The Wall Street Journal is reporting on “black flight” from Detroit, or the out-migration of “taxpaying, middle-class professionals who invest in local real estate, work and play downtown, and make their home” in the central city:

By some estimates, this year’s Census will show a population drop of 150,000 people from the 951,000 people who lived within city limits in 2000. That would be roughly double the population loss in the 1990s, when black, middle-class flight began replacing white flight as the prevailing dynamic. There are other signs the middle class is throwing in the towel. From 1999 to 2008, median household income in Detroit dropped nearly 25% to $28,730, after growing 17% in the 1990s, according to Data Driven Detroit, a nonprofit that analyzes Census data for the city. Over that period, the proportion of owner-occupied homes fell to 39% from 49%, while the proportion of vacant homes nearly tripled to 28%.

The Journal identifies serious and persistent crime problems as driving the trend. Motown’s violent crime rate has generally fallen since the 1980s and declined again by about 2% between 2008 and 2009. Nevertheless, Detroit remains a relatively dangerous city, with crime problems likely exacerbated by the residential instability brought on by the housing crisis. Although cross-city comparisons can be misleading (mostly because jurisdictional boundaries and denominators vary so greatly), the violent crime rate was about 75% higher in Detroit than in Minneapolis in 2009. Moreover, Gallup polls consistently show that Detroit is perceived as a dangerous city:

As the graph shows, Americans have long viewed Detroit as a dangerous city, with only 18% viewing Detroit as a safe place to live or visit in 1990. This perception improved as crime declined in the 1990s, but had fallen back sharply by 2006. Perceived safety improved much more rapidly for cities such as New York and Chicago, such that these cities are now viewed as significantly safer than Detroit. I couldn’t find any data beyond 2006, but I suspect these trends in perceived safety have continued.

My sense is that flight from Detroit, both black and white, is driven partly by these perceptions and partly by the lived reality of crime in Detroit neighborhoods. I poked around the Detroit Police Department site tonight, looking for some reassuring long-term trend data. I found few statistics of any kind there, though I did discover the department’s youtube channel. I’m sure the video below was well-intended, but such chilling safety tips will do little to reassure residents or change perceptions about the city’s safety.

The Minnesota law enforcement community turned out strong to honor the memory of Officer Joe Bergeron of Maplewood, killed in the line of duty on May 1. Of course, such deaths ripple outward to affect much broader communities. I recall my mother’s stories about a brave officer in our family — the nice cousin who sang Everly Brothers songs with her, I believe — shot and killed during a basic traffic stop. So I was especially troubled to see media reports citing a “a 17 percent jump in the number of officers ‘feloniously killed’ in the line of duty.”

The reports are based on an FBI press release, but is it really the case that More Officers Died in the Line of Fire in 2009? The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund tracks law enforcement deaths by year and jurisdiction, while the Officer Down Memorial Page provides breakdowns by state. These include both felonious deaths (which are primarily firearms-related) and accidental deaths (which are primarily traffic-related). The long-term trend in officer deaths is shown in the first figure below. You can see peaks of 285 deaths in 1930, 279 in 1974, and 240 in 2001, but a decline to 116 officer deaths in 2009.

Of course, there were a lot more people in the United States in 2009 than in 1974, and a lot more in 1974 than in 1792. To get a better sense of long-term trends in the rate of law enforcement deaths, I plotted this long NLEOMF data series after standardizing it by population. The figure below shows the resulting rate of law enforcement deaths per million citizens.

Death rates were highest during the prohibition era from 1920-1932, reaching a peak rate of 2.32 officers per million population in 1930. Officer deaths then dropped dramatically in the 1940s and 1950s before rising again to a second peak of about 1.3 deaths per million in 1974. Since then, there has been another steep decline that extends to the present. By my calculations, the 2009 death rate of .38 per million has now reached its lowest point since 1875.

While there were indeed 7 more felonious deaths in 2009 than in 2008, I can find no evidence of a longer-term increase in the rate, number, or proportion of felonious deaths. According to an NLEOMF research bulletin, about 62 percent of officer deaths were felonious in the 1970s, about 54 percent were felonious in the 1980s, and about 46 percent were felonious in the 2000s.

A few caveats on this analysis: I cannot vouch for the quality of the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund data in the early years of this series, but it seems to track the FBI data very closely for more recent years. One might also critique the latter figure for using the total population as the denominator rather than the number of law enforcement officers.

Finally, it should go without saying that 116 officer deaths remains far too many. Nevertheless, this picture is far more heartening than the one painted by recent news reports — the rate of officer deaths appears to be lower today than it has been for the past 135 years.

Frederick Melo at The Usual Suspects comments on the high rates of advanced degrees among police officers in Minnesota. He cites a bit of the criminological research literature on the effects of higher education, but didn’t mention a new paper in Police Quarterly by Jason Rydberg and William Terrill.

I won’t belabor the methods or Project on Policing Neighborhoods data source, but I graphed the main finding above: relative to less-educated officers, those with college experience are significantly less likely to use force in police-citizen encounters. About 56 percent of interactions with college-educated officers involved force, while about 68 percent of encounters with non-college-educated officers involved force. This relationship holds up (p < .001) in models that adjust for age, experience, suspect characteristics, and the setting of the encounter. In contrast to the use of force, defined here as “acts that threaten or inflect physical harm on citizens,” there appears to be no relationship between education and arrest or search behavior.

Even with a nice set of statistical controls, one could interpret these findings as the result of self-selection processes — that is, there might be something about the type of people who go to college (rather than the college experience itself) that results in less force by officers. Plus, force is difficult to measure and, if I’m interpreting them correctly, these levels look suspiciously high.

Nevertheless, the basic finding has now been replicated across a number of data sets and research settings. Why haven’t we required all officers to hold advanced degrees? The old arguments involve the desirability of recruiting less-educated former military personnel, while the new arguments involve the desirability of recruiting a less-educated but more diverse force. The enduring argument, I suppose, involves costs: if we require all officers to have a college degree, we might have to pay them more.

I originally wrote this as a comment on a post on solitary confinement over at co-author, Chris Uggen’s blog, but it sort of took on a life of its own as I reflected on my recent experience briefly visiting several different semi-isolated wings of a state prison, so I thought I would share those thoughts here.

It’s interesting to think about the varying levels of harm in different versions of solitary confinement.  I’m convinced that true isolation – such as some supermax prisons proudly proclaim – literally drives inhabitants crazy, but it’s less clear what effects shorter-term and semi-isolation may have on inmates.

I recently went into the isolated wings of a state prison for a research project and spent a very brief amount of time talking cell-front to men in the disciplinary segregation unit, the intensive management unit, and administrative segregation.

Although physically a more pleasant space with at least some natural light and prison bars on the doors rather than headache-causing metal-on-metal mesh, the administrative segregation unit is the one that sticks in my mind.  The men are there because – for various reasons – it is literally not safe for them to be out in the general population (it’s similar to the idea of protective custody).  They will likely spend their entire sentence in that wing; they probably will not have the opportunity to earn their way to general population with good behavior the way that those in IMU and DSU have.

The cells are double-bunked, share walls, and have somewhat open, barred fronts, so sound definitely travels.  My escort and I happened to be there at meal time, so the guys were eating their meals off of their prison trays in their cells, reminding me that they have almost no time out of their cells and virtually no contact with anyone other than those in that wing.

It’s probably impossible to fully understand the prison experience, and especially the varying harm caused by different levels of segregation/solitary confinement without having lived it, but that shouldn’t stop us from studying it and learning what we can.  It must be completely terrifying to spend your entire sentence in the relative isolation of administrative segregation and to then try to make it in the free world.

They’re doing some conversation-provoking social psychology in the Carlson School of Management these days — and I’m not just saying that because Heather and I are speaking there tomorrow. The latest “talker” is Vladas Griskevicius’ Going Green to Be Seen: Status, Reputation, and Conspicuous Conservation, forthcoming in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. From the abstract:

[W]e examined in three experiments how status motives influenced desire for green products. Activating status motives led people to choose green products over more luxurious non-green products. Supporting the notion that altruism signals one’s willingness and ability to incur costs for others’ benefit, status motives increased desire for green products when shopping in public (but not private), and when green products cost more (but not less) than nongreen products.

So, status motives apparently lead people to forgo luxury for the environment only when such choices can be observed and influence one’s reputation. Hmm. I suppose an unscrupulous operator could profitably apply this research by purchasing replacement hybrid badges — the very icon of conspicuous conservation — and reselling them at a nice markup to the guilt-ridden drivers of gas-guzzling luxury vehicles. Sure ’nuff.

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.