Wednesday, February 28, 2007

More NCJRS Abstracts, February 28, 2007--Sex Offender Research, Part One


NCJ 217125
Gregory A. Parks ; David E. Bard
Risk Factors for Adolescent Sex Offender Recidivism: Evaluation of Predictive Factors and Comparison of the Three Groups Based Upon Victim Type
Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment Volume:18 Issue:4 Dated:October 2006 Pages:319 to 342

Results indicated higher overall risk scores for mixed type juvenile sex offenders on all scales included in the study. Few differences in risk factors were found between offenders against children and offenders against peers/adults, which is a departure from previous research that had indicated significant differences between these two groups. Offenders against peers/adults demonstrated low levels of sexual preoccupation compared to the other two groups, suggesting that this type of sexual offense is often opportunistic in nature. Offenders who victimized children and offenders who victimized peers/adults exhibited similar levels of nonsexual delinquency. Offenders who victimized both types of victims had the most extensive history of problem behaviors compared to the other two groups of offenders. Mixed type offenders also exhibited significantly greater deficits in affective characteristics than offenders against children and offenders against peers/adults. In terms of sexual recidivism, offenders against peers/adults had recidivism rates over twice that of offenders against children. No significant differences between these two groups were found for nonsexual recidivism. The findings suggest that most juvenile sex offenders do not reoffend. Restrictive treatment options are best targeted at the highest risk offenders. Participants were 156 male juvenile sex offenders in a secure correctional facility in Oklahoma who had enrolled in the sex offender treatment program and were discharged between 1992 and 2004. Participants were divided into one of the three offender groups based on their archival file data. Researchers coded risk factors from the offenders’ closed files using the Juvenile Sex Offender Assessment Protocol-II (JSOAP-II) and the Psychopathy Checklist: Youth Version (PCL:YV). Comparisons between the three groups were made using analysis of variance, survival curve analysis, and Cox regression analysis. Future research should include a larger sample to allow for more complex regression tree analyses. Tables, footnotes, references

NCJ 217126
R. K. Hanson
Does Static-99 Predict Recidivism Among Older Sexual Offenders?
Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment Volume:18 Issue:4 Dated:October 2006 Pages:343 to 355

Findings indicated that the Static-99 was moderately accurate in estimating the relative recidivism risk for the different age groups under examination. Older sexual offenders had lower Static-99 scores than younger sexual offenders. Results also revealed, however, that the older sexual offenders had lower actual recidivism rates than was indicated by their Static-99 scores. Evaluators who use the Static-99 should therefore take into account the overall lower recidivism risk for offenders of advanced age when preparing estimates of risk for older sexual offenders. Researchers analyzed Static-99 scores and recidivism information for eight different samples drawn from previous studies in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom: (1) a Canadian Federal study on sexual offender recidivism; (2) a Canadian Federal--Quebec Region study on sexual offender recidivism; (3) the Millbrook Recidivism Study; (4) the Institut Philippe Pinel study on sexual offender treatment and recidivism; (5) Her Majesty’s Prison Service follow up study on all sexual offenders released in 1979; (6) Washington State’s Special Sex Offender Sentencing Alternative dataset; (7) the Manitoba Probation risk scale study; and (8) the Dynamic Supervision Project. All 3,425 offenders were adult males. Cox regression analyses were used to examine the combined effects of Static-99 and age. Future research should examine how advanced age impacts the recidivism risk of offenders who grow old in prison. Tables, references

NCJ 217129
Lorraine R. Reitzel ; Joyce L. Carbonell
Effectiveness of Sexual Offender Treatment for Juveniles as Measured by Recidivism: A Meta-Analysis
Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment
Volume:18 Issue:4 Dated:October 2006 Pages:401 to 421

Study results indicated a statistically significant effect of sexual offender treatment on juvenile sexual recidivism. Specifically, the sexual recidivism rate of the total sample was 12.5 percent. Rates of sexual recidivism for juvenile sexual offenders were lower than their rates of non-sexual recidivism, which ranged from 20.4 percent to 28.5 percent. These results are consistent with previous research on adult sexual offenders. The authors note that the results should be viewed cautiously due to the characteristics of the individual studies included in the analysis. In particular, the authors note important methodological questions about the handling of treatment dropouts and different follow-up periods within the datasets examined for this analysis. The meta-analysis research method involved computer searches for relevant data published between 1975 and early 2003, which was conducted in several social science and criminal justice databases. Unpublished data on recidivism and treatment outcomes were gathered from over 300 residential and community treatment programs, which were identified through Internet searches, professional organizations, and a mailing list provided by the Safer Society Press. A total of nine published and unpublished studies were identified and included in the analysis. The studies were then coded according to three primary categories: sample descriptors, treatment variables, and recidivism variables. Coding reliability was examined using Cohen’s Kappa and treatment and recidivism outcomes were examined using linear regression models. Future studies should examine differences between the sexual recidivism rates of juveniles versus adults who receive treatment using larger samples and longer follow-up periods. Tables, footnotes, appendix, references

News and Blogs Together, Wednesday, February 28, 2007

  • One of the really good DAs is making one of the really good cases for a CO sentencing commission and a whole new approach to sentencing and punishment, as captured by Pam Clifton at Think Outside the Cage. Any other state considering one should save this for their own future arguments.
  • OTOH, there are less than good DAs. Here's a great takedown of logic-challenged DAs by Grits for Breakfast. They’re amusing until you realize that these demonstrably cognitively-deficient gentlemen are making life-determining decisions for thousands and thousands of people every year. The best arguments yet for a European, inquisitorial trial system.
  • The good folks at Prevention Works have a nice reminder of the things we need to tend to when we go away from home as vacation time starts to loom. Laminate and keep close by.
  • From Scientific American we get news that chronically bored people engage in higher risk-taking behavior. Duh? Well, yeah, but some of that behavior is, you know, illegal, particularly the drug-taking. Here's that key point: Highly bored individuals also tend to lack the ability to entertain themselves. As a result, they may turn to activities like doing drugs, says McWelling Todman at the New School for Social Research in New York City. "Drug use takes place during downtime when the person would have otherwise been entertaining themselves." This may be especially true during adolescence, a time "when they are putting together the skills needed to deal with boredom in adulthood." Boredom therefore becomes a lifelong cue for sensation-seeking behavior. If drug addicts can learn to deal with their doldrums, however, they may be less likely to relapse. In one as-yet unpublished study of 156 addicts ranging in age from 24 to 68 at a methadone clinic, the subjects' reported levels of boredom were the only reliable factor that predicted whether they would stay on course, Todman notes.
  • The next drug scare on the horizon? Salvia divinorum. Aka "divine sage," said to have LSD-like qualities but still legal in most states. But not for long. States starting to line up to crack down. Here's the IA drug control guy on why: "We had a few isolated reports of problems associated with its use," said Gary Kendell, director of state drug control policy in Iowa which introduced a bill in January to ban it. "It's an attempt to be ahead of the game and maybe take care of it before it becomes a problem," he said. Catch that? "A few isolated reports of problems." So let's turn our scarce resources to deal with not isolated, often reported problems on it now. Okay, if it's a danger, good idea to head it off, but is it a danger? Why, actually, it looks like it might actually help cocaine addicts beat the habit. And it doesn't appear addictive. Can you say "irony"?
  • Doug Berman rightly spotlights Senator Ted "thank me for everything about federal sentencing for the last two decades" Kennedy and his idiotic reasoning for supporting DOJ's insistence on claiming that anything guidelines is right, even when it's not. I'm not getting into the Claiborne case, mainly because too many are smarter on it, but the basic point was the guy was given a 15-month fed sentence on a drug charge despite "voluntary" guidelines "suggestions" for higher. The Sup Crt will decide whether that step away from the "voluntary guidelines" was correct. The "good" Senator's staff say this in justification: In a phone interview, Christine Leonard, Kennedy's counsel on the Judiciary Committee, said that the senator is actually "comfortable" with Claiborne's 15-month sentence. Kennedy has long been a critic of the 100-to-1 ratio, citing its "massive racial discrimination." Leonard said the judge simply did not provide enough reasons to justify it, leaving the door open for a conservative judge to say, "I won't give him 15 months, I'll give him 15 years." The concern, Leonard said, was that you cannot throw out the baby of sentencing reform with the bathwater of this individual case. "We're not necessarily seeking to disturb the verdict," she said. "We want to maintain a system of fairness and accountability for how [the judge] got there." So, let’s check the senator’s logic—he thinks the sentence given was fair but he agrees to making it unfair because it’s important that the process for reaching the sentence seem fair while producing unfair sentences. And he’s one of the “great” senators, according to historians. Explains a lot about our country right now, doesn’t it?
  • And while you're at Sentencing Law and Policy, check out the post on the op-ed skewering recent corrections sentencing nationally. Here's the fun part: "Fortunately, there are signs of hope as people question the vast investment in incarceration and seek creative alternatives to the prison industrial complex. The Supreme Court is revisiting how much latitude federal judges should have in sentencing. Two years ago, the high court struck down the mandatory federal sentencing guidelines and made them advisory instead.... Some states are recognizing what a drain the prison craze has on their budgets and are looking for more sensible solutions. This prison madness is not about serving justice or protecting the public. It is about warped public-policy priorities, a lack of leadership and protecting powerful interests. We cannot make society whole by locking millions of people up and expecting our problems to go away."
  • That op-ed was directed specifically at what's described here. Maybe you recall that we frequently cite reports on MS and its troubles with its prison populations and resources in that desperately poor state. Well, its policymakers had a chance to do something serious. Did they? In an election year? "Glub, glub," says the appreciative state. Great op-ed, though.

A History of Wisconsin Sentencing- Part II

After outlining the series in Friday’s Part I, the next several posts will address the proposals for sentencing reform made by a series of study groups within the state criminal justice community during the 1970s and early 1980s, which culminated in the formation of the first Wisconsin Sentencing Commission. The first proposal occurred as part of the work of the Special Committee on Criminal Justice and Goals.

Wisconsin’s involvement with sentencing reform began as part of a more general reconsideration of the state’s criminal justice policies within the Wisconsin Council on Criminal Justice (WCCJ). In 1974, Governor Patrick Lucey directed the WCCJ (known today, in revised form, as the state Office of Justice Assistance) to undertake a two-year project to develop consensual policy standards for “all facets” of the criminal justice system. The 125-member Special Committee on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals was to undertake the project for every step of the criminal justice process, from arrest to prison, for juvenile and adult offenders alike.

Sentencing standards fell under the purview of the Courts subcommittee, chaired by Eau Claire Circuit Court Judge Thomas Barland. Prompted by the testimony of David Fogel, an early leading critic of indeterminate sentencing and the “medical model,” the subcommittee drafted standards to shift the state to determinate sentencing as well as to abolish parole. While both standards were seriously debated by the Committee, neither was successful. However, the committee did acknowledge the need for reform that had prompted the proposals in the first place, and did propose to confront it. While the Committee’s Final Report reaffirmed the principles of indeterminate sentencing, it also recommended the consideration of guidelines for judicial sentencing decisions. No immediate action was taken on the guidelines issue, but the Committee’s decisions served to reinforce the consensus for the indeterminate system within the criminal justice community- a factor which, under the coming circumstances, would lead back to guidelines.

As the WCCJ was deliberating, interest in sentencing reform was developing in the legislature. Several bills were introduced in the 1975 legislative session to increase sentence lengths and restrict parole, and the issue picked up speed in the 1977 session, when fifteen bills were introduced regarding mandatory and minimum penalties. Although none of those bills garnered enough support to pass, there was enough general interest in reform to pass 1977 Assembly Joint Resolution 79 (AJR 79), which directed the legislative council to study revisions to the state’s sentencing practices, including determinate sentencing. To fulfill its charge, the legislative council convened the Committee on Determinate Sentencing in the summer of 1978; among its members was Judge Barland.

By that time, however, the Committee was only the second organized response to the legislature’s interest in sentencing reform. The Standards and Goals Committee had noted and affirmed the need for reform, but within the indeterminate system. Thus the legislature’s expression of interest in determinacy- and consequently in reforming the indeterminate system itself- roused the judiciary into internal action. The Judicial Planning Committee of the Supreme Court appropriated funding for a detailed study of sentencing practice in the state, as well as an overview of the sentencing reforms undertaken in other states, to project the potential effects of reform. An advisory commission was formed, including several judges, lawyers, and Dane County District Attorney James Doyle. The research grant was awarded to the criminal justice department of the Wisconsin Center for Public Policy, to be led by its executive director, Sandra Shane-DuBow.

Part III will discuss “Felony Sentencing in Wisconsin,” the report the WCCP produced.

Monthly Commission Newsletter Available

How does a grossly underfunded and understaffed state sentencing commission spread the good word while indulging in shameless self-promotion? By publishing a monthly newsletter linking to relevant reports, news stories, pending legislation and sentencing decisions. Every month our commission issues an electronic newsletter to our stakeholders and simultaneously updates our Web site - the material contained therein serves as an on-line repository of sentencing information. If anyone is interested in being placed on our Commission's e-mail distribution list, please reach out directly at We'll get you on the listserve lickety-split.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

"The Denialists' Deck of Cards"

From Gristmill and its laments about those who in this day and age still think "anyone do what you want whenever you want" is the answer to global warming, this catch of a great SSRN article on "An Illustrated Taxonomy of Rhetoric Used to Frustrate Consumer Protection Efforts." Why is this relevant to corrections sentencing? Because many of the rhetorical devices are similar to those determine to obstruct meaningful efforts to bring max out public safety through the most cost-effective means to obtain it, all in the name of their ideologies, egos, and careers. From the SSRN abstract, here's the nut of it all:

. . . denialism is the use of rhetorical techniques and predictable tactics to erect barriers to debate and consideration of any type of reform, regardless of the facts. has identified five general tactics used by denialists: conspiracy, selectivity, the fake expert, impossible expectations, and metaphor.

The Denialists' Deck of Cards builds upon this description by providing specific examples of advocacy techniques. The point of listing denialists' arguments in this fashion is to show the rhetorical progression of groups that are not seeking a dialogue but rather an outcome. As such, this taxonomy is extremely cynical, but it is a reflection of and reaction to how poor the public policy debates in Washington have become.

The full article is entertaining, frustrating, and colorful (literally). Definitely need to read if you're interested in how to counter the denials and obstructions we're facing in giving the most public safety we can for the dollars we have.

News and Blogs Together, Tuesday, February 27, 2007

  • Too bad this isn't "public safety" like an over-thyroided "Law & Order: Food Inspection." Money into cost-ineffective programs, like most prison sentences, taken away from other areas that protect people by finding germs, not crooks. You die from salmonella, tough. Nothing we could have done. We have to build more cells. Like in Animal Farm, some "public safety" is more equal than others.
  • Supreme Court lets 200-year sentence in AZ stand. Let’s make sure we understand what’s being said here. You can kill or rape someone in AZ and be punished less than someone who possesses pictures—didn’t take the pictures, didn’t coerce the pictures’ subjects, possessed pictures. I understand and completely agree that no decent person would have those pictures. I even agree that a prison sentence can be justified (although see the end of this bullet). I also understand that that person poses less danger to me or even my possible grandchildren than a rapist or murderer. This is just one more “because we can” case of abusive discretionary power exercised to show “Who’s The Boss,” not to enforce justice. This gets very close to “the rule of men” and not “the rule of law.” And that means it endangers all of us. Meanwhile, Norm Pattis at Crime & Federalism has more on what we’re doing to the legitimacy of our legal system, to the long-term safety of constitutional protections, particular our federal political system, in the name of fighting child porn. A CT state judge gives a reasonable sentence to someone essentially the same as the guy in AZ. The fed attorney decides he’s outraged at the leniency and now is going after the guy on fed charges. IOW, a judge with no demonstrably inferior intelligence or moral values to a fed attorney decides on an appropriate sentence for an apparently contrite offender and a fed attorney, BECAUSE HE CAN, decides to interpose his superior wisdom, judgment, and self-righteousness. That’s the world the Forefathers thought they were creating with the Bill of Rights?? Pattis says it better: Sure, no one is above the law. But the law's guarantees seem relaxed when the crime is hideous. What's going on in the Justice Department? Why a holy war against what even we sinners regard as evil? Are the states impotent? Or is it simply too hard to resist the temptation to encroach on state powers?
  • If you get a chance, go by Corey Yung's place at Sex Crimes Blog and wish him well on his new academic career. And hold him to his word that he won't let it hurt the blog we've all come to depend upon.
  • Pam Clifton at Think Outside the Cage gives a shout-out to Kim English's work at the CO Dept of Justice, specifically a new report she's come up with on community corrections programs in CO. You'll find the summary at TOC and can find the full paper here.
  • Via CrimProf Blog, a very good (and appropriately skeptical) overview of the current state of MRI application to lie detection and those trying to sell it at Reason. Here's the great conclusion: So adding up the studies cited by these two companies, we get a total of 154 subjects whose brains have been probed for lying in controlled laboratory settings. And on top of that most of the subjects studied were right-handed men. Of course, these are not the only fMRI deception studies, but it would be surprising if the number of subjects whose brains have been scanned to date for deception exceeds a couple of thousand. While fMRI deception detection looks very promising, a lot more and different kinds of brains need to be scanned in order to validate it. Right now its accuracy has not yet been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Or as Stanford law professor Hank Greeley succinctly put it: "I want proof before this gets used, and proof is not three studies of 40 college students lying about whether or not they are holding the three of spades."
  • A typically interesting and applicable post at Made2Measure on judicial performance measure systems, with some relevance to sentencing and corrections as well, if you're into accountability and everything.
  • Research on how "alcohol cues" and stress can screw up alcoholics trying to get straight but the evidence is that they target the brain in different ways to produce the destructive cravings. The part of importance for corr sent and technocorrections is: What the study findings do contribute, however, is an explanation for how stress and cues may affect the brain differently to cause cravings."This is important for scientists who are interested in improving treatments for alcoholism," said Thomas. "For example, it might be possible to improve alcoholism treatment by attending to these differences ... to develop new treatments that individually target both stress-induced and cue-induced craving to give the person in recovery the best possible.
  • From MD we hear that minorities are disproportionately hammered by man-min sentences there. That's not news, and they're apparently going to try to work on it, but here's what I found interesting, this quote from a policymaker there displaying his assumption that incarceration works on drug users with absolutely no evidence cited to support it, just "certainty": "Jail time, to me, should clearly be a deterrent to crime," said Del. Donald H. Dwyer, an Anne Arundel County Republican. "I personally do not support the idea that treatment alone is the answer. Many of the individuals who are involved in drug crimes are not only committing drug crimes, but they are also involved in breaking-and-enterings and theft. You still have victims who will suffer."
  • Better late than never, I guess. NJ is looking at whether its Megan's Law is actually being implemented as intended, ensuring equal treatment across the state in the face of news accounts that that's not happening (as any policy student would have predicted).
  • And in MO, the "nuclear option" of the state's public defenders, without resources to put defenders in every courtroom when needed. No new clients, even if the judge threatens contempt. Why isn't there money? Well, see, MO has been building prisons and they aren't made from fairy dust and so when other areas of crim just need funding . . . what? You've heard this before?
  • Finally, Psychology of Women Quarterly reports a U of OR study finding that "young men who have never been traumatized are the least likely population to believe a person's recounting of child sexual abuse." One remedy, according to the authors? Better education of men . . . okay, the less said about that, the better.

Megan's Law: Shooting First, Asking Questions (13 Years) Later

In response to the horrendous and highly publicized murder of seven-year-old Megan Kanka by convicted sex offender and next-door neighbor Jesse Timmendeqaus, the New Jersey Legislature enacted the Registration and Community Notification Law on October 31, 1994. The law requires a person who has been convicted, adjudicated delinquent or found not guilty of reason of insanity for the commission of certain sex offenses to register with law enforcement authorities, and provides for community notification depending upon the degree of risk that these offenders will commit sexual crimes in the future.

Less than a year later, the Supreme Court of New Jersey in Doe v. Poritz upheld the law -- known universally as "Megan's Law" -- from numerous state and federal constitutional challenges. With several refinements, the Third Circuit subsequently sustained the constitutionality of the scheme in 1997.

Today, New Jersey's paper of record, The Star Ledger, reports that the Legislature is finally authorizing an independent of study of the law's implementation to be conducted by the Violence Institute (don't snicker). According to the story:

Lawmakers want to examine whether the groundbreaking New Jersey law that established a sex offender registry and rules for notifying communities about the presence of sex offenders is being applied uniformly.

Under a bill approved yesterday by a Senate committee, the study of Megan's Law would be conducted by the Violence Institute at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. It would examine how county prosecutors and courts determine how dangerous a convicted sex offender is and how much the public needs to know about that person.

"We should just evaluate it," said Sen. John Girgenti (D-Bergen), who co-sponsored the legislation. "There has been some criticism that it may not be applied uniformly throughout the state. I'd like to see how this program is evolving."

The bill (S2516) was approved unanimously yesterday by the Senate Law and Public Safety and Veterans' Affairs Committee and now goes to the full Senate for consideration.
It comes as the state Department of Corrections begins its own study of the law, named after 7-year-old Megan Kanka, who was raped and murdered in 1994 by Jesse Timmendequas, a twice-convicted sex offender who had done his time and was living across the street. Timmendequas is awaiting execution for the murder.

The department study, which began in October, is examining whether Megan's Law works as intended by looking at whether it is cost-effective, prison officials said. The department is doing the research in conjunction with Rutgers and Fairleigh Dickinson universities as part of a $38,252 federal grant.

Sen. Peter Inverso (R-Mercer), a sponsor of the original Megan's Law as well as the proposal to study it now, said the Violence Institute's study was not intended to see whether it works "but how to more consistently apply it," since "Megan's Law is here."

It comes as reports, including one issued in December by the state Administrative Office of the Courts, show that prosecutors and courts apply the law differently across the state. A Star-Ledger analysis, for instance, found that the percentage of registered sex offenders whose names are posted on the Web site varies greatly from county to county.

This approach -- enact first and then evaluate (and not, according to the article, to directly ascertain whether the law effectuates the Legislature's obvious goal of safeguarding children) -- is par for the course in New Jersey and, in fairness, most other states. I'll keep everyone posted on further developments.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Dealing with Deniers

Okay, this is pulled from a global warming column but substitute "corrections sentencing" where you find "oil depletion" or "peak oil" or "climate change" and see if you don't get a good idea about what we face in moving forward on sound policy in our area, too, and how we should respond.

1. Education about oil depletion and climate change is not enough. We need to incorporate how people react to information. If companies like Daimler Chrysler are using
neuromarketing to sell more cars, an equal effort needs to be made on the environmental and energy front.

2. Two of the planet's largest problems, climate change and peak oil, are in the future. As such, our evolutionary derived penchant to focus on the present lacks the discipline to think and act ahead. Either accelerating the expected 'bad news' or making the expected bad news 'worse' are both ways to increase the weight we place on these events.

3. We can't easily reduce our discount rates. But having a team of middle aged female monks running the climate change team may not be a bad idea (I'm only half kidding).

4. There are so many scientific disciplines running parallel courses. Somehow we need to integrate them into a logical framework that makes sense and is practical. I don't expect President Bush will soon appoint a Secretary of Darwinian Ecology but the time is now to combine the sciences.

5. Though it's difficult, we can learn from our mistakes. Those on Easter Island, Rome and the Mayas and Aztecs were neurally not dissimilar from us. To recognize they valued the present even when they could forsee the future (cutting down the last tree) means we have to acknowledge ahead of time that our intelligence will be trumped by our emotion, and plan accordingly.

5b. In writing this post, it dawned on me that much of the work we do in raising peak oil awareness is received by readers as kind of an interesting horror movie. Yes - tell me more scary facts and I will sit at my computer and read them. But its the rational brain that is receiving this information. And it's not budging behavior much.

5c. Understanding that stress increases peoples discount rates suggests to me that the events surrounding peak oil (and perhaps climate change) will reach an inflection point. We need to hit the emotional triggers well ahead of peak oil. Once people are stressed and things become difficult, accessing peoples rational minds will be all the harder. Plus, greater awareness of resource depletion might trigger increased consumption, as people try to get their share.

6. I think steep discount rate is another term for addiction. Humans are addicted to life. Some more than others.

News of the Day, Monday, February 26, 2007

  • USA Today has discovered the problems associated with sex offender residency restrictions, the unintended consequences, and the "false sense of security" that they're giving. Good overview with several states mentioned, and Kim English of CO specifically referenced, so it's well-based. While you're there, check out this op-ed on the Duke LaCrosse case and the DA there again who managed to pervert the law and his profession while making a bunch of drunk, probably less than socially sensitive young men look like victims. No winners at all in that sad tale.
  • A National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism study discovered "reduced brain growth among alcohol-dependent individuals with a family history of alcoholism or heavy drinking compared to those with no such family history." The researchers found "the average ICV of adult alcoholic children of alcoholic parents was about 4 percent smaller than the average ICV of adult alcoholics without family histories of alcoholism or heavy drinking. Family history did not affect the frequency, quantity, or other aspects of drinking behavior of the alcoholics themselves, suggesting that differences in ICV between family history positive and negative alcoholics are not the result of different drinking patterns. The researchers also found that adult alcoholic children of alcoholic parents had IQ scores that averaged 5.7 points lower than IQs of alcohol dependent individuals with no parental drinking, but that were still within the range of normal intelligence."
  • A University of Alberta study shocks us with its findings that "boys aged 13 and 14 living in rural areas are the most likely of their age group to access pornography, and parents need to be more aware of how to monitor their children's viewing habits." Boys and girls were, again shockingly, a little different in their consumption, "with boys doing the majority of deliberate viewing, and a significant minority planning social time around viewing porn with male friends.Girls reported more accidental or unwanted exposure online and tend to view porn in same-gender pairs or with mixed groups."
  • More faulty eyewitness testimony, via this U of VA study. The older you are, the more likely you'll get it wrong and be sure you got it right. The implications for corrections sentencing? "There are potentially significant practical implications to these results as confident but mistaken eyewitness testimony may be the largest cause of wrongful convictions in the United States,” said Chad Dodson, the study’s lead researcher and an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Virginia. “Given that older adults will constitute an increasing proportion of the U.S. population, there may be a corresponding increase in the occurrence of wrongful convictions based on the testimony of highly confident but mistaken eyewitnesses.” And, "This finding suggests that this is not simply a case of poorer memory among older adults, but that there may be some other mechanism leading to the high rate of confidence,” Dodson said. “We believe the high confidence comes from the detail that they believe they remember. Because the detail seems sharp, they are highly confident that they are correct in their recollection, even when the recollection has been suggested to them rather than actually witnessed. This pattern of behavior is particularly worrisome, given the influence of eyewitness confidence on jury decision making.”
  • Tell me again about cost-benefit and teenage thinking? "Slowly but surely, American kids have gotten the message that cigarette smoking is stinky, smelly and a hazard to your health. Now, if only they would believe the same about cigars. While cigarette consumption declined in the United States by 10 percent from 2000 to 2004, cigar consumption jumped 28 percent, according to a recent report published in the American Journal of Public Health. Other studies have found that teens who smoke cigars are definitely behind some of that increase. For instance, a 2004 survey conducted in Cleveland found that 23 percent of the 4,409 teens polled preferred cigars, compared to 16 percent choosing cigarettes. And the increase may not yet have peaked."
  • In ME, a National Alliance for the Mentally Ill report notes marginal improvement of treatment of mentally ill inmates in the state's county jails, but criticizing the state's program for their fragility and inadequacies. This comes as the state is recognizing its failures to deal effectively with its growing state prison populations. Its former DOC director and sentencing commission chair calls it "a creeping paralysis" and says simply, "I think they've now got a crisis. And they're going to have to deal with it."
  • Meanwhile, far to ME's south, SC is seeing the same overcrowding despite past efforts to deal. Jail backups, nowhere to put these guys. And it's had a sentencing commission. Sorta.
  • And in WA, second thoughts about that "three strikes" thing, although, frankly, the state, like all but CA, really hasn't been hit as hard as earlier predictions had claimed. Primarily due to the refusal of practitioners to apply it. I like this quote though: "It’s not just one prison, it’s the parade of prisons." Parade of prisons. I may just steal that one.

Around the Blogs, Monday, February 26, 2007

Bunch of sex offender stuff up today. Governing's blog, the 13th Floor, takes the backlash against the ill-thought sex offender residency restrictions to a broader policy audience, underlining the coming politics of it all: But, from a political perspective, is it possible to vote in a way that an opponent could portray as favoring sex offenders and not have it come back to haunt you at the next election? These lawmakers seem intent on finding out, which makes them courageous, foolish, or both. Meanwhile, Sex Crime Defender digs into the injustice to be hammered in the future of prosecuting one or both parties in underage sex offenses. Here's the saddest thing, the quote from a prosecutor: "We can't ignore these things — we have to charge them," said Sheboygan County District Attorney Joe DeCecco. "We take into consideration (if) it was consensual in nature, they were close in age … whether they had an ongoing relationship." But initially, he said, "We have to charge with what we can legally charge." Yeah, that's right. That's why every charge possible with every arrest is filed. Please. And then Sex Crimes Blog lets us know about this "too strange to be fiction" story of a NY county that, required to provide housing even to homeless sex offenders, puts them into trailers and rolls them around and away from residential areas. That should help them find work and establish stable lives. . . . Think Outside the Cage describes an attempt to enhance first-time DUI penalties, including a loss of driver's license for 5 years. This has counterproductive all over it. I've talked to too many judges who see the driver’s license restrictions as too harsh on people who, if they can’t get to or keep work, will end up turning more to alcohol—judges who thus sentence less harshly or don’t convict at all. Hasn't passed yet, so we'll see. While you’re at TOC, check out Pam Clifton's note of the new First Lady's taking on of mental health issues as her cause. Normally, we might be cynical, but the way CO is moving right now, it may turn out not to be the usual blather. . . . Via CrimProf Blog, "cheese" is now big. Not a WI thing, really. This "cheese" is a powdered heroin that's making inroads with the teen crowds. . . . Crime & Federalism updates the CT case of the sub teacher found guilty of showing porn to students though the government never produced evidence that she really did anything. Not a lot new except this contention that the judge may have overstepped. "W. Herbert Horner, a defense witness and computer expert, was prepared to testify that the images appeared on the screen as a result of the acts of others. However, the trial court judge, Hillary Strackbein, did not permit him to offer his opinion. Why? He was not disclosed as an expert in a timely fashion.Judge Strackbein's ruling may well be an abuse of discretion. Ordinarily, the defense need not disclose witnesses prior to trial. Indeed, in one recent case regarding the late disclosure of an alibi, the Appellate Court ruled it was an abuse of discretion to refuse to permit the witness to testify." Seriously. Timely fashion. Like the Supreme Court and death penalty evidence. In public administration we call it "goal displacement." Substituting your personal, professional or organizational goals for the goals society set you up to achieve, like, say, justice. But can't worry about that if kids saw porn, can we? . . . Philip Zimbardo's got the second part of his multi-part posts on the situational sources of evil up over at The Situationist. He's famous, his work classic, and this catches us up. . . . Ben Barlyn's been really busy getting drug court stuff set up in NJ, but he passes along this NIC Corrections Community post on what works in recidivism risk assessment in Canada. The report referenced is a little long but worth your time. . . . Finally, lots of good stuff up at Grits for Breakfast, including a “roundup” on recent TX corrections sentencing, a great post on what to do when you have a loved one coming up on a parole date, and some really cute baby pictures (you’ll see Grits but thankfully, they’re not pictures of him).

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Liberal or Conservative?

Tell me who said this:

"We must be tough on crime, but also tough on the causes of crime, and it's clear that government can't do the job alone. . . . [Our state's] prisons should be preparing inmates to function in society when they are released. Prison shouldn't be a place where inmates are just warehoused, where they lift weights and mark time and commit more crimes once released." [No link available--trust me.]

You won't get it. It's from the new speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, a young Republican, a very proud conservative (very proud and very conservative).

Which is the point. Like several issues in the news right now, corrections sentencing policy isn't really liberal v. conservative anymore. It's realist v. denier. Broad public sense v. narrow professional (or advocacy) self-interest. There's a solid middle ground to be defined between realist conservatives and realist liberals on our critical needs. It's time to turn off the mikes of the deniers and get on with our business.

More NCJRS Abstracts, February 25, 2007


NCJ 217009
Aaron Kupchik
Decision To Incarcerate in Juvenile and Criminal Courts
Criminal Justice Review Volume:31 Issue:4 Dated:December 2006 Pages:309 to 336

The study found that the more severe sentencing options available to criminal courts and criminal courts' limited options for noncustodial sentences compared to juvenile courts produced a higher incarceration rate for juveniles processed in criminal courts compared with those processed in juvenile courts. The study did not find, however, that offense-relevant variables had greater influence in the dispositions of criminal court than in juvenile court. In both types of courts, similar offense-related factors predicted incarceration. This suggests that offender-oriented factors make incarceration less likely in juvenile courts compared with criminal courts when offense-related variables are similar. Juvenile courts are more likely than criminal courts to use procedures designed to identify the offender-related factors that contributed to the offense, regardless of the severity of the offense, and then tailor dispositions to addressing those needs. In order to compare sentencing criteria across juvenile and criminal courts, this study analyzed quantitative data for 2 subsamples: a sample of juvenile court cases in New Jersey (n=556) and a sample of criminal court cases in New York (n=914). All sampled cases involved 16-year-old defendants processed in 1992 or 1993 who were charged with aggravated assault (first and second degree), robbery (first and second degree), or burglary (first degree). The study assessed whether the sentencing predictors had different influences across court types and how particular variables shaped sentencing differently in juvenile and criminal courts. 5 tables, 21 notes, and 100 references

NCJ 217023
Rachel Wyatt
Male Rape in U.S. Prisons: Are Conjugal Visits the Answer?
Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law Volume:37 Issue:2 & 3 Dated:2006 Pages:579 to 614

The analysis indicates that many countries, including the United States, have successfully used conjugal visit programs to reduce male prisoner rape. Preliminary evidence suggests that conjugal visit programs decrease the tension and stress of prison life, which in turn reduces the amount of violence, including sexual assault, within prison walls. The article begins with an analysis of the prevalence of male prisoner rape in the United States, which is difficult to estimate based on the covert nature of the crime and the nature of incarceration conditions. The impact of rape on prisoners is reviewed, including psychosocial, health, and financial costs. Factors that contribute to the occurrence of rape in prison are considered, such as overcrowding, the unisex nature of U.S. prison systems, and inadequate legal responses. Next, the case for conjugal visit programs is made, with many experts claiming that such programs can reduce and prevent male sexual assault by diminishing the negative effects of a unisex prison environment. Critics of conjugal visit programs as a solution to male prisoner rape claim that these programs will not work because rape is about power and control, not sex. However, the conjugal visit programs currently implemented around the country are more about giving inmates quality time with their families than about giving inmates sexual access to their spouses. The prevalence of male rape in other countries that have conjugal visit programs is offered as evidence that these programs indeed have an impact on the reduction and prevention of male prisoner sexual assault. Other arguments against conjugal visit programs are presented and include security concerns and concerns for prisoners who have no family. More research is needed to lay such arguments to rest and to demonstrate through empirical data that conjugal visit programs can reduce male prisoner rape. Footnotes

Friday, February 23, 2007

A History of Wisconsin Corrections Sentencing- Part I- An Outline

One of the benefits of bringing Joe Fontaine on board the blog here is to have access to his research and analysis of the history of sentencing policy in Wisconsin dating back into the 1970s. When Joe was a summer analyst for the sentencing commission in WI while I was director, I asked him to put materials together for a summary of state sentencing policy for our website. From that extensive research, Joe has also written a comprehensive history which we will be sharing with you over several posts in the coming weeks. We will also post it in our materials on the right side for later reference.

We believe it’s important to have written records like these to keep other efforts, including future WI ones, from reinventing wheels and from operating in the dark. Much of what you will read here has echoes in other states as they considered corrections sentencing policy and continue to do so today. Thus, this material might hopefully inform future actions. Also, however, these posts demonstrate the major reason we asked Joe to join us, that is, to provide a policy structure to what often is only legal theory or mechanical logistics for doing corrections sentencing policy. There is much to be learned and remembered in what you will read in this series, and, for those impressed with the quality of this work, keep in mind that Joe graduates from the La Follette Institute for Public Affairs at UW-Madison a year from May.

So enjoy and feel free to get a discussion going in the comments. We’ll appreciate it. -- Mike

In the summer of 1995, the Wisconsin Sentencing Commission held a farewell staff picnic. Its funding and statutory authority had been eliminated in the recently passed biennial state budget, and Commission offices were to be cleared in a matter of weeks. In commemoration of both the Commission and its fate, one staff member distributed t-shirts at the picnic. On the front was the Commission’s logo; on the back, the slogan “UNFAIRLY SENTENCED.”

As they collected their shirts, the Commission staffers stood at a turning point in the history of Wisconsin sentencing policy. Unfairly or not, the Wisconsin Sentencing Commission and the guidelines it had promulgated, the products of the first era of sentencing reform in the state, had met an abrupt end. But at the same time, the first stirrings of the next era, of truth–in-sentencing and the new guidelines and Commission that would accompany it, had already begun.

In this series, I shall provide an overview of both those eras, and thereby a comprehensive history of the past thirty years of sentencing practice in Wisconsin. I shall focus on the processes that led to the elimination of the state’s first sentencing commission and especially on those that brought the second commission to fruition. I shall begin with a brief overview of the first era of sentencing reform in Wisconsin, particularly concerning the creation of the first system of sentencing guidelines and first Wisconsin Sentencing Commission. After a similarly brief description of the first Commission’s policy efforts, I shall begin my more in-depth investigation by tracing the chain of events that ended in the scene with which we began, and analyzing the reasons behind the demise of that first system of sentencing guidance.

We may then begin to follow the arc that brings us to the present. After surveying early academic work and policy initiatives regarding the “tough on crime” movement and the truth-in-sentencing proposals that grew from it, I will provide a political and legislative history of the truth-in-sentencing initiative that Wisconsin enacted in 1997 Wisconsin Act 283. Particular attention will be given to discerning legislative intentions regarding the changes this legislation brought upon the sentencing system. That will be followed by a close examination of the group which played the most significant role in designing the present-day system, and therefore the necessary centerpiece of any work on modern-day Wisconsin sentencing: the Criminal Penalties Study Committee, created by Act 283 to make recommendations regarding the design of the sentencing system under truth-in-sentencing. Once again, discerning intent shall be the primary concern. The Committee’s report and supporting documents will be closely examined, to identify the purposes the Committee intended the new Commission and its guidelines to serve.

I will then discuss of the gridlock surrounding implementation of the Study Committee’s recommendations (featuring the unusual saga of the Governor’s Task Force on Enhancing Probation), which was finally broken by the passage of 2001 Act 109 in the summer of 2002. This report will then close with a discussion of the current Sentencing Commission and an evaluation of how its activities befit the context that legislators and committee members had, based on my previous analysis, actually intended.

Thought Provocation for Your Weekend

  • This won't surprise you, I don't think. Turns out that meetings with everyone contributing actually shut down the range of options and possibilities that would have occurred had the members just thought about things on their own. The researchers speculate that when a group of people receives information, the inclination is to discuss it. The more times one option is said aloud, the harder it is for individuals to recall other options, explained Krishnan, associate professor of marketing at Indiana University. Another contributing factor is variation in learning and memory styles. People store and retrieve information in myriad ways, so in a group situation, the conversation could cause individuals to think about the cues differently than they would if they were alone. Well, now we understand what happens to sentencing commissions.
  • Haven't checked in at Judging Crimes in a while and have missed some good stuff. Joel Jacobsen has a great analysis and takedown of the ridiculous nonsense on "24" showing how everything that's done on that show is, surprise, counterproductive when attempted in, you know, reality and the best interrogation techniques are, you know, exactly the opposite. And here we have a fun little presentation on a study showing that the only grad program in which pessimists outperform optimists is law school. Really, good times.
  • The Swedes have come up with a demonstrably effective program to cut the alcohol abuse among high risk college students. So maybe it'll work in MN.
  • Another story about overcrowded prisons and a state looking at more effective and less costly alternatives, this time in NV. The strange thing about this story is that so much of their overgrowth is from CA overflow, like 20% of the state's prisoners. I've told you that CA affects everyone else. And here's a fear that we really haven't talked about in relation: Department of Corrections Director Howard Skolnik said the overcrowded prisons have created dangerous working conditions and a staff that is "just plain tired.""I left my previous state because I attended five staff funerals in 18 months," said Skolnik, who used to work in Illinois prisons. "I swore to myself I'd never do that again. I'm probably not going to be able to keep that promise to myself unless we do something about crowding in our institutions."
  • You a prosecutor who's worried about DNA tests showing that you've sent the wrong guy to prison? Want to do the right thing and admit you're human and try to make up for the errors in the future? Well, not in TX. Dallas DAs are getting defendants to "agree" to destruction of DNA evidence in order to get a plea bargain, after suffering their 13th exoneration. Outraged? Well, Houston's been doing it for a while now. Grits says it's "morally abhorrent." Sorry, Grits. That doesn't even come close to covering it. This is pure CYA and substituting the worst form of human evil for justice. Next thing you know, people will get years added to their sentences for behavior they were acquitted of.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

News and Blogs Together, Thursday, February 22, 2007

  • Sex Crimes Blog notes that CO actually showed sense that other states (except KS) haven't by stopping its version of the child sex offender residency restriction mistake. What was the reason given? "This bill gives a false sense of security for our community and that's why it failed to pass through the Judiciary committee today," said State Rep. Terrance Carroll, D-Denver, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. "Experts have repeatedly testified against this type of legislation in years past because it simply doesn't work. It's hazardous because it drives sex offenders underground and out of sight." Experts, huh? And Kim English, one of our best on rational sex offender policy, just happens to work in CO. Hmm. . . give the rest of you wanting to stop this counterproductive stuff any ideas?
  • Speaking of CO and good ideas, Think Outside the Cage catches this interesting piece on how the state corrections folks are training some inmates in info tech assistance so they'll have some real reentry skills, you know, if all the license plate making jobs are taken.
  • Before we leave child sex offenders, though, looks like the victims advocacy groups are giving the Catholic Church a partner in their crackdown on criminal clergy, targeting Southern Baptist ministers who also have a major problem looming. Again, keep in mind the teeth-pulling it's taken to get even small things done against offending priests and imagine the same with these ministers and then ask yourself why anyone thinks that adding dramatic increases to their punishments will actually protect children and get more charges filed.
  • Really good posts at Grits for Breakfast on the problems arising from rushes to judgment with questionable witnesses and testimony from crime lab folks and even eyewitnesses. (Good to know losing that gall bladder didn’t cost him any IQ points. Still sounded pretty gross, though.)
  • While we're medicinal, let's note this lawsuit brought against the feds by medical marijuana advocates who are using the new studies showing definite medicinal benefits from the drug (for HIV patients, for example) to whack at the bureaucracy trying to shut the efforts down. The Food and Drug Administration's position on medical marijuana "is incorrect, dishonest and a flagrant violation of laws requiring the government to base policy on sound science," Joe Elford, said chief counsel for Americans for Safe Access. Good thing that only happens with Food and Drug.
  • Couple of technocorrections items to keep our eyes on. Here, we learn about computer lip-reading systems and their potential for "crime-fighting." And here, we get news of new GPS devices that can actually monitor offenders in real time and allow officials to talk directly to the offender. "Hey, you, where'd'ya think you're goin'?" I can hear the wheels spinning in defense counsel brains from here.
  • Not going to get into the politics of this latest story on Maricopa County's efforts to use the death penalty to suck every dollar out of every other area of AZ's criminal justice budget . . . well, okay, I guess I failed at that. Just a very nice example of how one jurisdiction's . . . zeal can imperil the entire process for everyone. "In the court's 39 years of practicing criminal law in Maricopa County . . . " wrote the judge, who is a former prosecutor and defense attorney, "the court has not seen more serious issues facing the criminal justice system." The only legit answer to this is to create one of many available mechanisms to force the costs back onto the jurisdiction causing the problems for everyone. Let the voters of that county decide if it's worth the cost rather than pawn their decisions off on others to pay.
  • Things just get tougher for the good folks trying to save CA from itself. Here we learn that the state's budget for the next fiscal year was built on a revenue estimate, oh, just $2 b. too high. And here we see why the head of the state's Alcohol and Drug Treatment department just got moved into the corrections department. $1 b. down the tubes through ineffective treatment programs. What happened? Well, apparently it was poor management by the department, which often houses them in prison settings where they are doomed to fail. Among the problems:• The state's "therapeutic community" treatment model calls for participants to be separated from other inmates, but such separation rarely occurs. Instead, participants share yards and other prison facilities with general population inmates, and security procedures routinely disrupt treatment.• Some treatment programs are at prisons that are subjected to frequent lockdowns, meaning that inmates are confined to their cells around the clock. When that occurs, treatment for them essentially stops until the lockdown is lifted.• Recognizing the importance of intensive group counseling, the contracts with program providers require enough counselors for an 18 to 1 ratio of inmates to counselors. About two-thirds of the programs do not meet that standard. Cate said one egregious example of the department's mismanagement was its willingness to pay for extensive studies that evaluate the treatment programs without then correcting problems those studies identified. There's talk and there's walk. It's time for walk. And not just in CA.
  • This story would like you to believe that Jessica's Law has been successful in FL because the number of sex offender absconders has been reduced. Well, actually, that's good news and might even be the result of the law, although no one has done a scientific analysis. And then there's this: It's too early to tell if children are safer because of the Lunsford Act, but anecdotal evidence from law enforcement suggests the efforts are making a difference. You know, like the D.A.R.E. program that "anecdotal evidence from law enforcement" assured us was successful, until the research was actually done. But by all means let's have a headline proclaiming the law successful. The things we need to be looking at on this law are stats on charges, prosecutions, convictions and their sentences, all done pre and post Jessica. Not to mention serious fiscal impacts. By "serious," we don't mean what they've done in TX, which Grits for Breakfast filets and sautees here.
  • Finally, one of the most effective crime prevention programs we have, with the research now to back it up. Sitting down with your kids to eat dinner most nights. A national study of kids between 3 and 12 found that more meal time at home was the single strongest predictor of better achievement scores, ahead of time studying or in church. Researchers found a strong link between eating at least five dinners a week with a parent and children who are less likely to use drugs and develop good eating habits. And you know what? It does good things for the parents, too. Of course, that's just from me, but if others can be "anecdotal," what the heck.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

News and Blogs Together, Wednesday, February 21, 2007

  • Things starting to hop in CA. You may have already seen that a state judge dumped on the gov's presumed power to declare a prison "emergency" (state law only allows local emergencies and if any crisis is statewide, it's CA's prison crisis) (h/t Think Outside the Cage). Some sad folks in OK's private prison industry today. But did you see that failures with the state's prison drug treatment program has gotten the head of that department moved out? One of the biggest problems CA faces with its corr sent problems, one that doesn't get talked about much, is just simply that getting someone, anyone, with talent and drive to come in there and try to make that place work is one of the hardest things those of us in the field can conceive. That's why I've referred to the situation as a Gordian Knot, and I've become more skeptical that even court orders and/or even a true sentencing commission on the Frankel model can work. Even with all those ducks in a row, you still have to have the people to get it done and who's going to give up a good job right now to waltz into situations in which department secs get moved or fired or resign on a quarterly basis? There may not be enough money in the world to draw the people who might actually have a chance. Promise them guaranteed jobs if they fail? Would a legislature go for that? It will be interesting to see. Despite our doubts, we do wish those folks the best.
  • Only sorta corrections sentencing, but Matthew Bowen has a very interesting post up on “emergency social networking” at Prevention Works.
  • Really good web roundup over at Sex Crimes Blog, other good posts there, including some commentary on the AL sex toy silliness (that should get you to make the link!). (And thanks for the kind words, Corey.)
  • MS running out of prison beds, despite just opening up new ones. This would have to make you feel good as a state resident if the head of your House Corrections Committee flat out says, "“We don't know what's in store for us.” Some interesting stats on the state's current situation, if you're into those things.
  • Meanwhile, another M state, MI, is proposing closing a prison and its 1500 beds by July, part of a cost-saving plan to get 5500 low risk offenders released. The prison's city, of course, is not thrilled. This is the problem that dare not speak its name when we talk about moving people into alternatives, and not the last time we'll talk about it.
  • Couple of technocorrections stories today. A long-term research project at my old alma mater, the U of MO (another M state--quick, just how many of them are there? what's that about????). Looks at family histories of alcoholism. Compared to folks from non-alcoholic homes, the subjects from alcoholic homes "maintained relatively higher levels of deviant behavioral and emotional traits during adult maturation." And a NIDA study has shown that the brain is affected the same way by nicotine as by cocaine, heroin or other addictive drugs. Here's what you need to know: "Experts on smoking have long said that nicotine is at least as addictive as heroin." Seriously, folks, and I don't care if we uncriminalize or new criminalize since I've never smoked tobacco or pot, but how on earth do we claim to have a rational justice system worthy of respect and deserving of legitimacy that distinguishes between the two inhalables? (And don't start counting the respective deaths every year.)
  • Finally, here's a story that ties back to a couple of themes we hit here until you throw up. A survey in the Public Library of Science of health professionals found that "generally prioritize spending on the young over the old and on preventive care over curative care. Yet this preference is at odds with the actual spending priorities in most countries throughout the world--most governments spend more on curative than on preventive health care services." Two things. We claim to love our kids here, but, as that industrial nation study we discussed last week showed, we're at the bottom of quality of life for our kids (except for our ancestrial country, Britain). This survey basically says the same thing. The other thing, put it in prevention, despite the inherent lack of glamour and drama that victimized folks provide, and live with less hardship, including crime and better lives. Or wait for the worst to happen, wail and bemoan and thump our chests and vow to never let this happen again, while we slight badly the best ways to do that. Do we realize that depending on prisons to stop crime is like depending on hospitals to stop disease? Not completely ineffective, but basically the equivalent of sitting on our butts all day, eating chips and candy at the same time, no exercise, no decent food, then relying on bypass to clean up the mess, higher costs, less likelihood of good life, everything. These doctors didn't realize they were talking about corrections sentencing, too, but they were.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Schools, Jails, and Twain

"We believe that out of the public school grows the greatness of a nation. It is curious to reflect how history repeats itself the world over. Why, I remember the same thing was done when I was a boy on the Mississippi River. There was a proposition in a township there to discontinue public schools because they were too expensive. An old farmer spoke up and said if they stopped the schools they would not save anything, because every time a school was closed a jail had to be built. It's like feeding a dog on his own tail. He'll never get fat. I believe it is better to support schools than jails."

Mark Twain

News and Blogs Together, Tuesday, February 20, 2007

  • Looks like the feds aren't real impressed with CA's latest proposals (a "concept paper" rather than a "plan"--BURN!!!) for dealing with their mentally ill in prison, right now 19% of the total population. Now what?
  • Real Cost of Prisons tips us to this Neal Peirce column comparing NY and CA in their prison "industries" and the better future the former is viewing.
  • Facial recognition becoming more "technically" possible, according to researchers. "Usefully" possible? Uh, not so sure about that one.
  • Philip Zimbardo has the first of a two-part post on the "situational sources of evil" recapping the old Milgram experiments on authority and the way "good" people give in to it. Nice overview for those unfamiliar with what happened and great reminder for those of us tempted to misuse the authority given. Looking forward to the next part.
  • Finally, CNN has found a worthy educational program working wonders in rehab for young offenders in VT. Just like the problems I have with using the term "community service" for community restitution, I'm not sure I like having offenders "sentenced" to school, but it probably won't be that unfamiliar a concept to many. Does sound like a remarkable program. Why don't we ever hear about vouchers or charter schools for kids like these?

Monday, February 19, 2007


Not big on Presidents Day. A tad too inherently royal or worse for my tastes. Add to that that I really don't see many presidents in our history worth admiration. The country has basically survived most of its presidents despite their best efforts. In my lifetime there've only been a couple who weren't either psychopaths or sociopaths, and only one who didn't outright lie to us about something really big, who's going to Heaven (even though he's still the one least likely to expect it and I still would never invite him to a party). But, as I've mentioned here from time to time, there's one I place in my private pantheon of heroes whose insight into himself, into his time, his species remains pretty much unique among our past leaders, hell, our past philosophers.

And as I've thought about Abe Lincoln on this day, I've thought as well about what his take on corrections sentencing in America today would be. More importantly, what he might tell us would work. IOW, W.W. A. D.?

At first you might think the guy who quoted this from the Bible would be pretty hard-line about justice and just deserts:

Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh.

But of course you know that Lincoln was not that hard line. He had practiced defense law. He had a view of humans as capable of improvement and furthering themselves, hence his dislike of slavery which threathened individuals because it took a person's work from them and which threatened society because it substituted a system of a person's own labor and its subsequent reward with the forced labor of others. Contrary to the conservative view of government's first object being public safety, Lincoln said that the "leading object of government is, to elevate the condition of men . . . to afford all, an unfettered start, and a fair chance in the race of life."

Lincoln saw a human sameness, a "there but for the grace of God," that is lacking in much of our corr sent policy today. We don't have to wonder what he would think about alternative sanctions and treatment for substance abuse, for example; he told us:

Another error, as it seems to me, into which the old reformers fell, was, the position that all habitual drunkards were utterly incorrigible, and therefore, must be turned adrift, and damned without remedy, in order that the grace of temperance might abound to the temperate then, and to all mankind some hundred years thereafter. There is in this something so repugnant to humanity, so uncharitable, so cold-blooded and feelingless, that it never did, nor ever can enlist the enthusiasm of a popular cause.

Okay, maybe he was wrong about whether the "popular cause" could be enlisted, but his view is clear. It is that of someone who knows his own frailities and others' simply because they are human and from that common humanity charity should derive. When did you last hear the word "charity" used in our deliberations in this sense? This was a person who, through the tragedy of civil war, came to realize that God, the universe, fate, whatever you prefer is bigger than mere humans and those who claim to know what God wants are substituting fiction for fact. Nowhere did he make that clearer than in his judgment on the Civil War itself:

Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. . . . If God now wills the removal of a great wrong, and wills also that we of the North as well as you of the South, shall pay fairly for our complicity in that wrong, impartial history will find therein new cause to attest and revere the justice and goodness of God.

So W.W.A.D. concerning criminal justice and corrections sentencing? People were supposed to be free to pursue their talents to their utmost, and government's job was to clear away the obstacles to that pursuit, not to lead, direct, or force them but to make sure their paths could be traveled. People were responsible human beings who would and could make mistakes and, in their own injustice, would and should be punished for those mistakes. But never without "charity," never without a sense of our own possible failings, never without understanding that we are simply humans, not God, and our judgments are subject to the dark as well as the light, as was revealed to him about a great civil war based on the subjugation of one race of people to another by two complicit sections of our nation.

We all claim our heroes would want what we want. That's why we pick them as heroes. So I clearly believe that Abe's view on corr sent today would have been much like mine. But I grew up with Abe and his view so maybe he made me. I just know that, at the end of the worst war on our soil, with the possibility for vengeance and self-righteousness at hand and likely, understandable, demanded, just as we hear every day in our crim just policies, Abe looked at that world and saw it only led back to a place we didn't need to be. He failed to get his view across before his death and our nation continues to suffer today for that failure, particularly in our corrections sentencing policies. But, as we ponder where we want to be in the future, we could do far worse than to base our actions on what amounted to his last words to our nation:

With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish, a just and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.

News and Blogs Together, Monday, February 19, 2007

Pam Clifton over at Think Outside the Cage caught a good op-ed on how higher ed in CO is getting hammered because of the bite of their exponential prison growth in the state. Tuition is the tax increase that dare not be called such, the easiest way to pay for prisons without raising taxes, the politicians' dream. Of course, it's eating seed corn, but we're good at that, practically every state. . . . Is NY going to try another sentencing commission? It tried years ago, dumped on guidelines, but the gov there is proposing a couple of new commissions and one sounds suspiciously sentencing-like. And Vera is already right there, won't even have to travel very far. (h/t Real Cost of Prisons). . . . An MIT symposium on "truth detection" is warning us off the hype and dreams of using MRIs for lie detection and spotting future criminals and terrorists. Good review of the arguments against. But were any policymakers in the audience? Did they pay attention? . . . And a Carnegie Mellon study may finally be getting at why people do addictive drugs despite all our experience, knowledge, and warnings. The study confirmed that "people experiment with drugs that they know are addictive in part because they can't appreciate the intensity of drug cravings, and thus underestimate the likelihood that they will become addicted. Because they can't imagine what it would be like to experience a craving, people also discount the possibility that they will do terrible things in order to satisfy that craving, such as commit crimes or abandon their children." Their findings showed that not only offer insights into why people use drugs they know could be addictive, but could also help explain why it is so difficult for addicts to quit, according to Bickel. "Individuals who are in treatment may think that they will be OK out of treatment. However, if they underestimate the power of drugs, they may be surprised that they relapse," Bickel said. "Similarly, adolescents may think that they can try drugs without ill consequence. But they may underestimate how powerful a drug is and therefore expose themselves to the drug." To prevent recovering addicts from relapsing, they must be taught to anticipate, recognize and cope with situations in which they will be tempted to use drugs, Loewenstein said. "People generally decide to go on a diet right after eating a satisfying meal; to start saving right after splurging; and to quit drugs, such as cigarettes, right after smoking one. But all of these plans tend to be unrealistic because they are made when people aren't in a craving state and, as our results show, can't predict what it will be like once they start craving again." . . . Finally, if you get a chance, swing by Grits for Breakfast's place and wish him well. He and his gall bladder are apparently parting. You know how sad that can be and how much encouragement would be appreciated.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Panic Policy

Perfect example of panic policy going on in Britain right now. Some high-profile shootings by teens has Tony Blair proposing lowering the age for adult prosecution for crimes using guns from 17 to 21. Sounds reasonable, right? TV and newspapers blaring daily about the latest shooting and making policymakers look inept for not dealing with it. And how do you deal? Well, tell teenagers "before you shoot anyone, think about the longer prison sentence you'll get." . . . Think you see the problem? Well, that is one, but that's not really the big one. It takes a while, you have to get near the bottom of the article before you get this quote on the logic of the panicked policy:

Shadow home secretary David Davis welcomed the review but warned: "Yet again we are seeing the prime minister reacting to a headline rather than dealing with the issues in the long-term."

"We now have to think what are they going to do for 16-year-olds and 15-year-olds because these gangs won't stop at using younger kids to carry guns, drugs, whatever it may be."
He told Sky News's Sunday Live: "We have got to take some time. Think it through, do it properly."

Yeah, good luck with that. But here's the kicker for why this is a perfect example of media-driven panic in the face of a completely different reality (this time at the very end of the article):

Cindy Butts, of the Metropolitan Police Authority, warned against "knee-jerk reactions to the problems that we're facing".

"As shocking as these events are, we have had a 16% drop in the number of gun crimes here in London and I think it is important that we don't scaremonger, that we don't blow things out of proportion," she told BBC News.

IOW, the thing to do when a problem is actually in remission according to actual evidence is to overreact and add to the population in your prisons where those young criminals will get even better educations than we would ever want. Panic and thoughtlessness drives so much of what we do in crim just, precisely as it's doing now in Britain. We'll keep our eyes on this for you because it's a case study rolling out on how not to do smart policymaking, even in the face of logic and data. Not that it will really help anything we do here, but it will demonstrate how hard the task of evidence-driven policymaking is in the face of determined ignorance.

More NCJRS Abstracts, Sunday, February 18, 2007


NCJ 216956
Rebecca L. Naser ; Nancy G. La Vigne
Family Support in the Prisoner Reentry Process: Expectations and Realities
Journal of Offender Rehabilitation Volume:43 Issue:1 Dated:2006 Pages:93 to 106

Study findings showed that released prisoners relied very heavily on their families for support in navigating virtually every aspect of the reentry experience, from assistance with housing and employment to financial support and overall encouragement. Prisoners’ expectations for family support were consistently met or exceeded for most study participants. In addition, the quality of family relationships improved after release, as did prisoners’ views on the importance of family in staying out of prison. An important implication for practice is the fact that families provide even more support than soon-to-be-released prisoners anticipate suggesting that they shoulder a significant burden of the reentry challenges released prisoners face. Families may benefit from social support and services, as well as the development of programs that capitalize on the family support. While there have been very few attempts to understand the role of family relationships and support on reentry success or failure, it is reasonable to hypothesize that family members have an impact on released prisoners as they meet the challenges associated with their return to society. This article explores the question of whether prisoners’ expectations of how life will be on the outside are realized with regard to family support, as well as to the extent to which those expectations are met. The article examines the differences between anticipated and actual levels of familial support among a sample of 413 male prisoners returning to the cities of Baltimore and Chicago. Figures, notes, and references

NCJ 216971
Paul Schewe ; Stephanie Riger ; April Howard ; Susan L. Staggs ; Gillian E. Mason
Factors Associated with Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Victimization
Journal of Family Violence Volume:21 Issue:7 Dated:October 2006 Pages:469 to 475

This study explored factors associated with a lifetime history of domestic violence and sexual assault victimization in a sample of welfare recipients in the State of Illinois. The results of the study revealed several similarities and differences between factors related to domestic violence and sexual assault. The one overwhelming similarity is that childhood exposure to domestic violence is a significant risk factor for both sexual assault and domestic violence victimization. Being physically abused as a child was associated with lifetime domestic violence, but not lifetime sexual assault. For domestic violence victimization, the finding was that increased education and job skills were risk factors that supported the theory that domestic violence occurred when men perceived that their partner had more power in their relationship. Surprisingly, frequent alcohol and drug use were not associated with either type of victimization. Research suggests that drug and alcohol use can be both a risk factor and a consequence of victimization, as survivors self-medicate to manage their pain associated with victimization. Although many studies have been conducted exploring factors related to sexual assault and domestic violence victimization, it has remained unclear whether domestic violence and sexual assault share a common set of factors. Through the use of parallel logistic regression equations, this study sought to predict lifetime experience of sexual assault and domestic violence among a low-income sample of welfare recipients in Illinois. Tables, references

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Dropouts and Incarceration in TX

A kind reader has sent us news of a report out of the Friedman Foundation on the impact of dropouts on TX, and, surprise, they have a negative impact (or positive, I guess, depending on your point of view) on incarceration in a state already a bit bothered in that area. Here's the key point: Dropouts cost Texas taxpayers additional Medicaid costs of $321 million and additional incarceration costs of $12 million per year. The key implication is once again that failing to deal with our social infrastructures doesn't save us money but just delays and increases spending. Of course, if you read us regularly, you probably don't have to be told that. The full report is available in PDF, but I'm just linking to the press release in case you have issues with Adobe. You can get to the full report from the release. And please feel free yourself to send us things you feel would be of interest to the community here. Just hit the link on the right.

Jeffrey Dahmer or Earl Hickey?

Very interesting post up on sex offender legislation in TX over at Grits for Breakfast (not that none of the rest of his posts are ever very interesting). It poses the question of whether all child molesters just keep at it and never get caught or whether their recidivism rates are really among the lowest of all offenders.

I think it’s useful here to remember the four category schema of offenders generally that I mention occasionally that I first heard from a tough judge in western OK. You have your accidental offenders, people who have never before and will never again commit a crime, whether you do anything to them or not. Look mean at them or lock them away forever—you get the same effect. Then you have the Earl and Randy Hickeys (“My Name Is Earl”), the self-absorbeds who live life as party and take advantage whenever they can but who can be changed by intentional or unintentional turning points (as life-course crim folks call them). Then you have the serious offender who can and will do crime without serious restructuring and correction, but both can be done with programs that have shown effectiveness and time to let them work. Then you have your sociopaths and psychopaths, people who can never be turned or trusted (some of them reputedly work in the music business) and have to be handled severely forever.

Now, apply this to child sex offenders. Group 1—like the parents who find out the hard way you can’t take those “baby in the bathtub” pictures anymore, or at least send them through the mail (snail or e-). Group 2—like those teens we mentioned the other day who took naughty pictures of themselves and just sent them to each other, or the unfortunately not proverbial 18-year-old with the 15-year-old sweetie who go a little too far (actually these folks could be in Group 1, too, just depends on how raunchy they get or how many sweeties). Group 3—like the relatives, coaches, ministers, teachers, etc. who abuse their positions of trust and responsibility but, with treatment and an enforced realization that it’s “not all right” or that they could actually lose people they love through their actions, they can be turned around. Group 4—like serial murderers compared to “regular” ones, the people who commit tons of these crimes and get caught for very few of them, virtually impossible to turn and worth every penny of incarceration we can scrounge up.

Too often in our crim just policy debates, we ignore the OK judge’s wisdom on offenders, treating them as if they’re all the same, on both the liberal and conservative sides. They’re not. The trick, of course, is to develop the means to differentiate them well and to focus our resources on Group 2 and, especially, Group 3, no matter which offense type we’re dealing with, pedophiles or pickpockets. Good assessment and then effective treatment have their payoffs with these folks, and we lose that cost-effectiveness by lumping all offenders into the easier but more ignorant “one size fits all” bin. It’s especially true with child sex offenses where the damage can be enormous, even beyond the immediate victims, and the emotion and urge to act without thinking are so intense. I just hope we get a grip on this and start listening to that OK judge before we’ve committed ourselves to more damage to ourselves, too.

Friday, February 16, 2007

For Your Weekend Reading Pleasure

  • ANNA NICOLE SMITH!!!! Yes, a shameless attempt to boost our hits by pointing to this speculation that she died from a methodone overdose, which, if true, would make her the most prominent victim of an upsurge we've been noting for several weeks now. (Sorry we don't have pictures but my wife is watching.)
  • Speaking of senseless, irresponsible ingestion of chemicals, more on how our self-indulgence as a nation is skewing another nation dangerously, in this case Mexico (yes, I meant "skewing").
  • Yesterday we noted that Britain was at the bottom of 21 industrialized nations studied on child poverty and well-being. Well, today, we hear of how the society is coming apart as authority degenerates among the nation's young people. British officials are calling on fathers to get their hands back on the reins. Read to the end where the official bromides are at their worst and see which feeling takes precedence in your head--eye-rolling amazement or saddening sickness?
  • This article might at first give you back some confidence in British officials as they develop a sophisticated footwear pattern tracking system. Until you read this at the very end: But footwear may not always lead police to the perpetrator. Last year, it emerged that Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski used shoes with smaller soles attached to the bottom to make it look like a person with smaller footprints were behind the bombs. Crime is a complex adaptive system, as this shows. So why aren't we studying it like one yet?
  • A really good article on CO's efforts to deal with its corr sent problems, case studies, references to the new gov's goals (he used to be a prosecutor, one of the good ones we talk about here), inadequate treatment system, and plenty of stats. The kind of journalism the First Amendment was created for, the kind that can actually have an impact on bringing a bit of sense to policymaking.
  • One way to get to the CO article above is through this link from Pam Clifton at Think Outside the Cage, who adds her own commentary, including what should be the dominant framing of our corr sent problems--"catch and release, catch and release." While you're there, check out this post as well with another great frame--CO's prison crisis is its "very own Iraq war. It was sold to voters on flawed intelligence, distorted over the years to evoke irrational fear, exploited by politicians for their cynical self-interest and transformed into an industry that feeds on the whole unseemly, craven, warped public policy for the sole benefit of its own insatiable greed. Now it's a bona fide quagmire, and nobody in power has the guts to admit it." Heck, just check out all the posts there. The blog is en fuego lately.
  • At CrimProf Blog, they've found an article on MT and its sudden awareness that the nation knows it's going crazy with prison buildup. This was the real value of Pew's report on prison pop projections last Wednesday. It puts states on the defensive and in the spotlight nationally, forces them to react differently than if noted locally. Hopefully MT won't be the only state. (BTW, many thanks to the commenters who pointed to better coverage of the Pew report in their states than the national media did. Things do get rushed when Anna Nicole’s body might get moved any second. . . A second reference!!! Man, watch the hits explode now.)
  • A month from now HBO will run a 14-part documentary on addiction and how to treat it, so we're told by the good folks at Neuroethics & Law. Should be required viewing. Get cable now if you're still one of those 13 people who don't have it.
  • Speaking of intelligent blogs on cognitive science and its implications, check out this really nice post on the cog sci behind our perceptions of race at The Situationist. If I have to spell out the corr sent implications, go to your room until I tell you you can come out.
  • No surer sign that the CA prison union is only about their pay, not about what’s best for the state.
  • ME is always at the bottom (or top) of incarceration rates every year, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have overcrowding problems.
  • Talking urinal cakes? Not really what I've meant by "technocorrections," but whatever works. If it scares folks out of driving drunk, I'm for it. You not? Pay no attention to that little white disk down there.