Archive: Mar 2010

The Kansas City Star reports that a bill passed by the Kansas House would require those convicted of soliciting a prostitute to be listed on the state’s sex offender registry for 10 years.

Prostitution involving adults is typically a misdemeanor, subject to fines and/or a short jail term, though the activity has long drawn shame-based sanctions. For example, police departments in Minneapolis and St. Paul now post photos of people arrested for soliciting prostitutes — a punishment that can be far more frightening than a $700 fine. In many jurisdictions, those soliciting prostitutes must also attend “john school,” where the lessons combine deterrence (e.g., powerpoint slides of late-stage STDs; a stern prosecutor’s lecture) with an appeal to family and community values (and their wives, mothers, and daughters).

While recognizing the social harm involved with prostitution, I’d hate to see further expansion of state registries. If you think it is tough to get a job with a felony conviction on your record, try applying as a sex offender. I’ll never forget a phone call from one such offender in a western state. He had worked steadily throughout his adult life until his conviction, but had been unable to gain any real employment in the nine (crime-free) years his name appeared on the registry. When he learned his ten-year term of registration was changed to a lifetime registration requirement, he broke down completely and resigned himself to social isolation and dependency.

In short, a decade-long registration requirement would represent a significant increase in punishment if the Kansas bill were to become law.

-via sentencing law & policy.

via Sarah W: Artist Paul Rucker uses animated mapping and a powerful original score to depict U.S. prison growth in Proliferation. Each dot corresponds to a new prison — and the punishment, pains, and penance therein. I believe the source data are based on some Geographic Information Systems work by Rose Heyer at the Prison Policy Institute. The result is surely more effective and affecting than social science presentations of the same information.

The number of U.S. state prison inmates fell for the first time in 38 years, according to a new report by The Pew Center on the States. A few figures from the report:

Pew attributes the drop to greater diversion of low-level offenders and probation and parole violators from prison; stronger community supervision and re-entry programs; and, a quicker release of low-risk inmates who complete risk reduction programs. State budget problems have likely played an important role in accelerating each of these trends.

While the magnitude of the 2009 change is small — a drop of 5,739 inmates (or .4%) on a base rate of 1.4 million — any change in direction is meaningful after four decades of unabated growth. Nevertheless, I should note that the total number of state and federal prisoners actually rose in 2009, since the federal inmate count rose by 6,838. And, despite a crime rate that has fallen over at least the last two decades, the United States still maintains the world’s highest incarceration rate.

Deborah Appleman was an inspiring public school teacher at Henry Sibley Senior High, whose poetry class blew our young minds to kingdom come. Today I read that she’s a Carleton professor with a new book, based on her work at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Stillwater. So I went right to Amazon, of course, and ordered the anthology: From the Inside Out: Letters to Young Men and Other Writings Poetry and Prose from Prison.

If anybody wonders why a sociologist and criminologist like me wants to write poetry posts (prison poetry posts, no less) or edit magazines, it probably started with the teacher we called “Apple.” She pushed and nurtured and cajoled and cultivated creative writing and dangerous thinking. And she was tough. If I’m remembering right, I got a B+ on my final project — a full album of angsty original love songs, recorded on a four-track reel-to-reel. The songs sucked, of course, but c’mon! I’d never worked so hard in my life. I’d like to think she was just as tough on the guys at Stillwater — and that maybe she’ll have the same long-term impact on their lives.

Zachary Hamilton and The Center for Court Innovation offer perhaps the most rigorous evaluation to date of the prisoner “reentry court” model championed by Jeremy Travis and others. The basic idea is to facilitate reintegration and protect public safety by giving some focused indivualized attention and intensive services during the critical period immediately after release.

More specifically, the Harlem Reentry Court “provides intensive judicial oversight, supervision and services to new parolees during the first six months following release from state prison. The goal of the program is to stabilize returning parolees in the initial phase of their reintegration by helping them to find jobs, secure housing, remain drug-free and assume familial and personal responsibilities.”

To criminologists, this may sound like low-caseload intensive supervised release programs — and results from the reentry court evaluation seem to mirror those of earlier ISP/ISR evaluations. The difference in the 3-year reconviction rate suggests that the reentry court significantly reduced new crime — from about 52% in the comparison group to 43% in the treatment group. Nevertheless, the greater attention given the treatment group likely led to their significantly higher revocation rate for technical violations of parole conditions (56% vs. 38%).

Like other forms of intensive supervision, the Harlem Parole Reentry Court probably observed violations in the treatment group that went unnoticed in the comparison group. However much reentry courts help clients adjust to life outside prison, the high rate of technical violations remains a stubborn problem in such programs.

Getting to know the distinctive personalities of Minneapolis and St. Paul is one of the true pleasures of living in these twin cities. Take a summer stroll in each city, for example, and you’ll know why the Minneapolis Star-Tribune runs features like How I Got this Body, while St. Paul’s Pioneer Press instead offers up community fare like Sainted and Tainted.

I love how the latter feature uses informal social controls to call out those who exemplify or offend community values. This being Minnesota, many features emphasize helping behaviors like snow shoveling and car-pushing. This being Minnesota, there are also a lot more saints than … well, I guess you would call them ‘taints.

For me, there’s no better start to the weekend than reading about a li’l or big act of kindness undertaken by my friends and neighbors. And, not being a big tsk-tsker, I usually get a chuckle out of the “tainteds” as well. Here’s the basic format:


Belated thanks to the couple who took the time to help me, a total stranger no less, with a flat tire in the Lino Lakes Kohl’s parking lot. They not only filled my tire with air, they led me to the Wal-Mart auto store, which I know was out of their way, to make sure I got there safely. They just drove off and I never got to thank them.


I collect for snow plowing an alley in the Como area. Sainted to the people who pay without question; tainted to the few who think I am a big bother; and a super tainted to the couple who “bought a house and not a neighborhood; we don’t care what happens to everyone else.”

Ouch! Now that’s a profoundly un-Minnesotan attitude about both snow removal and neighboring. My friends and neighbors also tend to dwell on the positive aspects of their stories — relegating their own very serious troubles to the background:


Several weeks ago, Air Force Tech. Sgt. Aime Dahl, James Magee and Erin Courtney quickly responded when they saw a medical emergency involving my husband. They calmly and professionally did everything they could to try to save his life. They truly deserve to be sainted.

It is getting tougher and tougher for the twin cities to support two independent dailies, but I’ll lobby hard to save Sainted and Tainted if a merger is really inevitable.

I enjoy talking publicly about my research, though I’m sometimes caught off-guard by an aggressively partisan interviewer. During a “talk radio tour” for Locked Out, I remember how a producer put me at ease and told me to relax and have fun. But as soon as the theme music ended and I let down my guard, the host snarled, “So, Mister Professor, tell my listeners why you think Charles Manson should pick the next President of the United States?

I honestly don’t remember my response, though I’m sure it involved both stammering and yammering. This sort of thing happens a lot on talk radio and television. How best to approach such attacks? As Danielle Maestretti reports, Yes! magazine asked Pramila Jayapal, director of the immigration-rights group OneAmerica, how she handles guest appearances on shows like the O’Reilly Factor. Ms. Jayapal’s advice is spot-on and heartening:

I look for something that I can agree with. The host says, “I believe in law and order.” I find a way to take that argument and connect it to my values. When I become reasonable, that deflates both my anger and the conversation. The host is not expecting me to agree with anything they say. They’re expecting an all-out fight.

I cite statistics. I am the one with the facts. The facts are not to convince anybody but to establish my identity as someone who is calm, uses logic, and isn’t just speaking wildly. The host becomes the angry, shouting, loud, mean person.

I focus on values that I believe most people hold deeply. I say, most Americans value respect or hard work, and that’s what this debate should be about. The host is not going to say he or she doesn’t believe in respect or kindness.

Then when I come home, I need to be around people who can shower me in wonderful, nice things. The hosts’ comments are not directed at me personally, but they are personal. A good glass of wine, good friends, good family, good love are important if you are going to be out there on the front lines.

I’d summarize these points as finding common ground, citing solid evidence, referencing shared values, and — if all else fails — limping off to lick your wounds. I never want to sound like an egghead, but I try to remind myself that I’m a researcher and educator rather than a combatant in such settings. That means that I don’t have to play if someone starts making personal attacks, or questions my patriotism, masculinity, or fashion sense. With regard to the evidence, I also carried around a little folder with all the basic facts and figures I might need for an interview.

If you can keep your facts straight and keep your cool, you might even connect with audiences hostile to your research. I’ll never forget how a regular listener called in after I’d been savaged in an especially rough interview: “I listen to you every day, Bob, and we agree on most things, but the professor makes sense — I got out of jail twenty years ago and I sure as hell deserve the right to vote!” I can’t say that this sort of thing happens very often, but it sure feels good when it does.