Monday, March 05, 2007

Around the Blogs, Monday, March 5, 2007

  • Think Outside the Cage phones in with a number of interesting posts, including the rise of teen gangs and of heroin use (not necessarily related) in Denver, more on the national blowback from the decision to farm out inmates as substitutes for immigrant labor, the Denver Post’s continuing questioning of the state’s prison boom, and this amazing one on a tough sheriff calling BS on the war on (some) drugs and what it does to the integrity of criminal justice.
  • If you missed the NY Times story Sunday on the questions finally being raised about civil commitment of sex offender programs, you can find it at Real Cost of Prisons. Here are some of the critiques of the approach: ¶Sex offenders selected for commitment are not always the most violent; some exhibitionists are chosen, for example, while rapists are passed over. And some are past the age at which some scientists consider them most dangerous. In Wisconsin, a 102-year-old who wears a sport coat to dinner cannot participate in treatment because of memory lapses and poor hearing.
    ¶The treatment regimens are expensive and largely unproven, and there is no way to compel patients to participate. Many simply do not show up for sessions on their lawyers’ advice — treatment often requires them to recount crimes, even those not known to law enforcement — and spend their time instead gardening, watching television or playing video games.
    ¶The cost of the programs is virtually unchecked and growing, with states spending nearly $450 million on them this year. The annual price of housing a committed sex offender averages more than $100,000, compared with about $26,000 a year for keeping someone in prison, because of the higher costs for programs, treatment and supervised freedoms.
    ¶Unlike prisons and other institutions, civil commitment centers receive little standard, independent oversight or monitoring; sex among offenders is sometimes rampant, and, in at least one facility, sex has been reported between offenders and staff members.
    ¶Successful treatment is often not a factor in determining the relatively few offenders who are released; in Iowa, of the nine men let go unconditionally, none had completed treatment or earned the center’s recommendation for release.
    ¶Few states have figured out what to do when they do have graduates ready for supervised release. In California, the state made 269 attempts to find a home for one released pedophile. In Milwaukee, the authorities started searching in 2003 for a neighborhood for a 77-year-old offender, but have yet to find one.
  • Made2Measure, the court performance measurement blog, rings in another good post with these questions that should arise as we try to "count what counts":
    How are we doing?
    Where are we now (performance level, baseline)? What is the current performance level compared to established upper and lower “controls” (e.g., performance targets, objectives, benchmarks and tolerance levels)?
    How are we doing over time (trends)? Is our performance better, worse or flat? How much variability is there?
    Why is this happening (analysis and problem diagnosis)? What happened to make performance decline, improve or stay the same. What are some credible explanations?
    What are we doing to improve/maintain (planning)?
    What actions and strategies should we start, continue or stop as a result of the measure (strategy)? What should be done to improve poor performance, reverse a declining trend, or recognize good performance?
    What performance targets and goals should we set for future performance (goals)?
  • Philip Zimbardo finishes his 3-part series at The Situationist with the 10 lessons we should all memorize about how to get good people to do bad things (with conspicuous criminological application). Can we get across to offenders that "people who understand their own impulses to join with a group and to obey an authority may be able also to withstand those impulses at times when the mandate from outside comes into conflict with their own values and conscience."
  • Brandon Byrn at Prevention Works notes the start of GPS tracking of student truants in Prince George's County, MD. His lament isn't so much that it won't have some success but that "as it often goes, this strategy only serves as a bandage for the wound, when we should all be more focused on preventing the injury in the first place." Those words will be engraved on our corr sent tombstone when this is all said and done. But, again, where's the television show or movie out of prevention???
  • Talking Points Memo got a note from one of the good fed prosecutors on what happens when you politicize prosecutors' offices. "I'm an Assistant United States Attorney in [*******], and am, of course, outraged by the U.S. Attorney purge, as most AUSAs are. I appreciate all the work you've been doing on this story. My own sense is that this purge has to be viewed as part a much larger story on the devastating impact of this administration's policies on the institution of the U.S. Attorney's Office. . . . I strive every day to make sure that the Fourth Amendment rights of evn the worst criminals are scrupulously observed, only to learn that the folks I work for view those rights as disposable, inconvenient anachronisms. I operate in a criminal justice system properly designed to maximize due process for even the worst criminals, only to watch the administration kick and scream when forced to provide even the most basic due process rights to suspected terrorists.And now the purges. So they've slashed U.S. Attorney's budgets, trashed rights we have sworn to uphold, and now, tried to toady-up the ranks of our leadership by firing some of our best and brightest, apparently to make room for wingnut-annointed political hacks. Folks who do stuff like this deserve to get caught."
  • Finally, let's let Grits for Breakfast bring down the curtain with this comment he left at another blog regarding TX's version of Jessica's Law but that applies to virtually everything punitive we do these days: "Most enhancements are not serious, evidence-based proposals. Bills increasing penalties for crimes are to legislators what poetry is to the artist - a written form of self expression. It's a way legislators say, "This is what I stand for. This is what I'm against." Well, who isn't against child molestation? That's hardly the point if jacked up penalties make family members less likely to report crimes."

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