Thursday, March 27, 2008
olin kerr at volokh tries to get a handle on law students' use of adderall and ritalin to boost performance for studying and exams. here is the extent of use, according to volokh readers:
*It is very rare or never happens: 16% (75)
*Some students use them, but it is uncommon: 37% (175)
*It is common, but fewer than half have used them: 26% (120)
*About half of students have used them: 6% (29)
*More than half have used them: 7% (34)
*Most law students have used them: 4% (21)
*Pretty much everybody does it: 3% (13)
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Friday, March 21, 2008
as a west st. paul kid, i recall wide-eyed and wonderful trips to this part of hennepin avenue. then, as an intern investigator with the public defender, i spent more time with the area's crime. though i saw too much trouble there to really romanticize the place, moby's big electric sign still brings a li'l electric charge.
tom waits wrote the block's official soundtrack in r-rated tributes such as ninth and hennepin and christmas card from a hooker in minneapolis. if i squint hard enough through today's spring snow, i can almost see the drunks, punks, and hustlers of old hennepin from my office window.
waits is great, but the scene puts me in mind of atmosphere's contemporary tales of junkie redemption and minneapolis pride.
*for further study, james lileks offers a fine historical photo essay.
here's jeannie shawl's story and helpful links at jurist:
The US Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a Louisiana death sentence should be overturned because the trial judge "committed clear error" in ruling on the defendant's objection to a prosecution peremptory jury challenge, which the defendant argued was based on race. The ruling came in Snyder v. Louisiana, where Allen Snyder was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder. The Supreme Court reversed the Louisiana Supreme Court's decision to let Snyder's conviction stand.
The Snyder case gained notoriety when the prosecutor drew comparisons between the proceeding and the trial of OJ Simpson during sentencing when urging the jury to impose the death penalty. Snyder had argued that the prosecutor improperly used the comparison to create a race-based rationale for imposing the death penalty, but that issue was not addressed by the Supreme Court. Read the Court's opinion per Justice Alito, along with a dissent from Justice Thomas. AP has more. SCOTUSblog has additional coverage.
Monday, March 17, 2008
The Low Road
What can they do
to you? Whatever they want.
They can set you up, they can
bust you, they can break
your fingers, they can burn your brain with electricity,
blur you with drugs till you
can’t walk, can’t remember, they can
take your child, wall up
your lover. They can do anything
you can’t stop them
from doing. How can you stop
them? Alone, you can fight,
you can refuse, you can
take what revenge you can
but they roll over you.
But two people fighting
back to back can cut through
a mob, a snake-dancing file
can break a cordon, an army
can meet an army.
Two people can keep each other
sane, can give support, conviction,
love, massage, hope, sex.
Three people are a delegation,
a committee, a wedge. With four
you can play bridge and start
an organization. With six
you can rent a whole house,
eat pie for dinner with no
seconds, and hold a fund raising party.
A dozen make a demonstration.
A hundred fill a hall.
A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter;
ten thousand, power and your own paper;
a hundred thousand, your own media;
ten million, your own country.
It goes on one at a time,
it starts when you care
to act, it starts when you do
it again after they said no,
it starts when you say We
and know who you mean, and each
day you mean one more.
--Marge Piercy, from The Moon is Always Female.
c'mon the story practically writes itself: take a stigmatized deviant group, document some group members deriving a benefit from a government program, record the sanctimonious outrage of an obscure legislator, and start those fingers a-waggin'.
MADISON, Wis. - James Sturtz is not your ordinary college student struggling to pay tuition. The 48-year-old rapist is one of Iowa's most dangerous sex offenders, locked up in a state-run treatment center for fear he will attack again if released.
intriguing lead, but it glosses over the whole civil commitment issue. see, mr. sturtz was sent to prison and completed his sentence. he remains locked up for fear he will attack again, but he's supposed to be a patient in a treatment center rather than an inmate in a prison. are readers so accustomed to sweeping punishments that treament centers have become synonymous with prisons?
Yet he has received thousands of dollars in federal aid to take college courses through the mail. Across the nation, dozens of sexual predators have been taking higher education classes at taxpayer expense while confined by the courts to treatment centers. Critics say they are exploiting a loophole to receive Pell Grants, the nation's premier financial aid program for low-income students.somebody seems to be exploiting a loophole in this case, but i'm not sure the guys in the treatment center are the ones to blame. had they been released after fulfilling the obligations of their criminal sentences, they'd be eligible for pell assistance, but they were involuntarily committed to an indefinite spell of treatment. and just how many cases of pell-abusin' sex offenders are we talking about here? dozens implies something more than twelve, but there is little evidence to suggest great expenditure or abuse.
Prison inmates are ineligible for Pell Grants under a 1994 law. Students convicted of certain drug offenses are also ineligible. But sexual predators qualify once they are transferred from prison to treatment centers.this is a "last shall be first" passage, implying that sex offenders are the least deserving among the undeserving. the article doesn't ask whether prisoners should be eligible for student aid, or whether students should continue to lose assistance because they have been convicted of misdemeanor marijuana possession.
"This is the most insane waste of taxpayer money that I have seen in my eight years in Congress," said Rep. Ric Keller, R-Fla., who is pushing to stop the practice... Keller's plan would affect 20 states that allow authorities to hold violent sex offenders indefinitely after they have served their prison sentences. He predicted the measure would save taxpayers millions.i won't quibble with representative keller's math, but i'm not convinced that cutting off such aid would save millions. let's say three dozen inmates have received pell grants. the average award would have to be about $56,000 for us to save $2,000,000. since the maximum pell award is $4,310, however, we'd need at least 464 recipients to get near two million.
the bigger issue here is that 20 states hold people indefinitely after they have served their prison sentences. the representative is justifiably concerned about money, but he might also want to take a close look at the per diems on these treatment centers. many more millions could be saved by the judicious release of a small number of these people after they have done their time.
...At the Sand Ridge Secure Treatment Center in Mauston, Wis., six patients are getting Pell Grants, and others did so in the past. Some patients used their grants for living expenses that were already being covered by the state's taxpayers, according to administrators.i'd agree that the current practice is indefensible, since administrators should be able to determine whether the money is being spent on educational expenses. on the other hand, it is not unprecedented for students to drop courses after receiving financial aid, especially in the absence of academic advising or support.
"I think that the current practice — which results in large checks being sent to the patients for living expenses — is pretty much indefensible," director Steve Watters wrote in an e-mail to an aide last year.
In Iowa, 14 offenders in the Cherokee Mental Health Institute have received Pell Grants in recent years, said administrator Jason Smith. He said nine of them dropped courses after receiving money.
So far, none of the 72 predators in the Iowa center has been released since it opened in 1999. Sturtz admitted he is not ready for freedom anytime soon.now we're getting somewhere. although these sex offenders are purportedly in treatment, we know that they will never be released. i've got no sympathy for those convicted again and again for horrible crimes. nevertheless, when mr. sturtz talks about getting a job on the outside, i can't help but think, "the poor sap still believes he might actually get out."
"It wasn't about the money for me, man. It was about the education," he said. "God knows I'm going to need all the help to get a job."
right now, sex offenders are stuck in a creepy constitutional no-man's land between legal punishment and medical-treatment-without-parole. there may be no easy answer that would preserve both public safety and individual rights, but i'd suggest the following: give 'em lengthy but indeterminate sentences, with the range determined by a legislature and/or sentencing commission, in-prison treatment, and -- if treatment goes well and a qualified board so rules -- a realistic hope of discretionary parole.
*seriously, mr. o'reilly. i'm not going to argue this position, so your producers can just stop calling about it.
Sunday, March 16, 2008
having taught three inside-out classes in the oregon state penitentiary, i can say with absolute certainty that spending a quarter learning inside a maximum-security prison can change a life. i've seen it happen with my students, both inside (inmates) and outside (osu students). they learn about each other and from each other in ways that forever change their perspectives about crime, conformity, punishment, and prisons.
the challenge for me lately is to figure out if i can extend that kind of learning opportunity to more students in my larger on-campus classes. the first experiment took place this week when i took a dozen osu students into the penitentiary to meet with the lifer's club. for me, the main goal was to humanize the other -- to let the two groups interact and ask each other questions in a relatively informal setting (there were ground rules, of course, including strict limits as to the personal information exchanged. i was in no way bringing a dating pool into the prison). i wasn't sure how much would be accomplished in one 2-hour session, but the students and the lifers were eager for the opportunity to meet. after getting through all the red tape, i was happy to facilitate the meeting between the two groups.
so what was the result? i asked the osu students for feedback and here are excerpts from some of their comments:
so, i guess you can make a significant difference and push the limits of education in one day. it's good to know. tomorrow morning i have a meeting at a correctional facility for girls and young women to discuss ways that my delinquency and sociology of education students might work with them in service-learning projects spring quarter (as in later this month). it will be an enormous amount of work to set it up, but it just may be worth it.
Thank you so much for giving me and the other students the opportunity to have an experience such as this one. It has definitely been one of the highlights of my college career. I appreciate it. I thought the lifers were great. I think it's only natural for everyone to be a little nervous at first so I don’t know how to get around that, but they were all very open and respectful, and most were very eager to have discussion after a little warming up. I got so many different perspectives and insights from them, it was very beneficial.The time we spent with the lifers was really life changing on how I now view prisons and inmates. I had never been to a prison before and definitely have never spoken to a big room of convicts. Every single inmate that I was able to talk with was very respectful of me and the other students in my group. I was surprised that so many had a positive outlook on life, even after being locked up for years and having many years to go until they had a chance of parole and some not even having that chance.
I went into this thinking these are all going to be bad guys with no personality, very mean, no remorse. I was really nervous when they all walked out. But after talking to a lot of them you realize they are humans too.
I would just really encourage those who participated to share with others what you saw, what you experienced, and encourage people to open their eyes and hearts to the idea that these men are PEOPLE, people who have paid a huge debt for their crimes and should be forgiven and given a chance to succeed in life.
on another note, this blog will be moving to a new address shortly and it looks like we may be gaining new friends and readers in the process. stay tuned...
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
The Senate passed the Second Chance Act of 2007 late Tuesday, which will ease the re-entry process for individuals leaving prison by providing funding for prisoner mentoring programs, job training and rehabilitative treatment. The legislation, introduced in the Senate by Sens. Joseph Biden (D-DE), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Sam Brownback (R-KS), now awaits approval by President Bush - who in his 2004 State of the Union address advocated for a $300 million Prisoner Re-entry Initiative.
The legislation was passed by a voice vote after the Senate adopted a concurrent resolution, H Con Res 270, which included minor changes to the measure. The U.S. House of Representatives voted 347 to 62 to pass the Second Chance Act of 2007 in November.
The Second Chance Act will help provide necessary services to the nearly 700,000 people leaving prison each year by increasing funding designed to protect public safety and reduce recidivism rates. The bill's provisions authorize $362 million to expand assistance for people currently incarcerated, those returning to their communities after incarceration, and children with parents in prison. The services to be funded under the bill include:
*mentoring programs for adults and juveniles leaving prison;
*drug treatment during and after incarceration, including family-based treatment for incarcerated parents;
*education and job training in prison;
*alternatives to incarceration for parents convicted of non-violent drug offenses;
*supportive programming for children of incarcerated parents; and early release for certain elderly prisoners convicted of non-violent offenses.
The reform bill was widely supported by civil rights, criminal justice, law enforcement and religious organizations and had broad bipartisan support in both the Senate and House of Representatives.
Monday, March 10, 2008
such lists can sometimes reveal changing conceptions of deviance and conformity and emerging areas of normative consensus or conflict. but this new list is way broader than, say, the ten commandments or even the most expansive criminal code. according to bishop gianfranco girotti,
"You offend God not only by stealing, taking the Lord's name in vain or coveting your neighbor's wife, but also by wrecking the environment, carrying out morally debatable experiments that manipulate DNA or harm embryos."
whoa! since i'm sort of in the business of carrying out morally debatable experiments, i'm hardly an unbiased observer. nevertheless, the seven new social sins are:
1. "Bioethical" violations such as birth control
2. "Morally dubious'' experiments such as stem cell research
3. Drug abuse
4. Polluting the environment
5. Contributing to widening divide between rich and poor
6. Excessive wealth
7. Creating poverty
hmmm. these all look a bit like hubris to me -- as though the church is calling out modern men and women for tampering with god's plan for our bodies and our social and physical environment. i'm also seeing way too much overlap between the new list and the old one.* maybe i'm thinking like a lawyer, but wouldn't the church be safer in identifying the new sins as concrete representations of broad concepts identified centuries ago?
for example, i'd categorize excessive wealth and creating poverty as greed; drug abuse, pollution, and fostering inequality as gluttony; and, stem cell research as pride. i'm a little stuck on how to categorize birth control, but the harried father in me might define it as a combination of lust plus sloth.
in any case, i'm guessing that these seven social sins won't have the same legs as the seven cardinal vices. while it is relatively easy to gain social consensus against abstractions such as lust and gluttony, i'd expect a good bit more conflict over concrete behaviors such as drug use and birth control.
*the original seven deadly sins are pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed, and sloth.
Saturday, March 8, 2008
i was surprised a few years ago when a student applying for an academic position sweated-out a very thorough criminal background investigation. during my job search in the mid-1990s, i can't recall any discussion of criminal history -- except for the senior scholar who chided me, saying "young criminologists these days haven't done enough crime to make any sense of it."
i can understand why colleges and universities might want a basic screen on applicants, but my student was called upon to explain every single arrest. on this point, i agree with the senior scholar who interviewed me: screening out criminologists with arrest histories is sort of like screening out economists who've handled currency.
Friday, March 7, 2008
the 1 percent figure is misleading because it aggregates a bunch of zeros with a bunch of 50 percents. c'mon, just think about the denominator for a second. if we exclude those at essentially zero risk of prison, the percentage quickly rises. do you really think that your great grandmother in the birchwood convalescent center is at any risk for incarceration in a state penitentiary? the likelihood of incarceration is far greater for the working-age population, and far, far greater for the working-age male population, and far, far, far greater for the working-age african american male population.
and that's just the denominator. now think about the numerator. we're talking about people sleeping in a cell tonight, and not talking about anyone who slept in a cell last night (but not tonight) and who will sleep in a cell tomorrow night (but not tonight). when you add in the formerly or recently incarcerated, and those who've served lengthy probation sentences, the risk of imprisonment far exceeds 1-in-100. in 2006, melissa, jeff, and i estimated the felon and ex-felon population at 7.5 percent of the adult population, 22 percent of the black adult population, and 33 percent of the black adult male population.
another way to think of such risks concerns the election. according to paul campos:
During football games, the University of Michigan's stadium hosts about 111,000 people. If you filled the place with randomly selected 60-year-old white women, around 10 of them would turn out to be prison inmates. If you did the same with 46-year-old black men, about 5,500 would be current residents of our prisons and jails. In other words, if we took into account only race, gender and age, Obama's chances of being in prison would be 550 times higher than Clinton's. Here's a good question for a presidential debate: "Do you think 46-year-old black men are 550 times more likely to deserve to be in prison than 60-year-old white women?"
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
He mounted an old meat smoker atop a three-wheel scooter and attached a spotlight, an infrared camera, water cannon and a loudspeaker. He covered the contraption with impact-resistant rubber and painted the whole thing jet black.
in this video clip, the robo-smoker doesn't come off as terribly intimidating. in fact, i can't imagine it surviving long in an actual high-crime neighborhood, since its li'l water gun would never stand up against a sustained attack by a louisville slugger.
in atlanta, as elsewhere, the police generally frown on vigilantism -- even robotic vigilantism-by-proxy:
Atlanta police officials said they haven't received any complaints about the robot. But police spokeswoman Lisa Keyes said Terrill would be committing an assault if he intentionally sprays water on someone when in control of the robot.
i'm not sayin' that there's a racial angle to this story, but there's certainly a socioeconomic angle. the bar is in close proximity to the metro atlanta task force for the homeless and mr. terrill's regulars apparently refer to the robot as the bum-bot. while i can't applaud the use of his private security robot on the public streets, i've got to give mr. terrill 10 out of 10 for ingenuity.
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
via the times:
In a sometimes tearful, often contrite telephone interview from her home on Monday, Ms. Seltzer, 33, who is known as Peggy, admitted that the personal story she told in the book was entirely fabricated. She insisted, though, that many of the details in the book were based on the experiences of close friends she had met over the years while working to reduce gang violence in Los Angeles.
“For whatever reason, I was really torn and I thought it was my opportunity to put a voice to people who people don’t listen to,” Ms. Seltzer said. “I was in a position where at one point people said you should speak for us because nobody else is going to let us in to talk. Maybe it’s an ego thing — I don’t know. I just felt that there was good that I could do and there was no other way that someone would listen to it.”
oh, i get it -- sort of a noble thing. one can't help but think of james frey, who fictionalized a good bit of his memoir a couple years ago. still, it bears repeating: there's nothing more pathetic than a pretend badass.
Monday, March 3, 2008
unfortunately, it turns out the author fabricated the entire story. amazingly, no one caught the deception until after her "memoir" had been published and reviewed. as the nytimes reports:
In “Love and Consequences,” a critically acclaimed memoir published last week, Margaret B. Jones wrote about her life as a half-white, half-Native American girl growing up in South-Central Los Angeles as a foster child among gang-bangers, running drugs for the Bloods.this story just gives everyone involved a bad name. there was a compelling story to be told here, but why did the author have to claim it as her own? sometimes the real truth is found in fiction -- that's a lesson i learned in a journalism class as an undergraduate -- but the distinction between truth and fiction should always be clear. credibility once lost is likely gone forever. the publishers have recalled all copies of the book, so now the author has become the story after all, just not in the way she intended.
The problem is that none of it is true.
Margaret B. Jones is a pseudonym for Margaret Seltzer, who is all white and grew up in the well-to-do Sherman Oaks section of Los Angeles, in the San Fernando Valley, with her biological family. She graduated from the Campbell Hall School, a private Episcopal day school in the North Hollywood neighborhood. She has never lived with a foster family, nor did she run drugs for any gang members.
i was a bit skeptical of this chart at first, since it only shows two years, the mtf only samples in-school youth, and it seems hinky to pool respondents in 8th, 10th, and 12th grade. nevertheless, the downward trend is real -- especially since the peaks of the mid-1990s.
the most recent mtf press release indicates steep declines in marijuana, speed, and meth, alcohol, and cigarettes. drugs "holding steady" from 2006-2007 include powder and crack cocaine, lsd, heroin, ecstasy, steroids, and most of the prescription-type drugs such as oxycontin and vicodin. still, prevalence rates for these drugs were well off their earlier peaks as well.
one finding from the introduction to the national drug control strategy might be of interest to demographers: figure 4. baby boomers are carrying higher rates of drug use with them as they age. i can't link directly to the figure, but here's the accompanying text:
One of the more disturbing data trends identified in the past several years is a dramatic rise in current drug use among adults aged 50-54 (see Figure 4). This trend does not necessarily mean that people are taking up drug use as they enter middle age, but rather that a segment of the population that experienced high rates of drug use in their youth continue to carry high rates of use with them as they get older. While drug use is a burden that the baby boomer generation has borne into middle age, the generation coming of age today will benefit from comparatively lower rates of drug use for the rest of their lives.
this seems like a classic age/cohort/period illustration that might be useful in the classroom. when i report substance use data from the late-1970s and early-1980s, i now tell students that many drugs were more prevalent in their parents' high schools in 1982 than in their own high schools in 2007. i sometimes have difficulty convincing the students of this, which is sort of sweet. when they do believe me, however, i advise them to repeat my lecture around the dinner table at a big family gathering -- you know, like when grandma and grandpa are in the room. that way, both the kids and the elders can have a little fun with the baked-est generation.
it turns out that oregon earned a dubious distinction in this study: according to the oregonian newspaper, oregon spends a bigger percentage of its state budget to lock up criminals and supervise those on parole than any other state. we're number one. and unfortunately, still growing. oregon's mandatory minimum sentences already deeply affect state prison populations, and in november we will vote on two alternatives to create mandatory minimums for drug offenses and property offenses. projected growth for the prison population is 12% to 44%, which would put oregon at the top of the list for prison growth as well as spending.
this affects us all, of course, in big and small ways. where are the priorities for our state? as an oregonian editorial reports: we're one of five states that spends more on imprisoning people than on sending them to college. as a professor at a state university, i can attest that we have faced budget cuts and crises nearly every year for the past six years. as a frequent volunteer/teacher in the state's maximum-security prison, i can also attest that mandatory minimums--with few options for treatment or rehabilitation for the offenders who will someday return to our communities--are absolutely not the best use of our collective resources.
i hope we join texas (texas!!) and other states in focusing on getting smart on crime rather than spending so much of our budget trying to be the toughest.
Sunday, March 2, 2008
in truth, the term goon doesn't do mr. simon justice. for there is honor among goons and the wild's latest acquisition has consistently violated the clear-cut norms and behavioral expectations of the enforcer role. as a criminologist, i'd characterize mr. simon as a violent recidivist. think that's too strong? here's how the strib summarizes his career accomplishments:
- 30 games (December 2007): The longest suspension in NHL history, after Simon, playing for the Islanders, stomped on Pittsburgh's Jarkko Ruutu with his skate on Dec. 15.
- 25 games (March 2007): Then, the longest suspension in league history, for his two-handed stick attack to the face of Rangers forward Ryan Hollweg.
- 5 preseason games (1994): While with Quebec, swung his stick at Ottawa's Dennis Vial but missed.
- 3 games (1997): With Washington, he used a racial slur toward Edmonton's Mike Grier, who is black.
- 2 games (2004): Crosschecked Tampa Bay's Ruslan Fedotenko and then jumped on him and punched him.
- 2 games (2004): Kneed Dallas' Sergei Zubov.
- 2 games (2001): Elbowed Florida's Anders Eriksson.
- 1 game (2000): In the playoffs with the Capitals, he was suspended for crosschecking Pittsburgh's Peter Popovic across the throat.
the press even covers mr. simon as though he were a criminal rather than an athlete. the times, for example, writes that mr. simon needs help and counseling, while sports illustrated calls mr. simon a "hockey recidivist," tracing his criminal history back to the junior leagues:
... In the Ontario junior hockey league Simon was a disciplinary nightmare. Although the OHL was unable to provide records, The Sault Star (of Sault Sainte Marie, Ont.) reported that in 1991-92 he was suspended eight times for a total of 34 games -- 32 by the league and two by the team. The previous season, when the Soo Greyhounds acquired Simon from the Ottawa 67s, he was serving a 12-game suspension for having slashed Niagara Falls Thunder defenseman David Babcock in the face, breaking seven teeth and opening a gash that required 21 stitches.
my quick-n-dirty analysis of cbs sports' 2007-2008 penalty statistics indicates that 6 percent of hockey players are responsible for about 21 percent of the penalty minutes. if i throw 30-game suspensions into the mix, of course, the top 6 percent would be responsible for a significantly larger share of the penalty and suspension minutes.
violence is deeply engrained in hockey culture, so minnesotans can appreciate good physical hockey. after all, the real-life hanson brothers learned to play in virginia, minnesota (warning: bad language and worse violence in this clip, but this one seems to feature paul wellstone as a referee). while the violent hansons shocked their fellow players, however, chris simon reminds me of slap shot's other goon: the feared ogie oglethorpe.
i almost expect the wild announcer to introduce him with a riff on jim carr's movie intro: "Oh this young man has had a very trying rookie season, with the litigation, the notoriety, his subsequent deportation to Canada and that country's refusal to accept him. Well, I guess that's more than most 21-year-olds can handle. Number six, Ogie Oglethorpe.