Monthly Archives: January 2009

age norms and criminal responsibility

>i told my lad that if he was looking for trouble this weekend, he’d best find it on friday rather than saturday night. that’s because saturday marks tor’s transition from an unidentified youth to “an 18-year-old Shoreview man” in the eyes of the law.

in truth, there’s no longer such a bright age line separating the juvenile and adult justice system. when i first started teaching about age norms and standards in my delinquency class, my students would chuckle at press accounts involving both 18-year-old and 17-year-old suspects. the 18-year-old would typically be identified as a man or woman, while the 17-year-old would be identified as a boy or girl — even though the two may have been classmates, born a few days or weeks apart.

in several states, however, juvenile court jurisdiction doesn’t extend to 17-year-olds, so the age cut-point is 16 or lower (and lower still for specified crimes). media accounts in these jurisdictions are thus much more likely to provide teenagers’ names and photographs. here’s a representative story from wkbt in la crosse:

Tomah Teens Arrested for Ice Rink Burglary
Posted: Jan 23, 2009 10:12 AM CST

Three Tomah teens are arrested after officers find them stealing items from an ice rink.

Tomah Police say 18-year-old Travisty Swosinski, 18-year-old Nicholas Graewin and 17-year-old Aaron Kleiser were arrested early Friday morning.

Officers were on patrol at around 12:20 a.m. when they noticed lights on at the rink at Recreation Park. They found one of the teens outside the rink by a car, which had in it concession items from the rink and a can of gasoline.

Officers found the other two teens inside the rink stealing items from a freezer.

All three teens face burglary and trespassing charges. Swosinski and Kleiser also face marijuana charges.

note that all three are identified as “teens” rather than boys or men and that 17-year-old aaron kleiser faces the same marijuana charges as 18-year-old travisty swosinski (though a 16-year-old would likely have been treated differently). in any case, i’ll be encouraging my lad to steer clear of trouble on friday night as well — particularly that involving dairlyland ice rinks.

pubcrim job at the sentencing project

via sp:

The Sentencing Project is pleased to announce a new position opening for State Advocacy Coordinator. In conjunction with the Director of Advocacy, the State Advocacy Coordinator will develop and implement a program to support state and local advocates engaged in criminal justice reform. Issues to be addressed will include sentencing and drug policy reform, alternatives to incarceration, racial disparities in the criminal and juvenile justice system, felony disenfranchisement reform and others consistent with the mission of The Sentencing Project. The position will involve some travel to selected states.

Coordinator will be responsible for:

* developing a strategic plan for reform in selected states, which may include partnering with organizations from civil rights, voting rights and faith-based communities, formerly incarcerated persons, policymakers, and community leaders;
* providing research assistance, developing communications strategies, aiding in coalition-building, and advising on legislative campaigns;
* working at both the federal and state levels, including some federal policy work.

Click here to see the complete job description and qualifications.

To be considered for the position, applicants should submit a cover letter, resume, and writing sample to: Nia Lizanna, Operations Manager, The Sentencing Project, 514 Tenth Street, NW, Suite 1000, Washington, DC 20004 or nlizanna@sentencingproject.org. No phone calls, please.

puts my trust in god and man

today’s “modern love” column in the new york times is written by a former inmate who, by his own admission, had “eight felonies, and at least twice that many misdemeanors…(had) been to prison five times, all for nonviolent drug and drug-related offenses.”  while the column is about the development of a particular relationship, what i found interesting was the author’s discussion of trying to build any kind of romantic relationship in light of his rocky past.  matthew parker writes:

When I got out of prison in 2002, I was narcotics-free for the first time since I was a teenager, and achingly lonely. Yet I had never had a normal relationship, and I was clueless about how to get myself into one. My 11 years of forced celibacy in prison and decades of drug use had left me inept when it came to women. I sometimes had junkie girlfriends, but junkies rarely find love because their love is the narcotic. Everything else is secondary.

I experimented with various forms of dating, including online, but remained lonesome because most of the women I managed to meet could not come to terms with my past.

this struck me as a piece of the reentry puzzle that may deserve more attention.  i don’t know what the answer is, but i can well imagine the frustration of trying to build relationships after a long incarceration.  if inmates who complete their sentences have “paid” for their crimes, do they deserve a second (or third, or fourth) chance at life and love?  would you be okay with your sister or daughter — or brother or son — dating a former felon?

a second start of adulthood

well, depending on how you look at it, glenn proctor is either the luckiest guy on the planet or the unluckiest.  according to a story in the seattle post-intelligencer, proctor, 21, “was released last week having spent 11 months in jail for the killing in which prosecutors now believe he played no part.”  apparently, proctor was in the wrong place at the wrong time – and he became the wrong suspect in the shooting of 39-year-old dar’rel miller. 

after spending nearly a year locked up for a crime he did not commit, proctor’s got a pretty good attitude about the whole thing, saying:  “I look at it as a learning experience. I know I don’t ever want to place myself in that situation again.”  the story continues:

Proctor doesn’t deny being at the transit center. He regrets being there, regrets losing a year of his life for following some people who made trouble, regrets that a woman died that day. But he insists he had no idea that an argument would end in blood and killing.

Behind bars on $1 million bail, Proctor burned through two public defenders before Zumwalt was assigned his case. His earlier attorneys, he said, tried to sell him on a plea deal — a manslaughter plea that would have shaved years off a potential sentence for the second-degree murder charge he faced — that he had no interest in.

nearly a year in jail is a long time for an innocent man.  but, there are many worse stories, and few happy endings.  proctor feels his time in jail made him stronger — i hope he holds on to the courage of his (non) convictions, and makes a success of his second start of adulthood.

friday public sociology talk in indiana, plus tuesday workshop

i’m blogging lightly until i can get some work back to eager coauthors, but wanted to invite folks to a couple talks next week.

on friday the 23rd, i’m really looking forward to visiting indiana university. IU grads seem to be off the charts in terms of creativity and skills, so i’ll see what i can learn about their program. i’m doing a talk on “public criminologies and social research” as part of their public sociology workshop:

Title: Public Sociology Workshop
Date: Friday, Jan 23, 2009
Time: 2:00 PM – 3:30 PM
Calendar: Sociology Department IUB
Contact: Send e-mail
Description: Chris Uggen, University of Minnesota. “Public Criminologies and Social Research”
More Contact Info: emibowma@indiana.edu
Location: Dogwood Room, IMU

on tuesday the 20th, i’ll be giving a talk in my department’s sociology workshop (with mike vuolo, ebony ruhland, hilary whitham, and sarah lageson). we’re workshopping a paper just submitted for the american sociological association meetings on how a misdemeanor arrest record affects employability. most of the talk will focus on our (part one) experimental results, but we’ll also discuss our new (part two) interviews with employers.

Tuesday, 4:00-5:15 pm, 1114 Social Science
University of Minnesota Department of Sociology
“An Experimental Audit of the Effects of Low-level Criminal Records on Employment.”

hellacopters

in prison, where a single cigarette can cost $10, there’s a strong market for contraband. typically, such illicit goods are carried in by visitors, other inmates, or staff. now the daily mail is reporting on a new technology in contraband delivery: the remote-controlled helicopter.

A toy helicopter is believed to have been used in an attempt to smuggle drugs into a prison.

Guards at Elmley Prison in Sheerness, Kent, spotted the remote control miniature aircraft flying over the walls of the jail and heading for the accommodation blocks one night after it was picked up by CCTV cameras.

It had a small load beneath the fuselage, thought to contain drugs.
The toy or its cargo was not found.

hmm. i’ve heard of actual helicopters being used in escape attempts, but never toys. in such cases, of course, there’s a fine line between clever and stupid. the remote-control operator could really only escape detection by executing the drop from a great distance. anyone sidling up to the wall with an RC-helicopter and, say, a baggy of heroin, would be quickly apprehended. still, i’m guessing some screenwriter will work this into a prison movie — perhaps with someone in the guard tower blasting the li’l helicopter out of the sky.

(via boing)

a few bad apples

working as i did with one of the key figures in labeling theory, i should know better.  but, in my earlier post on “girl trouble” about starting classes in a correctional facility with teenage girls, i let the bad press infiltrate my thoughts, and i became particularly nervous about starting this new endeavor.

happily, our first night of class went well.  9 female OSU students and 7 girls from the correctional facility will be studying “gender and crime” with me this quarter.  after some introductions, we spent time last night talking about topics they would like to cover and ideas for potential group projects we can work on together.  one element that came through loudly to me is that the 7 incarcerated girls individually and collectively have a lot to say, and they would like to find a way to have their voices heard.

i was humbled when they spoke eloquently of their frustration at being stereotyped as troublemakers and really victimized by the girls in the facility who tried to escape last month.  they are aware it makes the institution, the girls, and the staff look bad, and they were angry the other girls injured employees of the facility who are there to help them.  it was a mature conversation and reminded me anew about the power and impact of negative labels.  by bringing our “magnificent seven” into this college experience, i’m hoping we can offer these individuals new, positive labels to counter the negative stereotypes and bolster self-images in progress.

the texas steroid-testing massacre

back when tor was an enormous nonconformist, people would sometimes joke that he must be on steroids — especially when seen in the company of his less-than-beefy father. nevertheless, steroid use has always ranked near the bottom of my parental worry list.

simply put, few kids use steroids. according to 2008 monitoring the future data, about 1.5 percent of u.s. high school seniors reported steroid use in the past year. the number inched up from 1 percent in 1990 to a peak of about 2.5 percent in 2004, but has since fallen. that’s why i was a little surprised to hear that the state of texas had begun a program to routinely test every high school athlete for steroid use.

well, we now have results from the first wave of texas steroid tests. of the 10,117 high school athletes tested, steroid use was confirmed for a grand total of 4 (or .04 percent) students and suspected (based on a refusal to test or some other violation of testing rules) in 22 cases (or .22 percent). the remaining 10,091 athletes (or 99.74 percent) evidently tested clean.

proponents of the $6 million testing program point to the low violation rates as evidence of deterrence — see, the program is working! critics point to the inefficiency of spending so much money to catch so few users.

comparing the rates of self-reported use with the official test results, however, leads me to a different conclusion — the tests are ineffective as well as inefficient. that is, the kids are beating the tests. if texas mirrors the national rate of 1.5 percent and we assume that all 22 of the refusers were actually users, the UA tests are only catching about one in six of the estimated 150 past-year steroid users (10,117 *0.015=152).

i wouldn’t necessarily advise scrapping the program, but a small number of random tests would certainly bring a better bang for the buck. just as the internal revenue service strikes fear into all taxpayers with a handful of audits, a handful of steroid tests — administered randomly or to star performers such as state tournament participants — may be sufficient to deter use more generally. given these low base rates and the civil liberties issues involved, however, i’d be inclined to adopt a probable-cause or reasonable-suspicion standard for testing.

(a.p. link via auderey)

red ink in the rearview

the st. louis post-dispatch reports on a new journal of law and economics study showing that traffic tickets go up when local government revenues go down.

Red Ink in the Rearview Mirror: Local Fiscal Conditions and the Issuance of Traffic Tickets” by thomas garrett and gary wagner, uses county-level north carolina panel data to establish the relationship. from the abstract:

We find that significantly more tickets are issued in the year following a decline in revenue, but the issuance of traffic tickets does not decline in years following revenue increases. Elasticity estimates reveal that a ten percent decrease in negative revenue growth results in a 6.4 percent increase in the growth rate of traffic tickets. Our results suggest that tickets are used as a revenue generation tool rather than solely a means to increase public safety.

just as we, the ticketed, have long suspected.

(via talkleft)

just “desserts” (or lack thereof)

in the first version of our pubcrim blog, i wrote a number of posts (see here, here, here) about food in prisons. chris is credited as the author of one of these posts after the big blog move, but he’s not responsible for writing it or for the opinions it contains.

prison food was a hot story in oregon in 2007, as the man responsible for buying the food for all oregon prisons was accused of shady dealings and of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks. while buying distressed and expiring food for inmate consumption (and feeding them fish clearly marked as ‘bait’ and ‘not for human consumption’) fred monem collected more than $600,000 in kickbacks over a period of 5 years. monem and his wife were indicted by a grand jury; monem left his wife behind, fleeing and becoming one of the fbi’s most wanted fugitives.

i bring this up because of a story out of alabama today. here’s the first line from the associated press: A federal judge ordered an Alabama sheriff locked up in his own jail Wednesday after holding him in contempt for failing to adequately feed inmates while profiting from the skimpy meals. the sheriff denied that imates were improperly fed, but testified that he legally pocketed about $212,000 over three years with surplus meal money. apparently, the state pays sheriffs $1.75 a day for each prisoner they house and lets the elected officers pocket any profit they can generate.

At the hearing, 10 prisoners told Clemon meals are so small that they’re forced to buy snacks from a for-profit store the jailers operate. Most of the inmates appeared thin, with baggy jail coveralls hanging off their frames.

Some testified they spent hundreds of dollars a month at the store, which Bartlett said generates profits used for training and equipment.

Inmates told of getting half an egg, a spoonful of oatmeal and one piece of toast most days at their 3 a.m. daily breakfast. Lunch is usually a handful of chips and two sandwiches with barely enough peanut butter to taste.

clearly, one of the pains of imprisonment is dealing with prison/jail food. but, it does seem to me there should be more oversight of all corrections agencies to make sure that inmates aren’t being starved to make a profit for corrupt officials. i wonder how the alabama sheriff will feel after spending time in his own jail, forced to eat the food he has chosen to serve.