Archive: Oct 2007

things got a little chaotic this summer and i didn’t really post about my summer inside-out class. i am now about one-third of the way into this quarter’s inside-out class at the oregon state penitentiary. it’s going really well and i think all 30 students (from OSU and OSP) are enjoying the collaborative learning and the entire stereotype-shattering experience.

summer class was a definite success, as well, although we did end up with fewer outside (OSU) students than inside (OSP) students. still, we had a good time and learned a lot. one of my inside students, barry, wrote this poem to commemorate the experience. i just got my copy last week and i don’t think he would mind sharing it here.


a gathering of twenty-four good friends
closes out the Inside-Out summer term
where two worlds bonded with focus
redefining criminology by contentments affirm

even though emotions may have spiked
it was a night we will never forget
sharing food purchased by Beaver Nation
was something a bit beyond etiquette

reflecting upon what was accomplished
is a reality that words may not define
as them tears of joy bubbled forth
I duly toast Michelle’s vision being divine

unto all Administrators who worked together
this special thanks is certainly a rewarder
because you united hope to greet its purpose
that is explained with successions recorder

having spent over half of my life inside prison
this experience was the best one yet
and the theories that this taught unto me
definitely is worth rehabilitation’s mind-set


inside higher ed summarizes a careful new study by neil gross and solon simmons on the political views of american professors. i created the figure above from their table 8, which examines party affiliation in the top twenty degree-granting fields. i’ve only perused the paper, but i’m impressed by the response rate, sample size and survey items (e.g., adapting wording from questions on the american national election study).

i’ve organized the figure by percent republican, but there’s likely an interesting story in the heterogeneous “independent” category as well. about 49 percent of sociologists self-identify as democrats, 46 percent as independents, and 6 percent as republicans — a distribution strikingly similar to that of political science. criminal Justice professors seem a bit more conservative, at 40 percent democrat, 40 percent independent, and 19 percent republican. overall, republicans are rare in the social sciences (excepting economics) and humanities, but somewhat more prevalent in business and engineering.

in earlier posts, i’d cited data suggesting an even more lopsided distribution in the social sciences. this made me “worry in a what’s the matter with kansas way about sociologists losing the hearts and minds of america. aside from real or perceived biases in instruction, would sociological knowledge flourish or founder if sociology faculty looked a little more like the rest of the citizenry on this dimension?”

the new study partially allays my fears, though i’m still convinced that greater ideological diversity would improve the state of knowledge in my home disciplines. that said, i’ll leave it to others to launch the affirmative action initiative for underrepresented conservatives in social science.

i missed the initial broadcast last night, but i’m hearing good things about ted koppel’s discovery channel prison documentary. from all reports, this one might be worth a bit of class time in an intro crim course.

from the statesman journal:

FARMINGTON, Mo. — It’s a hefty price for a pastry: A man accused of stealing a 52-cent doughnut could face time in jail.
Authorities said Scott A. Masters, 41, slipped the doughnut into his sweat shirt without paying, then pushed away a clerk who tried to stop him as he fled the store. The push is being treated as minor assault, which transforms a misdemeanor shoplifting charge to a strong-armed robbery with a potential prison term of five to 15 years. Because he has a criminal history, prosecutors say they could seek 30 years….

today’s seattle times includes a story about how the university of washington is forcing 13 sex offenders to move out of an area just north of the university. for the past seven years, a number of sex offenders on probation have lived quietly in rental houses near the fraternities and sororities of the u-dub greek system. while the offenders have never caused trouble, people in power–including university president mark emmert and washington governor christine gregoire–have decided they must relocate.

landlord carol clarke works closely with each of the felons who rents from her, setting strict ground rules and encouraging them to do good; with short notice she is about to lose 13 of her 55 tenants. she intends to fight the university to let the tenants stay; in her view, the students cause more trouble than her tenants.

several things bother me about this story, but i’ll point out two. first, while a spokesperson for u-dub panhellenic said they haven’t had specific problems with any of the13 individuals, “sororities have been advised to know the location of sex-offender housing and ‘gain as much information as they can’ about sexual predators in the area.” i wonder if that includes looking into the fraternities and dorms in the area, as well. chances are if a student is going to be sexually assaulted, it will be by a fellow student and not a stranger who happens to live in the neighborhood.

second, “As part of the UW’s neighborhood plan, [vice-provost] Godfrey said the university is looking into purchasing properties and maintaining them as student rental housing. He said Clarke’s five homes are in the real-estate corridor they are interested in most.” interesting. so, with the governor’s approval, they force a quarter of the residents out of the very rental properties they are hoping to purchase.

whose interests are really being protected here?

October 6, 2007
New York Times
Out of Prison and Deep in Debt

With the nation’s incarcerated population at 2.1 million and growing — and corrections costs topping $60 billion a year — states are rightly looking for ways to keep people from coming back to prison once they get out. Programs that help ex-offenders find jobs, housing, mental health care and drug treatment are part of the solution. States must also end the Dickensian practice of saddling ex-offenders with crushing debt that they can never hope to pay off and that drives many of them right back to prison.

The scope of the ex-offender debt problem is outlined in a new study commissioned by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance and produced by the Council of State Governments’ Justice Center. The study, “Repaying Debts,” describes cases of newly released inmates who have been greeted with as much as $25,000 in debt the moment they step outside the prison gate. That’s a lot to owe for most people, but it can be insurmountable for ex-offenders who often have no assets and whose poor educations and criminal records prevent them from landing well-paying jobs.

Often, the lion’s share of the debt is composed of child support obligations that continue to mount while the imprisoned parent is earning no money. The problem does not stop there. The corrections system buries inmates in fines, fees and surcharges that can amount to $10,000 or more. According to the Justice Center study, for example, a person convicted of drunken driving in New York can be charged a restitution fee of $1,000, a probation fee of $1,800 and 11 other fees and charges that range from $20 to nearly $2,200.

In some jurisdictions, inmates are also billed for the DNA testing that proves their guilt or innocence, for drug testing and even for the drug treatment they are supposed to receive as a condition of parole. These fees are often used to run the courts, the sheriffs’ offices or other parts of the corrections system.

A former inmate living at or even below the poverty level can be dunned by four or five departments at once — and can be required to surrender 100 percent of his or her earnings. People caught in this impossible predicament are less likely to seek regular employment, making them even more susceptible to criminal relapse.

The Justice Center report recommends several important reforms. First, the states should make one agency responsible for collecting all debts from ex-offenders. That agency can then set payment priorities. The report also recommends that payments to the state for fines and fees be capped at 20 percent of income, except when the former inmate has sufficient assets to pay more. And in cases where the custodial parent agrees, the report urges states to consider modifying child support orders while the noncustodial parent is in prison. Once that parent is released, child support should be paid first.

The states should also develop incentives, including certificates of good conduct and waivers of fines, for ex-offenders who make good-faith efforts to make their payments. Where appropriate, they should be permitted to work off some of the debt through community service. Beyond that, elected officials who worry about recidivism need to understand that bleeding ex-offenders financially is a sure recipe for landing them back in jail.

i’ve been reading and hearing as much prison poetry as non-prison poetry lately. i just got word of a contest offering both cash prizes and publication possibilities. the shot caller press prison poetry contest is open to all prisoners, ex-prisoners, family members or friends of prisoners, prison guards, prison volunteers, and prison workers.

i’ve never heard of the press, but they can sign me up for the forthcoming anthology. below the official rules, they offer advice that might benefit any poet:

Additionally: We do not look for literary merit. What we are looking for is creativity and originality. The correct usage of words or grammar is not a criterion in this contest; sometimes it is a plus. … What makes a poem stand out is the use of language to create strong images, a topic that shows a unique awareness of prison life and a creative approach that shows originality.

amen to that. here’s an excerpt from dietrich bonhoeffer’s Who am I?, written in tegel prison in 1944:

…struggling for breath, as though
hands were compressing my throat,
yearning for colours, for flowers,
for the voices of birds,
thirsting for words of kindness,
for neighbourliness,
tossing in expectation of great events,
powerlessly trembling for friends
at an infinite distance,
weary and empty at praying,
at thinking, at making,
faint, and ready to say farewell to it all.

Who am I? This or the other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once?
A hypocrite before others,
and before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still
like a beaten army, fleeing in disorder
from victory already achieved?

i find myself charmed by newark mayor corey a. booker and his very public efforts to walk his talk and improve conditions for the residents of his city. if you’re not familiar with mr. booker, the new york times has published a series of articles documenting his battles and his efforts in newark.

the latest article is my favorite so far. i’ll admit to being a soft touch for anyone who takes the time (and the accompanying emotional wallop) to mentor troubled youth, and despite his crazy schedule, mayor booker has taken on the role of big brother to three delinquent young men. he gets together with “the boys” virtually every weekend, takes them to dinner, takes them to church, takes them to lectures, and plays games with them. members of the mayor’s security team have become mentors to the boys as well. it hasn’t been easy, and it hasn’t been an unqualified success either. the article explains:

The year together has been something of a mixed and quixotic one for the boys and for Mr. Booker. Duwon has dropped out of school and largely slipped from Mr. Booker’s orbit. Anthony, a hyperkinetic youth who once had a penchant for shoplifting, has started earning better grades. Sean’s progress has been unsteady, too. He has stayed out of trouble, but in many ways remains unmoored.

Still, in a city where crime, drugs and violence have a way of ensnaring children, the fact that all three teenagers have stayed alive and out of jail is an achievement of some magnitude.

perhaps the best part of this story, for me, is how the mayor and the boys came together. as the article explains, it was not out of mutual affection:

Shortly after Mr. Booker’s inauguration in July 2006, the police arrested three people for spray-painting the words “Kill Booker” in the hallway of a school none of them attended. This occurred when Mr. Booker and his security detail were grappling with death threats from jailed gang members.

But when he learned that those arrested were under 18, Mr. Booker made prosecutors an unusual proposition. If they would drop the charges, Mr. Booker would become the teenagers’ mentor.

ironically, a 13-year-old arrested for the vandalism was considered “too far gone” for the mayor’s mentoring intervention, but the other two boys were given the chance and a relative of one of them became the third little brother.

the article is clear that it hasn’t been an easy relationship, that there have been plenty of ups and downs. but i’m impressed with mayor booker’s bravery and his unconditional love and support for these boys who once acted out against him. he may be a good role model for us all.

good on ya, bruce.

the u.s. senate’s joint economic committee held a hearing this morning on “mass incarceration in the united states: at what cost?” “to explore the economic consequences and causes of and solutions to the steep increase of the u.s. prison population.”

i hope some good comes from it. here’s the press release:

The United States has 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, despite having only 5 percent of the world’s population. The JEC will examine why the United States has such a disproportionate share of the world’s prison population, as well as ways to address this issue that responsibly balance public safety and the high social and economic costs of imprisonment.

Expert witnesses have been asked to discuss the costs of maintaining a large prison system; the long-term labor market and social consequences of mass incarceration; whether the increase in the prison population correlates with decreases in crime; and what alternative sentencing strategies and post-prison re-entry programs have been most successful at reducing incarceration rates in states and local communities.

Witnesses (as of September 27):

Dr. Glenn Loury, Economics and Social Sciences Professor, Brown University
Dr. Bruce Western, Director Inequality and Social Policy Program, Harvard University
Alphonso Albert, Executive Director, Second Chances
Michael Jacobson, Executive Director, Vera Institute for Justice

as chair, i attend far more meetings than talks these days. there’s a talk at harvard today that i’d love to sink my teeth into:

The Applied Statistics Workshop presents another installment this week with Thomas Cook, Department of Sociology, Northwestern University presenting a talk entitled, “When the causal estimates from randomized experiments and non-experiments coincide: Empirical findings from the within-study comparison literature.”

i’ve always been fascinated with social experiments and the collision between experimental and non-experimental methods. a lot of what we know about this subject comes from the literature on employment and training interventions. my reading of the cook, shadish, and wong paper discussed today is that non-experimental methods might fare better outside this context. hmmm. this sort of work strikes me as absolutely fundamental to understanding and contextualizing social scientific knowledge.

coincidentally, i’m editing proofs right now for thinking experimentally, a li’l essay written for experiments in criminology and law, edited by christine horne and mike lovaglia. my contribution is an homage to the fine graduate methods training that i received at the wizversity — and, i suppose, an apologia for straying from the course.