Wednesday, July 30, 2008

we're blogging at contexts

friends and supporters of pubcrim,

thanks for stopping by! michelle and chris are now blogging at contexts, where we're delighted to welcome sara wakefield as a contributor. some of us are still learning wordpress, so the posts may be a bit slow in coming and/or less visually interesting during the transition.

thanks for your support of our site -- and our vision of a more public criminology.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

bjs incarceration numbers for 2006

the bureau of justice statistics has released mid-year 2007 numbers for prison (1,595,034) and jail (780,581) incarceration. the data continue the trend of recent years: correctional populations continued to grow in 2007, albeit at a slower rate than in the 1980s and 1990s. [click charts for data]

according to bjs, african american males comprised 35.5 percent of the inmates held in u.s. prison and jails. about 4.6 percent of all african american males were in prison or jail on 6/30/2007, relative to 1.7 percent of hispanic males and 0.7 percent of white males.

Monday, June 9, 2008

strib 3-parter on sex offender civil commitments

larry oakes of the strib offers a well-researched look at sex offender civil commitment in minnesota. a few bullets:
  • 19 states and the federal government now detain former prison inmates for indefinite involuntary treatment.
  • the state now has the highest rate of sex offender civil commitments, locking up 544 men and 1 woman.
  • minnesota numbers have spiked dramatically since a heinous 2003 case.
  • it costs $134,000 per inmate per year in the minnesota sex offender program, relative to $45,000 per inmate per year in state prison, $15,000 per year for outpatient treatment, $10,000 per year for gps monitoring, and $4,000 per year for electronic home monitoring.
  • recidivism has dropped dramatically. as a 2007 state department of corrections report concludes: "due to the dramatic decrease in sexual recidivism since the early 1990s, recent sexual reoffense rates have been very low, thus significantly limiting the extent to which sexual reoffending can be further reduced."

here's the lead:

In the 14 years since Minnesota's Sexually Dangerous Persons Act cleared the way for the state to detain hundreds of paroled sex offenders in prison-like treatment centers, just 24 men have met what has proved to be the only acceptable standard for release.

They died.

"We would say, 'Another one completed treatment,'" said Andrew Babcock, a former guard and counselor in the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP).

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

parents urging kids to diet: refuse to dramatize the evil

there are strong labeling implications to a new longitudinal study in pediatrics by minnversity epidemiologist dianne neumark-sztainer and colleagues, summarized today in the strib. the punch line is that "parental encouragement to diet predicted poorer weight outcomes 5 years later, particularly for girls."

the results parallel predictions by tannenbaum, lemert and becker with regard to delinquency: maybe the less said about it, the better. should we refuse to dramatize the "evil" of childhood obesity? here's the abstract:

Accurate Parental Classification of Overweight Adolescents' Weight Status: Does It Matter?
Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, PhD, MPH, RDa, Melanie Wall, PhDb, Mary Story, PhD, RDa and Patricia van den Berg, PhDa

OBJECTIVE. Our goal was to explore whether parents of overweight adolescents who recognize that their children are overweight engage in behaviors that are likely to help their adolescents with long-term weight management.

METHODS. The study population included overweight adolescents (BMI 85th percentile) who participated in Project EAT (Eating Among Teens) I (1999) and II (2004) and their parents who were interviewed by telephone in Project EAT I. Cross-sectional analyses were conducted with 314 adolescent-parent dyads, and longitudinal analyses were completed with 170 dyads.

RESULTS. Parents who correctly classified their children as overweight were no more likely than parents who did not correctly classify their children as overweight to engage in the following potentially helpful behaviors: having more fruits/vegetables and fewer soft drinks, salty snacks, candy, and fast food available at home; having more family meals; watching less television during dinner; and encouraging children to make healthful food choices and be more physically active. However, parents who recognized that their children were overweight were more likely to encourage them to diet. Parental encouragement to diet predicted poorer adolescent weight outcomes 5 years later, particularly for girls. Parental classification of their children's weight status did not predict child weight status 5 years later.

CONCLUSIONS. Accurate classification of child overweight status may not translate into helpful behaviors and may lead to unhealthy behaviors such as encouragement to diet. Instead of focusing on weight per se, it may be more helpful to direct efforts toward helping parents provide a home environment that supports healthful eating, physical activity, and well-being.

Friday, May 30, 2008

age-by-passenger interactions in driver death rates

wcco tv offered a terribly sad story on a young woman who died in a two-car collision yesterday. the piece followed-up with a brief discussion of graduated licensing, which places restrictions on the youngest and least experienced drivers.

one such restriction is the number of passengers that new drivers can transport. the wcco report showed a striking figure, similar to the department of transportation graphic shown below. for 16 and 17 year old drivers, death rates increase dramatically with the number of passengers in the car. for those aged 30 to 59, however, the number of passengers is unrelated to death rates.

distractibility is the hypothesized mechanism linking passengers to death rates for young drivers. i'd throw substance use into the mix as well, since the number of passengers is likely associated with alcohol and other substance use. in addition, i'd bet that peer passengers have a different effect than parent or sibling passengers -- disaggregating by type of passenger might shed further light on the mechanism. as a 30-to-59 year old, my passengers today are often my kids. i still drive more recklessly with my buddies than i do with my kids, but i now spend much less time driving around with my buddies (what buddies?) than i did at age 16 or 17. if i'm correct, passenger type might be just as important as passenger numbers.

while i'm not sure whether a legal limitation on the number of passengers will reduce teen driving fatalities, the bivariate association is clear. when the figure flashed on the screen at my house, i couldn't help overhearing the lad's phone conversation. he was arranging to pick up a buddy or two before school. drive safe and keep the music down, dudes.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

$10k tax credit in philadelphia for hiring ex-prisoners

i've posted before about the crippling employment problems of former felons, many of whom have shared first-hand testimony here. a fine associated press report by kathy matheson details philadelphia's municipal tax credit program for hiring former prisoners. in my view, the program represents a bold and courageous move by mayor michael nutter and the city of brotherly love.

Friday, May 23, 2008

bobblefoot giveaway

the saint paul saints, our beloved local nine, will be giving away 2,500 of these fine collector's edition bobblefoot keepsakes at sunday's game at midway stadium.

the saints straight-facedly claim that the bathroom stall promotion was intended to coincide with national tap dance day, since one of the dangling feet is springloaded such that it "taps" or bobbles.

i'm not one to judge folks based on their worst moments (lest i be judged, i suppose), but this promotion seems innocuous to me. the saints don't even mention the distinguished senator from idaho, though the bobblefoot might be construed as an homage to his foot-tapping and wide stance.

last year, the saints took some heat for giving away a michael vick dog chew toy. have they finally crossed the line with this promotion? a pioneer press poll put the question to readers. of 119 votes, 7 percent said "yes, it's nothing to laugh at," 30 percent said "no, it doesn't offend me," and 63 percent said "come on, it's the saints! they gave away a randy moss hood ornament for cryin' out loud! [note: mr. moss had recently run over a traffic officer].

let's see, the game starts at 7:05 sunday. what do you think it would cost to purchase one of these fine bobblefoots on ebay this monday? i'm guessing that some tap dance afficionado would go as high as fifty bucks.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

demand-side evaluation of john school

criminologists typically adopt a supply-side approach, rather than viewing crime as a problem of demand for illegal goods and services. demand reduction strategies have long been practiced with regard to substance use. if effective, however, the idea might be productively extended to problem landlords and myriad other areas. for prostitution, at least, there's some evidence that simple interventions with consumers might slow demand.

nij and the san francisco chronicle report that the first offender prostitution program (or "john school") might be effective in reducing the demand for prostitution. i say "might" because the clever multi-method analysis (details here) by abt associates isn't really set up to make strong causal claims.

from abt:

In the FOPP, eligible arrestees are given the choice of paying a fee and attending a one-day class (known generically as the "john school"), or being prosecuted. During its more than 12 years of operation, 5,735 men have attended the FOPP's john school. The fees support all of the costs of conducting the john school classes, as well as subsidizing police vice operations, the screening and processing of arrestees, and recovery programs for women and girls involved in commercial sex...

...To evaluate the program's impact on recidivism, Abt Associates staff analyzed time series data for San Francisco and the rest of California for 10 years prior to implementation and 10 years after implementation (1985 through 2005). In San Francisco they found that compared to the 10 years prior to FOPP implementation, a sharp drop in recidivism rates occurred in the year of implementation (1995). Recidivism rates stayed at these lower levels during the 10 years following implementation. A similar pattern was observed in San Diego, with annual average recidivism rates following implementation of a john school at less than half the pre-program levels. There were no statewide trends or shifts in either 1995 or 2000 (the year of San Diego's implementation) that might explain the recidivism rate declines in either San Francisco or San Diego. The results were repeatedly confirmed by applying various multivariate statistical modeling techniques and examining different subsets of the population of arrestees.

there are some ecological leaps in such an analysis, of course, and reliance on an arrest indicator seems problematic to me (e.g., enforcement priorities are locally determined; what if the class just teaches johns to avoid detection?). nevertheless, i like the study and the idea seems promising enough to merit continued systematic evaluation and a search for the mechanisms linking the program to recidivism. might john school work through shaming, deterrence, education, or some other mechanism?

Monday, May 19, 2008

hellhounds on the trail

we're all pretty much running from something, right? a lot of marathoners seem to use distance running to stay a step ahead of substance use and other problems. runner's world just profiled ultrarunner charlie engel, an ex-crack user who ran 4,500 miles through the sahara in 111 days. it takes major hellhounds on one's trail to average 40 miles per day across a freaking desert.

the denver post similarly profiles the nonprofit activity inspired rehabilitation foundation, as they sponsored 40 first-time runners in the colorado colfax marathon. as a longtime distance runner, i take it on faith that marathons are good for the soul. i've thought about designing a randomized trial in which volunteers would be assigned to either a running support group or an alternative drug treatment comparison group, but i'm reluctant to test my faith -- lest it be crushed against the rocks of a rigorous scientific analysis. nevertheless, i sent the AIR folks a donation and wish them all the best. from their site:

The AIR Foundation was founded in 2007 to help defeat homelessness and addiction in the community through programs that support and inspire rehabilitation through athletic accomplishment and a positive connection to the community. Its unique approach, called “activity inspired rehabilitation,” was an immediate success, increasing the success of rehabilitation programs by as much as 50%.

Today, The AIR Foundation works with homeless shelters, rehabilitation centers and youth outreach programs to provide a physical and goal setting component to rehabilitation. How does Activity Inspired Rehabilitation Work?

  • Goal Setting helps participants stay focused on becoming healthy and productive members of the Denver community.

  • Incremental Accomplishment through training and races builds self-esteem and self-confidence as program members create new identities.

  • Professional Health and Fitness Training creates lasting change in the health and fitness levels of AIR members, building a foundation for a lifetime of health and self-sufficiency.

  • Positive Connection With The Community changes the way members feel about themselves, allowing them to make a positive connection to the people around them and become role models for others in need.

i'm doing a marathon in madison this sunday, so my personal goal for the week is simple, if contradictory: eat a ton of pasta and stay reasonably healthy.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

air america interview

i'll be doing a live interview at 2 this afternoon on an air america program called considering faith. ochen kaylan, who created a funny and revealing one-man show on felon voting rights, will be there too, as will host peg chemberlin, executive director of the minnesota council of churches. it should be fun, as long as i can find the studio in eden prairie. here's the blurb from the show's site:

May 18 - Felon Disenfranchisement - Chris Uggen and Ochen Kaylan
Did you know that the United States is the only democracy in the world that denies former prisoners the right to vote? This week we'll be joined by two experts on felon disenfranchisement: one is an author/professor from the University of MN who teaches about these issues in a classroom setting. The other is a writer/producer who teaches about these issues in radio documentaries and theater performance. Professor Chris Uggen is Distinguished McKnight Professor and Chair of Sociology at the University of Minnesota. He studies crime, law, and deviance - especially how former prisoners manage to put their lives back together. With Professor Uggen, we'll also have award-winning radio documentary producer Ochen Kaylan. Kaylan created the critically-acclaimed one-man show on felon disenfranchisement titled “I Voted for Gummi Bears” - an entertaining, yet highly informative piece of theater that will be featured in the new performance series “SPIRIT IN THE HOUSE” opening later this month. We'll visit with Professor Uggen and Ochen Kaylan to talk about the complicated issue of prisoner voting rights.

school suspension gap

speaking of school discipline, james walsh offers a nice analysis of the race gap in school suspensions:

Black students in Minnesota are being suspended at a rate about six times that of white students, according to a Star Tribune analysis of state Department of Education data. Some are sent home for serious misbehavior, like fighting or drugs. But most are suspended for lesser incidents, such as talking in class, goofing around or challenging teachers -- offenses for which there is more disciplinary leeway...

Saturday, May 17, 2008

no touching at armatage elementary

these are desperate times for school administrators. the strib reports that armatage elementary in minneapolis now maintains an official "no touch" policy:

Originally the rule, circulated to parents Thursday, banned even casual touching such as hand-holding and hugging. But Principal Joan Franks has now refined the policy to target aggressive and "unsafe" behavior such as play-fighting, pushing and shoving. And tag.

yeesh. wouldn't banning hitting be sufficient? as an administrator, i certainly understand the motivations here. as a parent, however, i see how kids need much touch just to get through a long, alienating day in the classroom. for esperanza and her middle-school friends, this takes the form of hugging in the hallways and packing in close together in the lunchroom. for tor and his buddies, this sometimes takes the form of behaviors specifically outlawed: play-fighting, pushing, and shoving (not to mention football, rugby, and wrestling).

i can't make a strong causal argument that touch improves mental health -- perhaps there is a literature addressing this question -- but i can see a clear correlation. when my kids do more touching they seem more socially connected and happier. when my large lad puts me in a headlock or punches my shoulder, we're usually both laughing and i'm feeling pretty good about our relationship.

but those are just my views as a parent. as a sociologist who studies rules and their enforcement, i've got another observation. creating such a no-touch rule will likely create a new class of rule violators and a new cause of action for school discipline. given the gender distribution of behaviors such as play-fighting, pushing, and shoving, i would predict that boys will be disproportionately subject to such discipline. given the race and class distribution of those disciplined for other school misconduct, i would predict that children of color and those from working class families will be disproportionately subject to such discipline. when the minneapolis schools do the next round of hand-wringing about race and gender gaps in school achievement, they might consider the impact of disciplinary practices such as the no-touch rule.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

undergrad and inmate collaborate on globe editorial

conor clarke and greg yothers offer a nice boston globe op-ed on felon voting -- the more we imprison, the less we vote. here's the bit i like:

[O]ur experience in class suggests that the opposite is true. We all write the same papers, read the same material by John Locke and Alexis de Tocqueville, and are all equally engaged in debating and discussing everything from the role of the good citizen to America's role in the world. There is no reason to think inmates are uniquely unqualified to wield a vote, and no reason to think they can't.

Yes, going to prison necessarily entails the loss of liberty. But the right to vote is in many ways more important than the right to walk freely down the street: Voting is the most basic check against the coercive power of the state. The places where that coercive power is most starkly exercised, such as prisons, are also the places where that most basic of checks becomes more important. The fact that prisoners have a big stake in governmental choices isn't an argument in favor of disenfranchisement; it's an argument against.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

the good class

i gave my final lecture today, to a much-loved group of 55 students that i'm gonna miss every tues and thurs at 12:45. every couple years, a teacher gets a class that's a little more fun/serious/intense/honest than yer average collection of students. this one laughed at most of my jokes, didn't complain when lectures went a little long, and asked good hard questions. they even caught the li'l musical intros i played before class. more importantly, of course, they thought hard about sociological criminology and put some good work in on their papers and exams.

i can understand how they might've heard air or al green before, but how does a twenty-year-old know all the words to a song by the sonics, tony joe white, or the seeds? anyway, this was a pretty cool group of future sociologists, cops, social workers, lawyers, probation officers, and journalists. i hope they crush on the final.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

restrictions on college aid for drug offenders upheld

via school law blog:

a three-judge panel of the u.s. court of appeals for the 8th circuit rejected a constitutional challenge to a federal law that bars students with drug convictions from participation in federal college aid programs. in students for sensible drug policy v. spellings the court ruled that such collateral consequences do not violate the double-jeopardy clause of the 5th amendment.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

little billy

via boingboing: a radar magazine story reports on bill geerhart, an unemployed thirtysomething, who sent letters to oprah winfrey, donald rumsfeld, and larry flynt while posing as a ten year old. "little billy" also sent letters to (and received responses from) richard ramirez, charles manson, ted kacynzski, and eric menendez.

this is an old bit, perhaps best executed in don novello's classic the lazlo letters. the prisoners' responses weren't terribly revealing, since billy's short letters didn't give them much to work with. that said, i'm just a bit more sympathetic to clarence thomas after reading him tell billy that he likes egg mcmuffins and pretty much everything at mcdonalds.

Monday, April 28, 2008

cruel and unusual weight loss?

the smoking gun reports on an arkansas man who is suing the benton county jail for not providing him with sufficient food. broderick laswell (left) says he dropped from 413 pounds to 308 pounds after only eight months in the jail. He has filed a federal lawsuit charging that the jail fails to provide inmates with enough food.

while many will no doubt dismiss these claims from such a still-large man, this seems like a scary weight drop over such a short period -- 13 pounds a month or about .44 pounds per day. whenever one visits a prison, inmates will share some shocking food stories. for example, one young man told me he found a single glove and a rat in his food (reminding me, of course, of this #1 hit).

while the quality of prison food is usually unimpressive and sometimes downright shameful, most institutions at least deliver 2000+ calories per day. to the best of my knowledge, however, they are not mandated to deliver any more calories to a 6'10" 400-pounder than to a 4'10" 100-pounder. the issue of weight loss is bigger for prisons than for jails, since prisons tend to keep people far longer. inmates with funds, of course, can often supplement their diets by purchasing snacks in the institution. if mr. laswell is convicted of the murder charge on which he is being held, his weight will likely stabilize over a long term in an arkansas state penitentiary.

Friday, April 25, 2008

day of silence

just before midnight, esperanza said g'night and handed me a slip of paper. it indicated that for the next 24 hours, she's participating in the day of silence. from the website:

The National Day of Silence brings attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment in schools. This year’s event will be held in memory of Lawrence King, a California 8th-grader who was shot and killed Feb. 12 by a classmate because of his sexual orientation and gender expression. Hundreds of thousands of students will come together on April 25 to encourage schools and classmates to address the problem of anti-LGBT behavior.

the other larry king offers a psa and helpful introduction. though she will not speak all day, esperanza won't be completely silent. she's negotiated a singing-only class with her music teacher.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

is texas 3.3 times more democratic than minnesota?

there's another fine adam liptak piece on punishment in today's times. as is by now well-documented, these united states have the highest incarceration rate in the world.

one of the cited lawprofs pointed to democracy as the reason for high u.s. incarceration rates. yeesh -- i get the whole "lack of civil service institutional buffer" thing, but c'mon. fortunately, marc mauer pointed out that each of these semi-united states have wildly divergent incarceration rates: minnesota (with a rate of 300 per 100k) looks more like sweden (80 per 100k) than like texas (1000 per 100k). would anyone but a carpetbagging dallas stars fan suggest that texas is 3.3 times more democratic than minnesota? or, worse, that texans are 12 times more democratic than swedes?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

news from iowa on racial impact statements

i've written about how racial impact statements might be an effective vehicle for assessing the racial effects of proposed measures to protect public safety. this week, iowa governor chet culver signed off on a bill "requiring a "minority impact statement" for any legislation related to a public offense, sentencing, or parole and probation procedures." like some other midwestern states, iowa has a small african american population, but great racial disparity in criminal justice.


Gov. Culver: Signs minority impact statement bill into law 4/17/2008

Des Moines - Today, at the John R. Grubb YMCA in Des Moines, Governor Chet Culver signed into law HF 2393, a bill requiring a "Minority Impact Statement" for any legislation related to a public offense, sentencing, or parole and probation procedures. The legislation also requires that any application for a grant from a state agency must also include a minority impact statement.

According to Governor Culver, "This means when members of the General Assembly and Executive branch are considering legislation of this nature, we will now be able to do so, with a clearer understanding of its potential effects - positive and negative - on Iowa's minority communities. Just as Fiscal Impact Statements must follow any proposed legislation related to state expenditures, with my signature, Minority Impact Statements will serve as an essential tool for those in government - and the public - as we propose, develop, and debate policies for the future of our state."

This bipartisan legislation passed the Iowa House of Representatives unanimously and passed the Senate overwhelmingly with a vote of 47-2.

During his remarks, Governor Culver said challenges remain in Iowa on our way towards achieving true equality and opportunity for all.

* Currently, while 2% of Iowa's population is African American, 24% of Iowa's prison population is African American. This makes Iowa first in the nation in the ratio of African Americans in prison.

* And although African American kids made up roughly 5% of the school population last year, these students were involved in nearly 22% of suspensions and expulsions.

* Nearly 40% of all residents at state juvenile detention centers are minorities. Of that number, a full two-thirds are African-American.

Governor Culver said simply: "We can do better, and we must do better." He went on to outline progress which has led up to signing this legislation:

* First, In April, the Governor convened a group to review the problem of racial disparities in Iowa's prisons, and to make specific recommendations to him on how to tackle this problem head-on.

* Second, the Governor's office is working directly with the Iowa Department of Education to identify why African-Americans are suspended at a higher rate than their white student peers.

* Third, the Governor issued an Executive Order, creating the Youth, Race, and Detention task force. This task force will make recommendations to assure young minorities are fairly and justly treated by our criminal justice system, and to develop policies to specifically address the rate of repeat offenses among juveniles.

"I am committed to making sure government at all levels reflects our shared values of fairness and justice," Governor Culver said in closing. "And so, while I am very proud of the steps we have taken, and are taking, I want to be clear: our efforts are the first of many steps."

Friday, April 18, 2008

it'll probably not be the last time i have to be out by the first

i got up early to take my class to a youth correctional facility today. we drove through grant hart-land and ended up by greg norton's restaurant. feeling nostalgic over my favorite band's breakup, i stumbled on a blog tribute and mp3 to 2541, mr. hart's ode to love and the band's old address.

pretty obscure, i know, but well worth the search for me.

well, they gave us a number,
they gave us a place to stay,
and billy got hold of a van, and man,
we moved in the very next day.

twenty-five forty-one -- big windows to let in the sun. 2541...

well, we put down the money,
and i picked up the keys,
we had to keep the stove on all night long so the pipes wouldn't freeze.

we put our names on the mailbox,
and I put everything else in the past,
it was the first place we had to ourselves -- we didn't know it would be the last.

2541, big windows to let in the sun. 2541...

now everything is over,
everything is done,
everything in my head,
has 2541.

well things are so much different now,
i'd say the situation's reversed,
and it'll probably not be the last time i have to be out by the first.

2541, big windows to let in the sun...

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

a practice called ghostwriting

yahoo/ap reports today on a strongly-worded JAMA piece on guest authorship and ghostwriting in publications related to rofecoxib.

from lindsey tanner's associated press article:

CHICAGO (AP) -- Two new reports involving the painkiller Vioxx raise fresh concerns about how drug companies influence the interpretation and publication of medical research.

The reports claim Merck & Co. frequently paid academic scientists to take credit for research articles prepared by company-hired medical writers, a practice called ghostwriting...

the story gets better, but i'm stuck on the idea that the "academic scientists" are literally selling their names and the credibility of their institutions -- and that the results are published in respectable journals. while authorship norms vary greatly by discipline and department, i always figured that the putative authors were the ones paying the ghostwriters.

although big pharma wouldn't care to tempt me, i can envision such a scenario arising in my field of study. let's say i get a grant from privateprisonco to fund my next recidivism study. they hire criminological ghostwriters from the firm of shill & hack to write a manuscript comparing the recidivism of privateprisonco releasees with that of a matched comparison group of statepen releasees. they give me first authorship and $500 for my trouble, in exchange for whatever credibility attaches to my name and institution.

the full JAMA piece is well-documented, though merck is challenging the article and its pointed conclusion:

Authors who "sign-off" on or "edit" original manuscripts or reviews written explicitly by pharmaceutical industry employees or by medical publishing companies should offer full authorship disclosure, such as, "drafting of the manuscript was done by representatives from XYZ, Inc; the authors were responsible for critical revisions of the manuscript for important intellectual content."

Monday, April 14, 2008

halving the homicide rate

hillary clinton unveiled an ambitious $4 billion proposal to halve the homicide rate in major american cities. the plan involves adding 100,000 new police officers and targeting gangs, drug markets, and illegal gun trafficking.

you might recognize (all of?) these elements from the 1992 clinton crime bill. this is great news for my teaching, since i can now dust off a killer essay question on the anticipated impact of 100,000 officers on the perceived certainty of apprehension and punishment. i'm also intrigued by the weapons interdiction aspects of the proposal. if you click on the chart above, you'll see how gun homicide rates have fluctuated wildly relative to non-gun rates over the past three decades.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

spinning a story -- parents fight over kid's gang affiliation

you might have heard the story of the 19-year-old colorado couple who busted up a video store fighting over their 4-year-old's gang affiliation. here's the denver post version:

A heated dispute between two parents about what street gang their son should join resulted in one parent threatening to kill the other, Commerce City police say. The center of the battle is a 4-year-old boy. The child was born to parents, who are not married, when they were about 15 years old, said Sgt. Joe Sandoval of the Commerce City Police Department.

On Saturday, the boy's father, Joseph Manzanares, allegedly went to the Hollywood Video at 5961 E. 64th Ave., where his ex-girlfriend and the mother of the boy works. There, according to Sandoval, Manzanares, 19, began knocking over several displays in the video store, as well as knocking a computer off a counter. Manzanares began to verbally threaten the woman, including saying he was going to "kill" her, said the police sergeant. Manzanares then ran out of the store and was arrested a short time later at his residence.

The mother of the child told police that she and the boy's father have been involved in ongoing domestic disputes regarding their son. The woman said she is a "Crip" gang member and that Manzanares is a "Baller" gang member, and "they have different ideas on how the baby should be raised," said Sandoval. "Basically she said they cannot agree on which gang the baby would 'claim,' " Sandoval said. Sandoval said the "Ballers" were formerly known as the "Westside Ballers." He said the father is Latino; the mother, African-American.

On Tuesday, Manzanares pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct, a Class 1 petty offense. A charge of harassment, a Class 3 misdemeanor, was dismissed. Adams County Judge Simon Mole sentenced Manzanares to 12 months probation and imposed $835 in court costs and fees.

i've heard the story spun in four ways:

1. criminals do the darnedest things. this lighthearted approach, often delivered with a chuckle at the end of a newscast, portrays people convicted of crimes as idiots. it is generally better-suited to stories involving burglars caught in chimneys, however, than to those involving domestic disputes and children.

2. suffer the children. the newsreaders usually put on a frowny face when they tell stories about innocent kids caught in bad circumstances. sometimes progressive reforms are suggested, though simple tsk-tsking is more common.

3. end of the world as we know it. older generations sometimes take a well-practiced "hell in a handbasket" approach to such stories. this one seems to bring together a host of social pathologies, embodying all that a talk-radio commentator identifies as wrong or evil about contemporary society.

4. those people. every report that i've seen or heard about this case notes the race and ethnicity of the mother and father, though this information really isn't central to beefs over gang affiliation. beyond simply identifying the parents, explicit racist stereotyping emerged in at least one of the reports i saw. you can bet that some profane and exaggerated version of this story will show up on every white nationalist site on the web.

though the manzanares case seems newsworthy, i suspect the full story is pretty mundane. there's nothing new about couples fighting over their children, particularly the friends and relatives to which their children will be exposed. i'd guess that mr. manzanares was likely upset about the continuing social affiliations of his child's mother as well as those of his child. there's also nothing new about 15-year-old parents having an especially tough time of it, regardless of whether they've been involved in gangs.

as they age and take on new responsibilities, most gang-involved young people desist from gang involvement. if there's anything positive to find in this story, it is that two kids who had a kid at 15 remain passionately committed to at least some vision of the child's best interests.

Friday, April 11, 2008

president bush signs second chance act

via the sentencing project:

President George W. Bush this week signed into law the Second Chance Act of 2007 - legislation inspired by his 2004 State of the Union address - which authorizes $362 million to expand assistance for people currently incarcerated, those returning to their communities after incarceration, and children with parents in prison.

The Second Chance Act was first introduced in 2004, by then-Representative Rob Portman (R-OH) and Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), to help the nearly 700,000 people leaving prison each year. It quickly gained broad bipartisan support and earned the backing of law enforcement, state and local government, religious and justice reform organizations. Passage of the Second Chance Act highlights a new political approach to crime prevention. Imprisoning 2 million Americans has diverted enormous resources that could have been used more effectively in reducing crime. Programs that provide housing, drug treatment, education and employment provide more cost-effective approaches to producing public safety.

The Second Chance Act seeks to promote public safety by reducing recidivism rates among people reentering communities after prison. Presently, two-thirds of formerly incarcerated people are rearrested within three years after release. The services to be funded under the Second Chance Act include:

· mentoring programs for adults and juveniles leaving prison;
· drug treatment during and after incarceration, including family-based treatment for incarcerated parents; · education and job training in prison;
· alternatives to incarceration for parents convicted of non-violent drug offenses;
· supportive programming for children of incarcerated parents; and
· early release for certain elderly prisoners convicted of non-violent offenses.

For decades, political concerns have trumped research findings in promoting harsh sentencing laws. Passage of the Second Chance Act signals that a bipartisan consensus exists for offering opportunities to those who are at risk of committing crimes. Innovation in crime prevention should be applauded; incarceration should not be the only option.