Tuesday, November 29, 2005

lafave sentence

cnn.com reports that debra beasley lafave, a 25-year-old florida teacher, pleaded guilty to two counts of lewd and lascivious behavior for having sex with a 14-year-old student. she was sentenced to three years of house arrest, seven years probation, and she must register as a sex offender. conditions of her supervision also ban her from profiting financially from her crime.

ms. beasley lafave's photo is already posted on the florida department of law enforcement's sexual predator website. i've gotten somewhat familiar with these sites, since kim gardner began collecting data on the contents of state sex offender registries for her independent thesis project. here is the information that florida provides on debbie lafave:
Sex Offender

Debra Jean Beasley
Debra J Beasley, Debbie Lafave, Debra Lafave, Debra Beasley Lafave

Status: Community Control
Department of Corrections #: T47535 Date of Birth: 08-28-1980
Race: White Sex: Female Height: 5' 07"
Hair: Blond Eyes: Blue Weight: 135 lbs.
Scars, Marks, Tattoos: Tattoo Other:Butterfly On Hip; Tattoo Back:Butterfly; Tattoo Back:Chinese Character;
Last Reported Address: 406 12th St Sw, Ruskin, FL 33570-4182
County: Hillsborough Date Address Entered: 11-24-2005
Qualifying Offense(s): Lewd Or Lascivious Battery Victim 12-15 Years Old (Principal)
Victim(s): Gender: Male ; Minor? Yes Gender: Unknown ; Minor? Yes

aside from her gender and the enormous amount of publicity generated by the case, the entry for ms. lafave/beasley is not dissimilar to others on the site. her age, race, and offense are fairly typical, as are her tattoos. some observers have commented on her physical attractiveness, but even this characteristic is probably not that unusual in the databases (though nobody but sinatra actually looks good in a mug shot). nor is her crime all that unusual. for example, i searched under "beasley" and quickly found a similar case. bobby beasley is also 25 and also convicted of lewd and lascivious conduct with a child under 16.
Sex Offender Bobby Beasley
Alias: Bobby Ray Beasley, Red Beasley
Status: State Incarceration
Department of Corrections #: H08933 Date of Birth: 05-22-1980
Race: White Sex: Male Height: 6' 02"
Hair: Red Eyes: Brown Weight: 178 lbs.
Scars, Marks, Tattoos: Tattoo Right Chest Broken Heart Tattoo Right Chest Broken Heart Tattoo Tat
Last Reported Address: Dept. of Corrections, FL
County: Date Address Entered: 12-05-2001
Qualifying Offense(s): Lewd,Lascivious Child U/16 (Principal)
Victim(s): Gender: Unknown ; Minor? Yes
If further information is needed, please contact the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's Sexual Offender/Predator Unit at (1-888-357-7332) between the hours of 8am and 6.30pm, Monday through Friday

i next searched under "debra" and easily found similar florida cases involving females (e.g., debra favre, who also got some publicity). i think the worldwide attention to lafave's situation is likely due to a combo platter of newsworthiness:
  • she's a teacher entrusted with middle school kids, which touches upon parents' fears;
  • the case is set against a backdrop of moral panic over (mostly) male sex offenders, particularly those who victimize children;
  • at 14, the victim in this case was "only" two years from the median age at first intercourse for males;
  • she has posed for calendars, which simultaneously validates her physical attractiveness and sexual desirability to males and makes for great television;
  • and, in a society in which males are viewed as either sexual predators or protectors, we're simply flummoxed by the idea of an adolescent male receiving "unwanted" sexual attention from an attractive young woman.
my point here is that debbie lafave's crimes are far more typical on sex offender registries than the coverage of her story would suggest. the cultural image of the sex offender is a person such as joseph duncan, accused of murder, kidnapping, and rape. yet we apply the same generalized label -- designation as a sex offender -- to duncan, lafave, and thousands of other lafaves.

lafave's sentence will seem light to many, since she isn't doing any jail or prison time beyond house arrest (i mean, even martha went to prison for a few months). for me, it highlights the difficulties in applying gradational punishments for criminal sexual conduct when a categorical "sex offender" stigma is applied to such diverse behaviors.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

can you drink your way to a safer neighborhood?

the west coast blog muse alerts me to a seattle times story on crime and community. residents of the seattle south park neighborhood were upset about the putatively seedy county line bar and the drug sales and prostitution that surrounded it. rather than mobilize against the bar, however, they actually started drinking there. interesting idea, right? criminologists generally believe that even infrequent and informal neighboring can help reduce crime. in this case, residents are doing their neighboring on-site during community happy hours every monday.

if we are to believe the story, such meetings have coincided with crime reductions in the area. an earlier post-intelligencer story was more pessimistic, but featured this quote from organizer joel clement:

"It was time to show the proprietors that there's an upside to that trend," he said. "My theory is, crime tends to migrate toward sociocultural vacuums. So let's fill the vacuum. And drinking a beer is not a lot of work on anybody's part."

i like the idea of at least attempting reintegrative rather stigmatizing sanctions -- whether for individuals, bars, or other community institutions. my guess is that some of the worst stereotypes have likely been dispelled by the practice. nothing comes for free, of course, as "sociocultural vacuums" are in the eye of the beholder. most worrisome, seattle may have lost a great dive bar in the process. i'm guessing that the county line will have to bring in a golden tee golf machine, ferns, and heirloom balsamic goat cheese salads to keep the upscale residents coming back.

[photos by karen ducey in seattle post-intelligencer story]

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

upcoming conferences

sarah walker, a grad student in the minnesota political science department, sent word of two interesting conferences:

both gather a strong group of scholars, activists, and other experts, reflecting a burgeoning research interest in criminal punishment.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

2005 criminology meetings

i'm just back from the 2005 american society of criminology annual meetings in toronto. we had a fine conference at the royal york (though it was expensive for the student members) and near-record attendance. i love the meetings and the society has been a great home for me since my early grad school days. both meeting and society are less formal and more interdisciplinary than american sociological association gatherings: almost anyone who wants to get onto a session can get onto a session and they usually have some interesting things to say.

i'm currently the executive secretary of the organization, which means that i type board meeting minutes, scoop a lot of ice cream, and sign off on awards. plus, i really rake in the loot on secretary's day. next year's meetings will be held in los angeles, and the theme under new president gary lafree will be "democracy, crime, and justice." i'll be organizing sessions on crime and politics, chairing an article award committee, and working on a long-term planning committee for the society. i'm hoping to reach out to non-asc members interested in voting, politics, and crime who might not otherwise attend the meetings. i'll post more on this in spring, but if you would like to present a paper on this or another crime topic next november, you only need to submit an abstract by march to get on the program.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

civic reintegration through tough guys for tots

i had a great meeting with michael bischoff of the council on crime and justice recently, where we discussed the sort of civic engagement work that could be done behind prison walls. minnesota has a number of inmate-based restorative justice groups. michael wrote to me today with word that the men of faribault prison are holding their second annual "tough guys for tots" walk this Saturday. All money raised will go to the local rice county toys for tots program. Last year the inmates (who earn very little wages) pledged quite a bit themselves.

if you normally give to such toy programs around the holidays, you might consider making a donation and sponsoring a walker this year. in addition to helping out the kids, you can help nurture a prisoner's pro-social impulses and actions. if interested, you can send a check marked "tough guys for tots" to:

Attn: Jay Welborn
1101 Linden
Faribault, MN 55021-6400

Monday, November 14, 2005

u.s. supreme court refuses to hear johnson v. bush

from yahoo news:

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court refused Monday to review Florida's lifetime ban on voting rights for convicted felons, a case that would have had national implications for millions of would-be voters.

i worked for several years, took a lengthy deposition, and wrote an expert report on this case (johnson v. bush), so the news is disappointing.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

heartfelt pleas for quality / too intense for class?

who says the war on drugs hasn't been effective? the daily mirror reports another celebrity chagrined at the quality of cocaine these days. current crooner and former sexy person rod stewart reports:

I don't know why anyone would want to take coke now ... It was different in my day, because it was all so much purer. Now these dealers mix it with salt, washing powders, anything they can get their hands on. Kids just don't know what they're taking.

this reminded me of other recent complaints by noted cocaine experts, such as current velvet revolver vocalist scott weiland. in an esquire interview this april, weiland described the good old days:

it was not that nasty, gasoline-tasting, cat-piss-smelling sh*t that they have nowadays. It was f*ckin' shale, you know? It was mother-of-pearl stuff that they used to have in the old days. It was so hard, you had to slice it real thin with a razor blade, like little slices of garlic. They don’t even make that sh*t anymore.

weiland's imagery is evocative, isn't it? i can see (mother of pearl), smell (cat-piss), feel (hard, like garlic slices), and taste (gasoline) the differences he's describing. weiland's imagery is richer than rod stewart's, i think, because stewart was only a "casual" user.

weiland was anything but casual about cocaine and heroin. his first-person account of his love affair with these drugs is riveting. i was planning to require it for my deviance class this week, but chickened out. although it is an honest, candid warts-n'-all portrayal, in my view it simply makes cocaine sound too attractive. based on my student surveys over the years, i know that coke remains a deviant taste among my undergrad students (in contrast, lifetime marijuana use is roughly 75 percent). would weiland's words have led anyone to try cocaine or heroin for the first time? would a professor's apparent endorsement make a difference? here are a few excerpts from weiland's piece, highlighting the exotic attractions, the rituals, and the subjective experience:

MY FIRST EXPERIENCES WITH COCAINE were just completely...it was, like, sexual. It was unbelievable. I didn't think that there could be anything that good...

The guy cut us out a couple lines each, like, six inches long and about an eighth of an inch wide. I had two of them. And that was all we needed. We were high for five hours. And there was no grinding teeth. There was no big comedown. I think the devil gives you the first time for free...

He tied me off and shot me up. And then he said, "Now you got your wings." I remember just lying back on his mattress ... Complete warmth went all the way through my body. I was consumed. It's like what they talk about in Buddhism, that feeling of reaching enlightenment. Like in Siddhartha ... there's this feeling in Buddhism where they say there's a golden glow that goes from your fingers all the way through every appendage and into the pit of your stomach. And that's what it felt like to me, slamming dope for the first time. Like I'd reached enlightenment...

I was home. All my life, I had never felt right in my own skin. I always felt that wherever I went...I don't know, I always felt very uncomfortable. Like I didn't belong. Like I could never belong. Like every room I walked into was an unwelcome room. After doing dope for the first time, I knew that no matter what happened, from that day forward, I could be okay in every situation. Heroin made me feel safe. It was like the womb. I felt completely sure of myself. It took away all the fears. It did that socially; it distanced me from other people, made me feel less vulnerable...

Once I started shooting, I realized I'd made a career decision...
WHEN I STARTED DOING HEROIN, I felt almost immediately like I had become part of something bigger than myself, that I'd entered into a new social realm...

I never wanted to quit. Never. I saw narcotics as something I needed in order to function. I believed at the time that I was born with a chemical deficiency. Which I was. I was totally correct. But at the time, I believed I was born with this particular chemical deficiency that only opiates could fulfill. My basic thought was: How the hell can all you people want to keep me away from the one particular medicine that could keep me from blowing my head off?

again, weiland does not endorse use of these drugs -- he just tells us honestly about how he experienced their seductions. drug educators face a real paradox in describing such psychoactive effects to non-users. any realistic presentation must note that cocaine and heroin are experienced as pleasurable by users (recognizing, as howard becker, that such definitions are social constructions). yet, such descriptions have at least some potential to encourage use. and, of course, such use can bring harm to users.

of course, cocaine and heroin have long histories as licit as well as illicit drugs. freud himself endorsed parke-davis cocaine, which it alleged could “supply the place of food, make the coward brave, the silent eloquent and ... render the sufferer insensitive to pain.”

i would have used weiland to lecture on stigma and the arc of his career as a singer and as a drug user. yet his descriptions were too rich for the task -- i would have needed a few more first-person accounts describing the banality of the experience ("did coke in the club, got really anxious, couldn't sleep, didn't want to do it anymore") for balance. in any case, the students will get plenty of sociological analysis of drugs in america: craig reinarman and reefer madness on moral panics and a little becker on learning to use marijuana. still, i'd like to find a way to responsibly add some sort of first-person account to cover the individual-level processes described by weiland.

Friday, November 11, 2005

bumped! not that anyone would fly in for it or anything...

i noted a couple weeks ago that shelly schaefer and i were speaking on voting and the civic reintegration of former prisoners on november 29th. alas, we've been bumped for another fine talk by a visiting job candidate. postponement offers a bit of relief for shelly (currently serving a tough four-month sentence as my sociology of deviance teaching assistant), but we're still readying the paper for asa submission by january 18th. despite this bumping, elaine hernandez, an nimh-nrsa predoctoral fellow, will present some of our coauthored work that week.

Wednesday, November 30 12:30 - 2:00 pm in 915 Social Sciences Building
Elaine Hernandez and Christopher Uggen, "Sources of Variation in State Mental Health Parity Laws."

i won't give away the punchline, but mandating mental health coverage appears to be a partisan political issue.

Wednesday, November 9, 2005

new alec ewald paper on felon voting

from the sentencing project:

alec ewald, a political scientist at union college, has written some excellent law review articles on felon disenfranchisement. he just completed a new sentencing project report on how such laws are administered. in a mail and phone survey he finds much confusion and error in interpreting and administering these ballot restrictions. in a 'crazy-quilt' of tiny pieces: state and local administration of american criminal disenfranchisement laws, he reports that 37 percent of local elections officials interviewed misunderstand state eligibility law. moreover, in at least five states a misdemeanor conviction also results in the loss of voting rights (hmmm. maybe i should stop calling it "felon" disenfranchisement).

Monday, November 7, 2005

run, jimmy run...

the ny times reports that jim deupree, a florida prison inmate, was assigned a number for last weekend's nyc marathon. mr. deupree would run "not through New York's five boroughs with 37,000 other entrants, but in the razor-wire isolation of the prison yard of the Jackson Correctional Institute. He would circle a dirt track, one that measures about two and a quarter laps to the mile, until he completed the marathon in about 60 laps. He said he had trained 50 miles a week and hoped to complete the race in four hours."

although florida prison officials were distrustful, i'm heartened by the story. i especially liked reading that new balance tried to send 80 pairs of running shoes to jackson prison. count me in for a half-dozen pairs if it will help prisoners get what i get out of running. in fact, i'll mail off my size 10 nikes right now if inmates can put them to use. on the basis of countless pre-race conversations but no hard data, i'm convinced that many runners are in recovery from something. running seems to scratch some kind of itch for them that they'd heretofore only reached through self-destruction.

at 14, i only ran when chased (which was not infrequent). still, i remember being completely transfixed by the jericho mile, a made-for-tv movie about a running prisoner. the setting was a dusty folsom prison and the recurring theme song was the stones' sympathy for the devil. the bassline is perfect for running -- gathering steam and confidence at an intense pace that is almost out of control. the jagged guitar solo at song's end somehow conveys the funky-good pain one feels at race's end. the protagonist, a murderer named "rain" murphy, was played by peter strauss, who looked and ran like a gnarly thirtysomething miler. well, at least he looked a lot faster than the skinny-legged boys playing runners in most movies. the critics also praise the jericho mile for its use of inmates in many scenes and for dealing squarely with the racial tensions at folsom, despite this gem of dialogue:

"Without me coaching you, without Captain Midnight filling your hoochy soul with funky inspiration, how are you going to be champion?" ~Stiles to Murphy

looking at the movie's stills, i'm starting to think it had a bigger influence on me than i had realized (studying prisons, running, bad 70s hair) . for some of us, running offers both the joy of wild freedom and the satisfaction of self-control. i can't help but think that at least some inmates might be wired in a similar way. run on, jim deupree.

Saturday, November 5, 2005

self-experimentation on the incapacitative effect of dethumbing

las vegas mayor oscar goodman proposed "thumbing" graffiti taggers in a tv interview rebroadcast yesterday. i'm familiar with all manner of corporal punishment, but "thumbing" is new to me. more precisely, he's talking about de-thumbing -- cutting off a miscreant's thumb.

"I'm saying maybe you put them on TV and cut off a thumb ... That may be the right thing to do." Goodman also suggested whippings and canings for wayward youth. "I also believe in a little bit of corporal punishment going back to the days of yore, where examples have to be shown ... I'm dead serious," said Goodman. "Some of these punks don't learn. You have got to teach them a lesson." "They would get a trial first," he [very responsibly] added.

ah, the days of yore! contemporary advocates of corporal punishment, such as death penalty proponents, generally justify them on the following grounds: (1) retribution (imposing suffering to get even with the criminal); (2) deterrence (such that the costs of crime are perceived to outweigh the benefits); and, (3) incapacitation (physically preventing the offense from recurring). inspired by seth roberts' research on self-experimentation, i got curious about #3, the incapacitative effects of de-thumbing. well, not that curious -- i wasn't going to cut off my own thumbs or collect serious data as professor roberts would. instead, before coming to the office today, i stopped in the garage and played with spray paint.

how much tagging could a tagger tag if a tagger had no thumbs? i worked in kitchens and with tradespersons such as sheet-metal workers who had lost digits, so i knew that one could retain some degree of dexterity. true, without thumbs it was initially difficult to spray the full-size krylon cans favored by taggers. but i did just fine with the l'il 6-ounce can. more impressively, i needed no thumbs at all for the tiny automotive touch-up sprayer. i soon learned to spray without using my index finger or other digits that might also attract sanctions. emboldened, i went back to the big cans and soon perfected a two-hands/no thumbs approach (ha! do your worst, goodman -- i don't even need fingers to tag!). given my impressive tagging skills sans thumbs and my well-documented coordination deficits and my regular guy-sized hands, i can only conclude that dethumbing would have little incapacitative effect among serious graffiti artists. so, mayor goodman must justify de-thumbing as either a general deterrent or as vegas-style retributive infotainment (the mind reels with possibilities).

seth roberts doesn't say much about the side-effects of his self-experiments, but i observed a big one: i began to contemplate criminal activity. it could have been the fumes or my newfound dexterity with spray cans, but i felt a distinct urge to throw down some graffiti in my hometown of shoreview. it would certainly be clever, i thought for a brief moment, to change the "h" on each "Shoreview, Population 26,991" sign to an "n." a bit of green paint, or even removable green tape, would do the trick and only the most discerning drivers would notice. of course, i quickly got some air and came to my senses. what would my kids think if i were arrested for graffiti? my colleagues? oh my, can you imagine what my sociology of deviance students would say? or how much fun certain graduate students would have at my expense? who could i call to bail me out?

nope! i would not take the risk, even if i estimated the probability of being caught at less than .001. plus, "snoreview" didn't really seem so clever outside the garage. maybe i'll suggest it as a name for the lad's next band. i doubt shoreview's fine mayor would want to cut off my thumbs on channel 14 cable access (would you, sandy?). no worries, though. i'm easily deterred by the existing informal sanctions and the moral costs of making a mess for someone else to clean up.

Thursday, November 3, 2005

2004 correctional supervision numbers

the department of justice released its national prison and probation and parole numbers for 2004 yesterday. together, the nation's total correctional population was 6,996,500 in december 2004: 4,151,125 were on probation, 1,421,911 were in prison, 765,355 were on parole, and 713,990 were in jail. this represents about 3.2 percent of the u.s. adult population, up from about 1.2 percent of the u.s. adult population in 1980. of course, the rate for males, young adults, and african americans is far higher than these national averages. although 7 million is a staggering number, it bears mentioning that, for the first time in a long time, the rate of correctional supervision actually declined slightly (from 3.186 percent to 3.175 percent) between 2003 and 2004. after close to three decades of growth, have we finally reached a "punishment plateau?"