Saturday, March 31, 2007

More NCJRS Abstracts, March 31, 2007


NCJ 217434
R. Barry Ruback ; Stacy N. Hoskins ; Alison C. Cares ; Ben Feldmeyer
Perception and Payment of Economic Sanctions: A Survey of Offenders
Federal Probation Volume:70 Issue:3 Dated:December 2006 Pages:26 to 31

This survey of 122 offenders in 2 Pennsylvania counties examined various explanations for high rates of offender nonpayment of financial sanctions. The study found that indicators of motivation to pay financial sanctions were not significantly related to missing a payment; however, indicators of ability to pay were significantly related to missing a payment. There was strong evidence that offenders did not understand how fines, fees, and costs were imposed. Although offenders, particularly property offenders, reported they understood how restitution decisions were made and imposed, they did not agree with the rationale for economic sanctions. They did not rate any of the goals of financial punishment very highly. Also, offenders did not understand where the money they paid went. The problem was even greater when offenders owed multiple amounts for many cases. Future research might examine how best to convey this information to offenders and whether this information gives offenders a better understanding of the penalties imposed on them, makes them feel more responsible for their crimes, and reduces their likelihood of reoffending. The self-report survey mailed to the offenders was divided into 4 sections that included 41 questions. The first section asked questions about the respondent's offense and punishment. The second section asked about the economic sanctions imposed in the case, including the amounts for costs, fees, fines, and restitution, as well as the payments they had made. This section also asked how well they understood how the amounts for payment were determined. The third section focused on their specific case, including perceived responsibility for the crime, the fairness of the financial sanctions, and the procedures used to determine the amounts. In addition, respondents completed a scale that assessed their understanding of various punishment goals in their cases. 2 tables and 18 references

NCJ 217436
Heather Barklage ; Dane Miller J.D. ; Gene Boham, Jr., Ph.D.
Probation Conditions Versus Probation Officer Directives: Where the Twain Shall Meet
Federal Probation Volume:70 Issue:3 Dated:December 2006 Pages:37 to 41

This article examines recent trends in case law that address the extent to which probation, parole, and other community-supervision personnel may impose additional or modified conditions of supervision. The Federal and State court cases reviewed show that the root of this problem is the extent to which the probation officers' instructions or directives require the defendant to adhere to new supervision requirements without receiving reasonable prior notice. Too many restrictions on the supervising officer's discretion would impede his/her ability to respond to changing conditions in an offender's circumstances. On the other hand, the courts must retain their constitutional and statutory sentencing role. Correctional personnel should not be granted the power of essentially revising sentencing conditions. Some middle ground must be defined. Guidance is provided by the following cases: Holterhaus v. State, 417 So.2d 291 (Fla, App., 1982); and Dordell v. State, 850 A.2d 302 (Delaware Sup.2004). Based on these cases, this article recommends a procedure for any circumstance in which the corrections agent gives formal instructions to an offender and plans to impose modified conditions of supervision. First, all instructions from the corrections agent to the offender should be thoroughly documented. Further, adequate measures should be taken to ensure that the offender understands these instructions. The authors recommend using acknowledgment forms that detail the instructions and the reasons for their imposition. Second, if the instructions impose new and different "conditions," the offender should be informed that his/her "acceptance" of the new condition is temporary, pending the exercise of his/her right to have the new condition reviewed by the sentencing court.

NCJ 217438
Richard Tewksbury ; Matthew B. Lees
Sex Offenders on Campus: University-Based Sex Offender Registries and the Collateral Consequences of Registration
Federal Probation Volume:70 Issue:3 Dated:December 2006 Pages:50 to 56

This survey of the experiences and perceptions of a sample of offenders (n=26) listed on university-based sex offender registries is intended to assist policymakers and the public in assessing the usefulness of such registries. The sample was mostly male (96.2 percent), White (92.3 percent), and older than the typical college student. The sample included college students, college employees, and individuals who were both students and employees. The survey findings show that one-third of the registered sex offenders (RSOs) did not know that their college maintained a sex offender registry with their name listed. This calls into question the deterrent value of such registries. The RSOs reported a variety of consequences related to their listings on both a university-based registry and a statewide registry. These consequences included housing and employment difficulties, problems in social relationships, instances of harassment, and concern for their safety and well-being. University student RSOs reported more consequences of being on the registry than did RSOs who were university employees. Student registrants were significantly younger than employee registrants and reported a mean of 4 years more experience with registration. This suggests that RSOs develop more effective means of coping with being registrants over time, such that they experience fewer impacts from being listed. The findings of this study closely correspond with the existing literature on the consequences of sex offender registration. Study data were collected in January 2006 through anonymous questionnaires mailed to all individuals listed on a sex offender registry maintained by a 4-year public college or university in the United States. A total of 39 university-maintained sex offender registries were identified. They listed 113 individuals. Twenty-six completed questionnaires were returned, representing registrants from 10 States. The questionnaire was designed specifically for this study. 3 tables and 41 references

The Next Book I Buy

Been perusing some book sections of major papers while I watch exercise infomercials this morning and I ran across two on a new book by Jerome Groopman, "How Doctors Think." As I read the summaries of this examination of the way doctors diagnose and prescribe and the heuristics they use and sometimes get trapped in, I couldn't help thinking about judges, guidelines, and corrections sentencing policy. In both cases, we're dealing with a person before us who needs to be fixed through our intervention (and, yes, we are trying to "fix" offenders--that's why we call it "corrections"). And in both cases, reliance on a limited set of tools and ways of thinking can lead us to fail, with often disastrous results.

Here are some of the key points noted in the reviews. They're about doctors, but see if you can't see yourself subbing "judges" in the subject.

Groopman dissects doctors' thinking and neatly packages it into simple and accessible terms that suggest why it sometimes leads to faulty actions. He introduces us to terms such as "diagnosis momentum" — when a diagnosis becomes fixed in the mind of the physician despite incomplete evidence. Or "availability," which means the tendency to judge the likelihood of a medical event by the ease with which relevant examples come to mind. . . .

Along with what doctors think about medical management of illnesses, the author surprises us with stories of how doctors think and feel about patients and how it changes the care they receive. It is no surprise that a doctor who secretly dislikes a patient may rush him through or make him feel like he is on an assembly line, but Groopman also explores the unexpected effect of being liked by the doctor. . . .

Groopman gives a brief mention of how modern evidence-based medicine competes with the art of using your intuition. He touches on how drug and insurance companies pressure doctors as he vividly explores their influence via big drug company sales representatives. [TECHNOCORRECTIONS!!!!] I would have liked him to have written more about the influence of insurance companies, an area barely touched on, and about finances. This might have given readers a more complete picture of the intersection of medicine and finances. . . .

. . . misdiagnosis is “a window into the medical mind,” revealing “why doctors fail to question their assumptions, why their thinking is sometimes closed or skewed, why they overlook the gaps in their knowledge.” According to one study he cites, as many as 15 percent of patients receive inaccurate diagnoses, a finding that matches research based on autopsies. [Oh, for recidivism rates of only 15%.] . . .

Today’s physicians are increasingly encouraged to behave as if they were computers, and to reason from flowcharts and algorithms. This is intended to produce better diagnoses and fewer errors; it is also embraced by insurance companies, who use it to decide which tests and treatments to approve. This approach can be useful for “run-of-the-mill diagnosis and treatment — distinguishing strep throat from viral pharyngitis, for example,” Groopman writes. But for difficult cases he finds it limiting and dehumanizing. He is similarly critical of generic profiles, classification schemes that draw statistical portraits of disease states. They encourage the doctor to focus on the disease, not the patient, and so may lead him to miss the particular manifestation in the particular sufferer. . . .

Groopman reviews the clinical conference where [a very badly and repeatedly misdiagnosed] case was discussed. Such conferences occur at every teaching hospital in the country, Groopman writes, but they generally lack “an in-depth examination of why the diagnosis was missed — specifically, what cognitive errors occurred and how they could have been remedied.” He observes that the doctors at Boston Children’s Hospital, one of the best pediatric hospitals in the world, had extensive experience with SCID and similar genetic abnormalities: “Familiarity breeds conclusions and sometimes a certain degree of contempt for alternatives.” Physicians may be reluctant to pursue unlikely diagnoses, particularly if they will be criticized by colleagues for ordering too many tests or for being show-offs. . . .

This last quote raises a major question. Why is it that we see so few (any?) "clinical conferences" of failed sentences? I mean, I know that court systems are notorious for failing to provide and analyze their sentencing data themselves. If they had been doing so effectively, sentencing commissions would likely never have come into existence. But these reviews show what happens when professionals really care about the outcome of their decisions. When those decisions fail, they at least go through the motions of, and in many cases take seriously, figuring out why they didn't work.

It's not enough to say there are too many other parties involved. There aren't that many. The corrections folks, treatment people, counselors. Basically the folks who are making drug courts work right now. And you wouldn't have to do every case. Just the more egregious ones, say, when the reoffense is violent or hits a threshold of a certain number of offenses or is just randomly selected. I do know of judges who have made the effort a few times, but why isn't it done on a regular basis? Not just by them but by prosecutors who drop cases or agree to lower pleas to get the deal. More work and time? Well, we show our priorities by where we put our work and time. That we make no more effort to figure out how and why we're messing up tells the community all it needs to know about whether we consider sentencing well and improving and correcting our mistakes important.

That's one reason why we've been such strong supporters here of the "sentencing information systems" that are currently climbing on our sentencing policy Hit Parade. And why I'm so enthusiastic about what CO is proposing for its new sentencing commission (and what VT might end up with, from what I understand). Gather good data and get good people to analyze it for knowledge of "what works" and what doesn't. Feed the results back into the system and hold those who fail to pay attention accountable for their resulting failures. Health care and analysis of misdiagnosing benefited enormously from the move to evidence-based practice and consistent review of what practice achieved. Success in CO (and VT?) could move corrections sentencing far down the road to doing the same thing and making improved public safety and decreased victimization real possibilities. Maybe we could even start doing joint court-corrections "clinical conferences" to enhance the process even more. At least among the practitioners who want to do their jobs better. (And we can find out the ones who don't.) We have a chance to stop our twirling and arguing and to start making sentencing based on more than the limited actual number of possible sentences and factors now being used. Who knew that a book about doctors could offer corrections sentencing so much?

I got to get to the bookstore.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Your Required Weekend Reading Assignments

  • Great article on yet another pass at Second Life, which I've speculated could be a land for sentencing and corrections simulations and controlled experiments (IRBs, grow up and let progress reign!!!). Seems that disgusted pioneers are becoming terrorists against the commercialization of their virtual homeland. Which means policing, which means punishments, which means . . . are we going to have this happen without us, anyway? So shouldn't we be stepping in with assistance now? And, as for those breakaway virtual worlds in which the participants can set things up new the way they want, couldn't we be working with them to get some conditions included that allow us to test our theories and beliefs? This is what I mean: "unhappy Second Life users were moving to sites such as Multiverse, which provides technology to create your own virtual world. Through Multiverse, Second Life detractors can delve into themes such as science fiction or Shakespeare, said co-founder Corey Bridges. 'We get Second Life denizens who say, "I want to create a virtual space that is much more rich than Second Life," ' he said. 'They want to control more of the variables.'" This is going to get past us and the window will close if we don't hurry. I don't have the skills to do it, but surely someone is geeky enough in corr sent to give it a try.
  • A MI Real Cost of Prisons). Its call: "With a record 51,500 inmates and one of the nation's highest incarceration rates, Michigan spends nearly $2 billion a year, or $5 million a day, on prisons, more than it spends on higher education. The state can no longer afford it. Granholm can and should use her rightful authority to make a small dent in Michigan's costly and bloated prison system."
  • Crime & Federalism highlights the inadequacy of the usual systemic response to prosecutorial abuse by judges and misconduct boards. In truth, there doesn't seem to be much realistic balance to these regular problems. Again, our current trial system encourages "win at any cost" by all parties involved with no concern about social principles, and any legitimacy it might get from a public wanting fairness and justice, while irrelevant to what those parties are indoctrinated in law school, gets lost, along with a subsequent cultural insistence on obeying rules and laws, much less support for rational policy and spending. Change will have to come from outside the practice since the players have such a hard time seeing the forest the taxpayers are paying for.
  • Grits for Breakfast alerts us to a new blog: Eyewitness ID Blog. Which will keep us informed on issues of DNA, testimony, false confessions, etc., etc., etc. Looking forward to it.
  • On the heels of candy-flavored meth, we get the cutesy, sweetsy malt beverages. Just in time for proms and graduation parties. There is a protest being organized, but, good lord, where's the political outrage on this, with our righteous concern about drug abuse and child abuse???
  • Finally, at NIC's Corrections Community blog, news of a Canadian report that steers us to how to judge quality research and evaluation in corr sent policy, sex offender research in this case, but with application to most areas we deal with. This is one of the hardest areas for corrections practitioners to get their arms around, in my experience, and this study is a quick and readable intro to what needs to be done. Good to see. Have a good weekend.

A History of Wisconsin- Part XVII

Part XVI ended with Governor Tommy Thompson and Attorney General (and eventual Governor) James Doyle introducing truth-in-sentencing proposals in late 1996 that overshadowed the reformist recommendations of the Governor’s Task Force on Sentencing and Corrections. This post is the first of several that will address the legislative history of truth-in-sentencing thereafter. I begin by outlining the frames and terms of debate over the policy among supporters of Governor Thompson’s plan.

In public discourse, the truth-in-sentencing initiative was identified primarily with its provision to abolish parole; newspaper headlines and legislative press releases alike generally described it a “Bill to End Parole.” However, that identification could be somewhat misleading; although supporters (such as Doyle in his original proposal) would make occasional criticisms of the parole system itself, parole abolition was not the primary stated intention of truth-in-sentencing. From Thompson’s original statement onward, truth-in-sentencing was framed first and foremost as a systemic issue of ending indeterminacy and ensuring that offenders “serve[d] the full time period,” the issue rooted primarily in response to disparities between sentences and time served. In short, parole abolition may have been the leading effect associated with the proposal, but it was the imposition of “truthful” sentences, and its anticipated impacts on the sentencing system, which formed the thrust of the proposal and the crux of the debate. Stated in the most general terms, arguments for truth-in-sentencing were focused on the public’s views of and relationship with the sentencing system, while critics focused on the strains on the system truth-in-sentencing could portend. We shall examine each in turn.

As the design first introduced and considered in the legislature, Governor Thompson’s truth-in-sentencing proposal set the terms of the legislative debate. Thus, “supporters” and “critics” in the following sections are defined as such by their view on the Thompson proposal. Proponents of Thompson’s proposal- led in the legislature by Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen (R-Brookfield), and Rep. Scott Walker (R-Wauwautosa), chair of the Assembly Corrections Committee, and often supported by Doyle and members of the criminal justice system- justified their support almost entirely in populist terms. Rep. Walker, perhaps the most vocal supporter of truth-in-sentencing throughout the process, characterized the law as being “really about certainty and consistency.” But more specifically, truth-in-sentencing would be about certainty and consistency in the eyes of citizens- and especially for victims. To Walker, “the bottom line [was] about victims.” As the relative of one murder victim put it, “the only comfort” a family could have was that the murder would serve his full term in prison- not a fraction of the time “like she would in Wisconsin.”

This certainty was also needed to confront the perceived fear and disillusionment the indeterminate system created among the general public. As Judge Thomas Barland put it, “I have always been sympathetic to members of the public bewildered or upset when they know someone sentenced to five years in prison will not serve five years.” Judge Michael Brennan later explained how this personal issue became a policy problem. “Part of public safety”, he wrote in a recent defense of truth-in-sentencing, “is eliminating fear and uncertainty as to whether or not this offender will victimize again.” In Wisconsin’s indeterminate system, where the sentence handed down had no direct bearing on the time an offender would actually served, Brennan and Barland agreed that “criminal sentencing” consequently “lacked credibility.” In short, the system lacked the faith of the citizens it was intended to protect; and that faith was not just desirable, but a necessary component of the public safety the system was supposed to provide.

Having defined the issue as a problem of public perception, supporters thusly emphasized the perceptual benefits truth-in-sentencing would bring. The perceived bewilderment could be fought by introducing a system which ensured that a five year sentence would mean five years served; the “cynical belief that convicts were routinely sprung early” stemming from the indeterminate system’s lack of credibility would be defused. While supporters noted these undesirable points of view ostensibly held by citizens, truth-in-sentencing was more often framed in positive terms of how the system would improve: “credibility and coherence,” as well as “public confidence” in the system, would be restored. In other words, the newfound certainty and clarity of the system would ensure that sentences were understandable to and taken seriously by average citizens. Sentences would no longer be “artificial” and meaningless; and, per the fears Brennan referred to, “families would be given peace of mind” regarding the workings of the justice system.

While the above constituted the dominant narrative for supporters, their most prominent secondary argument is also worth noting, for its reinforcement of truth-in-sentencing’s framing in populist terms. Doyle and Thompson both emphasized that another benefit of truth-in-sentencing would be that sentencing decisions would be made by elected, “accountable” judges rather than the unelected members of the parole board. In the minds of its two progenitors, truth-in-sentencing was not simply designed in response to public views of the system; it was also a reform that would make the system regularly responsive to those views.

Supporters made clear what they, and truth-in-sentencing, stood for: the various “c” words are consistently repeated throughout public accounts on the issue. They were equally clear in highlighting that truth-in-sentencing was not intended to increase sentence lengths. Both during the truth-in-sentencing debate and in the present day, Walker has been quick to add to his repeated espousals of clarity and certainty that the legislature’s intentions did not include an increase in sentence lengths: “truth-in-sentencing wasn’t necessarily to make sentences longer, it was to make them certain.” However, while Doyle’s proposal included his committee to examine such implementation issues, Thompson’s truth-in-sentencing proposal did not include any means for sentencing guidance. Rather, Republicans repeatedly claimed that judges would control sentences on their own. Rep. Mark Green, among others, argued that judges “who have been giving out longer sentences in order to make sure inmates serve a specific time behind bars would probably give shorter sentences” if offenders were guaranteed to serve their full terms. This was an arguably fair supposition; judges in Mississippi, for example, had reduced their sentences after that state’s truth-in-sentencing law was passed, just as Green described. But many raised doubts about the claim, noting, for instance, that Wisconsin’s elected judges would be under political pressure not to appear lenient. There is no reason to doubt that all supporters were sincere in saying that their intention was not to raise sentences, but it is also fair to point out that in the case of Thompson and the Assembly Republicans, their original proposal- by their own admission- took no steps to help ensure that would be the case.

It is interesting to note that supporters’ stated intentions had much less in common with the aforementioned concept of “expressive justice” than many reforms of the period. While expressive justice reforms such as mandatory minimums and three-strikes laws were directed at punishing offenders- and specifically by forcing them to spend longer terms in prison- truth-in-sentencing supporters in Wisconsin were consistent in both their explicit denials that they wanted to increase sentences and their emphasis upon the policy’s effects upon public perceptions rather than offenders. Supporters- especially Thompson- were not averse to arguing that truth-in-sentencing would have deterrent effects on offenders. But the more consistent emphasis upon credibility, coherence and public cynicism represent a reform oriented, at least in the public discourse, more towards changing public perception of the system’s operation than changing those operations to punish offenders more severely. Stated another way, one could easily argue in keeping with Anderson’s viewpoint that truth-in-sentencing emphasized symbolism over crime control, but those symbolic expressions were clearly directed less at criminals than at the general public.

Part XVIII will outline the arguments of Governor Thompson’s opponents.

Great Reentry Resource

The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice is a non-partisan urban research and advocacy organization founded in 1999. Based in Newark, the Institute promotes the development of economically healthy and vibrant urban communities and challenges practices and policies that prevent urban New Jersey from achieving its full potential.

The Institute conducts a broad range of activities designed to raise the profile of prisoner reentry issues for state decision-makers and local communities, and to help protect communities from the negative impacts of reentry. These efforts began with the convening of the New Jersey Reentry Roundtable, a year-long initiative that brought together government policy makers, researchers, local and national experts, community service providers, victims advocates, and formerly incarcerated people to develop an empirically-based understanding of reentry in New Jersey and propose policy and programmatic responses. The Roundtable’s final report, Coming Home for Good: Meeting the Challenge of Prisoner Reentry in New Jersey, has provided a blueprint for policy change in the state and guides the Institute’s on-going advocacy.

The Institute frequently publishes an excellent electronic newsletter, The New Jersey Reentry Digest, which can be accessed here. The most recent issue contains information about the following topics.

  • Second Chance Act Reintroduced in House of Representatives
  • Washington State Senate Passes Reentry Bill
  • New Report on Reentry and Housing
  • Conference on Legal Barriers to Reentry
  • National Offender Workforce Development Conference
  • New Jersey Update: Criminal Justice Forum at Rutgers-Newark

Thursday, March 29, 2007

A New Direction for Sentencing Commissions

Pam Clifton at Think Outside the Cage alerts us to the new sentencing commission bill just introduced in CO. She has a link available to the PDF for your excited perusal. It will definitely be worth your time.

I can’t say enough good about this bill. Its focus is on building an evidence-based foundation for determining what works best to reduce recidivism and victimization. Not one word about guidelines, so it avoids all the politics and problems of that. Links the new commission to Kim English’s exemplary research and evaluation unit. Has a juvenile justice expert as a required member, showing that the authors understand fully where real reduction of future crime and costs will come most from. Clear mission statement that members will be bound to: “To enhance public safety, to ensure justice, and to ensure protections of the rights of victims through the cost-effective use of public resources.” Gets it exactly right. Protect the public and rights of victims through cost-effective use of public resources. And makes its duties the collection and dissemination of what’s cost-effective and what’s not. The only negative in the bill is that the commission is sunsetted after 5 years, which just hands its opponents, who will be many if it’s successful, a fully-loaded weapon and encourages them and recalcitrant agencies that don’t want to change to hold out until the commission gets whacked. But, if the commission addresses those threats directly and strongly from the beginning, it may be able to prove its worthiness for permanence, so that’s not a deal-killer. (Having the commission’s director directly tied to the governor can be good or bad depending on the politics at any particular time and might cost you a good director and continuity when the governor leaves, but that may just be my past “director”ness seeping in. At least it doesn’t leave the director and staff floundering about direction if the commission itself dithers, which I’ve also experienced.)

Think what is possible in CO if this passes. Real evaluation of programs, treatments, sentences themselves. If a 3-year sentence accomplishes as much in lowered recidivism and victimization as a 5-year sentence at lower cost to taxpayers, then policymakers will have to address that. If the 5-year sentence gets more of each, then the extra dollars involved may look more affordable. Probation achieve as much reduction of recidivism and victims as prison for this type of offender or offense? Okay, then, what do we do? If some sentences can be established as more effective than others (and I do have my doubts generally, which raises whole other questions about what we think we’re doing with sentencing, but that’s another post), then we can hold courts and their practitioners just as or more accountable for what they’re doing with disparity, justice, effectiveness than if we had guidelines to which conformity was expected. And for those who like to use prisons as infliction of pain, fine. That can still be done. But it will have to be brought out into the open and not hidden behind now disproven assertions that the punishment is the best we can do at preventing more crime and victims. And, if this commission is successful, the results of evaluations and analyses in CO can spread to other similarly afflicted states which can develop data and results for comparisons and creation of a real nationwide system of sentence study and deliberation.

I know I get really depressing here sometimes about the future of what’s been stagnant corrections sentencing policymaking. The same old same old, pulling tools out of the kit that only work when conditions come together just right, like two full moons in one month. If this bill passes, it will take commissions in a new and more promising direction. No debates over “judicial discretion” and resulting lack of legitimacy and support. No hemming and hawing about whether prisons work or not. They’ll go out and get the evidence of when it’s the best means of stopping recidivism and victimization and when it’s not, backed by one of the premier, nationally recognized state criminal justice research agencies in the country. Then serious people can finally start having serious discussions about serious solutions to the serious problems that face that state. This will be a body able to deal quickly and authoritatively with all new research findings, including our famed “technocorrections” as well as pilot reentry programs, internal prison initiatives, and non-correctional options from other agencies and institutions. Guidelines-focused commissions haven’t done much of that, because of their historical orientations and legislative charges, and will continue to find it hard to incorporate any change in that direction. Old habits die too hard. This one won’t be bound by those traditions and structures.

And, to answer Pam’s concerns about the immediate impact, the research and data on “what works” are already there and can be put into the flow much quicker and more effectively with an audience willing to listen than guidelines would. And when it works, it will provide a new model for states dealing with similar problems, finally a new way of approaching this. I’ve been at this too long to get hopes up too high, but this truly is the best piece of news in corrections sentencing in the dozen years that I’ve focused specifically on it. When someone “the glass is half stupid” like me gets this enthusiastic about a possible policy change, you know it’s probably even better than I’m telling you. And it’s good to know Pam and TOTC will be there to cover it.

News of the Day, Thursday, March 29, 2007

  • Protesters against building new prisons in CA and protesters in the state legis against doing constructive things to address that prison problem, which includes being out of beds completely by the end of the year and pushing everything back down on the jails. Let's hope this isn't the final judgment, so to speak: "Everybody is just waiting for the federal court to take over the system, and they are all polishing their finger getting ready to point it at whoever they plan to blame," said John Lum, former chief probation officer for San Luis Obispo County and a coordinator of Wednesday's event."It's a disgrace. The governor and Legislature keep stuffing people in the prisons but they refuse to take responsibility for the consequences." Think there's a coincidence between that statement and this CA poll finding of general dissatisfaction out there and specific doubt that the state's political leaders are up to the tasks that face them? General perception of legitimacy = acceptance of rules and laws = effectiveness of criminal justice. Simple formula.
  • NH dumps on med marijuana despite its neighbors approving their versions. I guess all the potheads will be fleeing the state now.
  • I have to admit that I’m baffled that this is even a policy issue. Who would be making rape victims pay for their rape kits at this point in history?

Quick Notes

Remember how I mentioned that TJ Maxx had lent out our credit card number to thieves? Turns out we were in a select group of folks, only 45.7 million of us worldwide. . . . We've been having some trouble with our comments (best we can tell is it has to do with problems Google has been having with its g-mail, or maybe it's global warming). Anyway, our friend Teri Carns in AK (Alaska, not Arkansas) with their Judicial Council sent us this comment regarding a post we made about differences in rural and urban sentencing. Here's what they've found in the Great North: "My comment was just that in our felony report (about 2,300 1999 charged felons), we found that predisposition incarceration for rural people tended to be shorter. Non-presumptive sentences were longer, especially for drug offenses. Total time incarcerated was longer only for drug offenses; otherwise, the predisposition and non-presumptive time balanced out. Alaska ’s geography and distribution of resources, like the other rural areas you mentioned, left judges with fewer choices for dispositions." Thanks, Teri. . . . ANNOUNCING A GREAT NEW BLOG!!! Here are the details:

Launched on March 29th by Kathleen Pequeño, Nicole Porter and Judy Greene, Texas Prison Bid'ness is posting information about the growing prison-for-profit industry in Texas . Since the first prison-for-profit in the world – an immigrant detention prison operated by the Corrections Corporation of America in Houston -- opened in Texas in 1984, Texas has become home to scores of prisons of all shapes and sizes that are run for the profit of corporations. We'll be sharing information about the true costs of private prisons to individuals, families and communities in Texas and across the country. Post #1 by Kathleen Pequeño highlights advocates’ demands that CCA’s T. Don Hutto immigrant detention prison be closed down.

About the name, Texas Prison Bid'ness

Yes, this blog's name is indeed a tribute to Texas writer Molly Ivins, who wrote in 2003, “What happens if you privatize prisons is that you have a large industry with a vested interest in building ever-more prisons.” You can read her 2003 column on the push for privatization in the Texas legislature.

Have something to say? Our blog posts are open to comments, so you can comment or suggest other private prison news for us to cover. We'll be updating this blog regularly with more news, more background, and more facts about private prisons. If you want to know when new content is available, consider subscribing to our RSS feed.

. . . And finally, I've recommended a few times here the development of Kent Scheidegger's "science court" concept, folks who can supply needed expertise to judges on science issues, especially with technocorrections rising up the chart with a bullet. Well, turns out there already are some orgs out there doing this, providing "resource judges" for reference. One is a consortium of the OH Supreme Court and MD Court of Appeals called ASTAR (Advanced Science and Technology Adjudication Resources). Here's their website. I've bookmarked it and will try to keep you up on what they do. I guess it's better to have had a good idea and lost than never to have had a good idea at all. . . . don't say it.

Around the Blogs, Thursday, March 29, 2007

  • Doug Berman at Sentencing Law and Policy notes a couple of posts raising doubts about the recent reports of rising violent crime rates, especially since the two posts come from guys on the opposite ends of the political spectrum. I would just point out that historically two things have tended to happen here when violent crime rates start going up for real or for hype—there is a call for more prisons (which Mauer is professionally and personally against) and more gun control (which Lott is professionally and personally against). Not saying their critiques are wrong, just that it’s harder to take seriously claims of bias when the claimants are well known for the axes they’ve ground.
  • From Sex Crime Defender, another tale of 100% certain eyewitness testimony sending the wrong guy to prison for a couple of decades, as we discover from DNA tests. Want an understatement? "Capozzi, who has schizophrenia, was arrested in September 1985, charged with three rapes and convicted of two, largely on the basis of the victims identifying him in two police lineups.''They believed in their heart they were accusing the right man,'' Clark said at a news conference. ''Obviously they were violated and they wanted whoever they thought did it to be punished, so they acted in good faith. Sadly, they made a mistake.''
  • From Sex Crimes Blog, this link to a Prevention Works piece Corey beat me to. Matthew Bowen does another nice job updating his readers on the sex offender residency restriction issue, evidence of what works and doesn't with these offenders, and the hard thinking we have to do balancing treatment against legit public concerns. His typical considered and thoughtful view.
  • The Situationist provides an overview of recent studies on the relationship between certain religious fundamentalism and violence. It also helps explain why the more “fundamentalist” states lead the nation in both violent crime and punitive response to it.
  • Finally, a great book review essay at Financial Times, via Neuroethics & Law. A really thoughtful overview of what cognitive and neuro sciences are doing to the concept of free will and what that will do to our concepts of responsibility in criminal law. Here are some key quotes:

The neuroscientist and life peer Susan Greenfield, one of 21 eminent thinkers interviewed by Susan Blackmore in her Conversations on Consciousness: What the Best Minds Think About the Brain, Free Will and What It Means to be Human, is worried. The implications touch ”all of life”, she argues, ”how much a kid at school feels they’re responsible, and feels their destiny is in their own hands”. Another interviewee, the philosopher Pat Churchland, is concerned about ”how the developing knowledge of the genetic and neurobiological causes of irrational violence is going to have an impact on the criminal law”.

The impact could be revolutionary. Imagine, for example, two women - call them Thelma and Louise - who both hear rumours that their husbands are having affairs. Thelma waits for her husband to come home so she can hear his side of the story. Louise waits for her husband to come home, and shoots him as he walks through the door. It turns out neither husband was actually having an affair.

Louise is accused of cold-blooded murder. There is no reason, argues the prosecutor, why she could not have acted just like Thelma, who was, after all, in just the same position. Not so, says Louise’s defence lawyer, producing a map of her brain as it was before she heard the rumour. He then shows the jury how the news made this neuron fire, which caused these other neurons to fire, which eventually, caused Louise’s finger to pull the trigger. He argues that this unbroken causal chain led inevitably from her hearing the rumour of her husband’s infidelity to the awful position in which she now finds herself. Thelma was lucky to have the brain she did, he argues. Louise was not so lucky. Surely this poor widow, a victim of the immutable laws of nature, deserves pity, not punishment?


But our increasing knowledge of how the brain works is already changing the way we view criminal behaviour. Churchland cites the example of people with low levels of MAOA, an enzyme essential for the proper working of the brain. MAOA deficit is associated with impulsiveness and aggression, and therefore higher levels of criminality. Those who suffer both from an MAOA deficit and an abusive upbringing ”are virtually certain to be irrationally and self-destructively violent”, she claims.

There is already ample evidence that prison is effectively where society sends those whose brains do not work properly. A report released last month suggested over a quarter of the UK’s almost 80,000 prison population have an IQ of lower than 80 and suspected learning disabilities, such as forms of autism and dyslexia. Another study carried out at the Young Offenders’ Institute in Aylesbury showed that if prisoners were given minerals and fatty acids essential for proper brain functioning, they committed 37 per cent fewer violent offences.

When we know that the structure of someone’s brain makes them very likely to be a menace to society, we will increasingly be faced with the choice of medically intervening - even forcibly - or knowing that we could have prevented a terrible crime. ”The interventions may not always be pretty, but of course going to prison is not pretty either,” says Churchland.


Derk Pereboom recognises that our lack of free will means we need to rethink morality - but sees this as no bad thing. It would, he suggests, lead to sensible reforms, such as shifting the focus of the criminal justice system away from retributive punishment and towards re-education and deterrence - or towards protecting society: ”Suppose that a serial killer continues to pose a grave danger to a community. Even if he is not morally responsible for his crimes, it would be as legitimate to detain him as it is to quarantine a carrier of a deadly communicable disease.”


Perhaps it is too early to throw open the prison doors, close down the courts and resign ourselves to the remorseless laws of nature. But there is no doubt that as we learn more about the mechanics of the mind, we will need to rethink some of our deepest beliefs about ourselves and our society. Each of these three volumes sheds some light on the work that needs to be done. But the book that really does justice to this question is yet to be written.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

News and Blogs Together, Wednesday, March 28, 2007

  • At Sex Crime Defender, Stephen Smith lays out 5 very reasonable principles for the operation of an offender registry. Coming from someone who defends sex offenders, the list is surprisingly even-handed and very much worth consideration by policymakers and practitioners.
  • Pam Clifton at Think Outside the Cage alerts us to a couple of interesting works from the folks at the Sentencing Project here and here.
  • Here's a story for deep consideration, via Real Cost of Prisons. Seriously. Colleges and universities taking it upon themselves, all in the name of public safety, to deny offenders entrance to school. So, denying these folks college educations is going to make them less likely to be criminal and come looking for free and open places like college campuses to commit their crimes? Are walls around the campuses next? Once again, how do we do reentry if we prohibit second chances? If we NIMBY prior offenders? If we delude ourselves into thinking we can protect ourselves from criminal activity by heightening the conditions that help crime occur? In a decade, will we be adding this policy to sex offender residency restrictions as supremely counter-productive actions by credentialed people without sense? I'm reading a book right now on how we’re using our “War on Crime” mentality to box in and restrict ourselves far beyond anything generations in the past would have accepted and without much subsequent sense that we’ve improved things or reduced our fears. I’ll report out when I’ve finished it.
  • Researchers are reporting that office-based treatment of opiod addicts can be just as effectively treated as in specialized clinic-based programs. The main finding? "Based on regular urine testing, physical exams and interviews, more than half of the patients (54 percent) were off opioid drugs at 6 months. This success rate is 'comparable to patients receiving methadone maintenance for opioid addiction and requires fewer resources than are provided in methadone clinics,' Mintzer said." So, if the gov directly funded this, would private care doctors take on more patients? Would that end up being the model for pharmaceutically driven technocorrections? Could judges make that a condition of probation? When are sentencing commission going to start studying this and incorporating the options into guidelines? Is the commission/guidelines connection so tight and inviolate that commissions can't take the lead on techno things like this? Is that why, when the COs and CAs are looking for ways to deal with prison probs, guidelines are the major tool pulled out of the kit, despite their at-best mixed record of success? What will be the role of commissions when pharmaceutical or genetic technocorrections become the sanction of choice widespread? Just asking.
  • A Baltimore study shows that nearly 30% of us needs mental health care, but only a third receive it. The greatest area of need? Alcohol dependence. Which raises the question again about the extent to which our prison growth is simply a transfer of formally institutionalized mental health patients now moving to penal custody. I doubt it, given the racial disparity involved, but, to the extent that so much of the prison pop has mental health difficulties, findings like this don't portend much getting better in the future.
  • Yet another study. This one id's a gene sequence that contributes to alcohol cravings among the minority of people who have it. Which raises the possibility once more of genetic remedies to alcohol problems. IOW, technocorrections.
  • One last one. This study finds that kids with ADHD may have more predisposition toward alcohol abuse as teenagers. And that means what? "We also found that by early adulthood, those children with ADHD who continued to have serious behavior problems such as irresponsible behavior, rule-breaking behavior, and unlawful behavior, drink more heavily and have alcohol-related problems, too," Molina said. Waiter? Another bottle of technocorrections over here, please!
  • Not sure where I’ve been, but I’d missed this program now being considered in CO to protect potential abuse victims from abusers finding where they live now. My major question isn't why I'm so ignorant, though. It's why doesn't every state have this???
  • Remember a few days back when we reported on SC's jails getting tired of paying for the state's prison backup and the "quota" the DOC there puts on accepting admissions? A state senator there is proposing that the state pony up the money to staff a recently built prison that the state has been trying to avoid maintaining. You're paying one way or another, and in a few years (months?) you'll be back at the same point you are now, but it does sound like a way to buy a little relief at a lot of cost.
  • Another thought-provoking post from The Situationist, this time on the craziness of sports fans, especially those who show up at NCAA tournament games. What's this got to do with corrections sentencing? Well, here's an extended quote: There are many partial explanations for this strange behavior — which is rendered particularly puzzling in light of our more general self-conceptions as individuals living in an individualistic culture. Of course, we are not just individuals doing things our own way according to our own moral compass and preferences. Our own identities are largely wrapped in group associations that are no less random than, among countless other variables, where we are born or the acceptance and rejection letters of college admissions committees. And once we have identified in-groups and out-groups, our attributions and understanding of the world is interpreted through those distorting lenses. Thus, as Situationist Contributor Susan Fiske has written with Shelley Taylor, the categories carry their own weight: “Simply categorizing people into groups minimizes within-group variability and maximizes between-group differences”:
    Categorization’s effect of reducing perceived variability is even stronger when people are considering groups to which they do not belong. A group of outsiders (an outgroup) appears less variable than one’s own group (ingroup) . . . . Minimizing the variability of members within an outgroup means that they are not being recognized as distinct individuals as much as they would be if they were perceived as ingroup members.
    Social psychologists have also discovered that these groups give rise to various motivated attributions of causation, responsibility, and blame — including the “ultimate attribution error”: In-group members tend to make internal (dispositional) attributions to positive in-group behavior and negative out-group behavior, as well as external (situational) attributions to negative in-group behavior and positive out-group behavior.
    See where I'm going here? It's relevant not just because of the process we use to separate “good guys” from “bad guys” and the way we can justify penalties for “others” that we might reconsider if we have thoughts of offenders as “us.” It also explains much of why simply emphasizing “evidence” and "data" doesn’t work with most of public. Evidence can come from “them” and/or simply not be relevant or comprehensible within the cognitive framework upholding the distinction. It won't be until we can break down the "us-them"ism or at least minimize the dehumanizing of offenders that we've hyped up so much in recent years that we'll be able to look at them for consistently effective policymaking.
  • Finally, Ben Barlyn wanted me to be sure that readers didn't miss this story on how CA is putting holds on new legislation that might add to prison pops until the state has had a chance to get its corrections and sentencing probs in order. The senator there ramrodding the reform effort is impressive, exactly the kind of catalyst a state has to have to get these things going and keep going. They still have massive mountains to climb but they really have gotten much further than I might have (oh, yeah, actually did) predicted. Good on 'em. It's fun to see what's happening for those of us who've been just trying to keep our heads above water for over a decade now. And of course, we'll keep you in whatever loops we get caught in.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A History of Wisconsin Sentencing- Part XVI

Parts XIV and XV described the nationwide tough-on-crime trend of the early 1990s. This post describes the origins of its greatest impact upon Wisconsin corrections sentencing policy, truth-in-sentencing, which occurred concurrently to the deliberations of the Governor’s Task Force on Sentencing and Corrections.

In his 1994 speech formally announcing his candidacy for a third term, Governor Thompson first placed truth-in-sentencing on the state policy agenda, stating that “violent criminals should serve the full time period” of the sentence they received. Thompson went on to make a tough on crime stance part of his campaign platform; his campaign aired commercials that showed the Governor hitting a punching bag.

Thompson’s statement was a response to a longstanding issue in the state: the unusually wide disparity in Wisconsin prisons between sentence lengths and actual time served. As early as the 1970s, criminal justice professionals had been concerned that this disparity was causing “the public [to] become increasingly cynical about sentence lengths;” with offenders sometimes being paroled at as early as 40 to 50% of the way through the sentence given, they feared that the public saw the sentences handed down by judges as irrelevant. We have seen that determinate reforms to confront the issue were rejected at the time, however; and the problem would not abate thereafter. More than a decade later DiIulio returned to the issue, calculating in “Crime and Punishment in Wisconsin” that excluding life sentences, the average time served was less that one-fifth of the original sentence given. Subsequent studies arrived at less extreme figures, but corroborated the presence of a substantial disparity.

Impetus to take concrete action on the issue was subsequently provided by the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (often known more simply as the Crime Bill), a federal bill which offered prison construction grants to states that required offenders to serve at least 85% of their sentence- in other words, to states that had implemented truth-in-sentencing. The bill led to an explosion in such laws. Within two years after the bill was passed, 20 states had passed laws complying with the terms of the grant; by 2002, 40 states had some form of truth-in-sentencing.

While the grant money would be a factor in forthcoming considerations of truth-in-sentencing in Wisconsin, it did not compel rapid change. After his reelection, Thompson did not act on his campaign statement, choosing to appoint the Task Force on Sentencing and Corrections as his response to crime and prison space issues. According to the Wisconsin State Journal, Thompson’s aides admitted that the Governor “showed little enthusiasm for the issue.” As such, the first to take up the mantle Thompson introduced would instead be Democratic Attorney General- and alum of the “Felony Sentencing in Wisconsin” advisory committee- James Doyle. In October 1996, a year after he first expressed support for truth-in-sentencing, and shortly before Thompson’s Task Force would issue its report, Doyle released a fully developed truth-in-sentencing initiative.

Doyle’s justifications drew upon the threads described so far. Citing more figures on the wide disparity between sentences and time served, Doyle emphasized its effect on public views of the system, saying “such reform will build public confidence in the corrections system.” Doyle also marshaled several of the arguments propagated by the WPRI, stressing the deterrent features of his proposal, noting that “too many people…commit violent crimes while on parole,” and repeating DiIulio’s argument that prison was more cost-effective than leaving criminals on the street. To respond, Doyle proposed a truth-in-sentencing law with an 85% time-served requirement, in accord with the Crime Bill’s requirements. The law would also include a “commission to develop a plan for implementing truth-in-sentencing,” which would “review criminal penalties, sentences, and corrections resources.” In particular, Doyle saw this commission as key for developing measures to anticipate prison space needs and reforming parole and probation revocation. Finally, the proposal included a provision which would earmark one percent of the Department of Corrections budget for child abuse prevention programs.
Governor Thompson refrained from responding to Doyle’s proposal while the Task Force on Sentencing and Corrections was still in action, but an aide’s dismissal of Doyle’s 85% requirement as “not real truth-in-sentencing” hinted at what was to come. When the Task Force’s rebuke of imprisonment policies was poorly received, Thompson quickly struck back with a counterproposal which upped the ante to “absolute truth-in-sentencing.” To fulfill that billing, Thompson’s proposal raised the time-served requirement to 100%- greater than all but a few truth-in-sentencing states- and abolished the parole system entirely, to be replaced by a more intensive “extended supervision” program which offenders would enter upon release from prison. The proposal ignored the other provisions of the Doyle initiative, making no mention of either a study commission or child abuse prevention.

The two visions for a new era of Wisconsin sentencing, the Task Force recommendations and truth-in-sentencing, met in Governor Thompson’s 1997 proposed budget. Truth-in-sentencing was the unsurprising victor. The Task Force’s recommendations were “largely ignored,” allotted funding only for a pilot program in Racine County. Thompson’s truth-in-sentencing proposal, meanwhile, was the budget’s headline initiative. It was now up to the state legislature to decide whether to follow through with Thompson’s choice.

The next series of posts will address the legislative history of truth-in-sentencing in Wisconsin.

More NCJRS Abstracts- March 27, 2007

NCJ 217431
Christopher T. Lowenkamp Ph.D. ; Jennifer Pealer ; Paula Smith ; Edward J. Latessa
Adhering to the Risk and Need Principles: Does It Matter for Supervision-Based Programs?
Federal Probation Volume:70 Issue:3 Dated:December 2006 Pages:3 to 8

This study examined the effects of program characteristics on recidivism (reoffending), using a sample drawn from community nonresidential programs. The study found evidence of a link between program characteristics and its effectiveness in reducing recidivism. All of the programs were supervision-based and adhered to some degree to the principles of matching program features to the risk and need characteristics of the offender. These intensive supervision programs were more successful for the higher risk offenders. When at least 75 percent of the population supervised was classified as high risk, there was a 5-percent decrease in recidivism. This compared with a slight increase in recidivism for programs that served more low-risk offenders. Programs that required higher risk offenders to be in the programs for a longer period had a 4-percent reduction in recidivism. Those programs that had a "one-size-fits-all" approach had no effect on recidivism. Programs that had more referrals for higher risk offenders reduced recidivism by 7 percent. Programs that did not have more referrals for this population had a marginal reduction in recidivism. Programs in which 75 percent or more of the referrals were for treatment programming had an 11-percent reduction in returns to prison. Programs in which more than 25 percent of their referrals were nontreatment increased recidivism by 3 percent. Based on these findings, it is evident that programs tailored to prominent risks and needs of offenders achieved significant reductions in recidivism. The study examined 66 community-based jail and prison diversion programs in Ohio. Offenders served by these programs were compared to offenders who were processed as usual in jail, municipal probation, or prisons. A total of 5,781 prison diversion cases were compared to an equal number of parolees. A total of 707 comparison cases were used as a matched sample for the jail diversion programs. 2 tables, 2 figures, and 26 references

NCJ 217432
Jill A. Gordon Ph.D. ; Christina M. Barnes M.S. ; Scott W. VanBenschoten MSW
Dual Treatment Track Program: A Descriptive Assessment of a New "In-House" Jail Diversion Program
Federal Probation Volume:70 Issue:3 Dated:December 2006 Pages:9 to 18

This article describes the creation of a jail diversion program for offenders diagnosed with a mental illness and reports on the progress and outcomes for program participants. The 40 program clients evaluated had significant trauma histories, showed signs of mental health improvement over the course of program participation, and reported a reduction in substance use. A reduction in both the type and number of criminal justice system contacts was found for clients who remained in treatment for a longer period of time. The program described was developed by Chesterfield County (Richmond, VA metro area). Following confirmation of the need for a jail diversion program that addresses the needs of substance-abusing and mentally ill offenders, a small planning group met to discuss the specifics of the program. The planning group included representatives from the criminal justice system and treatment systems (both substance use and mental health). Due to the success of an existing county Day Reporting Center (DRC) the planning group decided to use the DRC model for the new program. The jail diversion program created, known as the Dual Treatment Track Program (DTT), is a highly structured and intensive regimen of supervision and treatment. The services offered to defendants include an immediate evaluation by a psychiatrist, medication management, entry into intensive outpatient services, drug testing, and pretrial supervision. The target population is offenders who remain in jail and have a dual diagnosis of substance use and mental health disorder. Participants must be at least 18 years old, have a nonviolent criminal history and current charge, and be willing to participate in the program. The program is for both men and women. The three primary data sources for the evaluation were person tracking, client progress/status information, and official statistics. 13 tables and 47 references

NCJ 217433
Shelley J. Listwan ; Francis T. Cullen ; Edward J. Latessa
How To Prevent Prisoner Re-entry Programs From Failing: Insights From Evidence-Based Corrections
Federal Probation Volume:70 Issue:3 Dated:December 2006 Pages:19 to 25

This article discusses how the knowledge base of "what works" to change offender conduct can help guide current efforts to design and implement effective reentry programs for released offenders. This knowledge base on "what works" to change offenders features three core principles: risk, needs, and responsivity. The risk principle refers to the identification of personal attributes or circumstances that predict reoffending. This principle suggests that the most intensive correctional treatment services should target the highest risk population. The principle of classification according to needs refers to targeting the needs that underlie the specific criminal behaviors of the individual. These needs may include changing antisocial attitudes, reforming feelings and values, and addressing skill and behavioral management deficiencies. Programs should be designed to address these various needs. Responsivity is the third core principle. It refers to the delivery of an intervention that matches the abilities and styles of the client. Based on these principles, an ideal model for reentry programs should include three or more phases. The first phase would begin in the institution with the delivery of services that target the inmate's needs. The second phase would begin as the inmate is released from the institution. The inmate's risks and needs may change significantly as he/she enters the community. Ideally, the individual would continue with treatment services and case plans that would be updated and modified as needed. The final phase of the reentry model is an aftercare or relapse prevention phase in which clients receive ongoing support and services that address their needs. Reentry programs that fail to develop clear goals and objectives, use effective classification systems, rely on appropriate theoretically relevant models, and plan for relapse will inevitably fail. 77 references

News and Blogs Together, Tuesday, March 27, 2007

  • Britain has finally gotten to the "let's lock up career criminals" stage, in a new Labor proposal to heighten supervision of their worst and increase treatment options for lower level types with substance abuse and/or mental health problems. Sound familiar?
  • Doug Berman at Sentencing Law and Policy notes a couple of interesting state policy stories. One documents the problem we often talk about here, how the emphasis on shoveling finite crim just dollars at prisons ends up shortchanging other areas of the system, like prosecutors and public defenders in this case. Another cites a NY Times op-ed that calls for offender reentry plans to promote better supervision and reintegration of offenders after release, as in currently moving forward in WA. I wish the WA folks well, but reentry plans aren't a new idea. They make great sense but they're very hard to implement due to resources and geography and policymakers don't always remain committed to them when their failures to promises ratios start to rise. This story gives you a pretty good idea of the problems. But, if WA can make them work, they can truly be the model the op-ed hopes for.
  • Pam Clifton at Think Outside the Cage tells us of a case of technocorrections in Denver using those ankle bracelets that can chemically analyze the sweat coming off the offender wearing it for telltale alcohol traces. Good description of how it works both technically and operationally.
  • Speaking of substance abuse, do you think programs providing businesses discounts on their workers' comp premiums for testing employees for drug and alcohol use will be effective as a non-criminal justice alternative to offending? Seriously. Let me know.
  • Listen, and ye will hear the power of this blog!!! Not long ago, after noting a story on the dangers of addictive tanning, we called for a War on Tanning. Well, teenagers have it now, anyway.
  • CA is moving forward with its sentencing reform legislation, with its House passing a version now going to the Senate, with a Cunningham fix (that may not work, some are saying) and a proposal for a sentencing commission. What's interesting to me in the story is the assertion once again by the bill's opponents that something that might affect incarceration is anti-public safety. Unless and until we get the evidence that prison does a worse job at stopping crime than virtually any alternative for most offenses and offenders, these reform packages will continue to face far more opposition than they (or victims or taxpayers) deserve.
  • Finally, here is a classic example of why we’re screwed on reentry efforts, a hyperactive news story on offenders being employed on construction projects that get near kids and otherwise vulnerable folks. Notice ANY statement of new offenses committed? Construction is one of the few tasks offenders can get into given the lack of training we give them anymore. So how do we do reentry if any possible employer for offenders has to deal with this fear every time? Again, seriously. Let me know.

Monday, March 26, 2007

News of the Day, March 26, 2007

  • I hope that, when I question the logic and consistency of our War on (Some) Drugs and the delegitimizing and destructive impact it has on our crim just system, I don't give any indication that I support drug use or admire the people who distribute them. This story will tell you why. Candy-flavored meth? Just how low can these people go? Wait . . . don't want to know.
  • SC is now the latest state to start playing the "pay us or we won't keep your state inmates" game with the corrections folks there. Same old story, just different characters.
  • Always interesting to see the hows and whys of a state's prison pop increases over the last 2-3 decades. This account of MO's growth is another example, including the surprising role first-degree robbery plays in maintaining pop size there.
  • And next door to MO in KS, an equally interesting juxtaposition of corr sent stories, this one on how the state has dropped the ball on funding treatment programs for parolees and this one on how the state is increasing penalties on DUI. Mr. Right Hand, meet Mr. Left Hand. You're both slapping Mr. Face.
  • More self-face-slapping in MD, where the legislature still continues to make parole for second-time drug offenders impossible. In my time in MD, the state was ahead of most in terms of getting funds to treatment, but, that said, the gap was still enormous. So the solution is apparently not to put money into effectiveness but to continue the path they're on. The judges there want the programs. With the exception of a few, they just weren't that good as politicians.
  • In the "I" states, ID continues to solve its prison problem by spending money out of state, while IN hops on board the "more women in prison" train.
  • Finally, another example of horrible corr sent journalism (and also of horrible research just generally). Here's the headline: "Cannabis-related Schizophrenia Set To Rise, Say Researchers." Here's the key quote in the story: "John Macleod, co-author and academic GP, said: “We need to remember that our study does not address the question whether cannabis causes schizophrenia: this remains unclear.” Matthew Hickman, lead author of the study, added: “The challenge now is to improve our data on schizophrenia occurrence to see whether the projected increase occurs. This will tell us more about how important cannabis is as a cause of schizophrenia.” Get it? We don't know if marijuana has anything to do with schizophrenia, we've maybe heard some stories, but there's an increase coming if there is. Just think what they can find if carrot consumption might be going up and might be connected to kleptomania!!!!

Around the Blogs, Monday, March 26, 2007

  • Doug Berman at Sentencing Law and Policy does nothing on the weekend but read all possible newspapers and post the best stories for us so we won't have to. Among the many good things he discovered were this story on the CA prison guard union and its sudden realization that it might be better to get into the sentencing guidelines game that's now being played than sitting on the sidelines trying to slow it down (and note the name of Barb Tombs when mentioned, a former union type herself who's headed two successful commissions, now mediating on behalf of the Vera folks), this story on the different justice found in MI depending on whether you're convicted in a rural or urban county (this holds in every state I've ever done sentencing data on--the pro and con: the sentences reflect community values in those counties v. the unequal application of laws that are supposed to be the same across a state), and this op-ed on the impact of The War on (Some) Drugs on minorities and the disturbing but unfortunately predictable lack of courage among Dem pres candidates to address it ("I'm sorry, madame, but we have no guts today").
  • The folks at Think Outside the Cage alert us to a bunch of good stuff, too, including (speaking of prison guards) this post on how hard it is to be a correctional officer and to retain the good ones you have these days and this post on the possible "net widening" effects of drug courts as law enforcers see the improved processing as an opportunity to scoop up more offenders. Virtually every "reform" I've ever seen has this potential, this "if you build it, they will fill it up" possibility, something that policymakers eager to divert offenders from prison never seem to take completely seriously until after the chickens come home. We'll see if it happens again in Denver with its second iteration of drug court.
  • From Real Cost of Prisons, yet another story of law enforcement getting hammered with the expense of enforcing these sex offender notification laws, this time in AL (Alabama, not Alaska).
  • The folks at Prevention Works fear they're becoming johnny-one-notes on id theft and how to prevent it. We're think they're doing just fine. Keep them coming, Matthew.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

More NCJRS Abstracts, March 25, 2007--500th Post!!!


NCJ 217377
Angela M. Moe
Women, Drugs, and Crime
Criminal Justice Studies: A Critical Journal of Crime, Law and Society Volume:19 Issue:4 Dated:2006 Pages:337 to 352

Using the narratives of 30 incarcerated women, this study examined the motives and rationales for women's drug use, as well as their struggle to support and, in some cases, end their addictions. The women's accounts of being introduced to drugs, dealing with addiction and its effects, and trying to stop using drugs were linked to the influence of several factors that portrayed a web of social problems. One theme that emerged from their stories was the role of family members and/or a neighborhood that was supportive of drug use. This direct and persistent exposure to drug-using individuals and communities influenced not only the women's decisions to try drugs but also their options for supporting their addictions. The abuse and neglect the women experienced in their families provided an early impetus for the women to try to improve their lives without relying on their families. Due to poor educational attainment, work experiences, previous criminal record, and/or their addictions, legitimate means of earning an adequate income were unavailable. The effects of drug use, particularly over the long term, undermined their physical and emotional health as well as their economic security. A drug-addicted woman may be a survivor of child abuse, abused by an intimate partner, a mother, a prostitute, and/or homeless. Any effort to address one of these needs must deal with the others. Appropriately tailored treatment programs must be developed not only in jails and prisons, but must also be available in the community without charge. 45 references

NCJ 217384
Martin Grann ; Niklas Langstrom
Actuarial Assessment of Violence Risk: To Weigh or Not To Weigh?
Criminal Justice and Behavior Volume:34 Issue:1 Dated:January 2007 Pages:22 to 36

This study examined the potential benefits of using weighted, compared with nonweighted, algorithms for the actuarial assessment of risk for future violence among 404 mentally disordered offenders in Sweden. The findings indicate that applying weights to reflect the relative strength of risk factors for violence does not improve predictions, but rather results in statistical shrinkage effects. The more sophisticated the weighting algorithm, the greater the shrinkage effect. The authors advise, however, that even though the weighting techniques applied in this study showed poor results, this may not be the case should predictor variables be improved, exchanged, or complemented with other variables in future research. Another finding was that the area-under-the-curve (AUC) estimate varied significantly between the various combinations of randomly drawn subsets of the population. When reviewing the performance of the various weighting paradigms, aspects other than the predictive validity should also be considered. One such aspect is the transparency of the model, i.e., whether it is possible to go back and reconstruct what went wrong in cases where the model failed. The 404 study participants were diagnosed with either personality disorder or schizophrenia in Sweden from 1988 to 1993. The cohort was followed for an average of 8 years. The 10 risk factors used in the assessment were previous violence, young age at first violent incident, relationship instability, employment problems, substance use problems, major mental illness, psychopathy, early maladjustment, personality disorder, and prior supervision failure. 2 tables, 1 figure, 6 notes, and 64 references

NCJ 217386
Shelley Johnson Listwan ; Patricia Van Voorhis ; Philip Neil Ritchey
Personality, Criminal Behavior, and Risk Assessment: Implications for Theory and Practice
Criminal Justice and Behavior Volume:34 Issue:1 Dated:January 2007 Pages:60 to 75

This study examined whether personality, as measured by the Jesness Inventory, was related to reoffending (recidivism) over a period of 10-12 years for a cohort of Federal prison inmates. In two of three tests, specific personality attributes were significantly predictive of recidivism, defined as any new arrest and arrest for a specific charge, including drug offenses, property offenses, or violent offenses. The impact of personality attributes was independent of other risk factors. The "aggressive" and "neurotic" personality types, as defined by the Jesness Inventory, were significantly related to long-term recidivism even when race and risk were controlled. Neurotics were more likely than the other personality types to be arrested for a drug-related offense. This may be due to the medicating of anxiety and depression. Although aggressive offenders had high recidivism rates, rates for neurotic offenders were higher. Neurotics suffer from trait (ongoing) and not state (related to circumstance) anxiety. Their childhoods are often characterized by abuse and dysfunction, and they have difficulty adjusting to prison, as evidenced by their high rates of depression and aggression while incarcerated. The original (Time 1) sample consisted of 369 inmates admitted to either a Federal penitentiary or a Federal prison camp between September 1986 and July 1988. The Time 2 sample consisted of 75 percent of the Time 1 sample (n=277). Social, demographic, and criminal-history data were obtained through interviews and reviews of presentence investigations. The Jesness Inventory was administered at Time 1. Recidivism data were collected in November 1998 (Time 2). 3 tables, 3 figures, 7 notes, and 63 references

Saturday, March 24, 2007

A History of Wisconsin Sentencing- Part XV

Part XIV described the national trend towards getting tough on crime in the 1980s and early 1990s. This post describes the role of the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute in developing the theoretical and quantitative foundation for such policies.

Although observers such as Anderson saw such population increases as byproducts of symbolically focused reforms, studies also arose supporting the imprisonment boom. A Wisconsin organization was at the center of this effort; the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute (WPRI), one of the best-funded conservative think tanks in the country, would issue a series of reports attacking the current system in the state and supporting increased imprisonment as effective in controlling both costs and crime. In 1990, nationally recognized policy analyst John DiIulio began the series with “Crime and Punishment in Wisconsin,” which claimed, based on analysis of a sample of Wisconsin prison inmates, that prison was a highly cost-effective means of crime control. According to DiIulio, it costed Wisconsin approximately “twice as much to keep Wisconsin criminals on the streets without supervision as it [did] to imprison them,” for the estimated social costs of the crimes they would commit per year were greater than the cost of a prison bed. In short, prisons prevented crime through incapacitation; a criminal in jail would quite simply be unable to commit crimes elsewhere. DiIulio thus issued a call for increased prison construction to accompany tough on crime policies: “over the next decades, Wisconsin will need thousands of new prison beds, and the benefits of providing those beds will almost certainly exceed the cost of providing them.”

DiIulio’s conclusions regarding incapacitation and increased prison construction would be repeated by other tough on crime proponents, perhaps most prominently Attorney General William Barr at the U.S. Department of Justice. Meanwhile, the WPRI turned its attention to community corrections issues, issuing complementary reports on parole and probation in the summer of 1992. While “Probation in Wisconsin” was only a self-described preliminary work, George Mitchell’s “Parole in Wisconsin” sharply attacked its subject as “a threat to public safety.” According to Mitchell’s analyses, the majority of parolees in Wisconsin were violent criminals, habitual criminals, or both, clear evidence that rehabilitative approaches within corrections were “not working.” His solution was the same as DiIulio’s: “more offenders should be kept in prison.” Despite the “myth” of soaring incarceration costs, Mitchell argued, construction of new prisons could deal with the increased population in a cost-effective manner.
After a few years of inaction, the demise of the Wisconsin guidelines triggered a resumption of the WPRI’s work on sentencing issues. In August 1995, Mitchell issued “Prison Works,” which in turn corroborated a thesis of Barr’s: thanks to incapacitation, there was a “clear correlation” between “more use of prisons and less crime” over the past several decades. Mitchell also rehashed his earlier arguments against parole; parolees were such a source of recidivism, he claimed, that it was “probable” that increased parole would actually increase crime. The president of WPRI used the report to repeat the call for increased prison construction, saying that “without additional prison space, we will definitely be creating more Wisconsin victims.”

Early the next year, Mitchell and DiIulio teamed up to expand upon Mitchell’s previous arguments against parole. In “Who Really Goes to Prison in Wisconsin?,” they argued that 90% of prison inmates recidivated, most by violating probation or parole; and that even more inmates, 91%, had a violent crime in their criminal record. Attacking another “myth,” that many inmates were first-time, nonviolent offenders, Mitchell and DiIulio used their statistics as another basis of support for increased incarceration. Although many offenders were nearing parole release, those offenders were violent, hardened individuals who “pose a threat and deserve to be incarcerated.” Later that year--indeed, the same month as he issued his dissent from the Task Force on Sentencing and Corrections, contending that incapacitation in prison was a more “proven” way to reduce crime than CCC--Mitchell expanded on the WPRI’s repeated arguments for increased prison construction, arguing that private prisons could provide cost savings with “essentially no risk” to the state.

The WPRI’s work has been criticized for sloppy and biased methodology, and is only indirectly related to the truth-in-sentencing reforms Wisconsin was to undertake. However, these reports are useful here for their status as both symptom of and contributor towards a shift in the political groundwork on crime issues. The WPRI reports indicated a continued shift away from rehabilitation as the goal of criminal justice policy and towards incapacitation and deterrence. This shift was fueled in turn by the more negative view of offenders, as hardened, violent criminals, that the WPRI reports sought to establish, a view which was also used to discredit parole and other community release programs. As already noted, the latter argument would soon be supplemented by the controversies over intensive sanctions. Finally, whether accurate or not, the WPRI’s arguments constructed a view of prison as compatible with both cost control and crime control, lending credibility to those who wished to make a practical case for tough on crime proposals. The WPRI’s reports did not lead directly to truth-in-sentencing, but the arguments and assumptions of their reports would be important facets of the rhetorical case at its foundation.

Part XVI will describe the origins of truth-in-sentencing in Wisconsin.

More NCJRS Abstracts, March 24, 2007


NCJ 217391
Joseph Murray ; Carl-Gunnar Janson ; David P. Farrington
Crime in Adult Offspring of Prisoners: A Cross-National Comparison of Two Longitudinal Samples
Criminal Justice and Behavior Volume:34 Issue:1 Dated:January 2007 Pages:133 to 149

This Swedish study replicated a British study that found parental incarceration predicted boys' delinquency, even after controlling for parental criminality and other childhood risks. This study of 15,117 Swedish children born in the same year as the English cohort (1953) found that parental incarceration predicted the children's criminal behavior; however, unlike in the English cohort, the effects of parental incarceration disappeared after statistically controlling for parental convictions. In offering explanations for the difference in findings between the British and Swedish studies, the authors suggest it might be due to either mechanisms that link parent and child criminality or by mechanisms more specific to parental incarceration. The latter pertains to provision for maintaining constructive parent-child contacts during incarceration as well as having shorter prison sentences. Compared to England, Sweden has shorter prison sentences, more family friendly prison policies, a welfare-oriented juvenile justice system, an extended social welfare system, and more sympathetic public attitudes toward crime and punishment. This suggests that incarceration in Sweden has less adverse effects on the economic and social conditions of families during a parent's incarceration. This study used data from Project Metropolitan, a prospective longitudinal survey of 7,719 Swedish boys and 7,393 Swedish girls born in 1953 and living in the Stockholm metropolitan area in 1963. The British study with which it was compared is entitled the Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development. Data pertained to parental criminality and incarceration, children's crimes, and social class. 5 tables, 1 figure, 6 notes, and 51 references

NCJ 217365
Chandra D. LaFrentz ; Cassia Spohn
Who is Punished More Harshly in Federal Court?: The Interaction of Race/Ethnicity, Gender, Age, and Employment Status in the Sentencing of Drug Offenders
Justice Research and Policy Volume:8 Issue:2 Dated:2006 Pages:25 to 56

Using data on drug offenders sentenced in three U.S. district courts, this study tested for direct, indirect, and interactive effects of an offender's race and ethnicity on sentence severity. The study found that gender, age, and employment status, but not race/ethnicity, had direct effects on sentencing. These findings are conditioned by the fact that an offender's gender and employment status had effects on sentencing only in cases sentenced outside the Federal sentencing guidelines. The effect of gender and employment status were conditioned by race/ethnicity. No support was found for the hypotheses that young Black and Hispanic men and unemployed Black and Hispanic men would receive more severe sentences. Both Black and Hispanic women, however, received substantially shorter sentences than their male counterparts. Being employed benefitted White offenders at sentencing. A number of case characteristics had differential effects on the sentences imposed on White, Black, and Hispanic offenders. Pretrial status, for example, had a significant effect on sentence length for Black offenders and White offenders, but not for Hispanic offenders. Compared to their counterparts who were released prior to sentencing, Black offenders who were in custody received sentences that were a year and a half longer than offenders not in custody. Black offenders and Hispanic offenders were more likely than White offenders to be held in custody prior to sentencing. Pleading guilty produced more lenient sentences for Black offenders and for White offenders, but not for Hispanic offenders. The data were collected from three U.S. district courts in the Eighth Circuit: the District of Minnesota, the District of Nebraska, and the Southern District of Iowa. All offenders sentenced for a drug offense (major charge) in fiscal years 1998, 1999, and 2000 (n=1,752) were included in the study. 7 tables and 49 references

NCJ 217376
Rick Ruddell ; Noelle E. Fearn
Simplistic Explanations Are the Problem: Crime, Homicide, and the Zimring-Hawkins Proposition
Criminal Justice Studies: A Critical Journal of Crime, Law and Society Volume:19 Issue:4 Dated:2006 Pages:323 to 336

In order to test the Zimring-Hawkins hypothesis that lethal violence (homicide) occurs independently in relation to nonlethal crimes, this study used ordinary least-squares regression models to examine the effect of crime rates on State, city, and county homicide rates based on cross-sectional data from 2000. The findings challenge the Zimring-Hawkins hypothesis in showing a significant positive association between ordinary crime and homicide at the State, city, and county levels. This effect of nonlethal crime on homicide was consistent in all of the models estimated, although the strongest associations were found at the county and city levels. This finding is consistent with the spatial distribution of homicide, because State-level data average the higher homicide rates found in cities with outlying rural areas, which have historically had few murders. Zimring and Hawkins' recommendation to shift the crime-control focus away from ordinary crime to lethal violence fits their argument for an applied public health model of violence reduction. The problems that contribute to lethal violence, however, are more structurally complex and culturally entrenched than the problems that confronted the public health movement when it reduced highway-traffic deaths by making vehicles and roads safer. Zimring-Hawkins' proposition is an example of how the development of simplistic solutions and slogans to explain long-term, entrenched social problems gives policymakers and the public unrealistic assumptions about solving complex problems. All U.S. cities with populations over 10,000 were used in the analyses. A random sample of 191 mid-sized counties was also included. All analyses used Uniform Crime Reports homicide and nonnegligent manslaughter rates per 100,000 residents in the population from 1999 to 2001. Consistent with previous homicide studies, a set of control variables was used to establish a baseline model. 2 tables, 5 notes, and 59 references

Friday, March 23, 2007

More NCJRS Abstracts, March 23, 2007


NCJ 217325
L. Holtzhausen
"What Works?": Core Knowledge Required in Social Work With the Offender
Acta Criminologica Volume:17 Issue:1 Dated:2004 Pages:103 to 114

Social workers in corrections must have the same general knowledge required and expected of all social workers. In addition, they must have a specialized body of knowledge that pertains to offending behavior, factors that contribute to crime, theories and models of deviance, organizational issues, the criminal justice system, and the effectiveness of various types of intervention for different types of offenders. In outlining the characteristics of these various bodies of knowledge, this article focuses first on criminology and the study of crime and deviance. It discusses various explanations of crime and deviance, including those related to biological, economic, psychological, sociological, and conflict theories. The article then addresses the effectiveness of intervention and sanctions. It discusses general theories, theoretical constructs, and techniques that have been found to be empirically effective in the treatment of offenders. One treatment approach that meets this condition is cognitive-behavioral therapy. This therapy is based in the principle that behavior can be modified through the systematic use of empirically based learning principles. This therapeutic method is a relatively short-term form of psychotherapy that is active and directive. Behavioral therapy and behavioral modification are also discussed. Behavioral therapy emphasizes counterconditioning, which refers to the interchanging of one type of response for another more acceptable response based on learning principles. Behavior modification emphasizes the use of conditions and stimuli that foster and condition positive behaviors. Other treatment techniques mentioned are psychoanalysis, logotherapy, system theory, and reality therapy. 35 references

NCJ 217366
Andrew L. Spivak ; Kelly R. Damphousse
Who Returns to Prison?: A Survival Analysis of Recidivism Among Adult Offenders Released in Oklahoma, 1985-2004
Justice Research and Policy Volume:8 Issue:2 Dated:2006 Pages:57 to 88

This study tracked 60,536 adult offenders released from Oklahoma prisons between 1985 and 1999, in order to identify the factors linked to any return to prison (recidivism) before May 31, 2004. The study found that property offenders were at greater risk of recidivism than drug, violent, or sex offenders. Other factors linked to recidivism were being released to probation rather than being discharged; having a history of violent offenses; having a greater number of past incarcerations; and being young, male, and of a minority race. Sentence length and the length of time in prison had weak but significant associations with recidivism. Security classification and proportion of sentence served had moderately positive significant relationships with recidivism. The authors interpret these findings to indicate that positive institutional performance and shorter prison stays will result in lower recidivism rates. Thus, "good behavior" indicators, such as number of misconduct reports and program completions, should be primary considerations in parole and clemency decisions. The predictor variables measured and analyzed with a Cox Proportional Hazards Survival Regression included offense type, release type (probation, parole, or discharge), number of prior incarcerations, sentence length, time served in prison, security classification, education, age, sex, and race. 5 tables, 9 figures, and 34 references

NCJ 217383
Philip R. Magaletta ; Marc W. Patry ; Erik F. Dietz ; Robert K. Ax
What is Correctional About Clinical Practice in Corrections?
Criminal Justice and Behavior Volume:34 Issue:1 Dated:January 2007 Pages:7 to 21

A survey of psychologists practicing in Federal prisons solicited their opinions about the clinical and correctional knowledge that had been most relevant to their practice, with the aim of using this information to shape the continuing education/training for correctional mental health professionals. The survey found that 9 of the 41 job functions were identified by respondents as core bodies of knowledge. The two core bodies of knowledge rated as most important were psychopathology and suicide prevention. Other areas of knowledge considered important in the safe and orderly operation of the institution were confrontation avoidance and how to promote the safety of inmates and staff through the institution's procedures and environment. Knowledge and training related to interdepartmental communications/relationships were also considered important by respondents. Over the course of the educational continuum from graduate school to continuing education at the postdoctoral level, most of the respondents had some exposure to each of the core bodies of knowledge mentioned. Regardless of the core knowledge content, on-the-job training was the most frequently endorsed training mode. Seventy-five percent of the respondents favored graduate school exposure in the areas of psychopathology, suicide prevention, ethical issues, medical/psychopharmacology, and clinical psychopathy. An expert consensus method was used to develop survey items for the Federal Bureau of Prisons Training Analysis of Psychology Services and Staff Positions Survey (July 2002). Forty-one job functions were included; and two measurement structures, training and descriptive, were developed for each job function. Respondents were asked to provide information on these structures as they related to their current positions. A total of 595 surveys were distributed in packets to the chief psychologists of 99 Federal correctional institutions. A total of 177 completes surveys were received. 4 tables and 29 references