Thursday, September 27, 2007

iPods and Literacy

Teri Carns from the AK (Alaska, not Arkansas) Justice Center sends this link to an Urban Institute study linking iPods and violent crime increases, as stealing them forcibly is what we in most states call robbery. Not immediately obvious, but the stats are convincing. Sneakers, now iPods, driving crime rates. For those of us old enough to remember, auto burglaries zoomed once eight-tracks came available. If you ask "what's an eight-track?", get out of my sight. Here's the UI release:

WASHINGTON, D.C. September 26, 2007 -- Crime statistics released Monday by the FBI showed violent crime increased in 2005 and 2006, and a new Urban Institute analysis offers evidence that the concurrent explosion in iPod use may have triggered the spike.

The gadgets are not just entertaining and convenient; their high value, visibility, and versatility make them "criminogenic"--or "crime-creating," in the vocabulary of criminologists. And their power to distract users can give thieves an advantage. Researchers John Roman and Aaron Chalfin suggest in the report "Is There an iCrime Wave?" that iPods' popularity with consumers and appeal to criminals may have translated into rising violent crime rates.

Roman and Chalfin note that robberies--thefts that use or threaten violence--were up 3.9 percent in 2005 and 6.8 percent in 2006, while theft overall declined by 6 percent and auto theft fell 5 percent over the two-year span. The iPod's popularity among young people may make it a special target for juvenile offenders, and indeed youth robbery arrests jumped 11 percent in 2005 and 21 percent in 2006. Adult robbery arrests rose only 1 percent in 2005 and 5 percent the following year.

An outbreak of iPod-targeted muggings would be consistent with these numbers, but what share of the increase in robberies is due to these "must have" personal media devices? Empirical data are limited, but anecdotal evidence is mounting.

In the first three months of 2005, major felonies rose 18 percent on New York City's subways; but if iPod and cell phone thefts are excluded, felonies actually declined by 3 percent. Thus, the Metropolitan Transit Authority now warns riders that "Earphones are a giveaway. Protect your device." Similar signs appear on BART trains in San Francisco . In Washington , DC , in the first four months of 2007, robberies of iPods on the subway alone accounted for 4 percent of all robberies citywide, compared with well under 1 percent in 2005.

Roman and Chalfin raise intriguing questions about iPods and crime prevention. While complex social dynamics often are cited as root causes of crime, the researchers offer the possibility that increases in both the supply of potential victims and opportunities for would-be offenders are behind the recent crime numbers. The full report is available at

She also sends this notice of a new publication along and asks a question that it might be nice if you and other readers could answer for her:

. . . UAA Justice Forum which is not on-line yet. The current issue is devoted to literacy. The article focuses on the demanding nature of court forms, compared to the literacy levels of the U.S. population based on a recent study. The study also had a lot of detail about literacy in prison populations, compared to the range of literacy skills in the general population. As a side note, it says that the Alaska DOC spent $3.2 million in its 2007 budget for “Offender Habilitation Programs,” and an additional $1 million for personnel costs. That was 1.5% of the DOC budget for the year (which covers pretty much all correctional programs in the state, plus probation/parole, because we have a unified corrections system statewide – no counties, no municipal jails), and it covered all treatment and education throughout the system. I’d like to know what percent of their operating budgets other states spend on rehabilitation and education, although it might be hard to find comparable figures.

Can we help her out?

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