Monthly Archives: January 2008

rising above

okay, one last post about the seattle times’ series on the 2000 university of washington football team. the series ended on a positive note with an inspirational story about linebacker anthony kelly who went to college to become a football star and against the odds…became a student.

the idea of studying abroad captured kelly’s imagination and he won a scholarship to study in south africa. there, he worked with children and found a love for learning. as he said: “I had a chance to engage. To feel, touch and smell what I was reading in these books. That’s when I had the big idea of education as an engaged experience.” even as a number of his teammates were racking up long criminal records, kelly became a family man with big dreams for the children of south africa.

kelly is now working toward his master’s degree in education; he is currently in south africa again, this time leading a group of about twenty students on their own study abroad experience. he has ambitious goals and the drive to achieve them.

if you have a few minutes, it’s definitely worth the time to read the full version of his story.

good dogs and bad dawgs

the seattle times continues its series on “victory and ruins” — providing an in-depth look into the criminal histories and lenient treatments of players on the university of washington’s football team from 2000. the bad dawgs profiled so far are star tight end, jerramy stevens; “key” linebacker, jeremiah pharms; and starting safety, curtis williams. williams’ story is a tragic one for many reasons, but husky fans will never forget the hit against stanford that left him paralyzed from the neck down. williams died 18 months later just after his 24th birthday.

the series by the seattle times is an important one, but it’s also discouraging. to counter the discouragement, i found a happier dog story that still involves football and crime, but offers a little more hope, at least for some of the victims. more than four dozen pit bull dogs were rescued from michael vick’s bad newz kennels. fortunately for these mistreated canines, the Justice department wanted to give the dogs a second chance. the court appointed a guardian and special master, and as part of his plea bargain, vick agreed to pay for the dogs’ care. each dog was evaluated individually and most went into foster care to be socialized and given the chance at a better life. some will even train to become therapy dogs. it’s a happy ending to a sad case.

the dog in the picture is my own dog, talah, adopted from the humane society in may 2005.

the price of privilege

today’s seattle times has in-depth coverage of the “last great UW team” — that’s university of washington football, in case you were wondering, and the article is referring to the 2000 squad that went 11-1, won the rose bowl, and ended ranked 3rd in the nation.

how is this related to public criminology? unfortunately, that “mystical, magical season” included a disturbing amount of criminal behavior by team members and an equally disturbing lack of punishment/sanctions by anyone in authority.

as the times reports:

When that Rose Bowl season began on Sept. 2, 2000, against the University of Idaho, the UW’s starters included:

• A safety who, according to police reports, had cut his wife’s face, broken her arm and broken her nose. He had already served time for choking her into unconsciousness. While playing in front of 70,000 fans on Montlake that day, he was wanted on an outstanding warrant.

• A linebacker under investigation for robbing and shooting a drug dealer. He had left behind a fingerprint stained with his blood. By the season opener, police knew the print was his — but they didn’t charge him until the season was over.

• A tight end under investigation on suspicion of rape.

At least a dozen members of the Rose Bowl team were arrested that year or charged with a crime that carried possible jail time. At least a dozen others on that team got in trouble with the law in other seasons.

i hate to add to any stereotypes of athletes as criminals, but sometimes the behavior of individuals is egregious. the lengthy story on jerramy stevens–the team’s star tight end–shows just how far privilege can go in protecting elite athletes. stevens was convicted of assault, accused of rape, and accumulated a number of hit-and-runs and DUIs during his UW and professional career.

i may use this profile of stevens in class as yet another illustration of inequalities in punishment. i knew jerramy when he first came to u-dub — he was an incoming freshman in the last class i taught the summer before heading off to a tenure track job. there were several football players in that class and they all behaved well, did their work, and didn’t cause any noticeable trouble.

i wonder what would have happened if jerramy had never become a star on the field or if the team had been less successful. would he have been a better person? there’s no way of knowing, of course. but, i’ll try to use his story as a cautionary tale this summer when i teach a class of incoming freshman football players who will have their whole college experience still ahead of them.

nothing says romance like vodka, swisher sweets, and livelinks

saturday’s pi-press reported on two local robberies involving a chatline. in each case, dudes traveled to a minneapolis apartment to visit a woman they’d met on livelinks.

insomniacs are likely familiar with late-night television ads for livelinks. these typically feature attractive semi-clothed college-age women writhing flirtatiously while chatting on the phone.

when the local men arrived to meet the woman with whom they’d been speaking, they were greeted by a bat-wielding boyfriend and quickly relieved of their wallets and credit cards. according to the affidavit,

the woman told the man to bring DVDs, vodka and Swisher Sweets cigars. “Once he arrived, the female met him at the door,” the affidavit says. “She asked him for 20 dollars, which he gave her, then a male appeared from another room.” Dude came with a gun in one hand, a bat in the other,” the victim told the Pioneer Press.

fortunately, nobody was seriously hurt. this is a good scam because it is easy to attract men to a female stranger’s apartment, especially when they have visions of late-night commercials dancing in their heads. this is a terrible and short-lived scam, however, because the men are not so complicit that they would be reluctant to contact the police. and, of course, they could provide the police with very good directions to the address.

do you think the cigars were for the sweet talker or for the gun/bat-wielding boyfriend?

yer deadbolt won’t protect you

i’ve done little blogging about the kids lately, so i thought i’d share these pics of the enormous nonconformist’s recent home improvement project.

see, our garage door keypad froze solid in the subzero temps of the recent cold snap. when tor got off the school bus last week — without coat, hat, or gloves, of course — he found himself locked out at -5 fahrenheit. so, he walked around the perimeter of our well-secured house, searching for an opening.

finding no opening, the lad tried the steel side door on the garage, shown above with the security system sticker and deadbolt. when he gave the door a good shove, the deadbolt held firm. unfortunately, the door’s frame quickly splintered into kindling, as shown in the first picture.

needless to say, hanging the new door will serve as a perfect father-son weekend bonding activity. since he didn’t actually do anything wrong here (better to break in than to freeze to death, i suppose), i won’t ask him to chip in for the new door. nevertheless, i’m not a complete pushover. that fist-sized hole in the drywall that mysteriously appeared after sunday’s packers-giants game? that’s an altogether different matter.

ideal-typical case of policy change?

sociological criminologists sometimes point to moral panics and sensational cases as the impetus for sweeping changes in criminal codes. i don’t know whether this is the case in connecticut, but the times and the courant both point to a particularly heinous crime as the motor driving big changes in that state’s criminal Justice system.

the republican-american just flat comes out and says it. here’s their lead:

The legislature’s Democratic majority proposed a package of comprehensive changes to the criminal Justice system in Connecticut today.

The crime bill is a response to last summer’s triple homicide and home invasion in Cheshire. Lawmakers are meeting in special session today to consider the legislation.

hmm. i’m pretty sure that triple homicide is already against the law, even in connecticut, but perhaps the legislature needs to tighten up prohibitions against home invasion. so, some of the changes involved the crimes at issue:

The legislation includes the following provisions:

  • Create a new crime of home invasion.
  • Revise the burglary statute.

the real problem, in this as in other heinous cases, appears to be a breakdown in the screening process prior to release. by social science standards, criminologists can actually predict which inmates are likely to reoffend rather well. but social science standards — a 95 percent certainty that a given releasee will not commit another heinous offense — just aren’t good enough in such circumstances. so, the CT governor ordered a moratorium on parole for violent offenders, while the legislature went to work to fix the problem. here’s what they came up with:

  • Rework the persistent offender statute.
  • Reconfigure the Board of Pardons and Parole.
  • Mandate secure video connections at state prisons for parole hearings.
  • Require the court and prison systems provide 270 additional beds for diversionary and prison re-entry programs.
  • Command the court and prison systems provide 24 beds in secured treatment centers for sex offenders.
  • Require the prison system to monitor 300 more inmates by global positioning satellite technology.
  • Mandate the development of a centralized, integrated criminal Justice tracking and information database.

that’s a long and ambitious list of parole reforms. as is their wont, lawmakers also widened the net just a bit, adding the following provisions and mandates:

  • Orders the court, prison and parole systems to devise how to assess the risks of offenders of re-offending.
  • Directs the court system to create an Internet registry for outstanding arrest warrants for violation of probation.
  • Expands the rights of crime victims and their immediate families.
  • Makes juvenile court records available to Board of Pardons and Parole and the Department of Correction.
  • Requires the court system establish a statewide automated victim information and notification system.
  • Establishes a committee to propose incentives for municipalities to host transitional housing for released offenders.
  • Requires annual reporting to the legislature on developments in the criminal Justice system.
  • Sets up a diversionary program for persons with psychiatric disabilities accused of crimes or motor vehicle violations.
  • Authorizes $19 million in transfers in the state’s two-year, $36 billion budget to finance some initiatives.

i cannot speak to the wisdom of each individual change, but such a package would certainly strike me as a disconnected hodge-podge of requirements and really hard-to-meet mandates. for partisan reasons, the editors of the republican-american probably intended to portray the reforms as a costly boondoggle.

from a distance, however, i believe that the proposed changes are probably well-intentioned efforts to reorganize a system to prevent a single criminal event. unfortunately, such changes are likely to bring with them a broad range of unintended consequences, with unknown effects on public safety.

even in the unlikely event that the proposed changes are enacted, fully funded, and implemented, however, they are all designed to prevent the last heinous crime. this means that, in all likelihood, they will do little to prevent the next heinous crime.

tom johnson

friend and collaborator tom johnson has announced that he is stepping down as president of the council on crime and Justice.

i’ve worked closely with the council in recent years, as we share the same vision of engaged scholarship and public criminology. tom’s resignation letter well expresses this vision: (1) “to shed a brighter, more informed light on the causes and consequences of crime and violence” and, importantly, (2) to “enhance public safety by bringing about a more just society.”

the strib is marking this transition with an op-ed this morning, praising tom as “a tireless advocate for the disenfranchised and a passionate community leader.” the former minneapolis city council member and county attorney will return to private practice with gray, plant, and mooty this march. fortunately, the new council president will enter with a terrific team in place, including a first-rate research staff.

racial impact statements

marc mauer, executive director of the sentencing project, takes a page from the environmental movement in the latest issue of the ohio state journal of criminal law.

his new article on racial impact statements argues that the racially disparate effects of changes in sentencing policy are often entirely predictable. unlike most environmental impact statements, however, we generally have the data at hand to conduct a reasonable racial impact analysis at very low cost to the public.

here’s the abstract:

The extreme racial disparities in rates of incarceration in the United States result from a complex set of factors. Among these are sentencing and drug policies which, intended or not, produce disproportionate racial/ethnic effects. In retrospect, it is clear that many of these effects could have been predicted prior to the adoption of the legislation. In order to reduce the scale of unwarranted disparities, policymakers should address the potential racial impact of proposed legislation prior to enactment, rather than after the fact when any necessary reform is more difficult to achieve. One means of accomplishing this would be through the establishment of “Racial Impact Statements.” Similar to fiscal or environmental impact statements, such a policy would enable legislators and the public to anticipate any unwarranted racial disparities and to consider alternative policies that could accomplish the goals of the legislation without causing undue racial effects.

the ideal-typical example, of course, comes from the marked disparities in punishment for crack versus powder cocaine. more mauer:

Had Congress required that an impact statement be produced, it would have demonstrated that an estimated 4000 defendants a year would be sentenced to five and ten-year mandatory prison terms, 80% of whom would have been African American. A modest amount of additional data from government agencies would have documented that these rates were far higher than the black proportion of crack users or sellers in the general population. The question for policymakers would then have been whether the disparity was “unwarranted” because of the racial effects or “warranted” due to the need to provide public safety resources for the African-American community.

marc then discusses how racial impact statements can address both proportional disparity and population disparity. whereas the former involves a shift in the racial distribution of those serving time for a particular offense, the latter marks changes in the overall race-specific incarceration rate.

for example, if wisconsin passed a law that mandated a year in prison for serving margarine in a tavern, it would likely decrease proportional disparity (e.g., african americans might represent 30 percent of those serving time for this offense rather than, say, 35 percent under the existing discretionary system), but increase population disparity (e.g., it would nevertheless put more african americans behind bars, raising the race-specific incarceration rate from, say, 1,980 per 100,000 to 1,985 per 100,000).

regardless of the standard for assessing disparities, however, racial impact statements are intended to provide a basic context for assessing racial impacts when contemplating measures to protect public safety. why bother? shouldn’t the criminal code be color-blind? well, the rate of incarceration for african american males is currently about 3,042 per 100,000, relative to about 487 per 100,000 for white males. before we take any action that worsens such disparities, it seems reasonable to have a thoughtful discussion about balancing such costs against the likely gain in public safety.

you could teach a course in juvenile delinquency


i’ve been visiting sara wakefield at uc-irvine the past couple days, where i’ve enjoyed sunny california weather, a fun presentation, and some terrific conversations about public criminology.

this is just the restorative i needed before embarking on a busy spring semester. as bob’s big boy makes clear, i’ll begin teaching my undergrad delinquency course next week, with a great new teaching assistant on board.

prisoners to be "chipped like dogs"

according to the independent (via talkleft), the british ministry of Justice is “planning to implant “machine-readable” microchips under the skin of thousands of offenders as part of an expansion of the electronic tagging scheme that would create more space in British jails.”

the proposal is purportedly motivated by prison overcrowding, as “the prison population soared from 60,000 in 1997 to 80,000 today.” even at 80k, however, the incarceration rate in england and wales of 148 per 100,000 is only one-fifth the united states rate of 750 per 100,000. given the costs of incarceration and recent technological advances, we’ll surely see more of this technology in the states as well.
while many of us recoil at the idea of implanting people with tracking devices, i’d be first in line for such a device at my own sentencing hearing. think about it: would you rather do six months in the county jail or wear a temporary implant that allows you to go about your business? what about an implant versus a year in a maximum-security state penitentiary?

in fact, i’d even prefer a temporary implant to a bulky ankle bracelet or other external electronic monitoring device. in social interactions, one would be far less stigmatized while wearing an implant — in goffman’s terms, this represents a big move from discredited to discreditable status. temporary is the key qualifier here, of course, with the assumption that any such device would be fully removed at the conclusion of one’s sentence.

i’m not advocating implants, but any discussion of their use should take into account the interests and the grim alternatives faced by the men and women who would be wearing them. i can imagine a slippery policy slope in which the practice is first applied to volunteers from heavily stigmatized groups and then generalized outward. if i’m correct, that means high-risk sex offenders will be the first to wear such implants. in the end, however, i suspect we’ll all be wearing ‘em.