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).

articleInlineSad news from my hometown area – four police officers were killed in an ambush attack in a coffee shop outside of Tacoma, Washington.  I just drove by that coffee shop yesterday; I can hardly imagine it as the site of such a gruesome attack.  The Lakewood Police Department is only five years old, and losing four of its members in a targeted attack must be devastating.

It’s a reminder that police officers face danger – both obvious and hidden – every day.  I’ve known officers who died in the line of duty, and some of my favorite students over the years aspire to and have gone on to become police officers.

Washington Governor Chris Gregoire released the following statesment:

Our police put their lives on the line every day, and tragedies like this remind us of the risks they continually take to keep our communities safe. My heart goes out to the family, friends and co-workers of these officers, as well as the entire law enforcement community.

Thanks to the police officers who risk their lives every day and to their families who live with the fear of losing them.  For more information on this shooting, the Tacoma News Tribune has extensive coverage of the case.

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.

life is good postcardThe Marion County Jail in Salem, Oregon is instituting a new policy on January 1st that will limit incoming and outgoing mail to postcards only.  From the story:

Current policy allows letters with no limit on the number of pages. The policy will save the county money and man-hours spent sorting through more than 1,000 pieces of general mail inmates receive each week.

“We’re not trying to be mean or make people upset,” Marion County Sheriff Jason Myers said.

“It’s about efficiency and safety in the workplace.”

Inmates will be required to purchase standardized pre-stamped 3.5-by-8.5-inch postcards from a commissary. The postcards feature a photo of the jail. The new rules will not affect mail to and from public officials or legal mail.

The benefits of the new policy include decreased traffic of contraband items through the jail, as well as saving time and costs, Marion County jail Cmdr. Jeff Holland said. The most common contraband item deputies find is pornography, Holland said.

This is, of course, a cost-saving measure for the jail and the county.  Holland estimates that the county spends approximately $60,000 per year in hours sorting jail mail; he believes switching to postcards only (other than legal documents) can save the county half of those costs.

While it is obviously the case that those in jail have limited freedom and rights, it does seem to me that a postcard-only policy can be damaging not only to the inmate but to his/her family and friends, as well.  Have you written or received a postcard lately?  With the exception of some of the creative cards on PostSecret, I don’t imagine a lot of deep thoughts or emotions being communicated on a postcard.  While jail/prison mail is always screened for safety issues, the writers can at least feel that they have *some* level of privacy in mailed letters.   Letters from inmates are clearly marked as such on the outside of the envelope, but it does seem to take labeling and stigma to a whole new level to force inmates to send postcards showcasing photos of the jail to their children.

The ACLU of Oregon weighed in with this comment:

“We think that it is a bad policy if it is going to limit the way the inmates are going to be able to communicate with their families in a meaningful way,” said Jann Carson, associate director of the ACLU of Oregon…”One of the best ways that we make ex-convicts reintegrate is keeping those ties to families while they are incarcerated,” Carson said. “If this policy is going to make that more difficult, that is troubling.”

Troubling, indeed.