Thursday, January 24, 2008

ideal-typical case of policy change?

sociological criminologists sometimes point to moral panics and sensational cases as the impetus for sweeping changes in criminal codes. i don't know whether this is the case in connecticut, but the times and the courant both point to a particularly heinous crime as the motor driving big changes in that state's criminal justice system.

the republican-american just flat comes out and says it. here's their lead:

The legislature's Democratic majority proposed a package of comprehensive changes to the criminal justice system in Connecticut today.

The crime bill is a response to last summer's triple homicide and home invasion in Cheshire. Lawmakers are meeting in special session today to consider the legislation.

hmm. i'm pretty sure that triple homicide is already against the law, even in connecticut, but perhaps the legislature needs to tighten up prohibitions against home invasion. so, some of the changes involved the crimes at issue:

The legislation includes the following provisions:

  • Create a new crime of home invasion.
  • Revise the burglary statute.
the real problem, in this as in other heinous cases, appears to be a breakdown in the screening process prior to release. by social science standards, criminologists can actually predict which inmates are likely to reoffend rather well. but social science standards -- a 95 percent certainty that a given releasee will not commit another heinous offense -- just aren't good enough in such circumstances. so, the CT governor ordered a moratorium on parole for violent offenders, while the legislature went to work to fix the problem. here's what they came up with:

  • Rework the persistent offender statute.
  • Reconfigure the Board of Pardons and Parole.
  • Mandate secure video connections at state prisons for parole hearings.
  • Require the court and prison systems provide 270 additional beds for diversionary and prison re-entry programs.
  • Command the court and prison systems provide 24 beds in secured treatment centers for sex offenders.
  • Require the prison system to monitor 300 more inmates by global positioning satellite technology.
  • Mandate the development of a centralized, integrated criminal justice tracking and information database.
that's a long and ambitious list of parole reforms. as is their wont, lawmakers also widened the net just a bit, adding the following provisions and mandates:

  • Orders the court, prison and parole systems to devise how to assess the risks of offenders of re-offending.
  • Directs the court system to create an Internet registry for outstanding arrest warrants for violation of probation.
  • Expands the rights of crime victims and their immediate families.
  • Makes juvenile court records available to Board of Pardons and Parole and the Department of Correction.
  • Requires the court system establish a statewide automated victim information and notification system.
  • Establishes a committee to propose incentives for municipalities to host transitional housing for released offenders.
  • Requires annual reporting to the legislature on developments in the criminal justice system.
  • Sets up a diversionary program for persons with psychiatric disabilities accused of crimes or motor vehicle violations.
  • Authorizes $19 million in transfers in the state's two-year, $36 billion budget to finance some initiatives.

i cannot speak to the wisdom of each individual change, but such a package would certainly strike me as a disconnected hodge-podge of requirements and really hard-to-meet mandates. for partisan reasons, the editors of the republican-american probably intended to portray the reforms as a costly boondoggle.

from a distance, however, i believe that the proposed changes are probably well-intentioned efforts to reorganize a system to prevent a single criminal event. unfortunately, such changes are likely to bring with them a broad range of unintended consequences, with unknown effects on public safety.

even in the unlikely event that the proposed changes are enacted, fully funded, and implemented, however, they are all designed to prevent the last heinous crime. this means that, in all likelihood, they will do little to prevent the next heinous crime.

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