Monthly Archives: April 2008

restrictions on college aid for drug offenders upheld

via school law blog: a three-judge panel of the u.s. court of appeals for the 8th circuit rejected a constitutional challenge to a federal law that bars students with drug convictions from participation in federal college aid programs. in students for sensible drug policy v. spellings the court ruled that such collateral consequences do not violate the double-jeopardy clause of the 5th amendment.

little billy

via boingboing: a radar magazine story reports on bill geerhart, an unemployed thirtysomething, who sent letters to oprah winfrey, donald rumsfeld, and larry flynt while posing as a ten year old. “little billy” also sent letters to (and received responses from) richard ramirez, charles manson, ted kacynzski, and eric menendez.this is an old bit, perhaps best executed in don novello’s classic the lazlo letters. the prisoners’ responses weren’t terribly revealing, since billy’s short letters didn’t give them much to work with. that said, i’m just a bit more sympathetic to clarence thomas after reading him tell billy that he likes egg mcmuffins and pretty much everything at mcdonalds.

cruel and unusual weight loss?

the smoking gun reports on an arkansas man who is suing the benton county jail for not providing him with sufficient food. broderick laswell (left) says he dropped from 413 pounds to 308 pounds after only eight months in the jail. He has filed a federal lawsuit charging that the jail fails to provide inmates with enough food.

while many will no doubt dismiss these claims from such a still-large man, this seems like a scary weight drop over such a short period — 13 pounds a month or about .44 pounds per day. whenever one visits a prison, inmates will share some shocking food stories. for example, one young man told me he found a single glove and a rat in his food (reminding me, of course, of this #1 hit).

while the quality of prison food is usually unimpressive and sometimes downright shameful, most institutions at least deliver 2000+ calories per day. to the best of my knowledge, however, they are not mandated to deliver any more calories to a 6’10″ 400-pounder than to a 4’10″ 100-pounder. the issue of weight loss is bigger for prisons than for jails, since prisons tend to keep people far longer. inmates with funds, of course, can often supplement their diets by purchasing snacks in the institution. if mr. laswell is convicted of the murder charge on which he is being held, his weight will likely stabilize over a long term in an arkansas state penitentiary.

day of silence

just before midnight, esperanza said g’night and handed me a slip of paper. it indicated that for the next 24 hours, she’s participating in the day of silence. from the website:

The National Day of Silence brings attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment in schools. This year’s event will be held in memory of Lawrence King, a California 8th-grader who was shot and killed Feb. 12 by a classmate because of his sexual orientation and gender expression. Hundreds of thousands of students will come together on April 25 to encourage schools and classmates to address the problem of anti-LGBT behavior.

the other larry king offers a psa and helpful introduction. though she will not speak all day, esperanza won’t be completely silent. she’s negotiated a singing-only class with her music teacher.

is texas 3.3 times more democratic than minnesota?

there’s another fine adam liptak piece on punishment in today’s times. as is by now well-documented, these united states have the highest incarceration rate in the world.

one of the cited lawprofs pointed to democracy as the reason for high u.s. incarceration rates. yeesh — i get the whole “lack of civil service institutional buffer” thing, but c’mon. fortunately, marc mauer pointed out that each of these semi-united states have wildly divergent incarceration rates: minnesota (with a rate of 300 per 100k) looks more like sweden (80 per 100k) than like texas (1000 per 100k). would anyone but a carpetbagging dallas stars fan suggest that texas is 3.3 times more democratic than minnesota? or, worse, that texans are 12 times more democratic than swedes?

news from iowa on racial impact statements

i’ve written about how racial impact statements might be an effective vehicle for assessing the racial effects of proposed measures to protect public safety. this week, iowa governor chet culver signed off on a bill “requiring a “minority impact statement” for any legislation related to a public offense, sentencing, or parole and probation procedures.” like some other midwestern states, iowa has a small african american population, but great racial disparity in criminal Justice.

via iowapolitics.com:

Gov. Culver: Signs minority impact statement bill into law 4/17/2008

Des Moines – Today, at the John R. Grubb YMCA in Des Moines, Governor Chet Culver signed into law HF 2393, a bill requiring a “Minority Impact Statement” for any legislation related to a public offense, sentencing, or parole and probation procedures. The legislation also requires that any application for a grant from a state agency must also include a minority impact statement.

According to Governor Culver, “This means when members of the General Assembly and Executive branch are considering legislation of this nature, we will now be able to do so, with a clearer understanding of its potential effects – positive and negative – on Iowa’s minority communities. Just as Fiscal Impact Statements must follow any proposed legislation related to state expenditures, with my signature, Minority Impact Statements will serve as an essential tool for those in government – and the public – as we propose, develop, and debate policies for the future of our state.”

This bipartisan legislation passed the Iowa House of Representatives unanimously and passed the Senate overwhelmingly with a vote of 47-2.

During his remarks, Governor Culver said challenges remain in Iowa on our way towards achieving true equality and opportunity for all.

* Currently, while 2% of Iowa’s population is African American, 24% of Iowa’s prison population is African American. This makes Iowa first in the nation in the ratio of African Americans in prison.

* And although African American kids made up roughly 5% of the school population last year, these students were involved in nearly 22% of suspensions and expulsions.

* Nearly 40% of all residents at state juvenile detention centers are minorities. Of that number, a full two-thirds are African-American.

Governor Culver said simply: “We can do better, and we must do better.” He went on to outline progress which has led up to signing this legislation:

* First, In April, the Governor convened a group to review the problem of racial disparities in Iowa’s prisons, and to make specific recommendations to him on how to tackle this problem head-on.

* Second, the Governor’s office is working directly with the Iowa Department of Education to identify why African-Americans are suspended at a higher rate than their white student peers.

* Third, the Governor issued an Executive Order, creating the Youth, Race, and Detention task force. This task force will make recommendations to assure young minorities are fairly and justly treated by our criminal Justice system, and to develop policies to specifically address the rate of repeat offenses among juveniles.

“I am committed to making sure government at all levels reflects our shared values of fairness and Justice,” Governor Culver said in closing. “And so, while I am very proud of the steps we have taken, and are taking, I want to be clear: our efforts are the first of many steps.”

it’ll probably not be the last time i have to be out by the first

i got up early to take my class to a youth correctional facility today. we drove through grant hart-land and ended up by greg norton’s restaurant. feeling nostalgic over my favorite band’s breakup, i stumbled on a blog tribute and mp3 to 2541, mr. hart’s ode to love and the band’s old address.

pretty obscure, i know, but well worth the search for me.

well, they gave us a number,
they gave us a place to stay,
and billy got hold of a van, and man,
we moved in the very next day.

twenty-five forty-one — big windows to let in the sun. 2541…

well, we put down the money,
and i picked up the keys,
we had to keep the stove on all night long so the pipes wouldn’t freeze.

we put our names on the mailbox,
and I put everything else in the past,
it was the first place we had to ourselves — we didn’t know it would be the last.

2541, big windows to let in the sun. 2541…

now everything is over,
everything is done,
everything in my head,
has 2541.

well things are so much different now,
i’d say the situation’s reversed,
and it’ll probably not be the last time i have to be out by the first.

2541, big windows to let in the sun…

a practice called ghostwriting

yahoo/ap reports today on a strongly-worded JAMA piece on guest authorship and ghostwriting in publications related to rofecoxib.

from lindsey tanner’s associated press article:

CHICAGO (AP) — Two new reports involving the painkiller Vioxx raise fresh concerns about how drug companies influence the interpretation and publication of medical research.

The reports claim Merck & Co. frequently paid academic scientists to take credit for research articles prepared by company-hired medical writers, a practice called ghostwriting…

the story gets better, but i’m stuck on the idea that the “academic scientists” are literally selling their names and the credibility of their institutions — and that the results are published in respectable journals. while authorship norms vary greatly by discipline and department, i always figured that the putative authors were the ones paying the ghostwriters.

although big pharma wouldn’t care to tempt me, i can envision such a scenario arising in my field of study. let’s say i get a grant from privateprisonco to fund my next recidivism study. they hire criminological ghostwriters from the firm of shill & hack to write a manuscript comparing the recidivism of privateprisonco releasees with that of a matched comparison group of statepen releasees. they give me first authorship and $500 for my trouble, in exchange for whatever credibility attaches to my name and institution.

the full JAMA piece is well-documented, though merck is challenging the article and its pointed conclusion:

Authors who “sign-off” on or “edit” original manuscripts or reviews written explicitly by pharmaceutical industry employees or by medical publishing companies should offer full authorship disclosure, such as, “drafting of the manuscript was done by representatives from XYZ, Inc; the authors were responsible for critical revisions of the manuscript for important intellectual content.”

halving the homicide rate

hillary clinton unveiled an ambitious $4 billion proposal to halve the homicide rate in major american cities. the plan involves adding 100,000 new police officers and targeting gangs, drug markets, and illegal gun trafficking.

you might recognize (all of?) these elements from the 1992 clinton crime bill. this is great news for my teaching, since i can now dust off a killer essay question on the anticipated impact of 100,000 officers on the perceived certainty of apprehension and punishment. i’m also intrigued by the weapons interdiction aspects of the proposal. if you click on the chart above, you’ll see how gun homicide rates have fluctuated wildly relative to non-gun rates over the past three decades.

spinning a story — parents fight over kid’s gang affiliation

you might have heard the story of the 19-year-old colorado couple who busted up a video store fighting over their 4-year-old’s gang affiliation. here’s the denver post version:

A heated dispute between two parents about what street gang their son should join resulted in one parent threatening to kill the other, Commerce City police say. The center of the battle is a 4-year-old boy. The child was born to parents, who are not married, when they were about 15 years old, said Sgt. Joe Sandoval of the Commerce City Police Department.

On Saturday, the boy’s father, Joseph Manzanares, allegedly went to the Hollywood Video at 5961 E. 64th Ave., where his ex-girlfriend and the mother of the boy works. There, according to Sandoval, Manzanares, 19, began knocking over several displays in the video store, as well as knocking a computer off a counter. Manzanares began to verbally threaten the woman, including saying he was going to “kill” her, said the police sergeant. Manzanares then ran out of the store and was arrested a short time later at his residence.

The mother of the child told police that she and the boy’s father have been involved in ongoing domestic disputes regarding their son. The woman said she is a “Crip” gang member and that Manzanares is a “Baller” gang member, and “they have different ideas on how the baby should be raised,” said Sandoval. “Basically she said they cannot agree on which gang the baby would ‘claim,’ ” Sandoval said. Sandoval said the “Ballers” were formerly known as the “Westside Ballers.” He said the father is Latino; the mother, African-American.

On Tuesday, Manzanares pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct, a Class 1 petty offense. A charge of harassment, a Class 3 misdemeanor, was dismissed. Adams County Judge Simon Mole sentenced Manzanares to 12 months probation and imposed $835 in court costs and fees.

i’ve heard the story spun in four ways:

1. criminals do the darnedest things. this lighthearted approach, often delivered with a chuckle at the end of a newscast, portrays people convicted of crimes as idiots. it is generally better-suited to stories involving burglars caught in chimneys, however, than to those involving domestic disputes and children.

2. suffer the children. the newsreaders usually put on a frowny face when they tell stories about innocent kids caught in bad circumstances. sometimes progressive reforms are suggested, though simple tsk-tsking is more common.

3. end of the world as we know it. older generations sometimes take a well-practiced “hell in a handbasket” approach to such stories. this one seems to bring together a host of social pathologies, embodying all that a talk-radio commentator identifies as wrong or evil about contemporary society.

4. those people. every report that i’ve seen or heard about this case notes the race and ethnicity of the mother and father, though this information really isn’t central to beefs over gang affiliation. beyond simply identifying the parents, explicit racist stereotyping emerged in at least one of the reports i saw. you can bet that some profane and exaggerated version of this story will show up on every white nationalist site on the web.

though the manzanares case seems newsworthy, i suspect the full story is pretty mundane. there’s nothing new about couples fighting over their children, particularly the friends and relatives to which their children will be exposed. i’d guess that mr. manzanares was likely upset about the continuing social affiliations of his child’s mother as well as those of his child. there’s also nothing new about 15-year-old parents having an especially tough time of it, regardless of whether they’ve been involved in gangs.

as they age and take on new responsibilities, most gang-involved young people desist from gang involvement. if there’s anything positive to find in this story, it is that two kids who had a kid at 15 remain passionately committed to at least some vision of the child’s best interests.