Sunday, December 16, 2007

Walking the Criminology Talk

Criminology & Public Policy's latest issue is an interesting exercise that we need more of (no link but there are these buildings called libraries . . . ). The editors asked noted criminologists to write brief essays on policy positions in criminal justice (including our interests here) that would be determinatively supported by the research literature. It's a thought-provoking group of presentations, everything from immediate moratoria on executions to eliminating residency restrictions for sex offenders, ending DARE to encouraging restorative justice, 27 in all, all worth your time and consideration.

Here are some of the ones that I thought were directly relevant to corrections sentencing, although technically anything that improves the operation and thus legitimacy and justice of the system is relevant. Anything Alfred Blumstein writes has to get attention, including this piece with Alex Piquero on restoring rationality to sentencing (imagine that, what crazy talk). The major thing they emphasize is the importance of introducing knowledge about criminal careers and their operation into sentencing policy. Another really good piece, by Peter Jones and Brian Wyant, stresses the area that needs the most attention but we tend most to ignore, juvenile justice and the efficacy of targeting juvenile needs to reduce delinquency. This quote will give you a clue:

The assertion of this essay is that we are in a strong position to challenge juvenile delinquency by appropriately matching juvenile needs with a wide array of program services. As Cullen . . . argues, "there is a growing body of evidence--now at the point of being virtually incontrovertible--that offender treatment programs that conform to the 'principles of effective intervention' are capable of achieving meaningful reductions in recidivism among high-risk juveniles and adults" . . . .

Another great article on juvenile programs, by Brandon Welsh and David Farrington, shows us how far and well we are along the use and feedback of risk assessment and evidence-based practice. The National Center for State Courts is well represented with articles on court performance management and measures co-authored by Brian Ostrom (with Roger Hanson) and on the vital necessity of adherence to procedural fairness in what we do by David Rothman (in order to maintain the essential legitimacy and support of our system. And to top it all off, you get a strong presentation, as usual, from Franklin Zimring on the need for discretion in punishment decisions rather than our old tried-and-true mandatories. But to cite these shouldn't whack the others. It's a very good issue, and something that will hopefully start a trend to fill the desperate need to enlighten policymakers about "what works" in topic after topic, or at least prevent them from claiming that what they're doing is based on reality. Not that that always matters, but a guy can always dream. I never thought I'd see an academic journal issue like this.

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