Friday, May 30, 2008

age-by-passenger interactions in driver death rates

wcco tv offered a terribly sad story on a young woman who died in a two-car collision yesterday. the piece followed-up with a brief discussion of graduated licensing, which places restrictions on the youngest and least experienced drivers.

one such restriction is the number of passengers that new drivers can transport. the wcco report showed a striking figure, similar to the department of transportation graphic shown below. for 16 and 17 year old drivers, death rates increase dramatically with the number of passengers in the car. for those aged 30 to 59, however, the number of passengers is unrelated to death rates.

distractibility is the hypothesized mechanism linking passengers to death rates for young drivers. i'd throw substance use into the mix as well, since the number of passengers is likely associated with alcohol and other substance use. in addition, i'd bet that peer passengers have a different effect than parent or sibling passengers -- disaggregating by type of passenger might shed further light on the mechanism. as a 30-to-59 year old, my passengers today are often my kids. i still drive more recklessly with my buddies than i do with my kids, but i now spend much less time driving around with my buddies (what buddies?) than i did at age 16 or 17. if i'm correct, passenger type might be just as important as passenger numbers.

while i'm not sure whether a legal limitation on the number of passengers will reduce teen driving fatalities, the bivariate association is clear. when the figure flashed on the screen at my house, i couldn't help overhearing the lad's phone conversation. he was arranging to pick up a buddy or two before school. drive safe and keep the music down, dudes.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

$10k tax credit in philadelphia for hiring ex-prisoners

i've posted before about the crippling employment problems of former felons, many of whom have shared first-hand testimony here. a fine associated press report by kathy matheson details philadelphia's municipal tax credit program for hiring former prisoners. in my view, the program represents a bold and courageous move by mayor michael nutter and the city of brotherly love.

Friday, May 23, 2008

bobblefoot giveaway

the saint paul saints, our beloved local nine, will be giving away 2,500 of these fine collector's edition bobblefoot keepsakes at sunday's game at midway stadium.

the saints straight-facedly claim that the bathroom stall promotion was intended to coincide with national tap dance day, since one of the dangling feet is springloaded such that it "taps" or bobbles.

i'm not one to judge folks based on their worst moments (lest i be judged, i suppose), but this promotion seems innocuous to me. the saints don't even mention the distinguished senator from idaho, though the bobblefoot might be construed as an homage to his foot-tapping and wide stance.

last year, the saints took some heat for giving away a michael vick dog chew toy. have they finally crossed the line with this promotion? a pioneer press poll put the question to readers. of 119 votes, 7 percent said "yes, it's nothing to laugh at," 30 percent said "no, it doesn't offend me," and 63 percent said "come on, it's the saints! they gave away a randy moss hood ornament for cryin' out loud! [note: mr. moss had recently run over a traffic officer].

let's see, the game starts at 7:05 sunday. what do you think it would cost to purchase one of these fine bobblefoots on ebay this monday? i'm guessing that some tap dance afficionado would go as high as fifty bucks.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

demand-side evaluation of john school

criminologists typically adopt a supply-side approach, rather than viewing crime as a problem of demand for illegal goods and services. demand reduction strategies have long been practiced with regard to substance use. if effective, however, the idea might be productively extended to problem landlords and myriad other areas. for prostitution, at least, there's some evidence that simple interventions with consumers might slow demand.

nij and the san francisco chronicle report that the first offender prostitution program (or "john school") might be effective in reducing the demand for prostitution. i say "might" because the clever multi-method analysis (details here) by abt associates isn't really set up to make strong causal claims.

from abt:

In the FOPP, eligible arrestees are given the choice of paying a fee and attending a one-day class (known generically as the "john school"), or being prosecuted. During its more than 12 years of operation, 5,735 men have attended the FOPP's john school. The fees support all of the costs of conducting the john school classes, as well as subsidizing police vice operations, the screening and processing of arrestees, and recovery programs for women and girls involved in commercial sex...

...To evaluate the program's impact on recidivism, Abt Associates staff analyzed time series data for San Francisco and the rest of California for 10 years prior to implementation and 10 years after implementation (1985 through 2005). In San Francisco they found that compared to the 10 years prior to FOPP implementation, a sharp drop in recidivism rates occurred in the year of implementation (1995). Recidivism rates stayed at these lower levels during the 10 years following implementation. A similar pattern was observed in San Diego, with annual average recidivism rates following implementation of a john school at less than half the pre-program levels. There were no statewide trends or shifts in either 1995 or 2000 (the year of San Diego's implementation) that might explain the recidivism rate declines in either San Francisco or San Diego. The results were repeatedly confirmed by applying various multivariate statistical modeling techniques and examining different subsets of the population of arrestees.

there are some ecological leaps in such an analysis, of course, and reliance on an arrest indicator seems problematic to me (e.g., enforcement priorities are locally determined; what if the class just teaches johns to avoid detection?). nevertheless, i like the study and the idea seems promising enough to merit continued systematic evaluation and a search for the mechanisms linking the program to recidivism. might john school work through shaming, deterrence, education, or some other mechanism?

Monday, May 19, 2008

hellhounds on the trail

we're all pretty much running from something, right? a lot of marathoners seem to use distance running to stay a step ahead of substance use and other problems. runner's world just profiled ultrarunner charlie engel, an ex-crack user who ran 4,500 miles through the sahara in 111 days. it takes major hellhounds on one's trail to average 40 miles per day across a freaking desert.

the denver post similarly profiles the nonprofit activity inspired rehabilitation foundation, as they sponsored 40 first-time runners in the colorado colfax marathon. as a longtime distance runner, i take it on faith that marathons are good for the soul. i've thought about designing a randomized trial in which volunteers would be assigned to either a running support group or an alternative drug treatment comparison group, but i'm reluctant to test my faith -- lest it be crushed against the rocks of a rigorous scientific analysis. nevertheless, i sent the AIR folks a donation and wish them all the best. from their site:

The AIR Foundation was founded in 2007 to help defeat homelessness and addiction in the community through programs that support and inspire rehabilitation through athletic accomplishment and a positive connection to the community. Its unique approach, called “activity inspired rehabilitation,” was an immediate success, increasing the success of rehabilitation programs by as much as 50%.

Today, The AIR Foundation works with homeless shelters, rehabilitation centers and youth outreach programs to provide a physical and goal setting component to rehabilitation. How does Activity Inspired Rehabilitation Work?

  • Goal Setting helps participants stay focused on becoming healthy and productive members of the Denver community.

  • Incremental Accomplishment through training and races builds self-esteem and self-confidence as program members create new identities.

  • Professional Health and Fitness Training creates lasting change in the health and fitness levels of AIR members, building a foundation for a lifetime of health and self-sufficiency.

  • Positive Connection With The Community changes the way members feel about themselves, allowing them to make a positive connection to the people around them and become role models for others in need.

i'm doing a marathon in madison this sunday, so my personal goal for the week is simple, if contradictory: eat a ton of pasta and stay reasonably healthy.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

air america interview

i'll be doing a live interview at 2 this afternoon on an air america program called considering faith. ochen kaylan, who created a funny and revealing one-man show on felon voting rights, will be there too, as will host peg chemberlin, executive director of the minnesota council of churches. it should be fun, as long as i can find the studio in eden prairie. here's the blurb from the show's site:

May 18 - Felon Disenfranchisement - Chris Uggen and Ochen Kaylan
Did you know that the United States is the only democracy in the world that denies former prisoners the right to vote? This week we'll be joined by two experts on felon disenfranchisement: one is an author/professor from the University of MN who teaches about these issues in a classroom setting. The other is a writer/producer who teaches about these issues in radio documentaries and theater performance. Professor Chris Uggen is Distinguished McKnight Professor and Chair of Sociology at the University of Minnesota. He studies crime, law, and deviance - especially how former prisoners manage to put their lives back together. With Professor Uggen, we'll also have award-winning radio documentary producer Ochen Kaylan. Kaylan created the critically-acclaimed one-man show on felon disenfranchisement titled “I Voted for Gummi Bears” - an entertaining, yet highly informative piece of theater that will be featured in the new performance series “SPIRIT IN THE HOUSE” opening later this month. We'll visit with Professor Uggen and Ochen Kaylan to talk about the complicated issue of prisoner voting rights.

school suspension gap

speaking of school discipline, james walsh offers a nice analysis of the race gap in school suspensions:

Black students in Minnesota are being suspended at a rate about six times that of white students, according to a Star Tribune analysis of state Department of Education data. Some are sent home for serious misbehavior, like fighting or drugs. But most are suspended for lesser incidents, such as talking in class, goofing around or challenging teachers -- offenses for which there is more disciplinary leeway...

Saturday, May 17, 2008

no touching at armatage elementary

these are desperate times for school administrators. the strib reports that armatage elementary in minneapolis now maintains an official "no touch" policy:

Originally the rule, circulated to parents Thursday, banned even casual touching such as hand-holding and hugging. But Principal Joan Franks has now refined the policy to target aggressive and "unsafe" behavior such as play-fighting, pushing and shoving. And tag.

yeesh. wouldn't banning hitting be sufficient? as an administrator, i certainly understand the motivations here. as a parent, however, i see how kids need much touch just to get through a long, alienating day in the classroom. for esperanza and her middle-school friends, this takes the form of hugging in the hallways and packing in close together in the lunchroom. for tor and his buddies, this sometimes takes the form of behaviors specifically outlawed: play-fighting, pushing, and shoving (not to mention football, rugby, and wrestling).

i can't make a strong causal argument that touch improves mental health -- perhaps there is a literature addressing this question -- but i can see a clear correlation. when my kids do more touching they seem more socially connected and happier. when my large lad puts me in a headlock or punches my shoulder, we're usually both laughing and i'm feeling pretty good about our relationship.

but those are just my views as a parent. as a sociologist who studies rules and their enforcement, i've got another observation. creating such a no-touch rule will likely create a new class of rule violators and a new cause of action for school discipline. given the gender distribution of behaviors such as play-fighting, pushing, and shoving, i would predict that boys will be disproportionately subject to such discipline. given the race and class distribution of those disciplined for other school misconduct, i would predict that children of color and those from working class families will be disproportionately subject to such discipline. when the minneapolis schools do the next round of hand-wringing about race and gender gaps in school achievement, they might consider the impact of disciplinary practices such as the no-touch rule.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

undergrad and inmate collaborate on globe editorial

conor clarke and greg yothers offer a nice boston globe op-ed on felon voting -- the more we imprison, the less we vote. here's the bit i like:

[O]ur experience in class suggests that the opposite is true. We all write the same papers, read the same material by John Locke and Alexis de Tocqueville, and are all equally engaged in debating and discussing everything from the role of the good citizen to America's role in the world. There is no reason to think inmates are uniquely unqualified to wield a vote, and no reason to think they can't.

Yes, going to prison necessarily entails the loss of liberty. But the right to vote is in many ways more important than the right to walk freely down the street: Voting is the most basic check against the coercive power of the state. The places where that coercive power is most starkly exercised, such as prisons, are also the places where that most basic of checks becomes more important. The fact that prisoners have a big stake in governmental choices isn't an argument in favor of disenfranchisement; it's an argument against.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

the good class

i gave my final lecture today, to a much-loved group of 55 students that i'm gonna miss every tues and thurs at 12:45. every couple years, a teacher gets a class that's a little more fun/serious/intense/honest than yer average collection of students. this one laughed at most of my jokes, didn't complain when lectures went a little long, and asked good hard questions. they even caught the li'l musical intros i played before class. more importantly, of course, they thought hard about sociological criminology and put some good work in on their papers and exams.

i can understand how they might've heard air or al green before, but how does a twenty-year-old know all the words to a song by the sonics, tony joe white, or the seeds? anyway, this was a pretty cool group of future sociologists, cops, social workers, lawyers, probation officers, and journalists. i hope they crush on the final.