Monday, February 05, 2007

News of the Day, Monday, February 5, 2007

  • A sad and disturbing story. A multiple DUI guy who only injured a family he crashed into rather than killing them fortunately. The guy blew off the prior punishments and you really doubt that the semi-long prison term will take care of his problems (Asked how much he had to drink, authorities quote Spangler as saying: "Obviously not enough."). For all the skepticism we raise here about incapacitation having the powerful effect it's claimed to by its advocates, this is a case where incapacitation actually probably does work. Nature does work a limit on days available to drive drunk. Deprive him of a bunch of them, make the world safer. Still, this guy is going to cost taxpayers a lot more than he's worth and is a giant argument for technocorrections. These poster boys will be the reason for more and more pressure along those lines. There may be just no other choice, given our budgets.
  • Speaking of techno, this article shows how MRIs of viewers of Super Bowl commercials revealed things about the subjects that we might not have gotten from observation or survey. Again, not directly corrections sentencing, but another example of the expansion of the technology into more and more of our lives, waiting for opportunities in criminal justice. (For an insightful blog post on this, check out the Situationist.)
  • Before we leave techno world, here's a call for code of ethics for life and biomedical sciences, similar to medicine's Hypocritic Oath. Such a code would go a long way in addressing many of the questions we raise here, although that implies that we should be at the table or at least advising. The "code" idea is one we should develop for criminal justice research as well, standards of neutral competence (as we old public admin guys learned) that would allow all interested to have faith in our work and be able to use it with confidence. There's way too much "for every Ph.D., there's an equal and opposite Ph.D." going on in what gets called "science" in our policymaking. Having a code wouldn't stop it all, but it would provide the standards for calling BS.
  • One last research piece of mind. Turns out that our perceptions of what we think others are thinking and perceiving turn on two dimensions: agency, an individual's ability for self-control, morality and planning; and experience, the capacity to feel sensations such as hunger, fear and pain. Why is this important to us? Well, [i]f attributing experience to another entity is the key to imbuing them with moral worth, he says, attributing agency is the key for holding them responsible for their actions. "When we perceive agency in another, we believe they have the capacity to recognize right from wrong and can punish them accordingly," Gray says. "The legal system, with its insanity and reduced capacity defenses, reflects the fact that people naturally assess the agency of individuals following a moral misdeed." Pretty well sums it up.
  • Cocaine is hitting Italy harder, more widespread use, similar to Europe as a whole.
  • CA makes the news again, and not particularly in a good way. For some reason, the promise of ESPN didn't get many inmates to volunteer for out-of-state send-offs, so now they're forcing inmates to head east. Lawsuits and more fun to follow.
  • Meanwhile, MI, with a similar if smaller scale problem, is looking at moving the ill and aged inmates (and their much greater costs) out early.
  • Finally, more prosecutor misconduct: A federal judge reviewing a death-row inmate's case said that the prosecution lied in court and hid witness statements during the man's 1995 murder trial. The judge gets why it's bad for corr sent and crim just in general: "In suppressing (witness statements) ... and lying about it to the court, the prosecution lost sight of what the American judicial system strives to guarantee." Want the good news? Since the guy was a prosecutor, he's been named a state judge. Who doesn't see he's done anything wrong. At least it was just a one-time thing. . . uh, sorry, it wasn't. Brewer prosecuted another murder case in which his behavior was questioned. The state bar accused him and former Union prosecutor Ken Honeycutt of not telling a trial judge or defense attorneys about a key witness's testimony deal in the 1996 death-penalty trial of John Gregory Hoffman. Evidence about the deal has led to the granting of a new trial for Hoffman, but a special prosecutor investigating the deal said that no charges would be filed against Brewer and Honeycutt. Just makes you proud, doesn't it?

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