Monthly Archives: February 2006

life decisions


this week a judge in new mexico sentenced cody posey, 16, as a juvenile, and ordered him held in state custody until he turns 21. posey, you may remember, was convicted of killing his family on sam donaldson’s ranch in july 2004. he was fourteen years old at the time he shot and killed his father, stepmother, and 13-year-old stepsister. in deciding how to sentence the teenage defendant, state district judge james waylon counts found that posey suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome and had acted out after years of physical and psychological abuse at the hands of his father and stepmother. had he been sentenced as an adult, posey would have faced 50 years in prison.

this case brings to mind the case of nathaniel abraham, the youngest person ever convicted of murder in michigan. abraham was eleven years old, 4 feet 9 inches tall and weighed 65 pounds when he killed 18-year-old Ronnie Green with a sniper shot. he was 13 in january, 2000 when the judge handed down his sentence. judge eugene arthur moore had three options: to sentence abraham as an adult, where he faced life in prison; to sentence abraham as a juvenile, in which case he would be released on his 21st birthday; or to hand down a blended sentence in which abraham could be evaluated after his time in the juvenile system and sent to prison if he was not felt to be rehabilitated. judge moore chose to sentence abraham as a juvenile, suggesting in his comments that knowing nathaniel would be released in eight years would add urgency to his care and rehabilitation. judge moore explained:

“if we were to impose a delayed sentence, we take everyone off the hook. Sentencing Nathaniel as a juvenile gives us eight more years to rehabilitate him. We as a community know that he will be back among us at age 21. If we are committed to preventing future criiminal behavior, we will use our collective efforts and financial resources to rehabilitate him and all the other at-risk youth in our community…The danger is that we won’t take rehabilitation seriously if we know we can utilize prison in the future. Adult incarceration is a vital immediate solution to danger, but it does nothing to address future criminality.”

nathaniel abraham is now twenty years old and will be released within the year. his court-appointed psychologist describes his progress as a “mixed picture, mostly positive.” the question now is whether abraham will be released to a halfway house to transition back into the community in the last months of his sentence. at this point, those working on his case do not think he is ready. ready or not, however, within a year he will be released without supervision.

what strikes me most about these cases is the courage of the judges to take what is certainly an unpopular stand in these punitive times. there are a number of ways to argue these cases; what do you prioritize–the safety of the community, the possibility for rehabilitation, the financial cost of sentencing a boy to an entire lifetime behind bars? whatever their specific reasoning, judge moore and judge counts offer us a glimpse back into the original goals of the juvenile court and the belief that young people deserve special consideration. the world will be watching when nathaniel abraham gets out. judge moore has stayed in close contact with him. for both of their sakes, i hope he offers evidence that the juvenile system can still work and fulfill its original purpose and its ultimate promise.

life decisions


this week a judge in new mexico sentenced cody posey, 16, as a juvenile, and ordered him held in state custody until he turns 21. posey, you may remember, was convicted of killing his family on sam donaldson’s ranch in july 2004. he was fourteen years old at the time he shot and killed his father, stepmother, and 13-year-old stepsister. in deciding how to sentence the teenage defendant, state district judge james waylon counts found that posey suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome and had acted out after years of physical and psychological abuse at the hands of his father and stepmother. had he been sentenced as an adult, posey would have faced 50 years in prison.

this case brings to mind the case of nathaniel abraham, the youngest person ever convicted of murder in michigan. abraham was eleven years old, 4 feet 9 inches tall and weighed 65 pounds when he killed 18-year-old Ronnie Green with a sniper shot. he was 13 in january, 2000 when the judge handed down his sentence. judge eugene arthur moore had three options: to sentence abraham as an adult, where he faced life in prison; to sentence abraham as a juvenile, in which case he would be released on his 21st birthday; or to hand down a blended sentence in which abraham could be evaluated after his time in the juvenile system and sent to prison if he was not felt to be rehabilitated. judge moore chose to sentence abraham as a juvenile, suggesting in his comments that knowing nathaniel would be released in eight years would add urgency to his care and rehabilitation. judge moore explained:

“if we were to impose a delayed sentence, we take everyone off the hook. Sentencing Nathaniel as a juvenile gives us eight more years to rehabilitate him. We as a community know that he will be back among us at age 21. If we are committed to preventing future criiminal behavior, we will use our collective efforts and financial resources to rehabilitate him and all the other at-risk youth in our community…The danger is that we won’t take rehabilitation seriously if we know we can utilize prison in the future. Adult incarceration is a vital immediate solution to danger, but it does nothing to address future criminality.”

nathaniel abraham is now twenty years old and will be released within the year. his court-appointed psychologist describes his progress as a “mixed picture, mostly positive.” the question now is whether abraham will be released to a halfway house to transition back into the community in the last months of his sentence. at this point, those working on his case do not think he is ready. ready or not, however, within a year he will be released without supervision.

what strikes me most about these cases is the courage of the judges to take what is certainly an unpopular stand in these punitive times. there are a number of ways to argue these cases; what do you prioritize–the safety of the community, the possibility for rehabilitation, the financial cost of sentencing a boy to an entire lifetime behind bars? whatever their specific reasoning, judge moore and judge counts offer us a glimpse back into the original goals of the juvenile court and the belief that young people deserve special consideration. the world will be watching when nathaniel abraham gets out. judge moore has stayed in close contact with him. for both of their sakes, i hope he offers evidence that the juvenile system can still work and fulfill its original purpose and its ultimate promise.

americorps/vista jobs for reentry work

are you interested in doing full-time reentry work in the fabulous twin cities? michael bischoff, a project manager at the council on crime and Justice sends word of two americorps/vista positions. one is for an assistant case advocate for formerly incarcerated people. the other is for program evaluation and research related to reentry. click the links for details and contact information.

either position could be a great opportunity to get some real hands-on program and research experience. the jobs are full-time, pay a basic living stipend, provide health insurance, and offer a grant for education.

the council is a fine local non-profit with an excellent national reputation. i can personally vouch for its leadership and core mission: to build community capacity to address the causes and consequences of crime and violence through research, demonstration and advocacy.

to apply, submit a resume and cover letter by friday, march 31 to: council on crime and Justice, attn: human resources, 822 south third street, suite 100, minneapolis, mn 55415 or hr@crimeandJustice.org. the positions are anticipated to begin June 21, 2006 and go through June 20, 2007.

americorps/vista jobs for reentry work

are you interested in doing full-time reentry work in the fabulous twin cities? michael bischoff, a project manager at the council on crime and Justice sends word of two americorps/vista positions. one is for an assistant case advocate for formerly incarcerated people. the other is for program evaluation and research related to reentry. click the links for details and contact information.

either position could be a great opportunity to get some real hands-on program and research experience. the jobs are full-time, pay a basic living stipend, provide health insurance, and offer a grant for education.

the council is a fine local non-profit with an excellent national reputation. i can personally vouch for its leadership and core mission: to build community capacity to address the causes and consequences of crime and violence through research, demonstration and advocacy.

to apply, submit a resume and cover letter by friday, march 31 to: council on crime and Justice, attn: human resources, 822 south third street, suite 100, minneapolis, mn 55415 or hr@crimeandJustice.org. the positions are anticipated to begin June 21, 2006 and go through June 20, 2007.

now what would you pay?

adam liptak’s thoughtful piece in the times today highlights a significant barrier to felon reintegration: money. i’m not talking about how hard it is to earn a decent living with a criminal record. i’m talking about direct financial obligations to the state.

today, clients in the criminal Justice system must pay fines, court costs, restitution to victims, lab costs (e.g., for drug testing, and sampling their dna), treatment costs (e.g., for chemical dependency or anger management), surveillance costs (e.g., for ankle bracelets), and because-we-said-so costs. liptak profiles one man who owes $127,000 to the state of louisiana, though six-figure debts are rare. it is not at all unusual, however, for “average” felons to owe thousands of dollars upon release.

when i analyzed applications for voting rights restoration in florida, i noticed that many such applications were never even reviewed. this is because applicants with any outstanding court costs or unpaid restitution were considered ineligible by definition. such practices seriously exacerbated racial inequalities in the system’s operation. like florida, washington state is among the most aggressive in wringing money from felons. here’s liptak:

Washington has one of the longest lists of fees assessed to criminals, and it is diligent in trying to collect them. Ms. Dubois, disabled after a car accident, makes payments of $10 a month toward what was once a $1,610 debt — $1,000 for a county “drug enforcement fund,” a $500 “victim assessment fee” and $110 in court costs. “I still don’t know who the victim was,” she said. Her efforts notwithstanding, her debt is growing because of the 12 percent interest assessed annually by the State of Washington. As of September, it stood at $1,895.69.

until she pays it all back, however, she will remain ineligible to vote. just think about that for a moment. do such requirements exact a poll tax on the poor? how many other citizens — of any socioeconomic stratum — would pay $1,900 to vote in the next election? what if people remained ineligible to vote until they had completely paid off all student loans and other financial obligations to the state?

most students, of course, are not felons. while the state can make all felons debtors, i question the wisdom of imposing onerous financial obligations across-the-board. in my opinion, such policies needlessly prolong punishment. to the extent that former felons are marked as debtors and outsiders, it is more difficult for them to become “insiders” — stakeholding and tax-paying citizens in good standing. that said, i grant that adhering to a reasonable restitution schedule might serve a reintegrative or rehabilitative function. making even nominal payments to victims might be part of a broader strategy of “earned redemption.”

but that’s not what we’re talking about here. thoughtlessly dumping four-figure fees on the poorest of the poor serves no such purpose. this is either “piling on” to further stigmatize and criminalize the indigent or a misguided attempt to squeeze blood from turnips:

“The difference between 30 years ago and today,” said George H. Kendall, a lawyer with Holland & Knight in New York who represents Mr. Rideau, “is that people who everyone agrees are poor are leaving the courthouse significantly poorer.”

now what would you pay?

adam liptak’s thoughtful piece in the times today highlights a significant barrier to felon reintegration: money. i’m not talking about how hard it is to earn a decent living with a criminal record. i’m talking about direct financial obligations to the state.

today, clients in the criminal Justice system must pay fines, court costs, restitution to victims, lab costs (e.g., for drug testing, and sampling their dna), treatment costs (e.g., for chemical dependency or anger management), surveillance costs (e.g., for ankle bracelets), and because-we-said-so costs. liptak profiles one man who owes $127,000 to the state of louisiana, though six-figure debts are rare. it is not at all unusual, however, for “average” felons to owe thousands of dollars upon release.

when i analyzed applications for voting rights restoration in florida, i noticed that many such applications were never even reviewed. this is because applicants with any outstanding court costs or unpaid restitution were considered ineligible by definition. such practices seriously exacerbated racial inequalities in the system’s operation. like florida, washington state is among the most aggressive in wringing money from felons. here’s liptak:

Washington has one of the longest lists of fees assessed to criminals, and it is diligent in trying to collect them. Ms. Dubois, disabled after a car accident, makes payments of $10 a month toward what was once a $1,610 debt — $1,000 for a county “drug enforcement fund,” a $500 “victim assessment fee” and $110 in court costs. “I still don’t know who the victim was,” she said. Her efforts notwithstanding, her debt is growing because of the 12 percent interest assessed annually by the State of Washington. As of September, it stood at $1,895.69.

until she pays it all back, however, she will remain ineligible to vote. just think about that for a moment. do such requirements exact a poll tax on the poor? how many other citizens — of any socioeconomic stratum — would pay $1,900 to vote in the next election? what if people remained ineligible to vote until they had completely paid off all student loans and other financial obligations to the state?

most students, of course, are not felons. while the state can make all felons debtors, i question the wisdom of imposing onerous financial obligations across-the-board. in my opinion, such policies needlessly prolong punishment. to the extent that former felons are marked as debtors and outsiders, it is more difficult for them to become “insiders” — stakeholding and tax-paying citizens in good standing. that said, i grant that adhering to a reasonable restitution schedule might serve a reintegrative or rehabilitative function. making even nominal payments to victims might be part of a broader strategy of “earned redemption.”

but that’s not what we’re talking about here. thoughtlessly dumping four-figure fees on the poorest of the poor serves no such purpose. this is either “piling on” to further stigmatize and criminalize the indigent or a misguided attempt to squeeze blood from turnips:

“The difference between 30 years ago and today,” said George H. Kendall, a lawyer with Holland & Knight in New York who represents Mr. Rideau, “is that people who everyone agrees are poor are leaving the courthouse significantly poorer.”

age, ski jumping, and desistance

according to olympic commentators, the best ski jumpers are baby ski jumpers. this is because ski jumping involves convincing one’s body to do something that one’s brain regards as, well, stupid. as any former teenager will tell you, really stupid physical tasks are most reliably accomplished in youth.

one would think that older athletes might fare better at events privileging mind control, whereas the kids might prevail in events privileging speed and strength. instead, fortysomething cross-country skiers such as hilde pedersen sieze medals in grueling tests of endurance, while nervy nineteen year olds take gold in ski jumping.

watching the broadcast, i saw close parallels between ski jumping and desistance from crime and other risk behaviors. i’ll bet that the age/ski-jumping curve follows the age/crime and age/accident curves. no, i’m not always thinking about crime. for instance, i also wondered whether jumpers and spectators might enjoy a warm landing pool of delicious banana cream pudding. more seriously, i marveled at the quaint sexist rationale that keeps women from participating: international ski federation president gian franco kasper says ski jumping “seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view.” sounds like pre-rosie the riveter talk to me, gian franco.

like many boys and girls, i recall summoning up the courage to do really stupid things as a teenager (just jump! do it!) that today i’d reject without a second thought. i suppose this is why keeping the edge becomes such a preoccupation as we get a little older. i’m tempted to challenge my lad to a ski jumping contest, but not until i get some action on this pudding idea.

age, ski jumping, and desistance

according to olympic commentators, the best ski jumpers are baby ski jumpers. this is because ski jumping involves convincing one’s body to do something that one’s brain regards as, well, stupid. as any former teenager will tell you, really stupid physical tasks are most reliably accomplished in youth.

one would think that older athletes might fare better at events privileging mind control, whereas the kids might prevail in events privileging speed and strength. instead, fortysomething cross-country skiers such as hilde pedersen sieze medals in grueling tests of endurance, while nervy nineteen year olds take gold in ski jumping.

watching the broadcast, i saw close parallels between ski jumping and desistance from crime and other risk behaviors. i’ll bet that the age/ski-jumping curve follows the age/crime and age/accident curves. no, i’m not always thinking about crime. for instance, i also wondered whether jumpers and spectators might enjoy a warm landing pool of delicious banana cream pudding. more seriously, i marveled at the quaint sexist rationale that keeps women from participating: international ski federation president gian franco kasper says ski jumping “seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view.” sounds like pre-rosie the riveter talk to me, gian franco.

like many boys and girls, i recall summoning up the courage to do really stupid things as a teenager (just jump! do it!) that today i’d reject without a second thought. i suppose this is why keeping the edge becomes such a preoccupation as we get a little older. i’m tempted to challenge my lad to a ski jumping contest, but not until i get some action on this pudding idea.

prison dogs

toby young ran the safe harbor prison dog program in kansas, teaching inmates to train dogs for adoption. this week, she left lansing prison with inmate john manard packed into a dog crate in the back of her van.

this is tough news for dog training programs. i’m most familiar with more intensive efforts to train dogs as helpers for disabled persons. i’ve spoken with inmates at shakopee correctional facility in minnesota about the powerful influence that such programs had on them. they devote considerable time, attention, and (yes) love to the animals, in the hope that the animals will do some good on the outside. the minnesota program fell victim to budget cuts, but the inmates swore by it.

i’m not aware of a rigorous program evaluation or cost-benefit analysis, but i like such programs for three reasons: (1) they make productive use of inmates’ time and affections; (2) they provide a needed public service; and, (3) they help civilize prisons, offering a “carrot” with which administrators can reward good behavior (dog-time is much prized) and an opportunity for inmates to teach discipline. i can second or verify this blurb from ms. young’s website:

Safe Harbor has more than 90 inmates in the dog program and the effect on these inmates is very profound. These inmates have something positive that they can be proud of. They write to their families and tell them every last detail about their current dog. They subscribe to dog magazines and research training methods and dog breeds. They attend weekly classes to teach them a bridge and target training method that we use in our program. They have formed teams to help each otherwith specific training issues. They ‘baby-sit’ each other’s dogs. The impact of this program is more far reaching than we will probably ever know. The prison store recently started carrying dog treats that inmates can buy at a cost of 45 cents for a pound of treats. It has been the fastest selling item in the store – inmates who aren’t even dog handlers have been buying treats for the dogs and so have officers who love having the dogs around. The dogs are the highlight of prison tours and visit inmates in the hospice center.

argh. i don’t know whether ms. young hatched the escape for love or whether she was an unwitting pawn of the prisoners. i just hope that this escape doesn’t compromise the good work of such programs.

prison dogs

toby young ran the safe harbor prison dog program in kansas, teaching inmates to train dogs for adoption. this week, she left lansing prison with inmate john manard packed into a dog crate in the back of her van.

this is tough news for dog training programs. i’m most familiar with more intensive efforts to train dogs as helpers for disabled persons. i’ve spoken with inmates at shakopee correctional facility in minnesota about the powerful influence that such programs had on them. they devote considerable time, attention, and (yes) love to the animals, in the hope that the animals will do some good on the outside. the minnesota program fell victim to budget cuts, but the inmates swore by it.

i’m not aware of a rigorous program evaluation or cost-benefit analysis, but i like such programs for three reasons: (1) they make productive use of inmates’ time and affections; (2) they provide a needed public service; and, (3) they help civilize prisons, offering a “carrot” with which administrators can reward good behavior (dog-time is much prized) and an opportunity for inmates to teach discipline. i can second or verify this blurb from ms. young’s website:

Safe Harbor has more than 90 inmates in the dog program and the effect on these inmates is very profound. These inmates have something positive that they can be proud of. They write to their families and tell them every last detail about their current dog. They subscribe to dog magazines and research training methods and dog breeds. They attend weekly classes to teach them a bridge and target training method that we use in our program. They have formed teams to help each otherwith specific training issues. They ‘baby-sit’ each other’s dogs. The impact of this program is more far reaching than we will probably ever know. The prison store recently started carrying dog treats that inmates can buy at a cost of 45 cents for a pound of treats. It has been the fastest selling item in the store – inmates who aren’t even dog handlers have been buying treats for the dogs and so have officers who love having the dogs around. The dogs are the highlight of prison tours and visit inmates in the hospice center.

argh. i don’t know whether ms. young hatched the escape for love or whether she was an unwitting pawn of the prisoners. i just hope that this escape doesn’t compromise the good work of such programs.