Thursday, November 29, 2007

globe story on volunteers in prisoner reintegration

long live john augustus! here's a boston globe story on volunteers in reintegration:

Vermonters Help Ease Life on the Outside: Towns Trying to Keep Ex-Cons on Right Path

By Jenna Russell of the Globe Staff / November 24, 2007

BARRE, Vt. - Vermont corrections officials are trying a radical new strategy to reintegrate the state's worst offenders into society: Team them up with groups of students, parents, businesspeople, and retirees in the towns they return to after prison, and let these surrogate families and friends show them how they can fit in again...

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

soros after prison initiative seeks program associate

susan tucker of soros writes that their after prison initiative is seeking a new program associate.

The Program Associate will work closely with the Director and Program Officer in all programmatic and administrative and aspects relating to The After Prison Initiative grantmaking and program development work.

Programmatic Responsibilities:
• Work with staff to develop, write and edit grantmaking strategy, priorities, and guidelines
• Review and assess letters of inquiry and make declination and funding recommendations
• Work with staff to manage the grantmaking process, including inviting, reviewing, and working with applicants to finalize proposals; writing and editing docket materials; and managing grants through site visits and by reviewing narrative and financial reports
• Interact with and disseminate program-related information to grantees and other field professionals; participate in program- and field-related meetings and convenings
• Prepare and maintain grantmaking financial and budget tracking reports
• Participate in the development, planning, and organization of program-related events
• Stay current in criminal justice and reentry issues and related fields
• Perform research and other related writing projects

Administrative Responsibilities:
• Respond to telephone, email, and written inquires and requests for assistance from various constituencies
• Work with grantees, program staff, and OSI’s Office of Grants Management to perform grant opening, payment, monitoring, and close-out procedures
• Act as a liaison between grantees, The After Prison Initiative, and other OSI departments and respond to questions relating to fiscal and administrative issues
• Prepare receipts and payment requests for the Program Director and Program Officer’s corporate cards and reimbursable expenses
• Manage calendar and travel reservations for the Program Director and Program Officer
• Provide general administrative support, including photocopying, telephone coverage, faxing, filing, and database management

• College degree plus 3-5 years of relevant work experience
• Excellent written, verbal, analytical, research, and organizational skills required
• Must be highly organized, detail-oriented, self-motivated, dependable, and able to multitask
• Excellent computer skills (Microsoft Word, Excel & PowerPoint) required
• Ability to work independently and also as part of a team, take initiative and prioritize, and work well under pressure
• Strong people skills, ability to work with people from a wide variety of backgrounds
• Flexibility, positive attitude, and willingness to pitch in
• Demonstrated concern for social and criminal justice issues

SALARY: Commensurate with experience; excellent benefits; four weeks vacation
START DATE: Immediately
TO APPLY: Send resume, cover letter and writing sample immediately to Applications accepted through December 17, 2007. Include job code PA/USJF/API in subject line:

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

u.s. accounts for 99 percent of "life without parole" sentences for juveniles

i've written before about life sentences for juvenile offenders. according to a new study by michelle leighton and connie de la vega of the university of san francisco, the u.s. and israel are the only nations in the world that mete out life sentences without the possibility of parole or release to children. an estimated total of 2,381 juvenile lifers reside in the united states, relative to 7 in israel. the report offers a useful, if sobering, state-by-state appendix for those teaching juvenile justice or juvenile delinquency classes.

Monday, November 26, 2007

how do you measure hope?

in prison, it seems, hope can be found in very small things that make the days more tolerable. and once in a great while, hope can be found in one big generous gesture by a perfect stranger.

an anonymous donor is currently funding community college classes within the oregon state penitentiary. other than the inside-out program, it is the first time there have been college classes in the prison in more than a decade. approximately 45 men are getting the chance to earn college credits while they serve their sentences. the salem statesman-journal published a story earlier this month, explaining this pilot program and what it means to some of the inmate students.

i have had a number of these students in my inside-out classes this year. they are, for the most part, young men who made terrible mistakes and are now trying to change their lives and learn as much as they can while they are in prison. they work hard at their assignments, worry about exams, and are extremely grateful for the opportunity.

i'll be teaching an introductory sociology course for the college inside program next quarter. it will be a much different dynamic than my inside-out classes, but there will be a number of familiar faces in the room, and i'm really looking forward to the experience.

my local representative from one of the big publishing houses is donating the texts for the class...another big gesture that will mean a lot to 30 men looking for reasons to hope.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

impressive times features on exonerees

today's new york times offers an impressive set of articles and multimedia features on 115 former prisoners who were exonerated by dna evidence.

Most of the 137 exonerated inmates researched by The Times entered prison in their teens or 20s, and they stayed there while some of their peers on the outside settled on careers, married, started families, bought homes and began saving for retirement. They emerged many years behind, and it has been difficult to catch up.

in addition to the in-depth interviews, photographs, and video, there's even a decent methods section.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

unlocking america report released

a new report on reducing america's prison population came out this week, co-authored by some of my favorite criminologists: james austin, todd clear, troy duster, david greenberg, john irwin, candace mccoy, alan mobley, barbara owen, and joshua page.

Unlocking America: Why and How to Reduce America’s Prison Population documents the rise in incarceration and makes some concrete recommendations for stemming the tide (e.g., reducing the length of prison stays and eliminating prison time for technical parole violations).

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

pregnant in prison

via alec.

according to bbc news, a vietnamese woman convicted of dealing heroin and ecstasy has become pregnant while being held on death row:

The woman, a 39-year-old convicted heroin trafficker, was being held on death row when she became pregnant.

Police say the father of the child is a fellow prisoner who delivered food to the prisoners on death row.

Under Vietnamese law, death sentences for pregnant women must be converted to life in prison.

criminal punishment is often a good measure of societal definitions of barbarism. in vietnam, it is apparently considered barbaric to execute a pregnant woman by firing squad, but not barbaric to execute a woman who had given birth prior to her incarceration. at least such a policy spares us the tortuous logic needed to justify the alternative -- sparing the woman's life until after she had given birth, then spiriting the baby away and lining the mother up before the firing squad in a bloody hospital gown. of course, the economists might argue that such a policy creates perverse incentives, giving female death row inmates great incentives to conceive with guards or inmates.

i haven't heard of such cases in the states, but plenty of american women give birth in prison every year. for example, the birth attendants run a prison doula project, providing pregnancy, labor, and post-partum doula services and childbirth education classes to women incarcerated in washington state. a noble human rights effort, i'd say, and worthy of our support and emulation.

Monday, November 19, 2007

asc vs. city crime rankings

criminologists have grumbled for years about the "city crime rankings" released each year by morgan quitno and cq press. these rankings are based on the fbi's uniform crime reports data, which are a fine source of information for many purposes. when used to compile a crude annual ordering of dangerousness, however, the fbi cautions that they can be extremely misleading.

cities vary a great deal in reporting practices and many other characteristics that affect such rankings, but the most fundamental problem is one of simple geography. criminologists working in the field refer to this issue as the denominator problem: sprawled-out cities such as phoenix tend to fare much better than geographically-constrained cities such as st. louis. this is because the former cities include lower-crime suburb-like areas within their borders.

at tuesday's meeting of the american society of criminology executive board, we passed a resolution to oppose the use of UCR data to rank American cities as “dangerous’ or “safe” without proper consideration of the limitations of these data. today, the associated press reported this year's rankings, but have also added some responsible language about the professional objections and harm they cause:

DETROIT - In another blow to the Motor City's tarnished image, Detroit pushed past St. Louis to become the nation's most dangerous city, according to a private research group's controversial analysis, released Sunday, of annual FBI crime statistics.

The study drew harsh criticism even before it came out. The American Society of Criminology launched a pre-emptive strike Friday, issuing a statement attacking it as "an irresponsible misuse" of crime data.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

asc highlights: jimmy carter

we were treated to a fine address by president jimmy carter at this year's american society of criminology meetings in atlanta.

the former governor described a friendly yet today-mind-blowingly-incomprehensible competition in the 1970s among the governors of georgia, alabama, florida, and other states: who could reduce prison populations by the largest margin?

times have changed, eh?

the talk was a love fest that put a li'l tear in this public criminologist's eye. in particular, the ex-president rather forcefully urged the asc membership to take a more active role in documenting and describing human rights abuses in criminal justice.

there were lighter moments as well, of course. being an ex-president is a pretty good gig, as this ol' ice-breaking anecdote makes clear:

I remembered going through China and Japan in 1981, soon after I left the White House. At that time I was asked to make a speech at a small college near Osaka. When I got to this little college, everybody was so nervous, it made me nervous. So, I got up to make a speech, and I thought I would put the Japanese at ease-the students and professors and their parents-by telling a joke. It takes so long to translate English into Japanese that I didn't choose my funniest joke--I just chose my shortest joke. So I told my joke, and then the interpreter gave it and the audience collapsed in laughter. It was the best response I have ever had to a joke in my life.

I couldn't wait for the speech to be over to get to the green room and ask the interpreter, 'How did you tell my joke?' He was very evasive. But I persisted, and finally he ducked his head and said, "I told the audience, 'President Carter told a funny story. Everyone must laugh.' " So there are some advantages in having been president...

a few of my jokes have been translated at international meetings and, without exception, they've fallen flat. i've been tempted to insert a [THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE FUNNY] note for the translator, but president carter's approach seems far more effective.

Monday, November 12, 2007


i'm wondering whether and how norman mailer's passing will be noted at the american society of criminology meetings this week.

i learned much from the executioner's song, mr. mailer's biography and life history of gary gilmore. the pugnacious writer also introduced me to jack henry abbott, offering an important cautionary tale about the dangers of conflating talent and dangerousness.

i'm not a great admirer of the naked and the dead or mr. mailer's other novels. as a longtime fan of his old rival, gore vidal, however, i'll repeat the story of their scuffle on the dick cavett show in 1970:

Mailer was notorious for tussling with critics. Backstage at "The Dick Cavett Show" in the early 1970s, he head-butted Gore Vidal, who had written that Mailer's violent streak put him in the same league as mass murderer Charles Manson. (After the head-butting, Vidal quipped, "Words fail Norman Mailer yet again.")

ouch. that one hit him where it hurts. i sought some sort of youtube memory of mr. vidal and mr. mailer, but the best i could come up with is the latter's messy '68 brawl with rip torn. it was likely a set-up, but the video confirms my point: norman mailer knew a good deal about both violence and fraud, and he left behind work of great value to criminologists.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

missouri expungement

any advice for christina? i know of expungement clinics in the twin cities area, but could find little online that would be helpful. after a decade of law-abiding behavior, it is sad to think that a juvenile conviction for auto theft still impedes her job search.

Christina has left a new comment on your post "ex-felon employment and expungement":

Hello, I am 30 years old and was convicted 12 years ago when I was 17 as a adult in the state of Missouri. I have 2 class c felonies for stealing of an automobile. I am looking for any way to get an expungment as looking for a job has become exausting, frustrating and degrading. I am a married mom of 2 boys and have not been in any other trouble since then. I was released in 1998 and its now 2007 and people still look at me like I am going to steal from them. How do I do something to help myself when noone else will help me? Please someone have an answer. - Christina W.

there but for the grace of god...

hey, blame it on michelle ... other blog is only rated at a junior high school reading level...

Thursday, November 8, 2007

teaching in the oregon state penitentiary in the 1960s

with the author's permission, i share these reflections from an oregon state university professor who taught at the oregon state penitentiary in 1966-1967
(from a personal email):

Bits and pieces flutter by when I think about my Tuesday nights teaching there in 1966-67 with a few colleagues from OSU. The only ones whose name I recall are Will Gamble and Harry Goheen, a math prof. As I recall it was Harry's idea and the first program of its kind at OSP.

Memories of prison sights and sounds come back first; specifically, the sound of that electrically powered steel door that slammed closed behind us as we walked the shiny hallways to our classrooms. I never got used to it.

And I remember the absence of sights and sounds I had expected that first night. You know, tattooed arms thrust between bars, young and old men yelling, cursing, threatening. For the record, I recall seeing none of that movie-set stuff in my one-year, once-a-week, 3-hour visits to OSP.

And I will not ever forget the inmates' unrelenting appreciation for our being there.

That first night I was led to a classroom with perhaps a dozen young men who had signed up for Interpersonal Communication (i.e., Speech 111). The following week one of them handed me a transcript of my lecture, taped on a prison recorder, typed on a prison typewriter. It was all any of them had to give. I was touched by that as well as their respect and their undivided attention throughout the year.

And I recall the corrections officer who did a slow burn telling one of my colleagues of the unfairness of our fawning over guys in prison who were getting college credits for free, when his kids "can't afford to go to college."

And then the prison riot of 1967 or 1968. (I was doing a post-doc fellowship at Ohio State that year and missed the action when inmates took over a portion of the prison,.)

I remember reading the wire stories in Columbus about the turmoil, and later learned that a few inmates formed a protective circle around the sole female OSU professor who was trapped in a classroom with her students. It might have been the first time some of them had done something so selfless and ...well, so noble. (She was untouched and ultimately escorted out to safety).

A half a dozen of my students were released on parole over the following months. Some of them enrolled at OSU as undergrads. One was Bruce, a bright, young hold-up man, who was later elected ASOSU president and last I knew, was making plans to marry an OSU coed (to the utter horror of her Beaverton mother). I never did find out if the marriage came about.

Then there was Gordon, a George Raft look-alike, talk-alike, act-alike. He also was up for robbery. He got out, went to OSU, then left to take a job as a reporter for The Bend Bulletin. Once there, the editor of the paper, became a father-figure to him for a year or two. A jealous husband blew Gordon away with a shotgun for trying to romance the man's wife.

Mick. My father, a Detroit insurance executive, developed a pen-pal relationship that started when Mick was in prison and lasted I don't know how long, perhaps until my dad died in 1984. Dad had a reputation for helping young men build successful careers in business.

I hadn't thought in a long while about this experience of 40 years ago, Michelle. I'm glad Bill's e-mail re-opened that book. In retrospect I think our program made a small contribution to a few young men and gave to ourselves the satisfaction making it happen, however briefly.

I wish you well as you and your students well as you continue your program, knowing that the hunger to learn can survive, indeed thrive, even within the impersonal halls of a state penitentiary.

Best regards,

OSU Emeritus Professor of Journalism

**the photo shows debris inside the Oregon State Penitentiary after the March 9, 1968, riot-fire (from the Oregon Historic Photograph Collections at the Salem Public Library)

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

a globalization of public shaming?

in crime, shame, and reintegration (1989), john braithwaite contrasted the stigmatizing punishments typical of nations such as the united states, with the reintegrative shaming practiced in nations such as japan. in particular, he cited the public displays of repentance shown by corporate representatives in the east.

the l.a. times reports an incident of such public shaming in the u.s. congress:

WASHINGTON -- They sat just two feet apart, the mother of a journalist confined to a Chinese prison and the wealthy head of the giant U.S. company that helped put him behind bars.

But before Yahoo Inc. Chief Executive Jerry Yang took his seat to testify on Capitol Hill Tuesday, he bowed deeply before the woman.

The hearing by the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Yahoo's conduct in China was a rare public shaming of the Internet leader, whose actions led to the imprisonment of journalist Shi Tao.

this is just one incident, of course, but i would not be surprised to see more american politicians and executives bowing long and low in the halls of congress. beyond capitol hill, my sense is that public shaming is occurring with far more regularity in the american criminal justice system of 2007 than it had twenty years earlier. in my view, this is partly a globalization effect and partly a braithwaite effect, as professor braithwaite offered a practical and flexible conceptual framework for restorative justice programs and reintegrative initiatives.

nij is hiring research analysts

Five Social Science Analysts. These positions direct and manage research portfolios in one or more of the following areas: crime prevention; policing, gangs, violence against women and other family members, prisons and jails, community corrections, and courts.
Within NIJ's organizational structure, the vacancies reside in the Crime Control and Prevention Research Division, the Violence and Victimization Research Division, the Justice Systems Research Division, and the International Center.
NIJ is looking for people with:
Strong organizational skills
Ability to multi-task
Ability to put the team first
Excellent writing skills
Knowledge of criminal justice systems
Application Deadline: November 30, 2007
View the job announcement.

ready to go home: thoughts from within prison

with the author's permission, i am happy to share an excerpt from a paper written by nicholas, one of my students in the oregon state penitentiary. his passion and sincerity practically jump off the page:

"Since the very first day of my incarceration all I could think about was the outside and how I could have done better and how badly I wanted to get out and do better. All I could think about was being out there with my family, living a real life, and starting a family of my own. It is this feeling that motivates me everyday to do well and never return to the life I once lived, and most importantly never to come back here. Never again will I be deprived of the people and the things that I love, and it is this feeling that still grows within me with each moment that passes...I am glad this has all happened because it has made who I am today, a mentally strong young man who appreciates the important things in life. And although it’s been tough, it’s been the greatest experience I’ve ever had and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. But after 5 years of an 8½ year sentence, I’m ready to go home."

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

leaving prison

for some reason, i've been distracted all day by the sound of train whistles and prison gates slamming shut. while tempting to attribute this condition to the full slate of meetings on my calendar this week, it is more likely the result of reading a merle haggard interview just before bed.

like many former prisoners, mr. haggard can still call to mind details of his release decades later. via esquire:

I got out something like nine that morning. February 3, 1960. There's a big metal security device at the main door coming out of San Quentin. When they open that door, it comes up and you have to step over it. Just as I was stepping over that device, a Hank Snow record came on. "The Last Ride." My foot just stopped in midair. The song was coming from a radio near this guard who was standing there with his gun. He said, "What, did you change your mind?" I said, "No, that's a really great song." I stayed there and listened to the rest of the song.
[words n' music]

dang. wouldn't that just be the coolest scene in the movie? a good song always stops a good songwriter dead in his tracks. the second coolest scene would show the young mr. haggard in the front row at the man in black's first san quentin show in '58. from rolling stone:

I met Johnny in 1963 in a restroom in Chicago. I was taking a leak, and he walked up beside me with a flask of wine underneath his coat and said, "Haggard, you want a drink of this wine?" Those were the first words he ever said to me, but I had been in awe of him since I saw him play on New Year's Day in 1958, at San Quentin Prison, where I was an inmate. He'd lost his voice the night before over in Frisco and wasn't able to sing very good; I thought he'd had it, but he won over the prisoners. He had the right attitude: He chewed gum, looked arrogant and flipped the bird to the guards -- he did everything the prisoners wanted to do. He was a mean mother from the South who was there because he loved us. When he walked away, everyone in that place had become a Johnny Cash fan. There were 5,000 inmates in San Quentin and about thirty guitar players; I was among the top five guitarists in there. The day after Johnny's show, man, every guitar player in San Quentin was after me to teach them how to play like him. It was like how, the day after a Muhammad Ali fight, everybody would be down in the yard shadowboxing; that day, everyone was trying to learn "Folsom Prison Blues."

Then when my career caught fire, he asked me to be a guest on his variety show on ABC. He, June and I were discussing what I should do on the show, and he said, "Haggard, let me tell the people you've been to prison. It'll be the biggest thing that will happen to you in your life, and the tabloids will never be able to hurt you. It's called telling the truth: If you start off telling the truth, your fans never forget it." I told him, "Being an ex-convict is the most shameful thing. It's against the grain to talk about it." But he was right -- it set a fire under me that hadn't been there before.

on most issues, i'm probably walking on the fightin' side of merle, but he gets a 10 out of 10 for authenticity in my book. one more quote from the esquire piece:

I'll tell you why it's different when somebody else is singing "Mama Tried": They're reading the words. I'm telling the story. [don and phil sure sang it pretty, though]
[words n' music]

amen. here's a whole collection of mr. haggard's prison songs.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

the jail notebooks

via boing:

a volunteer in the dane county, wisconsin jails has archived 77 scans of notes and sketches found in jail reading materials.

working with the jail library group in madison, jumbled pile found these items "abandoned in books or stuffed on the jail's book cart." i'm intrigued by the notes, receipts, and sketches, but also by the jail library group itself. which subjects are most requested by dane county jail inmates? poetry tops the list.

* Poetry, especially love poems
* Religion, especially Islam
* Physical and mental health
* Psychology and self-help
* Job manuals and career advice
* Hobbies and games: chess, card games, Scrabble, drawing
* Crime, gangs and prison life
* AODA and recovery materials
* African-American nonfiction topics: Black history, slavery, Black nationalism

if you are inspired by the scans or the project, you might consider donating a book from their amazon wish list.