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.

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