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?

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).

Erica Smith and Donald Farole of the Bureau of Justice Statistics just released a new report on domestic or intimate partner violence (IPV). The sample is based on 3,750 cases filed in 16 large urban counties in May 2002.

When I present on IPV in classes, I’m occasionally asked about differences by gender and sexual preference. The chart below shows some characteristics of the 3140 cases (84 percent) with male perpetrators and female targets in blue, the 441 cases (12 percent) with female perpetrators and male targets in orange, and the 146 same-sex cases (4 percent) in green. [I suspect they didn’t distinguish male-male from female-female because the numbers were getting small.]


Some of the differences seem large to me. First, about half of all male-on-female dyads involve a prior history of abuse, relative to 34 percent of female-on-male dyads and 32 percent of same-sex dyads. Second, female-on-male and same-sex cases are far more likely to involve a weapon than male-on-female cases. Contrary to the old idea that a man must be stabbed before a woman will be arrested for IPV, however, only 41 percent of female-on-male IPV cases involved a weapon. Third, there are no other witnesses at all in most same-sex IPV cases, but there is a child present in 38 percent of male-on-female cases. Finally, regardless of sex or sexual orientation, the perpetrator was using alcohol or drugs in about one-third of the IPV cases. [Since that last number seems a bit low to me, I’d check how it was measured before citing it].

See the report or the source data for more information.

OKCupid, an online matchmaking site, offers data on gender and perceived attractiveness that I might use in my spring deviance course (via boing). The figures might help me make a Durkheimian society of (hot) saints point about the relative nature of beauty and a Goffman point on stigma affecting social interaction, while providing another illustration of the taken-for-grantedness of heteronormativity.

In any case, the first figure shows that male OKCupid ratings of female OKCupid users follows something like a normal distribution, with mean=2.5 on a 0-to-5 scale from “least attractive” to “most attractive.” Also, women rated as more attractive tend to get more messages. At first, I thought I saw evidence of positive deviance here, since women rated as most attractive get fewer messages than those rated somewhat below them — the 4.5s garner more attention than the 5.0s. But, as I’ll show below with the next chart, that would probably be an incorrect interpretation — confounding the “persons” in the dashed lines with the “messages” in the solid lines.

The next figure shows that female OKCupid users tend to rate most male OKCupid users as well below “medium” in attractiveness. According to OKCupid, “women rate an incredible 80% of guys as worse-looking than medium. Very harsh. On the other hand, when it comes to actual messaging, women shift their expectations only just slightly ahead of the curve, which is a healthier pattern than guys’ pursuing the all-but-unattainable.”

Hmm. The latter point isn’t wrong, I guess, but it shouldn’t obscure the bigger point that more attractive men still get more messages than less attractive men. Again, note that persons (OKCupid members) are the units of analysis for the dashed lines and messages (messages sent by OKCupid members) are the units for the solid lines. On first scan, I read the graph as suggesting that the top “attractiveness quintile” was getting fewer messages than the bottom attractiveness quintile — that uglier men were actually doing better than more attractive men — but that’s not the case at all. Instead, it just means that in the land of the hideous, the somewhat-less-than-loathsome man is king.

If almost everybody is rated as unattractive, most of the messages will go to those rated as unattractive. Nevertheless, the rate of messages-per-person still rises monotonically with attractiveness. As the “message multiplier” chart below shows, the most attractive men get about 11 times the messages of the least attractive men and the most attractive women get about 25 times the messages of the least attractive women.

Back in grad school, my advisor and mentors gave so much and so generously that it sometimes felt like stealing. I stole from everybody at Wisconsin, but especially from the man in those badass plaid pants. So when I heard that Irv Piliavin died this week, my sadness for his loving family was mixed up with my gratitude for his inspiration.

When faced with a risky research project or crazy new venture, I can sometimes steel my nerves by asking, “What Would Irv Do?” For academics who knew Irv, this is a terrifying question. Brilliant and mercurial, he was not one to play it safe. I’ll offer a few words about his work as evidence for his creativity and inspiration. Then I’ll share a more personal story.

Irv made research sound like a wild weekend in Vegas. He told ripping good stories about field experiments in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, putting fake drunks on trains to study helping behavior. Irv rode with police and published an American Journal of Sociology article showing how “demeanor” swamps other factors in predicting arrest. He offered up a powerful control theory of delinquency in Social Problems, four years before Travis Hirschi’s Causes. Irv brought a strong test of rational choice and deterrence theories to American Sociological Review in 1986. And, when they said it couldn’t be done, he took to the streets and government centers to conduct systematic longitudinal research on careers in homelessness and foster care.

I’ve got a few Irv stories, both shareable and non-shareable, but I’ll just relate one that brought us together. One day in my first or second year of grad school, Irv noticed that I hadn’t slept much the night before. Somewhat reluctantly, because we didn’t know each other all that well, I told him about this recurring dream.

In the dream, I was drinking coffee at my kitchen table, feeling drugged or hungover and struggling to piece together the previous night. I’m looking down bleary-eyed at a newspaper and see this front-page story of a gruesome murder. As the letters and words start to come into focus, a realization builds and builds before lodging unshakeably in my mind: I was the killer.

Well, as soon as Irv heard the word “newspaper,” he recited the rest of my dream with perfect accuracy. I figured it must’ve been in a movie or Raymond Chandler story, but instead he says, “Maybe so, but I’ve had that dream since I was 17.” Irv figured we were guilty about unpunished crimes that blew up into murder in the dark of the night, though he covered his bases (You didn’t actually kill anyone, did you? Me neither). Then he said it took a little guilt to write good criminology — to cut through the layers of stigma and moral repugnance and get to the essence of the thing — and hinted that I might have a little potential along those lines.

So, I’ve got real gratitude for Irv and a real pang of sadness for his great love (and equally brilliant collaborator on those subway studies). But perhaps I’m repeating myself. Here’s what I wrote in 1995:

To the extent that I’ve stolen from others, I’ve probably stolen more ideas from Irv than from anyone else. As I leave Wisconsin, I only wish I had committed more of them to paper.

ssTim Pawlenty may have switched off the TVs at Moose Lake’s Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP), but he clearly switched on public sentiment about punishment of sex offenders.

Today’s Star Tribune reports that, upon hearing of new flat screen TVs installed at the $45 million sex offender treatment facility, Pawlenty ordered that they be dismantled and an investigation undertaken to discover whose “boneheaded” idea it was to purchase and install them in the first place. While on the surface this looks like a classic case of mismanagement of public dollars during tough economic times, there’s much more going on here when it comes to public sentiment and the criminal justice system.

In a nutshell, this story illustrates the tension between rationalization and emotion in modern punishment.

On the one hand, we expect prison administrators to mind the state’s prisoners, keep the public safe and manage state resources efficiently. Most of the time, we don’t know (and maybe don’t care) what’s going on behind prison walls. Social theorists like Max Weber and Michel Foucault have given us some useful ideas for understanding this phenomenon. As modern society has developed over time, our system of punishment, like other social institutions, have become increasingly routinized, centralized, and largely removed from public view and participation. Prison professionals employ various techniques to maintain order, classify prisoners, and manage daily operations effectively. In fact, MSOP officials cited the maintenance of institutional order as a principal reason for installing the flat screen TVs in common areas. It’s no big secret that prisons use many methods for keeping prisoners occupied, including weight rooms, educational programs, and, yes, television. From the standpoint of institutional control, TVs are a useful and arguably cost-effective way of managing inmate behavior, despite their $58,652 price tag.

On the other hand, we expect prisoners to suffer, especially when their offenses are considered particularly heinous, as in the case of sex offenders. Sociologist Emile Durkheim thought of punishment as a collective emotional response to violations of society’s most deeply held values and morals. Our moral passions are aroused, said Durkheim, when our collective sense of right and wrong is breached. Debatably, there is no better contemporary example of this than the punishment of sex offenders. No other group of offenders is more reviled or feared.

Yet, aside from occasional high-profile investigations and court room dramas, the public is generally unaware of what happens in the day-to-day practice of punishing sex offenders. As a result, our collective passions go relatively unexpressed in the process of punishment. According to sociologist and legal scholar David Garland, the rationalization of punishment has largely suppressed our punitive emotions by hiding the actual process of punishment behind thick bureaucratic walls and delegating its administration to specific professionals. It’s only when media reports like this one provide us with a peek inside those walls that public sentiment is aroused and unleashed.

Politicians, like Pawlenty, are well aware of the power of public emotion surrounding crime and punishment. University of Minnesota sociologist Joshua Page analyzed how legislators capitalized on similar sentiments in outlawing prisoner access to Pell Grants in 1994. Marshaling public fear about scarce education funds, legislators utilized the popular media to stage what Page calls a “legislative penal drama,” pitting undeserving prisoners against deserving middle class youth in the battle for higher education dollars. In doing so, these legislators won significant political clout among key constituents, in spite of substantial research showing that college education in prison reduces recidivism and promotes institutional order.

While TVs in prison may not reduce recidivism or have any treatment value aside from maintaining order, Pawlenty’s public denouncement of flat screens for sex offenders looks very much like Page’s notion of a penal drama. The governor has caught the MSOP robbing hapless taxpayers for the sake of pacifying irredeemable sex offenders. As the Star Tribune article demonstrates, lawmakers from the other side of the aisle are all too willing to join in the settling of scores. One need only glance at the online comments left by readers to see the ferocity of punitive passion at work. Such theatrics can hardly be coincidental given Pawlenty’s well-known White House hopes. This is undoubtedly not the last such political media play on crime and punishment that we will see in the months to come.

Sarah Shannon

Garland, David. 1993. Punishment and Modern Society: A Study in Social Theory. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Page, Joshua. 2004. Eliminating the Enemy: The Import of Denying Prisoners Access to Higher Education in Clinton’s America. Punishment & Society, 6:357-378.

ceoI attended an amazing conference on employment and criminal records yesterday and could blog at length about several of the papers. My favorite moment, however, came in a discussion with Mindy Tarlow, the CEO of CEO — New York’s Center for Employment Opportunities.

Ms. Tarlow has been providing employment services for recent prison releasees at CEO for about 15 years. As the Times reported last year, They do job readiness training, transitional employment, job placement, and retention. The transitional jobs are especially important for new releasees — they can be on the job site just days after incarceration and they get a paycheck at the end of each day to address their pressing financial needs.

I’ve long appreciated the program’s approach, but hadn’t seen what I’d consider really solid evidence on its effectiveness until yesterday. CEO now has 2 years of data from an independent randomized evaluation by MDRC — and they’re showing significant treatment-control differences in new confictions and incarceration.

When I remarked that it takes real guts for an agency to voluntarily subject itself to rigorous assessment, Mindy said, “I know. MDRC gave me this button that says I survived random assignment.”