Monthly Archives: June 2005

midyear incarceration numbers

The Department of Justice’s Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2004 arrived in my mailbox yesterday (after 10 years of professin’, DOJ still addresses stuff to “graduate student Christopher Uggen”). I’d seen the report online, but always give a little more attention to the hard copies. The national incarceration rate (including jails as well as state and federal prisons), is now at 726 per 100,000 residents. This is quite high by international standards — about 5 to 10 times higher than other nations similar to the United States (England and Wales have a rate of 141, Canada a rate of 116, Germany 96, Japan 58, and so on). Still, the social distribution of this .7% of the population is the real story:

  • A rate of 1,348 per 100,000 for males
  • A rate of 4,919 per 100,000 for African American males
  • A rate of 12,603 per 100,000 for African American males age 25-29

So, about 13% of the population in the latter age/race/gender category is currently incarcerated. A much higher proportion, of course, is under some form of criminal Justice supervision. The probation numbers dwarf prison numbers and still more are supervised on parole in the communities. To these one might add former felons who have served their time — people currently “off-paper” but with a history of criminal Justice supervision. I believe that about 1/3 of the African American male population is currently or has once been under criminal Justice supervision. This figure seems unbelievably high to most people, but more credible once they see the current population data.

For 25 years, the Bureau of Justice Statistics has provided high quality U.S. crime and Justice data. As in other government agencies, there has been talk of “outsourcing” or downsizing the small staff at BJS. I hope that such ideas are quickly put to rest. “Quick and dirty” crime and Justice data collection or, worse, subjecting such data collection to greater politicization, would seriously undermine both criminological research and the public trust.

midyear incarceration numbers

The Department of Justice’s Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2004 arrived in my mailbox yesterday (after 10 years of professin’, DOJ still addresses stuff to “graduate student Christopher Uggen”). I’d seen the report online, but always give a little more attention to the hard copies. The national incarceration rate (including jails as well as state and federal prisons), is now at 726 per 100,000 residents. This is quite high by international standards — about 5 to 10 times higher than other nations similar to the United States (England and Wales have a rate of 141, Canada a rate of 116, Germany 96, Japan 58, and so on). Still, the social distribution of this .7% of the population is the real story:

  • A rate of 1,348 per 100,000 for males
  • A rate of 4,919 per 100,000 for African American males
  • A rate of 12,603 per 100,000 for African American males age 25-29

So, about 13% of the population in the latter age/race/gender category is currently incarcerated. A much higher proportion, of course, is under some form of criminal Justice supervision. The probation numbers dwarf prison numbers and still more are supervised on parole in the communities. To these one might add former felons who have served their time — people currently “off-paper” but with a history of criminal Justice supervision. I believe that about 1/3 of the African American male population is currently or has once been under criminal Justice supervision. This figure seems unbelievably high to most people, but more credible once they see the current population data.

For 25 years, the Bureau of Justice Statistics has provided high quality U.S. crime and Justice data. As in other government agencies, there has been talk of “outsourcing” or downsizing the small staff at BJS. I hope that such ideas are quickly put to rest. “Quick and dirty” crime and Justice data collection or, worse, subjecting such data collection to greater politicization, would seriously undermine both criminological research and the public trust.

law of vagrancy 2005

From the Minneapolis Star-Tribune: Police Chief Bill McManus backed off on a plan to require panhandlers to register annually with the city and display a photo ID while they beg. Begging without a license could have resulted in arrest and misdemeanor charges.

“It certainly would be beneficial for downtown businesses and for people who are made to feel uncomfortable by panhandlers,” McManus said (in a quote that seems lifted verbatim from Chambliss’ crit-classic “Sociological Analysis of the Law of Vagrancy“). Chief McManus spearheaded a similar effort in Dayton, OH but neither the Minneapolis city council nor the mayor wanted to carry the flag on this one. As one might imagine, the ACLU points to constitutional problems with criminalizing begging. Restricting physically aggressive panhandling or limiting its time and place are probably constitutionally permissable, but the first amendment likely provides some protection of one’s right to ask people for money.

My concern was more personal. As state support shrinks, the Minnversity is searching for new revenue streams. I’m glad I won’t have to wear a laminated panhandling license around my neck at my next lunch with potential donors.

law of vagrancy 2005

From the Minneapolis Star-Tribune: Police Chief Bill McManus backed off on a plan to require panhandlers to register annually with the city and display a photo ID while they beg. Begging without a license could have resulted in arrest and misdemeanor charges.

“It certainly would be beneficial for downtown businesses and for people who are made to feel uncomfortable by panhandlers,” McManus said (in a quote that seems lifted verbatim from Chambliss’ crit-classic “Sociological Analysis of the Law of Vagrancy“). Chief McManus spearheaded a similar effort in Dayton, OH but neither the Minneapolis city council nor the mayor wanted to carry the flag on this one. As one might imagine, the ACLU points to constitutional problems with criminalizing begging. Restricting physically aggressive panhandling or limiting its time and place are probably constitutionally permissable, but the first amendment likely provides some protection of one’s right to ask people for money.

My concern was more personal. As state support shrinks, the Minnversity is searching for new revenue streams. I’m glad I won’t have to wear a laminated panhandling license around my neck at my next lunch with potential donors.

stigma II

I wrote last month about the extreme stigma of the sex offender designation. Today I’m bracing for the backlash from an AP story by Michael Hill citing me on this point. I referred Mr. Hill to Jill Levenson, who (along with Leo Cotter) published her survey of released Florida sex offenders in an issue of Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice I guest-edited on collateral sanctions (Richard Tewksbury also has a nice piece on this subject in the same issue, using data from Kentucky). Here is Mr. Hill’s lead:

Clamps are coming down on released sex offenders like never before. Laws restrict where they can go, Web sites list their names, satellites track their steps. Leery neighbors and bosses force them from their homes and jobs. The full-court press that comes after high profile cases around the nation is being done for public safety. But is it possible to push sex offenders so far to the fringes actually makes them more dangerous to society?


This question seems absolutely fundamental to the scientific study of prisoner reentry and the policy move toward restorative Justice. When, if ever, does social control begin to compromise rather than enhance public safety? Todd Clear and others are asking this more generally about the impact of incarceration on communities. But “sex offender” is the ideal type here — rivaling “terrorist,” “nazi,” “serial killer,” or “satanist” as the most stigmatized designation in contemporary American society. Both the Levenson and Cotter piece and the Tewksbury article find that sex offenders report job losses, housing problems, and threats of harassment today. Criminal Justice policy toward them is clearly based on “stigmatizing” rather than “reintegrative” shaming, to adopt John Braithwaite’s distinction. Of course, there are some compelling reasons for identifying and supervising this group closely. According to a Bureau of Justice Statistics study, those convicted of sex offenses do seem to persist later in life than other sorts of criminals. Nevertheless, their 3-year rearrest rate (43% overall, 5% for new sex crimes) is lower than those convicted of other sorts of crime (68% overall, 1% for new sex crimes). So, while the flatter age profile and potential severity of their crimes may justify greater scrutiny, most of the people convicted of sex crimes do not appear to be irredeemable or “life-course persistent” offenders (at least as measured by arrest).

In my view, the application and management of stigma should be getting much more attention from sociologists. I’ve argued before that if any Durkheims were in grad school today, they might be gathering dissertation data at sex offender community notification meetings (observing distinctions between the normal and pathological, the sacred and profane, the exercise of collective conscience, and the effervescence of crowds). If I were advising a modern-day Durkheim, however, I might try to talk her out of such potential career suicide (steering her to a safer diss topic, such as Suicide!). Whenever an article like this appears, I always get some emails from supporters (thanking me for my “courage”), detractors (asking me how I’d feel if my family were victimized or questioning my motivations), and broadcast media (inviting me to take an indefensible position in a public debate). The issue is clearly a lightning rod, in need of some good sociological scholarship that could help guide policy, or at least help us understand our current practices.

causality, voting, and recidivism

Jeremy Freese regularly offers insightful comments about social science research in his blog. Today he had an interesting post about “causal-sounding insinuations of relationships” between felon re-enfranchisement and recidivism, based on this statement from the Iowa governor:

Gov. Tom Vilsack of Iowa announced yesterday that he would restore voting rights for all felons who have completed their sentences, ending what advocates for voting rights had called one of the most restrictive disenfranchisement laws in the country. Mr. Vilsack, a Democrat who has been called a dark-horse presidential candidate for the 2008 election, pointed to research showing that ex-prisoners who vote are less likely to end up back in prison.

I’m not sure that’s a statement of causality, but I guess that’s not really the point. I confess that sometimes I slip into causal thinking even when I am careful to avoid making explicit causal inferences in my writing. I offered a (way too) long comment based on a recent law review piece with Jeff Manza.

stigma II

I wrote last month about the extreme stigma of the sex offender designation. Today I’m bracing for the backlash from an AP story by Michael Hill citing me on this point. I referred Mr. Hill to Jill Levenson, who (along with Leo Cotter) published her survey of released Florida sex offenders in an issue of Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice I guest-edited on collateral sanctions (Richard Tewksbury also has a nice piece on this subject in the same issue, using data from Kentucky). Here is Mr. Hill’s lead:

Clamps are coming down on released sex offenders like never before. Laws restrict where they can go, Web sites list their names, satellites track their steps. Leery neighbors and bosses force them from their homes and jobs. The full-court press that comes after high profile cases around the nation is being done for public safety. But is it possible to push sex offenders so far to the fringes actually makes them more dangerous to society?


This question seems absolutely fundamental to the scientific study of prisoner reentry and the policy move toward restorative Justice. When, if ever, does social control begin to compromise rather than enhance public safety? Todd Clear and others are asking this more generally about the impact of incarceration on communities. But “sex offender” is the ideal type here — rivaling “terrorist,” “nazi,” “serial killer,” or “satanist” as the most stigmatized designation in contemporary American society. Both the Levenson and Cotter piece and the Tewksbury article find that sex offenders report job losses, housing problems, and threats of harassment today. Criminal Justice policy toward them is clearly based on “stigmatizing” rather than “reintegrative” shaming, to adopt John Braithwaite’s distinction. Of course, there are some compelling reasons for identifying and supervising this group closely. According to a Bureau of Justice Statistics study, those convicted of sex offenses do seem to persist later in life than other sorts of criminals. Nevertheless, their 3-year rearrest rate (43% overall, 5% for new sex crimes) is lower than those convicted of other sorts of crime (68% overall, 1% for new sex crimes). So, while the flatter age profile and potential severity of their crimes may justify greater scrutiny, most of the people convicted of sex crimes do not appear to be irredeemable or “life-course persistent” offenders (at least as measured by arrest).

In my view, the application and management of stigma should be getting much more attention from sociologists. I’ve argued before that if any Durkheims were in grad school today, they might be gathering dissertation data at sex offender community notification meetings (observing distinctions between the normal and pathological, the sacred and profane, the exercise of collective conscience, and the effervescence of crowds). If I were advising a modern-day Durkheim, however, I might try to talk her out of such potential career suicide (steering her to a safer diss topic, such as Suicide!). Whenever an article like this appears, I always get some emails from supporters (thanking me for my “courage”), detractors (asking me how I’d feel if my family were victimized or questioning my motivations), and broadcast media (inviting me to take an indefensible position in a public debate). The issue is clearly a lightning rod, in need of some good sociological scholarship that could help guide policy, or at least help us understand our current practices.

causality, voting, and recidivism

Jeremy Freese regularly offers insightful comments about social science research in his blog. Today he had an interesting post about “causal-sounding insinuations of relationships” between felon re-enfranchisement and recidivism, based on this statement from the Iowa governor:

Gov. Tom Vilsack of Iowa announced yesterday that he would restore voting rights for all felons who have completed their sentences, ending what advocates for voting rights had called one of the most restrictive disenfranchisement laws in the country. Mr. Vilsack, a Democrat who has been called a dark-horse presidential candidate for the 2008 election, pointed to research showing that ex-prisoners who vote are less likely to end up back in prison.

I’m not sure that’s a statement of causality, but I guess that’s not really the point. I confess that sometimes I slip into causal thinking even when I am careful to avoid making explicit causal inferences in my writing. I offered a (way too) long comment based on a recent law review piece with Jeff Manza.

Iowa re-enfranchises ex-felons

The Des Moines Register reports that Iowa will no longer disenfranchise former felons beyond the completion of their sentences, effective July 4. Unlike Nebraska, Iowa didn’t mess around with a 2-year waiting period. Nor did it exclude particular categories of felons, as states such as Maryland have done. The article cites a figure of 50,000, but I believe that about 98,000 Iowans will be enfranchised in time for the next election.

Iowa re-enfranchises ex-felons

The Des Moines Register reports that Iowa will no longer disenfranchise former felons beyond the completion of their sentences, effective July 4. Unlike Nebraska, Iowa didn’t mess around with a 2-year waiting period. Nor did it exclude particular categories of felons, as states such as Maryland have done. The article cites a figure of 50,000, but I believe that about 98,000 Iowans will be enfranchised in time for the next election.