Archive: Aug 2008

criminologists learn the secret argot of the underworld to enhance our understanding of the people and events we study. poets learn such street jargon because its imagery is often colorfully evocative and metaphorical, yet subtle or sly enough to facilitate secret communication.

boing directs us to a fine 1736 dictionary of thieving cant at in contrast to compilations by criminologists such as edwin sutherland, only about half the entries i read bore directly on the practice of crime. i should caution that many of the entries are offensive — most notably to women, but also to men, preachers, lawyers, and the irish and roma people. a few of the less-offensive entries:

ADAM TILER, the Comerade of a Pick pocket, who receives stollen Goods or Money, and scours off with them, Tip the coal to Adam Tiler; i.e. give the Money, Watch, &c. to a running Companion, that the Pick Pocket may have nothing found upon him, when he is apprehended.

ARCH-ROGUE, the Dimber-Damber Uprightman or Chief of a Gang; as Arch-Dell, or Arch-Doxy signifies the same Degree in Rank among the Female Canters and Gypsies.

ARK-RUFFIANS, Rogues, who in Conjunction with Watermen, &c. rob and sometimes murder on the Water; by picking a Quarrel with the Passenger and then plundering, stripping and throwing him or her over board, &c.

To BLOT the Skrip, and jark it, i.e. to stand engaged, or be bound for any Body.
It is all BOB, i.e. All is Safe.

COSTARD, the Head. I’ll give ye a Knock on the Costard; I’ll hit ye a Blow on the Pate.

A HIGHTE-TITY, a Romp or rude Girl.

KNAVE in Grain, one of the First Rate.

MOVEABLES, Rings, Watches, Swords, and such Toys of Value.

PUPIL Mongers, Tutors at the Universities.

SCHOOL of Venus, a Bawdy-house.

SNUDGE, one that lurks under a Bed, to watch an Opportunity to rob the House.

SUCK, Wine or strong Drink. This is rum Suck; It is excellent Tipple. We’ll go and Suck our Faces; but if they toute us, we’ll take Rattle, and brush; Let’s go to drink and be merry; but if we be smelt by the People of the House, we must scowre off. He loves to Suck his Face; He delights in Drinking.

SOUL-Driver, a Parson.

STROWLING-Morts, who, pretending to be Widows, often travel the Countries, making Laces upon Yews, Beggar’s-tape, &c. Are light-finger’d, subtle, hypocritical, cruel, and often dangerous to meet, especially when a Ruffler is with them.

SWIG-Men, carrying small Haberdashery-Wares about, pretending to sell them, to colour their Roguery. Fellows crying Old Shoes, Boots, or brooms; and thos pretending to buy Old Suits, Hats or Cloaks, are also called Swig-Men, and oftentimes, if an Opportunity offers, make all Fish that comes to Net.

THUMMIKINS, a Punishment (in Scotland) by hard squeezing or pressing of the Thumbs, to extort Confession, which stretches them prodigiously, and is very painful. In Camps, and on Board of Ships, lighted Matches are clapt between the Fingers to the same Intent.

WHIRLEGIGS, Testicles.

To YAM, to eat heartily, to stuff lustily.

ZNEES, Frost, or Frozen; Zneesy weather; Frosty Weather.

just released from the bureau of justice statistics:

Parents in Prison and Their Minor Children
Presents data from the 2004 Survey of Inmates in State and Federal Correctional Facilities about inmates who were parents and their minor children. This report compares estimates of the number of incarcerated parents and their children under the age of 18, by gender, age, race, and Hispanic origin in state and federal prisons in 1991, 1997, 1999, 2004, and 2007. It presents the total number of children who were minors at some time during their parent’s incarceration. The report describes selected background characteristics of parents in prisons, including marital status, citizenship, education, offense type, criminal history, employment, prior experiences of homelessness, drug and alcohol involvement, mental health, and physical and sexual abuse. It provides family background of inmate parents including household makeup, public assistance received by household, drug and alcohol use, and incarceration of family members. It includes information on the children’s daily care, financial support, current caregivers, and frequency and type of contact with incarcerated parents.

  • The nation’s prisons held approximately 744,200 fathers and 65,600 mothers at midyear 2007.
  • Parents held in the nation’s prisons—52% of state inmates and 63% of federal inmates—reported having an estimated 1,706,600 minor children, accounting for 2.3% of the U.S. resident population under age 18.
  • Growth in the number of parents held in state and federal prisons was outpaced by the growth in the nation’s prison population between 1991 and midyear 2007.

I teach a course on imprisonment and reentry and I dispense with the crime issue relatively quickly. We talk about the contribution of ex-inmates to the crime rate and high recidivism rates overall but we don’t talk a lot about it until the end of the course. We RARELY talk about innocence — the best estimate I’ve seen (not Scalia’s, btw) suggests that about 3-5% of capital rape-murder convictions involve the factually innocent. Extrapolating from that (and conceding that it’s hard to figure out whether the innocence problem is larger or smaller in less serious cases that involve no biological evidence), let’s assume that fully 10% of people in prison are factually innocent. This is probably a [very?] large overestimate, but, in any case, it also assumes that the vast majority of people in prison did it. The course is implicitly designed around this assumption.

Jump forward to my course on the criminal justice system. The first part of the course deals with rights — the assumption in these discussions being that we must extend rights (against unreasonable search and seizure for example) to the worst among us, lest we all be violated. Underlying much of this is also the idea that it is better to let the guilty go free than to convict the innocent. All this presents a problem when we get to the back-end portion of the system — racial disparities in imprisonment are appalling, recidivism rates are through the roof, and punishment beyond the sentence (e.g., laws that bar ex-felons from certain jobs, voting, public assistance, college loans, any law involving sex offenders, and so on) is the order of the day.

The question I want my students in both courses to ask is not whether or not prisons are full of innocent people, but whether or not imprisonment at its current levels is an efficient, fair, or moral way to deal with crime. I’d also like them to get a sense of the disparities in who does crime and who gets arrested and punished for crime. [And, if I’m being really honest, I also suggest to them that not as much of current punishment policy has to do with crime per se as they would like to think].

All of this suggests to me that the innocence movement has another problem beyond the CSI effect.* I’m much more concerned about over-punishment (and I’m not the only one, apparently) and the emphasis on factual innocence might give people the impression that the way we treat those who DID do it is okay (read: efficient, moral, fair, good for crime control, etc).

*The CSI effect as I understand it being that DNA exonerations have the unintended consequence of reducing acquittals by raising the expectations of jurors and crime victims to expect factual innocence (he didn’t do it), rather than legal innocence (we can’t prove he did it).

mother jones offers a quick breakdown of estimated annual costs per inmate in california prisons. source data come from the bureau of justice statistics, the california department of corrections and rehabilitation, and the national association of state budget officers.

i collapsed some of the smaller categories, but a more detailed table is available online. a big chunk of the annual $49k is clearly tied up in security (mostly personnel, i’m sure, rather than hardware) and another large piece of the pie in medical and psychiatric costs. hmmm. it might be instructive to compare this annualized per person cost breakdown with that of other institutions, such as military, health care, or educational institutions.

i did an interview today with wcco’s jason derusha (at left). i like his regular good question reports, in which local experts answer everything from how do i know my bank is safe? to why does music bring us back?

our conversation about international crime rates should air at 10 tonight. i would’ve referred this one to colleagues who do more comparative research, but it can be tough to catch folks during the summer. i’m expecting some snarky comments on my jeans and cleanest-dirty-shirt wardrobe. for years, i kept an emergency blue suit in my office for just such occasions, but retired it last month in a fit of housekeeping.

a local pubcrim note from andy sagvold at the council:

Do you work with or know women with children whose father is incarcerated?

This Parenting Class is a wonderful opportunity for mothers and their children impacted by incarceration. The class is FREE! Also, structured child care, food and transportation to and from the class is provided at no charge. The purpose of the Community Parenting Class is to support the unique challenges of parenting while the father of the children and/or the mother’s significant other is incarcerated.

The next Community Parenting Class starts on August 20th (please see and distribute attached flyer)!! The Council on Crime and Justice would appreciate your help in spreading the word about these classes. Please forward this email on to others that may be interested and/or work with women who are impacted by incarceration. This Parenting Class is in its sixth series, having provided support and parenting education to over 60 mothers in our community! This series of classes will be held at the Council on Crime and Justice (822 South Third St, Mpls MN 55415) and registration can be completed by contacting Karen at (612) 353-3022.

freeman posted a new comment on an old post tonight.

I’m also a convicted felon. That conviction was over 20 years ago. I’m tired of complaining about who want hire me. I survived 15 years in prison because I refused to lay down and die. I paroled a life sentence becasue I believed in the impossible while all those around me wrote me off for dead. I am here. I am free. And I will not settle for less than all I believe…

for some reason, the lines “i am here, i am free” reminded me of an old poem.

inside higher ed is reporting on a session at the american sociological association meetings, where a task force presented some work on the relationship between sociology and criminology programs. a friend wrote to say that my june remarks on the subject — that sociology loses criminology at its peril, for both intellectual and material reasons — got a bit of play in the session.

since the numbers were new to me, i converted a few of the statistics in scott jaschik’s IHE piece into digestible and nutritious bar form. if i read the article correctly, soc and crim have both been awarding more degrees over the past five years, but growth in the latter major is rising at a faster rate. it ain’t a horserace, of course, but my students are betting heavily on growth in both fields.

my summer inside-out class at the oregon state penitentiary ended last week. this was my fourth time teaching an inside-out class at osp and my second topic, so i was fortunate to get to work with a number of repeat inside (inmate) students who are deeply invested in the program. it was an interesting experience, bringing together 15 inmates and 15 college students and asking them to think hard and to think creatively about issues in crime and justice. the focus of this summer’s class was on preventing delinquency.

i challenged all of the students (in an intensive six-week course) to break up into small groups and to try to design small scale prevention programs for kids in the community or young people in the juvenile justice system. because each individual cared deeply about the topic, i left them a lot of space to find their passion and figure out how to channel it into realistic group projects. the “chaos” bothered the university students, but most of them figured out that this was a glimpse into the workings of the real world, and that compromise and making hard decisions is part of the process.

in the end, we’ve got a few projects that hold promise if the students can stay motivated and keep working on them after they’ve been assigned grades for the class. i’ll write about one of the ideas later — and another project i’m working on with the inmates and their children — but for now, i wanted to share a piece written by one of my inside students. it’s a letter to the editor of a local paper. it’s a fairly conservative publication, so i’m not sure it will ever be printed, but i wanted to put his message out there. if anyone has any advice for the writer/father, please leave a comment and i’ll pass it on.

Dear Editor,

I am a long time Oregon resident. I am writing this letter in hope of finding a solution to a community problem. My 16-year-old son has been arrested 3 times in the last year. The reason I say this is a community problem is that I believe it takes an entire village to raise a child, and I need help. I am currently incarcerated at the Oregon State Penitentiary. My son lives with my mother along with his little brother and sister. My mother takes on this responsibility at age 62 on top of taking care of my little brother who has Down syndrome.

After being arrested a few times, my son was referred to the probation department, where my mother was told that my son did not really fit into their system. My son has cerebral palsy and is considered a “special needs” child. So what system does he fit into?

I am not looking to the community to help me, I am a grown man and I have made my decisions. I am asking for help for a child who is a part of Oregon’s community. His arrests have been for assault (fighting with his brother), stealing, and possession of marijuana. He has problems with anger. His mom left when he was a baby, he constantly battles with his cerebral palsy, he has had several operations on his legs, and his father is in prison. Wouldn’t you be angry if it was you?

What I want to know is, is there some type of community program designed to stop children like my son from coming to prison? Where will this cycle end? Will my son have to write this same letter to the community twenty years from now?

Maybe I am just uninformed. If there are programs out there to serve this purpose, could someone please send me a list of resources? I have faith in this village. Let’s come together and do what we can to raise this child.

any thoughts? advice?

i just served as discussant for an american sociological assocation session on incarceration and the labor market and as guest editor for a set of upcoming criminology & public policy papers on the effect of criminal background checks. in each case, some fine sociologists, economists, policy school folks, and criminologists weighed in on research and policy questions surrounding employer access to criminal records.

the stark differences in disciplinary approaches make for stimulating exchanges. for example, in his forthcoming essay, harvard economist richard freeman argues that employers should have greater access to criminal history and post-conviction information. i’ve long taken the opposite view, citing the poor quality and biases in much arrest and conviction information, the proliferation of trivial records for traffic and misdemeanor offenses, and larger concerns about encroachments on individual privacy rights.

nevertheless, professors freeman and holzer cite theory and emerging evidence suggesting that cloaking such information may have ugly unintended consequences. in the absence of reliable signals about applicants’ criminality, the argument goes, employers will rely instead upon statistical discrimination — screening out applicants from groups thought to be characterized by high crime rates. the upshot is that young african american males without records could face greater discrimination if employers lose access to criminal record data.

if i remember my undergraduate economics courses correctly, more information is generally better than less information — and perfect information is best of all. i buy this argument to a point, but would suggest instead that public release of a more uniform, standardized, and parsimonious set of criminal history information might be the best policy course.

here is a list of the papers:

american sociological association session:

Session Organizer: Bruce Western (Harvard University)
Collateral Costs: The Effects of Incarceration on Employment and Earnings Among Young MenHarry Holzer (Georgetown University)
* Sequencing Disadvantage: Race, Criminal Background, and the Diminishing of OpportunityDevah Pager (Princeton University)
*Incarceration Length, Employment, and EarningsJeffrey Kling (Brookings Institution)
Discussant: Christopher Uggen (University of Minnesota)

criminology & public policy papers (volume 7, issue 3, august 2008)

*Uggen, Christopher. 2008. Editorial introduction: The Effect of Criminal Background Checks on Hiring Ex-offenders. Criminology & Public Policy.
*Stoll, Michael A. and Shawn D. Bushway. 2008. The effect of criminal background checks on hiring ex-offenders. Criminology & Public Policy. This issue.
*Freeman, Richard. 2008. Incarceration, criminal background checks, and employment in a low(er) crime society. Criminology & Public Policy. This issue.
*Western, Bruce. 2008. Criminal background checks and employment among workers with criminal records. Criminology & Public Policy. This issue.