Friday, August 31, 2007

Double DUI Update

I know you’re wanting to hear more about the two guys in WI who got arrested for DUI, in the same car at the same time. Well, here’s some of their story. In their own words.

"Neither one of us had control of the vehicle, so neither one of us was driving," Edwin Marzinske, 55, told [the writer]. . . .

Miller said the Colby-Abbotsford police officer who stopped the truck at 2:40 in the morning asked if he was the driver. "No, I'm just steering," Miller replied.
The same question was put to Marzinske. "I'm running the pedals," he said. . . .

[Miller] and Marzinske invented this tandem driving method a few months ago on a night when Marzinske was too drunk to drive and Miller was less drunk but, of course, unable to operate the pedals. I'm not defending this potentially dangerous idea, but that way they had the more sober of the two steering for the 10-mile trip.
"It was real easy," Marzinske said. . . .

"I plan on fighting it," Marzinske said. "We'd like to get a lawyer if we can find a cheap one." . . .

"Apparently we made national radio, TV-9, TV-7, TV-13, and we haven't even been to court," said Miller, who used to run a tattoo parlor and is covered with ink himself. "We're the wild grandpas. We gotta leave something for the grandkids to talk about."

I’d say they have. For years to come. Aren’t you just a little worried that we consider it okay for these two to be driving even sober? Ten bucks to anyone who can explain whether the WI DUI penalty will be fully applied to each or if each will only be up for half the maximum sentence.

Moms--The REAL Gateway Drug

Turns out that moms smoking cigarettes are the real culprits in starting their kids on pot, which then causes them to become addicts and kill people.

In general, the study found that children who were exposed to their mothers' smoking as teenagers were twice as likely as their peers to be frequent marijuana users at age 21.

The children of smokers were also more likely to start smoking cigarettes by age 14. Further analysis found a relationship between maternal drinking and child marijuana, but further analysis indicated this relationship was not statistically significant.

Early smoking has been linked to a higher likelihood of marijuana use, explained lead study author Hayatbakhsh told Reuters Health. A "simple message" from these results is that young people's substance abuse is often a "consequence of the learning process."

Only one thing to do. Build more prisons. For the moms.

[Meanwhile the insanity of prosecuting and spending tax dollars on guys in wheelchairs or dying with AIDS simply for using pot to alleviate their symptoms and suffering goes on, thanks to all our fearless and shameless drug warriors.]

Hurry Back, PW

Bad news. Prevention Works is going part-time with its posts while their org moves from DC to Arlington , VA. Sounds like they’re going to make the most of the move, though, so good luck, you guys, and hurry back full-time. There’s a lot of prevention working to do.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Sex Offender Policy Is Hard

Really nice article on sex offender treatment in WA and the difficulties associated with dealing with hard core offenders. Makes the point that we aren’t putting the resources needed into solid new research to help and that the treatments are basically unchanged in 2-3 decades. And this, in the state that has the gold standard state policy evaluation institute in the nation. If we were serious, we’d get the WA people and Kim English and her crew in CO and a few others together, put them in a room, and not let them out until they came up with something that was nuanced for the range of offenders and tailored and effective for offenders at all levels, even if that meant lifetime commitment for a substantial proportion. Don’t worry about them suffering in that room very long—it probably wouldn’t take them a whole day. Which makes why we don’t even sillier. (h/t CrimProf Blog)

Brains and TECHNO

Since my wife lost both her mother and grandmother to Alzheimer’s, we pay attention to the research being done. This particular piece should be of interest to anyone affected by the disease, but it also demonstrates the bioengineering means by which brains can be transformed to produce different outcomes . . . for those of you interested in how TECHNOCORRECTIONS and bioengineered changes in genetic markers for certain responses to environments might occur. And while talking about brain changing behavior (or is it behavior changing brains?), here’s an interesting post from The Frontal Cortex alerting us (well, me anyway) to software that “exercises” the brain in ways to produce desired modifications better, the author (and the software makers) claim, than pharmaceuticals. Looks like we may have to add another component to our TECHNO repertoire. (Before we go overboard, however, let’s remember what can happen when a government decides that behavior it doesn’t like can be controlled “medically.”)

Smoke and Coke

In the substance abuse world today, scary story on how tobacco use may turn on genes that enable lung cancer and that don’t look like they turn off even the smoker stops. For you War on Pot folks, this might be an area you want to look into to strengthen your argument more, just as soon as you apply the same logic to tobacco. And here’s an interesting finding on the abuse front:

The decreased use of cocaine in the United States over the last 20 years mostly occurred among the highly educated, while cocaine use among non-high school graduates remained constant, according to a study by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The study authors suspect that the inverse relationship between cocaine use and education is related to access to health warnings and resources. They also concluded that the emerging disparity highlights the need for improved interventions that target persistent cocaine users who are lower educated.
During the late 1980s, the proportion of high school and college graduates classified as persistent users dropped dramatically and fell below that of non-high school graduates. During the same time period, first time cocaine use steadily decreased among all adults regardless of their level of educational achievement and remained low.

“It isn’t enough to simply try to stop individuals from using cocaine the first time,” said Harder. “More drug intervention programs that target non-high school graduates are necessary to reduce persistent cocaine use in that population.”

Wait, wait, I thought the decrease in cocaine use in the last two decades was the result of stiffer penalties and more incarceration, not some cultural thing or something that could be affected by investing in more education. But, since the higher educated are the most likely to end up in prison, it’s clear why they’ve been the most deterred. . . . wait.

One More Time

Haven’t talked about Virtual World simulation of crime, its settings, its punishments, and its prevention lately, but there’s a great post up at The Situationist talking about how epidemiologists have figured out the potential for study of their issues in that realm. As crime and its prevention can be thought of in epidemiological terms, AGAIN, why can’t some bright, enterprising, young criminologist/gameplayer (which all disqualify me) out there start thinking the same way about what we do in corrections sentencing? I’ll give you at least $20 if you do.

Challenges for Today's Jails

Apologies for missing this when it first came around, but Corrections Community, NIC’s valuable blog, has this report up on today’s and tomorrow’s challenges to jail operation in America. Pulled a bunch of sheriffs and jail administrators together and got their thoughts and projections. Highest priority? Getting and keeping good staff. If that surprises you, you need to read the report even more. [While you’re there, check out the latest stuff on “what makes female offenders different” (!) and on the most recent reentry grant announcement.]

Sometimes It Just Comes Together

Like in PA, where the governor is putting forward a plan to move several thousand inmates into early release or other alternative programs in an effort to reduce that state’s impressive prison overcrowding problem. The thing that’s best about it, though, is the support and effort of the state’s DA association. With their buy-in, the plan might stand a chance. The article details a lot of the proposal for those of you considering similar efforts and outlines well the dimensions of what happens if it fails. Good journalism, which just shows it can be done when reporters want to try.

The Official Corrections Sentencing Epitaph

State Rep. Debbie Riddle (R-Tomball): "We're tending the flowers around the house while the house is caving in."

Applied to the TX Youth Commission but applicable to too many states and agencies to count.

(h/t Grits for Breakfast)

"Expert" Opinion

Remember the book review essay we did way back on Philip Tetlock’s Expert Political Judgment which called into question the entire concept? Here’s more recent research that basically does the same thing.

A study about predicting the outcome of actual conflicts found that the forecasts of experts who use their unaided judgment are little better than those of novices, according to a new study in a publication of the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences.

When presented with actual crises, such as a disguised version of a 1970s border dispute between Iraq and Syria and an unfolding dispute between football players and management, experts were able to forecast the decisions the parties made in only 32% of the cases, little better than the 29% scored by undergraduate students. Chance guesses at the outcomes would be right 28% of the time.
“Accurate prediction is difficult because conflicts tend to be too complex for people to think through in ways that realistically represent their actual progress,” the authors write. “Parties in conflict often act and react many times, and change because of their interactions.”
Analysis of additional data produced similar results. In one instance, the authors attempted to determine if veteran experts would be more likely to make accurate forecasts than less experienced experts. “Common sense expectations did not prove to be correct,” they write. “The 57 forecasts of experts with less than five years experience were more accurate (36%) than the 48 forecasts of experts with more experience (29%).”

The authors also asked experts about their previous experience with similar conflicts and looked at the relationship with the accuracy of their forecasts. Again, the expected conclusion did not prevail: those who considered themselves as having little experience with similar conflicts produced forecasts that were equally as accurate as those who were long-time veterans in the field.

The authors examined the confidence that the experts had in their forecasts by asking them how likely it was that they would have changed their forecasts had they spent more time on the task. Another surprise: 68 high-confidence forecasts were less accurate (28%) than the 35 low-confidence forecasts (41%).

Based on this study and earlier research, the authors conclude that there are no good grounds for decision makers to rely on experts’ unaided judgments for forecasting decisions in conflicts. Such reliance discourages experts and decision makers from investigating alternative approaches.

Instead, they recommend that experts use reliable decision-support tools. They cite two examples of decision aids that can improve forecasts. In an earlier study, Green reported that simulated interaction, a type of role playing for forecasting behavior in conflicts, reduced error by 47%.

Using another technique, structured analogies, the authors found favorable results. In that study, they asked experts to recall and analyze information on similar situations. When experts were able to think of at least two analogies, forecast error was reduced by 39%. This structured technique requires experts, and those with more expertise were able to contribute much more to making accurate forecasts.

The latest authors didn’t apparently try to replicate Tetlock’s distinction between “fox” and “hedgehog” experts who differed on their openness to new info and their own liabilities as experts. That research showed the “foxes” who were more open and more aware of their limitations did better than the hedgehogs in most cases. Still, this should alert us all that we need multiple sources of info and triangulated “proofs” before we launch our normal human hubris into the unknown. Not that that’s a big problem anywhere right now.

[Coincidentally, here’s another article, on the ordinary Joe’s ability to discern good from bad movies compared to “expert” critics, that shows that the gap isn’t all that great if you look pretty closely. Here’s the key conclusion:

"When using sequential and independent measures and when controlling for marketing-related aspects of a film's commercial impact -- our findings support the conclusion that ordinary consumers show "good taste" to a degree not hitherto recognized," the authors write. With proper controls for the contaminating influences of market success they find that "Films of the sort that win favorable evaluations of excellence from expert reviewers also tend to win approval from ordinary consumers and that films of the kind that ordinary consumers consider excellent tend to elicit liking and word-of-mouth or click-of-mouse recommendations."]

[Yet another addendum. Since I’m promoting past book reviews, I also liked Jerome Groopman’s How Doctors Think and recommended that some enterprising soul do the same book about judges. For a different point of view about the book, see here and once again substitute “judges” every time you read “doctors.”]

Two Guys, One Car, Two DUIs, at the Same Time

A kind reader sent along this story from this WI that would might be kinda hard to code in a data system. If I hadn't lived in WI, I might have some doubts, but actually it's a little hard to believe that it hasn't happened before.

Two men driving same truck at same time cited for drunken driving
ABBOTSFORD, Wis. (AP) -- Two men driving one truck at the same time were arrested for drunken driving in the Abbotsford area about 170 miles northwest of Madison.

Harvey J. Miller, 43, who has no legs, steered the 1985 Chevrolet truck while Edwin H. Marzinske, 55, operated the brake and gas pedals, according to a report from the Colby-Abbotsford police.

Miller, who was sitting in the driver's seat, admitted he'd had too much to drink but argued that he wasn't really operating the truck since he had no legs to push the pedals. He received a citation for a third drunken driving offense.
Marzinske was cited for a second drunken driving offense.

Both men also were cited for driving after their licenses had been revoked. A third man in the truck, also drunk, walked himself home after the Aug. 18 traffic stop, police said.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Alcohol Research in the News

Interesting research on the relationship between residence area and alcoholism. In the usual study, alcoholism is treated as the dependent variable, as being affected by the residential surroundings. But this research looks at the effect of alcoholism on where the person is living and proclaims a two-way street rather than a uni-directional relationship. What does this mean for treatment and recovery?

Buu noted that the study's findings show that the damaging effects of alcoholism are much broader than simple health consequences. "The effects also have a long-term impact on quality of life, including where one lives and their quality of life. Social environment appears to play some role in keeping the disorder going, and possibly even making it worse: we can see effects going from community to individual, and from individual to social environment. Preventive efforts therefore may also have effects in both directions."

Trim added that the results have both cautionary and optimistic applications for alcohol misuse. "The findings highlight the far-reaching impact of alcohol problems on the type of neighborhood an individual could reside in as an adult. Thus, high-risk adults who drift into lower-SES neighborhoods will likely face even greater challenges at recovery due to lack of resources and increased environmental stressors. However, adults who successfully treat their alcohol problems early in life are no more likely to experience this downward social drift than non-alcoholics. I would hope these findings provide additional incentive to any individuals who are unsure or unwilling to enter treatment for alcohol-related problems." . . .

Long-term structural brain damage for alcoholics even when they manage to stop drinking? Sadly, yes, according to this research and its conclusions.

"Even though both groups of participants performed similarly on the task, what distinguished them were their brain activation levels while engaged in the memory task," said Sullivan. "The attenuated activations were in brain regions that are known to contribute to goal-directed behaviour, error monitoring, drug-seeking behaviour, and declarative memory, that is, memory for new events."

"We call this phenomenon 'latent lesions' or 'subclinical pathology'," said Kato. "To date, brain damages induced by alcohol are known to cause structural changes such as brain atrophy and shrinkage. Conversely, latent lesions mean brain damages not seen in a structural brain examination. Latent lesions may occur without apparent cognitive impairments, so that people continue drinking alcohol without noticing damage to their brain."

"This functional brain imaging study focused on young to middle-aged adults with a relatively long drinking history and current abstinence period," added Sullivan. "Other studies of brain structure commonly find that this age group has less evidence for structural brain damage than older alcoholics. But this research group has shown that, in spite of the absence of visible brain lesions or other brain dysmorphology, these younger alcoholics showed differences from controls in brain responsivity to their test stimuli. In other words, alcoholics carry untold liability for brain damage, whether functional or structural." . . .

Could those damages have led to the results of this research?

A new study uses functional magnetic imaging (fMRI) to examine emotional processing, finding that alcoholics have stunted abilities to perceive dangerous situations.

"We knew that alcoholics show a deficit in accurate recognition of facial emotions," said Jasmin B. Salloum, research scientist at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and corresponding author for the study. "This can lead to insensitivity to, and overestimation and/or misattribution of, certain facial expressions."

"Relatives and friends of alcoholics often wonder why they continue to drink even though they intellectually know how detrimental this is for them," added Andreas Heinz, director and chair of the department of psychiatry at Charité -- University Medical Center Berlin. "Patients often relapse when entering previous drinking situations, that is, entering a bar or a shop in which you can buy alcoholic drinks. One reason may be that they fail to perceive dangerous situations. This study suggests that there is a neurobiological correlate of this often-reduced ability to perceive dangerous situations."

The implications?

"Alcoholic patients are known to be sensation seekers and are less likely to shy away from signals that suggest danger. Both sensation seeking and avoidance of danger are characteristic of subjects with axes II personality disorders, which many of our subjects had. The findings in this study may shed some light on some of the problematic and psychopathological behaviors that are manifest in this patient group. It remains to be determined if the dysfunction of the anterior cingulate precedes alcoholism or is a result of long term drinking."

There is, however, a silver lining, added Heinz. "Now we can begin to understand why patients have problems avoiding dangerous situations and, particularly, why they may not react to the concerns of their friends and relatives: the brain area that should help them appreciate these concerns is functioning at a reduced level. Furthermore, the authors also observed a normal or even increased brain response to happy faces. Our group recently made a similar observation, in that patients with strong brain responses to pleasant pictures have a reduced relapse risk. So, relatives and friends may want to support alcoholic patients with positive messages that strengthen their self-esteem while being particularly careful, and even repetitive, in pointing out the dangers of alcohol and alcohol-associated environments. Otherwise, the patients may miss the message."

News of the Day, Wednesday, August 29, 2007

  • Meth use linked to increased HIV and other STDs? Looks like it in NC. Good thing that state is so unique.
  • One of the reasons why CA prison union folks have come around to supporting sentencing guidelines despite predictions to the contrary (uh, not that you ever heard them here) is because of the hard time they've been having just getting current staffs up to capacity, with the resulting endangering of the union members. Now that the state has proposed 53,000 more beds and is claiming it can find people to do the correcting there, the union is calling BS. And it is.
  • Remember yesterday when I pointed out that headline on how housing woes in FL causing state budget problems there were actually corrections sentencing woes? Well, look at this headline from FL today: Budget plans would release some prisoners
  • Effective reentry program in MI. Could do more with more resources but they're not there. Which makes it a story about practically every state.
  • Really thorough story, almost like real journalism, from OR on prison rape, why it's not funny, and PREA, the Prison Rape Elimination Act, which is now taking more time and resources in practically every corrections department.
  • "Agents with a regional drug task force raided a man's home in southeastern New Mexico and seized several marijuana plants, sparking the latest debate over the state's new medical marijuana law. Wheelchair-bound and suffering from chronic pain and muscle spasms, Leonard French says he's certified by the state Health Department to possess and smoke marijuana. The 44-year-old lost the use of his legs after a motorcycle crash about 20 years ago." Just one of many folks who pose a terrible, horrific, dangerous threat to this country, planet, and universe. "While no charges have been filed against French, the Pecos Valley Drug Task Force said federal drug charges are possible. A state law that took effect this summer allows marijuana use for pain or other symptoms of debilitating illnesses, such as cancer, glaucoma, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, HIV-AIDS and certain spinal cord injuries."
  • Finally, I can hardly wait to see what the guidelines are for this if this guy gets convicted. A judge slapping a bound defendant. Lord knows how many future judges this will affect.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Think the Housing Mess Isn’t a Corrections Sentencing Issue?

Housing slump may force Florida to make $2 billion in budget cuts

Behavioral Sciences & the Law Abstracts

Volume 25, Issue 4
Special Issue: Current Directions . Issue Edited by Charles Patrick Ewing.
Published Online: 7 May 2007

The function of punishment in the civil commitment of sexually violent predators
Kevin M. Carlsmith, John Monahan, Alison Evans
Pages 437 - 448

Two experiments find that support for civil commitment procedures for sexually violent predators is based primarily upon the retributive rather than incapacitative goals of respondents. Two discrete samples composed of students (N = 175) and jury-eligible citizens (N = 200) completed experimental surveys assessing their support or opposition to scenarios in which a sexual predator was to be released after completing his criminal sentence. Respondents were sensitive to likelihood of recidivism only when the initial sentence was sufficiently punitive. When initial sentence was lenient, respondents strongly supported civil commitment without regard to future risk. Results are discussed in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Kansas v. Hendricks ([1997]) on the constitutionality of civil commitment laws for sexually violent predators.

Constructing insanity: jurors' prototypes, attitudes, and legal decision-making
Jennifer Eno Louden, Jennifer L Skeem
Pages 449 - 470

Research consistently indicates that jurors' intuitive prototypes of insanity and case-relevant attitudes shape their verdicts more strongly than legal definitions of insanity. Based on a sample of 113 prospective jurors, this study was designed to (a) assess the extent to which three prototypes of insanity held by jurors in a past study generalize to a sample of jurors in another state and (b) determine the relative influence of attitudes toward the insanity defense and prototypes of insanity on jurors' case judgments across four insanity case vignettes. Results suggest that jurors' attitudes toward the insanity defense affected case judgments so strongly (r = .41-.61) that they swamped efforts to assess jurors' prototypes of insanity. Further, jurors' prototypes of insanity offered little incremental utility beyond that of insanity defense attitudes. Implications for identifying biased jurors and potential interventions for bringing jurors' decisions into greater accord with the law are discussed.

Determining dangerousness in sexually violent predator evaluations: cognitive-experiential self-theory and juror judgments of expert testimony
Joel D. Lieberman, Daniel A. Krauss, Mariel Kyger, Maribeth Lehoux
Pages 507 - 526

Past research examining the effects of expert testimony on the future dangerousness of a defendant in death penalty sentencing found that jurors are more influenced by less scientific clinical expert testimony and tend to devalue scientific actuarial testimony. This study was designed to determine whether these findings extend to civil commitment trials for sexual offenders and to test a theoretical rationale for this effect. In addition, we investigated the influence of a recently developed innovation in risk assessment procedures, Guided Professional Judgment (GPJ) instruments. Consistent with a cognitive-experiential self-theory based explanation, mock jurors motivated to process information in an experiential condition were more influenced by clinical testimony, while mock jurors in a rational mode were more influenced by actuarial testimony. Participants responded to clinical and GPJ testimony in a similar manner. However, participants' gender exerted important interactive effects on dangerousness decisions, with male jurors showing the predicted effect while females did not. The policy implications of these findings are discussed.

Megan's law and its impact on community re-entry for sex offenders
Jill S. Levenson, David A. D'Amora, Andrea L. Hern
Pages 587 - 602

Community notification, known as Megan's Law, provides the public with information about known sex offenders in an effort to assist parents and potential victims to protect themselves from dangerous predators. The purpose of this study was to explore the impact of community notification on the lives of registered sex offenders. Two hundred and thirty-nine sex offenders in Connecticut and Indiana were surveyed. The negative consequences that occurred with the greatest frequency included job loss, threats and harassment, property damage, and suffering of household members. A minority of sex offenders reported housing disruption or physical violence following community notification. The majority experienced psychosocial distress such as depression, shame, and hopelessness. Recommendations are made for community notification policies that rely on empirically derived risk assessment classification systems in order to better inform the public about sex offenders' danger while minimizing the obstacles that interfere with successful community reintegration.

Criminality and continued DUI offense: criminal typologies and recidivism among repeat offenders
Richard A. LaBrie, Rachel C. Kidman, Mark Albanese, Allyson J. Peller, Howard J. Shaffer
Pages 603 - 614

We examined over 20,000 arraignment records to define criminal typologies and post-treatment driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) convictions for a select cohort of 1,281 repeat DUI offenders who were offered and elected treatment as an alternative to incarceration; we compared this information with a similar data analysis collected 20 years previously. Analyses of 8,600 prior-to-treatment convictions defined four basic crime profiles: only DUI and other substance-related offenses (60%), plus crimes against property (18%), plus crimes against people (8%), plus crimes against both property and people (13%). During the six years after inpatient treatment, 15.5% of the cohort was convicted of another DUI. The reoffense rate was significantly different across criminal types and was not related to the time post treatment years at risk. The findings show there has been no significant improvement in treatment outcome over the last 20 years. New and innovative DUI offender policies and practices are needed to better engage the heterogeneous offender population, and reduce the incidence of repeat DUI.

(h/t Psychology and Crime News)

Here They Come

Commercial MRI machines. Put them with the inevitable portfolio of brain scans “identifying” people with particular predispositions or particular reactions to presented stimuli and presto! Instant TECHNOCORRECTIONS for any jurisdiction, prosecutor, defense counsel, entrepreneur wanting to make a case. You got some money to invest?

Getting Smart on Meth

SD is starting a program allowing diversion for first-time meth offenders, depending on amount, no priors, and no major collateral offenses. It’s outpatient, though, and, although the “co-pay” may be low, it may also limit the impact. At least officials there realize that there may be an alternative to knee-jerking to jail. [While in CO, as Pam Clifton at Think Outside the Cage informs us, prison pop pressures have some folks there moving toward early release programming.]

Monday, August 27, 2007

News of the Day, Monday, August 27, 2007

Quick hits today:
  • Zero tolerance is based on the same logic [sic] as mandatory sentencing. So, if the limits of zero tolerance are finally being recognized and, more importantly, reversed, can mandatory sentencing be far behind?
  • Sexual assaults in prison are recognized as one of our biggest problems, but the public usually thinks of this as "inmate on inmate." This article talks about the "staff on inmate" problem and its scope in WA state. Given the animosity right now among some correctional staff up there toward the DOC director, I'm wondering about the timing of this story a little, though.
  • Pot penalties going down in TX. Although it looks like what Grits for Breakfast has warned us about prosecutor likelihood in cooperating will come true.
  • GED passage rates good in OK.
  • GPS bracelets in CA, used effectively on small scale with gang types. The problem, of course, is taking it to a broader scale, one of the obstacles still slowing TECHNOCORRECTIONS. Watch out when they figure it out.
  • Apparently the correctional officer training program that IN claims to have started as its reason for taking in out-of-state inmates, who subsequently rioted, has succeeded. No more out-of-staters to be allowed in. Got enough inmates of their own now.
  • Finally, an interesting article on how prevention is still overwhelmingly needed to prevent child sex abuse crimes, even with all the "[Fill in the Blank]'s Laws" out there. Some ideas on what to do, why the "laws" are generally ineffective, how recidivism really should be addressed if we are serious and not just grandstanding, and prominent quoting of Sex Crimes Blog's Corey Rayburn Yung, being smart as usual. Just think. We knew him when . . . .

Why Political Science Is as Relevant as It Is

Sentencing is driving corrections policy and budgets in every state and in most states corrections is driving what the entire state government is able to do. So what are our political scientists focusing on when they meet at their annual conference this year when it comes to law and courts? These topics.

This is one of the reasons why my doctorate in poli sci is gathering dust now.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

If It's Physical, Can We Punish?

The biggest concerns of most folks so far looking at the cognitive science research has seemed to be the possibility that "free will" and its place in our legal and punishment systems might be undermined. Not sure that will be the case for all offenders, but it does seem that it could increasingly be a good defense for people faced with drug penalties.

New research from the University of Melbourne has shed new light on why long term drug users find it hard to say no, despite dire consequences to their health.

A study into the frontal cortex, the key region of the brain involved in decision making, has shown that drug users have to place much greater demand on the brain to control impulses.
“In this study we found the frontal cortex, an area that is essential for exercising control over thoughts and behaviours, was working inefficiently.”

“These findings may help explain why it takes addicted individuals enormous effort to exercise control over their drug-taking behaviour in the face of adverse consequences, and why they are vulnerable to relapse back into uncontrolled, compulsive patterns of use.”
The researchers discovered two important differences between the opiate-using group and a group who have never used heroin.

Firstly, the opiate-using group needed to activate more of their brain by placing greater physiological demand on it to avoid making an error on a test of self control.

At the same time, brain cells in the frontal region were revealed to be less healthy than the non opiate-using group.

Then comes the potential defense:

“What people don’t tend to understand about long term drug users is that this is not a matter of choice. They have a reduced level of biological resources and find it hard to stop.”

Dr Dan Lubman, an addiction psychiatrist and a senior investigator on the project, says this new evidence is likely to lead to the development of innovative strategies for the treatment of addiction.

“These findings tell us that we need to provide a combination of pharmaceutical and psychological treatments that will help bolster the efficiency of the frontal cortex and hence the individual’s ability to stop their urge to use drugs.” Dr Lubman said.

“To improve treatments for long term drug users we need to understand at what stage these brain deficits occur. The next question we need to ask is are these latest research findings a consequence of addiction or do they explain people’s vulnerability to problematic drug use?” he said.

So many of the stories we tell ourselves to justify our punishment rather than medical treatment of drug offenders have to do with the offenders' "them"-ness, how they're morally inferior to those of us who can control ourselves (while we take our alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, and anti-depressants because, well, you know, sometimes you just need to let the pressure off) and therefore deserving of the worse we can do. And if they don't get the message the first time, by God, then let's up the dosage (wait, does that mean our drug sanctions are our own form of drug use we're addicted to? No, silly, because we're perfectly capable of recognizing when what we're doing is counterproductive, as we've shown since the War on (Some) Drugs was declared by Nixon.). Research that is able to define and detail those whose drug use is the result of true mental harm will make those tales hard to maintain. I'm betting it won't take that long for good defense attorneys to start carrying around their own copy of this article and arguing for TECHNOCORRECTIONS for their clients, especially for those shown by ongoing research to be more genetically disposed toward abuse than others. You attorney types, could you make the case that it's malfeasance if they don't?

More NCJRS Abstracts, August 26, 2007


NCJ 219284
Barry Vaughan
Internal Narrative of Desistance
British Journal of Criminology
Volume:47 Issue:3 Dated:May 2007 Pages:390 to 404

Drawing on a critical realist perspective, this article analyzes the way in which an internal narrative of crime desistance transforms an offender’s identity into one of an ideal self. The main argument is that offenders are able to desist from future crimes by engaging in an internal narrative that recasts their criminal identity into an identity that involves an ideal future self. In making the argument, the author posits that this disjuncture or break away from the offending identity is most often achieved by seeing the self through the eyes of others, which raises questions about their past and present choices. The author contends that the traits of emotional apathy and responsiveness might help in offenders’ self-appraisals and in their subsequent desistance from crime. The “terms of the conversation” with the self that eventually lead to desistance from crime and a new identity is described as occurring through three distinct phases: (1) discernment, which reviews possible choices; (2) deliberation, which reviews the pros and cons of potential courses of action; and (3) dedication, which eschews past commitments to crime and allows new prosocial commitments to emerge. This three-fold internal process allows the offender to distance themselves from the past and allow a new identity to emerge. However, the author is quick to point out that this internal dialog is not simply a causal reconstruction of past events, but rather involves a moral assessment of past actions versus hopes for the future. In order for this internal narrative to be realized and successful, the power of personal agency and self-reflection must be harnessed by the offender. It is also suggested that the testimony of others can be the impetus to shaking off the criminal identity of the past and committing to a future ideal identity. References

NCJ 219290
Margarita Zernova
Aspirations of Restorative Justice Proponents and Experiences of Participants in Family Group Conferences
British Journal of Criminology
Volume:47 Issue:3 Dated:May 2007 Pages:491 to 509

This study compared the aspirations of restorative justice advocates and the practical realities of restorative justice in action through an examination of a family group conferencing project in the United Kingdom. Results revealed that the majority of participants did not view conferences as punishments, but rather as a strategy aimed at offender rehabilitation. Interview data indicated that while offenders viewed the conferencing process as a painful experience, the majority of offenders did not view the conference as punishment. Victims displayed understanding, kindness, and forgiveness toward offenders during the conferences. The author speculates that the hospitable, informal, and friendly atmosphere of the conference may be a contributing factor to why offenders do not view conferences as punishment. The finding that offenders do not view conferencing as punishment lends support to proponents who view the restorative justice paradigm as a step away from the punishment paradigm currently ruling the criminal justice system. On the other hand, it detracts from arguments that restorative justice initiatives can serve as an alternative punishment to other traditional forms of punishment, such as community service or jail. Other findings throw doubt on the argument that the needs of the victim receive primary importance in the restorative justice process. Indeed, in some cases, the conferencing went on in the absence of the victim yet never went forward without the offender. Data were drawn from a study carried out in a family group conferencing project in England that dealt with juvenile offenders. Interviews were conducted with 47 participants in the family group conferences and the 6 professionals involved in the conferencing process or its development. Of the 47 participants interviewed, 13 were offenders, 17 were victims, 13 were offender supporters, and 4 were victim supporters. Offenses included assault, robbery, burglary, vehicle theft, theft and handling of stolen goods, and criminal damage. In addition to semistructured interviews, data also included nonparticipant observation of the family group conferencing process and documentary analysis. References

Some of Our Latest Clients in Corrections Sentencing

Please explain to me again how jerking up penalties will deter characters like this, the guy passing counterfeits to strippers and thinking they, of all people, wouldn't be experts on our currency or this 93-year-old coke seller who's been caught yet again? Surely the human mind is capable of fashioning penalties for these guys that will get their attention better than "oh, yeah, we'll show you this time." Or when you seem to think you have more money than God, do you just forgo the tough thought and harder work and keep burning through it? Until your mortage crises and energy crises and water crises and warming crises and health inspection crises and bridge and road crises and other public safety crises ad infinitum finally prove you're not God.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

More NCJRS Abstracts, August 25, 2007

I don't usually point out any single abstract in these posts, but Brownstein's rec's on how and why crim just researchers need to take a more proactive and even political role in bringing and forcing findings and data on our kindergarten criminology public and its leaders is very important. If any foundation is out there, wondering why its well publicized then promptly ignored reports don't have a bigger impact, it may be because there isn't the institutional support and legitimacy available that funding Brownstein's recommendations would provide. A foundation on its own is known for its advocacy and can be written off more easily than a nonpartisan, scientific organization devoted to this proactive dissemination and defense of accurate, nondogmatic, nonideological data and findings. WA's State Institute for Public Policy (sh)could be repeated in every state and go farther than issuing reports in a legislature's or foundation's name. Just saying.


NCJ 219272
Henry H. Brownstein
From an Editorial Board Member: How Criminologists as Researchers Can Contribute to Social Policy and Practice
Criminal Justice Policy Review
Volume:18 Issue:2 Dated:June 2007 Pages:119 to 131

This article discusses two main ways for criminal justice research to contribute to justice policy and practice. The main argument is that researchers can use their research findings in two ways to help contribute to criminal justice policy and practice: (1) criminologists can provide the findings of their research to policymakers and practitioners; or (2) they can be advocates for certain policy and practice positions based on their knowledge and experience as scientists. The author notes that this shift in the role of social scientists, and in particular criminologists, has brought more competition and collaboration into the scientific and policy processes. Social scientists who wish to impact public policy will need to feel increasingly comfortable taking on the role of claims maker in a forceful and persistent manner in order to be heard in the political marketplace. While the first line of action was more consistent with the training and socialization that social scientists receive in terms of remaining objective toward the subject matter, the author argues that the second line of action may be more effective for policymaking. In particular, it is argued that for criminologists and other social scientists to be effective, they must learn how to compete and collaborate in the political process that includes other scientists who may make contradictory claims. This may be a difficult stretch for some social scientists because throughout the 20th century, social scientists in the United States have tried to maintain a strict separation of science and policy. Science, they were taught, was to contribute to policymaking only if the findings of their research happened to have policy implications. However, in increasing numbers, criminologists are entering the policymaking arena as researchers are casting off old notions of scientific objectivity in an effort to influence the direction of criminal justice policy. References

NCJ 219275
Jill S. Levenson; David A. D'Amora
Social Policies Designed to Prevent Sexual Violence: The Emperor's New Clothes?
Criminal Justice Policy Review
Volume:18 Issue:2 Dated:June 2007 Pages:168 to 199

This literature review analyzes the history of current sexual offender policies, their development, and their implementation. The literature review reveals that the development and implementation of sexual offender policies did not appear to be based on sound scientific evidence of their effectiveness. Indeed, the scant research literature that had evaluated sexual offender policies suggests that the policies do not achieve their stated goals of preventing sex crimes, protecting children, and safeguarding the community. It appears, in fact, that many of the sexual offender policies developed and implemented in recent years have been based largely on myths and misconceptions regarding sexual offenders rather than on facts. The authors make recommendations for more effective legislative measures, such as enlisting the media to inform the public of evidence-based information regarding sexual offenders, requiring the use of evidence-based risk assessment measures to identify high-risk offenders, and effective resource planning that reserves the most restrictions and interventions for the most dangerous offenders. The literature review and analysis focus on the effectiveness of the most common sexual offender restrictions, including community notification, residence restrictions, civil commitment, and electronic monitoring. Future research should focus on the unintended consequences of community protection policies on sexual offenders, their victims, and society. Tables, references

A Giant (Belated) Welcome to the Blogosphere

to the Bad Prosecutors Blog, which is virtually an echo of the perspective we take here, except the authors of this particular blog are themselves "good" prosecutors dedicated to shining the light on their "bad" prosecutors who pit up their profession and make the jobs of good prosecutors that much harder, not to mention their horrific effect on our justice system and the perceived legitimacy of our laws. Well, here, let's let them describe themselves:

This Blog is published by the Bennett Law Firm with Sherri Katz and Bob Bennett being principal contributors. For over thirty years, the firm has been involved in criminal, civil, and administrative investigations. Both Sherri Katz and Bob Bennett have served in the United States Attorney's Office for the Western District of Texas. They consider themselves to be "good" prosecutors with experience in both state district attorneys offices and federal prosecutors with the United States Attorney's Office. When we see bad prosecutors or prosecutors engaged in bad acts, we see a need to speak out and let the world know of our protestations and anger. Maybe you feel the same? If so, we hope you will share with us and others what bad prosecutors and bad prosecutorial acts the world needs to know about. Thru notoriety, recusals, and even disbarments, we hope to bring to justice to what some bad prosecutors do.

They don't post enough, but what they've posted lately is terrific--a list of the top ten worst prosecutors, with the US AG at the top and working in the Duke lacrosse guy, the Genarlow Wilson guy, the Tulia, TX guy, the "John Grisham wrote a whole book about how I wanted to kill an innocent man" guy, jeez, I'm getting nauseous just lumping all these guys together. They're a very needed voice in corrections sentencing, so maybe if enough of us go give them hits, it'll encourage them to do more and more often. So what are you waiting for?

Friday, August 24, 2007

Not-So-Mean Girl

I do try to keep this as much a Lohan-free zone as possible, but this sentence of the idiotic young actress actually strikes me as pretty good, unlike the 82 minutes behind bars that passes for a sentence for other “celebrities” these days (even if done under overcrowding guidelines):

Lindsay Lohan reached a plea deal Thursday on misdemeanor drunken driving and cocaine charges that calls for her to spend one day in jail, serve 10 days of community service and complete a drug treatment program.

She was also placed on 36 months probation, is required to complete an 18-month alcohol education program, pay hundreds of dollars in fines and must complete a three-day county coroner program in which she'll visit a morgue and talk to victims of drunken drivers.

Some shock jail, reasonably restrictive probation, required treatment, and community service and restitution. Well put together. Punishes, shows it could be worse, requires public recompense, very stiff response promised if revoked. And for once, she seems to get it, at least in her public statement.

"It is clear to me that my life has become completely unmanageable because I am addicted to alcohol and drugs," Lohan said in a statement released by publicist Leslie Sloane Zelnik.

She said she did things she was ashamed of. "I broke the law and today I took responsibility by pleading guilty to the charges in my case."

She’s a talented young woman, unlike others who have been in similar circumstances lately (yes, I admit to having watched “Mean Girls” more than once, please don’t pity me). I hope she does get her head on straight. Her road just gets steeper and steeper from here.

But Stay Away from the Wacky Weed

While it seems that daily studies come out in Britain on the bad effects of pot, they’ve encouraged the cheap sale of alcohol and are seeing the results. And, does this sound familiar?, the government is afraid to raise taxes on it. Has there ever been any better evidence that the economists’ “rational man” is as real as Tinker Bell?

CA Spreading Across the Nation

Reality dawning in CA as the availability of private prison beds either inside or outside the state offers reprieve for the prison population conundrum the state faces. We’ve talked here before about the nationalization of the prison crowding issue as CCA, Geo, and the other private vendors capitalize on the insistence of state policymakers that prisons are the only way to provide public safety (despite prisons’ really pretty poor record compared to other options). Construction costs drive so much of the debate in the short term (while maintenance and operations eat up the dollars long-term) that private providers taking on those short-term costs themselves can look very attractive to polarized and balled up state governments. The long-term budget problem with this isn’t just the maintenance and operations. It’s the likelihood that, once the private providers hit a threshold point of proportion of a state’s budget or availability of multiple buyers, they can raise prices on users without much recourse given the path they’ve chosen to take. And some states have found themselves bound by legislation to certain prices or increases and then out in the cold when a contract runs out and the private finds a higher bidder. Oops. Now where do we put these guys?

The story does a nice job of setting up what CA faces and other states have faced. It quotes a very misleading “conclusion” by the CCA spokesperson that private prisons have been shown more cost-effective. That’s true if you compare their new facilities against all DOC facilities, not comparable ones in longevity, size, types of inmates, etc. There have been some good studies of comparable provision that show that private and public are, on average, about the same. The difference is in their construction costs to the state. (Keep in mind that I’m not talking here about private providers of treatment, halfway houses, etc.) CA and thus other states have to face the fact that private prisons are their reality and everyone else’s for the future. Unless/until they are directly involved financially, they will be the chief impediment, good or bad, to adoption of the TECHNOCORRECTIONS “solutions” coming on line that can make serious dents in prison need in the near future. State policymakers just have to decide what their states’ balances and priorities are. My money is in private prison company stock.

Substance Abuse, Race, and Gender

Interesting study on racial discrimination and substance abuse:

Although racial discrimination was far less common in Whites (38%) than in African Americans (89%), the researchers assessed whether parallel associations exist in Whites and found similar associations with smoking, alcohol, and lifetime use of marijuana and cocaine as they did in African Americans. Thus, substance use may be an unhealthy coping response to perceived unfair treatment for some individuals regardless of their race/ethnicity. "However, it is worth noting that racial discrimination may be a different phenomenon for African Americans than it is for Whites, and thus, lead to very different consequences," said Luisa N. Borrell, DDS, PhD, of the Mailman School of Public Health's Department of Epidemiology and principal investigator of the study.

African Americans experiencing racial discrimination also reported having more education, higher income, and a stronger social network than those reporting no racial discrimination. In contrast to African Americans, Whites reporting racial discrimination reported less education and lower income than did those who reported none. Similar to African Americans, Whites reporting any discrimination were more likely to report less control of their life, more anger, less emotional support, and more negative interactions than did their counterparts reporting none.


Among the strengths of the study are its population-based nature, the focus on young to middle-aged adults, the wide ranges of educational attainment and income, the information on illicit substance use, and socioeconomic position indicators. "It is possible that use of a recreational drug helps to cope with life stress resulting from perceived unfair treatment because of one's race/ethnicity," observed Dr. Borrell. "Our findings that current use of marijuana was not related to discrimination and that risk of being a former smoker was increased suggest that, by early middle age (average age, 40 years), people may have found other ways to cope. However, the finding of an excess of current smoking in this population, suggest that this addictive habit may be long lasting, even when alternative coping behaviors are adopted."

Source of the data was the CARDIA study, a prospective study of cardiovascular risk among young adults. 3,330 persons aged 18--30 years examined at baseline (1985-1986) and re-examined again seven (1992-1993) and 15 years (2000-2001) later in the (CARDIA) Study were included in this study.

And in other substance abuse news:

Men who work long hours or in high stress jobs are more likely to smoke, according to a new University of Melbourne study.

The study finds that men who work more than 50 hours a week are over twice as likely to smoke as their counterparts working regular full-time hours.

These men double their risk yet again, if they have jobs which are demanding and over which they have low levels of control.

Smoking among female workers is linked most strongly to being in a physically demanding job.

The top study would imply that this might apply to other, less deadly but more illegal substance abuse as well.

Sense Prevailing

In fairness to the NAACP, who probably really cared about my tantrum at them the other day, this story also points out that the national leadership of the org, rather than the less than sensible in the Atlanta chapter, agree that the org maybe should find better use of its resources than defending Michael Vick. But they still need to focus big time on the race and corrections sentencing issues facing all of us.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Jail Capacities in TX

A rare and very helpful post looking at actual holdings compared to capacities at jails in a state, this time TX, at Texas Prison Bidness, especially looking at private jails. It’s sometimes hard to get a good feel for what’s going on in the debates about overcrowding and what to do about it without seeing the actual data. We need to do more of this in the blogosphere.

More NCJRS Abstracts, Drug Courts Research


NCJ 219289
Tim McSweeney; Alex Stevens; Neil Hunt; Paul J. Turnbull
Twisting Arms or a Helping Hand?: Assessing the Impact of 'Coerced' and Comparable 'Voluntary' Drug Treatment Options
British Journal of Criminology
Volume:47 Issue:3 Dated:May 2007 Pages:470 to 490

This study compared drug treatment outcomes among court-mandated treatment participants and voluntary treatment participants in England. Results indicated that the court-mandated drug treatment participants faired just as well as the voluntary drug treatment participants in terms of significant and sustained reductions in drug use, injecting risk, and offending behaviors. Improvements in mental health were also observed for both groups. Moreover, the reductions in drug use and criminal behavior were sustained between the 6 and 18 month followup interviews. Other findings revealed that retention rates among court-mandated and voluntary participants were roughly equal. The authors observe that while the results are encouraging for court-mandated drug treatment programming, there is room for improvement for the aftercare and settlement of both court-mandated and voluntary drug treatment clients. The authors also note that the expectations of treatment should be realistic and should not be viewed as the one perfect solution for dealing with drug misuse and drug-related crime. Participants were 157 individuals who entered community-based drug treatment at 1 of 10 research sites across London and Kent, England between June 2003 and January 2004. A full 57 percent of the participants (89 individuals) were court-ordered to undergo this community-based drug treatment. Participants were interviewed at intake, within 2 weeks of starting treatment, and again at 6, 12, and 18 months after program completion. Interviews were standardized and focused on physical and psychological health, housing, education, employment, relationships, substance use, offending, victimization, pressure to be in treatment, self-efficacy, and motivation to change. In-depth individual and focus group interviews were also conducted with 38 health and criminal justice practitioners involved in the development, implementation, or delivery of the drug treatment program and 57 criminally involved drug users who were mandated to treatment. The analysis focused on comparing the outcomes of the court-mandated treatment participants to those of the voluntary (comparison) participants. Data were analyzed using logistic regression models. Figures, table, footnotes, references

NCJ 219095
Caroline S. Cooper
Drug Courts--Just the Beginning: Getting Other Areas of Public Policy in Sync
Substance Use & Misuse
Volume:42 Issue:2-3 Dated:2007 Pages:243 to 256

This article analyzes the consequences of punitive policies aimed at drug offenders despite their recovery efforts. The main argument is that the primary goals and benefits of drug courts and other criminal justice drug treatment initiatives cannot be realized without changes in other areas of public policy regarding drug offenders that serve to punish them despite recovery accomplishments. The author calls on policymakers to begin to address the glaring disparity between the intentions and interventions of the criminal justice system toward drug offenders and other social policies regarding drug offenders that remain overwhelmingly punitive. The author argues that while offenders can satisfactorily complete drug court programs or other drug treatment programs and remain drug-free, law-abiding citizens, punitive policies in the United States serve to undermine the success of their recovery as well as the often considerable efforts made toward that recovery. Specific policies targeted for criticism include the denial of: (1) welfare benefits to persons charged/convicted of drug offenses; (2) educational loans or other benefits to persons charged/convicted of drug offenses; (3) public housing to persons charged/convicted of drug offenses; (4) voting rights to persons with felony convictions; and (5) legal immigration status for persons charged/convicted of drug offenses. While gains toward treating drug offenders have been made in the criminal justice system and through community-based organizations, the punitive policies that continue to punish drug offenders serve to mute the gains made toward recovery, gains that include becoming drug-free, obtaining a job, regaining child custody, and generally becoming a law-abiding and tax-paying citizen. Future research should focus on how drug offenders are treated by other public systems. Notes, references

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Unobtrusive Measures

One of the few areas of studying research I ever enjoyed (which has meant wonders for my career as a research director) was the use of “unobtrusive measures,” the indirect way of measuring a concept, such as determining interest in exhibits at art museums by looking at wear of floor tiles or rugs around them. There’s a great “unobtrusive measure” being used in several cities, studying sewage for byproducts of drug use, as described in this Scientific American online article:

"Here's a new tool for taking snapshots of communities over space and in time and getting a less biased view of drug use," Field says. Current methods, she notes, rely on either self-reporting in surveys or actual overdoses. "Certainly compared to the statistics approach, which is waiting for people to die," she adds, "this is more real-time."

The technique has been tried in at least 10 U.S. cities, ranging from towns with populations hovering around 17,000 people to medium-size cities of 600,000, according to Fields, though she declined to specify the municipalities by name. One trend: use of methadone and methamphetamine (a prescription opiate withdrawal aid and speed) remained constant over 24 days in these cities, but cocaine consumption routinely spiked on the weekends. "You can see this upswing in the recreational use of cocaine as evidenced by increases in some cases starting as early as Thursday," of each week studied, Field says.
The technique might help communities determine where to apply law enforcement or track the success of targeted drug-use prevention efforts, the researchers say—for example, helping to get a handle on methamphetamine-related deaths in Oregon, which have tripled over the past decade. But the strategy also raises privacy concerns, Field says. She notes it would be extremely difficult to track individual drug use with this method, both because it is hard to reliably estimate from a community-wide measure how many individuals are actually using the drug and sampling would have to take place almost all the way back in the individual toilet to trace it to a particular household. "It's not getting back to the individual," she emphasizes.

The next step, Fields says, will be to trace the unique by-products of extremely common drugs, such as caffeine and nicotine, to enable even more precise readings of local use. "We will be exploring are there ways to use human urinary biomarkers to try and assess the population?" she says. "Can you follow worker populations? Students moving in and out? And then answer questions about trends in drug use."

Ending Up With Neither

Very challenging story out of WI, likely overshadowed by that pedophilic jerk in CA taunting law enforcement . A paroled child sex offender (for relations with a 16-year-old and 14-year-old) told his parole agent that he was having inappropriate thoughts about kids and going to malls and such to look at them and imagine them. The agent told him to talk about them in his treatment sessions. The offender didn’t, so the agent revoked his parole. No offense, no touching, no nothing. Just thoughts and the threatening possibility that exists with every parolee. I know we get frustrated with gov’t inaction in cases of abusers for whom we have to wait for the abuse and victimization, and I’m sure that’s what was going through the agent’s mind. But there is a price to pay for living free, and that’s not allowing gov’t to punish based on what might happen someday. It’s tragic when that price is high, but the alternative, a government that now has the precedent to lock people away simply for their thoughts, isn’t more tragic? Oh, right. Would only happen to bad people. Not you or those you care about, who never have thoughts that you admit to only to wish you hadn’t. When did we stop teaching and learning that those who think they can give up freedom to have security will end up with neither? Pretty clear where we would have ended up in that “give me liberty or give me death” thing. (And in another case of fear overruling freedom, check out the harassment of a female sex offender who’s done her time but whose address is known to a mob community, including a guy who’s threatening her, a guy who’s got 4 prior assault convictions but feels he’s a moral beacon. Jeez, what a world.) [One last note: There’s actually a major criminology conference being held on how to maintain freedom in a security-obsessed world. It’s in Britain.]


A good story on how TECHNOCORRECTIONS gets sold, this time a different kind of anklet that is hooked to GPS and allows authorities to set zones within a jurisdiction that will set it off, along with a built-in cell phone to allow agents to talk directly to offenders. They’re looking at adding those sweat analyzer things in the near future. The salesman in WY is a former sheriff and bail bondsman whose company is “Freedom Fighters,” not exactly your touchy feely kinda org. The DOC head there seems to have his head on straight, even wearing one himself for a while and seeing how it worked. He sees best applications for drug offenders like “meth moms” who might not have to do the more expensive jail time. More importantly for taxpayers, he says that the device may be a way to help ease prison crowding, address a shortage of jailers and save the state money on working with low-risk offenders, all while helping get parolees back to work. "We need to try something else," he said. "Building new prisons doesn't work."

(h/t Real Cost of Prisons)

"Free Won't"

This is interesting news and could be good news, especially as advances in TECHNOCORRECTIONS occur:

The area of the brain responsible for self-control-where the decision not to do something occurs after thinking about doing it-is separate from the area associated with taking action, scientists say in the August 22 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience. "The results illuminate a very important aspect of the brain's control of behavior, the ability to hold off doing something after you've developed the intention to do it-one might call it 'free won't' as opposed to free will," says Martha Farah, PhD, of the University of Pennsylvania.

"It is very important to identify the circuits that enable 'free won't' because of the many psychiatric disorders for which self-control problems figure prominently-from attention deficit disorder to substance dependence and various personality disorders." Farah was not involved in the experiment.

The findings broaden understanding of the neural basis for decision making, or free will, and may help explain why some individuals are impulsive while others are reluctant to act, says lead author Marcel Brass, PhD, of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences and Ghent University.

You Have No Idea

You probably think I spout off more than I should, but I don’t speak half my mind here. So you have no idea how hard it is for me not to say anything about what, out of all the needs of the African-American community in this nation, including disproportionate minority representation in our criminal justice, the NAACP has chosen to spend its time and resources on. Even if it is a corrections sentencing issue. (Although they really seem more concerned about continuing NFL careers.) I promise you, my tongue is bleeding.

Isn't There Some Saying About Not Asking a Question . . . ?

The Astros fan whose marriage proposal was rebuffed in front of 30,000 fans actually struck out twice Monday night.

He didn't get the girl.

And now he's stuck with the $300 bill from the Astros, which is the tab for two tickets, the proposal shown on the centerfield scoreboard and a souvenir video of the proceedings.

"We did what we said we were going to do," said Pam Gardner, president of business operations. "We hope these proposals will be serious and special, so people have to think before they do it."

Governors Gone Wild

A friend sends us this op-ed in the Christian Science Monitor by four Dem governors on the importance of rehab and rethinking in our juvenile justice processes in our states. Here's why they're writing, what they've done back home, and why it's important if we're going to avoid repeating the insanity of the 90s, including this:

Amid news stories that raise the specter of increasing juvenile crime, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that crime rates overall, particularly for violent crimes, are still near 30-year lows. The cries of alarm are reminiscent of those heard in the early 1990s, when a rise in violent juvenile crime and myths of superpredators helped transform a system that had been focused on individualized treatment and rehabilitation for nearly a century into one that was increasingly harsh and punitive.

The impact of these policies began to hit home. Thousands of adolescents, locked up during a critical period of development, returned to their communities without the skills or support to lead productive lives. A disproportionately large number of them were young minorities. The cost of "get tough" policies was measured not only in escalating budgets of prisons and detention centers and rising recidivism rates, but also in reduced public safety and the loss of human potential.

Over the past decade, groundbreaking research on adolescent development and on what works to help young people steer clear of crime has brought about more rational and effective policies. Illinois , Louisiana , Pennsylvania , and Washington were among the first to incorporate this new knowledge in reshaping our juvenile justice systems.

Now, in partnership with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation's Models for Change initiative, we are working to further improve juvenile justice policy and practice across the country. However, these efforts could be at risk if public opinion becomes unnecessarily inflamed again.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Race and Sentencing in WI

One of the many things policymakers in WI expected of its second sentencing commission was to analyze the impact of race on sentencing. Turns out that report was one of the few things the commission there actually accomplished on its own and why it's being sunsetted this year. Nevertheless, the truly fine staff I left behind there produced a really good report on sentencing disparity in the state before the lights go out and sent out this summary and link to the full report. It's definitely worth the time of anyone interested in corrections sentencing:

As part of its enabling legislation, the Wisconsin Sentencing Commission is required to study whether race is a basis for imposing sentences in criminal cases. In fulfillment of this legislative mandate, the Commission has prepared a report which examines offender and sentence characteristics by race for five specific felony offenses in Wisconsin – Sexual Assault of a Child, Sexual Assault, Robbery, Burglary, and Drug Trafficking. . . .

The findings of this report show that racial disparities do, in fact, exist within Wisconsin ’s sentencing system. Yet, the true causes of these disparities are often difficult to identify and measure. Disparities in sentencing are most likely due to the confluence of multiple issues, and are the result of institutionalized defects rather than malicious intent. Due to the fact that race is generally correlated with many legal sentencing factors permissible for judges to consider – criminal record, employment history, and educational opportunities – it becomes a challenging directive to sufficiently separate the effect of race over other interconnected factors. Ultimately, more and better data is required to improve the strength and meaning of the results.


Racial disparities, when present, were typically found in sentence types (prison or probation), not sentence lengths.

Where disparities existed, a higher percentage of Black and Hispanic offenders received prison sentences (versus probation) than White offenders.

The amount of racial disparity found in sentence types typically increased as offense severity decreased. For example, less severe offenses such as 3rd Degree Sexual Assault, Burglary, Robbery, and Drug Trafficking showed greater levels of disparity than more severe offenses such as 1st & 2nd Degree Sexual Assault, 1st & 2nd Degree Sexual Assault of a Child, Armed Robbery, and Burglary Plus.

In Drug Trafficking cases, across the board, a higher percentage of Black offenders received prison sentences (versus probation) than White offenders. This disparity increased as offense seriousness decreased. The difference in percentage between White offenders who received probation versus other racial groups is particularly pronounced in Class D through Class H felonies.

Racial disparities were not typically found in sentence lengths. Amounts of time, when broken down by offense type and felony class, were largely stable and comparable across all racial categories. In some instances, White offenders received longer sentences. In other instances, Black and/or Hispanic offenders received longer sentences.

* Copies of the report, as well as the Commissioners’ addendums, can be found on our website at

A Big Blog Welcome

Jeff Yates at the U of GA has been doing some of the most interesting poli sci work on the impact of macro-variables on sentencing proportionality and politics in recent years. Now he and a colleague, Andrew Whitford, have started an interesting new blog, Voir Dire, which promises to bring that same dynamic analysis to the blog world on a daily basis. Good luck to them. We’ll be checking in regularly. (h/t Empirical Legal Studies and Prawfsblawg)

News of the Day, Tuesday, August 21, 2007

  • Number of deaths in car and cycle accidents tied to alcohol was up by 12 last year, although deaths by vehicle accident went down overall. Statistically weird, more states declined than went up. Good thing we’ve got all those pot users behind bars or we’d have real public safety problems.
  • Think CA’s 53,000 new prison beds are impressive? Try 160 new prisons in Brazil. And, oh, yeah, there’s some money in their new budget for some cops and some social programs, too.
  • Sense prevailing in OR. Those boys facing sex offender status for slapping girls’ butts in their middle school ended up having charges dropped after restitution and apologies. Which (sh)could have happened in the principal’s office. This all reminds me so much of the pre-school abuse hysteria of the 80s when so many other people were injured by “moral panic” and overzealous prosecutors. And this nation seems to be one of the world’s best at this stuff. Guess being the most highly educated pays off.
  • Not sure if this is sense prevailing or not. They’ve authorized corrections officers to pursue illegal aliens in MA.
  • An interesting nicotine and other addictive substances story out of Science Daily. It gives clues as to why some folks are more susceptible to addiction than others: ". . . rats most likely to self-administer addictive drugs had a particular receptor in the brain that is more responsive than the same receptor in rats least likely to self-administer addictive drugs. This receptor, known as the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR), increases excitability within in the brain's reward centers. In the animals that were more likely to take addictive drugs, the effects of these receptors were much stronger, leading to more profound excitation of the cells and pathways associated with reward. Stress, and the associated increases in stress hormones, will promote drug-taking behavior regardless of whether an animal is more or less susceptible, say the researchers. They showed that stress also increases the responses of nAChRs within the brain's reward areas. The conclusion? "This study provides valuable insight into the mechanism of addiction," says McGehee. "It raises the possibility that nicotinic receptors may be important targets for the treatment of multiple addictions, not just nicotine. Unfortunately, blocking these receptors may also interfere with healthy behaviors that depend upon the same brain circuitry. Precisely where these findings will lead drug treatment strategies is unclear, but this work provides insight into the role of nicotinic receptors in the vulnerability to multiple classes of addictive drugs."
  • Speaking of addiction, remember the story on “Internet addiction” I posted on a couple of days back? Here’s a takedown of the entire concept at Mind Hacks.
  • We’ve talked here before about how sometimes the inmates sent to out-of-state prisons are the ones showing good behavior (so where’s the incentive for that if you get sent out?) Turns out that murderers and rapists may be among those with good behavior, and that can aggravate groups in the state receiving the inmates, in this case, folks in IN getting AZ prisoners.
  • Good news in VT. Their prison pops have dropped and they have prisons under capacity. Changes in supervision practice for probation/parole types the major reason stated.
  • Congrats, Grits. TX led the nation in drunken driving fatalities last year. Did you guys ever change that law that you could drive with an open container as long as you weren’t drunk about it?
  • Here’s a prosecution I’ll back 100%. Several state Attorneys General are going after ads for “caffeinated beer.”
  • You knew it had to happen. CT’s apparently looking at CA’s “success” with “Three Strikes” as a way to react to that triple murder a few weeks back. When CA’s own law wouldn’t have affected the murderers. Not crazy enough for you? A legislator in CT is promising to figure out a way that it could have affected them, which would count all counts in one trial toward the three strikes. Start socking away all your extra cash for those prisons, CT taxpayers, and ignoring the even better public safety opportunities that are known and available.
  • And almost as if to mock CT, just file this under “ya think????” : “A growing number of California voters are becoming pessimistic about the direction the state is heading, according to a statewide poll released Saturday that also shows only a third of the electorate approves of the way lawmakers are doing their job.” But keep passing those initiatives like “Three Strikes” to send more folks to prison while you’re at it, you guys. You have no responsibility at all for where you are now.
  • Finally, we hear the stories of the innocent people sent to prison, but we rarely hear the stories of the (usually) wives who manage to keep the family together and eventually find their faith in their spouses formally verified. This story, though, is an exception and a nice way to finish off a lengthy post. Dare you not to get a warm feeling, and want to hammer some “law enforcement” folks.


According to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Afghan opium production in 2006 rose a staggering 57 percent over the previous year. Next month, the United Nations is expected to release a report showing an additional 15 percent jump in opium production this year while highlighting the sobering fact that Afghanistan now accounts for 95 percent of the world's poppy crop. But the success of the illegal narcotics industry isn't confined to Afghanistan. Business is booming in South America, the Middle East, Africa and across the United States.

Thirty-six years and hundreds of billions of dollars after President Richard M. Nixon launched the war on drugs, consumers worldwide are taking more narcotics and criminals are making fatter profits than ever before. The syndicates that control narcotics production and distribution reap the profits from an annual turnover of $400 billion to $500 billion. And terrorist organizations such as the Taliban are using this money to expand their operations and buy ever more sophisticated weapons, threatening Western security.

In the past two years, the drug war has become the Taliban's most effective recruiter in Afghanistan. Afghanistan's Muslim extremists have reinvigorated themselves by supporting and taxing the countless peasants who are dependent one way or another on the opium trade, their only reliable source of income. The Taliban is becoming richer and stronger by the day, especially in the east and south of the country. The "War on Drugs" is defeating the "war on terror."

(h/t CrimProf Blog)

Restorative Justice and Prevention

Matthew Bowen is one of the most consistently thoughtful and thought-provoking members of the corr sent blogosphere, and he has a typically good post up on research into restorative justice, its outcomes, and what its role in the future might (should) be. I agree with his point that vision should not be lost concerning who participates in these programs and why. The more they’re broadened, the more they will sweep in both offenders and victims not really amenable to the process, the more the positive results will decline. These systems require well-thought criteria for participation and good follow up to ensure that the results concluded actually occur. They’re not for everyone, but they do hold the promise of restoring a faith in the ability of our system to generate outcomes best for the victims, community, and even offenders in a world so institutionalized that it seems mostly to generate outcomes best for corrections sentencing practitioners. Keep these posts coming, Matthew.

Monday, August 20, 2007

ABM and Corrections Sentencing

As promised last week, Mark Buchanan at The Social Atom has followed up a post on complex adaptive systems with interrelated agents with a link to a book review in Nature (need to register, didn't do it) on Agent-Based Modeling (ABM). Here's the quote he pulled from the review and the reason why it's potentially earth-shaking for first the academic types, then the practitioners in corrections sentencing:

...these two books are part of an important trend in the social sciences. Both argue for the value of agent-based modelling (ABM) in social science. This approach involves "growing societies from the bottom up", as Epstein has put it, rather than devising analytically airtight theorems from first principles that are tractable but transparently wrong in what they assume and imply about human behaviour.

The aim of ABM is to study whether the macroscopic patterns or regularities that we observe in society, such as price equilibria or the appearance of behavioural norms, can be generated from decentralized, local interactions between collections of agents.... Agent-based models may not describe reality, but they can show how interaction and nonlinearity produce social outcomes that could not be predicted simply by inspecting the behavioural rules.

There has to be some crim-oriented young scholar out there with the interest, brains, and time to pull this together into corr sent simulations and conditions that promote and reduce crime, reentry, or sentencing outcomes. There have been several books that have spent a page or three speculating on this, but none have done it yet. Come on, we're waiting for you.

News and Blogs Together, Monday, August 20, 2007

  • Fed guidelines about to get their greatest public inspection? The judge in the Michael Vick case says he’s not bound by them and I don’t think he’s going below the range. DC Beltway types after the Scooter Libby case professed their shock that someone can be sentenced on behavior not found at trial. Now Falcon fans will likely lose their star when those guidelines say he should only be sentenced to a shorter sentence. Years of academic debate and nothing. A couple of pathetic cases with public proponents and we finally get attention. The world’s a kind of funny place, isn’t it?
  • Doug Berman already caught the TIME piece on mandatory minimums. I’d just like to reaffirm the concluding quote: "The problem is that they are using a prison cell to address what should be public health issue," says Gabriel Sayegh, a project director at the Drug Policy Alliance. "This isn't the criminal justice system we're supposed to have in this country."
  • Couple of stories on teens to note. One is obvious, the other not. The first points to a survey of teens that indicates that most teens who hack or illegally download do it more just to see if they can rather than with criminal intent. No shock there, or reason to excuse known illegal behavior, but another case to keep in mind when we try to paint all offenders with the same one size fits all, “they’re all evil” brush. The other is another story on how drama and theater help youths with emotional and behavioral problems. This fits well with the stories we’ve noted from time to time of effective use of plays in dealing with potential or real juvenile issues and consequences. As a former community theater type, I’ve seen this with some of the younger folks I used to work with (and, yes, almost all of them were younger).
  • More teen stories. Rather than doing anything serious with Genarlow Wilson, GA may decide that sex ed should include a chapter on the penalties for its 18th Century laws and thinking. Not a bad idea, really, if kids having sex have to be controlled by government rather than, you know, their families, their churches, their community norms, just to protect them. But what’s the pool on the first kid to say, “You know what, what we’re doing violates Section 12, subsection 3(b) of the Georgia Criminal Code”? So much corr sent that would be unnecessary if grown-ups would just do their jobs well to start with. And here we hear that, omigod, without any laws at all!!!, teens empowered with some knowledge and rational education are cutting back their pregnancies. One more bit of evidence that major social behavior changes don’t need formal policy action all the time. Far more gets done with seeing the consequences of an older sibling with an unplanned child or in a morgue or wheelchair than we can ever hope to do in corrections sentencing or other government institutions.
  • DAs ignoring laws. Here’s Grits for Breakfast catch of TX DAs who refuse to obey a very clear law in that state that was intended to reduce jail pops. On the other side of that, DAs who don’t use penalty enhancers that would increase prison pops. Doesn’t matter what your opinion of either is, we’re talking about public officials deciding not to follow the laws. After a while, what does that do to a society?
  • If states are the laboratories of policies in this country, OK has a couple of things going. This multiple-subject article gives a good overview of a secular-faith-based experiment going on (and is being monitored from the start for future evaluation) and the work of specialty courts, particularly drug and mental health courts there. Surprisingly good article for a small-town paper. (h/t Real Cost of Prisons) (And here you can find more evidence of the “lab” thing, info on a successful DUI court in NV.)
  • Couple more drug-related stories. One of the absolutely silliest results of our pot paranoia has been the loss of the economic benefits of industrial hemp. CA is looking at legalizing the latter, but its fate will depend on intelligence in our pot debate. IOW, buh-bye. Intelligence does occasionally peek its head through, though, as in San Quentin’s use of its inmates in drug counseling, one of those instances where we realize that our best “experts” in criminal behavior are, you know, criminals. But in DE, drug cases are being dropped because lab techs need a couple of weeks to do their tests and DAs are running the cases too fast for that. Sounds like something decent administrators will work out, but this being corr sent, who knows?
  • Finally, over at Mind Hacks, a description of “behavior detection techniques” hyped and promoted by entrepreneurs that, surprise, seem to be ineffective in real life. Won’t stop us from using them and inconveniencing and seriously injuring some people, though. Fits the heroic stories we tell ourselves about our superior intelligence. Reality has to really get in your face before it trumps a person convinced he’s smart. (And, yes, I have direct personal experience with that.)