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Police Quotas

Shaun Ossei-Owusu

The American public is slowly recognizing the criminal justice system’s deep defects. Mounting visual evidence of police brutality and social protests are generating an appetite for something different. How to change this system is still an open question. People across the political spectrum vary in their conceptions of the pressing problems and how to solve them. Interestingly, there is one consequential and overlooked area of the criminal justice system where there is broad consensus: police quotas.

Police quotas are formal and informal measures that require police officers to issue a particular number of citations or make a certain number of arrests. Although law enforcement leadership typically denies implementing quotas, courts, legislators, and officers have all confirmed the existence of this practice and linked it to odious criminal justice problems such as racial profiling, policing for profit, and overcriminalization. These problems have led legislators in many states to implement statutory prohibitions on quotas. Some of these statutes are of recent vintage and others are decades old. Nevertheless, these prohibitions and their attendant litigation have escaped sustained analytical scrutiny. Legal scholars typically overlook police quotas, subsume them within other categories (e.g., broken windows policing), or give pat acknowledgment of their existence without explaining how they work.

This Article corrects these omissions and makes two arguments. First, it contends that police quotas are a significant but undertheorized feature of criminal law and procedure. Quotas make police rewards and sanctions significant features of punishment in ways that can trump criminal offending and pervert due process principles. Second, it argues that quota-based policing is a unique area where there is widespread agreement and possibilities for change. Liberals, libertarians, conservatives, police officers, police unions, and racial minorities have all criticized police quotas. These vastly different constituents have argued that quotas distort police discretion and produce unnecessary police-civilian interactions. This Article supplements these arguments with a novel descriptive, statutory, and jurisprudential account of police quotas in the United States. It offers a framework for under- standing the arguments for and objections to quotas, and proposes some normative strategies that could build on statutory and litigation successes.

The Peter Parker Problem

W. David Ball

Sandra Mayson, in her article Dangerous Defendants, points out the ways in which pretrial detention on the basis of public safety risk violates the “parity principle”—a measure of decisionmaking fairness that evaluates whether individuals of like risk are treated alike. As Mayson convincingly argues, if public safety risk is what justifies detention of those who have been arrested, it should also justify preventative detention of similarly risky people who remain in the community at large. In other words, merely having a person in custody does not logically change the analysis of the risk they present or what should be done with them.

In this Article, I argue that psychological factors, not assessments of risk, can explain why the parity principle is violated. A person in custody and a person in the community may present the same level of public safety risk, but the human brain typically uses heuristics, not calculations, to make decisions. Our brains want to minimize losses and regret. Whenever something bad happens, our brains automatically generate counterfactuals—the “if only I had done X” hypotheticals that allow us to imagine (and believe in) a world where tragedy would have been avoided. Counterfactuals that eliminate harm are easy to generate when someone is in custody, but hard to generate when someone is at large, and our brains conflate ease of generation with real-world probability. Counterfactuals, then, may help explain why the pretrial, public safety default seems to be to keep someone locked up, “just in case”—and why this desire is resistant to information and argument.

This Article adds an important dimension to the ongoing debates about whether judicial discretion or actuarial tools should govern pretrial release decisions. Judicial discretion may be biased towards incapacitation by operating on the “gut level” of psychology—even if the harms of detention outweigh the benefits. Across the United States, jails contain thousands of prisoners who could be released safely, who could resume work and the rest of their lives, but who remain incarcerated because of the fear that one of them might commit a sensational crime. The insights of this Article may also apply more generally to a host of similar problems, including parole release, executive clemency, diversion programs, and the removal of children from potentially abusive parents, and suggest that policymakers and reformers be cognizant of the way in which current criminal justice thinking is short-sighted, overly reactive, and biased towards incapacitation. By applying theories of the counterfactual proposed by Neal Roese and other behavioral psychologists, the Article provides an explanation for why, even when regulations change, judicial decisions to release arrestees may remain low. It suggests that experimental research specifically targeting judicial counterfactual thinking should be conducted.

Restoring the Historical Rule of Lenity as a Canon

Shon Hopwood

In criminal law, the venerated rule of lenity has been frequently, if not consistently, invoked as a canon of interpretation. Where criminal statutes are ambiguous, the rule of lenity generally posits that courts should interpret them narrowly, in favor of the defendant. But the rule is not always reliably used, and questions remain about its application. In this article, I will try to determine how the rule of lenity should apply and whether it should be given the status of a canon.

First, I argue that federal courts should apply the historical rule of lenity (also known as the rule of strict construction of penal statutes) that applied prior to the 1970s, when the Supreme Court significantly weakened the rule. The historical rule requires a judge to consult the text, linguistic canons, and the structure of the statute and then, if reasonable doubts remain, interpret the statute in the defendant’s favor. Conceived this way, the historical rule cuts off statutory purpose and legislative history from the analysis, and places a thumb on the scale in favor of interpreting statutory ambiguities narrowly in relation to the severity of the punishment that a statute imposes. As compared to the modern version of the rule of lenity, the historical rule of strict construction better advances democratic accountability, protects individual liberty, furthers the due process principle of fair warning, and aligns with the modified version of textualism practiced by much of the federal judiciary today.

Second, I argue that the historical rule of lenity should be deemed an interpretive canon and given stare decisis effect by all federal courts. If courts consistently applied historical lenity, it would require more clarity from Congress and less guessing from courts, and it would ameliorate some of the worst excesses of the federal criminal justice system, such as overcriminalization and overincarceration.

The Case Against Criminalizing Homelessness: Functional Barriers to Shelters and Homeless Individuals’ Lack of Choice

Joy H. Kim

In 2018, the Ninth Circuit ruled in Martin v. City of Boise that the city’s ordinance criminalizing individuals for sleeping or camping outdoors in public space—an increasingly popular method for cities to regulate the homeless—is unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment’s Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause. Martin was not the first case in which a court struck down an anti-homeless ordinance under the Eighth Amendment. However, it was the first to deem it unconstitutional for a city to punish a homeless person for sleeping outside when shelters are not “practically available,” even if they technically have available beds. The court in Martin said the shelters at issue were not practically available because they were religiously coercive. This Note argues, however, that courts reviewing criminalization measures should consider whether shelters are practically available to homeless individuals for reasons beyond religious coercion. Many functional barriers to shelter deprive homeless individuals of a meaningful choice, and the Eighth Amendment prevents governments from punishing individuals for matters beyond their control. Courts should make individualized inquiries when considering the constitutionality of criminalization measures to assess whether individuals experiencing homelessness truly have a meaningful “choice” in sleeping outside. However, the constitutional infirmities behind criminalization measures, the highly factual inquiries required of courts to determine their constitutionality, and their exacerbation of homelessness underscore the need for cities to stop criminalizing homelessness.

Revisiting Hate Crimes Enhancements in the Shadow of Mass Incarceration

Shirin Sinnar, Beth A. Colgan

Although civil rights advocates have largely supported hate crimes laws over the last four decades, growing concern over mass incarceration is now leading some to question the focus on enhancing prison sentences. This Essay explores two alternatives to the traditional sentence enhancement model that might retain the expressive message of hate crimes laws—to convey society’s particular condemnation of crimes of bias—while relying less heavily on police and prisons: the reformation of victim compensation programs to help victims and targeted communities and the application of restorative justice processes to hate crimes. Each of these alternatives presents complications, but both offer sufficient potential to justify further exploration.

Anti-Segregation Policing

Monica C. Bell

Conversations about police reform in lawmaking and legal scholarship typically take a narrow view of the multiple, complex roles that policing plays in American society, focusing primarily on their techniques of crime control. This Article breaks from that tendency, engaging police reform from a sociological perspective that focuses instead on the noncriminal functions of policing. In particular, it examines the role of policing in the daily maintenance of racial residential segregation, one of the central strategies of American racial inequality. Unlike previous work that touches on these issues, this Article argues that police reformers and police leaders should adopt an anti-segregation approach to policing. It also offers legal frameworks and policy prescriptions that flow from an anti-segregation ethic in police governance.

This Article begins by setting forth a rich account of residential segregation, clarifying the distinction between easily measurable proxies for segregation and the type of segregation with which law and policy should be concerned: the spatial separation that confines, subordinates, and dominates. It then identifies and illustrates six mechanisms through which American policing perpetuates residential segregation, drawing from sociological research, including qualitative narratives collected in Dallas County, Texas; Cuyahoga County, Ohio; and Baltimore, Maryland. Next, the Article sketches the architecture of anti-segregation policing, offering legal frameworks based on fair housing law and federal and state consent decrees, as well as a non-exhaustive set of practical approaches police departments could take to advance an anti-segregation agenda. Finally, the Article engages a fundamental question central to police transformation movements today: Is meaningful police reform, including anti-segregation policing, possible in a society that is structured through race?

Race Decriminalization and Criminal Legal System Reform

Michael Pinard

There is emerging consensus that various components of the criminal legal system have gone too far in capturing and punishing masses of Black men, women, and children. This evolving recognition has helped propel important and pathbreaking criminal legal reforms in recent years, with significant bipartisan support. These reforms have targeted the criminal legal system itself. They strive to address the pain inflicted by the system. However, by concerning themselves solely with the criminal legal system, these reforms do not confront the reality that Black men, women, and children will continue to be devastatingly overrepresented in each stitch of the system. As a result, these reforms do not reach deeply enough. They do not address or confront the reality that simply being Black has been and will continue to be criminalized.

This Article asserts that measures beyond these reforms—measures that reach the root of racial criminalization—are necessary for true criminal legal system transformation.

 

The Prisoner and the Polity

Avlana K. Eisenberg

All punishment comes to an end. Most periods of imprisonment are term limited, and ninety-five percent of prisoners will eventually leave prison. Though it is tempting to think of the “end” in concrete, factual terms—for example, as the moment when the prisoner is released—this concept also has normative dimensions. Core to the notion of term-limited imprisonment is the “principle of return”: the idea that, when the prisoner has completed his or her time, that person is entitled to return to society. Yet, for the principle of return to be meaningful, it must include the idea of a fair chance of reestablishing oneself in the community. The “practices of incarceration”—including the prison environment and prison programs—are thus critically important because they can either facilitate or impede a prisoner’s reentry into society. However, apart from the question of whether conditions of confinement are cruel and unusual as defined by the Eighth Amendment, these practices of incarceration have largely avoided scholarly scrutiny. 

This Article uses the case study of higher education programs in prison to expose the interdependence between the practices of incarceration and the principle of return. Drawing on original interviews with key stakeholders, it investigates how the features of higher education programs reflect and reinforce core beliefs about the goals of punishment and the state’s responsibility towards those it incarcerates. The Article critically examines the dominant harm-prevention justification for prison higher education, and the desert-based objection to it, finding that both are inadequate for failing to take into account the principle of return. 

This Article espouses an alternative approach that would recognize the ongoing relationship between prisoner and polity and devise incarceration practices accordingly. Building on insights from communitarian theory, this approach, which foregrounds the prisoner’s status in the polity, uncovers pervasive “us-versus-them” narratives in the prison context. The first such narrative is between prisoners and those members of the polity who view prisoners, falsely, as having forfeited their claims to membership in civil society. This view of prisoners, as members of a permanent and lower caste, is in direct conflict with the principle of return, which mandates that prisoners have at least a plausible hope of basic reintegration into society and that they avoid further harm—what might be termed “punishment-plus.” The Article also scrutinizes a second, more localized “us-versus-them” narrative between prisoners and correctional officers, which arises from their similar backgrounds and the common deprivation experienced by members of both groups. 

Finally, the Article recommends institutional design changes to mitigate “us-versus- them” dynamics: empowering stakeholders, for example, by affording correctional officers educational opportunities that would help professionalize their role and ease their resentment towards prisoners; and increasing exposure and empathy between incarcerated and non-incarcerated populations, such as by piloting a program that would employ recent college graduates to teach in prison. These and other proposed reforms would refocus the conversation around imprisonment to account for the central role of incarceration practices in revitalizing the principle of return, as well as the inextricable connection between prisoner and polity. 

Mass Incarceration, Convict Leasing, and the Thirteenth Amendment: A Revisionist Account

James Gray Pope

Judging from present-day legal and popular discourse, one might think that the Punishment Clause of the Thirteenth Amendment has always had one single, clear meaning: that a criminal conviction strips the offender of protection against slavery or involuntary servitude. Upon examination, however, it appears that the Amendment’s Republican framers took an entirely different view. It was the former slave masters and their Democratic allies in Congress who promoted the interpretation that prevails today. From their point of view, the text clearly specified that, once convicted of a crime, a person could be sold into slavery for life or leased for a term at the discretion of state legislatures and officials. But contemporary Republicans emphatically rejected that reading. They held that convicted persons retained protection against any servitude that was inflicted not as a punishment for crime but for some non-penological end, such as raising state revenue, generating private profits, or subjugating black labor. Within a few months of the Amendment’s ratification, the Republican majority in the Thirty-Ninth Congress had outlawed the early, race-based forms of convict leasing. When that proved insufficient, the House passed a bill outlawing race-neutral convict leasing, which the Senate postponed when the focus of Republican strategy shifted to black voting rights. 

The Republican reading faded from view after the Democratic Party regained control of the Deep South. For several decades, white supremacist regimes incarcerated African-American laborers en masse and leased them to private employers without facing a serious Thirteenth Amendment challenge. Present-day scholars sometimes treat this silence as evidence that the Amendment authorizes such practices. Courts similarly honor the Democratic reading on the assumption it has always prevailed. So thoroughly has it triumphed that even prisoners’ rights advocates accept it as constitutional truth. 

Neither courts nor advocates have, however, taken into account the framers’ views. Their interpretation sank from sight not because it was wrong but because Democratic paramilitaries terminated Reconstruction, freeing states to expand convict leasing and insulate it against challenges, constitutional or otherwise. Had the Republican reading been enforced during the era of convict leasing, it might have prevented one of the most barbaric and shameful episodes in United States history. And perhaps, if revived today, it might yet accomplish similar results. Nothing in the text, original meaning, or Supreme Court jurisprudence of the Punishment Clause blocks that path. 

Defining “Local” in a Localized Criminal Justice System

Elizabeth Janszky

There is an ongoing movement to democratize the criminal justice system. Providing more avenues for layperson participation, “democratizers” believe, will result in a more egalitarian system. But how to incorporate the public is an ongoing and complicated question. This Note takes a first step in disentangling important differences within the democratization movement. In doing so, it defines for the first time a sub-group of democratizers, which it terms the “localizers.” Analyzing this distinct strand of democratization serves two valuable functions. First, because democratization and localization reforms have often been lumped together, critics of the movement to democratize the criminal justice system have overlooked the unique problems that localizers’ reforms raise. This Note fills a substantial gap in the extant scholarship by providing tools for scholars to evaluate and critique some of the distinct concerns of localization. Second, and perhaps more importantly, this Note serves as a practical road map for localizers by raising questions that they must consider before advancing their reforms, many of which could, if effectuated correctly, immensely improve the current state of the criminal justice system. 

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