Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Around the Blogs 10-10-06

One of the best things about the blogosphere is the opportunity to hear the thoughts and conjectures of favorite writers without the usual media filters. A couple of good examples available right now. Ken Lammers at Crim Law addresses the current "civil war" in the states over the legalization of marijuana for often transparent reasons, particularly in western states. His basic point is that anti-pot forces are surprisingly weaker than we might have predicted and have to walk a fine line in combatting the movement, a walk that he thinks might fail. And Kent Scheidegger at Crime and Consequences raises a point we'll be hearing more and more as the world of technocorrections comes down on us through the inability of policymakers to deal with prison policy effectively in more traditional ways. As scientific evidence becomes even more prevalent at trials, judges will need formalized support to determine sense from silliness. He suggests a special science court to turn to, which deserves more thought. It's nice to see folks actually being proactive in the deliberations. . . . Finally, Real Cost of Prisons directs us to this article about WA and its likely future of more spending on more prisons due to political actions of recent years. Of course, the thing that's really noteworthy in this is that WA was one of the first states to institute sentencing guidelines precisely to offset this kind of political activity. As we've noted before, MN, another premier guidelines state, is and has been facing exactly the same causes and effects in recent years. When I talk in other posts of the plateauing of guidelines and their effectiveness, this is what I've been talking about. The "infrastructure" of the guidelines has to be as supportive of impacting prison pops and alternatives as the guidelines themselves, that is, there have to be political supporters and a climate of common mission. We've never been good in our study of guidelines effects at separating the guidelines themselves from the infrastructure, but, now that that infrastructure has weakened substantially, we see that guidelines themselves don't protect the goals. Sort of like a Constitution is just a piece of paper without a supportive democracy to uphold it. The question becomes, where do we go from here if the states we hold up as ideals no longer can support that weight? Do we push to re-strengthen them, using Frankel's original conception of guidelines as the "new" ideal, or do we move in other directions, like Judge Marcus' "Smart Sentencing" or other data-driven "sentencing information systems"? Are those options mutually exclusive? Can we find other ways to reinvigorate the sentencing guidelines concept, especially at a time when some states (CA, CO, MA, etc.) may yet turn to them to resolve their problems? I know how successful I've been in generating discussion here so far (thanks to the four or five of you who've helped), but the sentencing policy community needs to be having serious talks about these questions before events wash our options completely away. All you have to do is click on "comments" or on the "contact or contribute" on the side.

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