Monthly Archives: May 2007

sort of a big deal for $6.49

well, it’s been a quiet week in lakeland, florida. the weekly crime map shows only a handful of robberies, some residential burglaries, a couple of stolen cars, and a graffiti report. even so, i was surpised to learn that shoplifting a $6.49 box of prophylactics from the lakeland sears could still land one’s picture on the local crime stoppers leaflet shown above. a few hypotheses:

1. awesome technology. the picture quality was just too good to ignore. check it out: the poor lad is caught red-handed.

2. moral revulsion. some folks are still sickened by the idea of condoms being sold right out there in the open like that. perhaps if the young fellow had grabbed, say, a $6.49 bottle of brut the lakeland police might not have made this case such a priority.*

3. cold cash. maybe somebody is after the reward money: according to the crime stoppers f.a.q., “Tipsters remain anonymous and become eligible for rewards of up to $1,000.”

4. crim theory. perhaps lakeland is big on broken-windows law enforcement or shaming sanctions.

5. wistful nostalgia. the mayberry-gone-wild aspects of this story would seem to evoke durkheim’s society of saints. wouldn’t it be nice if this was the picture of serious crime in america? the young rascal would naturally fess up in such a world, where he’d be given a good talking to by a kindly officer.

*oops, scratch that. only four days later, a crime stoppers alert detailed the theft of “a pack of socks and three bottles of cologne.” i bet it wasn’t brut, though.

state spending priorities

the san francisco chronicle offers a well-researched story by james sterngold on spending for prisons relative to higher education, but the figure above pretty much nutshells the story in california:

According to the May revisions of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s budget, the state will spend $10 billion on prisons in fiscal 2007-08, a 9 percent increase from last year. Higher education spending will come to $12 billion, a nearly 6 percent increase. Moving forward, the legislative analyst says, spending on higher education probably will grow around 5 percent a year, while prisons spending will grow by at least 9 percent annually.

berkeley’s changed, dude

a former minneapolis police chief once tried to criminalize homelessness via panhandling licenses. the proposal couldn’t get much traction in my fair city, and the chief was quickly dispatched to texas. today, such efforts continue in every city. the san francisco chronicle reports on berkeley mayor tom bates’ more clever method to sweep the streets of the indigent:

As Mayor Tom Bates sees it, the alcoholics, meth addicts and the like who make up a good portion of the homeless population on Shattuck Avenue downtown and Telegraph Avenue on the south side of the UC Berkeley campus “almost always smoke.” And because smoking bans are the hot ticket these days for California cities, why not meld the two as part of a “comprehensive package” for dealing with the street problem that Bates says “has gone over the top”?

ah, the comprehensive package! by tapping into the status politics of the anti-smoking crusade, the mayor will gain bipartisan support for measures that are punitive and restrictive, if not outright repressive. think about it — what self-respecting left-coast liberal wouldn’t support a smoking ban?

So far, Bates’ ideas seem to be fitting fine with the Berkeley mind-set. When the smoking ban came up for discussion before the City Council last week, it was smooth sailing.
“I don’t see anyone on the council voting against it,” said Councilman Kriss Worthington. “In fact, it’s possible that some council members would ban smoking throughout the entire city.”


i can see one political barrier to mayor bates’ plan, though it comes from the right rather than the left: he’d pay for the homeless smoking crackdown by raising city parking rates fifty cents per hour. while consistent with the “berkeley mind-set,” such a move could cost him the support of the city’s compassionate conservatives. repression is one thing, but repression with a tax hike quite another.

not too hard, not too soft

criminologists are often baffled by the sentences doled out to rich and famous defendants such as martha stewart. sometimes such folks are hammered for their celebrity, other times they get absurdly accommodating treatment.

now paris hilton is going to jail, which seems like the premise of a really bad summer movie. as punishment for violating the terms of her probation on a drunk-driving related offense, ms. hilton will serve about 23 days in a segregated jail unit. as anyone who has attempted to sleep in a jail can attest, the term segregated is important here. the scariest thing about jail — the real deterrent, if you will — is the prospect of mixing it up with much scarier inmates in a loosely-supervised environment. jails are typically far less orderly than prisons, since people are constantly moving in and out, and counties generally have fewer programming resources than state departments of correction. as a crude indicator of such strain, many first-time jail inmates determine that they really don’t need to go to the bathroom for the first 4 or 5 days.

i’d bet that almost any academic could ride out the 23 days of boredom scheduled for ms. hilton, though we’d break down quickly if tossed into the LA county lock-up without any special treatment. as long as she remains in segregation, my guess is that ms. hilton will emerge unscathed from this experience — and well-positioned for that cheesy legally-blonde-in-jail summer epic next year.

"outside-in" student activism

Outside-In is a group of Oregon State University students who have organized under sociology professor Michelle Inderbitzin. We have recently graduated from Inside-Out, a program that combines fifteen inmates from a local prison and fifteen university students in a class that studies issues of crime, Justice and public policy. Our class was the first on the west coast to be held in a men’s maximum security prison, the Oregon State Penitentiary. While all thirty students, both inside and out, and Professor Inderbitzin took away a priceless experience, seven of us have decided to attempt to give back, not only to our inside classmates, but to all the inmates of OSP.

One of the many goals of Outside-In is to provide the institution with scholarly literature focusing on issues of racial, social and economic inequality within the Justice system, as well as society at large, by organizing a book drive. Providing inmates with quality reading will allow them to become aware of the social and political context in which they have been imprisoned. By empowering inmates, it is our hope that they will have a greater opportunity to create change within the institution as well as on the outside, if and when upon release. Empowerment is a catalyst to reform and our prison system is overdue.

Please send your donation to:

Outside-In
C/o Professor Michelle Inderbitzin
307 Fairbanks Hall
Department of Sociology
Oregon State University
Corvallis, OR 97331

governing through crime

the witty and erudite jonathan simon of berkeley’s jurisprudence and social policy program has launched a book and a blog titled governing through crime.

as a fan of professor simon’s poor discipline, i’ve got governing through crime at the top of my summer reading list. here’s a blurb from the publisher:

Across America today gated communities sprawl out from urban centers, employers enforce mandatory drug testing, and schools screen students with metal detectors. Social problems ranging from welfare dependency to educational inequality have been reconceptualized as crimes, with an attendant focus on assigning fault and imposing consequences. Even before the recent terrorist attacks, non-citizen residents had become subject to an increasingly harsh regime of detention and deportation, and prospective employees subjected to background checks. How and when did our everyday world become dominated by fear, every citizen treated as a potential criminal? In this startlingly original work, Jonathan Simon traces this pattern back to the collapse of the New Deal approach to governing during the 1960s when declining confidence in expert-guided government policies sent political leaders searching for new models of governance. The War on Crime offered a ready solution to their problem: politicians set agendas by drawing analogies to crime and redefined the ideal citizen as a crime victim, one whose vulnerabilities opened the door to overweening government intervention. By the 1980s, this transformation of the core powers of government had spilled over into the institutions that govern daily life. Soon our schools, our families, our workplaces, and our residential communities were being governed through crime. This powerful work concludes with a call for passive citizens to become engaged partners in the management of risk and the treatment of social ills. Only by coming together to produce security, can we free ourselves from a logic of domination by others, and from the fear that currently rules our everyday life.

more institutionalization, less homicide?

bernard harcourt is guest-blogging at volokh this week, offering engaging posts on deinstitutionalization, incarceration, and homicide. he nicely explicates a new state-level analysis of the national evidence discussed in his january times op-ed and texas law review piece.

the pattern appears to hold up under a more stringent state-level panel specification: aggregate institutionalization (prisons plus mental institutions) bears a strong inverse relationship to homicide rates over a long historical period. moreover, the correlation between homicide and aggregate institutionalization is far stronger than the correlation between homicide and imprisonment. my sense is that the individual-level literature shows rather modest associations between violence and mental illness. what might account for the strong aggregate relationship?

a second look at oregon’s mandatory minimums

over the past few weeks, The Oregonian has been publishing some very interesting stories about prisons and sentencing in oregon. one series makes clear that “prison costs are shackling oregon” and offers compelling evidence to make the case.

more recently, another article reported that “With Democrats now in charge of the Legislature, lawmakers may try to soften a 1994 get-tough-on-crime law in a way that would allow the early release of juvenile offenders charged with murder, kidnapping and other serious crimes.” while this change would not have a huge impact on costs (about 50 youths every year are sentenced under Measure 11 and given mandatory minimum sentences), it would certainly impact hope and morale amongst young offenders serving time in oregon prisons.

as journalist brad cain reports it, the proposed “second look” would give 15-, 16-, and 17-year-olds convicted of serious offenses and sentenced to mandatory minimums a chance to go before a judge after they have served half of their sentences. if the judge felt that significant progress was made while incarcerated, s/he could allow the young offenders to serve the rest of their sentences back out in the community under post-prison supervision.

this seems like a good idea to me, a bit like blended sentences used with young offenders in other states. one of the students in our inside-out class last quarter was sentenced at 16 to a minimum of 25 years. he’s eleven years into his sentence now and, if this law were in place (and retroactive), he would have the possibility of getting a second look and being rewarded for the hard work he has done and the maturity he has shown while in prison. perhaps most importantly, it could offer him the hope of building a life. in prison, a little hope can go a long way.

*the photo above is from the oregonian and was taken in the oregon state penitentiary where we held our inside-out class.

somewhere between rikers island and the hampton inn

although most jail and prison inmates still come from poor and working-class families, the middle-class has not completely escaped mass incarceration. on this point, the times offers an intriguing look at california’s pay-to-stay jails. if your family can afford about $82 per day, you can serve out that pesky d.u.i. sentence in relative cleanliness and safety — far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife.

[thanks to rick rudell for passing along the link]