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‘Mass incarceration now, tomorrow, forever’: Gov. Jerry Brown and the politics of court bashing

Jonathan Simon, professor of law | April 16, 2013

Just about two years ago, in May 2011, the US Supreme Court in Brown v. Plata 131 S.Ct. 1910 (2011) upheld what Justice Scalia called the “most radical court injunction in our nation’s history.”  The injunction imposed by a special 3-Judge federal court in August 2009, required California to reduce its prison population by some 40,000 prisoners, … Continue reading »

Gated nightmares

Jonathan Simon, professor of law | February 21, 2013

It has all the feel of a Twilight Zone episode, only in a setting that is unmistakably contemporary.  The nightmare is framed by this setting, a house in a gated community.  It could be a very posh house, like the one where Oscar Pistorious lived and admits he shot to death his girlfriend, the model … Continue reading »

The myth of urban insecurity

Jonathan Simon, professor of law | February 5, 2013

In March 1964, when 28 year-old bartender Kitty Genovese was stalked and murdered by an assailant as she tried to enter her Queens apartment in New York, America was just beginning the great rise in violent crime that would shape the next four decades. It was not so much her murder that unnerved New Yorkers … Continue reading »

The turn-around state? Does California have one of the finest prison systems in the nation?

Jonathan Simon, professor of law | January 9, 2013

As readers of this blog know, Gov. Jerry Brown of California has combined leadership on reducing California’s bloated prison population with relentless attacks on the courts whose orders have made that badly needed “realignment” political possible.  Still even I was surprised by the air of unreality to the Governor’s dual press conference yesterday, backing up … Continue reading »

Penal trends: Strange weather or climate change?

Jonathan Simon, professor of law | November 29, 2012

The most important political storm in recent history (was it the storm or the meme?), “Super-Storm Sandy” helped not only President Obama but to re-raise the question of whether unusual weather is a sign of profound climate change, in this case global average temperature rises caused by human carbon effects. When it comes to our … Continue reading »

Why death-row inmates oppose life without parole

Jonathan Simon, professor of law | September 25, 2012

Reporting on the font page of the San Francisco Chronicle today (Sept. 25, 2012), Bob Egelko finally says what many of us who visit San Quentin prison have known for months: most  of California’s death row inmates oppose Proposition 34 — the voter initiative on this November’s ballot that would abolish capital punishment and replace … Continue reading »

Correctional madness: Realignment on the right track in L.A.

Jonathan Simon, professor of law | August 21, 2012

“The California Report” and the Center for Investigative Reporting posted another excellent report on realignment this morning (broadcast on many NPR stations and available online after a delay here — this one focused on the vital issue of how counties, which get both resources and discretion over post-prison supervision for many California prisoners, are working … Continue reading »

Prison time: How long is long enough?

Jonathan Simon, professor of law | August 17, 2012

It is hard to say whether they are the worst crimes. They are the crimes that horrify the most. A baby-sitter, for no apparent reason, strangles the 15 month old child she has been hired to protect.  A professional thief shoots a young police officer in his face, while the victim is on his knees … Continue reading »

The NY Times’ flawed series on New Jersey’s halfway houses

Jonathan Simon, professor of law | June 26, 2012

I’ve finished reading New York Times reporter Sam Dolnick’s important investigative report on New Jersey’s burgeoning system of half way houses, Unlocked — and I’m still more impressed with the power of traditional media ways of representing crime and criminal justice than I am with the power of its investigating or reporting. On the later … Continue reading »

Hunger for hope: Solitary confinement and administrative detention in California and Israel

Jonathan Simon, professor of law | May 16, 2012

Cross-national comparisons in penology are notoriously tricky, all the more so when the practices involved are the highly problematic one of holding prisoners in solitary confinement, especially under “administrative” rather than legal judgment (meaning it is up to prison officials if or when the prisoner will be released). Comparing California and Israel is especially problematic … Continue reading »

Occupy’s prison protest: It’s not yesterday any more

Jonathan Simon, professor of law | February 22, 2012

Getting people around my age, late boomers who grew up in the “fear years” of the 1970s, to rethink their assumptions about prisons, crime and criminal justice is hard; and it keeps us locked into mass incarceration. Consider SF Chron Columnist Chip Johnson’s broadside at the Occupy Movement in the Bay Area’s demonstration at San … Continue reading »

A tale of two Joes: Captain America and America’s toughest sheriff

Jonathan Simon, professor of law | December 20, 2011

The Obama-Holder Justice Department’s full-scale legal challenge to the man who has long called himself “America’s Sheriff” (read Marc Lacey’s reporting in the NYTimes here) is another indicator that the war on crime is continuing to wane, both in the commitment of federal and state budget to crime control activities, and in the ideological grip … Continue reading »

California penal policy: Realignment and beyond

Jonathan Simon, professor of law | October 11, 2011

“Earlier this year, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. signed Assembly Bill (AB) 109 and AB 117, historic legislation that will enable California to close the revolving door of low-level inmates cycling in and out of state prisons. It is the cornerstone of California’s solution for reducing the number of inmates in the state’s 33 prisons … Continue reading »

The paradoxical status of ‘life without parole’

Jonathan Simon, professor of law | September 15, 2011

The New York Times earlier this week published a strong editorial criticizing America’s increasing use and abuse of life without parole (LWOP) sentences (read it here). The use of such sentences was largely unknown in the past and remains rare outside the US. Even murderers who did not get the death penalty could be virtually … Continue reading »

Thawing of prison isolation policy a positive sign

Jonathan Simon, professor of law | August 30, 2011

A recent hearing in Sacramento of the Assembly Public Safety Committee was another remarkable sign that California’s once frozen penal policies are beginning to thaw and change. Isolation of “high risk” prisoners, in a lock-down environment designed to promote security to the exclusion of all other penal objectives has been a pillar of California’s prison … Continue reading »

Punished: The culture of control as seen from Oakland

Jonathan Simon, professor of law | August 2, 2011

Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys by UC Santa Barbara sociologist Victor Rios should be on your summer reading list if you are interested in how the culture of control works. Rios closely studied a group of 40 Oakland youths of color as they navigated the terrain of poverty in a city … Continue reading »