Wednesday, February 28, 2007

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 In one as-yet unpublished study of 156 addicts ranging in age from 24 to 68 at a methadone clinic, the subjects' reported levels of boredom were the only reliable factor that predicted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.

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