Monthly Archives: March 2008

town hall’s oatmeal stout would probably work just as well

have you heard of soc or crim students taking performance-enhancing drugs for their exams or prelims?

olin kerr at volokh tries to get a handle on law students’ use of adderall and ritalin to boost performance for studying and exams. here is the extent of use, according to volokh readers:

*It is very rare or never happens: 16% (75)
*Some students use them, but it is uncommon: 37% (175)
*It is common, but fewer than half have used them: 26% (120)
*About half of students have used them: 6% (29)
*More than half have used them: 7% (34)
*Most law students have used them: 4% (21)
*Pretty much everybody does it: 3% (13)

chronicle on prison research

the chronicle of higher education offers a fine article on some of the difficulties facing prison researchers. the minnesota department of corrections and the university’s internal review board have been very supportive of my research, so i’m counting my blessings.

chronicle weighs in on the challenges of prison research

the chronicle of higher education offers a fine article on some of the difficulties facing prison researchers. the minnesota department of corrections and the university’s internal review board have been very supportive of my research, so i’m counting my blessings.

ninth & hennepin b/w god’s bathroom floor

a city pages blogger just popped me between the eyes with this lively photo of block e in ’73, guaranteed to bring sweet and sour memories for old minnesotans. back then, it was seedy, sexy, scary, showy, and skeezy. today? not so much.*

as a west st. paul kid, i recall wide-eyed and wonderful trips to this part of hennepin avenue. then, as an intern investigator with the public defender, i spent more time with the area’s crime. though i saw too much trouble there to really romanticize the place, moby’s big electric sign still brings a li’l electric charge.

tom waits wrote the block’s official soundtrack in r-rated tributes such as ninth and hennepin and christmas card from a hooker in minneapolis. if i squint hard enough through today’s spring snow, i can almost see the drunks, punks, and hustlers of old hennepin from my office window.

waits is great, but the scene puts me in mind of atmosphere’s contemporary tales of junkie redemption and minneapolis pride.

*for further study, james lileks offers a fine historical photo essay.

snyder v. louisiana

in snyder v. louisiana, the u.s. supreme court has overturned a murder conviction based on racial discrimination in jury selection. i haven’t been following the court very closely these days, but i think the 7-2 decision might come as a surprise.

here’s jeannie shawl‘s story and helpful links at jurist:

The US Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a Louisiana death sentence should be overturned because the trial judge “committed clear error” in ruling on the defendant’s objection to a prosecution peremptory jury challenge, which the defendant argued was based on race. The ruling came in Snyder v. Louisiana, where Allen Snyder was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder. The Supreme Court reversed the Louisiana Supreme Court’s decision to let Snyder’s conviction stand.

The Snyder case gained notoriety when the prosecutor drew comparisons between the proceeding and the trial of OJ Simpson during sentencing when urging the jury to impose the death penalty. Snyder had argued that the prosecutor improperly used the comparison to create a race-based rationale for imposing the death penalty, but that issue was not addressed by the Supreme Court. Read the Court’s opinion per Justice Alito, along with a dissent from Justice Thomas. AP has more. SCOTUSblog has additional coverage.

it starts when you care to act

The Low Road

What can they do
to you? Whatever they want.
They can set you up, they can
bust you, they can break
your fingers, they can burn your brain with electricity,
blur you with drugs till you
can’t walk, can’t remember, they can
take your child, wall up
your lover. They can do anything
you can’t stop them
from doing. How can you stop
them? Alone, you can fight,
you can refuse, you can
take what revenge you can
but they roll over you.

But two people fighting
back to back can cut through
a mob, a snake-dancing file
can break a cordon, an army
can meet an army.

Two people can keep each other
sane, can give support, conviction,
love, massage, hope, sex.
Three people are a delegation,
a committee, a wedge. With four
you can play bridge and start
an organization. With six
you can rent a whole house,
eat pie for dinner with no
seconds, and hold a fund raising party.
A dozen make a demonstration.
A hundred fill a hall.
A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter;
ten thousand, power and your own paper;
a hundred thousand, your own media;
ten million, your own country.
It goes on one at a time,
it starts when you care
to act, it starts when you do
it again after they said no,
it starts when you say We
and know who you mean, and each
day you mean one more.

–Marge Piercy, from The Moon is Always Female.

pell’s bells: college aid for sex offenders

i’m not going to argue that convicted sex offenders should be the first in line for student financial aid*, but i’d like to offer a few snarky comments on today’s associated press story on college aid for sex predators.

c’mon the story practically writes itself: take a stigmatized deviant group, document some group members deriving a benefit from a government program, record the sanctimonious outrage of an obscure legislator, and start those fingers a-waggin’.

MADISON, Wis. – James Sturtz is not your ordinary college student struggling to pay tuition. The 48-year-old rapist is one of Iowa’s most dangerous sex offenders, locked up in a state-run treatment center for fear he will attack again if released.

intriguing lead, but it glosses over the whole civil commitment issue. see, mr. sturtz was sent to prison and completed his sentence. he remains locked up for fear he will attack again, but he’s supposed to be a patient in a treatment center rather than an inmate in a prison. are readers so accustomed to sweeping punishments that treament centers have become synonymous with prisons?

Yet he has received thousands of dollars in federal aid to take college courses through the mail. Across the nation, dozens of sexual predators have been taking higher education classes at taxpayer expense while confined by the courts to treatment centers. Critics say they are exploiting a loophole to receive Pell Grants, the nation’s premier financial aid program for low-income students.

somebody seems to be exploiting a loophole in this case, but i’m not sure the guys in the treatment center are the ones to blame. had they been released after fulfilling the obligations of their criminal sentences, they’d be eligible for pell assistance, but they were involuntarily committed to an indefinite spell of treatment. and just how many cases of pell-abusin’ sex offenders are we talking about here? dozens implies something more than twelve, but there is little evidence to suggest great expenditure or abuse.

Prison inmates are ineligible for Pell Grants under a 1994 law. Students convicted of certain drug offenses are also ineligible. But sexual predators qualify once they are transferred from prison to treatment centers.

this is a “last shall be first” passage, implying that sex offenders are the least deserving among the undeserving. the article doesn’t ask whether prisoners should be eligible for student aid, or whether students should continue to lose assistance because they have been convicted of misdemeanor marijuana possession.

“This is the most insane waste of taxpayer money that I have seen in my eight years in Congress,” said Rep. Ric Keller, R-Fla., who is pushing to stop the practice… Keller’s plan would affect 20 states that allow authorities to hold violent sex offenders indefinitely after they have served their prison sentences. He predicted the measure would save taxpayers millions.

i won’t quibble with representative keller’s math, but i’m not convinced that cutting off such aid would save millions. let’s say three dozen inmates have received pell grants. the average award would have to be about $56,000 for us to save $2,000,000. since the maximum pell award is $4,310, however, we’d need at least 464 recipients to get near two million.

the bigger issue here is that 20 states hold people indefinitely after they have served their prison sentences. the representative is justifiably concerned about money, but he might also want to take a close look at the per diems on these treatment centers. many more millions could be saved by the judicious release of a small number of these people after they have done their time.

…At the Sand Ridge Secure Treatment Center in Mauston, Wis., six patients are getting Pell Grants, and others did so in the past. Some patients used their grants for living expenses that were already being covered by the state’s taxpayers, according to administrators.

“I think that the current practice — which results in large checks being sent to the patients for living expenses — is pretty much indefensible,” director Steve Watters wrote in an e-mail to an aide last year.

In Iowa, 14 offenders in the Cherokee Mental Health Institute have received Pell Grants in recent years, said administrator Jason Smith. He said nine of them dropped courses after receiving money.

i’d agree that the current practice is indefensible, since administrators should be able to determine whether the money is being spent on educational expenses. on the other hand, it is not unprecedented for students to drop courses after receiving financial aid, especially in the absence of academic advising or support.

So far, none of the 72 predators in the Iowa center has been released since it opened in 1999. Sturtz admitted he is not ready for freedom anytime soon.

“It wasn’t about the money for me, man. It was about the education,” he said. “God knows I’m going to need all the help to get a job.”

now we’re getting somewhere. although these sex offenders are purportedly in treatment, we know that they will never be released. i’ve got no sympathy for those convicted again and again for horrible crimes. nevertheless, when mr. sturtz talks about getting a job on the outside, i can’t help but think, “the poor sap still believes he might actually get out.

right now, sex offenders are stuck in a creepy constitutional no-man’s land between legal punishment and medical-treatment-without-parole. there may be no easy answer that would preserve both public safety and individual rights, but i’d suggest the following: give ‘em lengthy but indeterminate sentences, with the range determined by a legislature and/or sentencing commission, in-prison treatment, and — if treatment goes well and a qualified board so rules — a realistic hope of discretionary parole.

*seriously, mr. o’reilly. i’m not going to argue this position, so your producers can just stop calling about it.

perspective

is it possible to make a difference in a student’s education in just one day? i guess it depends on the day.

having taught three inside-out classes in the oregon state penitentiary, i can say with absolute certainty that spending a quarter learning inside a maximum-security prison can change a life. i’ve seen it happen with my students, both inside (inmates) and outside (osu students). they learn about each other and from each other in ways that forever change their perspectives about crime, conformity, punishment, and prisons.

the challenge for me lately is to figure out if i can extend that kind of learning opportunity to more students in my larger on-campus classes. the first experiment took place this week when i took a dozen osu students into the penitentiary to meet with the lifer’s club. for me, the main goal was to humanize the other — to let the two groups interact and ask each other questions in a relatively informal setting (there were ground rules, of course, including strict limits as to the personal information exchanged. i was in no way bringing a dating pool into the prison). i wasn’t sure how much would be accomplished in one 2-hour session, but the students and the lifers were eager for the opportunity to meet. after getting through all the red tape, i was happy to facilitate the meeting between the two groups.

so what was the result? i asked the osu students for feedback and here are excerpts from some of their comments:

Thank you so much for giving me and the other students the opportunity to have an experience such as this one. It has definitely been one of the highlights of my college career. I appreciate it. I thought the lifers were great. I think it’s only natural for everyone to be a little nervous at first so I don’t know how to get around that, but they were all very open and respectful, and most were very eager to have discussion after a little warming up. I got so many different perspectives and insights from them, it was very beneficial.

The time we spent with the lifers was really life changing on how I now view prisons and inmates. I had never been to a prison before and definitely have never spoken to a big room of convicts. Every single inmate that I was able to talk with was very respectful of me and the other students in my group. I was surprised that so many had a positive outlook on life, even after being locked up for years and having many years to go until they had a chance of parole and some not even having that chance.

I went into this thinking these are all going to be bad guys with no personality, very mean, no remorse. I was really nervous when they all walked out. But after talking to a lot of them you realize they are humans too.

I would just really encourage those who participated to share with others what you saw, what you experienced, and encourage people to open their eyes and hearts to the idea that these men are PEOPLE, people who have paid a huge debt for their crimes and should be forgiven and given a chance to succeed in life.

so, i guess you can make a significant difference and push the limits of education in one day. it’s good to know. tomorrow morning i have a meeting at a correctional facility for girls and young women to discuss ways that my delinquency and sociology of education students might work with them in service-learning projects spring quarter (as in later this month). it will be an enormous amount of work to set it up, but it just may be worth it.

on another note, this blog will be moving to a new address shortly and it looks like we may be gaining new friends and readers in the process. stay tuned…

senate passes second chance act of 2007

via the sentencing project:

The Senate passed the Second Chance Act of 2007 late Tuesday, which will ease the re-entry process for individuals leaving prison by providing funding for prisoner mentoring programs, job training and rehabilitative treatment. The legislation, introduced in the Senate by Sens. Joseph Biden (D-DE), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Sam Brownback (R-KS), now awaits approval by President Bush – who in his 2004 State of the Union address advocated for a $300 million Prisoner Re-entry Initiative.
The legislation was passed by a voice vote after the Senate adopted a concurrent resolution, H Con Res 270, which included minor changes to the measure. The U.S. House of Representatives voted 347 to 62 to pass the Second Chance Act of 2007 in November.
The Second Chance Act will help provide necessary services to the nearly 700,000 people leaving prison each year by increasing funding designed to protect public safety and reduce recidivism rates. The bill’s provisions authorize $362 million to expand assistance for people currently incarcerated, those returning to their communities after incarceration, and children with parents in prison. The services to be funded under the bill include:

*mentoring programs for adults and juveniles leaving prison;
*drug treatment during and after incarceration, including family-based treatment for incarcerated parents;
*education and job training in prison;
*alternatives to incarceration for parents convicted of non-violent drug offenses;
*supportive programming for children of incarcerated parents; and early release for certain elderly prisoners convicted of non-violent offenses.

The reform bill was widely supported by civil rights, criminal Justice, law enforcement and religious organizations and had broad bipartisan support in both the Senate and House of Representatives.

normative consensus and the seven social sins

according to bloomberg news, the vatican has crafted a brand new list of seven social sins to complement the seven cardinal vices catalogued in the sixth century.

such lists can sometimes reveal changing conceptions of deviance and conformity and emerging areas of normative consensus or conflict. but this new list is way broader than, say, the ten commandments or even the most expansive criminal code. according to bishop gianfranco girotti,

“You offend God not only by stealing, taking the Lord’s name in vain or coveting your neighbor’s wife, but also by wrecking the environment, carrying out morally debatable experiments that manipulate DNA or harm embryos.”

whoa! since i’m sort of in the business of carrying out morally debatable experiments, i’m hardly an unbiased observer. nevertheless, the seven new social sins are:

1. “Bioethical” violations such as birth control
2. “Morally dubious” experiments such as stem cell research
3. Drug abuse
4. Polluting the environment
5. Contributing to widening divide between rich and poor
6. Excessive wealth
7. Creating poverty

hmmm. these all look a bit like hubris to me — as though the church is calling out modern men and women for tampering with god’s plan for our bodies and our social and physical environment. i’m also seeing way too much overlap between the new list and the old one.* maybe i’m thinking like a lawyer, but wouldn’t the church be safer in identifying the new sins as concrete representations of broad concepts identified centuries ago?

for example, i’d categorize excessive wealth and creating poverty as greed; drug abuse, pollution, and fostering inequality as gluttony; and, stem cell research as pride. i’m a little stuck on how to categorize birth control, but the harried father in me might define it as a combination of lust plus sloth.

in any case, i’m guessing that these seven social sins won’t have the same legs as the seven cardinal vices. while it is relatively easy to gain social consensus against abstractions such as lust and gluttony, i’d expect a good bit more conflict over concrete behaviors such as drug use and birth control.

*the original seven deadly sins are pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed, and sloth.