Wednesday, April 30, 2008

restrictions on college aid for drug offenders upheld

via school law blog:

a three-judge panel of the u.s. court of appeals for the 8th circuit rejected a constitutional challenge to a federal law that bars students with drug convictions from participation in federal college aid programs. in students for sensible drug policy v. spellings the court ruled that such collateral consequences do not violate the double-jeopardy clause of the 5th amendment.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

little billy

via boingboing: a radar magazine story reports on bill geerhart, an unemployed thirtysomething, who sent letters to oprah winfrey, donald rumsfeld, and larry flynt while posing as a ten year old. "little billy" also sent letters to (and received responses from) richard ramirez, charles manson, ted kacynzski, and eric menendez.

this is an old bit, perhaps best executed in don novello's classic the lazlo letters. the prisoners' responses weren't terribly revealing, since billy's short letters didn't give them much to work with. that said, i'm just a bit more sympathetic to clarence thomas after reading him tell billy that he likes egg mcmuffins and pretty much everything at mcdonalds.

Monday, April 28, 2008

cruel and unusual weight loss?

the smoking gun reports on an arkansas man who is suing the benton county jail for not providing him with sufficient food. broderick laswell (left) says he dropped from 413 pounds to 308 pounds after only eight months in the jail. He has filed a federal lawsuit charging that the jail fails to provide inmates with enough food.

while many will no doubt dismiss these claims from such a still-large man, this seems like a scary weight drop over such a short period -- 13 pounds a month or about .44 pounds per day. whenever one visits a prison, inmates will share some shocking food stories. for example, one young man told me he found a single glove and a rat in his food (reminding me, of course, of this #1 hit).

while the quality of prison food is usually unimpressive and sometimes downright shameful, most institutions at least deliver 2000+ calories per day. to the best of my knowledge, however, they are not mandated to deliver any more calories to a 6'10" 400-pounder than to a 4'10" 100-pounder. the issue of weight loss is bigger for prisons than for jails, since prisons tend to keep people far longer. inmates with funds, of course, can often supplement their diets by purchasing snacks in the institution. if mr. laswell is convicted of the murder charge on which he is being held, his weight will likely stabilize over a long term in an arkansas state penitentiary.

Friday, April 25, 2008

day of silence

just before midnight, esperanza said g'night and handed me a slip of paper. it indicated that for the next 24 hours, she's participating in the day of silence. from the website:

The National Day of Silence brings attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment in schools. This year’s event will be held in memory of Lawrence King, a California 8th-grader who was shot and killed Feb. 12 by a classmate because of his sexual orientation and gender expression. Hundreds of thousands of students will come together on April 25 to encourage schools and classmates to address the problem of anti-LGBT behavior.

the other larry king offers a psa and helpful introduction. though she will not speak all day, esperanza won't be completely silent. she's negotiated a singing-only class with her music teacher.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

is texas 3.3 times more democratic than minnesota?

there's another fine adam liptak piece on punishment in today's times. as is by now well-documented, these united states have the highest incarceration rate in the world.

one of the cited lawprofs pointed to democracy as the reason for high u.s. incarceration rates. yeesh -- i get the whole "lack of civil service institutional buffer" thing, but c'mon. fortunately, marc mauer pointed out that each of these semi-united states have wildly divergent incarceration rates: minnesota (with a rate of 300 per 100k) looks more like sweden (80 per 100k) than like texas (1000 per 100k). would anyone but a carpetbagging dallas stars fan suggest that texas is 3.3 times more democratic than minnesota? or, worse, that texans are 12 times more democratic than swedes?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

news from iowa on racial impact statements

i've written about how racial impact statements might be an effective vehicle for assessing the racial effects of proposed measures to protect public safety. this week, iowa governor chet culver signed off on a bill "requiring a "minority impact statement" for any legislation related to a public offense, sentencing, or parole and probation procedures." like some other midwestern states, iowa has a small african american population, but great racial disparity in criminal justice.


Gov. Culver: Signs minority impact statement bill into law 4/17/2008

Des Moines - Today, at the John R. Grubb YMCA in Des Moines, Governor Chet Culver signed into law HF 2393, a bill requiring a "Minority Impact Statement" for any legislation related to a public offense, sentencing, or parole and probation procedures. The legislation also requires that any application for a grant from a state agency must also include a minority impact statement.

According to Governor Culver, "This means when members of the General Assembly and Executive branch are considering legislation of this nature, we will now be able to do so, with a clearer understanding of its potential effects - positive and negative - on Iowa's minority communities. Just as Fiscal Impact Statements must follow any proposed legislation related to state expenditures, with my signature, Minority Impact Statements will serve as an essential tool for those in government - and the public - as we propose, develop, and debate policies for the future of our state."

This bipartisan legislation passed the Iowa House of Representatives unanimously and passed the Senate overwhelmingly with a vote of 47-2.

During his remarks, Governor Culver said challenges remain in Iowa on our way towards achieving true equality and opportunity for all.

* Currently, while 2% of Iowa's population is African American, 24% of Iowa's prison population is African American. This makes Iowa first in the nation in the ratio of African Americans in prison.

* And although African American kids made up roughly 5% of the school population last year, these students were involved in nearly 22% of suspensions and expulsions.

* Nearly 40% of all residents at state juvenile detention centers are minorities. Of that number, a full two-thirds are African-American.

Governor Culver said simply: "We can do better, and we must do better." He went on to outline progress which has led up to signing this legislation:

* First, In April, the Governor convened a group to review the problem of racial disparities in Iowa's prisons, and to make specific recommendations to him on how to tackle this problem head-on.

* Second, the Governor's office is working directly with the Iowa Department of Education to identify why African-Americans are suspended at a higher rate than their white student peers.

* Third, the Governor issued an Executive Order, creating the Youth, Race, and Detention task force. This task force will make recommendations to assure young minorities are fairly and justly treated by our criminal justice system, and to develop policies to specifically address the rate of repeat offenses among juveniles.

"I am committed to making sure government at all levels reflects our shared values of fairness and justice," Governor Culver said in closing. "And so, while I am very proud of the steps we have taken, and are taking, I want to be clear: our efforts are the first of many steps."

Friday, April 18, 2008

it'll probably not be the last time i have to be out by the first

i got up early to take my class to a youth correctional facility today. we drove through grant hart-land and ended up by greg norton's restaurant. feeling nostalgic over my favorite band's breakup, i stumbled on a blog tribute and mp3 to 2541, mr. hart's ode to love and the band's old address.

pretty obscure, i know, but well worth the search for me.

well, they gave us a number,
they gave us a place to stay,
and billy got hold of a van, and man,
we moved in the very next day.

twenty-five forty-one -- big windows to let in the sun. 2541...

well, we put down the money,
and i picked up the keys,
we had to keep the stove on all night long so the pipes wouldn't freeze.

we put our names on the mailbox,
and I put everything else in the past,
it was the first place we had to ourselves -- we didn't know it would be the last.

2541, big windows to let in the sun. 2541...

now everything is over,
everything is done,
everything in my head,
has 2541.

well things are so much different now,
i'd say the situation's reversed,
and it'll probably not be the last time i have to be out by the first.

2541, big windows to let in the sun...

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

a practice called ghostwriting

yahoo/ap reports today on a strongly-worded JAMA piece on guest authorship and ghostwriting in publications related to rofecoxib.

from lindsey tanner's associated press article:

CHICAGO (AP) -- Two new reports involving the painkiller Vioxx raise fresh concerns about how drug companies influence the interpretation and publication of medical research.

The reports claim Merck & Co. frequently paid academic scientists to take credit for research articles prepared by company-hired medical writers, a practice called ghostwriting...

the story gets better, but i'm stuck on the idea that the "academic scientists" are literally selling their names and the credibility of their institutions -- and that the results are published in respectable journals. while authorship norms vary greatly by discipline and department, i always figured that the putative authors were the ones paying the ghostwriters.

although big pharma wouldn't care to tempt me, i can envision such a scenario arising in my field of study. let's say i get a grant from privateprisonco to fund my next recidivism study. they hire criminological ghostwriters from the firm of shill & hack to write a manuscript comparing the recidivism of privateprisonco releasees with that of a matched comparison group of statepen releasees. they give me first authorship and $500 for my trouble, in exchange for whatever credibility attaches to my name and institution.

the full JAMA piece is well-documented, though merck is challenging the article and its pointed conclusion:

Authors who "sign-off" on or "edit" original manuscripts or reviews written explicitly by pharmaceutical industry employees or by medical publishing companies should offer full authorship disclosure, such as, "drafting of the manuscript was done by representatives from XYZ, Inc; the authors were responsible for critical revisions of the manuscript for important intellectual content."

Monday, April 14, 2008

halving the homicide rate

hillary clinton unveiled an ambitious $4 billion proposal to halve the homicide rate in major american cities. the plan involves adding 100,000 new police officers and targeting gangs, drug markets, and illegal gun trafficking.

you might recognize (all of?) these elements from the 1992 clinton crime bill. this is great news for my teaching, since i can now dust off a killer essay question on the anticipated impact of 100,000 officers on the perceived certainty of apprehension and punishment. i'm also intrigued by the weapons interdiction aspects of the proposal. if you click on the chart above, you'll see how gun homicide rates have fluctuated wildly relative to non-gun rates over the past three decades.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

spinning a story -- parents fight over kid's gang affiliation

you might have heard the story of the 19-year-old colorado couple who busted up a video store fighting over their 4-year-old's gang affiliation. here's the denver post version:

A heated dispute between two parents about what street gang their son should join resulted in one parent threatening to kill the other, Commerce City police say. The center of the battle is a 4-year-old boy. The child was born to parents, who are not married, when they were about 15 years old, said Sgt. Joe Sandoval of the Commerce City Police Department.

On Saturday, the boy's father, Joseph Manzanares, allegedly went to the Hollywood Video at 5961 E. 64th Ave., where his ex-girlfriend and the mother of the boy works. There, according to Sandoval, Manzanares, 19, began knocking over several displays in the video store, as well as knocking a computer off a counter. Manzanares began to verbally threaten the woman, including saying he was going to "kill" her, said the police sergeant. Manzanares then ran out of the store and was arrested a short time later at his residence.

The mother of the child told police that she and the boy's father have been involved in ongoing domestic disputes regarding their son. The woman said she is a "Crip" gang member and that Manzanares is a "Baller" gang member, and "they have different ideas on how the baby should be raised," said Sandoval. "Basically she said they cannot agree on which gang the baby would 'claim,' " Sandoval said. Sandoval said the "Ballers" were formerly known as the "Westside Ballers." He said the father is Latino; the mother, African-American.

On Tuesday, Manzanares pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct, a Class 1 petty offense. A charge of harassment, a Class 3 misdemeanor, was dismissed. Adams County Judge Simon Mole sentenced Manzanares to 12 months probation and imposed $835 in court costs and fees.

i've heard the story spun in four ways:

1. criminals do the darnedest things. this lighthearted approach, often delivered with a chuckle at the end of a newscast, portrays people convicted of crimes as idiots. it is generally better-suited to stories involving burglars caught in chimneys, however, than to those involving domestic disputes and children.

2. suffer the children. the newsreaders usually put on a frowny face when they tell stories about innocent kids caught in bad circumstances. sometimes progressive reforms are suggested, though simple tsk-tsking is more common.

3. end of the world as we know it. older generations sometimes take a well-practiced "hell in a handbasket" approach to such stories. this one seems to bring together a host of social pathologies, embodying all that a talk-radio commentator identifies as wrong or evil about contemporary society.

4. those people. every report that i've seen or heard about this case notes the race and ethnicity of the mother and father, though this information really isn't central to beefs over gang affiliation. beyond simply identifying the parents, explicit racist stereotyping emerged in at least one of the reports i saw. you can bet that some profane and exaggerated version of this story will show up on every white nationalist site on the web.

though the manzanares case seems newsworthy, i suspect the full story is pretty mundane. there's nothing new about couples fighting over their children, particularly the friends and relatives to which their children will be exposed. i'd guess that mr. manzanares was likely upset about the continuing social affiliations of his child's mother as well as those of his child. there's also nothing new about 15-year-old parents having an especially tough time of it, regardless of whether they've been involved in gangs.

as they age and take on new responsibilities, most gang-involved young people desist from gang involvement. if there's anything positive to find in this story, it is that two kids who had a kid at 15 remain passionately committed to at least some vision of the child's best interests.

Friday, April 11, 2008

president bush signs second chance act

via the sentencing project:

President George W. Bush this week signed into law the Second Chance Act of 2007 - legislation inspired by his 2004 State of the Union address - which authorizes $362 million to expand assistance for people currently incarcerated, those returning to their communities after incarceration, and children with parents in prison.

The Second Chance Act was first introduced in 2004, by then-Representative Rob Portman (R-OH) and Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), to help the nearly 700,000 people leaving prison each year. It quickly gained broad bipartisan support and earned the backing of law enforcement, state and local government, religious and justice reform organizations. Passage of the Second Chance Act highlights a new political approach to crime prevention. Imprisoning 2 million Americans has diverted enormous resources that could have been used more effectively in reducing crime. Programs that provide housing, drug treatment, education and employment provide more cost-effective approaches to producing public safety.

The Second Chance Act seeks to promote public safety by reducing recidivism rates among people reentering communities after prison. Presently, two-thirds of formerly incarcerated people are rearrested within three years after release. The services to be funded under the Second Chance Act 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.

For decades, political concerns have trumped research findings in promoting harsh sentencing laws. Passage of the Second Chance Act signals that a bipartisan consensus exists for offering opportunities to those who are at risk of committing crimes. Innovation in crime prevention should be applauded; incarceration should not be the only option.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

killin' floor

i've had little time online or elsewhere the past few weeks, as i've struggled to keep pace with chair / editor / teacher / scholar / father duties. one story that caught my eye, however, came via amelia at the crawler. apparently, slaughterhouse workers on the killing floor exhibit relatively high rates of post-traumatic stress. similarly, communities with slaughterhouses exhibit relatively high rates of violent crime.

i haven't assessed the researchers' causal claims, but the finding fits my experience growing up around the south st. paul stockyards and nearby processing plants. i knew a few shell-shocked former cattle-killers who ran screaming to minimum-wage restaurant jobs at a fraction of their former pay. i remember one tough-guy cook whose probation officer set him up in some kind of full-time throat-slitting or bludgeoning job. it was a good job, he said, but he just couldn't cut it.

the story is timely, since tomorrow marks south st. paul's last cattle auction. it was evidently the world's busiest livestock market when i was growing up, but the yards have been empty for years. i wonder whether south st. paul is becoming significantly less stressful or violent...

Monday, April 7, 2008

email from a felon's spouse

i got the following email from the spouse of someone convicted long ago for a drug offense. with her permission, i'm reprinting it in full.

her first-hand account of the impact of collateral sanctions -- even supposed "no-brainers" such as firearms restrictions -- offers an important perspective on a set of contentious issues.

Mr. Uggen,

My name is ___, and I am the wife of a convicted felon. My husband's felony is now 13 years old, and we both still are paying the price. He was originally arrested for a rolled up dollar bill with traces of cocaine on it. He was given a five year suspended sentence with a 3 year probation term. After successfully completing one year, he tested positive for cocaine use and was sent to prison for "treatment" for 120-days.

I ran across your information while researching a paper I am doing for college, I am a criminal justice student, with a goal of being a probation officer. I am continually discouraged by the prospects for a convicted felon in the world today. I feel they serve a life sentence after their initial sentence has long been completed: lack of employment possibilities, brick walls with help for gaining an education or housing assistance, etc. It is no wonder the prison doors are revolving!

I am interested in working with someone to change the laws in MO, in the United States for that matter to reinstate non-violent felons' rights after they have "paid their debt to society." My husband has been a model citizen since his incarceration, but continues to have "convicted felon" tattooed to whatever he tries to do. We have a son in the Army National Guard, who thought of being a police officer at one time - what to do with his gun and ammunition…because of course my husband might go murder 15 or 20 people with it, because he is after all a convicted felon!! I plan to be a probation/parole officer this time next year, same situation…what to do with my gun? I actually requested a copy of the law be sent to me a few years ago when I was working as a substance abuse counselor - we are not even allowed to have fireworks in our home!

OK, I will get off of my soapbox now. I just need to do something to work with someone to get these laws changed, rewritten, whatever! Please let me know what I can do!

Thank you for your time and patience, listening to me rant and rave!


Sunday, April 6, 2008

midwest law & society retreat

i attended this one a few years ago and learned much from the good folks and their good ideas. via howie:

Invitation and Call for Proposals
Midwest Law and Society Retreat
September 19-20, 2008 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
Hosted by the Institute for Legal Studies

INVITATION Faculty, independent scholars, and graduate students are cordially invited to the fourth Midwest Law and Society Retreat, a biennial event to be held at the University of Wisconsin on September 19-20, 2008. Sessions will take place at the Pyle Center, 702 Langdon Street, Madison.

ABOUT THE EVENT In Fall 2002 the Institute for Legal Studies organized an interdisciplinary retreat that brought together faculty and graduate students from the region's diverse social science and law programs for a weekend of intellectual exchange and community building. By popular demand, subsequent sessions convened in 2004 and 2006. (Programs can be viewed at http//

The 2008 Retreat will continue to offer opportunities for participants to share research ideas, discuss professional issues, receive feedback on works in progress, and develop future projects with regional colleagues. However, this year we expect to place somewhat less emphasis on the traditional ‘paper presentation’ panel, and more emphasis on panels that deal with broad research issues, professional development, and the future of the field. We encourage people to consider presenting on these topics, or just coming to the retreat to join in the discussion. To ensure that the conference remains informal and personal, attendance will be limited to 75 people. Early registration is strongly encouraged.

KEYNOTE AND OVERVIEW The opening session will begin at 300 pm on Friday, September 19th, with a keynote address by Erwin Chemerinsky, inaugural Dean of the Donald Bren Law School at UC-Irvine, who will discuss his plans to make law and society one of the focal points of the Irvine curriculum. The Retreat will continue through Saturday afternoon, and will include group meals for dinner on Friday and lunch on Saturday.

Proposal Deadline June 1, 2008.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

top 10 myths of jury trials

via criminal defense attorney jeralyn merritt:

richard crawford, a communications prof and past president of the american society of trial consultants, lists his top ten myths about jury trials in today's rocky mountain news.

1. Your only chance as a defendant is to have lots of money.

This is largely false, primarily because as many as 80 percent of those charged with a crime are rigorously defended by public defenders or court-appointed attorneys. Believe it or not, if you have just enough money to hire your own trial lawyer, you might end up with a less effective defense lawyer than if you had very little money and were lucky enough to live in Colorado and receive representation from a career and free public defender.

2. Innocence will protect you in a criminal trial.

Regrettably, this is usually not the case. Specifically, for anyone who faces a jury, there is roughly an 85 percent chance that the trial will end up with a conviction. Tim Masters just might have something to say on this subject. Studies indicate that from 7 percent to 10 percent of those in prison today are actually innocent persons who got caught in this process.

3. Lawyers prefer jurors with little formal education.

The answer here is that it depends. There are instances like the recent Nacchio case when the issues are sufficiently complicated that both sides prefer very bright jurors. And, yes, there are other instances when the defendant is a barroom fighter of sorts and the defense would prefer to have jurors just like him who can identify with him.

4. Defendants should always take the stand in their own defense.

While all defendants have the absolute right to testify on their own behalf, frequently they do not exercise that right. And there is no doubt but that jurors often reason: "If he didn't do it, why doesn't he take the stand and say so?" On the other hand, there is a long list of very good reasons why a particular defendant should say nothing during his or her trial. For example, an innocent defendant may have once been convicted of a felony and the jury would learn that prejudicial fact only if that defendant decided to testify.

5. Juries sometimes find defendants innocent.

No, this cannot happen anywhere in these United States. "Guilty" or "not guilty" are the only two options open to an American jury. Sometimes juries believe that a defendant committed the act as charged, but that it was not proved beyond a reasonable doubt by the state, so they vote "not guilty" as a way of saying, "not proved." Sometimes juries think a defendant did not commit any crime and they vote "not guilty," meaning "innocent."

6. Defense lawyers who defend those they know to be guilty are unethical.

No, a person charged with a crime is never guilty unless and until a jury has said so and a judge has affirmed same. Our Constitution guarantees everyone the right to a vigorous defense or testing of the evidence and it would actually be illegal and unethical if a defendant were denied this right.

7. A trial is about discovering the truth.

No, the truth may be that a good young man broke the law when he went for the first time with a group who committed a robbery. But justice might say he should get another chance. The truth may be that a wife killed her violent husband, but justice might say she should not give up her freedom for that act. Trials are always about justice and the truth may be a part of getting there, but justice is the goal.

8. Jurors deliberate in the classic sense until they reach their final verdict.

The requirement for a unanimous verdict means that jurors usually only deliberate during the first stages of their time together. Ninety percent of the time, the majority overcomes the minority in order to get that unanimous verdict. Make no mistake about it, eight or nine jurors can and do exert enormous pressure on three or four holdouts to get a verdict that will wrap it up and get everyone home.

9. Evidence drives the outcome of jury verdicts.

Actually, when the evidence on either side of a case is overwhelming, a verdict can be pretty predictable. The reality is, however, that deals are almost always struck when one side or the other has a huge evidence advantage. Thus, since a majority of trials could go either way, the final verdict is often determined by nonevidentiary factors. Two such factors include the quality of the lawyers and the pro-conviction predisposition of most jurors.

10. When a jury votes guilty, that is final.

No verdict is ever final until the judge says so. In fact, although it is rare, the trial judge can set aside a guilty verdict with the tap of his or her gavel. Of course, any guilty verdict can also be appealed to a higher court.

Friday, April 4, 2008

cnn on lawsuits v. state juvenile institutions

via sothea: a cnn report on abuses in juvenile institutions.

The U.S. Justice Department has sued nine states and two territories alleging abuse, inadequate mental and medical care and potentially dangerous methods like the use of restraints. The department doesn't have the power to shut down facilities -- states do -- but through litigation it can force a state to improve its detention centers and protect the civil rights of jailed youths.

New Jersey
Puerto Rico
Northern Mariana Islands

Thursday, April 3, 2008

recruiting formerly incarcerated participants in minneapolis

via michael bischoff:

I’d like to ask for your help in recruiting formerly incarcerated participants for some listening sessions that the Council on Crime and Justice is helping organize. The participants will get a $25 gift card. I’m attaching a flyer about the sessions, which gives more details. Please post the flier, and please also help us personally recruit people that you think would be a good fit for it.

These listening sessions will collect input about how neighborhoods can engage more fully in prisoner reentry. The attached flier is for 2 sessions for North Minneapolis residents that were formerly incarcerated. There will also be sessions in Frogtown (St. Paul) and Rochester, and we’ll send those flyers out as the sessions are scheduled. In each location, there will be 2 listening sessions with individuals who have been formerly incarcerated:

Group 1: Participants must have been previously incarcerated in a Minnesota State Prison and have encountered successes in re-entering your home community.
Group 2: Participants must have been recently released from a Minnesota State Prison and currently be under supervision.

This project is being done in partnership with the New Living Way Christian Center, the MN DOC, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and the Governor’s Office on Faith and Community Service. Later this year there will be community forums in North Minneapolis, Frogtown, and Rochester to discuss the findings.

Thank you for your help in inviting people to these groups. I think this process will be very useful for all of us that are working in reentry. When you have people that want to sign up for the sessions, please have them contact the Council’s Research Department at

Thank you!