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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."

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!

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.

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

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.


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?

    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."

    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.

    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.

    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].

    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.

    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.

    '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.

    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)".

    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.

    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.

    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.

    About this Archive

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