Archive: Sep 2007

via volokh: northwestern law professor lee epstein offers a user-friendly public data source on u.s. supreme court Justices. much can be learned from these data. for example, it was easy to investigate class background and party affiliation of the nominees. i learned that 18 of 56 nominees by democratic presidents were coded as lower or lower-middle class (32 percent), relative to 13 of 73 republican nominees (18 percent).

i thought that upper-class nominees might be more successful in the nomination process, but upper class nominees actually had the lowest success rate — only 66 percent, relative to 80 percent for nominees from all other classes. hmmm. i also learned that four nominees were minnesota natives and that one had been born in “asia minor (turkey).” there’s much, much more here for researchers studying the nine.

the census bureau has released new group quarters estimates for 2006, reporting on americans who live in institutions such as prisons, nursing homes, and college dormitories. the racial disparities have been widely reported, but the sex distributions also tell a story. i created the charts below based on this census table.

roughly two million americans are housed in each of three types of institutions — about 2.3 million in college and university dormitories, 2.1 million in adult correctional institutions, and 1.8 million in nursing homes. the picture seems clear: prisons and jails remain overwhelmingly male institutions, while nursing homes are predominantly female institutions. there are about 9.4 times more men than women in prisons and jails, but about 2.2 times more women than men in nursing homes. college dorms are more evenly split — about 53.3 percent female and 46.7 percent male. the nursing home disparity, i’d imagine, is due in large part to women’s greater longevity.

one can rearrange these data to get a better look at the contribution of each type of residency to the total number of women and men housed in group quarters. over 53 percent of the 3.5 million men housed in these three institutional settings were incarcerated, relative to about 7 percent of the 2.7 million women in these institutions.

of course, one shouldn’t read too much into this sort of bivariate presentation. breaking these data out by age, race, and gender would likely show a triple-whammy of outsized incarceration rates among young, african american, males relative to all other groups.

the times updates developments discussed in last week’s post:

Prisons to Restore Purged Religious Books

Published: September 27, 2007

WASHINGTON, Sept. 26 — Facing pressure from religious groups, civil libertarians and members of Congress, the federal Bureau of Prisons has decided to return religious materials that had been purged from prison chapel libraries because they were not on the bureau’s lists of approved resources…

[full article]

i sometimes find powerful messages left on old posts. paging through these comments can be disheartening, or inspiring, or both. i forwarded the first one to my research team yesterday, since it reminded me what our grant was all about. i was happy to send out the follow-up this evening.

yesterday’s message was powerful bad:

Hi im Pam and am also like most of you a convicted FELON > this one thing has literally destroyed my life>…I have been struugling with my addiction for 7 Yrs now – During this time (1999) I was arrested for possesion of narcotics-this was nollied I was arrested again (2000) I was convicted. So now at 42 yrs old I am a convicted felon -I lost 1 job and not hired for countless others due to this/ Today I was offered a job at a national insurance co. thru a temp agency _ Iwas soooo excited until she said the dreaded words “I’ll need you to sign for a background check” I felt like i would faint-sick to my stomach-So i managed to get thru the rest of the coversation and here I sit and now I found so many others just like me-It is somehow comforting to know that others know and understand my pain and suffering-thanks to all who took the time towrite in. I think somehow we need to stand up to this practice of background checks and limit it to crimes that may directly affect the safety of other workers and the company-not just someone who has one arrest one conviction in their entire life-How does my relapse prevent me from being a good person, qualified to do a job now that I am clean from drugs-they obviously liked what they saw on my resume and how I presened myself in the interview it kills me to think i may not be able to keep this job when the background check comes back.It no wonder why so many felons re offend we dont stand a chance to put our past behind us -we are forever branded as not suitable before we can prove ourself to others – thats the real inJustice from our wonderful “Justice System” I will keep you all in my thoughts and prayers. —Pam

and today’s was powerful good:

Hi This is Pebbles1 again – I wrote in yesterday about a job offer with the stipulation of a background check — Well I got the phone call this morning and my background check came in and of course my felony posession of narcotics was clearly there. The temp agency sent it to Aetna (Employer)and they said I can start my new Job on Monday at 8:00 am !!!! I am still in shock, my hands are still trembling and i just dried the tears (happy ones) off my face. I just had to share this because my heart was and still is with all of those who didnt get that phone call this morning. I want you to know there is hope. I have been trying to get a job for the past 2 1/2 years and if I gave up this would have never happened for me. Please keep up the fight you are all worth it we just need to find that one person who can see our worth through a cloudy past. Dont stop trying if it can happen for me it can happen for any of us. Just 3 months ago I was living at my moms house to avoid being homeless I am now able to start over to rebuild a broken life. I hope my story can pass along some hope to all of us who really know how it feels to feel HOPELESS. … Hope to hear from you if you need some support , hope or inspiration. I am so glad i found this web site it came as a comfort to me when i almost gave up for good. Pam.

thanks for keeping the faith, pam. you’re an inspiration.

the link below leads to an award-winning video from the san francisco chronicle/ while scared straight programs have generally been shown to do more harm than good, this small tour takes a kindler, gentler approach as inmates tell their stories and actually listen to the boys if and when they choose to open up. in any case, the 9-minute video offers a brief inside view of the notorious prison and is worth a look.

as one of the inmate guides says: “welcome to the garbage can of society.”

here’s a revealing video from slate on a prison food convention in california. mmm. textured vegetable proteins

understandably, food is an A#1 top-priority issue for inmates. michelle writes about teaching an inside-out class at oregon state penitentiary during a federal investigation of a major prison food scandal. when allegations of bribes, kickbacks, and tainted food arose, one of her inside students expressed himself in verse.

according to the fbi’s new crime in the united states for 2006…

property crime in the united states has dropped to the lowest level in two decades, while violent crime is creeping up from relatively low levels.

fyi, the fbi now echoes the same strong warning issued by intro crim profs: be very careful when using these data to make comparisons across jurisdictions.

several have urged me to write about the jena 6 case. i’ve got little new to offer, so i’m referring folks to more knowledgeable observers.

as several crim/law bloggers have pointed out, this is a case about a twisty sequence of events. competing versions of each event are being reported, such that the ever-elusive “basic facts of the case” are particularly elusive in jena, louisiana. criminal defense attorney jeralyn merritt offers her characteristically thoughtful libertarian-leaning-lefty perspective on ms merritt:

While I still can’t make judgments as to much of the story, I have no problem declaring the case one of prosecutorial over-charging and abuse of a system that allows prosecutors discretion in charging juveniles as adults… The key legal question being asked is whether the Jena Six have been or are being prosecuted unfairly based on racial considerations. Unfortunately, many of the facts necessary to make the determination are in dispute, confusing or unverified by impartial sources.

the jena case(s) bring to light issues that should be familiar to sociological criminologists: racial disparities in both the administration of Justice and in the perceived legitimacy of this system; the further erosion of the adult and juvenile Justice systems; the racialized history of american vigilantism; and, the common place of violence in the lives of young men. nevertheless, these issues and conditions are present in many cases in many courtrooms in many jurisdictions. in my opinion, some stories that never registered on the national radar have simpler heroes and villains, with miscarriages of Justice that are arguably more egregious than those in jena. why do you think the particular series of events in jena have given rise to such a large mobilization?

the national institute of Justice has released a new research in brief on the chicago neighborhoods project of rob sampson and colleagues. at one time, nij did much more of this sort of thing, releasing extraordinarily useful “ribs” that summarized grantees’ research.

in this report, i find the immigration results most intriguing:

Less violence was committed by youth living in neighborhoods with more first-generation immigrants and where more residents were employed in professional and managerial occupations. Youth living in neighborhoods where adult residents were more cynical about the law also reported more violence. Once these factors were accounted for, the neighborhoods’ racial composition did not matter. – p. 7.

the christian science monitor and the times are reporting on a federal bureau of prisons policy to remove religious books from prison libraries.

BOP chaplains no longer screen books on a case-by-case basis. instead, a panel has created an approved list of books for each of 20 religions. inmates in otisville, new york have filed suit in protest.

institutions understand that redefining the default practice can bring about a remarkable shift in policy. here, by changing the default from inclusion to exclusion, only a relative handful of books will even be considered for libraries. aside from the obvious problems with an approved list (e.g., who approves? how often? under what criteria?) an almost infinite number of fine spiritual books will never be reviewed. for example, robert schuller, reinhold niebuhr, moses maimonides, and rick warren’s the purpose-driven life are omitted. i doubt that these were censored on the basis of objectionable content.

imagine, for a moment, what an approved sociology list might include habits of the heart might make the cut, but who would read and review lesser-known works? i’ve sent free copies of locked out to a few prison libraries in response to requests by inmates or instructors. as far as i know, these remain on the shelves. today, as in earlier periods, political content seems far less threatening than religious content.