Friday, January 26, 2007

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.

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