Thursday, November 30, 2006

Around the Blogs 11-30-06

Grits for Breakfast and Sex Crimes Blog have been trading some nice exchanges on the real-life consequences, not the counterproductive bluster, of the child sex legislation that's been churning out of states lately. Sex Crimes has a list of the reasons the laws are counterproductive that should be downloaded, laminated, and sent out to policymakers every time one of them starts talking about doing these ultimately destructive things to our kids. For your convenience, here it is:

1) By decreasing the difference in punishment between killing a child and molesting a child, the government creates an incentive for the criminal to kill the victim. If murder is a "freebie" in terms of assuming the risk of greater punishment, then the marginal deterrence incentive is to kill the victim if there is a risk of discovery. This is especially true in the context of child molestation cases because those crimes usually only have one witness: the victim. Being able to kill the only witness to a crime is not normally something the government wants to encourage. This is a primary reason the death penalty is no longer applied to kidnapping.
2) The death penalty is likely to further decrease the reporting of an already underreported crime. Since most molesters are family members or friends, a lot of molestation cases get swept under the rug. If "Uncle Frank's" life is in jeopardy by reporting what he did, the incentive to not report is increased.
3) There is some evidence that applying the death penalty to non-homicide crimes increases the jury incentive not to convict. If that evidence applies in the child molestation case, you could expect an increase in not guilty verdicts.
4) It may be unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court, in Coker v. Georgia, held that the death penalty as applied to a rape was an 8th Amendment violation. The case was about the rape of an adult woman. For that reason, the Louisiana Supreme Court, in State v. Wilson, distinguished that state's statute applying to child molestation cases. There are reasons to think that distinction won't be supported if a child molestation statute reached the federal level of judicial review.

They also have some good links to other posters on the topics as well, plus some decent comments. Good set of posts, guys. . . . Real Cost of Prisons has an interesting post to a CT effort, part of the Council of State Government's "Justice Reinvestment Strategy" initiative, to streamline probation and parole processes to free funds for improving re-entry for released offenders. Might be a nice model for other states once enough years have past to get a real evaluation done. . . . Both Crim Prof Blog and Crim Law have links to the reaction of the conservative Townhall blog to "anti-crime zones" that the blog correctly criticizes for the ultimately counterproductive efforts to "crime proof" communities that end up creating better conditions for the crime they fear. Crim Law gets straight to the point--"Does the infrastructure we are building to deal with certain crimes and certain offenders work or is it just a bunch of laws passed which are abused and force people to break the law?" Is it me, or does practically everything we do lately seem to fall into the "counterproductive" category? . . .

In case you were thinking, "he's going to get through a blog post without linking to Sentencing Law and Policy," don't you feel silly now? Here, Doug Berman alerts us again that the first of two Federal Sentencing Reporter volumes on victims and sentencing is out and then links us to three good articles from it outlining much of the context and concerns. I need to give a shout out to one of the authors, Russell Butler, exec director of MD's Crime Victim Resource Center. You may remember the name from Russell's contribution on the right side of this blog, "So You Want to Be a Sentencing Commissioner?" As I noted then, Russell is one of the tireless heroes out there, getting good policy done for everyone, not just the victims he represents, unlike a lot of the demagogues I've run across in other states. He and his mentor, Roberta Roper, are a couple of the best people you'll run across in this business, personally and professionally, and I was pleased to serve on the Resource Center's board for them while I was in MD. I'd also like to make a couple of points to the theme of the issues as we begin to ponder seriously the role of victims in corrections sentencing policymaking. I would ask that we be very careful to guard against the false assumption that all victims want to make statements and all think the same, want the same vengeance. They don't.

I remember in OK, during its attempt at sentencing reform in the 1990s, a poll on the reform that actually had a question breaking respondents down between crime victims and non-crime victims. Their percentages of support for the reform and opposition were the same, with more support than opposition, despite the vocal opposition of their "representatives" who demanded to be heard at the sentencing commission's meeting. Another example--I personally was one of the OKC Bombing victims who didn't want the death penalty for Timothy McVeigh. I wanted him to rot in isolation with pictures of the kids in the day care center flashing in his cell for the rest of his life. If you just go by the statements and preferences of those types of reps, and not the Russells and Robertas, there's a real possibility for bias in application and due process of justice. For example, should a sentence be increased for an offender if, of 4 victims, 2 don't want the increase but make no statement but 2 do and are carefully marshalled by prosecutors to get the increase? MD is one of the few states to collect info on victim participation in sentencing on its guidelines worksheets, thanks to Roberta and Russell, and the initial analysis we did of it while I was there indicated that sentences might go up for sentences using impact statements, and go up more when the statement was vocal in court versus written. There are real dangers if this starts getting "gamed" the way so much of our "search for truth and justice" does.

Here's another thing to watch for as well. There's an assumption, because the camera-seeking victims' "reps" are often side-by-side with hardline DAs in policy events, all of both groups are joined at the hip on policy positions. However, when many victims are interested in and supportive of restorative justice and/or might support lesser sentences out of religious belief, knowledge of their own culpability, or whatever, you'll frequently see them split. I worked with some of the victims rights reps in DAs offices, the folks who keep the victims informed and involved, and many of them had at best tolerant attitudes about their office placement, saying few there were interested or even helpful except in the few cases in which DAs really wanted/needed the impact statements or other cooperation to get their convictions.

To those of you planning to involve victims' groups in policymaking and to make fair rules for their involvement in the sentencing process, listen to the Russells and the Robertas and keep them separated from those who only support their involvement when it suits their cases or policy preferences. As the three articles Doug links to each make clear, this is a fluid time in victim participation. The right people are there to get it done well, and they have skills to see that it is. Let's not cripple them by associating them literally or figuratively with people who really don't have all victims interests at heart.

News of the Day 11-30-06

Everyone else has beaten me posting on this story, even with me being snowed in today, but in case you missed it, "A record 7 million people — or one in every 32 American adults — were behind bars, on probation or on parole by the end of last year, according to the Justice Department." Breakdowns given on gender, race/ethnicity, states, etc. . . . Another fed report today tells us, "Methamphetamine use is increasing along the East Coast after years of largely being confined to rural areas west of the Mississippi River." We were dealing with this in the 90s in OK and 3 years ago in WI, but we knew it would take meth getting closer to DC before the feds would get interested. We should start making these predictions for a living. . . . Want to know why the pressures for technocorrections in substance abuse are so intense and will get more so? Check out this article on alcohol-related traffic deaths and see if your state made the top 15. . . . Speaking of substance abuse and technocorrections, Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research has an article on research using EEGs to identify areas of the frontal cortex associated with alcoholics and non-alcoholics, making identification easier, even before problems result, improving current methods using respondents' self-perceptions of traits now showing up on screen. . . . Looks like AZ's governor had the same reaction to the Phoenix DA's plan to overload the state's prisons more, right down to "I don't know why the other 14 counties have to subsidize one county's prosecution policies." The DA says he'll sue. I'm not sure he understands the various ways a Corrections Dept can pay back an uncooperative prosecutor. I look for a compromise. . . . I hope the post yesterday didn't mark me as a knee-jerk critic of prosecutors. I've had the privilege of working with some of the best ones in the country, including the one I think was the best of the last century. I've also worked with the stereotypical ones who give them all the reputation for brainless, excessively vengeful decision-making. This guy is one of the good ones, making it clear that reason can indeed find a home in a prosecutor's office. When enough of the good ones form a critical mass, we'll move forward in the way we direct our priorities, resources, and energies into corrections sentencing that minimizes recidivism and lets more people live their lives without being victimized. . . . The VT DA wouldn't need to be told "Traditional assumptions about crime prevention have been debunked by recent studies," as these MT officials learned from a consultant they brought in to discuss alternatives to filling their prisons. Maybe she can swing by Phoenix on her way home.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

News of the Day 11-29-06

Heroin use is going back up in IN and, according to this story, around the country. This article does a nice job with the quotes and information to give you a sense of how the heroin market ebbs and flows and why users keep in it. The comments from one user on what she's done and why to be a user are sad, frightening, and the reason why this drug is so dangerous (h/t CrimProf Blog). . . . More reason to be anti-cigarette. Teen smokers have a higher risk for alcohol problems, even controlling for amount of alcohol consumed. Speculation that there may be a genetic predisposition, according to the article in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, meaning you know what might be a way to deal with future abuse . . . technocorrections. . . . U of Amsterdam researchers find that ecstacy use can have neurotoxic effects even for first-time users, including neuron damage, depression, memory impairment, etc. . . . And an Indiana U School of Medicine study says that teens who play violent video games show increased activity in brain areas associated with emotional arousal and decreased responses in areas of self-control, which may lead to violent or aggressive behavior. And what do they recommend? That famous old standby for everyone who ever finished a research paper . . . more research on the topic.

Couple of Tips from NJ

Our friend Ben Barlyn at the sentencing commission in NJ sends word that the powerpoint of the latest NIJ drug court online discussion is available now here and that his latest newsletter to his commissioners, filled with really good links and cases (my words, not his), can be found here, another example of the creative ways sentencing commission staff can keep commissioners and the public up-to-date on the information necessary to guide their decisions. Thanks, Ben. Count the hits you get from people coming from this site so we can start charging our advertisers more.

Rain Dances and Crime Prevention

Imagine that ME, NH, and VT all need rain badly. ME decides to address the need by having its residents all do ecstatic, emotion-venting rain dances each day. NH has its residents pray fervently every day. VT seeds any cloud unfortunate to form. Over the next 30 days, ME gets rain 6 days, NH 7, and VT 8.

Hard-selling advocates in ME cite the popular dances as the cure for its rain problem, with the association of rain with the dances as their proof. Do you agree? Why or why not?

Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia also needed rain badly but did none of the 3 things done by the states. In fact, they did nothing but their usual. Each province got 7 days of rain over the same period. What caused the rain?)

I got the latest issue of Criminology & Public Policy the other day, and the lead piece in it is a commentary by Franklin Zimring advocating greater U.S. researcher attention to crime and policy in other nations as a means of understanding crime and policy here in our own country. His case is well-made and you should get hold of the journal and read it. But I wanted to note one particular aspect of his presentation. He notes that the 1990s saw a similarly dramatic decline in index crimes in Canada as we had here in the U.S. We, of course, debated whether imprisonment, more cops, or the economy had been responsible for our decreases, and are still arguing frankly.

The thing is, Canada did not have the jumps in any of the three "explanations" and still registered very similar results. Any remaining difference in decline here may have been the result of these forces, but his point is that that difference is small. The bulk of our crime decreases in recent years is likely the result of influences at work in Canada, too, that don't include these "causes." He poses demographics as a partial explanation (the under-29 age group declined). I would add the general cultural variable I've referred to here before--more people just got tired of the crime and crappy outcomes (the personal toll of crime, not the increased sentences). He concludes that "the parallel Canadian and U.S. experience strongly suggests cyclical forces without links to either criminal justice policy or economics played a large role in both the Canadian and the U.S. crime drop in the 1990s."

It's hard for those of us in criminal justice to accept that our dedicated and heartfelt actions are only marginally effective, that so much of what we do is symbolism and ritual with all the impact of rain dances, designed to reassure and offer comforting stories about controlling things we actually barely can keep hold of reins on. That our society and communities may just ebb and flow in their own patterns of action/reaction, equilibrium/disequilibrium, that we can at best channel somewhat but never direct, is a conclusion difficult to acknowledge. It threatens our legitimacy and reason to exist organizationally and professionally. But symbols and rituals, not data and research, are the hallmarks of most criminal justice policy, including corrections sentencing.

A classic example in the news from AZ today, as caught by Doug Berman. Phoenix DA announces no more plea bargains for felons coming through a second time. Says it will stop crime. "Rising incarceration rates correlate with dropping crime rates," one story says he said. Well, actually, no, they don't. You can cherry-pick a few years where one goes up and the other goes down. You can also cherry-pick years where they both go up or down. The careful work on the subject is much more nuanced, and nothing I'm aware of has ever said the policy proposed, across the board on everyone based on one factor, will produce the results claimed. Clearly, the DA isn't aware of any specific studies either since he would have used them to make his case better. (He certainly isn't aware of the studies showing that a dollar invested in prisons only produce about 80% of the public safety derived from that same dollar invested in law enforcement. . . or maybe he is but that wouldn't help him make news. . . . No, he isn't aware.)

In the meantime, AZ DOC officials predict 2600 more inmates each year and $57.4 m. to accommodate them. Note that the state is already down 471 correctional officers and 5618 beds without this influx. Put them in tents, the DA says. Well, they have, and have studied the cost-effectiveness of a "solution" that requires even more personnel than traditional housing. IOW, where study has been done, it trends against this policy but it's ignored here. What a nice example of illustrating that not only do we not know what "best sentences" for offenders and offenses are but that we just don't care.

I'll give the DA credit for honesty. He's not like so many who propose these things and pretend they won't affect anything else or fairy tale money will solve the problems. He says he knows that more burdens will be put on the state crim just system, but "we have to put public safety first." Got that? Protect public safety by adding to an already overburdened criminal justice system. "I understand the various competing interests for resources," he says, but "the main mission of government is to protect law-abiding citizens from criminals." Again, by adding to an overburdened system? By taking money from other crime prevention and recidivism-stopping activities? Did the people of Phoenix and AZ generally have a thorough and informed public deliberation of what the priorities should be? What the "main mission" of their government was? With full knowledge of the costs and benefits of all options?

The articles and the DA don't indicate they did. If they have and this is what they decided, good on 'em. They're getting the future they dream of. If they haven't, then a public official is just substituting his preferences and (unsupported) theories for democratic decision. As the brave DOC spokesperson noted, echoing my post the other day which I'm sure she copied, "It's easy to come up with policy when somebody else has to pay for it."

Whether AZ residents back this or the DA is just arbitrarily performing, either is based on a view of incarceration equivalent to ME's rain dances in our final exam question. Feels good in the short term, lets out passion. And rains sometimes follow. Must all be connected. Ignore any experience that indicates the ebb and flow of normal human activity at work. In the meantime, as Prevention Works (the blog of the National Crime Prevention Council) notes, crack ebbed from its flow after education campaigns (and I would add "experience"), and they recommend similar efforts now against meth. We've "rain danced" Mom and Pop labs out of existence pretty much now (as Grits for Breakfast has given me a hard time for supporting), proud and exultant at our success, while the imports flow in and users still have plenty to choose from until the toll gets so high that potential users decide, "You know what? That looks pretty sucky, think I'll pass." Then some new drug will come along, or an old one will have been forgotten enough, for the cycle to begin again. It's a predictable cycle which we can only marginally control, whether we like it or not, regardless of how many second-time offenders we decide to send to prison.

Zimring's piece tips us off to all the "rain dancing" going on that looks like what it is only when we step far enough away to see the full picture. If states that did other things got as good or better crime decreases, if similar nations did also without doing any of the things we did here on nearly the same scale, then incarceration is demonstrated to be just one of those very marginally effective options. Needed for some in some cases, but certainly not justified or proven enough for a bazooka-shot approach like our friend in Phoenix is attempting. His rationale is just an unfortunate (mis)use of data to justify something too broad to be supported by good research and analysis.

On the other hand, AZ really needs rain. Let's watch for the next few days.

Second Life Again

I really appreciate the comments and links on this post on the possibilities of criminological simulations in Second Life's virtual world. I think I'll check in with some academic friend types and see what they think and if there's any potential for checking it out with their students. In the meantime, let's keep talking and seeing what we can come up with here. Thanks again. This could be cool even for old guys like me.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Second Life Criminology

Maybe it was just coincidence, but I ran across two separate articles on Second Life today, the virtual reality "game" that has turned into its own society. So much so that one "player" has become a millionaire here by becoming a real estate tycoon there, so much so that Richard Posner is giving a lecture there, according to Prawfsblawg, presumably coming back here when he's done. I've never played the "game" but I've read some accounts of it that make me wonder if maybe we could use it or something like it to run experiments in testing crim theory that we'd never get by an IRB here in First Life. If you can buy, improve, and sell real estate there, why couldn't you be faced with possibilities for crime (not Grand Theft Auto kind, the kind we have here in the "real world")? And, if you could, could we simulate many of the contexts we have here, allowing us to take two matched "twins" and run one through prison and the other probation to see who recidivated and why, whether longer sentences worked better than shorter? Could we put offenders into the game with non-offenders and see if changes in environments produced changes in criminality? I'm serious. I'm an old fossil when it comes to this stuff, so I'd appreciate it if someone with experience in Second Life could tell me where I'm completely goofy and where only my usual partly. Is someone already doing this somewhere and would like a place to discuss results (since peer review on a Second Life simulation might initially be a little, shall we say, skeptical?)?

Come on. Let me know. Let's play.

Berman's at It Again

This time by passing on another provocative topic, prosecutors who encourage juries to enhance sentences in order to "send a message" about the impact of the crime. The practice is apparently getting some appellate review despite being part and parcel of closing arguments since Abe Lincoln was riding the circuit in IL. If nothing else, this urging of extra punishment puts the lie to the assertion that the purpose of a prison sentence is seen as anything but “sending a message," as we've noted here frequently.

Since I've expressed qualified support for “therapeutic shaming” if it can be reasonably imposed (GIANT “if”), I'm clearly not opposed to “sending a message.” We prove daily that most of what we do is about norm enforcement and not actually impacting crime or using resources wisely. But this “message” is only sending half the reality, it seems to me. Wouldn’t, shouldn't, the full message also include “we are willing to spend $XXX a year for X years, and more once the offender hits a certain age” for this sentence?

Sentences are budget decisions as well as communal judgments, something judges, prosecutors, juries, and policymakers who’ll be out of office when the bills come due like to pretend they don’t understand or not pretend they don’t care. Some survey research now understands the “half empty” nature of this rhetorical setup, asking people not just their support for policies but also their “willingness to pay.” People’s attitudes and actions usually are different when they see their own tax dollars involved.

We’ve gotten where we are because most jurisdictions have conspicuously but usually surreptitiously avoided attaching dollars to their actions, saying, as all those who don’t actually have to pay the bills always say, “cost is no object, or shouldn’t be, how dare you put a price . . . .” Unfortunately, cost is not an object only in fairy tale worlds, and it affects everything else we might be able to do in criminal justice, like actual prevention of crime and victims, negatively.

States that do impact analyses have had the necessary debates, sometimes deciding to pay the costs, sometimes not, but being upfront and honest and not screwing the tab onto future generations or uninvolved taxpayers who might just have voted differently once the consequences are clear. How would it hurt to be forthright, to say that, for this offense, we are willing to shortchange future juvenile justice, law enforcement, prosecution, courts and sentencing themselves, not to mention the efforts at economic development, education at all levels including voc ed, and health care that build strong communities that don’t foster or condone crime? There are times when that message, that balancing of community priorities is appropriate, and there will always be times when it should be considered. But because this “half a message” at final argument is part of the "win above all" game, it’s clearly just the tailors conning the King on how beautiful His invisible garments are.

Yes, I know I'm getting cranky here. My actual conservatism is coming out, I suppose, moaning out the typical criticism of this generation and culture—do what feels good now, charge the costs on a credit card (preferably to be paid once I’m dead), blame someone else for the predictable and predicted problems when they hit if I haven’t croaked yet. I chuckle at times when “conservatives” call me liberal when they’re among the most profligate people in human history, especially with someone else's money. I just feel that basic decency requires that juries be informed of the full consequences of what they're doing.

Maybe that’s a message that needs to be sent with each verdict, too.

News of the Day 11-28-06

The Justice Policy Institute has a new report out, The Dangers of Detention: The Impact of Incarcerating Youth in Detention and Other Secure Facilities, reviewing state activities and studies and highlighting the common finding that recidivism rates after incarceration of juveniles are usually higher than those of similar youths getting probation. (Thanks to Ben Barlyn in NJ for the tip.) . . . A study in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research finds that alcoholics misjudge how much sleep they are getting at night because of the way the drink influences their sleep cycle, making them more susceptible to drinking more in their efforts to get to sleep at night. Add in the annoyance brought on by loss of sleep and you can see how the problems explode. . . . Adam Kolber, the lead voice at the new Neuroethics & Law blog, has an article on the ethical and legal dangers of the drugs being developed to dampen memory in traumatic situations. There's more to it than just the problems with wiping out testimony about violent offenses, but that should give you enough to check it out. . . . A couple of items on new bodies being created to deal with specific corrections sentencing concerns, one on a new Commission on Sexual Violence in VA to develop recs for dealing with sexual violence victims and another on "violator centers" in WA to provide an option short of "return to prison" and revocation for probation and parole types. Interesting and innovative, proving that states are now the home of new ideas and possible solutions to our crim just problems as the feds have opted to focus on terrorism. . . . Add Arkansas to the states waking up one morning to more inmates than beds. Have you noticed how many stories from so many states we've been digging up lately? If they can't let them out and can't move them to community, either they build more beds or move to alternatives like . . . TECHNOCORRECTIONS. It's already happening on initial scales, and these stories are showing why. At least you can impress your friends about it by relating all you read here. No need to thank us. Just keep checking in regularly.

Shame Again

Excellent post over at CrimProf Blog linking to a WaPo article on shame as a possible sentencing option, "getting it" about both the potential for effectiveness and social restitution while acknowledging the dangers. Very good and reasonable discussion of what's possible if cooler heads prevail and deliberation doesn't get prematurely bogged down in "how many pins can stick into the head of an angel?" sandtraps. This is where debate should begin.

Monday, November 27, 2006

News of the Day 11-27-06

USA Today's news blog alerts us to a story on criminologists in Philadelphia developing a risk instrument to predict likely murderers among city probationers. I'm a fairly big supporter of assessment tools, as long as the users don't become obsessed, but there's something way too "closing the barn door" about this story. . . . Doug Berman spent yesterday cataloguing the worthy news stories on Sunday so we would have them in a tidy pile. The KS story is, to me, a nice demonstration of the knowingly counterintuitive political mindset that prevents effective action in corrections sentencing and cements us to a "solution" with high recidivism rates and more victimization in the name of public safety and crime prevention. The TX article shows why the pressures and needs for "technocorrections" have the potential for exponential growth. All the stories are worth your time. Thanks, Doug. . . . Speaking of TX, here's a headline from San Antone that may rock you back--"State Looks at Alternatives to More Prisons." If you haven't had a primer on TX corrections sentencing policy before, this will serve. Repubs and Dems alike are realizing that the money can't flow to prisons forever, and, if not, why not start developing the next choices now before you completely tank? Of course, substance abuse treatment's already basically null there, and few can get parole anyway, but maybe the wind is shifting. As an analyst for a conservative state think tank says, "There's an alliance on both the right and the left. There's a consensus we need to do something besides build more prisons." If they do figure something out, maybe they can talk to those KS folks. Then CA. Jeez, wouldn't Texans love to lord it over Californians that they got to a solution first? And how long would CA hang its collective head in embarrassment? . . . Maybe NV would listen, too, facing the "huge prison increase" this story details (h/t Real Cost of Prisons). . . . The NY Times hops on the bandwagon of stories we saw this weekend outlining the difficulties in enforcing zoning laws restricting child sex offenders. . . . This Science Daily piece tells of a Canadian study indicating that heroin isn't really the opioid of choice among abusers in Canadian cities. Things like Oxycontin, Demerol, Percodan, and Tylenol 3 or 4 are. The researchers recommend that law enforcement refocus their priorities. Of course, it's just Canada so nothing to see here, just move along. . . . Finally, this is more blog update than news item, but the prescient and important new blog Neuroethics & Law notes that the new series 3 Lbs just ran an episode in which a defense attorney used his client's brain abnormality found in an MRI to try to get the guy found not guilty. And the lawyer noted that the legal system needed to keep pace with science!! Can I get an "Amen, TECHNOCORRECTIONS!!"??? If we don't want television defining our issues and policies with its usual precision, insight, and seriousness, we better get on the stick here, folks.

Saturday, November 25, 2006


Blogged on to post on the WaPo story on NY, incarceration, and crime rates and saw that Kim had stolen my thunder. I agree that it's a succinct and thorough summary of what should be conventional wisdom as anyone fashions informed corrections sentencing policy. There are a couple of points that need to be added, though, even regarding Professor Blumstein's reference to the 25% reduction in crime associated with prisons in the 90s.

That 25% is a good rule of thumb, but other studies have the impact between high single digits and around 40%. The 25% was obtained by two different scholars employing two different methodologies. It's probably as good a number as we'll get. But please keep in mind a couple of provisos whenever you hear it cited. One, much of that 25% might have been obtained with other methods (as the overall theme of the article notes) that would have been more cost-effective, that is, freeing resources for other areas of criminal justice that have been starved as we funnel our funds into prisons. That means that those other methods could have been, more importantly, preventative, that is, without having to have a victim to start with.

The other thing to remember is that these estimates of "crime reduced by prison" generally refer to the crimes the offenders would have committed had they been out but weren't because the offenders were behind bars. But if prisons are "crimogenic" for some offenders, then we don't know how many more crimes they commit once they are released that they wouldn't have committed had we found another punishment and different supervision for them, especially since most offenders age out of criminal behavior to some extent as they reach the ages at which these guys have served their terms. I'm not aware of any good studies to research this question directly(which would be extraordinarily hard to design simply by their nature), but if someone else has seen anything, please let us know. In the meantime, studies of matched juveniles who get tracked for later criminality after either probation or prison (Petersilia's probation work and the Sampson/Laub life-course studies) indicate that putting people in prison generally gets you more criminals later. (The Washington State Institute for Public Policy, of course, also has some work indicating this as well.)

The WaPo story is important because it reveals the "justice premium" that I've mentioned here. We don't have to lock up all the people we do to have an impact on crime. I personally believe that most crime reduction comes because of cultural changes and waves and that government is only effective on the margins anyway, but talk about a difficult study to design. We lock people up more for reasons having to do with us and enforcing norms regardless of cost than for why we say we're doing it. Advocates on both sides of the "prisons" issue need to acknowledge and address that before we can ever really hope to get the spiraling expenditures under control before they absorb anything else we can do in criminal justice.

That's what I would have said if Kim hadn't beaten me to the post. Hope your Thanksgiving was good. Be back Monday.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Quick Post-Thanksgiving link

Just back from raking leaves - one way to shake off the big dinner yesterday. Just wanted to drop in to mention a must-read story in the Washington Post. Martin Horn may be one of the most reasonable men in Corrections policy. The Washington Post profiles his comments here.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

I'm out of here for a few days, having Thanksgiving with The Boy and spouse. I may be able to get something posted. I also may be able to roll off the couch after the pie. Odds of both are about the same. I hope you enjoy it as well. Back again for sure, much more substantially, by Monday.

Around the Blogs 11-22-06

Light posting just before the holiday. Yet another thanks to Doug Berman at Sentencing Law and Policy for his nice words about our blog and the focus we're putting on "technocorrections." He posts links to a couple of relevant articles and notes that the "techno" day is clearly upon us. We obviously can supply a concurring opinion if he wants it. The earliest moves are in the surveillance area, as these articles show, along with the business entrepreneurs who see big profits, especially before the evaluation work is done well. But pharmaceutical companies are also eyeing the possibilities, as we've noted. The "lift-off" point may be in the surveillance technology already, but I'm looking forward a steep upward rise when genetic scientists begin to get the mechanics of turning genes on and off going full-blast and get all the details of how cells bind down pat. Anyone out there up for writing "Brave New World II"? . . . Crim Prof Blog has a couple of related posts of its own. This one talks about how government drug testing of employees using their hair as sources is catching on big time, and this one points to problems prosecutors are having with trying suspects if drug lab backups get too long, a common problem in a lot of budget-pressed states right now. . . . Doug also links to a report on crystal meth and its replacing crack as the scare drug of choice. Real Cost of Prisons has a post up on how it's already there in Britain. . . . Finally, this may only interest me, but Crime and Consequences has a link to a book review on the new work on Lincoln and Taney. Just bought it and looking forward to it. Not that it's relevant to today's modern world or anything.

Institutional Corrections Research Network

A little while back, I got a question from a commenter in response to my claim that there wasn't really a corrections research organization. He wanted to know what I thought the National Institute of Corrections was. I was guilty of being too vague in my haste to post (ask other bloggers how easy that is to do). My point was never that NIC didn't do and disseminate valuable research on corrections. I'm frequently linking to great posts by its terrific blog, Corrections Community and have it listed in our blog buddies on the right. My point was really that NIC covered such a breadth of material that I just didn't think of it as an organization focused on the people whose job (like mine now) is to do the institutional research for corrections departments. NIC is an example of a premier research organization for any professional group.

Now it's rubbing it in. A few days ago, my department director passed along a notice that NIC is in the process of forming something of the kind of group I was talking about--the Institutional Corrections Research Network. According to the notice, this body "would be a group of correctional administrators and institutional researchers that would meet regularly to discuss research in the field of corrections. More specifically, the group would discuss the types of issues and areas around which research is either currently being doen or should be done, thus helping NIC to ensure that the projects that they fund are meeting the needs of the field." Ultimately, NIC wants from this to "(1) create a cumulative body of knowledge about corrections, (2) determine how to contextualize that knowledge, and (3) create the structures and approaches that will push that knowledge out and into the field as a whole."

Since nowhere in the notice was the word "kegger," I'm not sure if this will get at everything I'm actually thinking of when I think of a strictly correctional researcher organization, but this sounds like a really terrific start. With the push for evidence-based practice now, many corrections departments are becoming less protective of their data and information and more aggressive about incorporating research and best practice into their operations. This organization will be greatly appreciated and used, I'm sure. I'm really looking forward to how it develops.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

California Dreamin'--Part Deux

A couple of kind readers separately sent me the link to this article on CA's growing seriousness about forming a sentencing commission to deal with The California Challenge. (And, of course, Doug Berman had a good post on it with several interesting comments, particularly one from a guy in KS.) I've said plenty about CA's Gordian Knot situation and don't really see reasons yet to believe that simply forming a traditional sentencing commission, a state body with constituency reps who have too much to lose with too substantial reform, will get the job done there. And its failure will likely prove even worse than a mere waste of time, as the KS guy points out.

I do realize that my idea of Marvin Frankel's original vision--a well-insulated commission with super-authority, chosen by a panel of reps of national professional organizations--can only become viable when the state realizes the extent of the problem it has. That a traditional commission is apparently all that's being considered publicly, even at this stage of the light bulb being on overhead, indicates not only that they're not there yet but also that they may never get there.

That said, what would a next best option to a Frankel Commission for CA be? Since modesty and lack of effect haven't slowed me in any way so far, let me suggest this. The key virtues their new policy must seek if their commission has any chance of success are: protection from internal and external political forces; recognition of the importance of solid, transparent, and well-provided data on both sentencing and its impacts; severability of functions; and permanence.

Whatever body they create must be carefully selected, its mission conspicuously spelled out with sanctions for obstacles, and policymakers with real power seriously engaged in reform, not camera-seeking. We've talked frequently about sentencing info systems which can provide findings beyond the usual "average sentence for a male burglar with two priors" and get into recidivism and the sentences that seem to best prevent it. Since sentencing commissions tend to be expected to do more than one thing but get hammered for varying ones, the new body should have legally severable parts so that, if one falls to politics or incompetence, the rest of the body doesn't dissolve with it. And finally, there should be no sunsets or such clear politics involved that players can believe the commission might not be there to have influence in the future. Placement of the commission in a buffering structure, such as a foundation, university department or school, or "neutral" state agency such as a dept of admin, with less dependent sources of continued resources, would be the best bets for this kind of outcome.

So what does that mean structurally for CA's possible commission? Let's work on an idea from the "What If a Sentencing Commission Won't Work in Your State?" on the right side there. I'd recommend a body with at least three severable parts, overseen by a "sentencing policy authority" composed of a small number of folks from each party and the three branches, with real power to make things happen (Appropriations chairs, Chief Justice, Governor's top policy staff, and NO proxies or delegates). Maybe give them a deadline to have something meaningful done. Day-to-day operations and coordination would be run by a foundation, university, or dept of admin (the state budget office, maybe). The staff wouldn't have to be any larger than that of a traditional commission if the evaluation/research function were contracted out (discussed below). It would also give the option (and threat) that, should policymakers dump on the "Authority" and its parts, the foundation or university might continue some or all of the functions anyway.

The first part would be an advisory commission, traditionally composed and authorized, regarding sentencing review and impact, only making recs to the "Authority" instead of pronouncements that may or (usually) may not have teeth. This would be the practitioner feedback loop on state sentencing policy that is needed.

The second part would be a council of statisticians and data gurus from relevant state agencies (corrections, courts, admin and budget, prosecutors, legis staff) to plan, implement, and oversee a thoroughly integrated sentencing and corrections policy data system TO WHICH ALL STATE AGENCIES ARE MANDATED TO CONTRIBUTE AS/WHEN REQUESTED BY THE "AUTHORITY." This system would remain available to issue basic stat reports even if the commission goes moribund (likely) or gets offed (less likely but possible).

Finally, the third part would be a research unit, composed of analysts and/or contract specialists signing on professional evaluators to produce quality, MANDATED evaluations and analyses of sentencing and corrections effectiveness as well as cost/bedspace/whatever projections and impacts of continued or proposed policies and programs. A "consortium" could be created of university and non-profit researchers (and their cheaper minions and drones) networked with the corrections sentencing community to set priorities and to direct timely research. This was done for a while in the late 90s in OK by its corrections department before it ran afoul of politics. [DISCLAIMER: I served on the consortium board so I'm not exactly unbiased. But it's still a good idea, even if I was associated with it.] This will help to bring light and transparency to inform good policy and brightly illuminate bad.

This "next best" proposal is, it seems to me, do-able if CA is willing to put its money (and not all that much, really) where its gaping, bleeding, desperate prison mouth is. The failure of one or two parts would still leave valuable part(s) behind, unlike what's happened with past commissions. Success of any one of them will produce better outcomes than the state is getting now, it appears. If all were to function optimally, the synergies (eek!!) of their interactions would provide rational, demonstrably effective options (which could include guidelines and/or "smart sentencing" and/or even something newer and better) maybe even superior to anything currently going on anywhere. And success there would very likely have the historical "CA Effect" and carry into other states facing the same problems on just slightly smaller scales, like CO and WI.

Judging by how well my "California Challenge" transformed that state so far, this is probably more howling at the moon. But, as I've said before, if CA can somehow get a grip, then the future of corrections sentencing looks better for all of us. That's worth a few howls, right?

Feel free to join in with some of your own.

News of the Day 11-21-06

The Denver Post runs an editorial on CO's race to be CA's little brother. The state has built a prison a year for 16 years (!) and the exiting gov wants money for more. The Post wants sentencing guidelines. We'll see. I just remember hearing on good authority that, when he was elected, Owens called analysts in to tell them he didn't want to hear any of that "prisons won't stop crime" crap. The man has a legacy that CO will remember for years (h/t Real Cost of Prisons). . . . Cocaine users or dipsticks? Well, actually, both. Researchers at U of IL have developed a simple "dipstick" test for finding cocaine and other drugs in saliva, urine, and blood that should prove popular for its ease and expense. . . . Some laws are born silly, others just have silly thrust upon them. USA Today has a story on how typos in rushed legislation can have very unforeseen consequences. For example, one NY law set the blood alcohol levels illegal to drive there under the amount that occurs naturally in one's own body. So, just by cruising into the state, you can be drunk and arrested. Should prove wondrous for their tourist industry. . . . An AR poll (Arkansas, not Arizona . . . no, AK is Alaska, I think) finds that 61% of respondents favor lesser penalties for marijuana convictions. Only 22% wanted harsher ones. After deep thought on this, I have one question . . . Arkansas??? . . . And finally, NH corrections types have been paying attention to other states' and their increased costs when they move to civil commitment for sex offenders whose sentences have been completed. They want the dollars up front. Smart guys.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Around the Blogs 11-20-06

Good finds from several blogs today. Of course, Doug Berman leads the way with a couple of catches. This one finds a NY Times story that discusses the creative ways states are coming up with to stop drunk driving, including new generations of ignition interlocks and technologies to prevent vehicle use at all like perspiration readings through the steering wheel or readings of lights shined off the skin. TECHNOCORRECTIONS at its best, and a good model for how other innovations will likely occur. And this one highlights a VA story on the efforts to crack down on sex offenders and the doubts that opponents are raising about the crackdown's effectiveness. The story features yet another guy collecting child porn with no other record or indication of any illegal behavior. In fact, he was harassed by FBI sting guys on the Internet until he gave in. The story covers the issues well, but I need to emphasize one point. The story is also a case study on how to screw up the reporting that citizens need to make intelligent judgments about criminal justice policy. How? First, nowhere in the article is there any reference to the consistent research on the absence of a link between possession of child porn and later sexual offending, as we've mentioned here, nor to the researchers who might be able to bring some light to the subject. Then, on the other side, the article does refer to the widely reported research that sex offenders have low recidivism rates compared to other offenders, research that people who work closely with sex offenders have serious problems with, people who again are never quoted as an alternative in the article. The story wasn't biased. It messed up the evidence for both the lenient and hardline folks. It was just someone not knowing what he was talking about writing about something that deserved better treatment. IOW, the SOSO (same old, same old). . . . Grits for Breakfast lets us know about a hard-line TX judge (former prosecutor) who has come out against the hardline treatment of drug offenders in the state. Grits also can give you a good overview of crim just legislation currently proposed in TX, good and amazing (not in a good way). There are dozens of excellent state policy blog sites that can keep you up-to-date on general or specific policy topics. Grits really does a nice job modeling what's possible, and this post is just an example. . . . At Prevention Works, a rundown on the latest in mandatory drug testing in schools. Want to guess if there's a difference in drug use between students at schools with the testing and those at schools without??? Aw, this is just getting too easy, isn't it?

News of the Day 11-20-06

From the "Somehow You Just Knew" file, OH researchers in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence have published a study finding that "People who own vicious dogs such as pit bulls have significantly more criminal convictions--including crimes against children--than owners of licensed, gentler dogs such as beagles." I mean, listen--every owner of a high-risk dog had at least one run-in with the law. Talk about a risk indicator. Now how does the info get used? . . . Neurons out of sync? Well, could have been that joint you just toked. Scientists at Rutgers have found that the funny weed disrupts synchronized brain cell firing which in turns disrupts memory creation and storage, long- and short-term. ". . . there may be a threshold level of the drug that entirely prohibits learning, and that is something worth remembering very clearly." Nicely said. . . . Here and here you can find a story on how the shaming trend is moving forward while we abstractly debate whether it's a good thing or not. A new TN law requires first-time DUI offenders to do 24 hours in jail, then 24 hours on litter pickup while wearing a conspicuous orange vest that says "I am a drunk driver." Okay, again, it's not an incarceration diversion program if you incarcerate people. It's not a good idea if you waste resources implementing it, as law enforcement folks there are suggesting (5 guys to oversee the sparse workcrews??), or if people laugh it off, as the law guys are also saying. Advocates are opposing efforts to repeal it or let it sunset, saying there hasn't been time yet to evaluate its effectiveness. On the other hand, MADD in TN claims not to have been consulted and probably opposes it on the grounds that it may drive embarrassed offenders to drink. Somehow I just don't think this one got thought out very thoroughly. Imagine that, which is, of course, the best argument of the anti-shaming folks. (h/t Crim Law Blog.) . . . Not sure if this is really relevant to this blog, but somehow it just felt like it was. U of MN researchers have demonstrated that people exposed to the concept of money act more selfishly and less selflessly than those who haven't. Welcome to ideas about the implications. Will you send me some ideas if I offer you some cash? . . . Finally, a major problem for corrections departments that you may not have thought of. More aliens behind state bars (foreign nationals, not ALF), state tries to deport them, their home country won't take them. Then what? This one's probably not going away. (And just to get my mind off it, I'm getting out my DVD of the first year of "ALF.")

Friday, November 17, 2006

Quick Hit or Two Before the Weekend Starts

Nothing profound, don't worry. Just a couple of little jolts. This will take you to a bizarre story linking sleep apnea and the degree of aggression in sex offenders. Control the apnea, control the aggression? Maybe "Heroes" can use that as its new slogan once they finish the "save the cheerleader, save the world" plot. And then let's just give a great quote its due. Kent Scheidegger at Crime and Consequences, discussing efforts to take away the automatic reversal of a conviction if one dies before appeal, a la Ken Lay, refers to "defendants who have assumed room temperature." Okay, maybe you had to be there, but did you know Diet Dr. Pepper will clean out your nostrils from the inside? Have a good weekend.

Crack, Incarceration and Crime

The Federal sentencing hearings on crack v. powder cocaine earlier this week brought into relief the divergent views on the role of incarceration in combating crime (overview by Doug Berman w/ link to testimony here, NPR story here). The Miami prosecutor testified this week that strong federal sentencing guidelines (more and longer incarceration) represent “one of the best tools for law enforcement's efforts to stop violent crime and…Attempts to reduce these sentences create a risk in my opinion of increased drug violence." Others were more concerned about unwarranted racial disparity, and found the crime control rationale weak. Noted criminologist Al Blumstein said that the drop in violence in the 1990’s had little to do with incarceration rates for cocaine/crack trafficking, and more to do with structural changes in the drug markets themselves. He concluded that there was no longer much of a crime control rationale for the 100:1 cocaine/crack punishment disparity.

Seems like as good a time as any to talk about incarceration and crime (as for crack/cocaine - Read the USSC testimony referenced above – many excellent reports).

Factors thought to explain the linkage between crime and imprisonment are diverse, with little consensus and much political posturing. Clearly, changes in imprisonment-crime rates, and the relationship between the two phenomena, are a function of many things including:

- Changes in corrections sentencing policy: William Spellman at UT-Austin estimates that the crime drop of the 1990’s would have occurred anyway, but the crime drop would have been as much as 27 percent smaller had the large prison buildup never taken place – the focus of his work is not drug crime;
- The availability of resources: Greenberg and West 2001 here, found that sustained high levels of crime, esp. violent and drug crime, contributed to prison population growth, but prisons expanded faster where state government revenues increased. Higher incarceration rates then were also a policy response to crime, contingent in part on available resources; and
- And how those resources are applied: For example, the WSIPP benefit-cost analysis that Mike discussed earlier this week and available here proposes substantial savings to Washington state over 20 years using more treatment and education programming in adult prison, more prevention programs for children, and more juvenile programs. So, incarceration can be seen as a workable method of combating crime -- but not the only, or always the best, method.

Another way to look at the crime-incarceration linkage is to look at incarceration as a response to crime and fear of crime, governmental units and elected leaders searching for a response. Many commentators look to the state level crime and imprisonment data, and policy responses like sweeping and specific sentencing reform and other state changes. For example, according to Blumstein and Beck (1999) the dominant factor in state and federal incarceration growth (over 200 percent between 1980 and 1996) is drug offending (and the accompanying law enforcement response), which grew by ten times. The growth in incarceration for drugs is driven most strongly by growth in arrest rates, then by commitments per arrest. Conversely, the growth in state incarceration for non-drug offenses is attributable entirely to sentencing increases, the number of commitments per arrest and time-served increases. Incarceration rates rose faster for minorities (184 percent for African Americans and 235 percent for Hispanics) than for non-Hispanic whites (164 percent). Of course, in part this reflects things like the crack-powder federal policy disparities, although most states have not pursued sentencing policies like the 100:1 ratio.

Setting aside the real linkages between crime and incarceration, how much does political discourse contribute to the increase in the imprisonment rate? And how much of the fluctuation up and down (mostly up in recent decades) is attributable to the state’s fiscal situation and available resources? (I’m not claiming the federal government is influenced by fiscal considerations, at least to anything like the same degree – far from it!) It would be na├»ve to think that bureaucratic and fiscal pressures don’t count as important factors in changing imprisonment rates. Greenberg and West, cited above, found that increased imprisonment rates were tied both to state revenues and state spending in other areas (spending in other areas is inversely correlated with imprisonment rates – as one would expect with state balanced budget mandates).

Some may think responsiveness to citizen demands is correspondingly reduced by the green eyeshade view of the world. However, it is hard to see the U.S. prison growth since 1980 and not think of Julian Roberts’ term “penal populism” – tough talk on crime that is a virtual precondition for electoral success. Penal populism is likely a prime mover in prison growth since 1980, especially in the U.S. but not exclusively. Fiscal pressures appear to operate on the margins, restricting the incarceration wave in some places relative to other places, but those pressures don’t explain the wave. The tone of the federal sentencing hearings, mostly a call to modify the incarceration response of the Drug War, may be part of a retreat from penal populism. Or not.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Around the Blogs 11-16-06

Corrections Community, the NIC blog, has some good posts linking readers to some good reports and articles. Here, they get you the link to the recent NIDA report on principles for drug abuse treatment, in case you don't want to use the links here. And better, they give you 7 more links to related reports. Here, they provide the latest effort of NY's Independent Committee on Reentry and Employment. This includes the report's 7 key rec's, including creation of a Commissioner of Reentry, reporting directly to the Governor. All are thought-provoking. And here they link to some very good articles, especially this one on the future of US criminal justice in 2040 according to 3 leading academics. Only a little on "technocorrections," but David Weisburd does a nice critique of the current "evidence-based" trend in our work, including pointing out that "evidence-based" takes money and time that policy-makers are not renowned for providing to analysts. Let's all get together in 2040 and seeing how much of this played out. (I may not be there. Took one of those "life clock" test things that says I'm due to clock out in 2031. But carry on without me.) . . . At the National Center for State Courts (not really a blog, so we hope they're not insulted), they have a report up--“What’s Happening with DUI Courts? You'll find a good, concise summary of major research and practice on these offshoots of drug courts and a very nice bibliography. Since this is an obvious area for future technocorrections in the future (despite the "2040" article), these will be the folks who flip the switches on how extensively we adopt the new technologies. Better get familiar with them now. . . . Finally, Prevention Works, the blog of the National Crime Prevention Council, kindly links to our recent book review essay on biology, psychology, and the genetic part of technocorrections and brings in work the Marginal Revolution blog as well. Their point is to focus on the mental mechanisms that structure human desire to seek justice or at least seem to. Turns out we're good at rationalizing how our "justice" is good for everyone else, who conveniently get to pay for it. Add that to my point about the "justice premium" we're frequently willing to pay, what we pay for punishment well beyond the actual cost of the crime we're punishing, and you get a pretty good answer to the questions of all those frustrated cost-benefiters who just can't understand why we can't see why prisons make no sense for most crimes. Here's another related point, from this story today. Researchers have found that, using magnetic pulses to different sides of the brain during a game that can feature cooperation or dumping on your partner, they can influence whether people will cheat more than normal or accept being dumped on more than normal. There's no "brainwashing" here. The participants still reason well. They just end up acting in different ways in response to the knowledge, depending on which side of the brain the magnetic pulses are used on. IOW, certain areas of the brain play roles in each instance. Biology and morals anyone? And if they can affect behavior of game players with these magnetic pulses, maybe we could stick a helmet on offenders and . . . "technocorrections"!! Actually, that might be kinda embarrassing for them. . . uh-oh. Back to the shaming discussion. Let's save that for another day.

News of the Day 11-16-06

State agency types and non-profiters held a summit in CT to plan a "bill of rights" for children of incarcerated offenders. They focused on guaranteed transportation to get kids to their imprisoned parents, protocols for how kids get managed during and after arrests of their folks, and giving kids a voice in their placement once the parents are gone. Interesting and new to me, anyway. Will it be the start of a movement? Has it been going on elsewhere? . . . Victims' rights spokespeople and law enforcers from IA are going to other states to warn them off the severe restrictions on sex offenders that IA has adopted and proved unworkable. “The bottom line is, it doesn’t protect children,” said Pamela Dettmann, a senior assistant county attorney from Burlington, Iowa. Did you get that--A SENIOR ASSISTANT COUNTY ATTORNEY. If that doesn't make people think twice, we're completely hopeless. . . . And, as if to prove the latter point, MD officials are dealing with a, well, you would have thought common sense, point in their sex offender registration law. How do you report change of address if you're homeless? And MD isn't the only state to have this problem. Future historians are going to have such fun.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

News of the Day 11-15-06

Yet another former supporter of the ridiculous crack-powder disparity, this time a fed judge, comes out against the ridiculousness. Maybe, maybe a window is opening. . . . If you've wondered how the manipulation of genes might actually happen in "technocorrections," this article will explain it to you. You can "silence" genes and keep them from doing their work, basically. Got some bad ones causing greater tendencies to addictions or impulsive behavior? See where it could go? . . . An application of where it could go. We get DNA from offenders. We screen them and start trying to "cold hit" family members. Since a lot of offenders have family members as fellow crooks, law enforcement is seeking to find other guys, even if no one's been reported yet. So the old conundrum--how much prevented crime (and there are a lot of misses here) overrides invasion of privacy and possible false arrest? "We're kind of blundering ahead with this technology," worries William Thompson, a criminologist at the University of California, Irvine, who would like to see the government open up the database for independent scrutiny and statistical analysis. He is especially concerned about reports of faked test results and poor-quality lab work such as cross-contamination and sample mix-ups. So there you go. . . . Not sure if this qualifies as "technocorrections." In the line of the old "play Barry Manilow to scare them away" ploy, businesses in Britain and Wales are broadcasting "mosquito units" (little high pitched chirps that young ears can hear but old ones like mine can't) to run off loitering teens. Not sure, either, what the actual crime prevention effect is, but I always liked Manilow okay so this seems more fair. . . . Turns out SuperMax isn't so Super. Turns out we hyped our crackdown on the bad guys and then didn't give it the resources to do the job. First time something like this has ever happened. . . . "Mothers Against Methamphetamine"? Hadn't heard this one yet. They're lauding ID as the best state in attacking the problem. Descriptions of a couple of interesting programs, too. . . . ONE PERCENT OF THE INTERNET IS PORN. This get your attention? Becomes important when the federal government is using porn as a justification to end net neutrality and to get greater control of what's available. And, it's an interesting stat, IMO. But that tells us more about me than I should let you know. But once I told you about Manilow, that didn't really matter anymore, did it?

Grits for Sunset

Grits for Breakfast has been covering the sunset hearings for the TX prison and P&P systems. Excellent and interesting stuff. Hard to credit TX, but this kind of review at least shines light on practices, even if nothing really changes. People can’t say they haven’t been told.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

News of the Day 11-14-06

Remember a couple of decades ago when so much of many correctional agendas was set by lawsuits? Well, it's one way to slice the Gordian Knot, maybe the only real weapon in the quiver right now. And policymakers might welcome "activist courts." . . . Here, MI has been told to end its "torture" restraint and to create a viable mental health plan for its inmates. . . . Here, CA inmates are suing to put a cap on the state's prison population saying the crowding causes cruel and unusual punishment. And they may have some stats to sell their case. . . . And prison rapes in WA may also move things along. . . . Of course, sex outside the prison walls will remain a concern. In WV, they're dealing with the familiar "what do we do with these violent child sex offenders after they've served their term" problem. Too familiar, maybe, but still worth reading. . . . While in IA, police are complaining that enforcing the more restrictive sex offender laws is too hard, costly, and time-consuming. Again, familiar, a little Gordian Knot all of its own. Which means . . . "activist judges" "interfering" again????

Monday, November 13, 2006

More Props to WSIPP

I've mentioned before that the WA State Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP) is the premier policy analysis body in US state government, especially as it applies to corrections sentencing, doing the sorts of things that some of us have tried to copy weakly in other jobs and setting the model that Judge Frankel proposed in his original call for better sentencing info. They've proved again their value with this new report on "what works" and the possibility of using proven alternative sanctions to reduce recidivism and attacks on taxpayers' pockets. Not only is the analysis sound, but the bibliography alone will save the rest of us hours of work when we need to look into serious topics. (We've added it to our Articles and Commentary section on the right.) I do have a quibble with its use of what I consider a very questionable study of victim costs (using civil jury awards to determine non-quantitative costs, which should set your eyebrow a bit askance), but there's not much better to use because it's such a debatable and problematic topic to begin with. Nevertheless, even though it makes their calculations troublesome, the basic points about "what works" and what doesn't if you want to make sure your corrections sentencing policy is as recidivism-effective and cost-effective as possible should be the heart of every state's discussions. Another excellent production from the WSIPP folks. WA is so lucky.

Around the Blogs 11-13-06

Doug Berman at Sentencing Law and Policy had some serious time on his hands this weekend, and he put it to good use. Here he links to an article on the poor efforts of OH to restrict drunk drivers, especially when compared to efforts currently in places like NM (while raising again the extremely valid question of why we're so hard on druggie types but don't deal with alcohol the same way). Here he cites an LA Times op-ed by one of the authors of the idiot crack-powder distinction in the federal guidelines who is now admitting what a horrendous mistake that was. And here is a nice technocorrections piece on GPS tracking of sex offenders that hits the major arguments on both sides but still manages, IMO, to mislead regarding the viability of effectiveness at this point. Still, more proof of where we're heading, whether we're helping to steer the car or not. (See also Crime and Consequences on this.) . . . Speaking of technocorrections, this time the pharmaceutical side, here's a good write-up on the questionable business history of one of the current pushers of the new "this drug will cure addictions" solution, courtesy of Real Cost of Prisons. . . . Crim Prof Blog has a notice of a conference on psychology and testimony, particularly the eyewitness type. And if you ever needed convincing of why our certainty as eyewitnesses and reliance on their testimony is so misguided, go to Crim Law and see if your eyes are as bad as mine, or your mind as boggled. How have we ever let this kind of testimony gain the prominence that it has?

News of the Day 11-13-06

Really good series going at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel regarding gun violence and its victims. Third part will be tomorrow, but you shouldn't wait. . . . Here's an interesting summary of research being done on "bad habits" and why knowledge of their harmful effects doesn't seem to help us stop them very much. Substitute "criminal behavior" for "bad habits" and you won't see much change in the story. Need to sit every economist who talks about the "cost-benefit" calculations of offenders down and force them to read this. Unfortunately, the researchers haven't found the cure for "bad habits" or "criminal behavior" yet. . . . Another piece of research perhaps applicable outside its sphere to ours. This work finds that, from two very simple behavioral rules, sort of coin tosses, you can get to either compromise or authority in groups. The application to gangs, riots, etc., is very clear. Again, no cure, though, but the fact people are getting a better understanding may work for us someday. . . . And maybe this will get Grits for Breakfast give me a point on the negatives of meth. It's eating up the currency in Europe. Seriously. And what's left apparently could give you a pretty decent high. The world just seems to get weirder and weirder to a child of the 50s.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The Naked Brain Primates and Philosophers

Last month I posted a book review essay on The Ethical Brain and The Future of the Brain to recommend these studies of cognitive and neuro-research as first steps to understanding where the pharmaceutical and genetic aspects of technocorrections might take us. I've got a couple more to recommend now. The first is along the same line as the first two, Richard Restak's The Naked Brain: How the Emerging Neurosociety Is Changing How We Live, Work, and Love. Restak covers a lot of the same material as the others, the way the new technologies for imaging the workings of the brain are telling us so much about how it works and its relationship to our consciousness (which turns out to be a lot like a third party to our brain like the people we deal with every day are). The brain knows and does a hell of a lot more than "we" are privy to, and the imaging is giving us our first real clues to that, creating a "neurosociety" in which "brain science influences every aspect of daily life."

As I mentioned before, this clearly includes corrections sentencing. The "social neuro-science" he proposes has serious implications both for culpability and for sanctioning, for memory and testimony and for determining who's telling the truth and who's lying. (Maybe knowing that the same brain centers light up for cocaine craving, high-risk investment, and a lost love will intrigue you.) I liked the part that covered lie detection, the possibility of creating imaging that will ferret out deceivers (not good for really good liars), and the experiments that show that the better you think you are at detecting lying, the worse you are (Mr. Police Interrogator and Ms. Prosecutor). Perhaps you'll like better the section on the centers for moral reasoning in the brain, which are variable (oh, no) and not all that dependent on "reason" for effective activation. Here's the key graf for you public defender types looking for ways to bring the arguments into the courtroom: "the frontal lobes are underactive in psychopaths and others who act without moral or ethical restraint." So does that make them more or less culpable? You really think that argument's not going to come up more and more?
For those wondering why we spend so much more to punish people than the actual cost of their offense, Restak has an answer for you, the mental "revenge" mechanism that drives us to get payback (what we've called "expressive justice" here), even at substantial expense, for a perceived or actual wrong. In fact, we have mental circuits that get substantial satisfaction from the payback, even when it's just anticipated. The potential "technocorrections" aspect of this? No, we won't be able to say with complete certainty who the pedophile is or the potential addict or the sociopath, but will that stop us? If you're an insurance company, isn't it in your interest to know? If you're responsible for public safety, aren't you interested? (Threw that one in for the "law and order" guys after the PD comment above. You're welcome.) We will have the ability to change addiction patterns, maybe to change desires, maybe to hook brains up to computers and keep people (of all moralities if we want) under behavioral control. Are we ready for that? Are we even talking about it? Restak wants us to:

Here's our challenge: We can employ this emerging new knowledge about social neuroscience to advance human freedom within the neurosociety, or we can allow irresponsible people to use this knowledge in ways that are not always to our advantage.

I know where I'd place my bets, but I still have enough hopeless optimism to think that, if we get the word out wide and loud, maybe we can head some of the "irresponsible" off at the pass. Our futures literally depend on it. Maybe you should read this and the other books.

The other book I'm recommending isn't as obviously technocorrections-oriented, but there's a definite link and it's a cool read in any case. I'm a big Frans de Waal fan, the primatologist who's basically shown that the differences between us and chimps boil down mainly to bigger vocabs and electronics. Read his Chimpanzee Politics and not think of our governments, locker rooms, and frat houses, I dare you. The book I'm recommending is his newest , Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved. The title should give the link to corrections sentencing away.

In a way I felt sorry for de Waal in this book as he presented the decades of work he's done with other species that demonstrates conclusively to any non-human-obsessed mind that morality exists along a spectrum among species, not a sharp separation between us (really, we're still putting ourselves up as paragons of morality??) and the rest of the animal kingdom. The format of the book was to let him present, then have four responders (not really worth mentioning) before he responded to them. It was like what it would have been like to be a guy who had actually spent his life exploring The New World and then had to suffer through John Locke and all those other guys who'd never been there expounding on what they must be like and, even better, creating an entire philosophical school on something that never existed. (We're just lucky as humans that surviving from day to day really requires so little grasp of reality and that our lives don't really depend on how much we believe to be true actually being true.)

Where this ties to corrections sentencing and technocorrections is through the clear evidence that morality is indeed biologically based. We can whine about how special we are, how we can't be animals, how the world is here for us, but the evidence doesn't support it. (Of course, when has that ever stopped us really in anything, especially corrections sentencing???) If genetics and gene expression in given environments are involved in setting our own and our community's standards of right and wrong, then we will have to consider the arguments of those who argue specialness for their defendants and we will have to consider the possibilities that genes make us different from each other, not "equal under the law."

We've based our law, our codes, our justifications for sanctions and mercies on views of humanity that are daily being shown to be as wrong as Locke, as wrong as Plato and Aristotle, Augustine and Luther, Rousseau and Marx. This is serious stuff, folks. And the guys doing the challenging are not under our tent and, in de Waal's case, suffer us not very gladly. They will be setting the new rules, the new paradigms, and we can embrace them and make sure our truly beneficial contributions are incorporated or we can play off in our corner and let people who don't have our experience and mistakes to learn from make the new policies. Or as a wise man once said, "we can allow irresponsible people to use this knowledge in ways that are not always to our advantage." The choice is ours. But time's a-wastin'.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Around the Blogs 11-09-06

From Crim Law, we get a link to this review of "Beyond Conviction," a documentary on victims of violent crime and the important role of restorative justice in helping them. . . . Speaking of making offenders feel the effect of their actions, Prevention Works weighs in on the topic of shaming, as we've discussed here, adding some drubbing to that idiot judge a few posts back who shamed AND incarcerated. (And thanks for the mention, PW.) . . . Doug Berman notes that the just-passed CA initiative that effectively forbids sex offenders any place to live is now under court review. I had a con law seminar in grad school in which the professor tried to sell us that initiatives, being direct democracy, should not be subject to judicial activism. Made an A, not real proud of it. . . . Why was this, and all these laws, bad policy? How about this quote of an IA policeman, from Governing? "When [sex offenders] call and ask where they can legally live, my response is, 'Do you know anybody in Nebraska'?" Sums up the whole deliberately irresponsible pretend policy better than any essay could, doesn't it?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

News of the Day 11-08-06

What would be the proper tip for this? Home delivery of pot. "Open the door, it's your-weed-os." Only in NYC, we hope. I'm constantly amazed that even at my age and level of cyni . . . realism, I'm still capable of being surprised (h/t Crim Prof Blog and Crim Law) . . . Speaking of pot, NV turned down the chance at state-sanctioned pot shops yesterday. Don't see it going away, though, not in brothel-land. . . . Biomarkers are being id'ed for psychosis. While there are obvious ethical problems looming on this stuff, biology can lead to new pharmaceutical and genetic approaches for dealing with this increasing demand on correctional resources. Breakthroughs in this will be very tempting in face of budget problems, especially with all the assurances that will be given.

How Sentencing Info Systems Should Be Done

Doug Berman directs us to this article by the MO Sup Crt Chief Justice and chair of its Sentencing Commission describing the "information-based discretionary sentencing system" they've developed there. It really is a must for anyone interested in developing the kind of sentencing information system we've talked about here, linking offender and offense info to guidelines and sentencing histories, with the goal of eventually connecting it all to recidivism data. The last is key. We really don't have a good idea of what sentences are most effective with what offenders, not the way we will be able to once we have this kind of related data infrastructure. And once we can link successes and failures to particular sentences, we can get serious about opting for the most cost-effective, or simply admit that "expressive justice" is always going to win. Go read. It's a big part of corrections sentencing policy's future.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

So You Want to Be a Sentencing Commissioner?

In part one of this two-part series, MD sentencing commissioner Russell Butler described how he got involved with the commission there. In part two he concludes with consideration of the commission's work and benefit of being a commissioner, including what you should ask yourself if you have the opportunity some day.

Ongoing work of the Commission

The Commission has over the years developed a routine. Normally the Commission meets four times per year and has an annual public hearing. After the legislature creates a new crime or changes the penalty of an existing crime, the [Guidelines] Committee meets and recommends to the Commission how the offense should be classified. Other changes have been made over the years. Most of the changes have been small and incremental. The Commission has always attempted to have a rationale when adopting any change. I believe and hope that the judiciary has better confidence in the guidelines today. In my view, we have reasonably considered issues that have been brought before us.

As I have served from the beginning of the Commission, I feel I understand the process because I have lived the institutional history. In many regards because of the change of membership, my personal belief is that there is far more posturing on the Commission now. In my view, arguments are made rather than compromises to create controversy in hope to stall change. Fortunately, despite not having the mutual compromises as had occurred in the past, the Commission has in my view continued to improve the guidelines, but I doubt that everyone on the Commission would so agree.

The benefit of serving on the Commission

While I understand my role on the Commission is to represent the perspective of victims and I believe I have done that, I also understand that my duty to the Commission is to take a broader public perspective. As such, I try to understand the perspective of the public, judge, prosecutor, defense attorney, probation officer, victim, etc. I believe in compromise and believe that I can help to make reasoned public policy to improve the justice system through the sentencing guidelines and COMAR provisions. I also hope that my colleagues also better understand the perspectives of crime victims and their interests because of my service in the Commission.

If you are interested in serving on the Commission, I hope that you ask yourself why. The correct answer as far as I am concerned would be that you are interested in issues and you want to participate in a dialog to improve sentencing policy. Be prepared to serve on a commission as an advocate to express your concerns on behalf of whom you were appointed. Be willing to listen to all of the perspectives of others and think about and address what the public would think about whatever the decision that is being considered. In the end, be reasonable and compromise to the extent that you can to be an effective policy maker acting in the interest of all.

Quick Hits

Some odds and ends on this Election Day. Blackprof reminds us of Robert Sampson's research on the impact of immigrants on crime. While he'll go down in academic history for his pioneering work with John Laub on life-course criminology, which should be a basis for any empirically-based policy, he also found that new immigrants actually reduce crime in the areas in which they settle, not increase it. Imagine, "common sense" about crime is exactly the opposite of reality. Who'da thunk??? . . . Real Cost of Prisons has a couple of pieces up on private prisons in CO and the mess the state is in. Hadn't mentioned CO and its quest to outdo CA in a while, so I appreciate the chance. . . . A Swedish study in the Archives of General Psychiatry indicates that steriod use doesn't apparently make users more likely to commit violent crimes, but is associated with crimes like weapons possession and fraud. Steroids make people do those things or just get used by people inclined to do them? And the steroid use seemed associated with other drug use. Still, since we imprison folks for ingesting drugs that make them abuse pizza on the grounds that they are associated with other crimes and future drugs, shouldn't we be locking up steroid guys? Including NFL and MLB ones? Track stars? Huh? Huh? . . . Finally, Adam Kolber at Prawfsblawg directs us to a CA company that is touting its use of MRIs as lie detectors, rather, directs attorneys to their services. What have we been saying around here? Here's his money quote: "Most neuroscientists will tell you that the technology is not up to snuff to apply in the trenches, so to speak, and many are skeptical that it ever will be. Nevertheless, the technology already raises important legal and ethical issues because it will not be long before a court will have to decide the admissability of such neuroimaging evidence when, say, a criminal defendant claims that it proves he has no recollections of a crime scene." Wise man. Say it loud, say it proud--"TECHNOCORRECTIONS!!!"