Monthly Archives: September 2008

new report: reducing racial disparity in the criminal justice system

from the sentencing project:

The Sentencing Project has just published a new edition of “Reducing Racial Disparity in the Criminal Justice System,” a comprehensive manual for practitioners and policymakers. The publication provides insight into how racial disparities develop in the criminal justice system, and workable solutions to address and reduce disparities. The manual provides strategies for addressing disparities at each stage of the system, as well as 17 “best practices” illustrating practitioner approaches for enhancing fairness. “Reducing Racial Disparity in the Criminal Justice System” is a tool for criminal justice practitioners, policymakers, and community organizations seeking to develop constructive approaches to one of the most challenging problems facing the criminal justice system.

good trip

whenever i go a few days between posts, folks start wondering whether all is well. well, aside from a mounting backlog of email, all is well. swell, really. i’ve just returned from a few busy days in beautiful oregon, where i enjoyed a productive trip as department chair, researcher, and public criminologist.

As chair, i had a lovely meal with a generous donor to the minnversity’s sociology department. i know that not every academic enjoys this sort of thing, but I love this aspect of being chair. i’ve met a lot of very smart, successful, and civic-minded people this way. and, contrary to my expectations when i became chair, i never ever have to ask them for money.

as researcher, i spent some time on an nsf grant with melissa thompson, a former advisee who is now professin’ at portland state. melissa is the p.i. on this grant, so i’m mostly following her lead – not quite a full role reversal from her days as my research assistant, but we’ve both come a long way. she’s the first of my advisees to come up for tenure, so i’m feeling a bit senior these days.

as public criminologist, i spent yesterday afternoon at oregon state penitentiary, where my pubcrim colleague michelle inderbitzin has led several inside-out classes. several of the men on a-block had read my work on disenfranchisement with jeff manza, but we had a long and wide-ranging group discussion about mandatory minimums, family support, public opinion, the economics of crime, and the politics of criminal justice. i learned a lot — and hope i struck the right balance between talking and listening.

i didn’t have time to see all of portland, but i saw enough to know why melissa is so happy there. the pic above is from the japanese garden — a last-minute stop on the way to the airport this morning. beautiful.

torture and the american psychological association

last year, the american psychological association passed a broad anti-torture resolution. this year, they voted to forbid members’ participation in interrogations where detainees are held outside of international law. psychologists are routinely involved in all manner of interrogations, so this resolution is more than a symbolic gesture — it likely affects the daily professional lives of at least some apa members.

i’m not sure whether or how the policy will be enforced, but i’m guessing that sanctions will be a hot-button issue at the annual meetings. it may be the case that any formal sanctions could diminish the professional reputations or earnings of apa members. if so, there will be lawsuits and rumors of lawsuits.

from the press release:

APA MEMBERS APPROVE PETITION RESOLUTION ON DETAINEE SETTINGS

WASHINGTON—The petition resolution stating that psychologists may not work in settings where “persons are held outside of, or in violation of, either International Law (e.g., the UN Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions) or the US Constitution (where appropriate), unless they are working directly for the persons being detained or for an independent third party working to protect human rights” was approved by a vote of the APA membership. The final vote tally was 8,792 voting in favor of the resolution; 6,157 voting against the resolution. To become policy, a petition resolution needs to be approved by a majority of those members voting.

Per the Association’s Rules and Bylaws, the resolution will become official APA policy as of the Association’s next annual meeting, which will take place in August 2009. At that time, the APA Council of Representatives will also determine what further action may be necessary to implement the policy.

declining influence of the supremes

adam liptak of the times offers further evidence that the american century is over, or at least in remission. for decades, jurists around the world have looked to united states supreme court opinions for legal guidance. today, not so much:

Australian state supreme courts cited American decisions 208 times in 1995, according to a recent study by Russell Smyth, an Australian economist. By 2005, the number had fallen to 72.

The story is similar around the globe, legal experts say, particularly in cases involving human rights. These days, foreign courts in developed democracies often cite the rulings of the
European Court of Human Rights in cases concerning equality, liberty and prohibitions against cruel treatment, said Harold Hongju Koh, the dean of the Yale Law School. In those areas, Dean Koh said, “they tend not to look to the rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court.”

the pains of (short-term) imprisonment

corrections costs are bringing minnesota county commissioners to revolt. as both the strib and pioneer press report, counties are now shouldering an increasing share of the costs of incarcerating short-term inmates. it may seem like a wonky issue but any cost shift from the state to local counties is a potential budget-buster in these times. from the strib:

As more than 100 county commissioners from across Minnesota stood on the steps of the State Capitol, Gov. Tim Pawlenty and state legislators came under heavy criticism Thursday for forcing counties to pay the increasing cost of housing short-term offenders. The rally came as the Association of Minnesota Counties complained that requiring counties to take certain state prisoners — the result of a 2003 deal to balance the state budget — has led to rising numbers of inmates in county jails and dwindling reimbursements from the state to pay for housing them.

and the pi press:

“It’s nothing more than an old-fashioned shell game, where the money is sliding back and forth,” Stearns County Sheriff John Sanner said. “But nobody is fooled here, nobody at all.” The daily reimbursement is expected to drop from $27.24 this year to $9 next year, while the actual daily cost of jailing a short-term state offender ranges from $55 to more than $100, depending on the facility and transportation costs. Those figures don’t include medical costs.

House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, blamed the Republican governor for the cost shift. Democrats have long fingered Pawlenty’s efforts to hold down state taxes as the culprit for rising local property taxes. County officials said jail costs are fixed and they might have to cut other services to keep up.

yeesh. the association’s presser puts the issue more succinctly:

County Commissioners to Lawmakers, Governor:
“Reform the Way You Do Business or You Can Have Your Felons Back”
Local governments tired of using county jails as make-shift prisons; seek responsible reforms and flexibility in serving the public

gabriel schwartz and blaming the victim

the phrase blaming the victim refers to situations in which the victims of crime or injustice are unfairly held responsible for their own predicament. i’ve heard the phrase used critically with respect to daniel patrick moynihan’s (1965) report on the negro family, but also in a more literal sense regarding rape myths that blame the targets of sexual assault.

the not-so-strange case of mr. gabriel schwartz, drugged and robbed at the republican national convention, seems to offer an ideal-typical case of an unsympathetic victim. from david hanners’ pioneer press account:

He met her in the bar of the swank hotel and invited her to his room. Once there, the woman fixed the drinks and told him to get undressed. And that, the delegate to the Republican National Convention told police, was the last thing he remembered. When he awoke, the woman was gone, as was more than $120,000 in money, jewelry and other belongings. … The haul included a $30,000 watch, a $20,000 ring, a necklace valued at $5,000, earrings priced at $4,000 and a Prada belt valued at $1,000, police said. Schwartz is a single attorney and a fixture in Colorado Republican politics. …

In an interview filmed the afternoon of Sept. 3 and posted on the Web site LinkTV.org, Schwartz was candid about how he envisioned change under a McCain presidency. “Less taxes and more war,” he said, smiling. He said the U.S. should “bomb the hell” out of Iran because the country threatens Israel.

Asked by the interviewer how America would pay for a military confrontation with Iran, he said the U.S. should take the country’s resources. “We should plant a flag. Take the oil, take the money,” he said. “We deserve reimbursement.” … He said an attack on Iran was needed to protect Israel, and he offered how it could be accomplished through “strategical airstrikes.” “Hopefully, just bomb the hell out of them from the sky. No troops,” he said.

yeesh — he’s not just talking strategical airstrikes, but strategical nukular airstrikes. even if we grant that mr. schwartz was joking and/or inebriated when he made those comments, they don’t make him a very sympathetic victim, do they? moreover, young mr. schwartz further offends our sensibilities with his staggeringly annoying personal injury law commercials — and a blazer that only elroy “crazylegs” hirsch could pull off.

nevertheless, this loud man in loud clothing remains the victim of a serious crime. and, if you scratch the surface of crime reports, you’ll see that many victims are far more foolish, annoying, and/or repugnant than mr. schwartz. that’s why there’s a real danger in drawing lines between worthy and unworthy victims: if this victim’s account is accurate, somebody is robbing and drugging peoople at a hotel a few blocks from my department.

so, while some may snigger that mr. schwartz “got what was coming to him,” i get a real cold chill whenever i hear a criminologist, a cop, or a correctional officer express such sentiments. to an even greater extent than mr. schwartz’s fashion choices and political statements, blaming the victim is ugly business.

fbi releases 2007 crime in the united states

the federal bureau of investigation just released the 2007 edition of their crime in the united states. by this measure, crime is down across all categories. the rate of rape fell about 2.5 percent between 2006 and 2007, with robbery, aggravated assault, and murder down by less than one percent. overall, property crime fell 1.4 percent, led by an 8 percent decline in the rate of motor vehicle theft.

times piece on felon voting

today’s times offers a good piece on felon disenfranchisement by solomon moore. in many ways, florida remains the epicenter of the disenfranchisement and reenfranchisement debates. although governor charlie crist has partially opened the voting rights restoration process in that state, hundreds of thousands remain disenfranchised. [photo by chris livingston for the times.]

larry craig appeal

the appeal in the larry craig “wide-stance” case has gotten little attention locally, but minnpost offers a nice review of the legal issues and a link to a webcast of the proceedings. i was especially interested in the arguments offered in the ACLU’s friend of the court brief:

In short, the ACLU brief claims that Craig’s alleged attempt to solicit sex by nonverbal means was constitutionally protected. The ACLU cites both Minnesota and U.S. Supreme Court precedents that support treating certain types of physical conduct the same as language, thus making Craig’s actions permissible, protected expression.

The ACLU brief then attempts to narrow the scope of the disorderly conduct law, stating that the statute has already been held to be unconstitutionally overbroad by Minnesota courts. For instance, a 1978 Minnesota Supreme Court decision held that the government “may not criminalize expression merely because it is offensive, alarming, angering, or disturbing.”

Finally, the ACLU maintains that Craig allegedly invited Karsnia to engage in conduct which is not, in itself, a crime. The brief states that if Craig’s invitation was to have sex in a restroom stall, then that conduct would be protected under State v. Bryant, a 1970 Minnesota Supreme Court decision which holds that “individuals who engage in sex in closed stalls in public restrooms have a reasonable expectation of privacy.”

after today’s proceedings at the minnesota court of appeals, the judges have 90 days to decide whether the hennepin county court erred in denying the withdrawal of senator craig’s guilty plea. i can’t imagine anyone wants a trial on the bathroom incident, but that remains a real possibility.

piling on

via alternet: justice emily jane goodman writes about the rising fees assessed to criminal justice system clients:

there are arrest fees (Texas), booking fees (Colorado) and DNA bank fees (New York). Michigan bills for the services of court-appointed lawyers, creating an incentive to waive counsel or to plead guilty at an early stage before legal costs escalate. Eighteen percent of Rhode Island inmates are in custody in connection with court-imposed financial obligations. An open court debt in Florida leads to a suspended driver’s license, which in turn can lead to loss of job or re-arrest for driving with a suspended license. Alabama judges can increase fees from $600 to $10,000. There are special fees for particular offenses such as sex crimes, abuse of children or the elderly and, especially, driving while intoxicated.

yeesh. fees are sometimes even assessed for the legal defense of indigent clients. justice goodman’s piece raises research questions that one could approach on a fine-by-fine or jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction basis:

1. to what (if any) extent have such fees risen in the recent past?

2. how much revenue do they generate?

3. does the revenue exceed the costs of administering and enforcing them?

4. to what extent are folks punished for failure to pay?

5. are outstanding financial obligations (ceteris paribus) negatively associated with reintegration outcomes (e.g., employment and family stability).

6. are outstanding financial obligations (ceteris paribus) positively associated with recidivism?