Thursday, December 27, 2007

do we really hate the TSA?

just in time for holiday travel, a new ap/ipsos poll reports on americans' attitudes toward the transportation security administration. all the reporting on the poll implied that the agency is today as unpopular as the internal revenue service with the public. wondering how other agencies are faring, i looked up the topline results and graphed the percentage of americans reporting a very unfavorable or somewhat unfavorable impression of each agency or institution.

though it made for a nice travel story, i couldn't find much evidence to support claims about the transportation security administration's unpopularity. in the figure above, the irs is shown in grey, with 39 percent unfavorable, and the tsa is shown in yellow, with 25 percent unfavorable. the only agencies with lower unfavorables than the transportation security administration were the supreme court, the fbi, and the postal service. and we just love our postal service. the supreme court is always rated highly (at least in occupational prestige scales) and the fbi is typically the most trusted law enforcement agency, but i was surprised to see that homeland security had much higher negatives than the cia.

the figure above doesn't consider non-response, which varied greatly across the agencies. a full 19 percent had either never heard of the tsa (9 percent), couldn't rate it (9 percent), or didn't know how to answer the question (1 percent). folks were also reluctant to answer questions about the cia. in contrast, almost everybody could answer questions about the postal service and the department of education

were i to write a holiday story based on these results, i'd skip the whole we hate the TSA angle. instead, i'd craft a happy piece about our fine postal carriers and the cards and packages they deliver.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

second chance day on the hill february 13 @ minnesota capitol

guy gambill sends word of a big event for minnesota exes:

On February 13, 2008, at 11:00 a.m., in the Capitol Rotunda, over 1000 ex-offenders, their families and supporters of justice reform will come together to highlight the importance of second chances. This effort is being lead by a consortium of non-profit leaders and justice system advocates. On behalf of this consortium, we are asking for support in raising statewide and national attention to increase awareness regarding the barriers facing individuals with criminal records that affect the social, civic and economic stability of families and communities.

There are currently 155,000 Minnesota adults under some form of correctional supervision; 142,000 on probation, 4,200 on some level of supervised release, and 9,100 in prison. And there are at least as many with a criminal record who have satisfied all the requirements of their sentence. This equates to one in every sixteen Minnesotans having the stigma of a conviction they must overcome to qualify for housing, employment and student loans, among other things. Legislatively we have created nearly 200 collateral sanctions over and above the penalties associated with a conviction.

We ask that you and your organization support "Second Chance Day on the Hill" on February 13, 2008 by recruiting individuals to come to the capitol. It is time for us to come together and make the all too often invisible problems facing individuals with criminal records visible.

guy expects a big crowd, with a speaker list that includes ex-felons, state and national legislative leaders, and justice reform advocates.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

probation and the not-quite-sacred sunday ritual

at last count, there were 4,237,023 probationers in the united states. on friday, they all found a hero in judge andrew j. kleinfeld of the u.s. court of appeals for the ninth circuit.

the circuit court ruled in united states v. betts (no. 06-50205) that probationers cannot be banned from alcohol use unless their crimes had something to do with drinking. writing for a unanimous panel, judge kleinfeld stepped up strong in defense of certain fundamental and near-sacred rights:

"consumption of alcohol does not rise to the dignity of our sacred liberties, such as freedom of speech, but the freedom to drink a beer while sitting in a recliner and watching a football game is nevertheless a liberty people have, and it is probably exercised by more people than the liberty to publish a political opinion."

the ruling comes just in time for the holidays and the playoffs.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

paid internship with national night out in minneapolis

here's a paid internship for an undergrad in minneapolis, passed along by a former student. there might even be some fun thesis/data collection possibilities here as well:

CCP/SAFE Central is looking to hire a student intern to work on the 2008 National Night Out (NNO) campaign. Duties will include coordinating applications for street closure, making and responding to phone calls, counting and collating materials, helping plan aspects of the campaign and much more. This is a great chance to be part of Minneapolis’ award winning NNO campaign. Up to 30 hours per week; $10 per hour for undergrad. Must pass MPD background investigation, be a student more than 18 years old and commit to work steady hours from May to September, 2008. Very helpful to have a vehicle; mileage reimbursed. Office at 4119 Dupont Ave. N. Contact John Baumann, 612-673-3447 or for more information.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

a li'l merton for your crim final

the more i learn about athletes and steroids, the more i think about merton's classic social structure and anomie. in professional sport, the use of banned substances may well represent merton's "triumph of amoral intelligence over morally prescribed "failure," when the channels of vertical mobility are closed or narrowed in a society which places a high premium on economic affluence and social ascent for all its members."

at the social-structural level, i could imagine differences across nations or leagues (wrestling, bicycle racing, football...) in the rates of deviation -- and the extent to which cultural success goals are prized over the legitimized means to attaining them. at the individual level, i could imagine that pro baseball players might provide one of the few (only?) research settings in which a simple discrepancy score -- aspirations minus expectations -- would predict innovation in the form of performance-enhancing drug use.

i'm guessing there's a more complicated network story here, too, but the basic test of merton might make for a nice thesis. more immediately, however, it might offer a nice final exam question on your crim theory final. consider yesterday's lavelle e. neal strib profile of dan naulty. in my view, it provides fodder for an essay on merton and banned substances. here's the lead:

Dan Naulty was a user of performance-enhancing drugs, stopping at nothing to reach the major leagues. He later became intoxicated by the lifestyle big-time baseball offered. He chased after the benefits, didn't think about the means and certainly paid little attention to the consequences.
...He wasn't the star player looking for the edge to become a superstar. He wasn't the player barely holding on and looking for any edge. He was the one trying to make his break.

..."I was so young and dumb I didn't think about anything except the light at the end of the tunnel,'' Naulty said, "and that light was the fame that baseball was going to provide me.''

cultural success goals? check. goals/means disjuncture? check. you get the idea. there's even a nice redemption script in this case:

Now the consequences mean more to Naulty, a former Twins pitcher who spent 1996-99 in the majors. The mental snapshot that pops up the most: the sight of Mike Trombley packing his bags in 1996 after being a late spring training cut. Naulty cheated his way onto the team while the popular and hard-working Trombley was misty-eyed over barely missing the cut. "I stole people's jobs," said Naulty...

today mr. naulty is pursuing his doctorate in theology, where the strains and success goals presumably differ from those of major league baseball. while professor merton might predict conformity under such circumstances, other schools of thought would suggest a different outcome. criminologists of the life-course-persistent ilk, for example, might identify mr. naulty as the seminarian most likely to be caught cheating on the ethics final.

though i remain optimistic about mr. naulty's chance for redemption, i suspect that mike trombley would be less forgiving.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

operation lucky bag

the times and daily news are reporting on a subway sting operation by the new york police department. in my opinion, operation lucky bag reeks of entrapment -- law enforcement practices that induce citizens to commit crimes they would otherwise have had no intent to commit. judge for yourself:

The NYPD revealed Wednesday its Operation Lucky Bag stings have snared nearly 300 people - many of whom had no rap sheet before they fell for the ruse. Since the start of the year, there have been 100 arrests as a result of the decoy operations, in which an undercover officer "drops" a wallet, iPod or cell phone in a subway station and cops pounce after it's picked up. Police said 58 of those busted had rap sheets, while 42 had clean records. There was a similar breakdown in 2006, when 188 were arrested. The NYPD said 101 had prior arrests while 87 did not.

worse still, good samaritans appear to be caught up in the sweep. isn't there enough actual crime on the trains? if predatory robbery (or even pickpocketing or pursesnatching) is a big problem in this setting, i could reasonably imagine, say, a decoy operation in which officers pose as attractive targets. but dropping a bag and arresting the rider who picks it up? that's just crimemaking.

-via boingboing

Monday, December 10, 2007

speaking tonight at voting rights forum with keith ellison

When: Monday, Dec 10, 6pm - 8pm

Where: Augsburg College Chapel, SW Corner of 23rd Ave S and Riverside Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55454

Description: Congressman Keith Ellison Presents a Voting Rights Forum Learn about current legislation that affects your right to vote. Joining Congressman Ellison will be a panel of experts and Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie Voting Rights Legislation Congressman Ellison has introduced: H.R. 2457: To amend the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 to require states to permit individuals to register to vote in an election for Federal Office on the date of the election. H.R. 4026 To prohibit election officials from requiring a photo ID as a condition for voting in a Federal election. This is a great opportunity to share information and begin a dialogue about solutions to protect the voting rights of American citizens as well as ways to expand democracy.


Keith Ellison: Introduction
Overview of Bills introduced in Congress
1. HR 2457 - Same Day Registration
2. HR 4026 – Banning the use of Photo IDS to vote
3. 2nd Chance Act Felons Right to Vote

Mark Ritchie – voting rights as it pertains to Minnesota and the Secretary of State’s office.

David Schultz, Professor at the U of M- voter fraud.

Mark Halverson –Citizens for Election Integrity of Minnesota - Voting Machines and the importance of audits

Jonathan Maurer Jones (TakeAction Minnesota and Voting Rights Coalition Chair)-Caging and Voter Intimidation.

Christopher Uggen – Re-entry and voting. Ex felons rights and the importance of voting rights for ex-felons.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

strong globe series on prison suicide

the boston globe is running a chilling three-part series on prison suicide. though jail and prison suicide rates have declined since the 1980s, those working in or around correctional facilities will tell you that self-harm remains an all-too-common occurrence.

notes such as this one, left by russ dagenais, raise as many questions as they answer. i discuss suicide notes as a data source in my sociology of deviance course, but the work i've seen generally approaches them from a psychological or psychiatric perspective. in my view, sociologists are best positioned to examine them from a structural or institutional perspective.

suicide notes contain personal cries for help or compassion, but some of these voices are also crying out for better health care, access to prescription drugs, or more humane living conditions. these latter concerns point to matters of social choice and public policy rather than (or in addition to) individualized problems, troubles, or pathologies. i don't know for certain whether such a study would make for a good dissertation, but a solid historical or comparative analysis would contribute greatly to knowledge. by giving voice to those who left such notes behind, a sensitive study might also help do some good for current inmates.

simply put, those who write such notes are trying to tell us something important. here are two more examples from the globe series:

#1. Consider my life sentence paid in full, I have continued to complain to HSU about my headaches adn how I was reaching my tolerance but no one would listen, including psy services.

I did the only thing I felt I could do to stop my headaches. I have plan this for almost a month, there was no one I could ask for help without being put in worse conditions than I am in already. I can not continue to live each day with these headaches, I got tired of walking on egg shells just so I would not bring on a headache.

It really sucks that death is a better choice than living under the present prison conditions. I hope for the prisoners left behind things get better if not I fear I will be seeing a lot more of you. I have sent a copy of this out, so whoever reads this, make sure it is turned in, don't lose your job over this. If I am dead, and I hope I am, I did this after the second round after 11:00 p.m.
-Glen Bourgeois.

#2. To: Internal Affair I can't breath in this room -- I just had surgery recently the Capt. on the First shift threaten to four point restrain me with a move team. I paralyzed I can't fight any longer I'll loose my mind if I'm beat again. I going crazy just being in here this long Don't let this happen to nobody again.
-Anthony Garafolo

Friday, December 7, 2007

abusive priests and the institutional response to deviant behavior

heather hlavka sends word of Being Friends, Being Safe, Being Catholic, a new comic book by the new york archdiocese of the roman catholic church.

two reactions:

1. the comic book seems like a bizarre but straightforward and well-intentioned effort to address real problems, including the sexual abuse of children by church officials.

2. sadly, this effort is unlikely to prevent any abuse. while a comic makes for a good sunday school conversation starter, it is absolutely no bulwark against a calculated power-play by an adult in a position of authority. worse, such efforts seem to imply that children are responsible for their own vulnerability -- and that it is their responsibility to become more vigilant in protecting themselves. i hope that the archdiocese is informing priests of this "no-closed-door" policy and taking reasonable steps to enforce it.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

year-end 2006 prison, probation, and parole numbers

the department of justice just issued its 2006 year-end numbers for u.s. prison, jail, probation, and parole populations:

WASHINGTON – The U.S. adult correctional population — incarcerated or in the community — reached 7.2 million men and women, an increase of 159,500 during the year, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced today in a new report. About 3.2 percent of the U.S. adult population, or 1 in every 31 adults, was in the nation’s prisons or jails or on probation or parole at the end of 2006.

i haven't standardized by population yet, but the increases are non-trivial.

prison: 1,492,973, up 3.1% over year-end 2005
jail: 766,010, up 2.5%,
parole: 798,202, up 2.3%
probation: 4,237,023, up 1.7%
total: 7,211,400, up 2.3% from 7,051,900 at year-end 2005

click for 1980-2006 trend data.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

resources for those starting reentry programs?

after years of fits and starts, prisoner reentry programs are now blooming like tulips in springtime. i'm regularly getting calls and emails such as the one i've anonymized below, but i rarely have good advice to offer.

Mr. Uggen,
My name is ___, and we are presently in contact with the director of Chaplain Services for [name] Penitentiary about starting a program to assist ex-offenders realize the potential that is within them and help them to develop that potential. This is something that is new to me, so I am not very knowledgeable about this matter, but my passion to assist in this matter will enable me to be able to help some. Then I want to talk with local Pastors to get more involved as well.
The reason that I am contacting you is because of the write up that you did with Mr. Manza on "The President Is Right: Ex-Felons Need Aid." I was hoping that you could give me some insight that I may use to help in the re-entry of our fellow brothers and sisters in this to be successful in their efforts to re-enter society... If you have anything that you feel that will help us to be more effective, we will truly appreciate any kind of assistance you may be able to provide.
Thank you very much ...

in response to such queries, i usually mention a few research studies and ex-prisoners' needs for work and family support, but i rarely have any concrete program or funding suggestions. here are a few sites that might offer that sort of guidance:

1. the department of justice now offers a helpful reentry site with a clickable map to access state and local resources.
2., a clearinghouse of materials for attorneys, social service providers, and policy reform advocates on reentry and the consequences of criminal proceedings.
3. john jay's prisoner reentry institute reports on new research and offers resource lists.
4. the national governors association prisoner reentry policy academy.
5. the urban institute's justice impressive reentry research and roundtable discussions.

perhaps others might offer additional sites or ideas for starting reentry projects.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

felony murder

adam liptak contributes another fine criminal justice piece to today's times, this time on the felony murder doctrine. felony murder rules treat any death occurring during the course of a felony as a first degree murder, with all participants in said felony subject to murder charges.

the story details the case of ryan holle, who is serving a life sentence without possibility of parole. mr. holle lent his car to a friend who killed a young woman while attempting to steal a safe. mr. liptak's article touches on several themes that might make for a productive discussion in a crim course: u.s. legal exceptionalism, life sentences for young people, the culpability of accomplices, general v. specific deterrence...

Monday, December 3, 2007

selectivity bias and CDC report on juvenile transfers

the washington post and other media have publicized a new CDC panel report published in morbidity and mortality weekly. after comparing recidivism rates in six strong studies of youth transferred to the adult system with those of youth who stayed in the juvenile system, the authors conclude the following:

Review of the effects of transfer laws on subsequent violence indicates that the experience of transfer to the adult criminal justice system is associated with subsequent violence among juvenile participants when compared with violence among juveniles retained in the juvenile justice system. In addition, little evidence supports the idea that transfer laws deter juveniles in the general population from violent crime... use of transfer laws and strengthened transfer policies is counterproductive to reducing juvenile violence and enhancing public safety.

hmm. though i'm sympathetic to the authors' viewpoint and i really liked each of the studies cited in the report, i'm not completely convinced that they have cracked the problem of sample selection. this is a very difficult thing to do in this research setting, since kids are (literally) selected for transfer on the basis of their perceived dangerousness and likelihood of recidivism. here is the relevant passage on selectivity:

All of the included studies attempted to control for possible selection bias by restricting the cases under consideration to serious ones that would be eligible for transfer and by comparing the outcomes of cases transferred with those of cases retained in the juvenile system. In addition, they attempted to reduce selection bias by one of three methods: 1) by using statistical methods to control for factors that might affect transfer decisions (23–25); 2) by matching transferred and retained juveniles on background characteristics (26,27); or 3) by comparing the outcomes of juveniles matched on background demographics, economics, and crime characteristics, but in jurisdictions with difference transfer laws (28).

well, that's a good start, i suppose. what were the results? of the six studies of transfer to the adult system, one found a deterrent effect, one found no effect, and four found widely varying estimates of increased violence or general crime. the cdc report did not discuss the suspected mechanisms for the deleterious effects of adult transfer, though i believe that the literature typically offers some variant of a brutalization hypothesis.

my sense is that transfer to the adult system probably does indeed increase recidivism and compromise public safety. that said, the specific selection criterion to get into the treatment group in these studies (predicted dangerousness) is uncomfortably close to the substantive outcome measure used to assess their effectiveness (violent recidivism). that's why i'm not sure that the evidence is strong enough here to warrant definitive causal claims. perhaps it is safer to state the conclusion in the negative: after examining the best available studies on the subject, there is almost no evidence suggesting that adult transfer provisions reduce subsequent crime.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

running of the santas to benefit legal aid

we were blessed with perfect minnesota weather for saturday's running of the santas. via the pi press:

For the second year, a pack of Santas went for a run on Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis as part of the Santa Run to Benefit Legal Aid. You didn't need connections to Mr. Claus to participate - a $10 registration fee and a minimum $100 sponsorship got Santa wannabes entered in the 1¼-mile run and a Santa suit, hat and white beard; kids just got Santa hats.

"They got two paths cleared down the mall in time for the Santas to run back and forth," said Bruce Adelsman, who photographed the event for "It's fun to see the reaction of people who are downtown shopping and don't know the event is going on - at first they see one or two Santas, followed by a wave of Santas, and they stop and stare."

mid-minnesota legal assistance is a terrific cause, worthy of year-round non-santa-specific support:

Mid-Minnesota Legal Assistance (MMLA) is the primary provider of general civil legal services to low-income and elderly people in 20 central Minnesota counties. It also provides legal services to elderly persons in two additional counties. MMLA provides these services through its three member corporations: the Legal Aid Society of Minneapolis (LASM), St. Cloud Area Legal Services, and Western Minnesota Legal Services. This structure allows MMLA to staff three offices in Minneapolis, as well as offices in St. Cloud, Cambridge and Willmar. The oldest corporate component of MMLA —the Legal Aid Society of Minneapolis— was founded in 1913. LASM is also the state-designated Protection and Advocacy agency for persons in Minnesota with developmental disabilities, mental illness and other disabilities. And it is the state Client Assistance Program that protects the rights of those seeking services from the vocational rehabilitation system.

apart from the year-round needs, a seasonal nicollet mall santa run seems like a really cool way to raise both cash and consciousness. here's a li'l video from last year's (snowless) event.