has just released a memorandum to Pew from the JFA Institute. The JFA Institute Memorandum analyzes the effect of the return to a policy of limited release of offenders from the Mississippi Department of Corrections.

The Pew Center reports:

The worst fiscal downturn since the Great Depression has prompted many states to reexamine sentencing policy, length of incarceration and community supervision strategies. Mississippi provides an example of a state that, prior to the fiscal crisis, began a series of sentencing reforms with broad support that were designed to enhance public safety and control corrections costs by concentrating its prison space on more serious offenders.

Preliminary analysis conducted by the JFA Institute shows that the reforms averted a major prison crowding crisis while maintaining public safety. The most significant reform changed the state's "truth-in-sentencing" law by permitting all nonviolent offenders to become eligible for parole after serving 25 percent of their prison sentence, down from the requirement of 85 percent that was established in 1995. This change was passed by the legislature and signed into law in 2008 by Governor Haley Barbour.
The report is encouraging:

By instituting changes to its parole eligibility requirements and parole risk assessment instrument, between July 2008 and August 2009 Mississippi released 3,076 inmates earlier than they would have been under prior law. The median sentence reduction of those released was 13 months.

Through August 2009, only 121 of those released offenders have been returned to custody—116 for technical violations of parole; five for non-violent offenses. One reason for the low recidivism rate is the use of a newly-developed risk assessment instrument to help authorities decide which inmates are suitable for release.

The JFA Institute estimates that the reforms will permit Mississippi to avoid having to build and operate an additional 5,000 prison beds over the next 10 years.
Good public policy; good results.

Congrats to the Legislature, the Governor and the MDOC for making this happen.

You can get the report here.

Get ready, Peyton: here they come to get you!

On USA Today's football blog, I read this fantastic quote by Saints' safety Darren Sharper about the defensive plan for the Super Bowl against the Colts:

"We are going to play football the way it's supposed to be played ... We want a guy to bounce twice before he goes down."
Sharper also said:

"If someone is in a position to tackle a guy and his head might be down, the last thing that he saw was that the quarterback has the football. He doesn't know if he's thrown the ball. He's just finishing off his job and tackling the guy. And next thing you know the ball has been thrown and there's a penalty. There's little rules like that that need be changed to allow guys to play. The personal foul-type rules are kinda ticky-tack right now."
Ask Brett Favre. Rick Cleveland's blog has the day-after photos of Favre's ankle and hamstring.
Are you ready for some FOOTBALL?