Sunday, April 30, 2006

emerging from prison as an adult

to borrow a story from the distinguished dr. uggen's hometown, the pioneer press ran a great piece a couple of weeks ago on steven glaze, a young man who was prosecuted as an adult at age 15, served 11 years in prison, and is now back out in the community trying to find a job, navigate a whole new world, and create a new life.

glaze walked out of prison with only his prison-issue television set and $100 to his name. even though glaze had taken advantage of all of the educational and vocational opportunities available to him while incarcerated, he reentered the community with the stigma of a long prison sentence, a lack of legitimate work history, and without even a driver's license to help smooth his way.

four months after his release, glaze is still looking for a job and is growing ever more frustrated. he claims it has been the most challenging experience of his life. adding to the pressure is the fact that his fiance, rachel (who he met during a prison poetry workshop -- another example of female volunteers falling in love with prison inmates), is pregnant with twins. it seems his struggles to adjust to his new life on the outside have just begun.

other juveniles tried as adults will face similar pressures sooner or later. as i wrote about recently, willard jimerson, jr. was prosecuted as an adult at age 13 and sentenced to 23 years. he's 25 today and will serve another decade behind bars, but he will eventually get out and be expected to function as an adult in the larger society.

more recently, on friday, a 15-year-old boy, evan savoie, from ephrata, washington was convicted of first-degree murder and he now faces 20 to 26 years in prison. savoie was 12-years-old at the time of his crime and he is the youngest murder defendant since 1931 to be prosecuted as an adult in washington state.

as i've said before and will continue to reiterate, we should remember that all of these young men (and young women in similar situations) will likely survive their prison sentences and will be returned to the community to live among us. knowing that, how would you like to see them treated for their crimes?

Thursday, April 27, 2006

how many of your students are doing the reading?

over a fine dinner with jeff draine and irene wong, i asked whether their penn students did all of the reading assigned for coursework. jeff replied that he doubted it, but quickly noted that his inside-out students indeed do all the reading.

jeff teaches in the inside-out prison exchange program, which takes university undergrads behind prison walls to attend class with inmates. in jeff's experience, the "inside" or incarcerated students often lead the way. this sets a high bar for preparation and participation that can motivate the "outside" students to work a little more diligently than they otherwise would.

i could envision such a pattern holding for my minnversity undergrads as well. if they heard inmates critiquing code of the streets, for example, they'd be more likely to dig into it to form their own opinions (especially if the critique somehow challenged ol' doc uggen's reading of the text). my pubcrim colleague michelle took the inside-out training program last summer, so i'm looking forward to some firsthand blogging on her experiences teaching in the program next year.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

the most important holiday of the year?

today, april 26, is administrative professional's day a/k/a secretary's day. like defense secretary rumsfeld, i eagerly await the shower of prizes and recognition that will surely come my way as ASC executive secretary.

let me assure you that administrative professional's day is no hallmark holiday. the wikipedia entry lists the standard gifts as candy, flowers, a card, and "occasionally, extra time off." this will not stand. i work too hard typing minutes to be placated by a vermont teddy bear.

i've been secretary since 2003, so i have some expertise in this area. let me propose the following officially approved administrative professional's day gifts:

1. an extension cord for my laptop so i can sit at the big table
2. a large quantity of small-batch bourbon
3. a significant clothing allowance
4. comp me a couple nights at the conference hotel. club level, please
5. a secretary's secretary who would perform all actual work and work-like duties
6. a personalized stainless-steel ice-cream scooper
7. i guess i wouldn't mind a few flowers, candy, and cards

i fly to philadelphia today and state college on thursday, so i won't collect my gifts until returning this weekend. the next stop is dc on may 2, when i'll take rummy out for a little lunch and commiseration.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

tip for the crim meetings

i've just returned from los angeles, where the 2006 american society of criminology meetings will be held. each year the ASC holds its midyear executive board meeting in the conference facilities for the upcoming november meeting. that way, the board can get a taste of the facilities and hammer down meeting details as it does its business.

the 2006 meetings will take place at the convention center, which means that the ASC booked rooms in three or four expensive hotels and will bus participants back and forth. i figure that the room block will fill fast, so i thought i'd pass along a little inside information.

after my stay this weekend, i can personally give a strong endorsement to the biltmore. the rooms are cool, with ancient curvy bathtubs and other amenities. but the truly inspiring spots are the art-deco lobbies, fountains, wrought-iron work, and pool area.

in the 1930s the academy awards were held at the biltmore, so there are great black-and-white photos of tyrone power, walt disney, and martha raye hanging about. plus, they still film scenes from the west wing and commander in chief in the boardroom and other spots in the hotel.

in my humble opinion, the whole place has a funky charm and nine billion times more texture than most conference hotels. see you in the bar...

Monday, April 17, 2006

killing sex offenders, volume II

a vigilante gunned down two released sex offenders last august in bellingham, washington. this sunday, joseph l. gray and william elliott were shot to death in maine, apparently by a young canadian man who shot himself when surrounded by officers. once again, the press cites a state sex offender registry as leading the killer to the victims.

both mr. gray and mr. elliott were listed on maine's online registry of convicted sex offenders. one can access the offender's name, address, date of birth, height, weight, and place of employment, as well as a color photograph. i learned that mr. elliott lived at 953 main street in east corinth, he was last convicted in 2002, served four months in jail, and had been on probation since that time. similar detail was provided for mr. gray, who was last convicted in massachusetts in 1992.

as a i wrote last year, the bellingham murderer sent a hand-written note to the seattle times, detailing his crimes and how he targeted the offenders. here's what the since-convicted killer wrote on the subject:

"the State of Washington, like many states now lists sexual deviants on the Net. And on most of these sites it shares with us what sexual crimes these men have been caught for, and most are so sick you wonder how they can be free ... In closing, we cannot tell the public so-and-so is 'likely' going to hurt another child, and here is his address then expect us to sit back and wait to see what child is next"

in a forthcoming article with jeff manza and melissa thompson, i ask whether felons constitute a criminal class, a status group, or a caste (at the time, maine was actually providing less detailed information online than states such as florida). we argue that caste-like relations best apply to hyperstigmatized sex offenders such as mr. gray and mr. elliott.

in my opinion, these murders contribute to the prevailing sense of hopelessness and permanent stigmatization felt by sex offenders, whether serving a life sentence in prison or a spell of probation for a less serious offense. in this regard, i've got nothing to add beyond what i wrote last fall:

even years before their scheduled release, both male and female prisoners have told me they feared "the internet" and public availability of information about them. rest assured that the bellingham murder story will quickly make the rounds of every TV room and sex offender unit in state penitentiaries. it is not a story of deterrence that will keep them from future crime. it is not a story of redemption or martyrdom that will give them strength as they work through the tough times. it is instead a story of the hysterical vigilante lying in wait, a story that embodies their fears about life after prison and their dim prospects for ever becoming a normal citizen in a community. and it makes them wonder why the hell they should go to treatment.

do such registries prevent more crime than they cause? who should be listed and for how long? in the name of public safety, dangerous information about many of us could be posted online -- is there a compelling rationale for listing sex offenders and not murderers or arsonists or drunken drivers? is there anything in your past that your neighbors ought to know about?

Thursday, April 13, 2006

growing up behind bars

the seattle pi has a thought-provoking story today about willard jimerson jr., who at the age of 13 was sentenced as an adult to 23 years in prison for shooting and killing a 14-year-old girl. caught up in the moral panic over a new generation of juvenile "superpredators" in 1994, jimerson was one of the youngest people in washington state's history to stand trial as an adult.

the article brings up many of the points i highlight in my juvenile delinquency class, from jimerson's troubled family life, to his adjustment and survival in juvenile correctional facilities and adult prisons, to recent reports from the macarthur foundation about the development of the adolescent brain and young people's ability to fully understand the consequences of their actions.

jimerson is now 25 and has spent half of his life behind bars. he faces another decade in prison before coming out and facing a world that will be new and strange to him. i've written about this transition (using the same title, in fact) from my own research spending time with juvenile inmates who were about to return to the community at age 19 or 20 after several years in a correctional facility. those boys -- and they were still boys in many, many ways -- were excited but also terrified at the prospect of being out on their own. they faced the daunting tasks of trying to find jobs and apartments, and of navigating new worlds of transportation, bank accounts, and adult responsibilities.

jimerson has spent the last several years taking advantage of the educational and vocational training programs available to him in prison. will he be able to put those skills to use and successfully make the adjustment to life on his own in the community? as the article says:
In his mind, life outside the walls, where most everyone has their own car and moves freely through space, glows like a luminous vision. But his prospects, post-prison, are not bright. When released, Jimerson will be a grown man with a felony murder conviction, minimal education and an estimated $36,000 in court fines.

to saddle jimerson with what must seem a staggering debt adds insult to injury and again shows washington state apparently trying to squeeze blood from a turnip. i hope jimerson can overcome the odds against him and make a successful transition into the community when he is released after two decades in prison. he'll have paid his adolescence and his young adulthood for a child's terrible crime. what he'll do as a free adult will speak volumes about the impact of our justice system(s) and our communities' ability to redeem and forgive.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

the lure of the bad boy

chris and i have both written recently about women volunteering and working in prisons and falling in love with inmates, often with painful consequences. a story in the miami herald this week reminded me that the lure of the bad boy starts early and runs deep.

in nikki waller's story, she reports that even as rumors swirled around their high school that three of their classmates were involved in the murder of a homeless man, "several teenage girls who knew what had happened went to the movies, hung out and traded phone messages with the boys."

the boys, billy ammons, thomas daugherty, and brian hooks, were indicted on charges of attacking and beating three homeless men, resulting in the death of norris gaynor. there is disturbing video on this case: one of the beatings -- with the perpetrators hitting the victim with baseball bats -- was caught on surveillance video and can be viewed in this news clip.

the three teenage boys are facing the possibility of life in prison; two of them could be sentenced to death, but i think that is unlikely. surprisingly, one of the surviving victims thinks the boys should receive more lenient treatment, saying on the video that the boys are too young to spend their rest of their lives in prison.

billy ammons, who was the last to be arrested, went to a movie with friends the weekend after the attacks. he told a 15-year-old friend that he would be the next to go to jail; she told police she cried but stayed silent. a 16-year-old girl told police: "we basically said, 'oh it's messed up, i can't believe they did that stuff,' and that was about it. never went into a whole discussion about it."

there are more egregious examples out there of whole communities keeping silent to protect the reputations of their golden boys, but the nonchalance of the girls in this case raises questions. is this just another case of bad boys proving irresistable and providing vicarious thrills to good girls? are today's adolescents really more jaded than those of the past?

Monday, April 10, 2006

criminological monkefication

my wildly creative daughter dropped me an ecard from, in which a monkey spake lines she had penned. always a sucker for talking monkeys (insert sociologist/criminologist joke here), i conducted my own experiments. i think talking monkeys could be an effective teaching tool. for example, please allow the primates to lay a little crim theory on you:

let's start with some robert k. merton, from the oft-cited classic that hooked me on sociological criminology in the first place. if that does anything for you, check out edwin sutherland, my intellectual great-grandaddy. of course, one cannot present sutherland these days without offering a travis hirschi-style control theory rebuttal. labeling perspectives, such as those of edwin lemert and howard becker offer an alternative vision based on the societal reaction to rule-breaking behavior. finally, feminist critiques of male-based theories force a fundamental reexamination of the nature of crime, victimization, and survivorship.

well, that gets me through about 10 weeks of the semester. from now on, i'm delivering all my lectures via monkey. maybe someone could work up a li'l marx, durkheim, and weber for soc 101. why didn't i monkify my own work? it doesn't stand up to the classics. for now, i can only dream of someday writing a passage worthy of monkification.

Sunday, April 9, 2006

when calls for help go unheard

what do you do when you're a child and the lone adult in your house collapses? 5-year-old robert turner did exactly as he had been taught -- he called 911 and reported that his mother had "passed out." unfortunately, the 911 dispatcher demanded to talk to an adult in the house -- which was clearly not possible -- and then "hanged up" on the boy.

robert called 911 for a second time about three hours later and again told a dispatcher that his mom had passed out. again, the 911 dispatcher demanded to speak to his mother and then threatened the young boy: "Now put her on the phone before I send the police out there to knock on the door and you going to be in trouble." robert got scared -- and frustrated, no doubt -- and hung up the phone.

the police (not paramedics) did arrive some time later and found robert's mother dead. there is speculation that she would have lived had the first 911 dispatcher taken robert's call seriously and sent help.

this case has ignited controversy and the detroit police department has promised a full investigation. a 911 union president said that more than 25% of calls received are pranks and that robert's voice was inaudible at times. anyone who has ever tried to hold phone conversations with 5-year-olds can attest that it's not always easy, but 911 dispatchers have a special responsibility to listen carefully and to act appropriately. if prank calls are such a problem, maybe local agencies should consider instituting small sanctions like assigning the perpetrators some level of community service to discourage such behavior.

celebrity lawyer geoffry fieger has taken on the case, so we should expect a media blitz and a large wrongful death lawsuit. i hope in the midst of the debate we remember that there are children who are alone and afraid and when they find the courage to call for help, it's our responsibility to make sure they are heard.

Friday, April 7, 2006

no reason to smile

washington state has been in the news quite a lot lately with its crime, justice and voting issues, but shocking stories continue to emanate from the pacific northwest. the latest one to catch my attention is an article in the seattle times about two men facing federal drug charges in tacoma. apparently, federal prosecutors and officials from the bureau of alcohol, tobacco, firearms and explosives attained a warrant to seize the "grills" or gold-capped teeth from the mouths of the suspects.

the two suspects were told the government had a warrant to seize their grills and that they were being taken to a dentist in seattle for removal. they both managed quick phone calls to their attorneys before being loaded into a vehicle. they were on their way to the dentist in seattle when their attorneys persuaded a judge to stop the seizure.

grills, typically made of precious metals and jewels, come in several different styles. some snap onto teeth like a retainer and are easily removed; others are permanently bonded to the teeth. the two suspects in this case had permanently bonded grills. federal prosecutors claimed that they did not know the grills were permanently bonded to the suspects' teeth. A spokeswoman for the u.s. attorney's office explained: "Asset forfeiture is a fairly routine procedure, and our attorneys were under the impression that these snapped out like a retainer." federal prosecutors abandoned the seizure attempt when they understood that the removal of grills could damage the defendants' teeth.

i'm not entirely sure i believe the prosecutors' story, given that they were taking the suspects to a dentist to have the grills removed. if they thought the grills just snapped out, would a trip to the dentist have been necessary?

at any rate, this case is highly disturbing. an expert of forfeiture law claimed he had never heard of anything like this in his 30 years in the field. i'll give him the last word on this post:
"This is especially egregious because these two had not been convicted and are presumed to be innocent," added forfeiture expert Troberman, who is not involved in the case. "What are they going to do next? Start taking artificial limbs from amputees?"

Thursday, April 6, 2006

the air america experience

since a few have asked, here are my top-8 shareable observations on my al franken experience (i'd stretch it to 10 but who really wants 20 percent more filler?).

1. the overall vibe of the franken shop is friendly, busy, can-do, and semi-idealistic. you know how you get a gut sense about whether an organization (or academic department) is on the rise or the decline? this place felt like a small shop on the way up. either that, or the staff is just enjoying the ride while it lasts.

2. about a half-dozen young people were working laptops when i arrived. some could have passed for sociology honors students. one helpfully found information on-the-fly just before we went on the air.

3. jerry garcia. lots of jerry garcia.

4. lunchtime is lunchtime, even for a show that airs from 11-2. almost everybody was eating at their computers over the noon hour. the host popped out between breaks to grab a few bites too.

5. they set mic levels by asking guests what they had for breakfast that morning. can you believe i was the first to say frosted mini-wheats? i'd imagine that lefties generally say that they breakfast on stuff like cruelty-free bagels and bulgar-wheat muffins. i'm glad i didn't respond with the tasteless obscure sports reference that popped into my head (mike tyson's children. [sorry]). frosted mini-wheats is much funnier.

6. as a proud but reputedly phlegmatic norwegian-american, i wasn't aware that i spoke with my hands. turns out that i do, which is quite distracting for radio interviewers. mr. franken likely thought i was trying to relay some sort of elaborate secret signal (e.g., wrap it up quick, dude -- the bulgar muffin is repeating on me!).

7. one shouldn't make inferences from quick conversations, but ... he's so not a jerk. al franken is a look-you-in-the-eye real handshake kind of guy. off-air, he's disarming and open. if he runs for office, he'll win the crucial "which of these jokers would i rather have a beer with?" competition that has bedeviled the Dems in recent national elections.

8. the appearance likely sold a few books. locked out jumped up in amazon's sales rankings from a place alongside building military dioramas, vol. viii to a more respectable position alongside such wide-readership classics as modern antenna design. now if we can sell a third copy...

Tuesday, April 4, 2006

washington update: sufferin' suffrage rights

i wrote last month about washington's practice of denying voting rights to felons who can't afford to pay state-imposed fines, fees, and court costs. king county superior court judge michael spearman ruled last week that felons who completed their sentence but have not paid back such fines cannot be denied the right to vote:

"The Washington re-enfranchisement scheme which excludes one group of felons from exercising the right to vote, while permitting another, where the sole distinction between them is the ability to pay money bears no rational relation to any stated or apparent governmental purpose."

the state will surely appeal the ruling, but the practice paints an ugly picture for a democracy that prides itself on universal suffrage. plaintiff beverly dubois, convicted on a marijuana charge, has been paying $10 per month since her 2003 release. unfortunately, this doesn't even cover the interest on her fine, so her $1,600 fine has increased to about $2,000. but for this fine, she would be eligible to vote in the state.

most people enter the criminal justice system in poverty. making debtors of felons will make it that much more difficult for them to become stakeholding and tax-paying citizens in good standing. i wrote before that fining the poorest of the poor is either "piling on" to further criminalize the indigent or a misguided attempt to squeeze blood from turnips. in either case, the practice seems strange in a debtor nation -- a nation itself in hock for $8,377,471,102,607.82 .

Monday, April 3, 2006

a new version of indeterminate sentencing

in earlier posts, chris wrote about how we as a society dehumanize sex offenders, and i followed up on march 5th with more on the civil commitment of sex offenders after they have completed the original sentence imposed by the court. last week, the seattle times published a story about a "notorious" rapist who will be completing his 25-year sentence at the washington state penitentiary (apparently in its fifth week of lockdown) in september.

shortly before his release date, however, the state is planning to file a motion seeking a civil commitment for kevin coe, 59. according to the article, civil commitment motions are typically filed about a week before an inmate is due to be released, keeping him (or her) in state custody indefinitely while the case works its way through the courts. while awaiting a civil trial, coe would be held for years without bond at the special commitment center at mcneil island. if coe is sent to mcneil island, the chances for him to ever be released appear slim. a spokesman for the department of social and health services said: "there is no real pattern established for how long it takes to get through the program, but we have never had anybody graduate completely from the program."

just to be clear, the program was established in 1990, and in its 16 years, it has never had anyone graduate. currently there are 236 "sexually violent predators" housed in the secure mental health facility on mcneil island. the total confinement facility opened in 2004 with a capacity of 228 beds for men and four beds for women. an adjacent building for "low maintenance residents" added 80 beds in 2005. expansion is planned--as needed--to accomodate up to a maximum operational capacity of 398 beds.

if washington state continues to civilly commit sex offenders who have completed their prison sentences while offering them virtually no possibility of release, they had better plan to keep building.