Author Archives: chris

Alexes Harris on Monetary Sanctions — and More Crime on TSP

I hope folks are following some of the really powerful crim content on TSP these days.  To name just 5…

1. The Cruel Poverty of Monetary Sanctions by Alexes Harris — a terrific piece on prisoners and debt

2. A Crimmigration roundtable, with Tanya Golash-Boza, Ryan King, and Yolanda Vázquez

3. Debt and Darkness in Detroit by David Schalliol, on streetlights and fear of crime in a bankrupt city

4. A new Crime topics page to pull all this work together, edited by Sarah Lageson and Suzy McElrath

5. Crime and the Punished, our new book volume with WW Norton!

Productive Addicts and Harm Reduction

In the wake of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s sad death, many are calling for various “harm reduction” approaches to substance use. Proponents of harm reduction have identified lots of ways to reduce the social and personal costs of drugs, but they often require us to shift our focus from the prevention of drug use itself to the prevention of harm. Resistance to such approaches often hinges on the notion that they somehow tolerate, facilitate, or even subsidize risky behavior.

This tension emerged clearly in my new article with Sarah Shannon in Social Problems. We re-analyzed an experimental jobs program that randomly assigned a basic low-wage work opportunity to long-term unemployed people as they left drug treatment. In some ways, the program worked beautifully. The job treatment group had significantly less crime and recidivism, especially for predatory economic crimes like robberies and burglaries. After 18 months, about 13 percent of the control group had been arrested for a new robbery or burglary, relative to only 7 percent of the treatment group. Put differently, 87 percent of those not offered the jobs survived a year and a half without such an arrest, relative to 93 percent of the treatment group who were offered jobs.

robbery

A randomized experiment that shows a 46 percent reduction in serious crime is a pretty big deal to criminologists, but the program has still been considered a failure. In part, this is because the “treatment” group who got the jobs relapsed to cocaine and heroin use at about the same rate as the control group. After 18 months, about 66 percent of the control group had not yet relapsed, relative to about 63 percent in the treatment group. So, there’s no evidence the program helped people avoid cocaine and heroin.

drugs

From an abstinence-only perspective, such programs look like failures. Nevertheless, even a crummy job and a few dollars clearly helped people avoid recidivism and improved the public safety of their communities. So, did the program work? From a harm reduction perspective, a jobs program for drug users surely “works” if it reduces crime and other harms, even if it doesn’t dent rates of cocaine or heroin use.

 

Productive Addicts and Harm Reduction: How Work Reduces Crime – But Not Drug Use

Christopher Uggen and Sarah K. S. Shannon
Social Problems
Vol. 61, No. 1 (February 2014) (pp. 105-130)

From the Works Progress Administration of the New Deal to the Job Corps of the Great Society era, employment programs have been advanced to fight poverty and social disorder. In today’s context of stubborn unemployment and neoliberal policy change, supported work programs are once more on the policy agenda. This article asks whether work reduces crime and drug use among heavy substance users. And, if so, whether it is the income from the job that makes a difference, or something else. Using the nation’s largest randomized job experiment, we first estimate the treatment effects of a basic work opportunity and then partition these effects into their economic and extra-economic components, using a logit decomposition technique generalized to event history analysis. We then interview young adults leaving drug treatment to learn whether and how they combine work with active substance use, elaborating the experiment’s implications. Although supported employment fails to reduce cocaine or heroin use, we find clear experimental evidence that a basic work opportunity reduces predatory economic crime, consistent with classic criminological theory and contemporary models of harm reduction. The rate of robbery and burglary arrests fell by approximately 46 percent for the work treatment group relative to the control group, with income accounting for a significant share of the effect.

We Are All Criminals

purseFew (if any) of us have abstained from crime completely. And recognizing our own criminality is often an important first step in understanding the situation of those who are caught and punished for crimes. I use self-report delinquency surveys to show this commonality to my students, but the traveling exhibit We Are All Criminals makes the point far more emphatically.

The multimedia project tells our stories — the millions of people who have committed felonies and misdemeanors but managed to avoid the stigma of a criminal record. Its architect is Emily Baxter, a visionary Minnesota attorney and Director of Public Policy and Advocacy at the Council on Crime and Justice. From the site:

Participants in We Are All Criminals tell stories of crimes they got away with… The participants are doctors and lawyers, social workers and students, retailers and retirees who consider how very different their lives could have been had they been caught. The photographs, while protecting participants’ identities, convey personality: each is taken in the participant’s home, office, crime scene, or neighborhood. The stories are of youth, boredom, intoxication, and porta potties. They are humorous, humiliating, and humbling in turn. They are privately held memories without public stigma; they are criminal histories without criminal records. 

We Are All Criminals seeks to challenge society’s perception of what it means to be a criminal and how much weight a record should be given, when truly – we are all criminals. But it is also a commentary on the disparate impact of our state’s policies, policing, and prosecution: many of the participants benefited from belonging to a class and race that is not overrepresented in the criminal justice system. Permanent and public criminal records perpetuate inequities, precluding thousands of Minnesotans from countless opportunities to move on and move up. We Are All Criminals questions the wisdom and fairness in those policies.

You can see much of the project online, attend one of the public events, or attend Ms. Baxter’s presentation at the American Society of Criminology meetings in Atlanta this November 23rd.

Robina Institute Research Fellows

RobinaRobina’s Sentencing Law and Policy Program Area is hiring two research fellows
The Robina Institute’s Sentencing Law and Policy Program Area (“SLP”) is one of three program areas within the Institute. SLP has recently received augmented funding from the Robina Foundation to work on four projects over the next 3-5 years in the fields of sentencing and corrections. The Institute’s sentencing programs are strongly interdisciplinary; accordingly, funding has been obtained to hire at least two research fellows, with complementary backgrounds (e.g., social science, law, or public policy).
A .pdf of the full job description can be downloaded HERE.TO APPLY CLICK HERE.

Labeling Matters

label_happyWhile many criminologists still use the term “offender,” I’ve tried to purge it from my writing. For me, at least, the “offender” label implies an inherent criminality, rather than a factual legal status. I’m heartened when fellow academics consider the stigmatizing consequences of the terms they use, but it is especially good news when the official labelmakers take steps in this direction.

As Chris Palmer of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports,

 The hundreds of thousands of Philadelphians who have served time in prison will no longer be referred to as “ex-offenders” in official city language, the mayor’s office announced Thursday. Instead, an ordinance will be introduced to call them “returning citizens.”

In a statement, Mayor Nutter said that the new term emphasizes reintegration, while ” ‘ex-offender’ carries with it a stigma which may increase the challenges these citizens face.”

 

Gates Brown and Desistance

GatesBrown2If I wrote a novel about an ex-prisoner who became a successful major league ballplayer and Detroit legend, I’d probably name him “Gates” Brown.

Nah, too obvious.

William “Gates” Brown died Friday at 74. Mr. Brown was among the greatest pinch hitters in baseball history, batting an absurd .450 in 40 pinch-hitting appearances (and .370 overall) for the Tigers in their 1968 championship season. As a kid, I admired him for his cool demeanor at the plate, the fine career he fashioned from a very specialized skill, and a near-Ruthian story about toting hot dogs on the basepaths. What’s not to like?

On the backs of baseball cards, they generally list information like “Bill enjoys bowling in the off-season!” rather than “Bill did 22 months for B&E!” – and athletes of the day were quite content to keep their criminal histories in the closet. Still, even as a little leaguer, I knew something about Mr. Brown’s past.  His 1974 Topps card, which I happen to have in my office (don’t ask) says, “Gates makes public appearances for the Tigers.” And he did just that, according to this 1974 piece from The Argus-Presswhich details his efforts to get kids “on the right track” and his television appearances discussing his prison history. He’d done 22 months in the Ohio State Reformatory at Mansfield — an iconic prison used in certain Shawshank Redemption scenes. 

Mr. Brown was also forthcoming about the racism he endured coming up the ranks in the Jim Crow south of 1960. Because the first year of his career was spent on probation, he knew that reacting physically to racist fans and coaches would quickly put said career to an end.  Nevertheless, Mr. Brown progressed quickly through the minor leagues, playing 13 years in Detroit and then serving as hitting coach from 1978 to 1984.

So, while baseball fans will remember Gates Brown as the consummate pinch hitter, the matter-of-fact and compelling manner in which he told his desistance story is also well worth remembering.

Sesame Street on Incarcerated Parents

I don’t recall any “So, your dad’s in prison” discussions on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood or Captain Kangaroo, but United States criminal punishment has increased greatly since my preschool days. Arturo Baiocchi sends along this powerful Sesame Street clip addressing parental incarceration in their “Little Children, Big Challenges” series. The short video is heartbreaking in concept and in execution, but I’m glad to see more people and institutions reaching out to support the children of incarcerated parents. For those interested in the numbers and the effects of parental incarceration, I’d recommend the excellent series of articles and upcoming book by our friends Sara Wakefield and Chris Wildeman.

Virginia Reenfranchisement News / HuffPo op-ed

Virginia_new_sign Two quick felon voting updates:

Most importantly, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell will begin automatically restoring voting rights for  ”nonviolent felons” beginning July 15. Those convicted of violent crimes must still undergo an application process, following a five-year waiting period. “Non-violent” is a problematic definition in practice, but I expect this to be a meaningful change for Virginia. In particular, a switch to an “automatic” or default system tends to be far more effective in restoring civil rights than, say,  ”streamlined application processes.”

Also, Marc Mauer and I wrote a new Huffington Post op-ed on race, voter turnout, and felon disenfranchisement.

“Ban the Box” Now Law in Minnesota

mnloveYou might have heard that Minnesota Governor Dayton just signed Freedom to Marry legislation, but he also made Ban the Box the law-of-the-land-of-10,000-lakes.  Megan Boldt describes it succinctly at twincities.com:

Gov. Mark Dayton this week signed a bill that would ban employers from considering a job applicant’s criminal history until the applicant has an interview or is offered a job.

Supporters of the bill, dubbed “ban the box,” have argued the change allows people who have made mistakes to be considered for a job on their merits and skills, instead of having their application immediately discarded.

Since 2009, Minnesota has required all public employers to wait until a job candidate has been selected for an interview before inquiring about criminal history.

I can take no credit (or blame, I suppose) for this development, but I can brag a bit about amazing Minnesota graduate students like Sarah Walker and Rob Stewart, community leaders like Mark Haase at the Council on Crime and Justice, and many formerly incarcerated men and women who came forward to tell their stories and build support for this legislation.

Yes, employers can and will still discriminate on the basis of a criminal record, but the research literature suggests that ban the box is a tremendously important step. In my Minnesota audit study on low-level records, for example, 25% of the hiring authorities we interviewed told us they wouldn’t consider any (hypothetical) applicant with a record, but they were much less likely to discriminate on that basis when confronted with a real human being applying for a job. And in Devah Pager’s important audit studies (and my own as well), personal contact with a hiring authority is a powerful, powerful predictor of “callbacks” from employers. So, I’m optimistic that Ban the Box won’t simply waste applicants’ time — or that of employers.

For a national perspective on these laws, check the recent EEOC guidance on the topic and a useful page from the National Employment Law Project. And, yes, I’m already scheming to evaluate implementation and outcomes…

Weaver & Uggen Event on Tuesday 4/30

Weaver

Join me and the incomparable Vesla Weaver this TUESDAY, for a spirited conversation on crime, punishment, and democracy at the Hubert H. Humphrey Forum.  As moderator, I’ll either be channeling Charlie Rose or Axl Rose, depending on the crowd. All are welcome and admission is free, but advance registration is appreciated.

How America’s Public Safety System Hurts Our Democracy 

Is justice blind? Vesla Weaver reveals racial disparities in the American criminal justice system and their implications for undermining full democratic citizenship. Professor Christopher Uggen will moderate the discussion.  Find more information here: http://justiceanddemocracy-rss.eventbrite.com/

April 30, 12 p.m. | Humphrey Forum
Humphrey School of Public Affairs, 301 19th Ave S Minneapolis, MN 55455