Archive: Nov 2007

long live john augustus! here’s a boston globe story on volunteers in reintegration:

Vermonters Help Ease Life on the Outside: Towns Trying to Keep Ex-Cons on Right Path

By Jenna Russell of the Globe Staff / November 24, 2007

BARRE, Vt. – Vermont corrections officials are trying a radical new strategy to reintegrate the state’s worst offenders into society: Team them up with groups of students, parents, businesspeople, and retirees in the towns they return to after prison, and let these surrogate families and friends show them how they can fit in again…

susan tucker of soros writes that their after prison initiative is seeking a new program associate.

The Program Associate will work closely with the Director and Program Officer in all programmatic and administrative and aspects relating to The After Prison Initiative grantmaking and program development work.

Programmatic Responsibilities:
• Work with staff to develop, write and edit grantmaking strategy, priorities, and guidelines
• Review and assess letters of inquiry and make declination and funding recommendations
• Work with staff to manage the grantmaking process, including inviting, reviewing, and working with applicants to finalize proposals; writing and editing docket materials; and managing grants through site visits and by reviewing narrative and financial reports
• Interact with and disseminate program-related information to grantees and other field professionals; participate in program- and field-related meetings and convenings
• Prepare and maintain grantmaking financial and budget tracking reports
• Participate in the development, planning, and organization of program-related events
• Stay current in criminal Justice and reentry issues and related fields
• Perform research and other related writing projects

Administrative Responsibilities:
• Respond to telephone, email, and written inquires and requests for assistance from various constituencies
• Work with grantees, program staff, and OSI’s Office of Grants Management to perform grant opening, payment, monitoring, and close-out procedures
• Act as a liaison between grantees, The After Prison Initiative, and other OSI departments and respond to questions relating to fiscal and administrative issues
• Prepare receipts and payment requests for the Program Director and Program Officer’s corporate cards and reimbursable expenses
• Manage calendar and travel reservations for the Program Director and Program Officer
• Provide general administrative support, including photocopying, telephone coverage, faxing, filing, and database management

• College degree plus 3-5 years of relevant work experience
• Excellent written, verbal, analytical, research, and organizational skills required
• Must be highly organized, detail-oriented, self-motivated, dependable, and able to multitask
• Excellent computer skills (Microsoft Word, Excel & PowerPoint) required
• Ability to work independently and also as part of a team, take initiative and prioritize, and work well under pressure
• Strong people skills, ability to work with people from a wide variety of backgrounds
• Flexibility, positive attitude, and willingness to pitch in
• Demonstrated concern for social and criminal Justice issues

SALARY: Commensurate with experience; excellent benefits; four weeks vacation
START DATE: Immediately
TO APPLY: Send resume, cover letter and writing sample immediately to Applications accepted through December 17, 2007. Include job code PA/USJF/API in subject line:

i’ve written before about life sentences for juvenile offenders. according to a new study by michelle leighton and connie de la vega of the university of san francisco, the u.s. and israel are the only nations in the world that mete out life sentences without the possibility of parole or release to children. an estimated total of 2,381 juvenile lifers reside in the united states, relative to 7 in israel. the report offers a useful, if sobering, state-by-state appendix for those teaching juvenile Justice or juvenile delinquency classes.

in prison, it seems, hope can be found in very small things that make the days more tolerable. and once in a great while, hope can be found in one big generous gesture by a perfect stranger.

an anonymous donor is currently funding community college classes within the oregon state penitentiary. other than the inside-out program, it is the first time there have been college classes in the prison in more than a decade. approximately 45 men are getting the chance to earn college credits while they serve their sentences. the salem statesman-journal published a story earlier this month, explaining this pilot program and what it means to some of the inmate students.
i have had a number of these students in my inside-out classes this year. they are, for the most part, young men who made terrible mistakes and are now trying to change their lives and learn as much as they can while they are in prison. they work hard at their assignments, worry about exams, and are extremely grateful for the opportunity.
i’ll be teaching an introductory sociology course for the college inside program next quarter. it will be a much different dynamic than my inside-out classes, but there will be a number of familiar faces in the room, and i’m really looking forward to the experience.
my local representative from one of the big publishing houses is donating the texts for the class…another big gesture that will mean a lot to 30 men looking for reasons to hope.

today’s new york times offers an impressive set of articles and multimedia features on 115 former prisoners who were exonerated by dna evidence.

Most of the 137 exonerated inmates researched by The Times entered prison in their teens or 20s, and they stayed there while some of their peers on the outside settled on careers, married, started families, bought homes and began saving for retirement. They emerged many years behind, and it has been difficult to catch up.

in addition to the in-depth interviews, photographs, and video, there’s even a decent methods section.

a new report on reducing america’s prison population came out this week, co-authored by some of my favorite criminologists: james austin, todd clear, troy duster, david greenberg, john irwin, candace mccoy, alan mobley, barbara owen, and joshua page.

Unlocking America: Why and How to Reduce America’s Prison Population documents the rise in incarceration and makes some concrete recommendations for stemming the tide (e.g., reducing the length of prison stays and eliminating prison time for technical parole violations).

via alec.

according to bbc news, a vietnamese woman convicted of dealing heroin and ecstasy has become pregnant while being held on death row:

The woman, a 39-year-old convicted heroin trafficker, was being held on death row when she became pregnant.

Police say the father of the child is a fellow prisoner who delivered food to the prisoners on death row.

Under Vietnamese law, death sentences for pregnant women must be converted to life in prison.

criminal punishment is often a good measure of societal definitions of barbarism. in vietnam, it is apparently considered barbaric to execute a pregnant woman by firing squad, but not barbaric to execute a woman who had given birth prior to her incarceration. at least such a policy spares us the tortuous logic needed to justify the alternative — sparing the woman’s life until after she had given birth, then spiriting the baby away and lining the mother up before the firing squad in a bloody hospital gown. of course, the economists might argue that such a policy creates perverse incentives, giving female death row inmates great incentives to conceive with guards or inmates.

i haven’t heard of such cases in the states, but plenty of american women give birth in prison every year. for example, the birth attendants run a prison doula project, providing pregnancy, labor, and post-partum doula services and childbirth education classes to women incarcerated in washington state. a noble human rights effort, i’d say, and worthy of our support and emulation.

criminologists have grumbled for years about the “city crime rankings” released each year by morgan quitno and cq press. these rankings are based on the fbi’s uniform crime reports data, which are a fine source of information for many purposes. when used to compile a crude annual ordering of dangerousness, however, the fbi cautions that they can be extremely misleading.

cities vary a great deal in reporting practices and many other characteristics that affect such rankings, but the most fundamental problem is one of simple geography. criminologists working in the field refer to this issue as the denominator problem: sprawled-out cities such as phoenix tend to fare much better than geographically-constrained cities such as st. louis. this is because the former cities include lower-crime suburb-like areas within their borders.

at tuesday’s meeting of the american society of criminology executive board, we passed a resolution to oppose the use of UCR data to rank American cities as “dangerous’ or “safe” without proper consideration of the limitations of these data. today, the associated press reported this year’s rankings, but have also added some responsible language about the professional objections and harm they cause:

DETROIT – In another blow to the Motor City’s tarnished image, Detroit pushed past St. Louis to become the nation’s most dangerous city, according to a private research group’s controversial analysis, released Sunday, of annual FBI crime statistics.

The study drew harsh criticism even before it came out. The American Society of Criminology launched a pre-emptive strike Friday, issuing a statement attacking it as “an irresponsible misuse” of crime data.

we were treated to a fine address by president jimmy carter at this year’s american society of criminology meetings in atlanta.

the former governor described a friendly yet today-mind-blowingly-incomprehensible competition in the 1970s among the governors of georgia, alabama, florida, and other states: who could reduce prison populations by the largest margin?

times have changed, eh?

the talk was a love fest that put a li’l tear in this public criminologist’s eye. in particular, the ex-president rather forcefully urged the asc membership to take a more active role in documenting and describing human rights abuses in criminal Justice.

there were lighter moments as well, of course. being an ex-president is a pretty good gig, as this ol’ ice-breaking anecdote makes clear:

I remembered going through China and Japan in 1981, soon after I left the White House. At that time I was asked to make a speech at a small college near Osaka. When I got to this little college, everybody was so nervous, it made me nervous. So, I got up to make a speech, and I thought I would put the Japanese at ease-the students and professors and their parents-by telling a joke. It takes so long to translate English into Japanese that I didn’t choose my funniest joke–I just chose my shortest joke. So I told my joke, and then the interpreter gave it and the audience collapsed in laughter. It was the best response I have ever had to a joke in my life.

I couldn’t wait for the speech to be over to get to the green room and ask the interpreter, ‘How did you tell my joke?’ He was very evasive. But I persisted, and finally he ducked his head and said, “I told the audience, ‘President Carter told a funny story. Everyone must laugh.’ ” So there are some advantages in having been president…

a few of my jokes have been translated at international meetings and, without exception, they’ve fallen flat. i’ve been tempted to insert a [THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE FUNNY] note for the translator, but president carter’s approach seems far more effective.

i’m wondering whether and how norman mailer’s passing will be noted at the american society of criminology meetings this week.

i learned much from the executioner’s song, mr. mailer’s biography and life history of gary gilmore. the pugnacious writer also introduced me to jack henry abbott, offering an important cautionary tale about the dangers of conflating talent and dangerousness.

i’m not a great admirer of the naked and the dead or mr. mailer’s other novels. as a longtime fan of his old rival, gore vidal, however, i’ll repeat the story of their scuffle on the dick cavett show in 1970:

Mailer was notorious for tussling with critics. Backstage at “The Dick Cavett Show” in the early 1970s, he head-butted Gore Vidal, who had written that Mailer’s violent streak put him in the same league as mass murderer Charles Manson. (After the head-butting, Vidal quipped, “Words fail Norman Mailer yet again.”)

ouch. that one hit him where it hurts. i sought some sort of youtube memory of mr. vidal and mr. mailer, but the best i could come up with is the latter’s messy ’68 brawl with rip torn. it was likely a set-up, but the video confirms my point: norman mailer knew a good deal about both violence and fraud, and he left behind work of great value to criminologists.