Realignment to Blame?

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As noted in an earlier post, realignment is a major reform of California's sentencing and corrections system that some conservative critics claim will unleash crime in local communities. We noted then and repeat here that concerned people should wait to see what research says before jumping to conclusions.

The latest CJCJ report finds no relationship between realignment and crime trends. Take this link to the study.

Now the Office of Research of CDCR has conducted a study of the effects of realignment: Realignment Report A One-year Examination of Offenders Released from State Prison in the First Six Months of Public Safety Realignment, dated May 2013. This is significant because, as stated earlier, no money was set aside for external evaluation of realignment as a part of this legislation. This means that the agency (CDCR) that can not remain neutral with respect to the issues involved has conducted its own study on how realignment is working. This points to a common issue in evaluation research: the fact that an agency with a stake in an implied or actual stake in an outcome is responsible for or contributes to research on whether a program or policy change in question is effective.

Fortunately, the CDCR report is not written in an obviously biased manner, that is, with a particular agenda. It is not clear exactly how the study was done in all the details but the basic design attempted to compare the recidivism outcomes of realignment releasees during the first six months of realignment compared to inmates who would have been released the year prior had alignment existed at that time--a basic pre-post research design. The exact determination of who qualified as a pre period releasee is not entirely clear but for the sake of discussion I will assume that these cases were easy to identify. (In past studies of this kind, such as the evaluation of Probation Subsidy, a major challenge was to identify felony releasees who were only released because of Probation Subsidy and not some other reason.)

Like all good evaluation studies, the CDCR researchers had multiple outcomes. The most dramatic finding is the relatively low return to prison rates of post alignment releasees, which was the intended effect of realignment, as the report notes. Dan Glaser once referred to new court-ordered felony commitments as one of the strongest measures we have of the effectiveness of prison. For post-alignment felons, this rate ranged from 7.2-7.8 percent over the six month followup. This compares to 33.8 - 47.0 percent for pre-alignment felons. In other words, far, far fewer of the felons sent back to local communities as a result of realignment are returned to prison for new offenses. Interestingly, pre-alignment felons were most often returned to prison for parole violations--something post-alignment felons did not experience thanks to realignment. The other, remaining, outcomes of the study are challenging to interpret. The two groups' arrest and conviction rates appear to be basically the same but differences begin to appear where the administrative role of parole in the criminal justice processing of offenders can directly affect outcomes, making it difficult to interpret some of the findings.

The short term findings of the CDCR study are tentative and preliminary, but thus far there is no damning criticism of realignment contained in these data. Quite the contrary, these two studies, viewed together or separately, suggest that alignment appears to be doing what it was supposed to do: give local officials control over how to manage their own offenders and reducing the churning and high rates of return to prison that flow from the existing parole reentry system of CDCR.

This entry has been updated. 5.23.13

Significant Issues in Criminal Justice: California

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An exerpt from our department newsletter, CCJS News:

California has become a leader in the passage of laws and the implementation of policies that are a harbinger of change in other states and the federal system. While the merits of this are hotly debated, crime and its control are among the most contentious issues in politics and each year there are many issues that capture public and lawmaker attention. The following are certainly among the many important ones being discussed today.

Gun Control
Certainly one of the most significant national discussions relating to criminology and criminal justice has been the issue of gun control in the wake of mass killings in Newtown, Aurora and elsewhere and the recognition that death from weapons, accidental (e.g., http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/02/us/kentucky-boy-5-kills-sister-2.html?_r=0) and otherwise, is significant in American society.

Overall the discussion revealed the powerful role of money, lobbyists and the NRA in lawmakers' decisions to refuse to support any federal legislation. California continues to maintain its position as one of the leading states with controls on access
to high power weaponry and (most recently) appropriations for enforcing existing laws prohibiting certain categories from having weapons, but New York, Connecticut and Colorado have also passed significant legislation in the past few months. Amazingly, with overwhelming U.S. citizen support support for universal background checks on weapons purchasers, the attempt to even debate the issue was stopped in the Senate by mostly Republican opposition. There is no surprise that unfavorable public opinion of Congress is now at the lowest point it has ever been measured by pollsters (see PEW 2013 at http://goo.gl/jnLYy). Perhaps the move for concerned citizens today will be toward citizen initiatives where these are allowed (see, e.g., this discussion).

Realignment
One of the biggest changes being felt at both the state and local levels is realignment, which is a direct result of the court ordered transfer of inmates from state prisons in California to county jurisdiction. There is a great deal of discussion about, monitoring of and related information about realignment underway in California.

The general issues posed by realignment are provided in the most recent issue of the Western Criminology Review at http://wcr.sonoma.edu/. The latest updating on the monitoring of realignment is available through the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, which is directed by SSU's Dan MacAllair, at http://www.cjcj.org/files/Realignment_update_Aug_15_2012.pdf. There is wide-ranging discussion about the topic at city, county and state levels (e.g., see the Public Policy Institute Report at http://www.ppic.org/content/pubs/report/R_812MLR.pdf; KQED's examination at http://www.kqed.org/a/forum/R201208220900; and the California Report at http://www.californiareport.org/specialcoverage/prisons/).

Gay Marriage
The 9th Circuit Court struck down Prop. 8, which limits marriage to a man and a woman. This case has since been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and oral arguments took place in March on it and a challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996. There is considerable speculation about why the court took the California case and also how the high court could rule in June, see, e.g., http://goo.gl/cYItW.

California Spending More On Prisons Than Colleges, Report Says

As mentioned before on this site, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, California spends much more today than it has on past on prisons than colleges. Here is the latest news article on this topic:

California Spending More On Prisons Than Colleges, Report Says. For example, "Over the past three decades, the number of inmates in California facilities has increased eight times faster than size of the overall population."

Prison Break

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The California Report's Prison Break is worth visiting. They have put together a video and three articles on realignment:

  • Were Counties Prepared for Flood of Inmates Under Realignment?
  • Prison Costs Should Drop With Realignment
  • LA Uses Realignment Funds for Re-Entry and Mental Health Programs
  • Television Special Preview

After an extended debate, much of which was uninformed or intentionally mis-informed by critics, the Affordable Care Act has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. Chief Justice Roberts wrote the majority opinion.

This is an important moment in the U.S. history, a filling in of an area of citizen welfare that other advanced industrial nations (and others that aren't) figured out long ago. It is absolutely amazing and grotesque that Republicans in Congress are so bitterly opposed to what their own citizens want and need.

Of course this law has direct implications for the criminal justice system, for persons under arrest and in the care and keeping of the criminal justice system. Locally, health professionals have already noted its importance.

Over time we will see far greater impact as the law is fully implemented by 2014. The field of criminal justice is highly sensitive to changes in the health care system--adequate medical care is one of the best crime prevention policies around. As the long history of the criminal justice system attests, when people lack any or adequate health care, their problems multiply and this can easily put them at risk of falling into the hands of the criminal justice system--leaving criminal justice personnel with the task of providing a short-term solution to a community problem. This is most obvious in the case of substance abuse treatment and mental illness but also in a great many other situations.

Update:
since this entry was originally written, The Affordable Care Act: Implications for Public Safety and Corrections Populations, has been published, which breaks down some of the ways the Affordable Care Act will reduce crime and/or recidivism.

For the moment this is a time to rejoice and celebrate a new and long-needed chapter in the uneven progress of improved quality of life for Americans.

Registry of Exonerations

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A common experience in teaching criminology, punishment and corrections is a denial that wrongful conviction ever occurs, or that if it does the individual in question had punishment coming anyway, or that when there seems to be an instance occurring it actually means that criminals are being let off for trivial technicalities. What do you do in these circumstances? The easy way is to accept the status quo--people who accept Fox television will believe what they see: that criminals are criminals and appeals should be abolished or severely limited.

As teachers, however, your goal is, among other things, to present facts openly and honestly, allowing students to see for themselves what evidence exists for the assertion that people are wrongfully convicted and how it is that they actually do spend lengthy periods of time in prison for crimes they did not commit. If only you had examples, students could readily see for themselves how and why it happens, how humans who participate in the process (prosecutors, defense attorneys, witnesses to crime, jailhouse snitches, aggressive interrogators, etc.) make mistakes, serious errors in judgement, lie or bend the truth, and how the entire system of criminal justice becomes a part of problem that needs to be fixed. Some obvious questions are "Where can you find data that impartially describes such cases?" "How many are there?" "Are they isolated instances or indicators of a systemic problem?" And so on.

Recently the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law and the Michigan Law School created and are updating a Registry of known U.S. exonerations since 1989. "Exoneration" means people are freed from prison who have been wrongfully convicted. You can go there and read the lives of people who have experienced this.

Reading these cases is an eye-opening experience. What you learn first of all is that the kinds of cases leading to exoneration is very narrow--people convicted of serious crimes for whom there is a particular kind of evidence that lends itself to judicial review. This is not a criticism; it simply means that many peoples' claims that they are innocent are ignored. You have to wonder how many cases there really are involving false conviction. Immediately you have to question how it happens so frequently. So many defendants (especially those with incompetent legal counsel) are faced with the horrific choice of either pleading guilty to a crime they did not commit for a short sentence or going to trial and facing extremely long sentences if they are found guilty; what kind of a choice is that? Along with that you learn that attorney incompetence is rampant, that eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable, that jailhouse snitches are often used in generating evidence to define guilt or culpability, that exculpatory evidence is overlooked or ignored by prosecutors, that forensic evidence is improperly used, inappropriately assessed, or ignored, along with many other issues.

As you look at these cases and see prosecutors making motion after motion after motion to dismiss the conviction charges that led to exoneration, you see crystal clear evidence that serious mistakes happen, again and again and again. In these days of mass incarceration, mandatory minimum terms, and widespread public belief that conviction and imprisonment are the solution to the crime problem, this is a useful site that points out the serious anomalies involved in using the existing criminal justice machinery to effect justice.

Crate-Gate

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Criminology and Animals

There are varied areas of criminology and criminal justice that overlap with the study of nonhuman animals. Interest in domestic violence involving animals, animal cruelty, the role of dogs in prison therapy or animal assisted therapy generally, the use of service dogs in social control, such as K-9 units, and the like, are commonly discussed in the field.

Beyond the field of criminology, it is important to recognize how extensively Americans are involved with their nonhuman pets. Well over half of all U.S. households have a pet, and although there are actually more pet cats, more households have a dog than any other nonhuman animal. Surveys indicate that people interact with their pets, give them human names, buy them gifts, etc.

This makes the satirical Crate-Gate an especially interesting phenomenon for criminologists to watch. If you've never heard of Crate-Gate, try the above link. As any student of human and non-human interaction will attest, people speak through their nonhuman animals, in this case, dogs. In today's world of a presidential race in progress, we have an opportunity to see the varied voices and scenes that humans use to tell their dogs' stories. Can or should a presidential candidate be judged on how he treats his own family pet? Would knowledge about how a presidential candidate treats his own family pet inform citizens' understanding of his moral character?

U C Davis Occupation and Reaction

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The treatment of peaceful Occupy protesters at U C Davis has become widely known thanks to video recordings that have gone viral. This letter by a U C Davis Professor, "Militarization Of Campus Police," provides a compelling interpretation of the official response to protest. Pepper spray in the faces of peaceful protesters? Think again and again. What is the crime and who is/are the criminals? U C D Law Professors also join in the discussion.

"Prison Realignment:" The Time Has Arrived

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The long awaited realignment in California has begun. The state of California now transfers responsibility for specific categories of less serious criminal offenders to county jurisdictions rather than state prison. Let us hope that it goes smoothly. Perhaps other jurisdictions could then see a viable way to reduce overused prisons and return offenders to local jurisdictions where they may have a greater chance of successful reentry. It is clear that many other states (and the federal system) have serious crowding and other problems, but it appears that California leads the pack in the size, extent and severity of the problems. If we have learned anything in California, it is that history can repeat itself: using prisons as we have to solve the problems of crime is an extraordinarily costly use of scarce public money that is highly likely to fail.

The colossal California prison failure has taken a narrowly defined federal court order (one that had to go to the U.S. Supreme Court) to change, which coincides with a financially broke state that has no money for teachers, roads, health care, and the like. So it's about time. Some of the nearly ten billion dollars that goes to the state's prisons--over eleven percent of the state's budget--should be reduced by $1.5 billion.

Observers estimate that almost twenty-six thousand would-be prison inmates will do time in local jails now instead of prison, which one would expect would be closer to home, job, family and perhaps even rehabilitation or job training programs. There won't be the rapid and wasteful "churning" of parolees.

There is a lot of speculation about the effects of the realignment on local jail capacity, crime levels, and the like. An editorial by our local paper says that it is an "experiment" and a "gamble." Much of the discussion statewide mirrors that that surrounded of the probation subsidy program of decades past: "Will the money for all of these inmates materialize?" (When and exactly how much are reasonable questions); "Will crime levels increase?" (Hard to imagine they could ever be as high as the recidivism levels of released prisoners in California); Can we develop effective local programs to manage our own criminal offenders? (What a refreshing question. Local experience in Napa County suggests that local programs can provide beneficial employment training, drug testing and yet have substantially reduced recidivism levels.)

Let us hope that the experience with realignment will be carefully studied by researchers. We need ways of rationally assessing the consequences of our policy choices rather than allowing such things as politicians with simplistic crime control agendas, pundits, and high profile cases to guide policy decisions. The last thing we need is the hyperbolic thinking that got us into this enormous problem to begin with, like that supplied our own Republican State Senator (Runner) commenting on realignment:

"Now is the time for Californians to get a dog, buy a gun and install an alarm system. The state of California is no longer going to protect you."

The 2010 Census: Where Do Prisoners Live, Anyway?

Recently updated. Originally posted in April 2010.

Have you filled out the 2010 Census form yet? What does this have to do with crime and corrections? Quite a bit once you think about it.
"Fixing prison-based gerrymandering after the 2010 Census: A 50 state guide" is a very important look at where prisoners are counted as living for the purpose of the U.S. Census. Since residence defines where representation and resources are supposed to be apportioned, and with two million people locked up and prisoners counted as residents of the institutions (cities/states) where they are housed, it can give an unfair representative advantage to jurisdictions with prisons. As researchers note, "communities that bear the most direct costs of crime are also the communities that are the biggest victims of prison-based gerrymandering."

As these researchers and advocates for change note, states can change the way the Census counts are used for the allocation of representation and resources society.

More recently, the state of New York has changed its laws dealing with this issue. See the editorial in the New York Times.

Now Gov. Jerry Brown has signed legislation (AB 420) mandating that prisoners in California will be counted based on their residence at commitment, not in the prison that they happen to be housed in, beginning in 2020. California is the fourth state to do this.

Immigration Issues

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(Updated) Using criminal laws to manage a narrowly defined immigration "problem" is currently a hot topic. SSU faculty member Francisco Vasquez discusses the issue of the legal vs. ethical issues surrounding immigration in light of Arizona's new laws. He writes, for example, that "Politically, the issue of Mexican illegal immigration is the most exploited, useful and, historically, the principal political weapon for U.S. politicians every time there is an economic crisis." He raises a number of good points that can inform debate about immigration today.

Find Francisco's "GUEST OPINION: Standing up against an unethical Arizona law" at the local newspaper.

It is also worth noting that President Obama is frequently criticized for failing to enforce federal immigration laws. However, as more recently noted by TRAC,

"Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) show that during the first nine months of FY 2010, more non-US citizens were removed from the country than during any similar period in the Bush Administration....the first nine months of FY 2010...resulted in the removal of 279,035 individuals compared to 254,763 in the same nine month period during the final year of the Bush administration."

Should America unleash the private sector to solve our immigration problems? Even ardent private sector believers can't help but see the humor and truth in the Calvin and Hobbes cartoon about capitalism in America. Project Censored looks at the role of private sector corrections in responding to the issues facing immigrants and the U.S. problems with immigration. Their observation differs from but seems to complement Francisco's. They note at this link that two private sector leaders in the privatization of prisons,

"CCA based in Nashville, Tennessee, and Geo Group, a global corporation based in Boca Raton, Florida, are the principal moving forces in the behind-the-scenes organization of the current wave of anti-immigrant legislative efforts."

For the latest data on federal law enforcement in the area of immigration take this link. The table below is taken from 2010 TRAC report. It shows how Arizona compares to the rest of the U.S.


Here is a web site on issues of immigration that looks at its human side. Enjoy!

Justice: Criminal Justice Through Art

This ebook, Justice (pdf), was made possible by the Rockefeller Foundation, Columbia University, and Penland School of Crafts.

Justice

U.S. Supreme Court upholds release of California inmates

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Justice Kennedy was joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan in upholding the previously ordered release of California inmates from CDCR. California's prisons, designed to hold 80,000 inmates, have been holding more than double that for decades. In response to a long period of attempted federal intervention and a prior three judge federal court finding (subsequently appealed) that mental and medical care needs of inmates could not be met unless population size is reduced, the high court's 5-4 decision finally concludes the case.

This is big news. Supposedly population will be reduced to about 137 percent of capacity. Exactly how and when this will be accomplished has yet to be seen but supposedly it will happen within two years. Inmates will hopefully receive better care rather than cruel and unusual punishment.

And now California can re-embark on a new era of community based corrections rather than having such an extraordinarily heavy reliance on the extremely expensive system of incarceration. I say re-embark because we have successfully gone down this path before--in the 60's and early 70's through probation subsidy and in the 80's through the Blue Ribbon Commission's community supervision act proposal. There have been more recent proposals as well. Jeanne Woodford and Barry Krisberg note in their Op-Ed piece ("Don't fear the prison decision") that California will not be freeing dangerous offenders to meet mandate and that other states have recently reduced their incarceration levels maintaining public safety.

Hopefully, decreased commitments and shorter terms will also lead to reduced reliance on parole supervision as well. California has been criticized heavily for paroling everyone even though not everyone "needs" it. Some have argued that the system of supervision itself should be done away with, but a significant response has been that even if that's true, there has to be a release valve from prison. Perhaps for the moment there is a greater need for flexibility to get or keep people out of prison.

The high court's finding could also not have come at a better time--over the past 30 years California's prison budget has more than tripled to over 9 billion dollars while the state's services have been severely crippled. The horrific budget deficit that threatens massive layoffs at local levels, closure of public parks, retraction of higher education and huge increases in tuition/fees, might be mitigated by the proper reduction of money to the prison system. Whether that can happen has yet to be seen.

Relief ordered, at last! Download the opinion at this link.

America's prison failure

On Dec. 6 the New York Times published an opinion piece worthy of note. In response to the California prison conditions case now before the U.S. Supreme Court, Schwarzenegger v. Plata. Federal oversight of California's broken system determined that population must be reduced by forty thousand inmates to provide adequate, but minimal, health care to inmates, who die routinely as a direct result of the the poor quality of care and a failure of the prison to respond to court orders issues to prevent these problems over the past couple of decades.

The editorial concludes: "America's prison system is now studied largely because of its failure -- the result of an expensive approach to criminal justice shaped by fear-driven ideology. California's prisons embody this overwhelming failure."

Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union

In these times of potential social change it is useful for students and teachers to read the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union in light of their criminal justice systems. This provides a useful example for comparison to the U.S.

Public Attitudes on Crime and Punishment

PEW's just released study, National Research of Public Attitudes on Crime and Punishment, is must reading for people concerned with correctional reform in the U.S.

The study shows that voters want citizens and communities safe and want offenders to be accountable. In addition: "Voters believe a strong public safety system is possible while reducing the size and cost of the prison system."

The findings detail how much people are willing to release offenders from prison, the high priority they place on funding education over prisons, and how important people view preparing people who are released from prison (since 95% are) to become productive members of society.

Do the PEW findings apply to California? Some data suggests that the answer is yes. For example, the table below is derived from a random sample of Californians as of January, 2010 collected by the PPIC. It shows support for cutting various state agencies in California to reduce the deficit. The data show that nearly 70% of the California public supports cutting prison budgets to reduce the deficit. The public is, however, strongly opposed to cutting budgets in education and health and human services to reduce the deficit.

prison_educ_budget.jpg

Crime and Victimization Data through 2009

People want to know how much crime there is. The data below have been taken from publicly accessible data sources identified in the tables below or in the text.

Police Data. Here are some police data generated from the Uniform Crime Reports, 2009.

Part I or Index Personal/Violent Offenses, 1990-2009:
View table

Part I or Index Property Offenses, 1990-2009:
View table

UCR reported offenses cleared by arrest or exceptional means, 2009:
View table

UCR Arrests, 2009, all offenses and jurisdictions (% of total computed):
View table

Justifiable homicides by police over time, by time of weapon:
View table

Justifiable homicides by citizens over time, by type of weapon:
View table

Victim Data. Latest data (see year on table). Here are some data from National Crime Victim Survey: Americans reporting on how frequently and what kind of victimization they have experienced, as well as whether or not they have reported it to the police. One recent report is Criminal Victimization 2008

Proportion of victims who do/do not report victimization, by offense:
View table

Why victims report victimization to police:
View table

Why victims do not report victimization to police:
View table

Dramatic declines in victimization, 1998-2008 (from Criminal Victimization above):
View table

Violent personal victimization by gender, race, ethnicity and age:
View Table

Violent personal victimization by race, controlling for gender:
View table

Victim-offender relationship in violent victimization, by type of crime and gender of victim:
View image

Self-protective measures taken by victims of violent personal crime, by gender and race
View table

Property victimization by annual household income:
View table

Self report data. The third method of measuring crime is by asking those who break the rules. For reasons that are not entirely clear, these kinds of questions are often only asked of juveniles. Today one of the best known self-report program is called Monitoring the Future, which has been collecting data for thirty-six years. At present self report data are collected annually from 8th, 10th and 12th graders. Here's a small sample from the latest survey. A report overview (pdf) is available.

View table

Some data are available for juveniles and adults on illicit drug use. For example, the National Institute on Drug Abuse conducted a national survey in 2008 available at this link. The latest data are available in this report. The table below displays marijuana use level by age for the U.S. as a whole:

View table

Three Strikes in California

Updated and reposted:
Everyone interested in crime and punishment may be interested in the 2005 report on California's Three Strikes Law, entitled A Primer: Three Strikes: The Impact After More Than a Decade, authored by Brian Brown and Greg Jolivette of the Legislative Analyst's Office of the State of California.* This study is elegant in its simplicity and its quantity and quality of information. There are important findings.

First, the three strikes law has had a major impact on California prisons: individuals sentenced under the law now comprise 26 percent of the state's prison population. Since the law was passed about 87,500 people have been sentenced to prison under its provisions. Unlike some other states, who use tough-sounding habitual offender laws more as symbolic legislation, California has made big-time use of this law. At $35,000 per inmate per year this means Californians are paying big money for this.

Second, fully 56% of "strikers" (inmates sentenced under the law) are in prison for nonserious or nonviolent offenses: this includes 59% of second strikers and 46 percent of third strikers. Sentence lengths of all inmates increased by 19 percent since the law was passed; "Second strikers released to parole in 2004 served 43 months on average. The additional time in prison for second strikers costs the state approximately $60,000 per striker" (p. 20). None of the 7,575 third strikers have yet been released and none will be until 2019.

Third, the fiscal impact is unclear, but the report estimates that the law costs about a half a billion dollars a year and that this cost will increase significantly. There will be long term costs as aging prisoners' health care costs are added to the base cost of incarcerating inmates. There will be additional parole and parole decision-making costs, and there has been a 10% increase in trials that can probably be attributed to the law; calculation of these and other costs are not included in the half billion figure. Parole officials are beefing up supervision of striker releasees, thereby increasing the cost of supervision.

The very big promise of this law is that it will reduce crime. Has it? First, it is important to recognize that the law was passed when crime was declining to begin with, both in California and the U.S. as a whole. Second, there is wide variation in use of the law by the counties, e.g., "Kern County with 1,518 strikers per 100,000 adult felony arrests is over 13 times more likely to send an arrestee to state prison with a strike enhancement than San Francisco County (113 strikers per 100,000 adult felony arrests)" (p. 25). Third, there is no correspondance between county usage of the law and subsequent changes in county crime rates. Citing a report by Jim Austin, they note: " If Three Strikes works as intended, one would expect that those counties that used the law more often would experience significantly greater reductions in crime than those that did not use it as often. However, the county comparison study did not find significantly different outcomes across different counties, suggesting that the Three Strikes law was not the primary cause of the significant drop in crime after 1994" (p. 31).

As it concerns violent crime rates in particular, the report goes on to compare the declines in violent crime across counties that used the striker enhancements a great deal compared to those that did not use it as much. They find no differences in benefits across counties: "The violent crime rate in those counties least likely to send strikers to prison declined by an average of 45 percent, while the violent crime rate in the counties most likely to send strikers to prison declined by an average of 44 percent."

In short, the decline in crime in California (and elsewhere) can not be linked to the three strikes law.

The report does not say this but it obviously needs to be: the law has been an enormously costly and ineffectual response to crime. It is grounded in unfounded and simplistic assumptions about how to control crime. Despite the hard-line rhetoric it very likely has had no effect on public safety.

As we continue to dump massive amounts of public money to fund the incarceration of offenders convicted of nonserious strikes, we miss the opportunity to support other pressing needs--ones that might well have demonstrable positive effects in dealing with crime and its antecedents.

California's Proposition 66 of the 2004 election, which would have scaled down Three Strikes to only include offenders whose second and third strikes were violent or serious felonies, was narrowly defeated at the polls because of a last minute campaign headed by the Governor, a very wealth friend of his, and other vested interests--the most powerful lobbying group in California (the California Correctional and Peace Officer's Association), and the District Attorney's Association. The television ads against the law were filled with gross inaccuracies and distortions (see them for yourself at http://www.keep3strikes.org/video2.asp).
Prior to this extremely well-funded media blitz there was strong public support for changing the three strikes law. Pollsters were surprised by the dramatic switch in public opinion.

We, the public and taxpayers, are left with paying the enormous price tag for no crime reduction benefit and lost opportunities to spend money on alternative pressing needs that can do much more to prevent crime.

SuperCell thrives on California's three strikes law. SuperCell relishes people who don't want to be bothered with ineffective crime control policies. SuperCell admires politicians who ignore information on ineffective crime control policy.


To get the flavor of excesses in the use of three strikes to solve California's crime problem see a recent example of an inmate recently released from a 25 year sentence in this L.A. Times article.

For a study of the disproportionate impact of three strikes on minorities see "Racial Divide: An Examination of the Impact of California's Three Strikes Law on African-Americans and Latinos."





*The Acknowledgement states:
"The Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO) is a nonpartisan office which provides fiscal and policy information and advice to the California Legislature. To request publications call (916) 445-4656. This report and others, as well as an E-mail subscription service, are available on the LAO's Internet site at www.lao.ca.gov."

Arson: sometimes a matter of economics

The economy is ripe for (mostly) downscale arson. Some news articles suggest the structural reasons for this, e.g., 

Economy blamed for jump in arson cases | MLive.com

Peace Officer/Correctional Officer Crimes Against Citizens/Inmates

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The conviction of a peace officer for the killing of Oscar Grant raises the question of how frequently police are charged with crimes against citizens and what the outcomes of accusations are. The table on p. 5 of Crime in California, the California Attorney General's advance report on crime in California, shows how many times police in California were charged with crimes against citizens over the past six years. In 2009, 600 felony and 833 misdemeanor charges were leveled against officers by citizens. Fifty-one (8.5%) of the 600 felonies were "sustained," as were 101 (12.1%) of the misdemeanors. Click the table to enlarge it. An important question--not addressed in the report--is the meaning of "sustained" and the consequences of this for officers, departments and citizens.

agreport_police3.png

Accusations against prison guards by inmates at this time appear to be far more hidden than accusations against police by free citizens. One would think that the California prison system would be far more open and transparent in its dealings with inmates given the sustained criticism of the operation of prisons but for varied reasons it is not. A recent Sacramento Bee investigative story discusses what happens to complaints filed by inmates in California prisons against correctional officers. Will this instigate more inquiry?

"Daniel Johnson, a recently retired state prison research analyst, was assigned in 2008 and 2009 to record information into a database from about 10,000 employee-misconduct appeals filed by prisoners over more than five years. He told The [Sacramento] Bee that virtually every complaint filed against a correctional officer was rejected by officials, including hundreds of appeals alleging physical abuse 'even when medical records supported the complaint.'"

Source: http://www.sacbee.com/2010/08/01/2928417/rights-of-prisoners-under-siege.html#ixzz0vOZjOuMp

In an update of an earlier report at the Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice, The California Miracle: Drastically Reduced Youth Incarceration, Drastically Reduced Youth Crime, authors Mike Males and Daniel Macallair examine whether adult and juvenile crime rates have changed in California as the incarceration of juveniles has dramatically declined. For the record, in the past thirty years the rate of incarceration for juveniles has declined by eighty percent. The answer (relax conservatives, don't sweat it politicians, take heart progressives): decarcerating juveniles has been a very good thing. As incarceration has decreased, crime among juveniles has decreased. For example, from 1980 to 2009, the felony crime rate among juveniles dropped sixty percent.

The study also compares the juvenile and adult experiences and looks at particular counties that have widely varying rates of incarceration.

This is an important reading in a state with staggering budget deficits and an over reliance on incarceration as a solution to crime problems. Criminologists will appreciate how the study directly addresses the meaning and implications of the results for incapacitation theory. These kind of results do not bolster SuperCell's reputation.

Congress has done the right thing

Today the House passed legislation that will greatly decrease the wide disparities in sentencing for crack and powder cocaine sentences. It will also repeal the five year mandatory minimum sentence for simple possession of crack cocaine. This comes on the heels of the Senate vote. The legislation now goes to the President. The issue of whether the changes will be applied retroactively is unknown.

This was bipartisan legislation, although one has to wonder whether it could ever have happened had Democrats not had the upper hand. It's the first repeal of a mandatory minimum drug sentence since the days of the Nixon administration. Various groups, including the Sentencing Project and FAMM have argued strenuously for reform of the laws.

Mental Illness: What Hath Been Wrought

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During the early 1970's in California Ronald Reagan decided to deinstitutionalize persons with mental illnesses. With legislative support that's what happened, and it was supposed to be somehow replaced with some kind of community care system and psychotropic drugs that somehow never fully materialized. Over the years many commentators and researchers have noticed the increased presence of persons with varied mental illnesses or dual diagnoses in prisons and jails.

The Treatment Advocacy Center's latest nationwide study on the mentally ill in confinement notes:

"In historical perspective, we have returned to the early nineteenth century, when mentally ill persons filled our jails and prisons. At that time, a reform movement, sparked by Dorothea Dix, led to a more humane treatment of mentally ill persons. For over a hundred years, mentally ill individuals were treated in hospitals. We have now returned to the conditions of the 1840s by putting large numbers of mentally ill persons back into jails and prisons" (emphasis in original).

Have you been to a local jail lately and checked out how many persons identified as having mental illnesses are there and how many of them are walking around with shackles? It's upsetting to behold, but when you put people in a jail and they don't behave, you do what jailers do. A sad part of this is that there are no bandaid, panacea solutions. Over 30% of women inmates, and a little over half of male inmates, have serious mental health problems, and Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca can say with authority, "I run the biggest mental hospital in the country" (cited in the above study, p. 4).

Clearly U.S. priorities and California's in particular are to criminalize problems that belong elsewhere. Criminal justice incarceration, here in the form of local jails, is one of the most inappropriate, expensive and least effective solutions around. The above study suggests that states with the greatest spending on hospitals for the mentally ill spend the least money on mentally ill inmates in prisons and jails. Moreover, mentally ill inmates cost a great deal more to manage than other inmates--and they stay longer (not surprisingly, many have trouble following institutional rules! After all, it is a place of punishment in form if not intent.).

This is one of those areas of criminal justice where it is very clear the form of our structured response to people in trouble (jail and shackles for the mentally ill) is inappropriate. Our society--through our leaders--has put all its money into a criminal justice solution to everything: we're now governing through crime, to use the title of Jonathan Simon's book, Governing Through Crime, a vital way of thinking about the mass incarceration response to crime today.

How can we get out of this mess? It seems advisable to decarcerate the mentally ill with soundly planned and executed community based alternatives designed to keep them out of jails and prisons and which do not infringe on their civil liberties. There are programs that work to do that. Mental health courts appear to have promise, as may other alternatives suggested in the report. The non-help, non-system, let them eat cake solution of Ronald Reagan doesn't work and the current policy of incarceration doesn't work. Moreover, in today's world, throwing psychiatrists at them will do little more than lead to drugs: in today's world, psychiatrists have moved away from talk therapy. (See Talk Doesn't Pay, So Psychiatry Turns Instead to Drug Therapy.) Instead, it's all about drugs and more drugs.

Today it appears that jails and prisons have become for the mentally ill what the juvenile court was in the early 1960's to juveniles having minor run-ins with the police: a solution of first resort. Edwin Lemert's angrily toned (and lengthy) report, Instead of Court: Diversion from Juvenile Justice, drew attention to the overreach of the juvenile justice system and suggested the importance of finding alternatives to formal processing. Since that time diversion programs, which have their own issues, have flourished and many states have decarcerated or completed closed their youth training schools (prisons for young offenders). The important lesson from research on these states' experiences is that with careful planning it is possible to decarcerate young offenders--as California has been doing--without increasing public risk and while providing people with the services and assistance to make them self-sufficient adults. Perhaps similar things can be done with mentally ill persons along lines suggested in the Treatment Advocacy Center report.

Cellphone laws

Laws relating to cell phone usage have been passed in many states or local jurisdictions (see this listing of states, local jurisdictions and their laws). This is one of those areas where systematic research has not quite caught up to the potential importance of a common practice (talking on a cell phone or even texting while driving) for traffic safety. Many such laws are targeting youth or 'novice' drivers: over 28 states target texting while driving, which is about youth mainly.

This is an area ripe for investigation by students of dynamic conflict and social change leading to legal change.

Supreme Court Limits LWOPs for Juveniles

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled, in Graham v. Florida (08-7412.pdf), on the question of whether juveniles can be given life without parole sentences. In a case decided today the court ruled that juveniles can not be given such sentences unless convicted of homicide. The 5-4 decision is remarkable because of the minority opinion of Scalia, Thomas and Alito.

Collateral Effects of Mass Incarceration: the (non)Right to Vote

The loss of the right to vote because of a felony conviction under a de facto policy of mass incarceration in the U.S. means--translated into practice--that one-third of black men in Alabama can no longer vote. That is unbelievable. More will be added each year in that state and elsewhere as we continued to lock up massive numbers of inmates who are disproportionately represented by minorities and the poor. The NAACP has just completed a report on the general topic, "Free the Vote: Unlocking Democracy in the Cells and on the Streets." This is worth a close read and discussion. The question of whether disenfranchisement is inconsistent with the Voting Rights Act is an interesting one. See the recent opinion by Linda Greenhouse in "Voting Behind Bars."

Supreme Court Nominations

In these important times of U.S. Supreme Court replacements it is helpful to have a reference point for how the process is supposed to work. Try Supreme Court Nominations

1 in 31

PEW Center on the States, One in 31: The Long Reach of American Corrections provides the latest look at the reach of corrections in the United States. It documents the unprecedented growth in and costs of the increases in community and institutional corrections and points as well to ways out of the mess that we're in.

From 1 in 31:
prison_growth.jpg

For some updated statistics see this study from the Correctional Research Service.

California Carefully Opens Its Prison Doors

Today's New York Times' article, "California, in Financial Crisis, Opens Prison Doors," is an evenly worded statement of where the country is headed. Although no other state can match our seventy percent parole failure rate, perhaps they will want to follow California's lead and reduce inmate populations. As the Golden State hemorrhages from scarce resources, the lost opportunities due to the enormous amount of money given to its highly ineffective prisons is finally coming to the foreground. The CCPOA (guard's union) has backed off its pressure to keep the prison filled and growing and CDCR is being forced to do what it should have done decades ago: cautiously letting low risk inmates out without serious parole supervision and even trying to provide inmates the services they need to transition to society.

Governor Schwarzenegger might leave office with some dignity if he follows through with attempts to put more money into education than prisons.

Prevention Not Prison

Thanks to Rick L. for forwarding this op-ed link:

Prevent criminal activity, spend less on prisons

Global Warming

Originally published on Jan. 11, 2007. See "Afterwards" at end.

The evidence of global warming is everywhere around us, varying in forms depending upon where we live. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has provided the very latest evidence and scientific conclusions about global warming and what has caused it. Many are unaware of the problem due to the deliberate manipulation of information (see, e.g., Global warming facts obscured by politics).

Most of the rise in world temperature is due to the buildup of carbon dioxide caused mainly by burning fossil fuels. Only fools are still in denial. With continued global warming will come gradual or rapid but certain calamity, death, disease, crime and related problems. To learn more or to instigate thinking about this you could start by downloading a simplified version of the "Global Warming: Early Warning Signs" poster, or by getting a copy of the map itself. (fyi, we have no financial interest in the sale of this map.) You might also take a look at the Brookings document on reducing oil dependence. You could also read Stephen Hawking's thoughts on global warming.

There are plenty of weighty and compelling statements about what is happening to the earth. The Earth Institute summarizes one bit of the most visible evidence of warming:

"According to NASA, the polar ice cap is now melting at the rate of 9 percent per decade. Arctic ice thickness has decreased 40 percent since the 1960s. The current pace of sea-level rise is three times the historical rate and appears to be accelerating.

The IPCC's webcast of their latest study (WG I Summary for Policymakers, Paris, France, 2 February 2007), the fourth assessment, is useful to listen to.

There are many, many other implications of global warming. Obviously the oceans will rise quite a bit, there will be dramatic weather changes, and many (more) people will die from the direct and indirect effects of all these and related factors. If you would like to read first-person accounts of the experience in areas that have been directly affected by global warming, such as the changing lives of farmers around Mt. Kilimanjaro, see the link to the "Reports from a Warming Planet" provided by American Radioworks.

It is easy to identify the the top twenty carbon dioxide emitters, the sources of our global warming problem, but far more difficult to get recognition of the problem by citizens, legislators and government, especially in the United States--one of the biggest sources of pollution leading to global warning.

One of the most challenging questions is how to get environmental pollution high on the agenda of public problems, first in the U.S. and then abroad. Perhaps we could take the bold step and define it as a crime rather than, as is presently done, burying it in administrative regulations. Unbelievable as it may sound, the Environmental Protection Agency refuses to define greenhouse gases as environmental pollution. (An analogy is the FDA's management of the cigarette/smoking issue.) California has taken the step of defining tailpipe emissions as pollution, with some strict guidelines to be implemented in 2009. It is, however, unclear whether the Bush Administration or federal law will back up California and other states that see the problems so clearly and attempt to take definite actions to try to deal with them before it is too late to do anything.

There is now a widely watched case (05-1120 Massachusetts, et al. v. EPA, et al.) sitting at the U.S. Supreme Court that begs for resolution of the meaning of the Clean Air Act, which during oral arguments led to the usual embarassment of Scalia's superficial understanding of cases before the court. At stake here, however, is whether there will or can be a speedy solution to pollution emissions in the race against global warming. If Congress has to revise the Clean Air Act it will delay, delay and delay the solutions that are needed to address the big problems we face today, now.

In 1988--during "Greenhouse Summer"--there was great concern expressed about the global warming phenomenon, but interest waned as obvious signs appeared to diminish (but objective indicators have continued to show definitive evidence). (See Shedon Unger, "The Rise and (Relative) Decline of Global Warming as a Social Problem," The Sociological Quarterly, Volume 33, Number 4, pages 483-501, 1992.) His work calls attention to the importance of social scares to social change and is worth reading in this context.

Locally, in Sonoma County, California, the environmental movement is alive and well and working to reduce greenhouse emissions. It really is a hands-on, grass roots example of how you can help your own local community get on this problem: make a global problem your local problem. In 2001, all nine cities, Sonoma County and the Water Agency here were the first in the United States to specify greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets for all government agencies. The Community Climate Action Plan (CCAP) is the blueprint being used to coordinate public and private sector groups to make it all happen. Go to this page to see the Community Climate Action Plan Update. Other local communities can check out the Climate Protection Campaign web site.

Noticed some strange changes in the weather in your area that are, well, discomforting in some way? Is the weather too pleasant (or uncomfortable) for this time of year, or just weird? Trust your senses, start reading, educate yourself, take action. You can make a difference.

Afterwards
In July of 2010, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
National Climatic Data Center's official government report on climate change concludes:

"The combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for June 2010 was the warmest on record..." See the report for more details.

See climateprogress.org/ for numerous discussions about the state of earth and how and why we are in denial about climate change.

Federal Oversight and legislators who don't get it

Federal oversight of California's prison system calls for reduction of prison population in the next two years. We have the means to do it, along with the support of democratic legislators and the governor. Now the only roadblock is republicans, who are continuing to use the 'tough on crime' rhetoric to prevent California from doing what needs to happen: cutting sentences short for nonviolent offenders, reducing or eliminating parole for the low risk offenders, as other states already do, and using other reasonable means to reduce the number of prison inmates.

While the state is actively cutting programs and assistance to people with demonstrable needs--e.g., huge cuts to education, assistants for the disabled, etc.--to feed the extraordinary costly and ineffective system of corrections, republicans are truly demonstrating how much they are completely out of touch with the reality of California.

The state of California of course appealed the three judge panel's decision, which is now in the U.S. Supreme Court. We should be hearing about their decision shortly.

The Chancellor Has Seen the Light

The Chancellor of the CSU system finally gets it. How long has this taken?

"During the budget debate, it became clear to me that something unthinkable has happened in California: Our fiscal meltdown has so distorted our legislative priorities that we are now a state that places a higher priority on prison than on higher education.

"Last week, at the same time that the California State University's Board of Trustees was approving drastic measures to manage unprecedented budget cuts, a tentative budget deal in the Legislature was unraveling because of outrage over cuts to California's prison budget. How could the message to California students have been any clearer? You can cut higher education to the bone and you won't hear a single statement of remorse from the Legislature, but start cutting into the prison budget and you'll hear howls of protest from the Capitol."

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/07/27/ED3018UPP1.DTL#ixzz0MZssDtRf

Build a Prison in Small Town America? You Bet!

Read Eric Williams' opinion, "To get more, they need Gitmo," in the L.A. Times. He writes:

"I have been studying the issue of prisons in rural towns across the U.S. since 2003 and have found that small towns have no problem with housing inmates, no matter how dangerous society considers the inmates to be."

Swine Flu - panic watch

For the moment, fears about the H5N1 avian flu--and related criminological issues--have receded while U.S. and other investigators look into the latest outbreak of Swine Flu. WHO and the Center for Disease Control appears to be on top of this and (as of June 11) a worldwide pandemic has been declared. The CDC is careful to say that "WHO's decision to raise the pandemic alert level to Phase 6 is a reflection of the spread of the virus, not the severity of illness caused by the virus." As of 6.25.09 there have been 127 deaths in the U.S. and its territories and a total of 265 deaths worldwide.

People are discussing primarily the flu in general and swine flu in internet forums. The figure below, created from BlogPulse, shows the trends in mention of swine flu relative to "flu" and "avian flu" on 6.29.09 for the prior six month period. It is notable that the June 11 announcement barely led to a slight blib in discussion.

flu6-29-09.png

Remain aware by reading regular updates from the Sonoma County Public Health Division.

The link below is one way to keep on top of official CDC information.

Interrupted Life: Incarcerated Mothers in the United States

The Interrupted Lives: Incarcerated Mothers in the United States art exhibit and program was at Sonoma State University during the month of April, 2009. During this month there was an extremely well-attended series of events related to the exhibition. The closing performance was unusually intense and has created a lot of discussion in and out of the classroom.

We bid farewell to the exhibit and wish future stewards the very best. The key element in the exhibit's success is the program of activities associated with it. Do not let these economically depressed times diminish your hopes and labors.

What, We Worry?

A recent article in the local newspaper, "Santa Rosa crime rate plummets," notes the dramatic drop in crime. It asks whether local citizens are safer than they were 20 years ago--an interesting question to ask when 'objective' indicators of crime clearly show dramatic decreases.

In light of this, we may ask, What is newsworthy about the drop in crime? In another entry, we reviewed some of the statistical evidence--using the most accurate measures of crime we have--which indicate that crime is declining dramatically--not just police data but also victim reports of crime and other sources. Moreover, there are steep decreases even though reporting of crime is improving. However, the truly astounding fact is that even though crime is going down, citizens are still afraid of crime and still believe that crime is going up. Year after year, the same pattern continues. How is that possible?

Here's data from Gallup on public opinion about whether a nationally representative sample of Americans think crime is going up. Believe it or not, even though crime continues to go down, as it has for decades, a higher percentage of people feel crime is going up than has existed for more than a decade. See the table here.

Here we are, one of the richest and most educated nations in the world, and many people are out of touch with reality. How is this possible? Why are people so afraid when they're safer now than they have been for decades?

Judges Order Release of Inmates

Feb 9, 2009 4:40 pm
US/Pacific Judges Order Release Of Thousands Of Inmates SAN FRANCISCO (AP)

A special panel of federal judges tentatively ruled Monday that California must release tens of thousands of inmates to relieve overcrowding. The judges said no other solution will improve conditions so poor that inmates die regularly of suicides or lack of proper care.

Since this time, Attorney General Brown has appealed the ruling. See "Brown Calls on Court to Terminate Prison Receivership" on YouTube.

Stalking and Harassment

See the latest study on the national incidence and prevalence of stalking and harassment from the perspective of victims. This BJS study has taken on very difficult definition and measurement issues and come up with estimates for the year 2005.

Table 4 shows the numerical distribution of stalking and harassment and the gender characteristics of victims and perceived offenders. This table is percentaged in the wrong direction if you want to know the likelihood of stalking by offender gender. Of course the unit of observation is the victim and not offender, but looking at the data in another way can give us insight into stalking.

Repercentaging the table for cases in which there was a known gender of offender (n=3,033,434), we find that approximately 17.8% of the (2,060,779) male offenders stalked male victims and approximately 82.2% stalked female victims. In contrast, only about 38.8% of (972,655) female offenders stalked males and about 61.2% of female offenders stalked females. Thus, both males and females are more likely to stalk females than they are to stalk males.


Identity Theft - New and Recent Data

Click here to listen to this entry as a podcast.

Along with enormous popular interest in the topic, and focused web sites (e.g., The Identity Theft Resource Center), we now have two nationally representative data sets on identity theft in the United States. For the first time, the National Crime Victim Survey (NCVS) asked questions of U.S. citizens to determine whether they discovered whether they have been the victim of identity theft, variously defined, during the past six months. The data are displayed in the table below, which shows that 3.1% of U.S. households had discovered some form of identity theft during the six months preceding their 2004 interview:

idtheft5.jpg

As you can see in the table, identity theft most often involves the misuse of a credit card (one and a half percent of U.S. households). The next highest amount (eight tenths of one percent of U.S. households) involves the misuse of information to open other accounts (such as a checking account) or commit other crimes. Finally, a total of four tenths of one percent of U.S. households experienced multiple types of theft during the same episode.

The victims of identity theft as defined above are more likely in households with an income of seventy-five thousand dollars or more; where the age of the head of household is younger (age 18-24); and in nonrural areas. Two-thirds of households reporting identity theft did not report any problems as a result of the discovery, but a third did report problems: in order of frequency (most first): contact by a debt collector or creditor; banking problems; problems with credit card accounts; had to pay higher interest rates; denied phone or utility service; and others. While many instances of identity theft were resolved within a day, others took weeks or months to resolve; thefts of personal information took longer to resolve.

This study estimates that identity theft in the study period resulted in $3.2 billion in losses (although any reimbursed losses, such as insurance payoffs, were not calculated in this total). Some households experienced big hits (1 in 20 households reporting any monetary loss indicate that they lost $5,000 or more) but the median among households reporting $1 or more in losses was $400.

The Federal Trade Commission had its own nationally representative study conducted on identity theft, which was published in 2003. Using a different procedure for sampling, this study finds, similar to the BJS study above, that the percentage of survey respondents experiencing various forms of identity theft totalled 4.6 percent in the past year. It also finds that 12.7 percent of respondents reported being victims of identity theft over the past five years. A helpful table from p. 5 of that report is shown below. See the full report for details.

ftcidtht.jpg

So there you have it. In the old days (i.e., before the term 'identity theft' was coined and applied to crime) credit card fraud was called credit card fraud, or check forgery, or something similar, but we didn't call either identity theft. Today the media, insurance companies, spammers, and other fear mongers have gotten a hold of 'identity theft' and and run with it to create one of the biggest fears of propertied and even non-propertied people whose vital information is fraudulently used for gain by others. This has a lot of consequences, not the least of which is insecurity and fear of random victimization in the face of old wine in new bottles.

The New York Times recently ran an article by Eric Dash, "Protectors, Too, Gather Profits From ID Theft," which notes that:

"It is not just criminals who are profiting from identity theft; financial institutions are making money, too. Fear of identity theft has helped give rise to a nearly billion-dollar business in credit-monitoring services sold by the major credit bureaus...as well as direct marketers and banks.
"Javelin Strategy and Research, which analyzes the credit-monitoring market, says more than 12 million Americans are now subscribers."
Also, check out this statement:
"Identity theft is the number one consumer crime in America, and still growing rapidly. Many employers are beginning to realize that identity theft protection can be a highly valuable addition to an employee benefits program, and The Identity Guardian has been developed to respond to that need. Recent surveys indicate that identity theft is at the top of the list of financial concerns of Americans, especially for professionals, who have more exposure and more to lose."

In any event, a challenge to BJS will be to figure out how to separate or include identity theft within existing categories of theft in the NCVS. Was it included in these statistics before, implicitly or explicitly? Is it included now? What will the future hold? We hope that thinkers about this matter will not turn their backs on it as they have for arson.

Hopefully, the existance of these data, and the legacy of fraud by whatever means, will be enough to respond to some claims by myth-makers who spread falsehoods about identity theft. The consequences of the less prevalent kinds of identity theft are severe enough without blending credit card or check fraud into the mix.

Addendum: most recently Tiversa claims to have data indicating that there has been a dramatic increase in identity theft from 2007-2008. (See their report here.) This is a fascinating claim. The database and technology used to generate the data are not clear and one should hesitate in jumping to conclusions based on these data.

Health Care of Prisoners

The Health and Health Care of US Prisoners: A Nation wide Survey, from the American Journal of Public Health, is the first study of prison and jail inmates health across the country. Not surprisingly, it shows high levels of serious illness and little available health care. The data were analyzed by researchers from Cambridge and Harvard for 2002 and 2004. Of the two million inmates, around forty percent (40%) report a chronic medical problem like asthma, diabetes, or ongoing heart or kidney problems. Their illness rate is thus much higher than free citizens of a similar age. A fifth of state prison inmates had not seen a doctor or nurse since being locked up; fully sixty-eight percent (68%) of sick jail inmates had not gotten nurse or doctor attention.

The problems of mentally ill offenders are equally sad, but incarceration appears to coincide with the pattern of existing mentally ill persons not receiving care to get something after incarceration. See the more recent post, "Mental Illness: What Hath Been Wrought."

These findings are disturbing but not surprising and serve as baseline information for development of public policy to address these issues.

Bernard Madoff

Scott Burns is a financial advisor who has compared Bernard Madoff's 50 billon "Largest Theft in History" to all property crime reported to the Uniform Crime Reports for a few years. Enjoy his down-to-earth online article, which concludes with his answer to the question, "how can the punishment possibly be fit to the crime?"

After that, proceed to his followup article, "Bernard Madoff and the Full-Time Equivalent of Murder," which summarizes the thousands of responses he received from readers on what an appropriate punishment should be.

Teachers in criminology may want to use these articles to frame a discussion of proportionality or to study historically how classical theorists struggled (unsuccessfully) with issues of equivalency or proportionality.

Statistics Laundering

Statistics Laundering: false and fantastic figures may be a web site worth examining for its helpfulness in pointing out how and why statistics can be inaccurate. This site is helpful because it deals with issues that overlap with the criminology & criminal justice area.

Will CDCR be Received?

The Universe is waiting. Will CDCR go into receivership? The trial is on but not being televised. Hold on to your seats while the experts offer opinions about whether CDCR is capable of managing its own affairs. See "Corrections chiefs: Calif. prisons unmanageable."

The overcrowding numbers that have been used to drive the growth of prison and its supporting structure are now being used to attack the very legitimacy of self-governance. There's a nice quote in the above newspaper article from Jeanne Woodford, SSU's former alumni of the year and former warden of San Quentin: "We just passed an initiative that gives chickens appropriate living space, and yet we permit conditions like this," referring to a makeshift dorm at CRC.

Election Results

A titanic shift with major potential implications for criminology & criminal justice

Victimization in Schools

The latest report on how frequently the young are the victims of crime in schools shows that rates of victimization among them continue to decline. These data are shown in the figure below, which is taken from

Figure 1, p. 5 of the IES National Center for Education Statistics, Student Victimization in U.S. Schools.

Click here to view Figure 1

IRS Audits of Large Corporations on Decline

We often hear about how large corporations are one of the greatest beneficiaries of lenient tax policies of conservative administrations. Now TRAC writes in an email, summarizing a study they just completed: "the audit rate for corporations with $250 million or more in assets has dropped to its lowest point in the last 20 years. The report...further shows that the IRS has shifted audit resources from larger to smaller corporations. In an unprecedented action, the IRS also is seeking a court order to bar future access to agency statistics that are essential for this report."

This report is certainly worth reading. It's not very long and filled with many details of interest.

Meet the Presidential Candidates

The Sentencing Projects' 2008 Presidential Candidates' Platforms on Criminal Justice is welcome reading for students of criminal justice. Learn about each (Clinton, Obama, McCain) presidential candidate's position on matters of concern to criminal justice: mandatory minimum sentences, "three-strikes-and-you're-out" law, approach to "war on drugs", crack/powder cocaine disparity, death penalty, disproportionate minority representation in criminal justice system, ex-offender re-entry into communities, felony disenfranchisement and parole.


Maryland Death Penalty Costs

Many students are shocked when they learn how much it costs to adjudicate someone charged with a capital crime. How much is it? How much is it when the prosecution wins vs. when they lose?

Numerous studies have attempted to specify the costs of adjudicating capital cases and, as the General Accounting Office noted many years ago, research usually underestimates it. The latest study by the nonpartisan Urban Institute, entitled, "The Cost of the Death Penalty in Maryland" is probably no different but it does provide current data on Maryland's death penalty costs from 1978-99. The lifetime cost of sentencing someone to death averaged three million dollars, $1.7 millon of which is for adjudication costs and $1.3 millon for prison costs. This is nearly three times the cost of not selecting a capital eligible case for the death penalty. See the Urban Institutes abstract at http://www.urban.org/publications/411625.html.

1 in 100 citizens incarcerated

The latest PEW report made the headlines around the country as the U.S. became the first nation in the world to lock up 1 out of every 100 citizens. Even someone from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, could see that we are locking up too many people.

There is also an interview with the manager of the PEW Center for the States in the Washington Post.

This report, and the attention it has generated, reveals both the serious financial and social implications mass imprisonment has had on the U.S. and the utter stupidity and emptiness of arguments for a continued policy of mass incarceration.

This is, however, old news for us Californians. We've had a rate of incarceration over 100 since around 1988. See the basic data at the Attorney General's web site.

Sexual Victimization of Prison Inmates

The Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 mandated a self-report survey of prison inmates to determine the nature and extent of sexual victimization in prisons. The first wave of research has been done and a report has been issued: Sexual Victimization in State and Federal Prisons Reported by Inmates, 2007.

There are numerous findings of interest but only two are reported here: the percent of inmates in prison who have been victimized nationwide and in the California prisons sampled, and the nature of such victimization. Table 4 shows the percent of adult inmates victimized. The "Total" is for the U.S. as a whole. About 2.1% of prison inmates experienced an instance of inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization while 2.9% experienced staff-on-inmate victimization.

Click for Table 4

Table 6 shows the level of coercion involved for incidents reported in Table 4. The "Total" is for the U.S. as a whole. A partial glimpse of the problem of staff-on-inmate sexual victimization is revealed in these data.

Click for Table 6

For the definition of terms see the report.

New Jersey & the Death Penalty

New Jersey took the simple step of responding to the voluminous and weighty objections to the death penalty by repealing the sentence of death on Monday, Dec. 17th, 2008. The Governor declared it an end to "state-endorsed killing." They converted sentences of condemned inmates to life without possibility of parole.

In light of the fact that California politicians think it is political suicide to consider taking such an action, note this:

  • there is no grass roots effort underway to recall politicians in New Jersey
  • There is no call for the Governor's resignation
  • There is no strike by prosecutors, police or corrections officers who feel the death penalty is the answer to the crime problem
  • There is relief that the state will not have to worry about executing inmates who have an unacceptably high likelihood of being found factually innocent of the crime that they have been convicted of; nationwide, 2% of convicted defendants who are sentenced to death eventually have their sentences reduced or are exonerated
  • There is little or no controversy about New Jersey's decision to abolish capital punishment.
  • California, and the Pacific region, have much to learn from this experience.

    Is New Jersey a bellwether state? I may well be. It is the first in a generation to abolish the death penalty. There certainly is vocal opposition to the death penalty as such and many judicial systems are crippled by the controversy. Studies continuously show that the death penalty costs more to implement than life without parole, that it does not act as a deterrent (the U.S. has high homicide rates in states with capital punishment), that the U.S. is distinguished by being the only Western democracy in the world that still retains the punishment, and that public opinion--when measured appropriately--is moving toward abolition.

    Tennesee Private Prison Sales Video

    Here's a news story about a video that was made to entice California inmates to transfer to an out-of-state prison. The facility--West Tennessee Detention Facility in Mason--is owned and operated by private industry: Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).

    Here is a link to the video. And here is a quote from the beginning of the article. We haven't heard about this video being played very recently since a court order put a stop the transfer. There is, however, much to learn from this.

    Thousands of California inmates are getting a daily pitch on the finer side of what prison life could be like in Tennessee.

    The video they're watching touts a private Tennessee prison's larger and cleaner jail cells; 79 TV channels, including ESPN; views of peaceful cow pastures; and inmates in the "Dorm of the Week," staying up all night, watching a movie and eating cheeseburgers or pizza.

    The video's stars are some of the 80 California inmates who transferred to Corrections Corporation of America's West Tennessee Detention Facility in Mason last fall in what was the Golden State's first export of prisoners to ease overcrowding. Their taped testimonials are being used in an attempt to entice some of their former jail mates to follow them to the promised land of prisons.

    Does this presage California's future of managing inmates--trolling for 'volunteers' by wagging the promised land in front of them through a sales video? Does it reflect how we will deal with the ethical, legal and related issues raised in proposals to transfer inmates far, far away from their families and communities to which they will eventually be returned? Initially this video was shown over the prison network for California inmates. You have to ask yourself, can inmates make a free or voluntary choice on this issue that is in their best long-term interest when they are experiencing the conditions of confinement that they do in California's prisons? Is inmate transfer a rational public policy when recidivism levels are at such high levels and California's re-entry process is in such sorry shape?

    Letter from a mom in prison

    This semester one of my classes read Sue Stauffacher's book, Harry Sue, to learn what young adults (and others) are reading about children whose parents are incarcerated. The book is written from the perspective of an eleven year old girl, who develops a world of prison in her daily life. The book provides insights into what young people are learning about imprisonment other than what they consume through mass media, especially television.

    In a separate venue, and available in pdf at fcnetwork.org through this link, here is a letter written by an imprisoned mom to her children:

    My dearest, my precious, my beautiful daughters,

    Hello sweethearts. Yes, it's me, I'm still alive, even though the break in my heart branches out and tears holes in my soul each and every day. Every second since the last time I saw my two beautiful daughters has been filled with agony. You are both loved beyond description. There truly is no possible way to put into words how very precious you both are to me. I know the both of you know deep in your soul how much I love you!!

    I am so mad at myself, in fact, at times I hate myself for letting you down. I didn't walk away from you. I was shoved away long before either of you were ever born by becoming a drug addict.

    On the days you were born, I held you up and looked directly into your eyes and swore with every fiber of my being that I would always love you and be there for you. And to always protect you, to see to it that you would never hate me for one iota of a second the way I hated my mother and father for all the mean nasty things they did to me, and the way they made me feel worthless. I would always try my hardest to make you both know how beautiful, special, sweet and awesome, smart and wonderful you are.

    I know a lot of people tried to make you believe that you two didn't mean as much to me as drugs. They were so wrong. Please don't believe that. I did drugs to keep from hurting deep inside my heart. And I've come to realize drugs don't make it better. It only stops the pain for a minute, then it comes flying back at you, twice as hard.

    Both of you meant everything and still mean everything to me. God gave me the opportunity, the beautiful moment, to be your mom. Not just your mother. Any woman can be a mother. But it takes love to be a mom. And I love you with every fiber of my being.

    Please don't think for a fraction of a second that it's your fault or that I didn't want you. Because that is not true. It was the drugs. I didn't do drugs, baby girls, they did me! And since you have been gone, not one day has passed that I didn't think of you, miss you or wonder if you were all right. I'm clean now. And I'm gonna stay clean one minute at a time.

    I look forward to the day you come home.

    Please forgive me! You can go to any courthouse and find me! Just tell them to look it up. It's in the paperwork from the court, the ones that took you away...they have to tell you!

    Love you with all of my soul!

    Your mother
    [name deleted]

    There are other letters and poems included in the collection.

    Unlocking America

    This latest report from the JFA Institute, authored by a distinguished list of contributers, entitled, Unlocking America: Why and How to Reduce America's Prison Population, is must read material for conservative and liberal citizens, politicians, students of crime and punishment and serious criminologists who know their stuff in the area of the effects of a policy of mass imprisonment. Given the extraordinary cost of imprisonment--and the concomitant lost opportunities to spend money on alternative, proactive ways of managing the crime (or other) problems--we should be asking important questions about the use of our scarce resources.

    Does imprisonment reduce crime by incapacitating offenders? Do rehabilitation programs provide the solution to the problems of crime? Does it make sense to lock up nonviolent offenders for long periods of time? Are current punishment levels consistent with what Americans want? If less severe (and less expensive) punishments have the same effects on recidivism as severe punishments, should we consider adopting them?

    This is a frank and honest approach to these and other questions. It is not the conservative or liberal drivel that permeates discussion about whether people should be locked up and for how long. It also speaks to the political community that is so lacking in this debate--people who represent most Americans, who want genuine, long-term solutions to our crime problems rather than the costly lock-them-up mentality of elected representatives who respond to political fires with tough-on-crime rhetoric and drive-by (enhanced) sentencing legislation.

    How could anyone not want to read a discussion about excessive punishment for crime that begins with such a quote from President Bush on 7.2.07:

    "Mr. Libby was sentenced to 30 months of prison, two years of probation and a $250,000 fine...I respect the jury's verdict. But I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive."

    Sentencing Commission Reduces Penalties for Crack Cocaine Offenses

    In a highly significant shift, the United States Sentencing Commission lowered Guideline sentences involving crack cocaine. About 3,500 federal offenders will see sentences reduced by an average of 15 months.

    What a welcome change! See the Sentencing Projects's Crack Cocaine Sentencing Reform to learn more about the change and the significant role of the Project in helping to bring it about.

    Gambling in California

    California's Office of Problem and Pathological Gambling (OPG) has provided funding for the largest gambling prevalence study of its kind in California or the U.S. Over 7000 adult California citizens were surveyed using random digit dialing techniques with varied attempts to reach respondents. The 2006 California Problem Gambling Prevalence Survey is definitely worth examining.

    Given that states like California are gambling on gambling to help finance their tenuous state budgets, that gambling has a long history of being associated with varied social problems and crime, and that varied groups have huge financial stakes in gambling in California (and elsewhere), there's a need for information about such an important issue.

    The significant increases in gaming and gambling across the country and California have raised concerns about the increase of 'pathological' or problem gaming. How many people gamble or have gambled? How many of these have gambled recently and how many have varied levels of 'addiction' or associated problem behaviors? A very big question is: How does access to local gaming affect whether or not people engage in problem gaming? This study does a very good job of attempting to estimate the prevalence and incidence of gambling in California. The results should be of great interest to the debates about casinos and gaming.

    On p. 31 of the study (see link above) Table 3 (click here for popup) of the study shows that the frequency of gambling participation is not trivial.

    Did you know there is a the hot line for people who have a gambling problem (1.800.GAMBLER)? This study shows that most people don't.

    Collateral Costs

    Collateral Costs: The Effects of Incarceration on the Employment and Earnings of Young Workers, by Harry J. Holzer.

    Some of the most basic research about the effects of punishment on life go directly to earnings. This is not a new finding but it bears repeating in this era of resorting to incarceration as a first resort.

    Corporate Manslaughter

    The U.K.'s "Corporate Manslaughter" Statute: British Versus American Approaches to Making Firms Responsible for Deaths Resulting from Gross Negligence.

    This is a provocative article that is worth reading to gain a fresh perspective on how the U.S. might consider approaching death accompanying privatization.

    Public Agenda: Crime

    Public Agenda is a web site that looks at the agenda of public issues, in this case, crime. It's a different way of going about it, defined by whether or not public opinion defines an issue as worthy of attention.

    This site provides an opportunity to discuss crime agendas in class. What is or should be the relationship between public opinion and crime agendas? Is 'public opinion' a product of elite attempts to generate support for crime control objectives? Is 'public opinion' a result of the lived experiences of citizens as they go about their daily activities? How is 'public opinion' affected by short term and long term media coverage of crime?

    Try City Limits


    City Limits: News for NYC's Nonprofit, Policy and Activist World. Here's something new and interesting. Perhaps there is a place for critical journalism in criminology & criminal justice studies.

    AB 900

    Please see this latest CJCJ report on AB 900. AB 900 authorizes the construction of thousands upon thousands of prison beds in California to help resolve the prison crisis.

    The report concludes:

    "Today, California prisons operate approximately 80,000 inmates above capacity. While the construction authorized by AB 900 will reduce that figure, California's prisons will still be overcrowded by over 50,000 inmates in 2012. Without significant rehabilitation, sentencing, and parole reform, the number of inmates within the system will continue to rise. The bill that even supporters called, 'a compromise among bad alternatives,' [cite deleted] does little to alleviate, and nothing to remedy, California's escalating prison crisis."

    Roadmap for CDCR

    Here is a press release on one of the latest reports on CDCR: a California Roadmap for Reducing Recidivism and Overcrowding. There is link to the full report if you don't want to bother with the press release.

    An intriguing idea...creating a 'roadmap' to lead California out of a federal takeover of its prison system. There are lots of concrete measures in this report that could help prevent legal action and actually improve the quality of life in California's beleaguered prison system. Here you have a group of experts who have come up with eleven key ways to reduce recidivism and crowding in the CDCR system.

    Reentry Legislation

    The Second Chance Act, a federal bipartisan attempt to stir interest and activity in meaningful reentry programs for released prisoners, would authorize as much as $65 million in grants to state and local governments and another $15 million to community organizations to develop reentry initiatives or helping services. For an update on the status of legislation try the Reentry Council.

    As an editorial in the New York Times says today, "The Second Chance Act would bolster the re-entry movement with money, training, technical assistance--and the federal stamp of approval." Even Texas has found value in giving tax credits to businesses that hire parolees, reduce recidivism and save their state money, and that is progress. Since nearly all prisoners come back to the community it seems foolhardy to encourage local communities to maintain the enormous barriers to reentry that exist for ex-offenders. Local and state governments often do not know where to begin the process. Fortunately there has been a lot of recent thinking in this area to get the U.S. out of its imprisonment binge and focused on what really counts at the moment--getting offenders reintegrated into society.

    California has been trying to put some money where its mouth is in the area of parole reentry by funding various reentry projects under its Division of Community Partnerships. Time will tell whether these projects and planning grants bear fruit. There is nowhere to go but up!

    Crisis Solved! It's So Easy.

    More Prison or More Alternatives

    Along with the long list of other studies they have conducted, now the Vera Institute of Justice has released a clearly written and concise summary of the evidence on whether and how much building prisons reduces crime and what choices we face in light of this evidence. The report--with the title of Reconsidering Incarceration: New Directions for Reducing Crime--suggests where it is headed, and it is directly relevant to California's prison crisis and imminent deadline for resolving various legal and organizational questions.

    The study does a great service by wading through the various studies on the question of whether prisons reduce crime and presenting them in a way that does not oversimplify or overstate their findings.

    As they point out,

    The most salient question of all may be, Do the resources devoted to prison 'work' better to ensure public safety than if those resources were devoted to something else? Prisons are not the only way to fight crime. Policymakers could spend money on more judges, better staffed or equipped law enforcement, or better-trained probation and parole officers. They could invest, as this paper indicates, in other, non-criminal-justice areas shown to affect crime: education, employment, economic development, etc. The impact of incarceration on crime is limited and diminishing. The public's support for reactive crime control is also in decline. It is therefore fitting that we reconsider the continued emphasis on and dedication of resources to incarceration (p. 16).

    Public Safety Performance Project

    Now the latest national study, this one from PEW, "Public Safety Performance Project", shows the extraordinary costs and questionable crime reduction benefits of continued reliance on increasing incarceration to manage the problem of crime in the U.S.

    The facts are easy to state although hard to swallow: the U.S. has the greatest number of offenders incarcerated--and the highest rate of incarceration--than any country in the world. Not surprisingly, we also spend more money on prisoners and prisons than any other country in the world.

    Second, our incarceration rate is increasing, not because of increasing crime rates (crime has been declining for some time now) but because of changes in laws requiring that more offenders spend greater lengths of time incarcerated. Moreover, this rate is projected to continue increasing dramatically.

    Third, the recidivism or crime level of released prisoners in the U.S. continues to be very high; prison is not decreasing the likelihood of prisoners repeating the same or other crimes.

    Simultaneous with these phenomenal increases in incarcerated populations and absence of desired effects is an equally large long-term loss in support for alternative nonincarcerative programs and services that might prevent crime or its causes in local communities. This is a direct and indirect result of the transfer of funds from state and local government to incarcerate federal, state and local prisoners. The consequence is "lost opportunities" to manage programs in alternative ways.

    As this report notes, there is a great need for legislators to recognize policies and programs that will reduce recidivism and which do not mean increased incarceration costs. A big problem is that policy makers may simply be unaware that programs exist to reduce recidivism without incarceration. We know that locally politicians are afraid to be perceived as "soft on crime" if they do not support more prison or be "tough" on crime.

    Perhaps the greatest myth driving the race to incarcerate (no pun intended since African American and Hispanic populations are greatly overrepresented in prisons) is that prisons are the primary or major cause of reduced crime in the U.S., which is not true. This study shows that there is no one-to-one correspondance between the rate of incarceration and reduction in crime: indeed, in some periods of increased incarceration crime goes up and others it goes down. The report looks at these and other data and concludes that the relationship between incarceration and crime reduction is extremely complex.

    It is plainly obvious that major changes need to come about in the U.S. approach to managing its crime problem. Where do we begin with the health care crisis, the imminent effects of global warming, and other major issues facing our society if we dump enormous sums of money into the ineffective black holes (no pun intended) of prisons that we are unable to address these issues?

    Trends in Crime, Victimization, Fears & Worry

    Here are some statistical trends relating to crime, victimization and related opinions that we have derived from police, NCVS and opinion poll data, taken from the Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics and others and then converted into graphs and PDFs for your downloading needs. These data are valuable in crime discussions because, as they reveal, crime has been on the downswing for quite a while. However, at the same time public fears and worry about crime remain extraordinarily high. Since so much of the debate about what we should do about crime incorrectly assumes we are in the middle of a crime wave, that crime is increasing, and that all of us do or should live in fear, it makes it exceedingly difficult to have rational debates about crime control. Politicians know their constituencies are scared to death and the media has a heavy investment in continuously reporting crime stories. So, if you're here and have an interest in learning some of the facts perhaps it will be a step in the right direction. Additional links on crime data and how to interpret them can be found at The Redwood Highway, especially this page.

    UCR Crime Trends, by region and year:

    These are police data for these offenses from 1971-2005; in some graphs the years are numbered 1-35 rather than 1971-2005. Points for discussion: 1) why are Western rates higher than those of other regions? 2) where and why are there slight 2004-5 increases and decreases?

    California Data from Police

    California's data are revealing because they show how we depart from Western regional trends in UCR data (above).

    California Data on Stalking. View stalking data here.

    National Crime Victimization Survey Data

    Victimization data show the steady decline and leveling of the six offenses used for comparison with UCR data. These are not broken out by region. Note that the denominator changes when looking at NCVS data (it's victimizations per 1,000 rather than arrests per 100,000 population for police data presented above).

    Other Survey Data


    A Gallup poll video on crime trends: October 19, 2006


    So there you have it. Now the question: why are we so worried and afraid about being a crime victim, and why do we think crime is constantly increasing, if crime is declining and serious victimization is relatively low and falling?



    The Redwood Highway: Media and Crime

    Remembering Enron: The Rolling Blackout Theme Song

    We would be lost if we forgot the Enron scandal. It is still with us, and another like it could come again if we are not vigilant. Here a culprit is deregulation, which provided oceans of opportunities for the unscrupulous, or what Galbraith calls "The Predator State." The quote below, taken from the Attorney General report on Enron, reveals the extraordinary losses to California and the callous disregard for the welfare of its citizens. It presents a new version of Rawhide adapted to the spirit of ripping off California.

    An E-mail from Jeffery Fawcett to Lorna Brennan, et al. transmitted on April 30, 2001 at 11:17 a.m.

    Subject: California Sing-along

    California Sing-Along Circulated by Generators

    And to start off the week...California's new State Song! The Rolling Blackout Theme Song

    (To the theme music from the TV western 'Rawhide')

    Rollin', rollin', rollin',
    Though the state is golden,
    Keep them blackouts rollin', statewide.
    A little colder weather,
    And we all freeze together,
    Wishin'more plants were on the line.
    All the things I'm missin',
    Like lights and television,
    Are waitin' 'til we can pay the price.

    (Chorus)

    Turn 'em on, turn 'em off,
    Shut 'em down, block 'em out,
    Turn 'em on, turn 'em off, statewide!
    Brown 'em out, black 'em out,
    Charge 'em more, give 'em less,
    Let the pols fix the mess, statewide!

    Keep movin', movin', movin'
    Though they're disapprovin',
    Keep them rates a-movin', statewide.
    Don't try to understand 'em,
    Just raise, charge, and collect 'em.
    Soon we'll be livin' high and wide.
    My heart's calculatin',
    Nuclear plants will be waitin',
    Be waitin' at the end of my ride.

    (Chorus)

    Turn 'em on, turn 'em off,
    Shut 'em down, block 'em out,
    Turn 'em on, turn 'em off, statewide!
    Brown 'em out, black 'em out,
    Charge 'em more, give 'em less,
    Let the pols fix the mess, statewide!

    STATEWIDE! Hyaah!


    SOURCE: State of California. 2004. Attorney General's Energy White Paper: A Law Enforcement Perspective on the California Energy Crisis. Recommendations for Improving Enforcement and Protecting Consumers in Deregulated Energy Markets. [Online}. Available:http://ag.ca.gov/publications/energywhitepaper.pdf, p. 22.

    For further information about the Enron scandal go to the Redwood Highway or see the documentary, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005).

    California's Correctional Crisis

    Perhaps the most most important and timely look to date at California's extraordinarily expensive prison problem is the Little Hoover Commission's latest report, Solving California's Corrections Crisis: Time is Running Out (Report #185, January 2007), available in pdf.

    This is a report that ought to light the fire under legislators and opinion makers and force rational and rapid change in corrections. It is clear that the past solution to crises--building more prisons to solve community level problems--hasn't solved any (except political leaders' needs for 'tough on crime' appearances) and in fact makes them much worse: we have lost untold opportunities to fund alternative solutions to crime, our recidivism rates are extremely high despite the massive and record breaking investment in imprisonment, and looming and existing court orders to change the system fundamentally have created enormous pressures to solve the problem.

    This report brings together just enough history of the system and the legislative responses to crime, along with the impact of these, to show how and why the prison and parole system consume such a huge and rapidly growing proportion of our state budget. It also provides many examples of how other jurisdictions have resolved the politically created problems that we have, clearly highlights the deadline (June of 2007) for solving these problems and what the consequences will be if we don't.

    If there isn't a rapid solution the consequences will not be pretty for the legislature, the governor or CDCR (including the CCPOA), and they will be untenable for citizens as they see the price tag for corrections increase even more and watch federal and state judges take control of CDCR.

    The time for drive-by sentencing reform solutions to crime problems is now over.

    So go ask a philosopher!

    A welcome web site that directly relates to the field (although it does not make this claim) is called AskPhilosophers. The panelists there field basic and important questions for many who study crime, criminology and justice issues. If you go to the home page at the link above you see fifty-some categories of topics, including abortion. justice, law, punishment and many others.
    The way it works is that web users pose questions to the panelists, who (when they get around to it) answer them. Here are some examples of questions, taken directly from the site:

    Certainly the questions, and the answers to them, can be useful in many discussions. Moreover, a teacher (or student) could try posing difficult questions for a given class to the panelists and possibly discuss their response in a classroom setting.
    A tricky issue is how to deal with disagreements you may have to answers provided by the panelists. One could ask how people become panelists and how "authority" to provide answers to the questions is constituted. Whatever approach you choose the site could be helpful to you.

    White Collar Crime Prosecutions Hit 5 Year Low

    Despite conservative charges that white collar crime prosecution is expanding to harm business, according to the latest TRAC report on white collar crime,

    "U.S. federal white collar crime prosecutions reached their lowest number (498) in the last five years. In fact, not since May 2000 (when there were 446 prosecutions) has the number been lower."

    The lead agency in these cases was the FBI, followed by the IRS. The top charges are bank fraud, followed by mail fraud and conspiracy.Unexplored in this useful TRAC bulletin is why there have been declines. Perhaps other links at the Redwood Highway on corporate criminality could be of help in figuring this out.

    White Collar Crime

    This article was found in the Heritage Foundation's collection, in case readers have been wondering how they've been thinking about crime lately.

    Quotes from The Sociological Origins of "White-Collar Crime," by John S. Baker, Jr. Legal Memorandum #14. [Accessed: 10.21.06]

    The author writes:

    "Despite the rhetoric, the decision to prosecute is unavoidably discretionary. How do prosecutors determine whom to prosecute? All too often, the choice reflects contemporary politics--and today's criminal du jour is the "white-collar" crook. Yet when most people talk about vigorously prosecuting white-collar crime, they don't mean locking up those who purchase medicine from neighboring countries or pirate music over the Internet, despite the fact that such crimes defraud pharmaceutical and music corporations (and thus their shareholders) of billions of dollars.

    "What accounts for the difference in treatment? The Justice Department's formal definition of white-collar crime disregards class or economic status. But the truth is that in white-collar cases, such distinctions do influence decisions about whether or not to prosecute. Government prosecutors are far more likely to indict the "upper-class" businessman who works for Tyco--or the faceless Arthur Andersen partnership--than a middle-class grandmother who buys medications in Canada. This reflects the socialist origin of the "white-collar crime" concept. The war against white-collar crime thus unwittingly stems from and embraces a class-based sociological concept of crime."

    His conclusion:

    "The origin of the "white-collar crime" concept derives from a socialist, anti-business viewpoint that defines the term by the class of those it stigmatizes. In coining the phrase, Sutherland initiated a political movement within the legal system. This meddling in the law perverts the justice system into a mere tool for achieving narrow political ends. As the movement expands today, those who champion it would be wise to recall its origins. For those origins reflect contemporary misuses made of criminal law--the criminalization of productive social and economic conduct, not because of its wrongful nature but, ultimately, because of fidelity to a long-discredited class-based view of society [emphasis supplied].

    We quote what follows from a report provided at the non-partisan General Accounting Office (http://www.gao.gov/htext/d06818.html), U.S. Federal Government. The GAO was asked to evaluate the quality of the research done to evaluate the centerpiece of the campaign to reduce entry level drug use among youth in the U.S. The full report is available at this link.

    "Between 1998 and 2004, Congress appropriated over $1.2 billion to the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) for the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign. The campaign aimed to prevent the initiation of or curtail the use of drugs among the nation's youth. In 2005, Westat, Inc., completed a multiyear national evaluation of the campaign.

    "...GAO's review of Westat's evaluation reports and associated documentation leads to the conclusion that the evaluation provides credible evidence that the campaign was not effective in reducing youth drug use, either during the entire period of the campaign or during the period from 2002 to 2004 when the campaign was redirected and focused on marijuana use.

    "...By collecting longitudinal data--i.e., multiple observations on the same persons over time--using generally accepted and appropriate sampling and analytic techniques, and establishing reliable methods for measuring campaign exposure, Westat was able to produce credible evidence to support its findings about the relationship between exposure to campaign advertisements and both drug use and intermediate outcomes. In implementing the study, Westat encountered problems that are common to large-scale longitudinal studies, and it addressed those using methods that are generally recognized as appropriate approaches for the study implementation challenges Westat faced.

    "...For intermediate outcome measures thought to influence the ultimate target of the campaign, youth drug use--for example, recall and identification of campaign messages, youth anti-drug attitudes, and parents' beliefs and behaviors--Westat found favorable effects for some measures and subgroups, as well as unfavorable effects and no significant effects for others. In general, both youth and parents' recall of specific campaign messages increased over the life of the campaign. In addition, NSPY trend data showed some increasing trends in anti-drug attitudes and beliefs as well as the proportion of youth who reported never intending to try marijuana. However, cross-sectional and longitudinal analysis provided no evidence that these trends resulted from campaign exposure. Westat's analysis also indicated that among current, non-drug-using youth, exposure to the campaign had unfavorable effects on their anti-drug norms and perceptions of other youths' use of marijuana--that is, greater exposure to the campaign was associated with weaker anti-drug norms and increases in the perceptions that others use marijuana. (Emphasis supplied.) Data for parents in the NSPY on five intermediate measures show some favorable effects of campaign exposure on parents' behaviors and beliefs. However, for a major aim of the campaign, affecting parental behaviors regarding monitoring their children's whereabouts, activities, and friends, Westat found no evidence of a significant effect. (Emphasis supplied.) Moreover, where the data showed favorable relationships between campaign exposure and parental beliefs and behaviors, Westat did not find that these effects on parents ultimately lead to corresponding changes in their children's beliefs and behaviors.

    "Westat's evaluation found no significant favorable effects of campaign exposure on marijuana initiation among non-drug-using youth or cessation and declining use among prior marijuana users. Westat's NSPY data did show some declining trends in self-reported lifetime and past-month use of marijuana by youth over the period from 2002 to 2004 and declining trends in youth reports of offers to use marijuana. Declining drug use trends in the NSPY were consistent with trends in other national surveys of drug use over these years. However, Westat cautioned that because trends do not account for the relationship between campaign exposure and changes in self-reported drug use, trends alone should not be taken as definitive evidence that the campaign was responsible for the declines. ONDCP has also acknowledged the limitation of drug use trends for the purpose of demonstrating a causal link between campaign exposures and declines in drug use trends. Westat's analysis of the relationship between exposure to campaign advertisements and youth self-reported drug use in the NSPY data for the entire period covered by its evaluation--assessments that used statistical methods to adjust for individual differences and control for other factors that could explain changes in self-reported drug use--showed no significant effects of exposure to the campaign on initiation of marijuana by prior nonusing youth. Westat's analysis found significant unfavorable effects--that is, a relationship between campaign exposure and higher rates of initiation--during one round of NSPY data and for the whole period of the campaign among certain subgroups of the sample (e.g., 12 1/2 to 13 year-olds and girls). Westat found no effects of campaign exposure on rates of quitting or use by prior users of marijuana.

    "In light of the fact that the phase III evaluation of the media campaign yielded no evidence of a positive outcome in relation to teen drug use and congressional conferees' indications of their intentions to rely on the Westat study, Congress should consider limiting appropriations for the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign beginning in the fiscal 2007 budget year until ONDCP is able to provide credible evidence of the effectiveness of exposure to the campaign on youth drug use outcomes or provide other credible options for a media campaign approach. In this regard we believe that an independent evaluation of the new campaign should be considered as a means to help inform both ONDCP and Congressional decision making."

    For your information, recently there was a meeting of prior drug czars in the U.S., who reflected on the drug war. Their opinions are found in this document: 2006 Drug Czar Conference: A Reflection on Three and a Half Decades of National Drug Policy.

    California's Central Valley Pollution & Crime

    Click here to listen to this entry as a podcast.

    The California Central Valley, from Redding to Bakersfield, is very often ignored in discussions of the Golden State even though it plays a powerful role in state politics and other aspects of state life. Recently the Public Policy Institute of California released another in a series of studies of how Central Valley residents view the quality of their life. The Special Survey of the Central Valley (June 2006), by Mark Baldassare, finds that Valley residents feel the most important issues facing the region are pollution and air pollution, cited by 14%, followed closely by crime at 12%.

    Public perception of gangs, drugs and crime is of greater concern to Latinos than the population as a whole. It is not clear whether these data differ all that much from the state as a whole; there is also not wide variation in perceptions of gangs, drugs and crime by Valley subregion.

    If you've travelled in the Central Valley recently it is plainly obvious to anyone who has lived in the area for long that the air pollution there has become horrible. If you've driven there from the San Francisco area it is also pretty obvious that a lot of that pollution is brought there from traffic on the coast by ocean breezes. Thus, Valley residents are mainly victims of coastal traffic pollution. Most coastal residents don't have to live with their automobile pollution.

    Both pollution and crime fall directly into the field of criminology, since pollution directly relates to legal enforcement of environmental regulations (which are difficult to interpret and enforce) and concern with crime is self-evident. What is helpful about the findings of this study is how much they reveal Valley residents feel that pollution affects their health--for example, fully 45% of residents feel that air pollution is a big problem, and an additional 37% feel it is somewhat of a problem, for a total of 82%. Fully seventy percent (70%) believe that air pollution is a threat to their health or to someone in their family. Concern is greatest among residents in the Southern San Joaquin Valley closely followed by those in the Northern San Joaquin Valley. Do you think you can trust people to know when pollution may be directly affecting their health? When it comes to respiratory problems the answer would have to be yes.

    WiFi Freeloading

    A relatively new offense that is gaining some attention in our society (e.g., this ars technica piece) is WiFi freeloading, a situation where someone or a group with a laptop (sometimes even a desktop) find a wireless access point (WAP) available and log on to it, surfing the web on another person's dime, or checking e-mail, whatever. Some see it as opportunistic web usage, others a form of "theft of service". This is an issue that has come up in classes repeatedly.

    It will be of interest to see how this issue is managed in the future. It is a very simple matter to make WiFi access restricted but people refuse or don't know how to do it; the media grabs the issue and puts a panic-like spin on it. Thus far it is something to keep an eye on.

    Methamphetamine use declines

    The latest study of methamphetamine (and other illicit drug) use has again declined, as shown in the latest CESAR study. See the table below:

    methuse91-05.jpg

    These data are consistent with the earlier observation that the panic surround methamphetamine is just that.

    By the way, here is a link to an enormously detailed review of the literature on methamphetamine, entitled A Key to Methamphetamine-Related Literature".

    The latest data on meth use from the 2005 National Survey on Drug Use & Health is available in the table below. The source of this table is also cited below. The description of the study design is technically written but fairly easy to understand. To obtain the data on self-reported drug use they use in-person confidential interviews with a representative sample of U.S. citizens, with a few known exceptions.

    2.3 Past Month Methamphetamine Use and Illicit Drug or Stimulant Dependence or Abuse in the Past Year among Persons Aged 12 or Older, by Year: 2002-2005.

    The study states:

    The rates for past month and past year methamphetamine use did not change between 2004 and 2005, but the lifetime rate declined from 4.9 to 4.3 percent. From 2002 to 2005, decreases were seen in lifetime (5.3 to 4.3 percent) and past year (0.7 to 0.5 percent) use, but not past month use (0.3 percent in 2002 vs. 0.2 percent in 2005).

    We have purposefully restricted attention to meth use, not other stimulants.

    SOURCE:
    2005 National Survey on Drug Use & Health: National Results
    Appendix A: Description of the Survey
    http://oas.samhsa.gov/NSDUH/2k5NSDUH/AppA.htm

    In the News Today

    Today (6.13.06) the local paper, your basic local newspaper owned by the New York Times, is riddled with crime stories; is yours? There's an article on the banning of smoking in public parks, outside restaurants, the downtown square, and the like; an increase in violent crime using FBI statistics--the highest in 15 years!; another on the U.S. Supreme Court's decision yesterday that presumably makes it easier for death row inmates to challenge lethal injection and have DNA evidence brought before judges; the rising costs of coyote costs for illegal immigrants; the autopsy results of a terrorist the U.S. killed in Iraq along with a half dozen other terrorist stories from around the globe; the hate crime commited against Aviance, who performs in drag; the overturning of a San Francisco city and county law that banned handgun purchases on private property by residents; the snipe attack on a Reno judge by an unhappy party in a domestic issue through a courthouse window; a sunbather in Oxnard is accidentally run over and killed by two police driving an SUV; two San Francisco city cops are held liable for damages by a jury in the so-called "fajitagate" case, for a total of $42,000; a priest in Clayton resigns in the midst of a scandal involving sex with a minor; the Duke lacrosse incident gets op-ed treatment, which has taken a different turn; and many other stories.

    Today seems like any other day--the more things change, the more they remain the same--an exemplary example of the media's love relationship with crime--here in the West but of course also in the North, the South and the East, and of course the Middle West, what the heck, all around the world where news sells. If you didn't know any better (i.e., didn't trust your personal, lived experience) many people would think that their daily lives are bombarded with crime, injustice, vulgarity, licentiousness, vice and random victimization. Some people do in fact live their daily lives in crime, injustice, etc. But for most in the U.S., if you believe victim surveys and studies of media coverage of crime, well, it's virtual, digital, and perceived but not objectively real in the realm of immediate sensory or physical perception.

    What's 738? - Our Imprisonment Rate

    The latest BJS report, Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2005 , reveals that the U.S. incarceration rate (people incarcerated divided by population multiplied times 100,000) has increased to all all-time high of 738, with the federal government's leadership. The incarceration rate grew at a combined 3.4% annual rate from 1995 to 2005, including increases in federal (7.4%), state (2.5%) and jail (3.9%) populations. Table 1, taken from the report, shows over two million one hundred and eighty five thousand inmates in custody, for an overall rate of 738 per 100,000 population.



    The incarceration rate for the Western region is 421--it is 456 for California--with the latter's 170,000+ inmates and close to ten billion dollar budget coming out of the general fund. Of all the Western states, only Arizona's rate is higher (502). However, it is important to note that, "In general,racial and ethnic disparities in California’s criminal justice system resemble those found in the United States as a whole. However, African Americans in California are more likely to be under the control of the criminal justice system than African Americans nationwide" (Chapter 8, Crime and Criminal Justice" in A Portrait of Race and Ethniciity in California.

    Then there are vastly different rates of incarceration by gender and race. See below:

    Click this for Table 13

    The BJS report data are not broken down enough to ascertain whether the West has disproportionate representation of blacks and hispanics than other regions.

    'Show Me' Style Provincialism - Unmarried Cohabitation? Come on...

    The state that has brought us the Dred Scott decision, Busch beer, a dog museum, the Arch, and one of the highest levels of racial segregation in the country has moved into the provincial domestic realm via the city of Black Jack's cohabitation law, which made the news recently when a family that bought a home there was legally prohibited from living in it because the parents were not married. The city has an ordinance that prohibits over three people from living together unless they are related by marriage, blood or adoption. This is not-so-subtle absence of toleration for diversity in family forms. The City Council refused to change the law, so now the parents and kids are in the limelight and a pickle. Why, if they refuse to either get married or leave town they'll have to pay a $500 a day fine. Imagine that! When Black Jack means business there is no matter too small, large or moral or immoral enough for them to miss--something like LiveJournal excluding pictures of breastfeeding women from their pages.

    Good old Missouri, the way I left it in 1989, a little behind our changing times. Even the late Dear Abby gave up on this issue decades ago. However, you don't have to go far to find more examples of the criminalization of cohabitation. Although some local jurisdictions have such restrictions, usually in rural areas, most examples that come to mind are a in a majority of states, including those in the Pacific region, which have laws or rules on the books that forbid probationers or parolees from living together unmarried. It seems to be an assumption that lack of legal marriage is unstable, immoral or an invitation to disobey rules (so-called "open or notorious cohabitation"). The criminal justice machinery in this sense is a big-time repository of conservative, sometimes religious values or residues, which define the criminal justice response as a step backward to the past rather than one that looks forward to societal integration.

    The demographics of cohabitation in the U.S. and the world are worthy of note. The Bureau of the Census has shown that over the past 30+ years living together unmarried is a rapidly growing family form--most recently, accounting for at least four percent of all American households--two-fifths of which have children under eighteen years of age. It is in part a minor variation in the assortive mating process that describes us as humans. Perhaps the biggest increase in cohabitation, however, has developed among older people--who are also probably less afraid to admit their living arrangements to census workers. Moreover, in some areas of the world cohabitation levels are much, much higher--the Caribbean or Northwest Europe come to mind. Among demographers the study of cohabitation is sometimes tied to issues surrounding illegitimacy; the writings of the late Kingsley Davis are especially interesting to read on this issue. Others center on whether cohabitaiton is a threat to the institution of marriage or a precursor to it. These are interesting issues to many college students.

    White House Commentary

    Somehow Stephen Colbert was selected to roast President Bush and company in their very presence--on CSPAN. Did someone confuse Colbert with a perfect friend of the Bush Administration? It looks that way. Couldn't have been more incorrect. No one seemed to speak for days about this event but now you can listen to it via this link. Colbert is on the borderland of commentary, humor, critique, and something else. You wonder where he's coming from and going to, and much of it is, well, hilarious. This iconoclastic approach is much needed to stimulate the media to examine its priorities, approaches, commitments and other aspects of its existance, irrespective of the pathetic and morbid state of the Bush presidency (see PEW's latest study on perceptions of Bush and the U.S., along with other countries). Colbert dredged the depths to find positive meaning in pollster popularity ratings; there are lessons there for interpreting statistics in criminology. Apparently this roast was the most popular download on iTunes at one point. The Colbert Report, available at the Comedy Central web site, is filled with numerous other fascinating videos of relevance to the field.

    See also the
    Top 100 video links on Google.

    The Great Quake of '06: 100 Years After

    Today marks the 100 year anniversary of the great earthquake of 1906 that hit Northern California on April 18. Somewhere between one and five thousand people were killed in San Francisco alone and until recently the story about the quake and its aftermath has not been adequately told. I think there is much here for criminologists to think about. Why has this story been so long in coming? Obviously we have a centennial anniversary of a great event that may hold commercial promise that could explain the recent interest in this issue. However, the lack of our adequate understanding of what happened is probably much deeper than we imagine. Past researchers have found that the distinctive tourist economy of San Francisco has suppressed its crime problem, and we know that the 1906 quake has been downplayed considerably: in the past it has been shown that photos have been doctored to make it appear that buildings were destroyed by fire and not the quake.

    So there is so much more to this story than a quake and the inevitable death and suffering. As with many but not all catastrophic events, there was a law and order period following the event--although no formally declared martial law. In Philip Fradkin's (The Great Earthquakes and Firestorms of 1906: How San Francisco Nearly Destroyed Itself, U C Press, 2005) frank view,

    Who, or what, was to blame for the earthquake and its violent aftermath? Not nature, which merely set the events in motion. San Francisco was the city that nearly destroyed itself, and is poised to do so again for most of the same reasons.

    It seems pretty clear that Fradkin is not out to make San Francisco look pretty but rather to tell a story that has not been told: one of blatant racism West Coast style; the grab of commerce and price gouging by a power elite; the use of armed guards with orders to kill to protect propertied interests; and the purposeful suppression of the story of the quake.

    Wrongful Conviction & the Moratorium on the Death Penalty

    Previously we noted the possible moratorium on the death penalty in California. Now there is even more activity in this area. An L.A. Times article discusses the UCLA conference on "The Faces of Wrongful Conviction" that took place on April 9, 2006. One speaker commented: "Good morning, my name is Gloria Killian...The state stole 22 years of my life for a robbery and murder I did not commit in Sacramento."

    Amnesty International, the ACLU, Death Penalty Focus and others sponsored the event to draw attention to an important issue that a California Senate Commission will be examining. Aside from irrevocable error of executing death row inmates the danger is greater that lifers or long term inmates will experience wrongful conviction since their adjudications and sentences are less closely scruitinized than those of condemned inmates.

    Thanks to Barbara Bloom for bringing this event to our attention.

    Clocks and Crime

    While the F.B.I. has finally decided to unplug their crime clock (a major source of the "x people are robbed, murdered, raped, etc., every minute, hour or day for everywhere regardless of whether there are dramatic differences by jurisdiction; has there ever been a jurisdiction that is exactly what the clock says?), other clocks continue that have very different meanings, implications and potential uses. Take, for example, the Doomsday Clock from the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. The time is now five (recently changed), not seven, minutes before midnight, when life as we have known it will end. The intention is to draw attention to nuclear war that could happen. Then there is the population clock of the U.S. and World, the National Debt Clock (now at 8.8 trillion) and the Chronic Disease Clock. Many more have probably been created and others could be--although we hope you don't read this and mindlessly go run and do that. So many of the uses of time point to a feeling of potential catastrophe or foreboding. While these are or may be appropriate at times, and although the history of criminology sees more abuse of crime clocks (e.g., in using it to construct the dire crime problem for this or that political purpose) than positive education for constructive change, we look forward to the criminological uses of clocks and time more generally to bring about constructive change in theory, research and practice. The current critique underway of the use of prison time to solve the crime problem gets at this in a clear policy arena (see, e.g., the book, It's About Time). The more extended use of time to alter the denominator in the computation of the nature and extent of crime events is also welcome. Mike Maltz did so in Recidivism, which looks in part at time-controlled survival models; Sally Boggs paved the way in her early work on computing crime rates; a solid standard for recidivism measures is recidivism rates adjusted for time at risk, i.e., whether an offender is actually at risk of offending (not in custody or limited by 'handlers' in some other way); and more recent crimemapping work has the potential to combine time-based crime calculations over geographic, demographic, crime and related dimensions. Even here time denominators need to include potential offender time benchmarks, not just the seconds of an atomic clock, and the variably timed opportunities of offenders for variably timed crime targets.

    Should California's Crime Clock on display at the Attorney General's Office, available here (at the bottom of the page) or with a click below, be canned?

    View crime clock

    Build a Prison

    Should small communities with fragile or declining economies build a prison to improve their economy? In a recent study, Big Prisons, Small Towns: Prison Economics in Rural America, brought to you by the Sentencing Project, this question is addressed with an unusual attention to detail. The study goes beyond prior research by looking at the economic effect of 38 new prisons in rural areas of New York over a 25 year period. The finding: prisons have had no effect on per capita income or unemployment levels of local communities.

    A list of other studies on this topic is available at http://www.sonoma.edu/ccjs/info/prisoncrime.html (available in September 2007), although these references are dated. The recent study by Hooks et al., "The Prison Industry: Carceral Expansion and Employment in U.S. Counties, 1969-1994", Social Science Quarterly2004, Vol. 85 (1), 37-57, comes to similar pessimistic conclusions.


    Follow the Money & the Avian Flu

    Previously we have called attention to the media focus on the avian flu and the remarkable video (at http://mfile.akamai.com/16688/wmv/abcondemand.download.akamai.com/16688/free/050929flus.wmv). "In the video Senator Frist quotes an official federal report saying there is a global pandemic flu coming--it's not whether, just when it will happen. The video description of the report says 200,000 Americans will die; that there is no vaccine readily available to deal with it; and that there is only one company making one drug worldwide [Tamiflu] that supposedly can prevent it."

    Tamiflu was originally developed by Gilead Sciences. Apparently their former chairman and largest shareholder is Donald Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld resigned from Gilead when he became Secretary of Defense but he still retains a financial interest in Gilead. Has anyone seen Gilead's (or Roche's) profits recently? Are there any incentives to sensationalize our risk from the next pandemic? Are these worthy questions?

    On a different note, the National Archives has come online with information about the influenza epidemic of 1918. See The Deadly Virus: The Influenza Epidemic of 1918. Their display provides numerous primary source materials that directly relate to this killer of over 20 million people. This exhibit notes the well-known fact that this period has been relatively ignored by historians. More recently there has been interest in the 1918 flu because of the dramatic modern search for the dna makup of the virus that led to the flu, and the establishment of its clear connection to the H5N1 avian flu of today.

    For further links on the avian flu go to the Center for Disease Control's Influenza (Flu) web page and its "Related Links on Avian Influenza (Bird Flu)".

    Shackles to Birth In

    A longstanding practice in most states is to shackle women prisoners who are giving birth. Here is a recent discussion of this matter.

    The Death Penalty in California

    What happens when a doctor is needed to execute a condemned inmate, but doctors view it as in conflict with their medical ethics? It is the current recipe for a moratorium on executions by lethal injection in California.

    For more information on the death penalty in general and moratoriums in other states see http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/ and http://sun.soci.niu.edu/~critcrim/dp/dp.html. The National Institute of Corrections has just released their study of capital punishment and the alternatives to it, entitled Mandatory Justice: The Death Penalty Revisited. On the latest polls of citizen attitudes toward the death penalty in various countries compared to the U.S. go to this Gallup video/podcast. Beware: question wording dramatically affects responses to death penalty questions, as noted at the Death Penalty Information link above. Finally, Amnesty International just released their latest report, United States of America: Execution of Mentally Ill Offenders.

    South Dakota & Abortion

    South Dakota has jumped on the opportunity to all but ban abortion by criminalizing it (i.e., by giving doctors who perform an abortion a prison sentence) except in instances where it is necessary to save the mother's life. Both houses of the legislature passed the law, which will now go into effect July 1 since the Governor signed it. While such a law seems to stand in the face of existing precedent, with Sandra D. gone, and proponents of felling Roe hoping that 85 year old Justice Breyer will retire, things might move quickly so it's worthwhile keeping an eye on these developments. NOW's page on reproductive rights in light of changes at the U. S. Supreme Court is worth a look.

    All of this has direct implications for criminology since we're basically talking about attempts to recreate a felony offense after its vindication over three decades ago with Roe. Who would have ever thought the field would have to consider re-examining that older literature documenting the horrific consequences of criminalization?

    Moreover, we're once again seeing the rise of forced childbirth in America. How many children and women who are raped want to have their rapist's child? Now South Dakota has made their choice for them: the rape victim is forced to have her rapist's child. In other words, giving birth to a rapist's child is now a legal requirement!

    For a current look at this problem today in Mexico see the report by the Human Rights Group of New York, which conducted a study available online entitled, "The Second Assault: Obstructing Access to Legal Abortion in Mexico," by Marianne Mollmann. This study deals with the specific topic of girls and women who try to get abortions after they are impregnated by their rapist.

    Methamphetamine Controversy

    Today there is growing concern that methamphetamine is spreading from the West to the East coast. Although there is minimal hard data on the supposed spread of meth to the East, people are looking at what can be done to manage the production, distribution and sale of the illegal drug. Attention has centered on Oregon's attempt to manage the purchase of ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, which is available over the counter at many stores selling cold rememdies and other products. Now the big enemy appears to be drug companies that refuse to take ephedrine off the market because it is profitable. There is a recent drug, SineOff, that is now being marketed as a way to fight drug dealers because it doesn't contain pseudoephedrine. Is it helpful that advertisers are now one of the biggest operators in the fight against meth?

    If you go to most stores today and buy any significant (more than one package) of Sudafed or other "me-too" drugs (with epe)--like a huge number of allergy-suffering people in these parts--and you have to pull out your driver's license, which they use to scan into the statewide data system. The local media has gone mainline on the issue, implicitly accepting the current view on the evils of epe-meth (see, for example, the local alternative rag.

    Fortunately, The Sentencing Project has decided to take the methamphetamine controversy by the horns and question the developing panic and response to the issue. In a recent (June 2006) and appropriately titled report (freely available), The Next Big Thing? Methamphetamine in the United States, Ryan King develops a cogent and detailed analysis of data and concludes that there is no basis for the uninformed and misguided course of the present response to methamphetamine issue today. The upsurge of concern and panic appears unrelated to actual methamphetamine usage. The use of fear tactics and disproportionate punishments simply does not work; the current framing of the methamphetamine problem completely distorts what is really happening; it stands in the face of more practical and real world treatment strategies that work far more effectively and cheaply.

    Stockholm Prize in Criminology

    Update. On March 29 the winners of the Stockholm prize were announced. They are John Braithwaite and Friedrich Losel. These individuals were awarded the prize "For their achievements in developing theory and evidence on the prevention of repeat offending...[t]hey will share the prize of one million SEK." Take this link and/or read below to learn more.
    - - - - - - - - -

    If you have not heard there is yet another award in the field of criminology, this one from Sweden, home of many famous awards. This newly developed award, one with a $150,000 attached to it, is called the Stockholm Prize in Criminology. If you go to the web site you will learn how to nominate a candidate (the nomination time is now), where the award will occur, what the recipient will be doing, and related matters.

    The jury that decides who will get the award (co-winners are possible) is certainly distinguished and international in scope. It includes Lolita Aniyar de Castro (Venezuela), David Philip Farrington (UK), Peter Nils Grabosky (Australia), Katalin Gonczol (Hungary), Hans-Jurgen Kerner (Germany), Tiyanjana Maluwa (South Africa), Peter William Neyroud (UK), Joan Petersilia (USA), and Jerzy Sarnecki (Sweden). Co-chairman Lawrence W. Sherman (USA) and Co-chairman Hiroshi Tsutomi (Japan).

    It will be of interest to see who is nominated and who wins in light of the award criteria.

    This letter arrived on 12.2.05 regarding the meeting:


    Dear Colleagues,

    I am happy to announce that registration for the
    First Annual Stockholm Criminology Symposium is now available on-line at
    www.worldcriminology.org.

    The Symposium will be held June 15-17 at the University of Stockholm.
    Registered participants in the Symposium will be invited to the Nobel Prize Banquet Room at Stockholm City Hall to witness the presentation of the First Stockholm Criminology Prize and the Prize-Winner's Address at 5 pm on June 15.

    The Symposium welcomes panels and individual papers submitted on the theme of RECOGNIZING KNOWLEDGE TO REDUCE CRIME AND INJUSTICE.

    Sincerely,

    Lawrence W. Sherman
    President, International Society of Criminology

    There you have it. The deadline for nominations is April 15th 2006.

    Of course another round of nominations and awards has been made. The 2007 award will be granted to two scholars: Alfred Blumstein and Terrie E. Moffitt. Take this link to learn more about them.

    Official Crime Levels Down but U.S. Adults Believe They're Up

    Truck over to the latest (October 2005) Gallup Poll video and learn the news: official (violent and property) crime rates are down, according to the FBI, but there has been an increase in public perceptions that there is more crime today than there was a year ago, both in general and in their local communities. Oh, but the FBI data must be wrong, you say, so you go to the alternative nationally representative survey of the crime victimization experiences of Americans: The National Crime Victim Survey also shows overall dramatic drops in crime and a continuation of drops in 2003-2004: "Violent crime rates declined since 1994, reaching the lowest level ever recorded in 2004."

    Let's see, citizen perceptions are that crime is up but crime is actually down. Things are out of whack--people should not be so concerned about crime. Should we bring back the old federal research on how we could best calm public concern about crime? In the current political climate it seems more likely that people will propose ways for the private sector to solve the problem...what will it be, security devices (e.g., car alarms), more weapons to arm ourselves now that gun manufacturers have had liability redefined?, calls for more private prisons? Others?

    Avian Flu and the Media

    The developing official and media responses to the potential avian flu epidemic are of great interest to students of the media, including criminologists. The situation seems ripe for a moral or other panic. See, for example, the resource page put together by ABC News at http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Flu/
    as well as the latest articles, one of which includes a prediction of a worldwide death toll of 150 million. Estimates vary greatly, with sober people saying nobody can know the form of the flu or the death toll until "it" happens. The blogosphere is, of course, discussing the flu situation to a high degree.

    If you have Windows Media Player see a video posted there that draws attention to the issue at http://mfile.akamai.com/16688/wmv/abcondemand.download.akamai.com/16688/free/050929flus.wmv. In the video Senator Frist quotes an official federal report saying there is a global pandemic flu coming--it's not whether, just when it will happen. The video description of the report says 200,000 Americans will die; that there is no vaccine readily available to deal with it; and that there is only one company making one drug worldwide that supposedly can prevent it.

    There is much to consider here...but first, a pill to prevent the kind of flu being considered? Even if the pandemic is possible (which is hotly disputed) given the extraordinary number of deaths associated with the so-called "Spanish Flu" of 86+ years ago it seems highly unlikely that any existing company's drug could prevent such a flu. One has to wonder why media sources would draw attention to a single company--what is the payoff here? Another thought is, should Center for Disease Control officials, or other knowledgeable experts in this area, exercise greater caution than usual given the extraordinary potential for the definition of this problem to rapidly get out of hand? Officials getting the most attention today are quoting the huge number of people who will die, while others who argue that the world is immune from the prior pandemic get little play.

    An international discussion of the avian flu by health experts would be welcome, and it appears that this is beginning to happen. In the meantime the blogosphere is beginning to track the avian flu media controversy. One jazzy title is, "Bird Flu, a Media Hoax?". One blog has a subject heading of "Bird Flu Monitor". You can go there and find some more discussion of the media and flu.

    More recently there has been more mainstream academic attention to the flu. See, for example, the Yale Global Online collection, and the Harvard contagion web site, both of which have links to other sites.

    Also, Wendy Orent's brief article in the Outlook section of The Washington Post at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/10/15/AR2005101500102_pf.html is a well written critical piece about the hysteria in response to the avian flu. This is linked to her online discussion at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/discussion/2005/10/14/DI2005101401462_pf.html , which answers some of the common questions being asked now about the flu issue, the media, and the Bush Administration's proposed military response to it.

    A colleague recently asked, What is the difference in the the mortality levels of the great plague and the 1918-1919 pandemic? The NPR web site has a page on the flu at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4946718. A quote:

    *"Compared with Other Epidemics:* The 1918 flu is thought to have killed the most people in the shortest amount of time. However, its spread was aided by modern ships and a world war that required moving huge armies quickly across the globe. The 14th-century's Black Death killed as many as 20 million in Europe alone over a period of two years. However, global population was much smaller, cities weren't as dense, and global transportation relied on wind and animal caravans; considering its high death toll, the bacteria that caused it may have been more deadly."

    It seems fairly clear that the plague has to win in the number killed per capita.

    The federal government has now created a web site on the flu pandemic at http://www.pandemicflu.gov/. The administration's plan for managing the issue is spelled out there. Already critics are having a go at it. An even more recent site of interest examines the effectiveness of local quarantines in reducing or eliminating the acquisition or spread of the flu: See The 1918-1920 Influenza Pandemic Escape Community Digital Document Archive.

    The November 18, 2005 Gallup made available their latest data on the most important health care issue facing the U.S. Fully 10% of the people in the U.S. believe that it is the avian flu or bird flu. Prior to this time concern about this issue was nonexistant. It appears clear that the widespread concern about the bird flu has indeed made it into the minds of Americans.

    Crime Hits 30 Year Low - The West Shows Greatest Decline

    The latest data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics indicate that the rate of violent crime per 1,000 population has decreased 56 percent from 1993-2004. The rate is unchanged from last year, and both are the lowest ever shown by this nationally representative sample of the U.S. population age 12 and over.

    Even more, although it is unexplained, the decline of violent crime is greatest from 2001-2 and 2002-3 in the Western region of the United States (-17 percent) compared to the Northeast, Midwest and South (all between -5 to -6 percent). (Data were not provided for 1993-2004 trends.) The decline in the rate of property crime was marginally significant for the West but not for other regions.

    While one can still say that crime is too high and can be reduced, it seems as though the press should rally behind the idea that crime is decreasing. However, because the media use crime as a staple of entertainment and fear, they miss the point--they continue to report body bag journalism in the daily news because that is what the news does.

    AG Data on California Crime

    Today I've been looking at crime trends in California. I stopped by the Attorney General's Crime Analysis Center and quickly made the table below, which is official crime data for a nine year period.

    You can click on the table image to make it bigger:

    Over the entire nine year period, the rate of crime (per 100,000 population) has declined 22.5 percent from 1994-2003, from 2,353 to 1,823 (a difference of -530; when 530 is divided by the base year of 2353 the percent change is -22.5). The greatest decline has been in property crime (-32.2 percent), but there are also sizeable reductions in violent crime (-24.4 percent), drugs (-18.5 percent), and a slight decline in all other offenses (-4.4). In contrast, there has been an increase in sex offenses (+14).

    On the other hand, if you only look at the most recent annual (2002-2003) change the results are more mixed. For example, the overall rate of crime has increased, not decreased, particularly for drug, property and all other offenses. However, there are decreases in violent and sex offenses.

    What are we to make of these data--is there overall decline but mixed short-term changes that one ought to keep their eye on? In answering this question we could consider how much relative emphasis to give to long-term vs. short-term changes; to differences in trends by offense type; to the question of how we balance this discussion with known deficiencies of official data, such as the huge issue of whether these changes are a result of changes in priorities and resources of law enforcement and/or the operating rules of statistics collectors and reporters. And then there is the matter of media coverage of crime, which by subjective assessment in California recently and more objective studies done elsewhere appears uncorrelated with official data on crime.

    A federal researcher with a reputation for integrity named Larry Greenfeld had to leave the Bureau of Justice Statistics because he refused to go along with changes in the wording of a press release that described evidence of potential racial profiling by police. BJS officials eventually decided not to have a press release at all and to just post the research at the BJS web site.

    A New York Times article, written by Eric Eric Lichblau, draws attention to this case. The actual nationwide study, as noted by Lichblau and found in the report itself, indicates that 1) "The likelihood of being stopped by police in 2002 did not differ significantly between white (8.7%), black (9.1%), and Hispanic (8.6%) drivers"; and 2) "During the traffic stop, police were more likely to carry out some type of search on a black (10.2%) or Hispanic (11.4%) than a white (3.5%)." The study also found blacks were less likely to feel that the police had a legitimate reason for stopping them than whites, among other differences by race/ethnicity.

    It may be helpful to look at this is as an example of the exercise of power by political elites to keep controversial criminal justice issues out of the public agenda--in this case the use of racial profiling in traffic stops, a significant political issue in criminal justice. Because Greenfeld was in an exempt position he served at the pleasure of the Bush administration. His mistake was his inability to let supervisors hide the true story of a significant and authoritative federal study of law enforcement.

    This study merits a close read because it gets to a variety of practices and attiitudes that are extremely important to many citizens and police.

    Crime Trends

    The latest preliminary estimates of crime levels conducted by the FBI at http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/2004/04prelim.pdf indicate that the number of violent crimes (murder, rape, robbery and assault) in the U.S. decreased by 1.7%, property crimes by 1.8% (auto theft, burglary and theft), and arson by 6.8%.

    In the Western region the decline was slightly greater than it was overall for violent crimes (-2%) but not property crimes (< -1%). For personal crime the West fared better than the South (-1.2%) or Midwest (-1.6%) but not as well as the Northeast (-2.6%). For property crimes the West decreased less than 1% while the remaining regions decreased between 2-3.5%. For arson the Northeast shows a dramatic -10.9% reduction and the Midwest -9.3% while for the West it is -6.5%.

    What do we make of all these data? Our population is increasing and by this measure the number of crimes is going down overall. However, putting aside all of the methodological issues that surround FBI data, which are numerous and weighty, I still see massive media coverage of crime. Most notably, there is little or no attention whatsoever placed on the fact of decline in crime. I also don't see much variation in this by region or year.

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