Monthly Archives: December 2008

law enforcement deaths

usa today is reporting on a recent decline in the number of police officers killed in the line of duty. the data come from a new report by the national law enforcement officers memorial fund.

the site offered some intriguing state-by-state and historical data, as well as information about cause of death. i standardized the number of deaths by population and got the pattern below.

if the data on the site are complete, police officer deaths don’t seem to track crime or incarceration all that closely — not at all what i expected. instead, deaths rise steadily from the civil war to about WWI, then increase very sharply to a peak in 1930. officer deaths decline dramatically during the depression years, then bob around before another run-up in the late 1960s/early 1970s.

since then, police work has become much less deadly — today’s rate is about one-fourth as high as the 1930 peak. assuming i’ve got the right population numbers in the denominator, it looks as though officer fatalities haven’t been this low since 1879. given this pattern, i suspect that the story is tied to the automobile in some important way. perhaps more officers were killed in accidents as they left foot patrol for squads, with those squad cars gradually growing safer since the 1930s.

girl trouble

january will bring new challenges. i will be taking 8 or 9 oregon state university students (all female) into our state’s primary girls’ correctional facility to share class once a week with 8 female inmates. i’ve taught a number of inside-out classes with adult males in the maximum-security penitentiary, and my dissertation research was with violent males in an end-of-the-line juvenile facility, but working with young females will be a whole new experience.

i chose/volunteered to do this for many good reasons, and i am hopeful that we will have a positive outcome for all involved. this facility just reopened in february to house the majority of the females committed to close custody by the oregon youth authority. oya is planning to implement gender-specific programming in the facility, and i am hoping to build strong connections and to get my students involved from the beginning.

the latest news, however, is that eight girls in the facility assaulted and injured three staff members in a premeditated escape attempt. apparently, they staged a fake fight and then attacked the staff members with homemade weapons. the girls ranged in age from 13-17. all three male staff members needed medical attention; one had a head wound that required 32 staples to close it.

i’m not sure what to think of this. strange as it may sound, i feel completely safe in the maximum-security men’s prison, but somehow these teenage girls seem more volatile and more of a risk to work with. it may have something to do with the numbers. i have 15 students in the penitentiary at any given time out of approximately 2300 inmates. the girls’ facility only holds about 70, so to have eight involved in an aggressive escape attempt is to have more than 10% of the population plotting against the staff. i’ll have eight girls in my class, but my girls/young women will presumably be a different eight than those involved in the escape attempt, and it’s likely that most of them will be 18 or older (oregon youth authority can hold young people up to age 25).

it’s a lot to think about before our first class session in january. if anyone has any thoughts or advice for working with this population, i’d love to hear it.

wanna reduce those late-night assaults downtown?

bbc news and the daily mail are reporting on the use of street performers to reduce violence. while the connection may seem tenuous, it is founded on a demonstrable empirical insight: that drunks are dangerous but very easily distracted. from bbc:

Stilt-walkers and fire-eaters have been employed by police to help reduce public disorder in Staffordshire.

The four-hour, circus-style, street performances took place in Newcastle-under-Lyme at the weekend.

The aim was to distract night-time revellers and reduce the likelihood of fights breaking out in the town centre, Staffordshire Police said.

Similar strategies had previously been employed by Greater Manchester Police with success, the force said.

The street entertainment was accompanied by police foot patrols and evidence gathering officers.

A force spokesman said: “The operation was a great success and had the desired effect of vastly reducing the number of arrests officers had to make during the evening…

even if such programs fail to reduce after-bar assaults, they might bring ancillary job creation benefits. as the recession deepens, the market for fire-eaters and stilt-walkers (not to mention fire-walkers and stilt-eaters) is surely deteriorating.

public criminology from the classroom

my inside-out class at the oregon state penitentiary this fall was an exercise in engaging in public criminology from the classroom. of course, i would argue that holding the class in a maximum-security prison already makes it a form of public criminology, but this quarter we took our efforts several steps further. along with reading two books, writing several essays, and getting to know students from the other side of the wall (inmates from the penitentiary and college students from oregon state university), the class developed a community service project and wrote letters to the editors of local newspapers.

the focus of the class was on delinquency prevention. i challenged the 31 students to work together to come up with group projects that they could implement in less than 10 weeks. it was a difficult process at times, but they ultimately did a great job. the most visible aspect of the project was a hygiene drive to collect new products (shampoo, toothbrushes, tooth paste, razors, deodorant, gloves, socks, etc.) for at risk and homeless teens. perhaps most impressive given their relative resources, inmates in the penitentiary donated nine boxes of new items they purchased at the prison canteen. we added more donations from prison staff, sociology faculty, and the osu football team; we also bought several more bags of products with money raised by the outside students. 10 of the outside students (in the photo) and i had a great time dropping off the donations at the HOME youth & resource center in salem.

along with the hygiene drive, students went through and painstakingly updated a resource guide for homeless teens. inmates from the class wrote anonymous letters to the at-risk youth, offering their stories and testimonials and encouraging the youth to make the best possible choices in their own lives. the class also created “truth and consequences” templates for table tents that offer facts about crime and sentencing, personal examples, and encouragement to young people; they sent the templates to local high schools in case they choose to use them in their lunchrooms.

finally, this sunday the salem statesman journal devoted most of the space on its opinion pages to our inside-out class, publishing an editorial about the class and our project; excerpts from eight inmates’ letters to the editor; and excerpts from four outside students’ letters to the editor. if you get a chance, check them out. you might be surprised what the guys inside have to add to a conversation about preventing delinquency or the impact of mandatory-minimum sentences.

all in all, i think it was a pretty successful quarter and a good example of bringing public criminology into — or, more accurately, out of — the classroom.

OJ’s Sentence Length

OJ Simpson was sentenced to at least 15 years in prison today for armed robbery, kidnapping, burglary, and assorted other charges. He would become eligible for parole in nine years. The judge specifically said that the sentence did not account for past events, most likely a reference to Simpson’s 1995 acquittal in the death of his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ronald Goldman. I wondered how his sentence compares to others…

At first glance, data from the US Sentencing Commission and the Bureau of Justice Statistics on State Court Processing suggests that OJ’s sentence is a long one. For those with a most serious conviction offense of robbery, the mean maximum sentence length ranges from a little less than six years to a little more than eight years, far less than the 15 years OJ was given. OJ’s sentence also seems long in light of his short criminal history, err conviction record. As far as I know, his only prior conviction is a no contest plea in a domestic violence case involving Nicole Brown Simpson and some tax evasion judgments.

OJ also appears to have paid the price for not pleading guilty in exchange for a lesser sentence. Convicted robbers who go to trial are sentenced to an average fourteen years in prison while those who plead guilty are sentenced to just over seven years.

Much of the roughly seven year gap in OJ’s sentence relative to the average convicted robber is likely due to the included kidnapping and burglary charges. BJS data doesn’t include information on average sentences for kidnapping but I suspect they are not short but not overly long either (other sources suggest about 3-5 years in most cases) nor does it allow for separation of armed robberies from others. Burglary will get you almost five years in prison on its own. And, being a black male robber as opposed to a white male robber will get you a year more in prison.

Still, I’d bet burglary and robbery often go together and OJ’s sentence is more than double those whose most serious offense was robbery AND had convictions of at least three or more felonies surrounding the same criminal event.

OJ’s sentence doesn’t appear to be improperly long but he certainly wasn’t given any breaks by the court nor did his relatively short criminal record earn him any reductions. In any case, I doubt he’ll have many supporters this time around to suggest that the court treated him unfairly.

a question of justice

this one is personal for me.  philip scott cannon is one of the men i have been working with in my inside-out classes at the oregon state penitentiary.  last week, it was exactly 10 years since his arrest for three murders that took place on a stormy november night in oregon.  scott was convicted based on circumstantial evidence and ballistic evidence that since has been widely discredited (proclaimed “bad science”).  he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.  scott has proclaimed his innocence all along; during his incarceration, he has become a thoughtful and influential leader in the penitentiary.  he is an invaluable asset to my inside-out courses, but i would much rather see him out in the community.

in the years after his trial and conviction, a lot has happened.  as reporter thom jensen explains:

Then there is the prosecution’s key witness, Bimla Boyd.

Boyd owned the property where the murders occurred. Two of the victims, Kinser and Osborne, were her personal caretakers.

Since the 1998 murders, two more people have died at Boyd’s home under suspicious circumstances. In 2001, her estranged husband, Charles Boyd, died from a drug overdose.Weeks later, Boyd turned up in a Marion County court with Charles Boyd’s Last Will and Testament, a document that awarded Bimla Boyd everything. The will was witnessed and signed by Boyd’s new caretaker, 54-year-old Robert Daniel Spencer.

In 2002, Spencer died in Boyd’s home from a single gunshot to the head. Boyd was arrested for the murder and pleaded guilty to manslaughter after convincing prosecutors she killed Spencer because he was molesting her 14-year-old daughter. Boyd could be released from prison as early as April 2009.

there’s more to the story, including a witness who casts doubt on bimla boyd’s story but who was never questioned by detectives and never had the opportunity to testify at the trial.  with this additional evidence and renewed attention on the case, scott is hoping for another chance.  as jensen reports:

Right now Scott Cannon is asking for what is called Post Conviction Relief. If the court grants his request, it could overturn his life sentence for a lack of evidence.

But for now, Oregon attorney general spokesman Jake Weigler said his office is sticking to the case against Scott Cannon.

“Before you let somebody out of jail, you want to make sure that they didn’t do it,” Weigler said.

Scott Cannon says he thought you were supposed to prove someone is guilty before you put them in prison.

please follow this link to read or watch the whole story for yourself.  and then let’s all hope for justice.