Monthly Archives: October 2005

iowa court upholds mass restoration of felon voting rights

from the des moines register and talkleft.com: a district court in muscatine has upheld iowa governor tom vilsack’s executive order restoring voting rights to all former felons in that state. as i wrote in august, the order raises some interesting legal questions. shelly schaefer and i are presenting a paper framed around some of them in a department workshop november 29:

Chris Uggen and Shelly Schaefer “Voting and the Civic Reintegration of Former Prisoners”

When Iowa governor Tom Vilsack restored voting rights to all former felons in that state this July Fourth, he noted that “research shows that ex-offenders who vote are less likely to re-offend.” The National Review countered that “the problem with Vilsack’s claim is that there is absolutely no research to support it. Not one longitudinal study exists showing the effects of the restoration of voting rights on crime rates or recidivism.” We undertook such a study this summer, by matching criminal records with voting records. We conceptualize voting as a form of “civic reintegration,” analogous to the work and family ties that are well-established in life course criminology. For our 1990 Minnesota release cohort, we find that approximately 20 percent of the former felons registered to vote. Our event history analysis shows that felons who voted in the previous biennial election have a far lower risk of recidivism than non-voting felons, and that this effect holds net of age, race, gender, and criminal history. The talk will discuss the strengths and limitations of our data and covariate adjustment approach for making causal inferences, the implications of felon enfranchisement for public safety, and the viability of weaving former felons back into the citizenry as stakeholders.

iowa court upholds mass restoration of felon voting rights

from the des moines register and talkleft.com: a district court in muscatine has upheld iowa governor tom vilsack’s executive order restoring voting rights to all former felons in that state. as i wrote in august, the order raises some interesting legal questions. shelly schaefer and i are presenting a paper framed around some of them in a department workshop november 29:

Chris Uggen and Shelly Schaefer “Voting and the Civic Reintegration of Former Prisoners”

When Iowa governor Tom Vilsack restored voting rights to all former felons in that state this July Fourth, he noted that “research shows that ex-offenders who vote are less likely to re-offend.” The National Review countered that “the problem with Vilsack’s claim is that there is absolutely no research to support it. Not one longitudinal study exists showing the effects of the restoration of voting rights on crime rates or recidivism.” We undertook such a study this summer, by matching criminal records with voting records. We conceptualize voting as a form of “civic reintegration,” analogous to the work and family ties that are well-established in life course criminology. For our 1990 Minnesota release cohort, we find that approximately 20 percent of the former felons registered to vote. Our event history analysis shows that felons who voted in the previous biennial election have a far lower risk of recidivism than non-voting felons, and that this effect holds net of age, race, gender, and criminal history. The talk will discuss the strengths and limitations of our data and covariate adjustment approach for making causal inferences, the implications of felon enfranchisement for public safety, and the viability of weaving former felons back into the citizenry as stakeholders.

why criminologists should study rulemaking as well as rulebreaking

is law a narrowly crafted expression of societal consensus? or is it a product of group conflict and a tool for advantaged groups to maintain a dominant position? the answer depends on the law, of course, but criminologists too often accept the criminal code uncritically. once we scratch the surface of many laws, we find that they emerged from conflicts over race, class, religion and other social cleavages.

i told my deviance class that, by most definitions, rosa parks was a deviant in 1955 and a hero in 2005. she was arrested fifty years ago because she defied a law requiring blacks to yield their bus seats to whites, which set off the montgomery, alabama boycott. theconglomerate.org reprinted the text of the city ordinance defied by ms. parks.

Every person operating a bus line in the city shall provide equal but separate accommodations for white people and negroes on his buses, by requiring the employees in charge thereof to assign passengers seats on the vehicles under their charge in such manner as to separate the white people from the negroes, where there are both white and negroes on the same car; provided, however, that negro nurses having in charge white children or sick or infirm white persons, may be assigned seats among white people

i think i can make a pretty good case that this law emerged from conflict. the u.s. supreme court declared the ordinance unconstitutional in 1956, in violation of the due process and equal protection clauses of the fourteenth amendment. not everyone remembers that ms. parks was actually sitting in the black section of the bus. the driver “invited” her to move when a white man could not find a seat up front in the white section. her refusal brought her a disorderly conduct conviction and fine of $14. it seems strange that whites, so vigilant in policing segregation, would be comfortable sitting in the black section when convenient. segregation no doubt brings on all sorts of strangenesses.

for criminologists, such ordinances remind us yet again that the law is not a narrowly-crafted expression of consensual values. instead, many laws emerge from conflict and the naked exercise of power. moreover, laws that seem “normal” to us today will likely look out of place in a generation or two.

illegal voting

i wrote last month about a minneapolis woman who was charged with illegal voting because she cast a ballot while still on probation. other prosecutors are getting into the act as well. according to a milwaukee journal-sentinel story by reed epstein:

“A 24-year-old woman with a felony drug conviction in Dane County voted illegally in the 2004 presidential election, according to a complaint filed Friday in Waukesha County Circuit Court. Elizabeth A. Mitchell-Frazier of Waukesha faces one count of voting illegally and one count of falsifying her voter registration. The two felony charges carry a combined maximum penalty of 3 1/2 years in prison and up to $11,000 in fines. …According to the criminal complaint, Mitchell-Frazier was told that after her conviction, in March 2004 in Dane County, she would lose her voting rights until the end of her sentence, which was three years of probation and drug and alcohol treatment. On election day, Mitchell-Frazier filled out a voter registration card and voted at Prairie Elementary School, the complaint says. It states she listed a valid Wisconsin driver’s license on her voter registration application. But Mitchell-Frazier told investigators she thought the Dane County conviction was a misdemeanor…”

as i noted before, i’m astounded that we’ve made the simple act of voting a felony-level offense and that prosecutors are pursuing such cases so vigorously. ms. mitchell-frazier didn’t vote twice or sell her vote or rig voting machines or turn legal voters away at the polls or destroy the votes of others. she merely showed up at the local elementary school and cast a ballot. i doubt that any judge will give her 3.5 years of prison time for this, but the fact that she could is incredible. if i drink a fifth of jack daniels before hitting rush-hour traffic today and get into a bloody fistfight after rear-ending a school bus, there’s no way i’d be charged with a felony or even threatened with anything worse than a few weeks in the workhouse (no, i don’t know this from personal experience). I’d be interested to know: (a) how many people have been prosecuted for illegal voting solely by virtue of their felon status and (b) what sort of sentences they have received. Has anyone actually done time for voting?

why criminologists should study rulemaking as well as rulebreaking

is law a narrowly crafted expression of societal consensus? or is it a product of group conflict and a tool for advantaged groups to maintain a dominant position? the answer depends on the law, of course, but criminologists too often accept the criminal code uncritically. once we scratch the surface of many laws, we find that they emerged from conflicts over race, class, religion and other social cleavages.

i told my deviance class that, by most definitions, rosa parks was a deviant in 1955 and a hero in 2005. she was arrested fifty years ago because she defied a law requiring blacks to yield their bus seats to whites, which set off the montgomery, alabama boycott. theconglomerate.org reprinted the text of the city ordinance defied by ms. parks.

Every person operating a bus line in the city shall provide equal but separate accommodations for white people and negroes on his buses, by requiring the employees in charge thereof to assign passengers seats on the vehicles under their charge in such manner as to separate the white people from the negroes, where there are both white and negroes on the same car; provided, however, that negro nurses having in charge white children or sick or infirm white persons, may be assigned seats among white people

i think i can make a pretty good case that this law emerged from conflict. the u.s. supreme court declared the ordinance unconstitutional in 1956, in violation of the due process and equal protection clauses of the fourteenth amendment. not everyone remembers that ms. parks was actually sitting in the black section of the bus. the driver “invited” her to move when a white man could not find a seat up front in the white section. her refusal brought her a disorderly conduct conviction and fine of $14. it seems strange that whites, so vigilant in policing segregation, would be comfortable sitting in the black section when convenient. segregation no doubt brings on all sorts of strangenesses.

for criminologists, such ordinances remind us yet again that the law is not a narrowly-crafted expression of consensual values. instead, many laws emerge from conflict and the naked exercise of power. moreover, laws that seem “normal” to us today will likely look out of place in a generation or two.

illegal voting

i wrote last month about a minneapolis woman who was charged with illegal voting because she cast a ballot while still on probation. other prosecutors are getting into the act as well. according to a milwaukee journal-sentinel story by reed epstein:

“A 24-year-old woman with a felony drug conviction in Dane County voted illegally in the 2004 presidential election, according to a complaint filed Friday in Waukesha County Circuit Court. Elizabeth A. Mitchell-Frazier of Waukesha faces one count of voting illegally and one count of falsifying her voter registration. The two felony charges carry a combined maximum penalty of 3 1/2 years in prison and up to $11,000 in fines. …According to the criminal complaint, Mitchell-Frazier was told that after her conviction, in March 2004 in Dane County, she would lose her voting rights until the end of her sentence, which was three years of probation and drug and alcohol treatment. On election day, Mitchell-Frazier filled out a voter registration card and voted at Prairie Elementary School, the complaint says. It states she listed a valid Wisconsin driver’s license on her voter registration application. But Mitchell-Frazier told investigators she thought the Dane County conviction was a misdemeanor…”

as i noted before, i’m astounded that we’ve made the simple act of voting a felony-level offense and that prosecutors are pursuing such cases so vigorously. ms. mitchell-frazier didn’t vote twice or sell her vote or rig voting machines or turn legal voters away at the polls or destroy the votes of others. she merely showed up at the local elementary school and cast a ballot. i doubt that any judge will give her 3.5 years of prison time for this, but the fact that she could is incredible. if i drink a fifth of jack daniels before hitting rush-hour traffic today and get into a bloody fistfight after rear-ending a school bus, there’s no way i’d be charged with a felony or even threatened with anything worse than a few weeks in the workhouse (no, i don’t know this from personal experience). I’d be interested to know: (a) how many people have been prosecuted for illegal voting solely by virtue of their felon status and (b) what sort of sentences they have received. Has anyone actually done time for voting?

parental rights of sex offenders’ wives

the ny times reports* that a pennsylvania woman lost custody of her newborn son because the child’s father was convicted of sex crimes. melissa wolfhawk gave birth last tuesday. although she lives separately from her husband, a schuylkill county judge stripped her of custody and sent the baby to the county’s department of children and youth services. ms. wolfhawk will only get two hours of supervised visits before an october 31 hearing, but is appealing the custody decision in federal court. her husband, daishin john wolfhawk, served 10 years on a 1983 conviction of rape and sodomy of two teenage girls. according to the times:

The unusual case has raised some doubts even with groups that champion the rights of abused children. Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, said he respected the right of agencies to take custody of endangered children, but said that the standard for removing a child had to be set “very high.” “If somebody was convicted 20 years ago and has not reoffended, and the circumstances of the offense would not appear to make him a threat to young children, then this is troublesome,” Mr. Allen said. David L. Levy, the chief executive of the Children’s Rights Council, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, said, “I am not aware of any case where a 20-year-old conviction, no matter how heinous, has been used to remove a child from the care of the perpetrator and from a mother who had nothing to do with that crime.” “The state may think that because they’re married, the only way to make the child safe from the father is to remove him from the mother,” he said. “But what about her due process and constitutional rights? If they can show a present danger, I’d be the first one to support removal, but they need to show a connection between 20 years ago and now.”

the case offers another example of the hyperstigma applied to sex offenders today — it appears to be a permanent mark that extends beyond any official sanction. but regardless of the father’s fitness, this case sets a troubling precedent for mothers who have committed no crimes whatsoever. i suspect that ms. wolfhawk’s best chance of getting the boy back will be to divorce mr. wolfhawk and to relocate far from him. i’ve never heard of a case quite like this, although sex offenders who victimize children have been deprived of parental rights while under supervision, as have parents who kill their children. so i guess there are a few questions here:

1. which crimes, if any, should affect one’s rights to be a parent? all sex crimes? murder? sex crimes against children? incest? what about drug use? any felony? reckless driving?

2. for how long should such a restriction be enforced? during the sentence, for a 2-5 year waiting period beyond the sentence? for 10 years? forever?

3. should both parents be liable for the sins of the father (or, i guess, the mother)? what should melissa wolfhawk have to do to get her kid back?

*thanks to “guilty k.” for the heads-up on this story.

parental rights of sex offenders’ wives

the ny times reports* that a pennsylvania woman lost custody of her newborn son because the child’s father was convicted of sex crimes. melissa wolfhawk gave birth last tuesday. although she lives separately from her husband, a schuylkill county judge stripped her of custody and sent the baby to the county’s department of children and youth services. ms. wolfhawk will only get two hours of supervised visits before an october 31 hearing, but is appealing the custody decision in federal court. her husband, daishin john wolfhawk, served 10 years on a 1983 conviction of rape and sodomy of two teenage girls. according to the times:

The unusual case has raised some doubts even with groups that champion the rights of abused children. Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, said he respected the right of agencies to take custody of endangered children, but said that the standard for removing a child had to be set “very high.” “If somebody was convicted 20 years ago and has not reoffended, and the circumstances of the offense would not appear to make him a threat to young children, then this is troublesome,” Mr. Allen said. David L. Levy, the chief executive of the Children’s Rights Council, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, said, “I am not aware of any case where a 20-year-old conviction, no matter how heinous, has been used to remove a child from the care of the perpetrator and from a mother who had nothing to do with that crime.” “The state may think that because they’re married, the only way to make the child safe from the father is to remove him from the mother,” he said. “But what about her due process and constitutional rights? If they can show a present danger, I’d be the first one to support removal, but they need to show a connection between 20 years ago and now.”

the case offers another example of the hyperstigma applied to sex offenders today — it appears to be a permanent mark that extends beyond any official sanction. but regardless of the father’s fitness, this case sets a troubling precedent for mothers who have committed no crimes whatsoever. i suspect that ms. wolfhawk’s best chance of getting the boy back will be to divorce mr. wolfhawk and to relocate far from him. i’ve never heard of a case quite like this, although sex offenders who victimize children have been deprived of parental rights while under supervision, as have parents who kill their children. so i guess there are a few questions here:

1. which crimes, if any, should affect one’s rights to be a parent? all sex crimes? murder? sex crimes against children? incest? what about drug use? any felony? reckless driving?

2. for how long should such a restriction be enforced? during the sentence, for a 2-5 year waiting period beyond the sentence? for 10 years? forever?

3. should both parents be liable for the sins of the father (or, i guess, the mother)? what should melissa wolfhawk have to do to get her kid back?

*thanks to “guilty k.” for the heads-up on this story.

crime, fear, and public opinion

some comments on the last post raised the issue of fear of crime and the ucr crime rate. here are a few figures i’ve been playing with to track these trends. first, compare the general social survey fear of crime indicator with the ucr index offense rate and the percentgage believing that crime is the most important problem. according to the gss, the percentage of people afraid to walk in their own neighborhoods dropped from about 45 percent in 1994 to 30 percent in 2001. 1994 was the year of bill clinton’s crime bill debates, so you see a big spike in the percentage naming crime as the most important problem facing the nation.

many criminologists and politicians believe that the public is more punitive today than ever before, but that’s not quite true. the chart below shows responses to three standard punitiveness indicators: the perception that courts are not harsh enough, that too little money is spent combating crime, and support for the death penalty. all peaked in 1994 but have declined significantly since then.
so maybe times are changing. people seem to feel less afraid of street crime in their everyday lives today than they did a decade ago, as both police and victimization data suggest they should. although a majority still favor “tougher” crime policy, the percentage has declined significantly over the past decade. i read these trends as providing an opening for reintegrative efforts. more people seem ready to view law violators as fallible human beings who will eventually desist from crime rather than as irredeemable monsters. if so, it creates a policy opportunity to reorient correctional practices toward the clear-headed goal of maximizing public safety.

crime, fear, and public opinion

some comments on the last post raised the issue of fear of crime and the ucr crime rate. here are a few figures i’ve been playing with to track these trends. first, compare the general social survey fear of crime indicator with the ucr index offense rate and the percentgage believing that crime is the most important problem. according to the gss, the percentage of people afraid to walk in their own neighborhoods dropped from about 45 percent in 1994 to 30 percent in 2001. 1994 was the year of bill clinton’s crime bill debates, so you see a big spike in the percentage naming crime as the most important problem facing the nation.

many criminologists and politicians believe that the public is more punitive today than ever before, but that’s not quite true. the chart below shows responses to three standard punitiveness indicators: the perception that courts are not harsh enough, that too little money is spent combating crime, and support for the death penalty. all peaked in 1994 but have declined significantly since then.
so maybe times are changing. people seem to feel less afraid of street crime in their everyday lives today than they did a decade ago, as both police and victimization data suggest they should. although a majority still favor “tougher” crime policy, the percentage has declined significantly over the past decade. i read these trends as providing an opening for reintegrative efforts. more people seem ready to view law violators as fallible human beings who will eventually desist from crime rather than as irredeemable monsters. if so, it creates a policy opportunity to reorient correctional practices toward the clear-headed goal of maximizing public safety.