Saturday, June 30, 2007

midyear 2006 incarceration

the bureau of justice statistics just released incarceration numbers for midyear 2006. a total of 2,245,189 people were incarcerated in state prisons (1,290,200), federal prisons (188,979), and local jails (766,010) as of june 30, 2006. this represents a 2.8 percent increase over the previous year and the biggest jump since 2000, so it is probably time for criminologists to stop talking about a "leveling off" in u.s. incarceration.

i'm more concerned with rates than numbers, so my figure above standardizes by population to show the long-term trend in prison incarceration. the 2006 rate was 497 per 100,000 u.s. residents, or 750 per 100,000 counting jail inmates.

most people know that incarceration rates are highest for african american males, but it is sometimes tough to get one's head around the magnitude of group differences in punishment. in 2006, about 4.8 percent of all african american men and about 11.7 percent of african american men in their twenties were incarcerated. as the figure below shows, the incarceration rate for african american men is currently fifty times higher than the incarceration rate for white women (4,789/94 = 50.9).

the disparities are much greater, of course, when age is thrown into the mix. the rate for african american men in their twenties is about 1,300 times higher than the incarceration rate for white women aged 55 and over. white guys my age have a rate of 1,419 per 100,000, which is significantly higher than any of the female rates (which top out at 999 for african american women in their late thirties), but significantly lower than the rates for latino or african american men in all but the oldest age group.

finally, there is great state-to-state variation, with louisiana (835 per 100,000 residents), texas (687), and oklahoma (658) leading the nation in punishment. the lowest incarceration rates were in maine (141 per 100,000 residents), minnesota (189) and rhode island (195).

Thursday, June 28, 2007

all the young dudes, carry the booze

ever heard the term shoulder tapping? today's strib describes a new minnversity study in which young-looking research assistants offered liquor store patrons money to buy them beer.

epidemiologist traci toomey finds that young males are significantly more likely to respond favorably to such requests: 19 percent agreed to purchase the beer, relative to about 8 percent in the general population.

this is an intriguing finding, i suppose, and consistent with the general tendency toward greater delinquency among young men relative to other demographic groups. the study used 4 female research assistants and 1 male RA, however, so i'm a bit concerned that chivalry or some sort of ican'tbelievethiscutegirlisactuallytalkingtome phenomenon might have something to do with the propensity of young dudes to violate the law and respond favorably to the request.

i can't imagine a scenario in which i'd buy booze for minors, partly because i'm afraid they'd drink themselves to death (well, i did see a bit of this while attending college in madison) and partly because i'd assumed one would be severely punished for such an offense. in case you'd consider making such purchases for your undergrads, here's the formal deterrent:

St. Paul police spokesman Tom Walsh said they have charged individuals with providing alcohol to a minor, a gross misdemeanor carrying up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine, for buying in such circumstances.

if someone taps you on the shoulder, just say no.

photo by Richard Tsong-Taatarii , Star Tribune

Monday, June 25, 2007

to die unsung would really bring you down

the bureau of justice statistics just released a report with data from the first national census of medical examiners' and coroners' offices.

recordkeeping practices appear to vary greatly across jurisdictions, but the report lists a total of 13,486 unidentified human decedents currently on record -- with more than one-fourth of the total in new york city alone. here are the top five offices, which account for about 54% of the unidentified human remains on record nationally:

New York NY 26.8%
Cleveland OH 16.2%
Los Angeles CA 5.9%
Houston TX 3.0%
San Bernardino CA 2.3%

Sunday, June 17, 2007

on father's day

a seattle high school has started a program called "dads in the halls" in which fathers, uncles, and male mentors are invited to spend a few hours in the school on designated days interacting with the students and teachers. as the seattle times reports, the program is designed to increase fathers' participation in their kids' lives at school and to also serve as role models for other students.

this seems like a good idea -- low cost investment with real potential to let young people know that men in their community care about them. i know how lucky i was to have a new father come into my life when i was 13 and to have him totally accept me as his own. he has been a wonderful father and mentor and his love, support, and guidance have helped to shape who i am. i hope the "dads in the halls" program continues and grows and i hope today's young people can receive the same kind of support and encouragement.

happy father's day.

indecent recordings

i personally discovered obscene recordings back in elementary school. a friend had somehow obtained comedy albums by cheech and chong, richard pryor, george carlin, and redd foxx on one of those "get 14 records for a penny!" record club promotions. the sexual references surely sailed over our heads, but we knew this stuff had to be funny and guffawed accordingly.

now i learn that obscene recordings have been with us since, well, any kind of recordings. yesterday's npr's weekend edition featured a new collection of lewd victorian-era recordings titled Actionable Offenses: Indecent Phonograph Recordings from the 1890s. the feature replayed clips from the original wax cylinders, showing that there's nothing terribly novel about lewd, crude, and immature humor.

in light of the rapid pornographication of any new medium today, it really shouldn't surprise us to learn that by the late-1890s one could hear, say, "The Whore's Union" or "Dennis Reilly at Maggie Murphy's Home after Nine O'Clock." nevertheless, the clips are still a bit jarring to modern ears. they might not be funny" but they are certainly obscene, as evidenced by the bleeping necessary to get them on the airwaves in 2007.

i can imagine that this sort of phenomenon is old news to social historians, who could likely point out ancient (e.g., socrates' whoopee cushion) or far nastier attempts at humor over the course of human history. i'm personally fascinated by the social control aspects of the story -- some of the actors heard on the recordings were actually incarcerated -- and will likely order the CD for my sociology of deviance class. i'm guessing that enforcement under the comstock act must have been somewhat effective at policing such vice, for precious few of these recordings exist today.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


with schools closing up shop for the summer, the subject of curfews has drawn renewed attention in the local news. when high-profile crimes involving juvenile victims and perpetrators occur after midnight, of course, calls for enforcing the curfews intensify.

the chart above is taken from Juvenile Offenders and Victims: 2006 National Report, which shows the time of occurrence for the violent crimes of murder, sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault, and simple assault. the data are taken from the National Incident-Based Reporting System for 2000-2001. curfews can be part of a useful strategy to reduce juvenile crime and victimization, though it almost looks as though curfews might be more effective among adults.

in minneapolis, the curfew rules are a bit complicated:
• Under 12: 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Friday and Saturday.
• 12-14: 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. Friday and Saturday.
• 15-17: 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, 12: 01 a.m to 5 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.

i didn't even know the curfew rules in my hometown, so i looked them up this morning. esperanza, and anyone age 15 and younger, must be home by 10 p.m. tor, and others age 16-17, must be home by midnight in our town. regardless of the juvenile crime clock and the formal rules, however, i try to get my kids home as early as possible.

Monday, June 11, 2007

a life on hold, part 2

the georgia superior court judge vacated genarlow wilson's 10-year mandatory sentence today and ordered him released from prison. the new york times quotes from the judge's decision:

it would be a “grave miscarriage of justice” for Mr. Wilson to be kept in prison for the remaining eight years of his sentence. “If this Court, or any court, cannot recognize the injustice of what has occurred here, then our court system has lost sight of the goal our judicial system has always strived to accomplish: Justice being served in a fair and equal manner,” he wrote in the order granting release.
the state attorney general filed notice that his office would appeal, and genarlow wilson remains in prison, victorious but still behind bars, his life still on hold.


conrad defiebre offers a nice story on crafty inmate quilters in monday's strib.

i've known female prisoners to take great pride in such work, particularly when their products are donated for a good cause. nevertheless, this is the first i've heard about male participants. one young st. cloud inmate explains the attraction:

it's quiet, it's mellow, and the stuff is donated to some people who need it.

hallelujah. and nobody's stolen any scissors or needles yet, either. the registration-required site offers a fine slideshow with audio.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

a life on hold

while all of the attention of late has been focused on paris hilton, her on-again, off-again, on-again jail sentence, and questions of celebrity justice, there will be an important decision in genarlow wilson's case on june 11th. the judge will decide whether to release him from prison.

his case has received extensive and thoughtful media coverage, but if you haven't heard about it, here's a summary from the website for his appeal:

Genarlow Wilson sits in prison despite being a good son, a good athlete and high school student with a 3.2 GPA. He never had any criminal trouble. On the day he was to sit for the SAT, at seventeen years old, his life changed forever. He was arrested. In Douglas County he was accused of inappropriate sexual acts at a News Year’s Eve party. A jury acquitted him of the allegation of Rape but convicted him of Aggravated Child Molestation for a voluntary act of oral sex with another teenager. He was 17, and she was 15.

Along with the label “child molester” which will require him throughout his life to be on a sexual offender registry, Genarlow received a sentence of eleven years — a mandatory 10 years in prison and 1 year on probation.

On July 1st, the new Romeo and Juliet law went into effect in Georgia for any other teen that engages in consensual sexual acts. That change in the law means that no teen prosecuted for consensual oral sex could receive more than a 12 months sentence or be required to register as a sex offender.

Had this law been in effect when Genarlow Wilson was arrested, or had been done after the Marcus Dixon case, Genarlow would not now be in jail.

Genarlow and his mother are overjoyed that no one else in Georgia will have to know their pain. In the meantime, however, the legal fight goes on for Genarlow Wilson.

Genarlow has been incarcerated since February 25, 2005.

insidious or beguiling? really clever law enforcement

let's say that you don't happen to share my affection for the fine art of concert flyers. how would you stop "rogue promoters" from papering the halls, walls, and buses of your fair city with gig posters? in glasgow, the city council cleverly started slapping CANCELLED stickers over the offending posters. the result?

... some rogue promoters ... have been inundated with complaints from music fans.
People who have bought tickets to some of this summer'
s big gigs have complained, thinking that an event, rather than the advert, had been cancelled.
The source said: "If people start phoning concert promoters complaining that they thought the gig had been cancelled, then the promoters have no-one but themselves to blame for having the posters put up in the first place."

i give them 10 out 10 for style, 10 out of 10 for creativity, and maybe 3 out of 9 zillion for enforcement priorities. but dang that's clever.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

paris hilton sent home early

as i'm sure you've heard, paris has left the building.

ms. paris hilton was reassigned to home confinement, 3 days into a 23-day jail sentence. a few observations from a sociological criminologist:

1. yes, in my experience, this sort of thing is pretty unusual.

2. indeed, people are going to be very pissed about the whole equal-justice-is-a-sham aspects of this case.

3. i believe that the los angeles county sheriff's office must have anticipated the outrage that this move would spark. based on the remarks by sheriff baca's spokesperson steve whitmore, the office appears to be medicalizing and, hence, normalizing ms. hilton's treatment. they seem to be suggesting that sending inmates home for medical reasons is standard operating procedure in the l.a. county jail.

4. i'm not so cynical that i dismiss the possibility that ms. hilton was reassigned based on legitimate medical or humanitarian grounds, rather than (or in addition to) naked discrimination based on her race, gender, celebrity, or wealth. trust me, any young inmate's first couple days behind bars are rough. about half of all jail suicides occur during the inmate's first week in custody, with the highest suicide rate among inmates under the age of 18.

5. of course, thousands of poor and anonymous inmates, many with debilitating mental health problems, will also be struggling to survive this night in jail. and few of them will be sent home or reassigned to house arrest.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

quiet riots

the seattle times reports that barack obama is warning of "quiet riots" among blacks after the disaster of hurricane katrina and the current administration's poor treatment of new orleans' residents in its afttermath.

"This administration was colorblind in its incompetence," Obama said at a conference of black clergy, "but the poverty and the hopelessness was there long before the hurricane...All the hurricane did was to pull the curtain back for all the world to see," he said.

"Those 'quiet riots' that take place every day are born from the same place as the fires and the destruction and the police decked out in riot gear and the deaths," Obama said. "They happen when a sense of disconnect settles in and hope dissipates. Despair takes hold and young people all across this country look at the way the world is and believe that things are never going to get any better."
chris and i (with co-authors kelly fawcett and kristin bates) have a chapter coming out about race and voter disenfranchisement in the south, with particular focus on new orleans after hurricane katrina. the problems are enormous. will we find the political will to address them before the potential "quiet riots" erupt into further devastation?

ceo compensation and the sting of public disdain

we've all read how the ratio of CEO pay to worker pay has risen in recent years. in minnesota, compensation for executives from northwest airlines and united healthcare spark frequent editorials of the "oh, come on! you cannot be serious" variety.

big-time CEOs such as warren buffet have also decried such compensation packages, railing "that a mediocre-or-worse CEO – aided by his handpicked VP of human relations and a consultant from the ever-accommodating firm of Ratchet, Ratchet and Bingo – all too often receives gobs of money from an ill-designed compensation arrangement."

but it really takes charles denny, the respected former chair and CEO of ADC telecommunications, to show us how bad things have gotten for former executives. this week, mr. denny slipped an astonishing parenthetical admisson into his fine strib piece on CEO compensation:

Public opinion is turning against business leaders. Poll after poll reflects growing public distrust in executives. The Harris Poll showed a drop in public confidence in major business leaders from 28 percent approval in 2000 to 13 percent today. Only organized labor, Congress and lawyers received lower rankings.

(As a former CEO, I feel the sting of public disdain. When my grandchildren ask me what I did at work, I tell them I was the company librarian.)

nice. what do you think they're paying the ADC librarians these days?

Monday, June 4, 2007

gallows humor...literally

an inmate on death row in texas is seeking jokes so that he can select the funniest one and offer it as his last statement before his execution on june 26. to read the full story from the AP, click here.

the short version is this: patrick knight is on death row for shooting his neighbors to death 16 years ago. he claims that his idea to offer humorous last words is not intended to disrespect his victims; instead, he says: "I'm not trying to say I don't care what's going on. I'm about to die. I'm not going to sit here and whine and cry and moan and everything like that when I'm facing the punishment I've been given."

knight got the idea for a joke as his last statement after a friend was executed earlier this year and laughed from the death chamber gurney: "Where's a stunt double when you need one?"

for many inmates, the use of humor is an important survival strategy in prison. is it taking it too far for a condemned inmate to tell a joke before being executed, or should the individual be allowed to express whatever last sentiment s/he chooses?

Friday, June 1, 2007

punishment, justice, and hope

the Salem Statesman Journal reports:

Oregon has begun a new effort to increase the odds of success for inmates when they leave prison -- and decrease the likelihood they will return for longer and more expensive stays. Gov. Ted Kulongoski has created a 19-member council to oversee the efforts of government and nonprofit agencies. He said it will be good not only for inmates -- 4,000 of whom are released annually from state prisons -- but for the public and the tax-supported general fund.

"Criminal justice has to be about more than punishment; it's also about hope," Kulongoski said Friday. "People who have served their time need an opportunity to turn their lives around -- a job, a place to live, a chance for a new start. "

Max Williams, the state corrections director, said the council's aim is to draw together all the government and nonprofit agencies working on employment, housing, medical and mental health services, alcohol and drug treatment, and personal skills to help those inmates succeed out of prison.
the council seems like a positive step, but perhaps even more important is the need to educate the public about the realities of reentry. the article offers useful information and statistics, including the facts that oregon's prison system now holds a record 13,500 inmates, and the proposed budget of the department of corrections for the next two years is $1.35 billion, triple its level of more than a decade ago. currently there are about 34,000 inmates under post-prison supervision.

unfortunately, the editor who wrote the title of the article misunderstood the concept of reentry, apparently confusing reentry with recidivism. the title: "New panel aims to make inmate re-entry less likely" is definitely contrary to the goal of the council...

not just the premise for a television show

from today's seattle times:

For four months, Federal Way police sent two undercover detectives — a 29-year-old woman and a 33-year-old man — to infiltrate an area of increasing drug use:

High schools.

Officials provided few details Thursday on how the detectives, well out of their teens, were able to pass themselves off as students, but their undercover operation succeeded to an alarming extent.

With little difficulty, they purchased a cornucopia of illicit drugs — including marijuana, Ecstasy, cocaine and the prescription drug oxycodone — as well as rifles and semiautomatic handguns.

The investigation culminated Thursday with criminal charges filed against 12 students, ranging in age from 13 to 18, and against two adults not associated with Federal Way schools.