Thursday, January 25, 2007

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.

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