Saturday, May 19, 2007

Simon en Fuego

Jonathan Simon has taken to blogging in a big way with his new blog and guest-hosting at Prawfsblawg, and he's put up a post on each that are worth your time this weekend. On his own Governing Through Crime blog, he asks this:

Does America accept the moral necessity of a war on crime despite its clear tendency to reinforce almost every aspect of racialized disadvantage and disparity, or is that war on crime a barely disguised strategy to maintain a system of unequal citizenship on the basis of race?

ends with this:

. . . Thus the hidden danger in all the talk around re-entry about risk assessment and rehabilitation is to deepen the assumption that social pathology must be treated as crime in ways that will structurally disadvantage communities of color.

and fills the middle with a bunch of interesting thought in between.

While over at Prawfsblawg, he brings up a point we've made here repeatedly. His school, Boalt Law, is really the only one that's put forward a grad degree program uniting law with social science and its research agenda (he says maybe NYU has one--I can't speak to that), and it's coming up on its 30th anniversary. He's promising ruminations on the future of this and other programs, but I thought it was a good time to second his thoughts.

The more I get into neuroscience research, technocorrections, and the basic statistical stuff I do for a living, the more I think law schools preparing practitioners in criminal justice the way they do isn't just 20th century, it's 19th. No one should be allowed in a courtroom without knowing the research on eyewitness testimony, how memories are stored, what social and personal factors influence not just witnesses but the practitioners themselves. And that's on top of how our practitioners and policymakers fashion sentences with not just no tip of the hat to what research clearly shows is effective and ineffective but in many case with an actual back of the hand or upraising of a special finger. There is no excuse other than "this is how we've always done it" to justify maintaining the training and practice of the people who decide who does and doesn't go into our crim just system, and, while sometimes "it ain't broke, don't fix it" is actually a good maxim, in this case it's not only broke, it's pulling us all down a giant sink hole. Yes, progress will only come funeral by funeral, retirement by retirement of the people who insist ignorance is bliss in our courtrooms, but that progress has to start somewhere and there shouldn't just be one school trying to do it. I'll look forward to what Simon says (knew I'd say that, didn't you?) in his future posts and hope a lot of others with some authority over courtroom training are paying attention.

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