Archive: Dec 2009

Matt McKinney offers a good analysis of the declining twin cities homicide rate in this morning’s Strib . I plotted the data for Minneapolis (purple, population = 390,000) and St. Paul (gold, population = 287,000) in the chart below. With two days left on the calendar, we’ve had 19 homicides in Minneapolis and 14 in St. Paul, a big drop since the murderapolis days of the mid-1990s. Since the population in both cities has grown a bit since 1980, these drops would look even steeper if I plotted them as rates.
The Minneapolis numbers are especially low — by my count, almost two standard deviations (sd = 16.2) below the 28-year mean of 50.4 homicides per year. The St. Paul numbers are about one standard deviation (sd = 5.8) below the 26-year mean of 20.0. Based on recent trends, I’d be (very pleasantly) surprised if the Minneapolis number dropped below 20 again next year.

In the twin cities, as elsewhere, homicide victims and offenders are disproportionately young African American men, so shifts in the homicide rate among this age/race/gender group sometimes have a big effect on the aggregate numbers. If I were to do any analysis of these data series, I’d start with a local breakout by age and weapon use.

The national gun homicide rate, shown in the bureau of justice statistics figures below, has fluctuated far more than the non-gun rate over the past 30 years — especially among young males. I’d guess (and it is only a guess) that gun homicides among males aged 14-24 must have declined to near zero in Minneapolis this year. I can speculate about why this would be the case (e.g., aggressive enforcement of weapons offenses and corresponding shifts in the social acceptability of gun-carrying by young men), but I’d best check the data before piling one speculation atop another speculation.

I just screened a new hour-long video, Sentenced For Life? The Right Focus on… Crime, Justice and Second Chances produced by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights.

There’s an abbreviated transcript online, along with the full-length video in Windows Media Player and QuickTime formats. I enjoyed the other panelists and host, Rondah Kinchlow, who gave me lots of room to talk about research on criminal records and disenfranchisement.
There were a couple pointy disagreements around the table, but far fewer than one might expect in a panel with a legislator, prosecutor, sociologist, and non-profit rep. It is probably too local and too wonky for general consumption, but I found the general tone and willingness to dive into nitty-gritty details refreshing. Here’s my concluding comment/question:

And what I’m hearing now on these issues, that I wasn’t hearing ten years ago, is much more realism, much more pragmatism, and much more talking across the aisle—as opposed to you having pie-in-the-sky researchers saying, “Well, close all the prisons,” without any regard to public safety. I don’t hear that anymore. And I certainly don’t hear people completely denying or having a knee-jerk punitive attitude that, “No, we’ll lock ’em up forever, and we’ll just keep ’em there.” Those sorts of things have gone away, and so now we’re dealing with the hard part, right? We’ve got to figure out, well, how do we proceed. What’s the best way to protect public safety, but also to ensure justice and some sort of balance between the rights of private citizens, the rights of employers, the rights of the state?

091218_cannon_releasedSo, I have been following the case of Philip Scott Cannon on this blog for over a year.  Scott was one of my favorite students and collaborators in the Oregon State Penitentiary, and I am thrilled to report that the the charges against him have been dropped.  After serving 11 years of a life sentence, Philip Scott Cannon walked out of jail yesterday afternoon a free man.

This is big news in Oregon.  Imagine spending 11 years locked up without the possibility of parole for murders you did not commit. Imagine watching your children grow up as measured in their prison visits.  Imagine losing your house and your business in the original trial, and having your father mortgage most of his assets in an effort to prove your innocence.  Questions of compensation will be sorted out later, I’m sure.  For now, it’s a whole new world for Philip Scott Cannon to explore and hopefully enjoy.

How would you start over?  Scott sounds pragmatic:

“I’ll see what the rest of life brings,” Cannon said. “The reality will probably hit in the next couple days.”

For his first night as a free man, Cannon wanted to spend it with his family, including two sons ages 10 and 20 and the new family pet, a 4-year-old mixed-breed dog named Hope.

“(We’re) gonna pick up some hot dogs and have a quiet night at home,” he said.

What a wonderful (although much belated) gift for this holiday season.  Merry Christmas, Cannons.

The Bureau of Justice statistics recently released year-end 2008 data for two important data series: Probation and Parole in the United States, 2008 and Prisoners in 2008.

Overall, these populations rose about .5% over 2007 levels, so they are growing at a much slower rate than in the recent past. In fact, the U.S. imprisonment rate actually fell slightly — from 506 per 100,000 in 2007 to 504 per 100,000 in 2008. All told, there are about 7.3 million Americans under correctional supervision — about 3.1% of the adult population, or 1 in 31 adults. After a long period of growth that began in the mid-1970s, this rate has remained relatively stable since 2000.


Utne’s Jeff Guntzel and chunklet present a 40-minute “master class in stage banter” by Fugazi, the principled post-hardcore punk band.

Apart from their music, Fugazi is best known for community activism and an underground DIY ethos, holding their ticket prices to $5 and CD prices to $10, and refusing to deal with mainstream media, merchandising, or record companies.

The stage banter reveals Fugazi as full-on moral entrepreneurs, taking roles as both rule creators and rule enforcers. Though violent moshing and fistfights were pretty much standard practice in the hardcore punk subculture they entered in the 1980s, Fugazi were firmly and consistently anti-violent. And they enforced non-violence at shows, to the point of returning the $5 cover charge to fiestier patrons and sending them on their way.

To take but one example, the excerpt below draws a sharp line between the norms of the subculture (punk rockers) and a world (Fugazi’s world) of crusading reform:

“Why are you giving me the finger? Let’s talk about it. Because we walk out on stage, I say ‘Good evening ladies and gentleman’ and you give me the finger. What kind of people are you? Punk rockers? Oh! Fugazi is playing tonight. And in Fugazi’s world, we don’t use the finger to say hello.”
The clips are plenty profane, but consistently clever too. Other excerpts from Utne:

* To an aggressive audience member: “This is insane, unacceptable behavior. We do not provide a soundtrack for violence.”

* To a stage diver: “What’s your name? David? Please don’t come on the stage anymore… David, don’t apologize. I know you meant nothing by it.”

* To another aggressive audience member: “We were playing in Atlanta last night and everyone seemed to be having a pretty good time. People kept coming up and knocking my mic into my mouth. Finally, I lost a piece of my front tooth and that was a piece of calcium on my front tooth that my body had been working on for 24 years. And in a matter of one second, for this man’s kind of moment of ecstasy and fun, he took out that piece of calcium.”

* To two more aggressive audience members: “I saw you two guys earlier at the consumer truck and you were eating your ice cream like little boys and I thought, ‘Those guys aren’t so tough. They’re eating ice cream, what a bunch of swell guys! I saw you eating ice cream pal! You’re bad now but you were eating an ice cream cone and I saw you. That’s the sh** you can’t hide! Ice cream eating motherf*****. That’s what you are.”

Some viewed Fugazi as preachy and I can’t say for certain that they changed the music industry, the conduct of concert-goers, or subcultural norms. Nevertheless, Ian MacKaye et al. certainly provided an alternative moral vision of bandlife that continues to draw kids to the crusade.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics just released Capital Punishment, 2008 — Statistical Tables. I’ve been interested in the graying of prison populations for some time, so I plotted the age at arrest and current age (as of 12/31/08) for U.S. inmates under sentence of death (from Table 7 of the report).

The tables, compiled by Tracy Snell, offer a wealth of mostly-depressing information about the men and (increasingly) women on death row. Sample factoid: as of last week, therre were already 11 more executions in 2009 (48) than in all of 2008 (37).