Crime’s punishment out West and BLM patrol cuts news in brief.


Last year, congressional representatives from both sides of the aisle introduced federal prison reform bills. But it’s state lawmakers who hold the real key to lowering incarceration rates, since most Americans behind bars are housed in state and county facilities. Many Western states have enacted criminal justice reforms in order to cut costs and comply with court orders. For example, beginning in 2012, California shed tens of thousands of inmates from its state prison facilities. The reduction came after a 2011 U.S. Supreme Court ruling found that conditions inside the state’s prisons — which were overcrowded and lacked adequate medical and mental health care — violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Last year, Utah lawmakers passed a measure aimed at reducing the number of offenders who return to prison for minor parole and probation violations. Alaska, Montana, Wyoming, Oregon and Nevada have reform efforts underway as well.
-Sarah Tory

New inmate housing at the Madera County Jail in Madera, California, completed in 2013 as part of Gov. Jerry Brown’s prison realignment plan, which sent some inmates to county lockup instead of state prison.
Rich Pedroncelli /AP Photo

77: minimum number of ALEC-inspired bills undermining environmental laws that were introduced in state legislatures in 2013

17: number of those that became law 

The American Legislative Exchange Council, the conservative policy group funded by corporations like Koch Industries and coal giant Peabody Energy, creates model legislation for lawmakers to pick up. The effectiveness of its “unified front” strategy of presenting a coordinated conservative push has caught progressive groups’ attention. They aren’t necessarily writing cookie-cutter bills, but they have created a centralized state-level network, called the State Innovation Exchange (SiX), which has a sample legislation library. Other groups have started small-scale efforts to distribute model policies, including a push to get Colorado citizens to take similar anti-fracking policies to their local legislators.
-Lyndsey Gilpin

Despite the Clean Power Plan’s uncertain legal future thanks to a Supreme Court stay, one thing is clear: Renewables are on the rise, even in the Western states contesting the plan’s legality.

In the last five years for which data is available, Arizona saw its commercial solar production increase two-hundred-fold. In the same period, Colorado doubled its rate of wind power generation. Even coal strongholds like Montana and Wyoming saw notable expansion of state wind operations. Experts say those numbers, coupled with state trade networks for emissions credits and renewables’ increasing cost-competitiveness, could make even the plan’s most daunting emissions goals attainable.
-Bryce Gray

Death Valley, California, is usually one of the hottest, driest spots in the West, but this year, El Niño weather patterns created more rainfall and perfect conditions for a phenomenon known as the “super bloom.” Over 20 species of wildflowers bloomed in enormous numbers and carpeted the valley floor. The last time the valley saw so much color was in 2005.
-Desdemona Dallas 

Photographers gather to photograph the superbloom in Death Valley National Park.
Desdemona Dallas
“My hunch is he gets more attention to his cause and gets more robust backing if he goes for the jugular.”

—Sarah Binder, political science professor at George Washington University, commenting on Utah Sen. Mike Lee’s holding of a bipartisan bill that would help Flint, Michigan, and other communities with drinking water emergencies -Elizabeth Shogren

In February, HCN covered the Bureau of Land Management’s three-decade struggle to adequately enforce the law on federal lands. In March, Utah House Rep. Jason Chaffetz, along with other Utah representatives, introduced a bill that would abolish the U.S. Forest Service’s and BLM’s law enforcement agencies and pay local police to patrol federal lands instead.
-Marshall Swearingen

You say

Bruce Wilson: “This is how it was done in the early years of my career. The locals could not meet the needs of federal law enforcement.”

Huck Ferrill: “Probably a very good idea. Local law enforcement will connect much better with their local constituency.”

Matt Weinrich: “This happened with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. It is really hard to get a sheriff down to a remote area when a department employee finds someone fishing without a license.”

Note: This article has been updated to reflect that prison populations were reduced, but prisoners were not released before the end of their sentence. 

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