Wednesday, January 31, 2007

News and Blogs Together, Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Quick hits again today:
  • I had no idea the British approach to rape victims was still so far behind even what we do here, did you? Only 5% of reported rapes end in conviction? Jeez.
  • Here's the gov's message to the state legis in WI. Basically good man, basically good speech. But see if you can find any mention of the giant sword hanging over WI, its growing and about to explode corr sent crisis and the dollars that will be needed if things aren’t changed. Doyle can’t speak about it because he’s partly responsible for the crisis and for the sentencing commission there which was created to rein in some of the costs and prison populations but turned itself over to its retrograde judicial reps and failed the state. Yet without getting prison policy under control, virtually nothing he proposes here will be affordable. If WI wants to be a state that can accomplish these things, the first thing to do is to empower a real sentencing policy board with real authority, like what the Little Hoover Commission just proposed for CA. It’s sad to watch a state that I really enjoyed face such a downward spiral because certain judges there have too much sway over meaningful changes in sent policy.
  • Think Outside the Cage keeps up its good work covering the window opening for real corr sent reform and better public safety in CO with a link to this article. Good description of what happens to public safety and recidivism when corr programs cut to find more bedspace, straight from the DOC director: Zavaras said the rate of repeat offenders hit 50 percent after the state slashed $12 million in funding for mental health, education, drug and alcohol treatment, sex offender treatment and other programs after the economy went into recession in 2002.
  • AR (Arkansas, not Arizona) is having trouble hunting down parole violators, just the regular ones. And we want states to keep minute-to-minute track of sex offenders . . . .
  • ID, meanwhile, just wants to know how it's supposed to house all the convicted offenders it keeps bringing in.
  • Here's one for Doug Berman to consider. The NC Supreme Court is considering a case on restaurant liability in drunk driving. I understand the implementation problems, but this is just another example of our inconsistency and hypocrisy in dealing with "good" drugs and "bad" drugs. Dealers of "bad" ones end up in prison. Dealers of "good" ones will probably beat the rap in this case. Why we accept one and not the other (and I'm not saying drug dealers shouldn't be punished, just do the same to other sellers) is part of what future historians will be scratching their heads over.
  • Speaking of inconsistent and hypocritical, consider the implications of this research that indicates that smoking is the best way to get some drugs into the system.
  • Neuroethics & Law Blog alerts us to a coming Boston University School of Law & Medicine symposium on "Brain Imaging and the Law." It's really good to see the law schools grabbing hold of this issue. Now if they can just pull some corr sent folks in before the world gets too far ahead on this.
  • Finally, if you loved the Little Hoover Commission report on CA, you might be interested in the recent CA Legislative Analyst's Office report on the state's crim just system. I really appreciated its refusal to enter that swamp of estimating the intangible costs of crime and victimization, especially the famous "civil jury award" methodology that gives us numbers but shouldn't be used seriously (h/t Corrections Community).

Tony Fabelo Lives!!

Yesterday I noted that TX has reconstituted its state Statistical Analysis Center, abolished by a governor's veto after its head, Tony Fabelo of Technocorrections and other fame, didn't provide the right data (aka "wrong data") to back what the governor wanted to do. The governor obviously never heard the old "keep your friends near and your enemies nearer" thing. Tony showed back up before a legislative hearing there and proceeded to lay out reality for policymakers, who may be listening. Grits for Breakfast has some great details, and the story on the overall hearing can be found here.

What's Wrong with Irish Names?

IL is about to take action to keep judicial candidates from changing to Irish surnames prior to elections. I naturally think the practice might actually improve the wisdom employed from the bench, but basically I just thought this was weird and interesting enough to call your attention to it. No need to tell me if I'm wrong. (h/t Stateline)

[This could all be avoided if we followed the sane practice of state judicial appointments, with a major impact on criminal sentencing to boot, IMO.]

Global Warming, Corrections Sentencing, and Deniers

I've been reading a lot of the articles on global warming and the important report to be released Friday documenting the problem and the role we human types play in it. And, as I read the naysayers who doggedly and dogmatically disagree with reality, I've found myself thinking that these guys look and sound a lot like the folks who deny we have a disaster coming with the prisons we've built and the ones we'll keep building if we don't get our corr sent and public safety efforts attached to reality. Global warming deniers and prison harm deniers both have managed to cast enough doubt long enough to make the easier, less costly ways of dealing with these serious issues impossible now, and we just have to hope that we haven't already hit a tipping point in our ability to deal with them at all.

Some states are getting it, as we've noted here, CA, CO, TX. Here's a nice example of the whole situation from OK. Our corrections department having to beg for funding to get through the year, more money to deal with next year's increases, including building a new prison. But also a legislator clearly understanding what the state faces ("We can't sweep it under the carpet any longer," said Lerblance, D-Hartshorne. "If we don't take drastic measures ... we could be back in a situation where we're under federal jurisdiction running our penal system. We definitely don't want that.") and a sentencing commission director who nails the main flaw (Sentencing offenders to prison for drug and alcohol-related crimes is particularly problematic, Moon said. "People still think if we just punish people hard enough, we can stop them from using drugs, and that philosophy has just been a disaster," Moon said. "The reality is there's always going to be a market for drugs. "Thirty years ago we started this grand experiment to increase funding for criminal justice to head off this drug problem, and here we are 30 years later with 10 times the spending on prisons. Obviously, it isn't working.").

Of course, this "grand experiment"was done in the name of public safety, but crime is coming back now, as this story on Philly's situation shows. Odd that the criminals there aren't deterred by a jail system that could generate stories like this one. Keep in mind, though, that PA has had guidelines as long as anyone and they may be as tough as any due to their fixing only the minimum sentence. This just shows that guidelines cannot be counted on to address very legit public safety concerns. They only work on stopping crime by freeing up resources for other areas of public safety and, as said before, even that impact is probably only marginal compared to what the ebbs and flows of our culture accomplish on their own.

I'm interested in where the deniers will go if/when the crime rate increases persist despite the slathering on of the remedy they claim will protect us. With global warming, it's gone from "there's no global warming" to "there may be but humans didn't do it" to "well, humans may have done some of it, but it's not going to be that bad" to . . . ? Once the IPCC report comes out? Of course, some folks are still at the first question. We're seeing a lot of the same dynamic now with the prison harm deniers, some guys hanging on to the same old, tired claims that are fraying more and more as they speak and ignore but with many former skeptics now see that there's no light, just more and more tunnel. When TX starts coming around, when Republican and Democratic govs are calling for more and more alternatives, when budgets get so tight that basic functions can't be performed well and the courts still jump into our correctional business, isn't that the equivalent of ice sheets melting, stronger hurricanes, and being able to walk to the North Pole in shirt sleeves (okay, that last one hasn't happened yet)? It's time for us to deal with the "prison is the only way" crowd the same way we're going to deal with the "how can you have blizzards in global warming?" people. Like the Little Hoover folks said, we don't need more reports, we don't need more evidence, we don't need more debate. We need to ignore the deniers and we need to act. Before the shoreline gives us no choice.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

If You're Not Part of the Solution, . . .

Actually, I hate that cliche and all the bumper stickers that trail it, but sometimes, you know, even bromides seem to fit. This article will point you to some Repubs in CA attaching themselves firmly and irrevocably to the past and disaster. I say "some" Repubs because I know solid, traditional conservative policymakers in several states who have taken the lead in asserting sense and rationality in future spending and are tired of "throwing money at problems" in corrections sentencing. It looks like the state's Repub Gov can be counted in that group and I bet there are Repub legislators there in CA weary of throwing good money after bad just like they normally accuse the Democrats. The profligate and evidence-challenged Repubs quoted in this article blast the recent Little Hoover Commission report calling out policymakers just like them for talking the talk but not even crawling the walk. One of these guys thinks the state can actually operate an "oversight committee" ("bipartisan" no less) for FEDERAL COURTS. The Confederacy really would have loved to have them back then. I especially liked how one of them asserted that the Commission's proposed sentencing commission would be policymakers "abdicating" their responsibility to an "unelected, unaccountable" body. You know, like that well-known unconstitutional body, the FED, another nice example of a hot-potato issue and an agency created to handle it when policymakers proved incapable of measuring up to the responsibilities that these "spokepeople" claim. Here are the scariest words of all from these "responsibles": "It's time to step up and say, 'We'll deal with it the best we can.'"

If you have friends who live in CA, . . . pray.

Welcome to a Great New Blog

Via Prawfsblawg, we're alerted to the launch of a really, really promising new blog, The Situationist. I've visited and it promises to keep us all up-to-date on much of the neuro-related issues we're watching in corrections sentencing. It . . . oh, let's just let them describe themselves for you:

Our blog is associated with The Project on Law and Mind Sciences at Harvard Law School, a website for which will be coming soon. The Project is devoted to identifying, inventorying, archiving, blogging, and otherwise promoting research, writing, conferences, colloquia, and presentations directed toward understanding the implications of social psychology, social cognition, and other related mind sciences for law, policymaking, and legal theory. The Project was created by Jon Hanson and Michael McCann with valuable input from a The Situational Justice Reading Group at Harvard Law School and Carol Igoe. Our blog postings will examine related topics, particularly as they relate to law and society.

Our posts–several of which are already up–will address current events and law and policy debates, informed by what social scientists are discovering to be the causally significant features around us and within us that we believe are irrelvant or don’t even notice in explaining human behavior, that is “the situation.”

Situationism” represents a striking contrast to the dominant conception of the human animal as a rational, or at least reasonable, preference-driven chooser, whose behavior reflects stable preferences, moderated by information processing and will, but little else. Different versions of the rational actor model have served as the basis for most laws, policies, and mainstream legal theories, at the same time that social psychology and related social scientific fields have discovered many ways in which that model is wrong.

The Situationist, then, will be a venue in which the powerful, influential, but incorrect conceptions of the human animal come up against more accurate, if surprising and unsettling, realizations about who we are and what the law is and ought to be. Its content will reflect an emerging interdisciplinary trend in legal scholarship, as exemplified by the work of scholars such as Mahzarin Banaji, Gary Blasi, Martha Chamallas, Susan Fiske, Jerry Kang, Linda Hamilton Krieger, Lee Ross, David Yosifon and many others.

They've already got a nice post on MLK, some good stuff on Stephen Pinker and the illusion of consciousness. I'll check in often and alert you to particular posts, but you should go there yourself and get those hit counters clicking. Definitely worth your time.


Grits for Breakfast has raised a flag over the creation of a reconstituted Statistical Analysis Center in TX, primarily since the gov there got rid of the last one, one nationally known for quality, objective analysis because its chief's analysis didn't correspond with the gov's dogm . . . well-considered beliefs. I'll leave it to Grits to provide the tale in his own inimitable way, but I'll note one thing. I was OK's SAC director back in the late 90’s and ran afoul of the Governor and his Public Safety secretary for exactly the same reason Tony Fabelo did with the gov in TX. The SAC staff, however, oddly was picked by the state sentencing commission, which was chaired by two Dem legislators. After we were accused of "disloyalty," we, including the SAC, were put into the legis, but we were also told that no Public Safety agency would be allowed to partner with us on grant proposals, which were a major part of what we did. Largely as a result of that environment, I took a job in DC with the Justice Research and Statistics Association, the national liaison for all state SACs. The SAC in OK still exists but is not very active. SACs can be great resources for states, but (or perhaps because of that) these kinds of interference are not uncommon. Among the most effective SACs are those housed and buffered in universities, like MD where the highly respected Charles Wellford has been operating an exemplary show for years. One sign of whether TX is serious about its new version is to have Charles consult. You go ahead and start holding your breath. I'll catch up.

(And, yes, that Tony Fabelo is the guy crim just policy history will remember for raising the first flag about TECHNOCORRECTIONS.)

More NCJRS Abstracts, Tuesday, January 30, 2007


NCJ Number: 216785
Jeffrey A. Bouffard ; Lisa R. Muftic
Program Completion and Recidivism Outcomes Among Adult Offenders Ordered to Complete a Community Service Sentence
Journal of Offender Rehabilitation Volume:43 Issue:2 Dated:2006 Pages:1 to 33

The study found that offenders who exhibited several potential indicators of "seriousness" (e.g., those with prior arrest histories and those concurrently under parole/probation supervision) were more likely to fail during or be rearrested after their participation in the CS program. This suggests that a valid screening tool should be used in screening candidates for a CS sentence. Such a tool should expose offenders' risks and needs. The study also found that among those receiving a CS sentence, program completion reduced the risk of rearrest, controlling for the underlying propensity to complete the sentence. The study involved an analysis of the case files of 810 adult offenders ordered to complete community service hours during the period January 1, 2003, through December 31, 2003. All of the offenders were served by RESTORE, Inc., a nonprofit, community-based corrections agency committed to a restorative justice philosophy in the small metropolitan area of Fargo, ND. A smaller sample of 200 offenders was randomly selected from the larger sample for a preliminary recidivism analysis. During the period under study, 560 offenders (69.1 percent) had successfully completed their CS sentence. On average, the offenders were ordered to complete 57.6 hours of CS and had been given an average of 93 days to complete their CS order. 5 tables, 3 figures, and 25 references

NCJ Number: 216787
Lori Suzanne Golden ; Robert J. Gatchel ; Melissa Anne Cahill
Evaluating the Effectiveness of the National Institute of Corrections' "Thinking for a Change" Program Among Probationers
Journal of Offender Rehabilitation Volume:43 Issue:2 Dated:2006 Pages:55 to 73

Although reoffending differences were not statistically significant for program completers compared with offenders not assigned to the program, there was a trend toward a reduced number of offenses by program completers. There was a 33-percent reduction in the new offense rate among program completers compared to the control group. Differences in reoffending for new technical violations of probation conditions were statistically significant, with program drop-outs having dramatically higher rates of technical violations than either program completers or the control group. Certain factors significantly increased the likelihood of an offender receiving a new technical violation. These factors included being classified as "high risk" on an objective risk assessment instrument, being a program drop-out, and having poorer interpersonal problem-solving skills as measured by the Interpersonal Problem Solving skills Assessment (IPSSA). "Thinking for a Change" is currently used with adult offenders nationwide. It is based in cognitive-behavioral principles and consists of a scripted manual that states the content and objectives of each of its 22 sessions. Most sessions include instruction, role-play illustrations of concepts, a review of previous lessons, and homework assignments in which participants practice skills learned in group sessions. The program aims to identify and change the deficient interpersonal problem-solving skills that underlie offending behaviors. Participants in the evaluation were 142 adult men and women on probation and classified as medium risk, high risk, or high need by their probation officer. The control group consisted of offenders who met admission criteria for the program but who had not yet been referred to it. The drop-out group was composed of those who entered the program but had three to four absences. 2 figures and 32 references

NCJ Number: 216816
Kent R. Kerley ; Marisa C. Allison ; Rachelle D. Graham
Investigating the Impact of Religiosity on Emotional and Behavioral Coping in Prison
Journal of Crime and Justice Volume:29 Issue:2 Dated:2006 Pages:69 to 93

The results highlight an interesting relationship between religion and prison coping. For first-time offenders, as well as chronic offenders, the prison context forces inmates to deal with a range of negative emotions. Many inmates develop methods for negotiating the rules and regulations of the facility and will find ways to deal with the isolation, loneliness, and powerlessness of the situation. However, when inmates are not able to cope adaptively with incarceration, there exists the possibility of interpersonal aggression ranging from arguments to the use of lethal violence. Strong evidence was found suggesting a suppressing effect of religion on negative interpersonal relations. Religiosity appeared in both its cognitive and behavioral dimensions, to serve as a positive coping mechanism for inmates by directly reducing the likelihood of frequent inmate arguments. Study findings were consistent with a large body of research suggesting that religion might reduce anti-social behaviors and promote prosocial behaviors. Given the significant rise in incarceration rates over the past 30 years and the uniquely stressful context of prison life, many researchers have explored the degree to which individuals are able to cope with incarceration. Over the years, many factors have been explored for their potential impact on inmate coping. Using data from a representative survey of inmates (N=386) at a large prison facility in the Southeastern region of the United States, this study explored the degree to which religiosity impacted both the emotional and behavioral forms of prison coping. Tables, references

News and Blogs Together, Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Quick hits this evening:
  • An update on what's happening here with our corrections budget in OK. We're up to asking for $380 m. just for prison expansion and other necessary things (like raises for dedicated, hard-working researchers). That's for next year. Just to get through this year, we're asking for $47 m. To start.
  • More on the "serious crisis" in prison overcrowding hitting Britain. Not the Home Secretary this time as we've been detailing. This time it's the Chief Inspector of Prisons saying they've gotten to the point at which rehab efforts are starting to decline. Unlike most American states, which have been there for years, the British seem to feel it's self-defeating to send offenders back home with little reform and to just keep building cells in a never-ending cycle. Silly foreigners. Check out this quote about the need for and past lack of long-term planning: "It is normally considered good practice to build an ark before a flood not during it." I like the planning aspect, though. This is what is missing from so much of corr sent, the setting of plans with goals and objectives with measurable outcomes—here’s how much public safety and crime prevention we can expect spending this amount of dollars on alternatives from prisons to community. Then let's base our debates and discussions on that, not the usual horror stories and the claims of infinite resources.
  • Prevention Works has a nice post up on an effort in TN to get female offenders into campus classes to work on degrees. Their first class? "A study of the judicial process." Is that for their edification or just to twist the knife a little?
  • This headline should cause some nightmares for the soldiers in the "War on (Some) Drugs," not to mention the administrative troubles: "Drugmaker to test fat-fighting marijuana drug"
  • Not sure what to make of this. Gangster types in S. Korea survey as more satisfied in their work than the cops there. Not sure I'd have wanted to be the surveyer, either.

Monday, January 29, 2007

We Know How to Do It . . .

. . . so why don't we? Two excellent items today on how to deal with sex offenders in an effective public safety way (aka "not the way we do it"). Corey Yung at Sex Crimes Blog has an SSRN article that should serve as the foundation for any serious policy. From his abstract, words of nothing but wisdom:

. . . the best policy alternative for tailoring sex offender policy to the nature of the problem includes a move to individualization in sex offender sentencing; provisions for judges to have full access to relevant clinical, actuarial, and social science data about sex offenders; and allowing judges a full menu of sentencing options. These reforms will avoid the worst effects of residency restriction approaches while being substantially more effective in the fight against sex crimes.

And in WI, they're glomming onto the problems and haste associated with residency restrictions for offenders, popular in too many state towns there right now. The representative quoted is a sentencing commissioner there, a really good guy, former law enforcement, solid old school Republican, once again talking sense. Hopefully more people will listen to him than his commission colleagues did. The really good part of the article, though, is that someone FINALLY has bothered to contact Kim English in CO, one of the very best we have on sex offender policy in this country, to get her to weigh in. Once again, words of wisdom:

"If these ordinances worked, I'd be all for them," said Kim English, a national expert on managing sex offenders and director of the office of research and statistics for the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice. "They are emotionally based and not based on any of the evidence of what works and what doesn't. The best protection we can have is to know where they are at and who they are hanging around with." . . .

English, of the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice, said two unintended results of the Iowa law have been that more offenders are failing to comply with offender registry requirements and an increasing number are homeless, dangerous developments that make it difficult - if not impossible - to keep track of the offenders.

According to the Wisconsin registry, authorities have lost track of 26 sex offenders, and 33 others had failed to register but were eventually located by authorities.

The ideal situation is for offenders to be in a stable home, be required to receive treatment and to work, English said.

I always try to give Kim the last word.

News and Blogs Together

We can't stop our self-impressed, self-absorbed ingestion of substances to divert us from seriousness, and other nations pay the price. Here, we're talking about the way our noses and veins have become the major revenue source for and way out of poverty for the folks on Nicaragua's Caribbean coast. . . . CO continues to impress with its vigorous efforts to reverse the financial deadend its corr sent policy has been speeding it toward (h/t Sentencing Law and Policy). But they still have the overcrowded prisons in the here and now, with the problems associated with private prisons and moving inmates out of state. Not surprising that what they're doing will likely turn out counterproductive. Point #1:

Rep. Buffie McFadyen, D-Pueblo West, condemned the state's recent move of 240 inmates to a private prison in Oklahoma because state prisons are full. She said those inmates will fail because private prisons have a financial incentive for them to repeat their offenses and return. "If you make money off a body in a cell, don't you want repeat customers?" she asked.

Point #2:

Operators of Sayre's prison are willing to take Colorado's inmates for $54 a day, but only the best-behaved and healthiest offenders who don't require costly medical care. Others stay in Colorado.
Prisoners shipped far away from loved ones say they're being punished for good behavior. There is some truth to that complaint, acknowledged DOC officials, who don't like sending offenders out of state.

. . . Grits for Breakfast is doing some great work you should check out on the politics of state judiciary committees and how the “tough on crime’ posturing is abandoned when overseeing the consequences of it threatens to be placed on some policymakers. . . . Trying out the "shopping vouchers for drug addicts" idea in Britain. . . . If you aren't familiar with the issues and arguments, pros and cons, associated with regionalizing jails as a way of dealing with cost problems, then check out this piece as the topic heats up in ME. . . . In MT they're considering changes in their medical marijuana policy . . . to make it more available and easier to get. . . . Finally, Congress is hearing testimony on the feasibility of using MRIs and other imaging techniques to diagnose mental and psychological problems of returning vets. This is a good cause, if it works (no sure thing), but how big a step will it be to turn the use of the methods on accused and offenders, by either prosecution or defense? And once it's done ex post facto, you want to bet it won't be used ex post Minority Report? Haven't written much on this lately, but never forget these two words--TECHNOCORRECTIONS.

How To Guarantee Future Crime

The financial crisis in WI, caused in no small part by adopting a policy that required 100% of sentence served and then a period of "extended supervision" that turned out as long as or longer than the original incarceration, thus blowing their prisons out their wazoo, has led the state to a couple of very sad, long-term decision points. Here, the state's likely to cut a program with demonstrated success boosting the scores of poor and minority students. Here, the state's likely to cut more than 56,000 youngsters off subsidized child care. Save the money now, pay it quadruple a decade or so from now. The state is looking at a future like TX's, where, coincidentally, they have a state dropout rate of 33% but, God knows, they've got the prisons WI aspires to. The problem for WI is that TX has almost hit bottom and at least recognizes somewhat the need to start flapping its wings, weakly and with dead weight still to dispatch. WI still has far too many people deluding themselves that it is what it was a few decades ago, that it can indulge old vanities like "policymakers can't say what sentences should be," and won't start flapping seriously for several more years yet. It will be interesting to see what happens if/when WI passes TX on its way finally heading back up.

Bad Apples

Great catch by Doug Berman at Sentencing Law and Policy of exactly what we’re been criticizing here, the “power because I have it” approach of too many prosecutors, who delegitimize our system and the respect their conscientious colleagues need and deserve. And from a former prosecutor who has walked the path.

But there is someone in the system that is suppose to prevent these problems [the Wilson case in GA], not exploit them. That is the prosecutor. I became a prosecutor, for a few years, because I wished to crush the balls of sexual perverts and woman beaters. While I like to think my motives were noble, many lawyers find this kind of power intoxicating. Prosecutor offices are mostly staffed with young lawyers directly out of law school. The pay is not good, but the experience is unparalleled....

But most people do not do this type of work for long. Some, like me, just get sick of the whole thing. Most, after a few years, can make tons more money by moving to the private side. However, there are some who pretty much make a career out of it. Now some of these have the best of intentions. But all too many stay because, even though the dough is a lot better in a private firm, you do not have the opportunity to lop off heads on a regular basis. And that is what this is all about. In legal parlance it is called "prosecutorial discretion."

Nice to be confirmed. But then Doug hauls in another line drive, a new case of the “I’m incapable of ever being wrong” approach of too many “power because I have it” DAs, as if the cases in IL never happened, as if studies haven’t been done in other states without undermining attitudes on the death penalty.

Ohio's legal system hasn't sent anyone to Death Row who doesn't belong there, the head of the state prosecutors association says. He is urging Gov. Ted Strickland not to support a capital-punishment study. "There are no mysteries here. … The death penalty is in fact being applied to exactly those persons and to those crimes for which it was intended," John E. Murphy wrote in a Jan. 15 letter to the Democratic governor.

Murphy said a study, long advocated by capital-punishment opponents and Attorney General Marc Dann during his campaign last year, would "send the wrong message to the citizens of this state that there is something wrong with our death penalty." The only thing wrong, Murphy added, is that "it takes too long to get the penalty enforced."...

Of course, you can find other examples just by swinging a dead cat. Grits for Breakfast gives us another great example from DAs reacting to an Innocence Commission in TX, as if TX crim just hist is known throughout the world as just one unflawed tapestry free from error or incompetence.

Dave Mann at the Texas Observer explores the arguments in favor of a Texas Innocence Commission, as does Glenna Whitley at the Dallas Observer, and Sheron Patterson at the Dallas News.

I wanted to also link to a particularly hostile string on the prosecutors' user forum criticizing the proposal, but they appear to have taken it down.

However you can still read the DA's consoling one another that negative public perceptions of prosecutors don't matter because their critics are morons: "The understanding of our work and choices are not for the least common denominator," said an Amarillo prosecutor. "While the American society has generated great persons of deep understanding, we also came up with Susan Sarandon and Steve Urkel."

I hope that's exactly the attitude DAs take when the Innocence Commission comes up for debate at the Legislature. Such arrogance, indeed the utter failure to acknowledge reality, belies DAs' weak position in the debate. Too many exonerations have occurred over the last few years for anyone to believe their critics are all ignorant and ill-informed.

All you need to know about how any group of people can go wrong is to hear them say seriously, “We can’t be wrong.” Followed by “and if anyone says we are, they’re stupid or, worse, liberals.” And the hits just keep on coming.

Roy Brown was convicted of a brutal murder on the basis of dubious bite mark evidence. Fifteen years later, a DNA analysis proved that the state's bite mark expert was wrong.

What happened to Mr. Brown is hardly an aberration. Prosecutors have invoked bite-mark matches to secure convictions in numerous cases, only to see these convictions overturned when DNA or other evidence has become available.

In spite of the evolution of other forensic sciences, bite-mark analysis remains an inexact tool. A 1999 study by a member of the American Board of Forensic Odontology, a professional trade organization, found a 63 percent rate of false identifications.

Why do prosecutors consistently rely upon such consistently unreliable evidence?

There is, experts say, a mix of ignorance on the part of jurors and defense lawyers about the evidence’s scientific shortcomings and the overzealousness of prosecutors and their expert witnesses, who are seen as too quick to validate an unproven technique.

The problem, of course, is exactly what Grits says. Bad prosecutors and bad prosecutors do to our justice system exactly what bad cops and bad arrests do. Not only do they undermine the law's legitimacy, they cut the legs out from under the very many good prosecutors who do their jobs with true sense of justice and public purpose, not as Blues Brothers wannabes on a mission from God. I realize that this is not news, but do we really not see the connection between the breakdown in respect and authority for law among large segments of our communities and the abuse of the process and the people performed by these unguided missiles. I've known too many really good people in prosecutors' offices to feel anything but sadness about what's being done to their profession in the name of "winning" and by their own, all-too-predictable protection of their bad apples in the name of defending their profession. The problem for the rest of us is that, as their aftereffects ripple through our corrections sentencing system and through our communities, we all--victims, taxpayers, basic citizenry-- pay a price we just don't, and shouldn't, have to pay.

Across the Pond

Corrections sentencing issues have been heating up in Britain lately, with heavy echoes of what we are doing over here. You may remember a few days back that the British Home Secretary, looking at bursting budgets and more cost-effective options called for judges to limit prison terms to the violent and habitual types in the country and to send lesser offenders to alternatives, which drew howls from the "all who commit crimes are equal" folks and the judges who think their experience and unsurpassed wisdom are enough to decide sentences, thank you very much. Well, the Home Secretary is still catching heat, shouting the words of one who is about to quit--"I won't quit." That's brought forth this very thorough and familiar-sounding analysis from Yorkshire Today (h/t CrimProf Blog), which just shows they're as clueless as our policymakers in face of clear evidence of what works and what doesn't. Now, on top of all these problems, here's another familiar revelation--they've lost track of 322 sex offenders, primarily due to the problems of resources and implementation. If the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, which of us is the apple now and which is the tree? Does it really matter?

Maybe If They Get the Playboy Channel

(I don't even want to think about the advertising and sponsorship race this conjures up.)

A California felon housed in a Tennessee prison, in a video being used by California prison officials to recruit inmates in the state's overcrowded prisons to volunteer for transfer to lockups in other states.

(h/t Governing)

Sunday, January 28, 2007

More NCJRS Abstracts, Sunday, January 28, 2007


NCJ 216722
Leonard A. Jason Ph.D. ; Bradley D. Olson Ph.D. ; Joseph R. Ferrari Ph.D. ; Anthony T. Lo Sasso Ph.D.
Communal Housing Settings Enhance Substance Abuse Recovery
American Journal of Public Health Volume:96 Issue:10 Dated:October 2006 Pages:1727 to 1729

Results indicated that when compared to the treatment as usual group, participants living in Oxford Houses had significantly lower substance use (31.3 percent compared to 64.8 percent), significantly higher monthly income ($989 compared to $440), and significantly lower incarceration rates (3 percent compared to 9 percent). This lower rate of incarceration for Oxford House members corresponded to an annual savings of approximately $119,000 for the State of Illinois. If the average savings realized by Oxford House member productivity is added to this figure, the State of Illinois saved approximately $8,173 per Oxford House member per year. The findings suggest that the Oxford House model may be a promising type of recovery home for individuals seeking to maintain drug abstinence. The study compared 75 individuals who were randomly assigned to live in an Oxford House with 75 individuals who were randomly assigned to the usual after-care condition (usually outpatient treatment or self-help groups). Participants were interviewed every 6 months for a 24-month period. In addition to presenting evaluation results, the article also described the Oxford House model, which is a democratically self-run group home in which members support one another in their efforts to remain drug-free. All members, who are democratically elected to live in the houses, pay rent and perform chores. The Oxford Houses are run independent of professional help and all expenses are covered by members. Future research should examine the relationship between outcomes and individual differences among Oxford House members. References

NCJ 216759
Michael Wenzel ; Ines Thielmann
Why We Punish in the Name of Justice: Just Desert Versus Value Restoration and the Role of Social Identity
Social Justice Research Volume:19 Issue:4 Dated:December 2006 Pages:450 to 470

The findings supported the hypothesis that the just desert notion of justice was positively associated with support for traditional forms of punishment, particularly when participants did not identify with a relevant inclusive community. On the other hand, the value restoration notion of justice was positively associated with support for alternative punishment, particularly when community values were regarded as diverse and requiring consensus. The findings support the conceptual distinction of two different justice models following rule-breaking. Two different studies were employed. In the first study, 965 adult participants were drawn from the Australian electoral roll. Participants completed a survey that contained two scenarios depicting tax evasion offenses: (1) a company doctor who manipulated the company’s books to reduce their taxes by $200,000; and (2) a tradesperson who gave discounts for customers in return for being paid in cash, which illegally reduced taxes by $10,000. In both scenarios, the offenders had been previously arrested for a similar offense. Following the scenarios, participants answered a series of questions measuring the two different justice philosophies (just desert and value restoration) in relation to the tax evasion offenses as well as demographic information. The second study was designed to replicate the findings of the first study in relation to a different type of offense: social security fraud. Participants were 263 undergraduate students who answered questions measuring the 2 justice philosophies in relation to a scenario depicting a person who had been receiving government assistance payments but failed to inform authorities about the financial support from a de facto partner, which would have made the person ineligible to receive assistance. Data were analyzed using zero-order correlations and hierarchical regression models. Future research should examine the factors that encourage or inhibit support for restorative justice practices. Tables, figures, footnotes, references

NCJ 216757
Dena M. Gromet ; John M. Darley
Restoration and Retribution: How Including Retributive Components Affects the Acceptability of Restorative Justice Procedures
Social Justice Research Volume:19 Issue:4 Dated:December 2006 Pages:395 to 432

The findings from study 1 indicated that participants were willing to assign pure restorative procedures for less serious crimes but they overwhelmingly included a retributive component for more serious crimes. Study 2 results indicated that participants did not lower prison sentences for offenders whose conferences failed, nor did they punish these offenders with more severe sentences. Participants consistently lowered prison sentences for offenders who successfully completed restorative procedures. The findings suggest that citizens may be willing to embrace restorative practices for less serious crimes but require more retributive options as the seriousness of the crime increases. The first study focused on whether the seriousness of the crime impacted citizen’s perceptions of the role of punitive measures in restorative justice procedures. Participants were 57 undergraduate psychology students who participated for course credit. Participants were educated on the differences between pure restorative practices and punitive procedures and were asked to judge nine court cases in terms of whether the cases should go through pure restorative procedures, a mixed procedure, or the traditional court process. In Study 2, 43 undergraduate psychology students who were participating for course credit were randomly assigned to 1 of 2 conditions: (1) a no-fault conference outcome in which the victim and the offender from a mixed procedure had failed to reach an agreement, and (2) an offender-fault conference outcome in which a mixed procedure conference failed because of a lack of effort on the offender’s part. Participants were directed to answer questions related to the offender, such as likelihood of recidivism, and to offer their opinion of the sentence the offender should receive. Both studies were administered via Internet-linked computers. Data were analyzed using nominal logistic regression models and repeated measures ANOVA. Future research should attempt to replicate these findings with different populations. Tables, figures, footnotes, appendixes, references

Abe Lincoln on California Sentencing

"The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country."

Abraham Lincoln
Annual Message of December 1862

Friday, January 26, 2007

How Do You Spell "Halleluiah"?

Slashing the Gordian Knot in CA. The well-respected and accomplished Little Hoover Commission there has b--chslapped state policymakers with a wonderful report calling them out on their failure after failure after failure to pay attention to recommendations for reform of their crippling corrections sentencing system. "The State knows what the answers are," they say. "The status quo is not acceptable," they say. They call for replacement of the normal state debacl . . . approach here with something similar to the federal Base Closure and Realignment Committee. Not exactly the national professional group, the "Cincinnatus Committee" that I recommended a while back, but worlds better than depending on a traditional sentencing commission to get it done. AND, they come out in favor of Judge Frankel's original vision of a commission, with the power to make sentencing rules that would have to be explicitly overturned by the Gov or by a supermajority (two-thirds) of the state legislature. AND, they make explicit the importance of the data-reporting and evaluation role of that commission, our famous "sentencing information systems."

This is bold stuff, and these folks cannot receive too much praise for what they're doing. What's important here isn't just the proposal itself. The Little Hoover Commission has broadened the scope of the debate now. It's set a new and farther anchor in the "other side" of the prisons policy argument, within which less bold but now more far-reaching options can be considered without fear of being seen as the "extreme." Even if the Gov and the legislature once again live down to their past courage, the commission has changed what states from now on will have to consider when they are forced by dwindling resources, like CA, to address their own corrections sentencing policy. This alone will make their work and contribution enormously and historically important to this nation. And, should they actually pull this off . . . .

Everyone's focused on Cunningham right now, and that case may add a couple of cannons to the Commission's armaments. But this is potentially much bigger. This country, for good or bad, has historically been pulled by the gusts out of California. It's facing the most humungous version of the fiscal disaster facing many of the states right now. A workable framework for handling that financial hellhole would reverberate across every one of them. Success would set that framework for the nation. And the Little Hoover folks would cement its legacy not just for California but for all of us.

Great work. And good luck.

More NCJRS Abstracts, January 26, 2007


NCJ 216765
Dag Leonardsen
Crime in Japan: Paradise Lost?
Journal of Scandinavian Studies in Criminology and Crime Prevention Volume:7 Issue:2 Dated:2006 Pages:185 to 210

Japan was previously lauded as a country that enjoyed low crime rates, which scholars had associated with cultural characteristics unique to Japanese society. The author points out, however, that when registered crime began growing steeply in Western countries, Japan had very low crime rates as well as very low employment rates, which was contrary to the employment situation in Western countries. The author argues that Japan’s low crime rate, therefore, could be a function of economic conditions rather than cultural characteristics alone. In 1990, Japan’s “economic bubble” burst, thrusting the country into its highest unemployment rates since the 1930s. In addition to climbing unemployment rates, Japan has also suffered rising crime rates during the past 10 years that have fed what some term a “moral panic” in Japan. An analysis of crime rates in Japan is presented along with other indicators of rising crime, such as the formation of neighborhood watch groups, increasing sales for personal and home security items, and opinion surveys about fear of crime and victimization. The author agrees that in the time period before the economic crisis, the low crime rate in Japan was at least partly driven by cultural factors. However, the cultural characteristics that contributed to low crime rates during economically prosperous times have not had the same criminal deterrent effect during times of economic decline. The result has been that Japanese criminal justice and social policy has adopted ever-more retributive practices. Figures, footnotes, references

NCJ 216770
Myrna Dawson
Intimacy and Violence: Exploring the Role of Victim-Defendant Relationship in Criminal Law
The Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology Volume:96 Issue:4 Dated:Summer 2006 Pages:1417 to 1450

The findings revealed that, first, contrary to the widespread assumption that intimate partner violence is a crime of passion, evidence of premeditation and intent to harm was more frequent among the intimate partner homicides (41 percent) than among the non-intimate partner homicides (31 percent). Moreover, defendants who killed intimate partners were more likely to receive shorter sentences than those who killed other types of victims. Thus, even when there was evidence of premeditation, defendants who killed intimate partners were treated more leniently by the court than defendants who killed non-intimate partner victims. Data on 54 cases of intimate partner homicide and 54 cases of non-intimate partner homicide that were resolved by courts in Toronto, Ontario between 1974 and 1996 were drawn from coroner’s files, police records, crown attorney files, and newspaper archives. The two samples of homicide cases were compared according to the relative frequency of evidence of premeditation or intent. The author begins the analysis by identifying 10 perspectives about intimacy and violence found within the research literature. The 10 perspectives are divided into 3 focal concerns that have been emphasized by judges and other criminal justice decisionmakers: (1) defendant culpability; (2) protection of the public; and (3) practical constraints. For each perspective, the author offers a hypothesis about how such a perspective may lead to criminal justice leniency. The results of the current study should be considered preliminary. Future research should investigate how to systematically collect data on the non-legal variables that may impact criminal justice outcomes. Tables, footnotes, appendix

NCJ 216771
Benjamin Steiner ; Emily Wright
Assessing the Relative Effects of State Direct File Waiver Laws on Violent Juvenile Crime: Deterrence or Irrelevance?
The Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology Volume:96 Issue:4 Dated:Summer 2006 Pages:1451 to 1478

The results indicated that direct file laws, which streamline the process of removing juvenile offenders from juvenile court jurisdiction to allow for prosecution in adult criminal court, had little significant effect on violent juvenile crime rates. The analysis revealed that direct file laws had a significant deterrent effect on violent juvenile crime in only one State: Michigan. All the remaining 13 States experienced either no effect of direct file laws on juvenile crime or actually experienced an increase in their arrest rate for violent juvenile crime. None of the 14 States observed a drop in their juvenile homicide/manslaughter rate following implementation of their direct file waiver law. The authors offer several explanations for why direct file laws did not provide a general deterrent effect, including arguments from developmental psychologists who highlight the different perceptions of risk held by juveniles in comparison to adults. Data under examination included monthly arrest data for juvenile violent crime for the years 1975 through 1993 and for the years 1994 through 2002 from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reports. Monthly arrest rates in the 14 States were analyzed using autoregressive integrated moving average (ARIMA) techniques. States under analysis were Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Vermont, Virginia, and Wyoming. Tables, footnotes, appendixes

Misuse and Abuse of Victims

Back in the '90s sentencing reform movement in OK, the prosecutors and law enforcement types were pushing a version that would have moved the state's prison pop from around 20,000 to over 50,000 in 20 years (really, I'm not kidding, I did the projections). This came in response to the state sentencing commission's consideration of a NC-like reform putting more reliance on treatment for nonviolent, nonhabitual offenders. At one commission meeting, they lined the walls with victims and victims' families to speak out against the commission draft (which, coincidentally, received exactly the same support from crime victims as non-victims in a poll that was being circulated that day, which reflected the usual finding that victims as a whole, not just the vocal ones, rarely have drastically different views of sentencing policy from the general public). A few of the wall-liners spoke. The one that I still remember was a tragic woman, probably 40s, strikingly attractive, who told movingly and with that affect achieved by those who have overcome their fear of public speaking to make her case of how her son and his girlfriend had been killed by a teen who had a violent history and hadn't been properly punished by the state. So, she said, she supported the heavily adult prison-oriented reform pushed by her sponsors. She couldn't bear the thought of another parent living with the crushing loss she had endured. She and others did have an impact. The commission's version eventually crashed and burned, in no small part because of the activation of people like her. Fortunately for the taxpayers of OK, the final product didn't incorporate the alternative version the grieving mother was pushing either.

Did you catch the problem with this narrative? The woman's son was killed by a teen who had been in and out of OK's, uh, frequently interesting juvenile justice system. So she was pushing an adult prison increase proposal that would . . . funnel yet even more money away from the juvenile justice system whose failure had contributed to her son's death. In the name of no more deaths.

No one pointed out the contradiction in what she was, very bravely, doing in true ignorance. That would have been extraordinarily cruel. But not anywhere as cruel as what was done to her by her sponsors who had marshalled the troops like her around the committee room that day. I was furious and frustrated and prayed that I would never again see some poor, well-intentioned person get conned into doing something that actually was 180 degrees from what s/he really wanted to accomplish.

Prayers don't always come true.

News and Blogs Together, Friday, January 26, 2007

A couple of interesting research releases today. Through sheer serendipity, scientists have found a site deep in the brain that seems to destroy the urge to smoke, with clear implications for other addictive problems. And the Urban Institute reports that children growing up in poverty cost us at least $500 b. annually through their lower productivity and earnings and greater crime efforts and health problems. A nice touch--the article cites a Republican scholar who basically signs off on the findings. Good to know we're putting so much of our resources into that well-known anti-poverty prison program. . . . Looks like the latter report wouldn't be news to CA residents, who are responding to polls by saying more funding should go to health care . . . and less to prison growth, which should help the impact of the Little Hoover Commission report discussed in the post above (h/t Real Cost of Prisons). . . . If you get a chance, run over to Grits for Breakfast and catch out the great job he's doing on the politics of prisons in TX, including this calling out of the "our prison growth is due to population growth, not idiotic policy" claim. . . . Prevention Works does a nice job following up on its coverage of the genetic influences scientists are finding on dispositions toward crime and antisocial behavior, particularly by highlighting a recent Scientific American special edition. . . . More research. Here we find out that serial killing tends to vary by geographical region, with the NE being your safest place. The basics: The study found that social structural factors, such as the percentage of a state's urban population, divorced residents, one-person households and unemployed residents, all helped to explain why some states and regions are home to more male serial killers. The study also found that cultural factors, such as a high ratio of executions to homicides and classification as a southern state, correlated with a higher rate of serial killers. And, in this piece, it may not be alcoholism, it may be binge drinkers. Less than 2% of NM residents hit the definition of "alcoholic" but 16.5% are "excessive drinkers," meaning that our social problem of alcohol abuse may be a little different than we've ever looked. I especially liked the part of the story near the end where a physician is quoted: "Do we prevent heart attacks by standing in the ER and waiting for people to roll in with chest pain?" he asked? "No. We treat high blood pressure and cholesterol with the idea of preventing it. It's folly not to do the same with alcohol use. Otherwise, we're a day late and a dollar short." I've always liked the hospital analogy for what we do in criminal justice. Just one example--thinking we can best deal with crime by overemphasizing prisons is like thinking we can best deal with illness by overemphasizing hospitals. Wouldn't buy the latter, but we fall completely for the first. (Wait, analogy . . . or simile?) . . . Remember our earlier note of the "extreme" drunk driver penalty in AZ. They're tinkering with it, trying to fit more rehab in and less incarceration. Which sounds good until you realize that that means that "extreme" drunks get better options than non-extreme drunks and that the availability of the rehab depends on how much money the drunk has. Oh, well, laws and sausages. And criminal justice data. . . . While in NV, concerns about crossing the line in implementation of faith-based programs into proselytizing has ended an anti-drug program. . . . Cash running out for all the mandatory-minimum drug sentences in MA? See if you can read this rehash of the phasing out of our mental health institutions a couple of decades back and not get chill bumps about what's going on now? Back then, the state adopted a policy of emptying out the institutions and integrating the mentally ill back into the community, where they’d receive services. Community-based mental-health care was touted as humanitarian reform. But, Levin says, "the real reason for this policy shift was to cut costs at the expense of mentally ill people who needed services." In the same way, he adds, "the underlying motivation for relaxing mandatory minimums has an economic basis." I couldn't.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

More NCJRS Abstracts, Thursday, January 25, 2007


NCJ 216711
Kris Henning ; Brian Renauer ; Robert Holdford
Victim or Offender?: Heterogeneity Among Women Arrested for Intimate Partner Violence
Journal of Family Violence Volume:21 Issue:6 Dated:August 2006 Pages:351 to 368

The analysis indicated that the women convicted of heterosexual IPV could be divided into four distinct subcategories: (1) no prior violence; (2) primary aggressor; (3) primary victim; and (4) primary aggressor not identified. Findings indicated that as a group, the male partners of these women were more violent and controlling than the women themselves. Couples in which the male was the primary aggressor were between three and eight times more prevalent than couples in which the female was the primary aggressor. Self-report data revealed that over half the cases involved a male primary aggressor while arrest data indicated that 60 percent of cases involving prior police contact had a primary male aggressor. Around 8 percent of women were considered the primary aggressor. The findings suggest that there is more similarity among women arrested and convicted of IPV than has previously been acknowledged. Additionally, the data suggest a relationship pattern of IPV consistent with women using violence as a self-defense tactic. Participants were 485 women convicted of domestic assault against a male intimate partner in Shelby County, TN. Participants completed questionnaires regarding their demographic information, their relationship, the offense for which they were arrested, prior relationship aggression, prior police involvement, domestic violence recidivism, family history, legal history, and mental health. Data were also drawn from the county-level arrest records of the participants. Data analysis involved the calculation of difference scores in relationship aggression using the women’s self-reported and police-reported IPV victimization and perpetration. Future theoretical and empirical research is necessary to build knowledge of the small but growing group of women who are arrested for IPV. Tables, references

NCJ 216742
Arielle Baskin-Sommers ; Ira Sommers
Methamphetamine Use and Violence Among Young Adults
Journal of Criminal Justice Volume:34 Issue:6 Dated:2006 Pages:661 to 674

Results of the study suggest that developmental factors are important contributors to violence. Anger, frustration, and situational opportunities were short-term motivating influences for violence. For many of the study sample participants that engaged in violence, chronic methamphetamine use had a disorganizing effect on their cognitive functions. The most significant pharmacologic determinants of the methamphetamine-violence link are the dose and the chronic exposure to the drug. At acute low doses, methamphetamine produces cognitive and mood alterations, but tends not to increase offensive-aggressive behavior. With increasing dose and long-term use, methamphetamine users tend to display psychological and physical deterioration, as well as changes in their social behavior. Many people behave aggressively when under the influence of drugs. It is apparent from these findings that methamphetamine use is a risk factor for violence. The findings have important implications for interventions aimed at reducing methamphetamine use and violence. The results suggest the importance of improving collaborative efforts across multiple intervention systems. Empirical evidence concerning patterns of violence is sparse, particularly its relationship to violence among young adults. This study was designed to explore the relationship among methamphetamine use and violence among young adults. The study sample included 55 respondents in drug treatment and 51 active community methamphetamine users. The majority of respondents were male Hispanic high school graduates in their 20s. Figure, tables, references

NCJ 216766
Mirka Smolej ; Janne Kivivuori
Relation Between Crime News and Fear of Violence
Journal of Scandinavian Studies in Criminology and Crime Prevention Volume:7 Issue:2 Dated:2006 Pages:211 to 227

Results indicated that exposure to tabloid front page stories was significantly associated with avoidant behavior and higher levels of fear of violent victimization. Moreover, people who exposed themselves to many different sources of crime news were more likely to fear violence than those exposed to fewer crime stories. These findings remained significant after controlling for personal and vicarious victimization experiences. Other findings revealed that unemployment status was significantly associated with fear of violence. This last finding lends support for a “vicarious fear theory” in which fear of crime anxiety may be created and propelled by other stressful life situations, such as unemployment. Data were drawn from the 2003 Finnish National Crime Victimization Survey, which included a representative sample of 8,163 individuals aged 15 years or older. Bivariate and multivariate regression models were used to examine the impact of two types of crime news exposure--exposure to crime-related tabloid headlines and the scope of exposure to different sources of crime news--on individuals’ avoidant behavior and fear of violent victimization. Future research should focus on the development of new indicators of crime news reception in order to better examine the relationship between different media products and fear of crime. Limitations of the study are discussed and include the exclusion of factors related to the personal characteristics of respondents. Tables, footnotes, references, appendix

One Odd, One End

He doesn't brag on himself much, but Kim and the DC commission he directs have completed some substantial work on evaluating the district's experience with guidelines. For those of you interested in advisory guidelines, Kim's conclusion is "Our preliminary assessment seems to demonstrate that voluntary guidelines schemes are not only constitutional, but can work under the right circumstances - although it is reasonable to be skeptical that such schemes will always work." If you'd like to review the full report, have at it here (under "publications"). (And here you can find the key conditions for an effective advisory commission from an article Kim and I published a couple of years back if you want more to digest. We haven't heard of it coming back up on anybody yet . . . ew, sorry.) . . . And here's a link to the recent BJS report talking about how death rates in prison are less than in the general population. One thing that struck me as odd, telling, and sad. Non-black inmates apparently had a slightly higher death rate than the general pop, but the reason the stats came out as they did was because the death rate of African-American inmates was 58% below the rate for African-Americans in the general population. I'll leave it to you to parse out what that means. I don't think I really want to hear your explanation.

News and Blogs, Thursday, January 25, 2007

USA Today has caught on to the increases in violent crime in many of our cities, stressing what's happening in NJ, WI, FL, and KY, but giving the background of fewer cops and more stretched system that we're familiar with already. The key to the article is the concern that the resurgence of these cities will decline if crime levels take off again. But note that these states are all states that have current prison pop problems after having been "tough on crime." Let's ask this question: Are we being tough on crime or just on offenders? There's a difference and we don't always get it. NY did, putting more into law enforcement than prisons, compared to other states, and got some of the lowest crime in the country. Maybe these other cities and their states could follow suit. . . . Certainly the NY Times believes that we've gone overboard with the incarceration, to the deficit of other, more effective things we could have done and of the offenders we're virtually begging to take up crime again once we let them out, thanks to all the obstacles to going straight we throw up (h/t Sentencing Law and Policy). . . . Prevention Works has another good post up, this time on increases in violence among teen females and the difficulties we're having finding ways to deal with it. Interestingly, these folks devoted to preventing crime and victims don't mention corrections as a good way to do so. . . . New MRI research has id'ed the area of rat brains that develop in response to learned fear. Maybe this is a new area for technocorrections policy (for humans, not rats). Much of our public attitude toward crime is driven by learned fear and the presentation of crime as more prevalent for most folks than it really is. The scientists affected the rats' fear by blocking responses to the fear area--would it work for people, too? Okay. Going a little weird here, I admit. Still, another good article on what we're learning about brains. . . . TN is patting itself hard on the back for being proactive after the Blakely decision and avoiding the problems CA now faces after Cunningham. . . . Even after you have success getting meth use down, there remain social costs. MT is looking at $10 m. this year. . . . TX is looking at needing to build at least 4000 more prison beds, $50-$75 m. more a year. No wonder the saner heads there (both of them, including Grits) are finally getting serious about alternatives. . . . Here's one to get Doug Berman's attention. VA is considering a bill that would require drunk drivers with 3 or more convictions to have a special license tag for 5 years id'ing them as drunk drivers. The "it would hurt these irresponsible and repeat offenders to shame them" folks are against it, and similar ones have failed in the past. But sometimes ideas take hold and could save the offenders and their families from the shame of prisons and worse in the future. We'll try to keep on top of it. . . . Finally, speaking of Doug and while we're still on the warpath about outrageous and irresponsible prosecutors, here's some great news about the ethics complaint the NC state bar has filed against the Duke lacrosse prosecutor. This and so many other cases show that more oversight of this type is badly needed. It's obviously not coming from anywhere else. Censure by appellate courts has never been ineffective, as the OK Co. DA and his underlings showed for years by being censured frequently for very similar but less publicized behavior and consistently reelected. In a system predicated on the importance of checks and balances, where are the institutional checks on this most powerful group of public officials? Why aren’t there more? And, going back yet one more time to the horrible case of Genarlow Wilson in GA, the 18-year-old young man doing 10 years for having consensual sex with a 16-year-old girl, the prosecutor there proves himself even more worthy of denunciation and, hopefully, something a bit more physical someday. He generously admits that Wilson shouldn't be in prison for 10 years. He should only be in for 5, as was offered in the plea bargain, but Wilson was so stupid for believing he'd done nothing wrong and, well, just look what being stupid will do to you. Just read these sections from Doug and tell me if I've missed anything about the obnoxious and ignorant self-righteousness of these guys (remember, 10 years for consensual sex with a female two years younger):

Barker is quick to point out that he offered Wilson a plea after he'd been found guilty — the first time he has ever done that. Of course, the plea was the same five years he'd offered before the trial — not taking into account the rape acquittal. Barker thinks five years is fair for receiving oral sex from a schoolmate. None of the other defendants insisted on a jury trial. Wilson did. He rolled the dice, and he lost. The others, he says, "took their medicine."

At the same time this trial was under way, a local high school teacher, a white female, was found guilty of having a sexual relationship with a student — a true case of child molestation. The teacher received 90 days. Wilson received 3,650 days. Now, if Wilson wants a shot at getting out, he must throw himself at the prosecutors' feet and ask for mercy, which he might or might not receive. Joseph Heller would love this. If Wilson would only admit to being a child molester, he could stop receiving the punishment of one. Maybe. "Well," Barker says, "the one person who can change things at this point is Genarlow. The ball's in his court."

One more time. Obedience to law and prevention of crime depend far more on community acceptance of the law's legitimacy and the justness of punishments alloted. Just, in the words of another prosecutor, "because we can" is not the foundation of a criminal justice with much hope of achieving its mission. The Wilson case, like so many others, is about power, not justice, "because we can," not because we should. There will be crimes committed by young men familiar with the Wilson and other similar nearer to them that wouldn't have been committed but for their realization that, in a world of Barkers, it really doesn't matter if they try to live good lives. And that means victims who didn't have to be. But there's absolutely no hope that the Barkers and the Duke lacrosse guy or any of the others or their supporters will ever have a clue of the criminal behavior that results from what they do. Should any of them be reading this, I have no doubt they're scoffing, rolling eyes, and thinking I'm a moron or worse.

I can live with that.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Even More NCJRS Abstracts


NCJ 216758
Jim Sidanius ; Michael Mitchell ; Hillary Haley ; Carlos David Navarrete
Support for Harsh Criminal Sanctions and Criminal Justice Beliefs: A Social Dominance Perspective
Social Justice Research Volume:19 Issue:4 Dated:December 2006 Pages:433 to 449

Results indicated that support for group-based social inequality (dominance) was positively correlated with support for all three types of harsh criminal sanctions as well as support for the dominant criminal justice beliefs that are used to justify criminal justice practices. The findings also revealed that support for harsh criminal sanctions was at least partly motivated by the desire to establish and maintain group-based dominance, which was then justified in terms of moral norms such as retribution and/or causal beliefs such as the belief in deterrence. Participants were undergraduate students who participated to fulfill a course requirement. Participants completed a Likert-type questionnaire measuring three criminal justice beliefs: (1) belief in general deterrence; (2) belief in specific deterrence; and (3) belief in retribution. The questionnaire also measured support for harsh criminal sanctions (support for the death penalty, general punitiveness, and support for torture) and support for group-based dominance and social hierarchy. Structural equation models were used to analyze the relationship between support for group-based dominance and support for harsh criminal sanctions. Future research should examine whether criminal justice practices contribute to the production and maintenance of group-based dominance. Table, figures, references

NCJ 216747
Alfred Blumstein
Crime Drop in America: An Exploration of Some Recent Crime Trends
Journal of Scandinavian Studies in Criminology and Crime Prevention Volume:7 Issue:1 Dated:2006 Pages:17 to 35

There are two major components in explaining the crime drop in the United States in the 1990s. First, is the undoing of the rise in violence by young people with handguns between 1985 and 1993. Second, was the general continuation of the crime drop by people over 30 that had begun before 1980. The drop by the young people was significant and has consumed much of the attention. The crime decline of the 1990s largely came to an end by 2000. The period between 2000 and 2005 saw no significant change in aggregate violence rates. One issue that has attracted considerable attention in the United States and around the world has been the impressive decline in violent crime in the United States from about 1993 to 2000. In particular, murder and robbery rates both declined over 40 percent during that period. There has been a widespread search for explanations of this trend. This study examined the data on the crime decline and a variety of explanations that have been proposed. The focus is on murder and robbery because they are both well defined crimes and are well measured in police reports. The study examined the effects of incarceration, changing demographics, policing and control of guns, and the changing nature of markets selling crack cocaine. Figures, references

NCJ 216748
Serge Brochu
Evidence-Based Drug Policies
Journal of Scandinavian Studies in Criminology and Crime Prevention Volume:7 Issue:1 Dated:2006 Pages:36 to 45

The question under consideration is which route should be used in treating drug abuse: prevention, punishment, or rehabilitation. Research suggests that drug abuse prevention and treatment have statistically and clinically significant effects. Studies clearly indicate that many drug treatment strategies offered in jails or prisons are more effective than incarceration alone in reducing recidivism. Research has made it possible to identify successful prevention and treatment programs for drug abusers. This paper addresses what scientific research tells us about effective programs and how this information could be used to guide drug policies. The paper addresses three types of drug policies: drug laws, drug prevention strategies, and drug treatment strategies that might be used to improve drug policies. For each of these areas, the paper discusses what criminological research tells us about the best practices. References

News of the Day, Wednesday, January 24, 2007

In Britain, the Home Secretary and "law chiefs" have asked, very respectfully, I'm sure, the nation's judges and magistrates to use the nation's prisons for the dangerous and/or habitual (they call them "persistent") offenders, given the pressure on budgets and facilities. Of course, you have the usual "justice has no price (as long as I can get someone else to pay it)" guys, but imagine if you had the same dynamic on the federal level here, the Attorney General and national chiefs' organizations doing it. Might even make the news. . . . Speaking of our federal government, currently dithering and actually making things worse in many ways, several states are moving forward on trying to get public safety cost-effectively managed, maxing safety and bang for the buck. I know we usually talk about the encouraging (and frequently surprising) efforts of the CO's, CA's, TX's, et al., but here are some updates on what's happening in other states: AR (Arkansas, not Arizona), NV, and even UT. These articles are just promising, and even a little bittersweet, like this one on obstacles in DE, but at least some eyes are opening. . . . Surprise. You increase sanctions and monitoring on sex offenders, more cases go to trial, you need more money for their prosecution. No one saw this in advance? Oh, well, yeah, but they didn't fund it. Now we think they will? The DAs can just pick up the cost themselves? And what goes by the boards when they triage their budgets? And, as the article notes, if you have more cases and more prosecutors, think you might need more public defenders? And more funding? Just pity these poor public officials when the "reforms" don't produce anything close to what their promoters claim and, in fact, will more likely produce things we don't want. . . . Finally, here's a nice example of what states can do for crime victims, making employers provide time to attend court, one of the biggest problems victims face. Of course, we should just allow humanity's basic goodness to provide these benefits, opponents are basically arguing, and we're all for victims' rights, but goodness, this is going to cost money. Okay, whatever. Rhetoric v. reality. Once again, we see what drives most people's attitudes and actions in corrections sentencing, don't we?

Around the Blogs, Wednesday, January 24, 2007

More from Sex Crimes Blog on the case of Matt Bandy, that AZ teen who got nailed on child porn charges after a virus deposited pictures on his computer. The case ended up so weak that they ended up getting him to plead guilty to showing a Playboy to a minor. I'm not making that up. (The potential liability of, oh, say, 100 million males in this country caused that loud thumping sound you just heard.) The outrageousness, though, isn't limited to this ridiculousness. The story details the insanity, and Sex Crimes spells out some of the lunatic restrictions put on the boy. Please go read. This isn't even Alice in Wonderland. But here are a few more quotes that need noting:

Power corrupts. The ability to arrest and imprison another human being is an immense power that is held in bounds by principles based on common sense and common decency. The principles allow an accused to defend himself: for example, the right to confront witnesses.

The extraordinary reduction in Matt’s charges hinged on a forensic analysis of his computer. Exculpatory forensics revealed that the nine images were probably downloaded without his knowledge onto his hard drive by a virus. Viruses with this capability are alarmingly common and can invisibly infect an operating system when someone clicks on an email attachment or the ‘wrong’ (not necessarily adult) website.
Last year, during the height of the
Mocbot worm, an estimated 265,000 computers were infected daily.
Matt’s attorney vigorously sought to have forensic analysis performed on the computer, which was in possession of the police. With equal vigor, the District Attorney’s office (called the County Attorney’s office in Arizona) blocked access even though the defense had a legal right to examine evidence.

The "sex offender terms" were finally lifted by court order. When Prosecutor Daniel Strange reiterated the child pornography charges, the judge admonished, "I’ll just note for the record, as you were negotiating the plea agreement here, the reason why this agreement took place is because you couldn’t prove the things you just alleged now."
Why was the boy pursued so zealously? Jeanne calls it "a witch hunt" fueled by two factors: Thomas campaigned for office on a promise of being tough on sex offenders; and, he needs a high conviction rate in that area.
The real answer, however, may be the one Matt’s attorney reportedly received when he asked the County Attorney’s office, "Why are you doing this?"
According to Jeanne, he answered,
"Because we can."

Because we can. Like when we asked the DA state rep in OK just how were we supposed to pay for the "reform" the prosecutors were pursuing and she said, "That's not our problem."

From now on, please don’t admonish me when I talk about some prosecutors as being “bad.” Too many of them are like this guy and the Duke lacrosse prosecutor and they tarnish all the good ones out there who temper ambition and self-righteousness with a sense of the true public good. Here’s another example, another case of virus deposits, this time on a teacher's computer, also from Sex Crimes, only less egregious because what happened to Matt Bandy is on a par with the prosecutions of the day care workers in the '80s:

Detective Mark Lounsbury, a computer crimes officer at the Norwich Police Department testified as an expert witness for the prosecution. He maintained that Amero was intentionally surfing for pornography while her seventh grade class busied itself with language arts.

Lounsbury told the court that Amero musts have "physically clicked" on pornographic links during class time in order to unleash the pornographic pictures. However, he admitted under cross-examination that the prosecution never even checked the computer for malware.

When you've been delegated by God to do His work, things like evidence and verification just get in the way. My walls just have too many fist holes in them any more. . . . And check Real Cost of Prisons for a couple of interesting stories, one about PA completely ignoring the experience of its WV neighbors we discussed the other day and going bigger time into methodone treatment and one on some of the creative things TX (!!) is considering to make headway in dealing with offenders and stopping recidivism, including home nurses to work with lower-income mothers and a program on entrepreneurism (will drug dealers be teaching it??). TX started much of the hole we're in now and shouted for everyone to help them dig. I hope that now that it's wanting to fill the hole up, we'll also pay attention.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

More NCJRS Abstracts


NCJ 216730
Richard J. Wolitski
Relative Efficacy of a Multisession Sexual Risk--Reduction Intervention for Young Men Released From Prisons in 4 States
American Journal of Public Health Volume:96 Issue:10 Dated:October 2006 Pages:1854 to 1861

Results indicate that a multisession community reentry intervention can significantly reduce sexual risk behaviors for young men leaving prison. Evaluation results revealed that the men in the multisession intervention had significantly lower rates of unprotected intercourse at the 24-month follow-up than men in the single-session intervention. This difference between the two intervention groups remained after controlling for the amount of time since the last intervention contact. Prerelease data for the sample revealed high levels of unprotected sex and substance abuse, which represent major public health concerns. Enhanced interventions with men released from prison should focus on addressing sexual risk behaviors within the context of competing threats to health and well-being. Participants were 522 young (aged 18 to 29 years) male prisoners who were recruited in 2001 and 2002 from 8 State prisons in 4 States: California, Mississippi, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin. Participants were assigned to the multisession or the single-session intervention based on their month of recruitment or their month of anticipated release. Participants were assessed before release and 1 week, 12 weeks, and 24 weeks following release. Assessments were performed using the Questionnaire Development System audio computer-assisted self-interview technology and focused on life circumstances, utilization of community resources and prevention services, substance use, sexual practices, HIV and STI beliefs, depression and coping, and demographic characteristics. Logistic regression models were used to assess intervention outcomes. Tables, references

NCJ 216739
Mark T. Berg ; Matt DeLisi
Correctional Melting Pot: Race, Ethnicity, Citizenship, and Prison Violence
Journal of Criminal Justice Volume:34 Issue:6 Dated:2006 Pages:631 to 642

Results indicate that the most violent inmates were Hispanics and Native Americans among males and African-Americans and Native Americans among females. Asian inmates were the least violent inmate group. Citizenship was found to be unrelated to prison violence among the sample in the study. The United States correctional population is becoming more diverse and comprised of increasingly more violent inmates. The enormity of the correctional population, its growth, and the racial and ethnic disparities that it conveys are upsetting. The question raised in this study is whether the racial and ethnic composition of the correctional population influences prison violence. Utilizing a sample of 1,005 inmates, this study explored the racial, ethnic, and citizenship correlates among male and female inmates. The results of this study contribute to an empirical base for an increasingly important research area, the intersections between criminal defendants, their racial and ethnic characteristics, and their effects on prison violence in an era of increasing variability between prison and community. Tables, references

NCJ 216768
Alice Ristroph
Desert, Democracy, and Sentencing Reform
The Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology Volume:96 Issue:4 Dated:Summer 2006 Pages:1293 to 1352

The author proposes that external limitations, such as those imposed by a branch of government not itself responsible for exercising the power, will be the most effective means of placing restrictions on penal power. The main argument is that contrary to previous scholarly claims, the desert principle does not act as a limiting factor for the imposition of punishments but in fact operates in the opposite fashion to justify increasingly severe punishments. The principle of desert asserts that criminal punishments should be no more severe than what offenders deserve. Current advocates of this principle contend that desert operates as a limiting principle that sets the upper and lower limits of the range of punishments allowed in the pursuit of non-retributive criminal justice goals. The author analyzes this claim and argues that, on the contrary, desert operates more as an illimitable (unlimited) factor than a limiting factor. The author illustrates how desert is “elastic” in legal and political practice, which means that desert punishments remain difficult to define and are easily stretched to accommodate increasingly severe punishments. Evidence is presented that shows how increasingly severe punishments have been popularly justified and defended using the language of desert. The author further argues that desert punishments take on an “opaque” quality in which judgments of desert are influenced by extralegal considerations, such as racism. The extralegal factors impacting judgments of desert remain hidden (opaque), however, by the legal apparatuses that provide a moral authority to desert claims. Due to the opaqueness of their nature, judgments based on prejudice are shielded from meaningful scrutiny because of the moral authority provided by “just desert” claims. Footnotes