Saturday, September 29, 2007

cool supreme court database

via volokh: northwestern law professor lee epstein offers a user-friendly public data source on u.s. supreme court justices. much can be learned from these data. for example, it was easy to investigate class background and party affiliation of the nominees. i learned that 18 of 56 nominees by democratic presidents were coded as lower or lower-middle class (32 percent), relative to 13 of 73 republican nominees (18 percent).

i thought that upper-class nominees might be more successful in the nomination process, but upper class nominees actually had the lowest success rate -- only 66 percent, relative to 80 percent for nominees from all other classes. hmmm. i also learned that four nominees were minnesota natives and that one had been born in "asia minor (turkey)." there's much, much more here for researchers studying the nine.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

census group quarters estimates

the census bureau has released new group quarters estimates for 2006, reporting on americans who live in institutions such as prisons, nursing homes, and college dormitories. the racial disparities have been widely reported, but the sex distributions also tell a story. i created the charts below based on this census table.

roughly two million americans are housed in each of three types of institutions -- about 2.3 million in college and university dormitories, 2.1 million in adult correctional institutions, and 1.8 million in nursing homes. the picture seems clear: prisons and jails remain overwhelmingly male institutions, while nursing homes are predominantly female institutions. there are about 9.4 times more men than women in prisons and jails, but about 2.2 times more women than men in nursing homes. college dorms are more evenly split -- about 53.3 percent female and 46.7 percent male. the nursing home disparity, i'd imagine, is due in large part to women's greater longevity.

one can rearrange these data to get a better look at the contribution of each type of residency to the total number of women and men housed in group quarters. over 53 percent of the 3.5 million men housed in these three institutional settings were incarcerated, relative to about 7 percent of the 2.7 million women in these institutions.

of course, one shouldn't read too much into this sort of bivariate presentation. breaking these data out by age, race, and gender would likely show a triple-whammy of outsized incarceration rates among young, african american, males relative to all other groups.

sunday morning comin' down II

the times updates developments discussed in last week's post:

Prisons to Restore Purged Religious Books

Published: September 27, 2007

WASHINGTON, Sept. 26 — Facing pressure from religious groups, civil libertarians and members of Congress, the federal Bureau of Prisons has decided to return religious materials that had been purged from prison chapel libraries because they were not on the bureau’s lists of approved resources...

[full article]

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

hope, faith, and background checks

i sometimes find powerful messages left on old posts. paging through these comments can be disheartening, or inspiring, or both. i forwarded the first one to my research team yesterday, since it reminded me what our grant was all about. i was happy to send out the follow-up this evening.

yesterday's message was powerful bad:

Hi im Pam and am also like most of you a convicted FELON > this one thing has literally destroyed my life>...I have been struugling with my addiction for 7 Yrs now - During this time (1999) I was arrested for possesion of narcotics-this was nollied I was arrested again (2000) I was convicted. So now at 42 yrs old I am a convicted felon -I lost 1 job and not hired for countless others due to this/ Today I was offered a job at a national insurance co. thru a temp agency _ Iwas soooo excited until she said the dreaded words "I'll need you to sign for a background check" I felt like i would faint-sick to my stomach-So i managed to get thru the rest of the coversation and here I sit and now I found so many others just like me-It is somehow comforting to know that others know and understand my pain and suffering-thanks to all who took the time towrite in. I think somehow we need to stand up to this practice of background checks and limit it to crimes that may directly affect the safety of other workers and the company-not just someone who has one arrest one conviction in their entire life-How does my relapse prevent me from being a good person, qualified to do a job now that I am clean from drugs-they obviously liked what they saw on my resume and how I presened myself in the interview it kills me to think i may not be able to keep this job when the background check comes back.It no wonder why so many felons re offend we dont stand a chance to put our past behind us -we are forever branded as not suitable before we can prove ourself to others - thats the real injustice from our wonderful "Justice System" I will keep you all in my thoughts and prayers. ---Pam

and today's was powerful good:

Hi This is Pebbles1 again - I wrote in yesterday about a job offer with the stipulation of a background check -- Well I got the phone call this morning and my background check came in and of course my felony posession of narcotics was clearly there. The temp agency sent it to Aetna (Employer)and they said I can start my new Job on Monday at 8:00 am !!!! I am still in shock, my hands are still trembling and i just dried the tears (happy ones) off my face. I just had to share this because my heart was and still is with all of those who didnt get that phone call this morning. I want you to know there is hope. I have been trying to get a job for the past 2 1/2 years and if I gave up this would have never happened for me. Please keep up the fight you are all worth it we just need to find that one person who can see our worth through a cloudy past. Dont stop trying if it can happen for me it can happen for any of us. Just 3 months ago I was living at my moms house to avoid being homeless I am now able to start over to rebuild a broken life. I hope my story can pass along some hope to all of us who really know how it feels to feel HOPELESS. ... Hope to hear from you if you need some support , hope or inspiration. I am so glad i found this web site it came as a comfort to me when i almost gave up for good. Pam.

thanks for keeping the faith, pam. you're an inspiration.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

video in san quentin

the link below leads to an award-winning video from the san francisco chronicle/ while scared straight programs have generally been shown to do more harm than good, this small tour takes a kindler, gentler approach as inmates tell their stories and actually listen to the boys if and when they choose to open up. in any case, the 9-minute video offers a brief inside view of the notorious prison and is worth a look.

as one of the inmate guides says: "welcome to the garbage can of society."

we're not exactly lookin' for grade-a type product

here's a revealing video from slate on a prison food convention in california. mmm. textured vegetable proteins...

understandably, food is an A#1 top-priority issue for inmates. michelle writes about teaching an inside-out class at oregon state penitentiary during a federal investigation of a major prison food scandal. when allegations of bribes, kickbacks, and tainted food arose, one of her inside students expressed himself in verse.

2006 fbi crime reports now available

according to the fbi's new crime in the united states for 2006...

property crime in the united states has dropped to the lowest level in two decades, while violent crime is creeping up from relatively low levels.

fyi, the fbi now echoes the same strong warning issued by intro crim profs: be very careful when using these data to make comparisons across jurisdictions.

Monday, September 24, 2007

jena 6 (non)post

several have urged me to write about the jena 6 case. i've got little new to offer, so i'm referring folks to more knowledgeable observers.

as several crim/law bloggers have pointed out, this is a case about a twisty sequence of events. competing versions of each event are being reported, such that the ever-elusive "basic facts of the case" are particularly elusive in jena, louisiana. criminal defense attorney jeralyn merritt offers her characteristically thoughtful libertarian-leaning-lefty perspective on ms merritt:

While I still can't make judgments as to much of the story, I have no problem declaring the case one of prosecutorial over-charging and abuse of a system that allows prosecutors discretion in charging juveniles as adults... The key legal question being asked is whether the Jena Six have been or are being prosecuted unfairly based on racial considerations. Unfortunately, many of the facts necessary to make the determination are in dispute, confusing or unverified by impartial sources.

the jena case(s) bring to light issues that should be familiar to sociological criminologists: racial disparities in both the administration of justice and in the perceived legitimacy of this system; the further erosion of the adult and juvenile justice systems; the racialized history of american vigilantism; and, the common place of violence in the lives of young men. nevertheless, these issues and conditions are present in many cases in many courtrooms in many jurisdictions. in my opinion, some stories that never registered on the national radar have simpler heroes and villains, with miscarriages of justice that are arguably more egregious than those in jena. why do you think the particular series of events in jena have given rise to such a large mobilization?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

and i once believed juvenile lifers was an oxymoron

via boingboing and latin american cultural exchange organization art and outreach in graterford prison, pennsylvania:

Juvenile Lifers for Justice is a collective of prisoners who were arrested as juveniles(under 18 years old) for criminal homicide and are currently serving life sentences without parole in Pennsylvania. There are over 330 juvenile lifers both male and female in Pennsylvania serving life sentences without parole. Some children were as young as fourteen when they were arrested and some have been incarcerated for more than 30 years. Many of us have transformed our lives since our imprisonment by continuing our education, completing treatment programs, and renouncing negative behaviors that led to our imprisonment.

looking at the 16-year-old mannish boy in my house, i can't help but feel something when hundreds of kids his age are getting life-means-life sentences. for copies of the how to play the game booklet, please contact an excerpt:

You are sixteen(16) years old; you probably hate being told what to do by anyone. You hang with your homies; you might blow an "L", you might even carry heat (a gun). People probably hate on you and that might lead to drama here and there. You know like I do that sometimes things can get hectic in the streets, so you might end up using that "heat" in a beef.

In this case you busted your gun and think everthing's cool. WRONG! You get arrested and now the homicide detectives wanna talk to you. You're a soldier though (maybe somebody schooled you about your rights{Miranda}, so you ain't saying nothing to the cops). So you think you're ready for this. Next move, they charge you with criminal tell the police, " I want a lawyer." You're given one you can afford...a Public Defender who might not even know your name. He thinks you should plead guilty. You know nothing about the law in Pennsylvania or the system so you think, " I might beat this...I'm not an adult." Hold up though. The Court has decided to allow the District Attorney to put you on trial as an adult, which means you get punished like an adult, if you're convicted of this homicide. Somebody told you the other day you might get life, but you told him he was crazy and you're not scared. You should be scared! After a quick trial (maybe 3 or 4 days) and cats you thought were "real" and "thorough" testify against you; you are found guilty of first-degree murder. First -degree murder in Pennsylvania means you're not gonna see the streets again; and its not even gonna hit you yet. This happens so fast that it doesn't seem real. Heart-broken and confused, you are cuffed-up and escorted out of the courtroom. You are sixteen, maybe seventeen now, no friends, no freedom, and on your way to a maximum security prison for the rest of your life. What is a juvenile lifer? You!

Monday, September 17, 2007

new nij research in brief on neighborhood effects

the national institute of justice has released a new research in brief on the chicago neighborhoods project of rob sampson and colleagues. at one time, nij did much more of this sort of thing, releasing extraordinarily useful "ribs" that summarized grantees' research.

in this report, i find the immigration results most intriguing:

Less violence was committed by youth living in neighborhoods with more first-generation immigrants and where more residents were employed in professional and managerial occupations. Youth living in neighborhoods where adult residents were more cynical about the law also reported more violence. Once these factors were accounted for, the neighborhoods’ racial composition did not matter. - p. 7.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

sunday morning comin' down

the christian science monitor and the times are reporting on a federal bureau of prisons policy to remove religious books from prison libraries.

BOP chaplains no longer screen books on a case-by-case basis. instead, a panel has created an approved list of books for each of 20 religions. inmates in otisville, new york have filed suit in protest.

institutions understand that redefining the default practice can bring about a remarkable shift in policy. here, by changing the default from inclusion to exclusion, only a relative handful of books will even be considered for libraries. aside from the obvious problems with an approved list (e.g., who approves? how often? under what criteria?) an almost infinite number of fine spiritual books will never be reviewed. for example, robert schuller, reinhold niebuhr, moses maimonides, and rick warren's the purpose-driven life are omitted. i doubt that these were censored on the basis of objectionable content.

imagine, for a moment, what an approved sociology list might include -- habits of the heart might make the cut, but who would read and review lesser-known works? i've sent free copies of locked out to a few prison libraries in response to requests by inmates or instructors. as far as i know, these remain on the shelves. today, as in earlier periods, political content seems far less threatening than religious content.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

human rights watch report on sex offender laws

it takes guts to defend the rights of those convicted of sex crimes, but human rights watch has never been short on guts. their new report, no easy answers: sex offender laws in the u.s., offers a timely appraisal of these laws and their consequences for individuals and communities.

Friday, September 14, 2007

suppose you're thinkin' about a plate o' shrimp...

ever speculate about the contents of that '64 malibu's trunk in repo man? now, i understand. the strib reports that a big yellow radioactive box was stolen from a pickup truck today in forest lake, minnesota.

To the thief who stole the yellow box out of a pickup truck in Forest Lake late Wednesday or early Thursday: What's inside of that box is hot, indeed, but not just because it's stolen.

It's radioactive.

On Thursday, Minnesota health officials issued a warning regarding the stolen device, which is used to measure the moisture content in soil and construction materials... The radioactive elements are Cesium 137 and Americium 241,

dang. just don't open the trunk. the life of a repo man is always intense.

aside: the trailer reminds me how often folks will trot out a li'l iggy whenever they seek an edgy vibe. i heard the passenger in a kohl's commercial tonight, a recent cadillac ad uses punk rocker, and, of course, lust for life pops up in both a cruise commercial and trainspotting. i'm eagerly awaiting the now i wanna be your dog humane society commercial, the m&m's candy ad and haggar slacks' commodification of funtime. the juxtaposition is so bizarre in each case that it never seems like a sellout. it just seems like mutant art, as well as a remunerative and hard-earned retirement plan.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

why do pro wrestlers die young?

were i teaching soc of deviance this semester, i might build an assignment around paul farhi's fine washington post piece on the early deaths of professional wrestlers.

if you read closely, you'll find a subcultural/network story, a biological story, a psychological story, a masculinities story, an institutional story, a macro-structural story, and a very sad story.

but this is good journalism as well as good data for a sociology assignment. as my local dailies have been cutting bone and muscle for about a year now, i'm all the more appreciative of a well-written and carefully researched feature article.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

arts in criminal justice conference

i think i'd find some great inspiration if i could get away for the arts in criminal justice conference in philadelphia this october. here's a blurb/pitch from the organizers:

The speakers and panelists at the ARTS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE NATIONAL CONFERENCE in Philadelphia on October 3 through 6 represent the leading experts in arts in corrections. They’re artists, activists, correction officials, and policy makers, coming together to further the goals of criminal and restorative justice, and you won’t want to miss the opportunity to hear them!

Some session highlights include:

· Pandora's Cell: Free Expression in Confined Spaces

Moderated by Judith Tannenbaum, San Francisco Writers Corps
Conference keynote Luis Rodriguez will participate in this panel that explores the inherent paradoxes of making (and sharing) art in prison. What are the gifts and difficulties of opening one's senses and spirit in a world of "keys, bars, guns being racked" (as prison poet Spoon Jackson put it)? How do teaching artists approach their work in such an environment? What is required to be true to Nazim Hikmet's observation that one can serve time "as long as the jewel/in the left side of your chest doesn't lose its luster"?

· A Discussion with Wardens and Superintendents

Moderated by David Kairys, Activist and Professor of Constitutional Law, Temple University School of Law
Join Laura Bedard, PhD, Deputy Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections; David DiGuglielmo, Superintendent of SCI-Graterford (PA); Robert Green, Warden, Montgomery County (MD) Prison; Edward Ignarri, Director of Rehabilitation, Monroe County (NY) Jail; and Leon King, III, Esq., Commissioner of the Philadelphia County Prison System, for a discussion about their commitment to the arts and the successful and comprehensive arts programming in their facilities.

· Special Challenges to the Juvenile System
Moderated by Grady Hillman, Founder, Southwest Correctional Arts Network
In this session, panelists will describe a challenge that they and their organization have faced with the delivery of arts programming in juvenile justice or with working in the juvenile justice system in general, and how they successfully addressed it. They will also share the most daunting challenge they're now contending with.

· Michigan: The University-based Approach
Moderated by Buzz Alexander, Founder, Prison Creative Arts Project at the University of Michigan
The speakers from this university-based project will talk about the essential values, practices, and impact on students and the incarcerated behind 12 annual prisoner art exhibitions, 456 plays in 22 prisons, five juvenile facilities, four Detroit high schools, and much more over the past 18 years.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

homeless world cup

scotland took home the 2007 homeless world cup this summer. have you heard about this?

the league was founded in 2001 as a way to use sport to unite homeless people around the world. though i cannot vouch for their study's methodology, the organization reports to have made a path-changing difference in the lives of most participants.

cool idea. and, at a time when the united states seems to be stumbling on the world stage, i'm especially proud that these americans took home the fair play award in 2005. good on ya, yanks!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

football players, rockers, and the SES gradient

a journal of epidemiology and community health study shows high rates of early death among musicians. the sample was drawn from the ranks of especially successful musicians -- those playing on the top 1000 best-selling albums. i'd hypothesize that a comparison of musicians and non-musicians in a sample taken from the general population would reveal much smaller differences. that is, casual or frustrated rockers likely live longer than successful rockers.

one might make sense of this in terms of exposure to risk factors such as substance use, stds, and roadfood. where else might one expect a positive relationship between professional success and mortality? certainly one sees high rates of early death and health problems among professional football players and wrestlers, due in part to weight-related ailments.

kids still grow up dreaming about becoming rock stars and pro football players, of course, but i would imagine that their fallback/safety jobs are almost always better for their long-term health. if one buys the argument that the most serious and persistent criminal offenders are most likely to be incarcerated, mike massoglia's work has shown a similar gradient for deviant work: those incarcerated as young adults are subject to serious health deficits by midlife.

for a morbid take on the musician/health study, you might try the which dead rock star are you? quiz. according to said quiz, i share certain characteristics with the deceased king of rock and roll pictured above.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

citizen vince

ms. sarah is posting on citizen vince, a novel in which an ex-felon "comes face to face with his ambivalence about turning legit when his voter registration card comes in the mail." dang, i'd better read this one.

i haven't spent much time with fiction this summer, but sarah's review drew me in quite effectively. check out the artful passage she reproduces at the end of her post. i would have purchased it online, but i'm sort of hoping to gravy-train off sarah's copy...