Friday, February 26, 2010
Rape Behind Bars
Started the week with a post on rape in prisons and jails, so let’s end the week with one. Go here to find the first of a two-part book review essay on books dealing with inmate rape in adult and juvenile facilities. Not pretty stuff, but very interesting, especially that the topic is getting such widespread play right now. We’ll keep an eye out for Part Two when it comes out, but don’t let that stop you from getting Part One done right now.
Neuroscience and Criminal Justice
Don’t hold your breath for us to stop pointing you toward your future
in criminal justice, the “neuroscience” future in which advances in the
field threaten to change basically everything foundational in what we
do, including corrections. This
piece is about the work being done on fMRIs that map the brain and
lead to questions of free will, culpability, and appropriate punishments. These
questions and concerns are just going to grow as the work progresses
so don’t let yourself get too far behind where it is and is heading. Here’s
a tickler to back all this up:
“Where the law would have us assume that nearly everyone has the capacity to judge and control his or her behavior, neuroscience is saying that isn’t necessarily true.
This scientific assertion raises profound questions: If all our mental states can ultimately be reduced to neuro-physiological brain states, and there is really no such thing as free will, how can people be held accountable for criminal behavior? What would it even mean, in neurological terms, to form an intention or act according to reason? “It’s really an old idea,” observes Joshua Greene, a Harvard University psychologist, philosopher and neuroscientist who studies law and morality. “This goes back to the pre-Socratics. Once people got the idea, ‘What if it’s just atoms, it’s all just physical stuff?’ they asked, ‘How do we make sense of choice? How do we make sense of responsibility?’”
Most people don’t ponder such questions too deeply until a case arises involving addiction, brain damage or other mental impairment, because then a person’s ability to control his behavior is called into question. “You very quickly get into these philosophical problems, where you say, ‘OK, why do we want to say the psychopath is still responsible?’” Greene said.”
See? Go read.
If That Didn’t Weird You Out Enough . . .
Try this, new work on modeling “hot spots” for crime in communities and the research coming off of it. Gets into some real nuance already (so if you don’t like nuance, avoid at all costs), such as levels of “hot” and impact of crime policies. Since many of us in corrections now are being asked to help identify hot spots, especially in terms of where inmates release to after serving their time, this will likely be part of our analysis and requests for info in the near future, too.
More Good Stuff at The Crime Report
Links to important stories, such as this one documenting that substance abuse treatment is available to only 11% of inmates while incarcerated, this one from Florida finally recognizing that most of the recent sex offender legislation rammed through states actually did more harm than good in protecting children, and this one on Michigan’s re-entry program which has apparently reduced recidivism rates from 50% to around 33%. We have to keep in mind, of course, that the outcomes discussed here occurred BEFORE the current downturns in state budgets. What the numbers will look like in a few years (for example, Oklahoma has cut all non-federally funded drug treatment in its state prisons now) aren’t really “anybody’s guess.” We can all “guess” pretty well, can’t we?
Thursday, February 25, 2010
No, not pills to give you alcoholism. The reverse. Actually
good overview by the general news media of the business as well as
the scientific side of the work to find pharmaceutical remedies for alcoholism,
which might, you know, have some impact or another on what we do in corrections. Here’s
a bit of why it’s important but you know you need to read the whole thing.
“"Here in the U.S. we have at least 18 million adults who suffer from alcohol use disorder, and probably twice that many who are high-risk drinkers who don't have a diagnosis. We also have roughly 7.5 million adolescents who are binge drinkers, and at least a 1.5 million who are alcohol dependent," said Raye Litten, the NIAAA's chief of medications development.
"That's quite a market -- and it is intriguing to large pharmaceutical companies."
In Britain and other parts of Europe, the need may even be greater. Almost a quarter of Britons -- 33 percent of men and 16 percent of women -- are hazardous drinkers, and binge-drinking and its consequences are daily fare for newspaper headline writers and the politicians who must respond to them.
"The toll of alcohol-abuse-fueled aberrant behaviors, from interfamilial violence to slaughter on the highways, wreaks havoc in a scope and intensity that is leagues ahead of all illegal drugs put together," wrote Harry Tracy, a psychologist and publisher of NeuroInvestment, a monthly publication specializing in central nervous system disorders, in a recent report.”
And when they get alcohol solved, maybe they can move on to prescription drug abuse, which, according to this article, has become such an international concern that the United Nations is now issuing warnings about it. That won’t come as news to you who read here regularly, but this is a nice summary of what the problem and its scope are.
This Week at NCJRS
The usual endless buffet of good stuff research-wise abstracted over at the National Criminal Justice Reference Service this week. Here are a few appetizers, but we may have missed what you would have considered the entrée. Go check them all out.
- Getting Ready: How Arizona Has Created a 'Parallel Universe' for Inmates
- Legitimacy in Corrections: A Randomized Experiment Comparing a Boot Camp with a Prison
- Offender Supervision with Electronic Technology: A Community Corrections Resource, Second Edition
- Using Electronic Monitoring to Supervise Sex Offenders: Legislative Patterns and Implications for Community Corrections Officers
- Does an Offender's Age Have an Effect on Sentence Length?: A Meta-Analytic Review
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
New Interactive Map and Other Stuff
Via the Sentencing
Law and Policy blog, we learn of a new website at The Sentencing
Project that, according to the blurb below, does the following:
“The Sentencing Project is excited to announce our new and improved Web site to help in your research and advocacy efforts for criminal justice reform.... Elements of the new site include:
Interactive U.S. Map -- A newly designed map provides access to comprehensive statistics, including total corrections populations, state corrections expenditures, racial/ethnic disparity in incarceration, number of juveniles in custody, and felony disenfranchisement. Users can also compare data for different states, side by side.
New Site Search -- We have enhanced our search engine which now enables users to search for keywords within PDFs and other documents....
New Race and Justice Clearinghouse -- The Sentencing Project is host to the first, online database of research and information on race and justice. Our exclusive resource contains more than 450 bibliographic references for books, articles and reports on the intersection of race and ethnicity with the criminal justice and juvenile justice systems.”
The interactive map is particularly cool for those needing comparative state correctional data on particular variables. Check it out and see if you agree.
Over at Science Daily
A couple of interesting reports related to substance abuse. This one details the “actual brain activity that can drive adolescents to engage in impulsive, self-indulgent, or self-destructive behavior.” The researchers have apparently started identifying the mechanisms showing that “adolescent brains are more sensitive to internal and environmental factors than adult brains and suggests that the teenage tendency to experiment with drugs and develop psychological disorders could stem from this susceptibility.” (IOW, that’s why they act so weird.) And this one will let you former “recreational” substance users understand why it is you can’t find your keys. May have something to do with those substances. Read it before you forget.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Boomer Pot Use Higher
Okay, sorry for the pun. But here’s
yet another report on how Baby Boomers are increasing the numbers of drug users
in older age categories as they age, this time marijuana. Here’s one
bit to consider, but read the whole article, including the interesting graphs:
“In conversations, older marijuana users often say they smoke in less social settings than when they were younger, frequently preferring to enjoy the drug privately. They say the quality (and price) of the drug has increased substantially since their youth and they aren't as paranoid about using it.”
Nap Time—Not Just for Babies Anymore
Yes, they’re discovering all the positive learning impact that naps can have
but the benefits aren’t limited just to babies. Afternoon
siestas turn out to recharge brains for more productive work in the latter
part of days as well. Here are some of the details, but you’ll need
the whole thing if you’re going to convince your boss (good luck with that,
“In the recent UC Berkeley sleep study, 39 healthy young adults were divided into two groups -- nap and no-nap. At noon, all the participants were subjected to a rigorous learning task intended to tax the hippocampus, a region of the brain that helps store fact-based memories. Both groups performed at comparable levels.
At 2 p.m., the nap group took a 90-minute siesta while the no-nap group stayed awake. Later that day, at 6 p.m., participants performed a new round of learning exercises. Those who remained awake throughout the day became worse at learning. In contrast, those who napped did markedly better and actually improved in their capacity to learn.
These findings reinforce the researchers' hypothesis that sleep is needed to clear the brain's short-term memory storage and make room for new information, said Walker, who presented his preliminary findings on Feb. 21, at the annual meeting of the American Association of the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in San Diego, Calif.”
And, should you be caught recharging before this research becomes recognized practice in your facility, just remember to jerk your head upright and say, “Amen.”
Speaking of Management Things
If you want to spur creativity in and among your
staff, try building empathy. At
least that’s what the research referred to here indicates. An
analysis of three prior studies, the article gets us the researchers’ main
“Managers typically seek to stimulate creativity by creating conditions that are conductive to intrinsic motivation, such as designing challenging and complex tasks, providing autonomy, and developing supportive feedback and evaluation systems,” they write. But to “facilitate the production of ideas that are creative in context,” they suggest managers “will find it advantageous to create conditions that support prosocial motivation and perspective-taking.”
Two ways to do so, according to Grant, are to “provide opportunities for employees to meet and interact with the people who benefit from their work, such as clients, customers, and other end users,” and to ”provide vivid information and stories from others that communicate the importance of the problem to be solved.”
And an added benefit of these opportunities and stories in corrections could be their extension into the community and media where people in general could see that success stories do occur and that careers in corrections can add value to the community and lives. Sounds “win-win,” doesn’t it?
Energy Boomtowns = More Crime?
Apparently. More meth, more sex offenders. At least according to
the research cited here. Why? Well,
“Why this is happening seems related to the “social and economic upheaval” that occurs in communities dependent on the energy industry. At first, the prospect of employment and higher-than-average salaries draws large numbers of people to these towns. As the economies of the towns rise and fall with the industry, their populations rise and fall. Not only is this dynamic linked to an influx of sex offenders, but also higher rates of domestic violence, drug abuse and overall crime.”
A lot more interesting stuff in the piece, particularly if you’re planning a move to an energy boomtown. Check it out.
Monday, February 22, 2010
Prison and Jail Rapes Probably Underestimated
That’s the conclusion of a BJS report that serves as the basis for an analysis
discussed and linked to here. (Follow
that?) Here’s one of many key points you should dig into:
“Jail is where most inmates are raped. The press seems to have missed the fact that because the BJS numbers come from snapshot surveys, they represent only a small fraction of those incarcerated every year. People move in and out of jail very quickly. The number of annual jail admissions is about 17 times higher than the jail population on any given day.”
Go check out the whole thing. It’s work-related.
More Places to Buy Alcohol = More Violence
Not a shocker, but pretty vividly displayed with mapping in the article you’ll
find here. Here’s
the takeaway, but check the article out for yet one more really nice example
of how mapping can illuminate crime problems quickly and dramatically for everyone
without Ph.D.’s in advanced stats:
“More alcohol sales sites in a neighborhood equates to more violence, and the highest assault rates are associated with carry-out sites selling alcohol for off-premise consumption, according to new research released Feb. 21 by two Indiana University professors.”
You’ll find the stat work there if you want it, as well as some indication that convenience stores are the worst due to both the “convenience” for purchase and the social setting they deliver. Interesting work that should lead to policies that could lessen need for correctional bedspace and treatment if successful.
Diabetes and Addiction
No, you don’t have to worry about addiction more if you’re diabetic. Turns out that some of the diabetes meds may have impact on preventing or overcoming addiction. Just don’t get the ones the headlines this weekend talked about that are linked to heart troubles. (And you have to appreciate the headline of the piece, although I would have shortened the last word to its usual.)
“Drunk Under the Streetlight Behavior”
interview with a finance expert critical of economists and their overemphasis
on quantitative analyses, especially the part where nuance and differences
get washed away in the name of the numbers, could easily apply to stat work
in criminology and other social sciences that affect us in corrections as
well. Here’s a bit of the expert’s perspective:
“That illustrates one of the difficulties of the approaches the discipline [economics] prefers, that it makes it hard to integrate qualitative information. “Hard” data that can be quantified easily is preferred, which produces drunk under the street light behavior, of framing empirical analysis around where economists can get clean data, rather than around what questions really are important to be answered, and then figuring out how to get insight with the information, both hard and soft, that is available.”
Given that econ has had decades to get to the point at which its analytical limitations are finally being understood, it’s probably going to be a while before criminology and the others hit the same wall. But consider how often, even though we know well the politics and biases of arrest policies and their implementation, we insist on using arrests as a premier indicator of recidivism on which to base policies and programs, thereby perpetuating systemic biases and problems, and you can see where this is heading, too. And the idea that the reverse of the usual interpretations may be true, that is, that the arrest policies actually lead in some degree to the crimes that they are supposed to be subsequent indicators of, is virtually never considered by academics, although they are a part of life for those who live in the communities subjected to them, shows how far it may eventually go. Of course, the only indication that criminologists are paying any attention so far has been the weak defense of UCR data that we mentioned a few posts down a few days ago. Not a good sign for the future. Anyway, give it a read and figure out if you agree. At the very least you’ll get an interesting overview of how the economy got where it is, which is sorta consequential for corrections right now, isn’t it?
Friday, February 19, 2010
Your Weekend Reading Assignments
And, yes, there will be a quiz.
- Despite other findings that, so far, the economic downturn hasn’t increased crime, that doesn’t appear to be the case for domestic violence, especially homicides, as you will discover, along with links, here.
- Final part of 3-part series at Addiction Inbox we’ve previously highlighted on the genetics of substance addiction and the implications for how we treat it.
- Research here on the inability of adolescents to accurately predict their life expectancies. Not news to you? Well, remember previous research that points to extreme versions of this being a major factor in the cost-benefit teens do when considering crime and its penalties. Interested now?
- A nice story that you should have on hand when people ask you why you’re in corrections, how you can work with people like that, why “those people” can’t ever turn their lives around. Also, details on what is apparently a successful reentry program, run by one of “those people” once she turned her life around.
- Finally, if you really want a head buzz this weekend, wrap your mind around the interview here that is technically about the statistics (and the poor use of them) surrounding our current economic analysis, but really you could substitute crime data virtually everywhere they talk about econ data and see how the advancements and changes being advocated could also have a major impact on how we see and deal with crime.
That ought to keep you busy while NBC has the curling events on. No need to thank us.
Thursday, February 18, 2010
And the Circle Goes ‘Round and ‘Round
Cut funds for job training in corrections for offenders whose lack of training was one reason they ended up in corrections, then release them into a bad job market, and then keep their cell ready for when they come back.
More Good Work at The Crime Report
This time they have a special report up on “Locking Down the Mentally Ill.” As usual, very thorough overview in case you need it, focusing on solitary confinement and one more iteration of how prisons have replaced institutions as our way of confining the mentally ill, transferring the costs and upping the failures. Great resource if you need info at hand on this in the future.
Pot as Health Care
Turns out that marijuana does have legitimate medical uses, but also turns out that low levels of ingestion get the same impact as high (sorry) and the latter just gets you confused. (The latter point had been independently confirmed numerous times by amateur scientists in the past.) (h/t Think Outside the Cage) And, sure enough, here come the tax folks.
This Week at NCJRS
More good research abstracted over at the National Criminal Justice Reference Service this week. Among the offerings are the titles below, but that just scratches the surface. Go over and check out the rest. It’s legit work time.
- Time to Prison Return for Offenders with Serious Mental Illness Released From Prison: A Survival Analysis
- Job Involvement, Job Stress, Job Satisfaction, and Organizational Commitment and the Burnout of Correctional Staff
- Sexual Offenders in Prison Psychiatric Treatment: A Biopsychosocial Description
- Mental Health, Abuse, Drug Use and Crime: Does Gender Matter?
- Low Self-Control and Fraud: Offending, Victimization, and Their Overlap
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Putting the Coke Back in Coke and Other Interesting Stuff on Substance Abuse
Not had enough interesting material on substance abuse lately? Fear not. If you go here, you’ll find Bolivia’s plans to spice up its economic system by spicing up its Coca-Cola just like the good old days. I’m guessing calling it “Coca-Colla” won’t stop legal protests though. Speaking of spice, if you go here instead, you’ll find a new and detailed article on that synthetic pot that we’ve been mentioning occasionally here, how it works, and why attempts to stop it may make “whac-a-mole” look easy. If these two don’t tickle your fancy, Addiction Inbox has a nice series going on right now examining the genetics underlying alcoholism and how inheriting one gene might make you a functioning alcoholic while getting the “badder” version might make you one of our consumers in corrections. Excellent and understandable overview of how much of addiction is related to genes, not bad character, and the difficulties in dealing with it. And while you’re on approaches to addiction, you might be interested in this piece advocating a better system of addiction treatment, with some ideas but mainly a call to arms you might want to take up. Finally, if none of these tempt you because you’re more interested in how drug distribution networks operate, check this one out, a piece on the differences between “black tar” heroin and the more upscale kind regarding their distribution and marketing. You may never think of pizza delivery the same again.
Everything Old Is New Again
Because we in corrections and sentencing suffer the same historical amnesia in policymaking that most do, we probably don’t remember that there was a “Three Strikes” before there was “Three Strikes.” It was called Baumes Law, and it’s discussed well here, along with the writer’s description of how he was alerted to it by a Richard Widmark movie. And if you don’t remember who Richard Widmark was, just move along and don’t make us hurt you.
“Sometimes I Could Just Murder You”
Frequently said, more frequently thought, like up above when we heard you say “who’s Richard Widmark?” But what’s holding you back? That it’s illegal? Would you do it if you knew you could get away with it? That’s the premise behind this map of states where that question was asked and the states rated on a colorful spectrum of “yes” to “no.” Check your state out. Oklahoma is right in the middle (half of us would and half wouldn’t?). West of the Mississippi River seems a little more tempted by the concept, doesn’t it. And note how this map doesn’t really track well with incarceration rates. What does that mean? Seriously. Anyway, next we’ll wait for the map on that question in “City Slickers” where Billy Crystal gets asked, “If a space alien came down and told you . . . .” (Google it if you don’t know and then keep your answer to yourself, at least until the map guys come around.)
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Problem-Solving Courts Not Solving Problems?
Excellent overview here of the pros and cons of problem-solving courts, such as drug courts, mental health courts, etc. We know that good drug courts show reduced recidivism, mediocre and poor ones don't, problems for the others. The problem isn't that they can't be shown effective. It's that they also can't be shown to be the best use of the money spent just because they are better than prisons at reducing recidivism for the specific offenders (often first-time offenders) who get in. The arguments are well described and balanced by the writer, in case you get asked for a similar analysis in the future. We're sure he wouldn't mind.
Must Resist "More Time for Gambling?" Headline . . .
Looks like Nevada may join Utah and Iowa in going to four-day weeks for state employees in order to cut expenses (utilities, transport, etc.) to meet stringent new budget demands. What do you think the over/under is for how many more states will go that way before this is all over?
Friday, February 12, 2010
Dead Horse Has Pulse
Okay, after promising yesterday to get off the subject of criminal processing data problems, we in fairness do have to note any efforts, such as here, to show that the problems aren’t as bad as has been reported, at least regarding the allegations that New York City’s crime rates were manipulated to make things (and officers) there look better than they were. Comparing the actual police data to victims’ reports, the researchers found that reports of burglaries actually tracked well with the police data of reports, as you can see from the helpful link to a graph of the data they provide. They then assure us that the same is found when looking at assaults and robberies. The academics conclude: “. . . the victim surveys provide reassuring evidence that New York’s crime drop is real and not an artifact of police manipulation. And they can offer the same kind of independent evaluation when the crime rates of other large cities are called into question.”
Except . . . .
part of TIME’s somewhat supportive, somewhat not account of what the allegations
of data manipulation are:
“A new survey of retired New York City police supervisors, however, confirms what many skeptics have suspected for years. Pressure from the twice-weekly CompStat reviews inspired a certain amount of fudging (exactly how much is unknown). Police hunted for bargains on eBay so that they could adjust theft reports to reflect lower values of stolen goods, magically transforming major crimes into minor ones. A fight involving a weapon--aggravated assault--might become a mere fistfight by the time the police report was filed. Nevertheless, behind the gamesmanship was a genuine drop in crime. (Murder is down an astonishing 80% from its peak in New York City, and it's very hard to fudge a murder.) Similar declines have been recorded in many other cities.”
TIME doesn’t really seem to be on exactly the same planet as the researchers. The claims are that THEFT got downgraded, which includes much more than burglary, which is one of the harder offenses to fudge reports on and is less likely to depend on values of items taken (or checked against eBay). Plus, we would like to see those robbery and assault graphs, too, given that it appears they’re being challenged more than burglary stats. OTOH, since robberies can become assaults and agg assaults simple ones, it’s not clear that the graphs would really prove anything definitively if presented, which may have been the point of not getting into all that. Finally, a point no one is making, the major point of Bratton’s aggressive policing, of which the questioned COMSTAT was an integral part, was to go after MINOR crimes before they became MAJOR crimes, getting guys on weapons possession or outstanding warrants, not waiting until they burgled, robbed, or assaulted. Until we see those numbers and investigate whether they were manipulated, we can’t immediately conclude that the data were truly as conclusive as claimed now. Major UCR-type offenses may actually have gone down AND the data monkeyed with exactly as claimed, a nice Solomon-like result that nevertheless doesn’t get us where we would like to be with data collection and reporting.
There’s a more interesting point in the burglary graph, too. If you look at it closely, it seems that the gap between actual incidence and victim reporting to the police grew somewhat in those years prior to Bratton and the “broken windows” days in NYC. The TIME article notes that crime rates were already declining B.B. (Before Bratton), calling into question the impact of his work from another direction, but is that the case or were people not reporting as much, meaning sometimes that data are good and sometimes not? And maybe the real impact of Bratton’s well-publicized work was to restore more confidence in victims that their reports of burglary would actually be responded to, which brought the gap back down to earlier levels. That’s a take on “Broken Windows” that might provide a dissertation or two to some enterprising criminology grad students.
As it stands now, all we really know from what was presented is that victim reports of burglary, a harder offense to mess with, tracked well with police reports of burglaries. As the researchers note, that’s good to know. But it doesn’t really answer the questions raised. We’ll look forward to the further research that this situation hopefully will bring forth.
Now maybe we can let this horse lie (or is that sleeping dog?).
Thursday, February 11, 2010
This Week at NCJRS
Been wondering where the list of recent research abstracts at the National Criminal Justice Reference Service is this week? Well, wonder no more. Just go on over later and check out anything we may have missed.
- When Actions and Attitude Count Most: Assessing Perceived Level of Responsibility and Support for Inmate Treatment and Rehabilitation Programs Among Correctional Employees
- Projecting Felony Intakes to the Justice System
- Profile of Paroling Authorities in America: The Strange Bedfellows of Politics and Professionalism
- Intermediate Sanctions in Probation Officers' Sentencing Recommendations: Consistency, Net Widening, and Net Repairing
- Problems at Work: Exploring the Correlates of Role Stress Among Correctional Staff
- Officer Perceptions of Risk of Contracting HIV/AIDS in Prison: A Two-State Comparison
Speaking of Research
Check out the interesting and informative pieces on drug use and addiction and stopping them here, here, here, and here. The first gives you a deep overview of the parts of the brain that are actually involved in addiction, which may also help explain the second, which gives similar detail about the evolution of possible cocaine vaccinations and why they aren’t quite ready for prime time yet. You’ll certainly understand the third better, a description of how anti-anxiety drugs work the same neural pathways as heroin and pot in users, causing the unfortunate consequences we’re all dealing with more or less effectively. Then you’re ready for the last, a comparison and discussion of how and why strict policy regulation of alcohol for juveniles has been found effective while the same degree or more of regulation of pot among juveniles hasn’t. You won’t have a degree in anything when you’ve finished, but you’ll feel like an authority and that’s bound to pay off somewhere sometime.
ROWE, ROWE, ROWE Your Work
More on a topic we’ve discussed a time or two here, Results-Only Work Environments,
aka letting people work from home on assignments monitored and measured. This
time, it’s an interview with
someone who’s implemented the scheme, which will undoubtedly become more interesting
to even corrections departments as the financial turnaround we need holds off
arriving in the future. The article covers most of the details and concerns,
including one of the biggest, that workers might goof off in this system. Like
most things, if this is done correctly, the results turn out to be exactly
the opposite of the “traditional wisdom”:
“[We have] seen that the people who aren't doing any work rise to the surface very quickly. When people have these work standards, there is no way to disguise whom [sic] is not working. In the end, they have seen some involuntary turnover because people just aren't doing the work or can't do the work. It's not a reason we went into it. We went into it because times are tough. Budgets are slim. Any way we could increase productivity and give people back control over their life is a really huge benefit. Really that's what this is. ROWE gives people the power over their work life within a context. If you're a zookeeper, you can't feed the animals from a different location. But there's no reason you can't work with your coworkers to work out some flexibility. You can be more focused on your work, but you're also happier so you produce more.”
“Seat-time” management can turn into a wasteful luxury that makes it harder to show who’s working and who’s not. It tends to protect the less productive but lets managers off the hook for supervision and distinguishing among staff as long as the worker is visibly in a chair (or walking around with an 8½ X 11 in his hand like Wally in “Dilbert”). It’s very likely that the savings in rent, transportation and government vehicles, utilities, etc. that the interview details will start being more attractive to more public officials as the recession does its own work in the coming years.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Dead Horse Beaten
Sorry if this is getting old to you, but more stories keep popping up raising
serious questions about the data, particularly about crime rates, that we use
to drive our corrections and sentencing policies, just as questions about bad
data have hit Census numbers and our economic modeling [sic]. Consider
the following, if you’re still with us. This
BBC story on how “globalization” (they spell it funny over there) has meant
cheaper goods, which means, if you’re trying to make money from crime, you
shift from stealing now inexpensive DVRs that won’t get you much to other more
profitable avenues, like, unfortunately, robbery:
“Mr Treadwell said globalisation - especially cheaper electronic goods from China and the Far East - was forcing thieves to re-think what items were worth taking.
He said: "The last decade has been a remarkable one where crime is concerned, with massive changes and shifts.
"If we look back to the 1980s and 1990s, the type of staple crimes would be, for example, very often burglary and car crime and those crimes worked because they followed a business model and it was possible to break into a house and steal a video recorder and sell that at a profit.
"Cheap labour in China has had an impact on the type of crime that's committed in the UK and the type of goods that are stolen today.
"Gradually, the prices of such goods has fallen so low as to they almost have no resale value.". . .
"While DVD players for example, got cheaper, certain consumer items became smaller and were very, very expensive and sought after and so the latest mobile phone, or the latest iPod, which people carry about them, have become targets for robbers.
According to the university, the British Crime Survey (BCS) for 2008/09 estimated there were 1.28m domestic burglaries in England and Wales in 1999, almost one in 10 of the crimes recorded by the survey.
By 2008/09 that number had fallen and there were some 744,000 burglaries. The survey also found burglary dropped 58% between 1995 and 2008/09.
A Home Office spokesman said: "The evidence is clear, burglary is down 54% since 1997 and mugging has remained stable during that time.
"The risk of being a victim of crime is historically low and the British Crime Survey shows that since 1997 overall crime has fallen by 36% and violence is down by 41%."”
Think of how this all played out since we started putting tape decks in our cars (to be ripped off and increase burg stats) through the present and then ask yourself why, out of the millions of variables the criminologists and economists have claimed caused the crime drop of the ‘90’s, they never seem to have gotten around to technology changes and new or closed opportunities Hmm.
Then there’s this story from San Diego highlighting how the current economy is putting pressure on law enforcement there in the form of heightening mental illness problems. Another variable that the crims and econs seem to have forgotten is how the deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill from large state hospitals fed directly into the crime buildup of the 80s and early 90s and how the overall population of “institutionalized” at state levels really didn’t change that much in the last several decades, just where they were institutionalized. (Yes, there are problems with that interpretation because the racial mix, for one thing, of the two populations is dramatically different, but still shouldn’t that be in the “explanation” mix somewhere???) Meanwhile, it looks like at least some corrections departments can look forward to even more mentally ill offenders within their supervision.
Then to top it all off, turns out that the heralded crime drop in New York City that, because of NYC’s size (more than most states), also affected national crime rates may have had just a touch of whimsy. The old problem of monkeying with the numbers when you create a system where “what is counted, counts” like COMSTAT, it seems. As one independent analyst there is quoted, ““But this is an important reminder that while statistics offer a vital window into how well services are being performed, whether we’re talking about crime rates in precincts, or successes in schools, or cleanliness of the streets, they’re not necessarily a perfect measure. They’re subject to all sorts of potential biases and pressures.””
Now read this GOVERNING piece on the importance of comparative state statistics to understand and drive state policymaking. A good piece and not untrue . . . but not completely true, either. What all these stories show is how very essential and important RELIABLE and ACCURATE data are, but not “any data in a storm.” If states want good policy, whether it’s corrections or anything else, they have to invest in good data systems and people to analyze the data and then maintain and keep them going, even when budgets are bad. Which is when they’re needed most.
Okay, off the soapbox. You’re safe for a while. Maybe.
New Entrepreneurial Opportunity
Good news in a tough economy. Except you have to set up in Mexico. And
hope the drug war doesn’t take you out. Dare you not to smile at least
once when you read the
“A Mexican entrepreneur is luring U.S. drug addicts to plush rehabilitation centers south of the border, even as shoddier Mexican clinics earn a reputation for attracting cartel shootouts.
Charging a third of the price of upscale clinics in the United States, a luxury rehab center aimed at foreigners opened recently at a posh hotel in the city of Monterrey about 100 miles from Texas.
Its month-long recovery packages come with English-speaking doctors and extras like massages, body masks and Botox shots.
Americans have long crossed the border for cheap medicine and are now choosing Mexico for dentistry and eye and heart surgery instead of far-flung destinations in Asia.”
Desire Colliding with Reason
Okay, got your attention. Now here’s the abstract of the
study this refers to.
“Human decisions are guided by "desire" or "reason," which control actions oriented toward either proximal or long-term goals. Here we used functional magnetic resonance imaging to assess how the human brain mediates the balance between proximal reward desiring and long-term goals, when actions promoting a superordinate goal preclude exploitation of an immediately available reward option. Consistent with the view that the reward system interacts with prefrontal circuits during action control, we found that behavior favoring the long-term goal, but counteracting immediate reward desiring, relied on a negative functional interaction of anteroventral prefrontal cortex (avPFC) with nucleus accumbens (Nacc) and ventral tegmental area. The degree of functional interaction between avPFC and Nacc further predicted behavioral success during pursuit of the distal goal, when confronted with a proximal reward option, and scaled with interindividual differences in trait impulsivity. These findings reveal how the human brain accomplishes voluntary action control guided by "reason," suggesting that inhibitory avPFC influences Nacc activity during actions requiring a restraint of immediate "desires."”
Uh . . . somewhere in there is the conclusion that cognitive researchers are getting better at identifying and potentially treating the areas of the brain known to direct self-control. Which might have an impact on behavior and the need for and type of corrections down the road. Somewhere in there.
Speaking of Thinking
This is more fun. A British survey of the Top 10 most annoying occurrences and jargon in most offices. Number one annoying occurrence? “Grumpy or moody colleagues (37 percent).” Most annoying jargon? Surprise, surprise: “Thinking outside the box (21 percent).” This will probably drop a bit in future surveys in the current economy as most boxes are swirling down the drain. Of course, since it’s British, it really doesn’t have anything to do with US organizations, much less corrections departments.
Tuesday, February 09, 2010
Clean Smells, Dark Rooms, and Bonuses
Researchers have been turning up some surprises as they figure out experiments
to get into that part of our brains where we generally don’t want to go, with
implications for how we do corrections and correctional policy. For example, this
piece will alert you to the power that clean smells have over behavior
(and in a good way) and to how darkness (or sunglasses) can literally change
what you do (and in a bad way). Here are a couple of excerpts to get
you interested in clicking the link:
“You could argue that nice smells make people feel better, and these positive moods underlie their sudden burst of charitable behaviour. But questionnaires handed out after the tasks showed that neither room affected the volunteers' mood. Nor did the volunteers realise what was going on. In both experiments, they didn't believe that smells were influencing their behaviour and they didn't think that their room was any cleaner or dirtier than usual.
The idea that a simple scent can influence behaviour to this degree may be surprising to many people, but I've blogged about many such studies before. Social exclusion can make you feel cold, a warm cup of tea can make people behave more warmly or charitably to others, and holding heavy objects can make us see things as more important. All of these are examples of a fascinating concept called "embodied cognition", where many of the abstract concepts we use daily, like virtue, are related to concrete parts of our environment, like smells.
Zhong's new study also provides some indirect support for the broken windows theory, which suggests that signs of petty crime, like the eponymous broken windows, can trigger yet more criminal behaviour. Disorder breeds disorder. So far, Zhong has only shown that clean smells promote charity and generosity, not that dirty smells promote self-interested behaviour. However, he has found that darkness will do the job.
Darkness can obviously shroud one's identity, giving people a licence to misbehave. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "Gaslight is the best nocturnal police, so the universe protects itself by pitiless publicity." But Zhong thinks that darkness doesn't need to provide anonymity to affect our behaviour - just creating the illusion of anonymity is enough.”
So, for those of us in the correctional business, are there any lessons here for wall colors, lighting, and Glade Mist? And the research discussed here extends the mining of our minds into whether and how bonuses really get the best performance (from staff or offenders). Here’s the main point but read the whole thing for the context and other links:
“To see the effect of bonuses on performance, [we]conducted three experiments. In one we gave subjects tasks that demanded attention, memory, concentration and creativity. We asked them, for example, to assemble puzzles and to play memory games while throwing tennis balls at a target. We promised about a third of them one day's pay if they performed well. Another third were promised two weeks' pay. The last third could earn a full five months' pay. (Before you ask where you can participate in our experiments, I should tell you that we ran this study in India, where the cost of living is relatively low.)
What happened? The low-and medium-bonus groups performed the same. The big-bonus group performed worst of all.”
It wasn’t that the big bonus folks didn’t put out. It was that, even though they may have done more, they did it worse. Of course, given the budget situations most state corrections departments face these days, the question of any bonuses at all, much less what level they should be, really isn’t likely to come up much, is it?
Monday, February 08, 2010
More On Data (or Is it “Moron Data”?)
We’ve noted recent stories on the problems with crime rate data and the problems those problems cause criminal processing decision and policy making. To the scoffers who think we’re going “conspiracy” crazy, we’ve noted the recent criticisms of Census data, especially the manipulations associated with data on the elderly. We’ve also taken some shots at our economic data, as have others (see here for a good example that explains many of the employment data problems). But here and here are a couple of direct examples showing why crime rate changes may be suspect. The first one details how inflation moves previous misdemeanors into felony categories with no underlying behavior change in the society; thus, we see crime “increases” when victimization is steady. The example deals with felony theft, but it could apply to hot checks and other fraud as well. The second one goes in the other direction, the more familiar case in which police departments want to look more effective than they are so they monkey with the data to make serious crimes look less serious. The point is simply a variation of the old fallacy of “misplaced concreteness.” We let data too often seriously flawed by inconsistency, error, and politics in collection, reporting, and interpretation become “real” in our responses, and, disregarding the necessary contingency and the need to take the data with a large helping of salt, shape our research, evaluations, and social action without the qualifiers and Plan Bs we will need when the gap between the data and reality becomes waayyy too apparent, which it does repeatedly in corrections and elsewhere. We see it in other areas right now, too, like the problems we’re having with the economy, health care, etc., that our data and analysis were supposed to keep us from. It’s not to say that data and analysis are worthless because they clearly aren’t. But they are means, not ends. Anyone who has ever run a criminal processing data shop and seen how data rarely ever lose all their problems would argue that sense and judgment should always be applied and given precedence in their use.
In Case Regular Criminology Wasn’t Enough for You
We now apparently have “neurocriminology,” which incorporates the new work
on brain imaging and on genetics into theories and evidence of criminal behavior. Perhaps
even bringing back some ideas, once discredited and even laughed at Happy Hour,
from Cesare Lombroso and his prediction of criminality based on skull shapes. Here’s
just a bit from a very good overview on the subject, if you’re interested,
highlighting some of the implications, but go read the whole thing to see where
the field (and we in corrections) may be heading (not to mention fish oil sales,
if you’re looking for a company to invest your remaining savings in):
“Lombroso may have been a poor scientist, Raine says, but he was right in one important sense: the brains of criminals are often different from those of the rest of us. By studying brain scans of prisoners, Raine has discovered, for example, that murderers, especially those who kill in the heat of the moment, are more likely to have a poorly functioning prefrontal cortex. This is the reasoning, decision-making section of the brain that helps to regulate impulses, including feelings of aggression, rising up from the more “primitive” parts of the brain making up the limbic system. We are all subject to violent instincts, but our prefrontal cortex helps most of us to think better of them before we harm anyone. For a few, however, the neurological brakes are broken.
Other violent criminals may suffer from a deficit of emotional capacity. Raine and his collaborators carried out brain scans on people whom they determined to have psychopathic personalities. The subjects were given a decision-making task while in the scanner. The dilemma they were presented with is a diabolical scenario beloved of moral philosophers (it was also used in the final episode of M*A*S*H). It’s wartime. You are hiding in the basement of a house with fellow villagers. You can hear enemy soldiers outside, who you know have orders to kill anyone they find. You are holding your own baby. Your baby has a cold. You know that if she coughs or cries then the soldiers will find your hiding place, kill you, the baby, and all of your friends. Should you smother your own baby or let it cough?
Don’t worry, there isn’t a right or wrong answer. In fact, the researchers weren’t interested in the subjects’ choices so much as what was happening in their brains while they considered the problem. Non-psychopathic individuals given this test display plenty of activity in parts of the brain governing emotions. If you spent just a moment thinking about that horrible dilemma you probably felt uneasy. The brain scans showed that the more psychopathic the individual, the less activation the task produced in the amygdala and other emotion-regulating regions. In other words, these subjects seemed to lack an emotional component to their moral decision-making process. It’s often said that psychopaths are people who don’t know right from wrong. But that’s not true — they could probably pass a test of moral reasoning as well as you or I. Their problem is that they can’t feel right from wrong.
Raine doesn’t just want to understand the biological causes of violent crime: his aim is to find more humane and effective ways to prevent it. Some of his work focuses on the facilitation of better brain functioning in offenders. This might be simpler than it sounds. In an experiment conducted in 2002 by Bernard Gesch, of the University of Oxford, prisoners convicted of violent offences were fed fish-oil pills, a source of omega-3 fatty acids critical for brain functioning. Among those who took it, the rate of offending in prison showed a significant decline.”
Talkin’ ‘bout My Generation
In honor of some scarily old dudes who performed live at a football game last
night, let’s note this
new research warning on the possible coming impact of Baby Boomer drug
use and consider its implications for corrections populations and health
“Delaney said that illicit drugs may cause greater impairment as users get older.
“We do know,’’ he said, “that physiology slows down as you age, so the stuff processed out of your body faster when you were younger won’t be processed out so quickly when you are older.’’
That means that marijuana and abused prescription drugs may be lingering longer in people who are now also likely to be regularly ingesting prescribed medications, such as cholesterol-lowering medicine or pills to tackle high blood pressure. That could result in harmful interactions and side effects. It also means that unsuspecting physicians may, for instance, misdiagnose symptoms of memory loss caused by chronic marijuana use as memory impairments caused by the onset of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease.
The substance abuse administration, which regularly queries Americans on their drug and alcohol use, surveyed nearly 20,000 adults, ages 50 and over, between 2006 and 2008. It found that 5.2 percent of those in the 50 to 59 age range had used marijuana during that time, and that 2.9 percent had taken prescription drugs that were not prescribed for them, most often painkillers. Overall, 7.9 percent said they had taken some illicit drug.
“We are hoping that, out of this study, people start paying more attention, and that primary care physicians say, ‘I need to ask my patients about their drug use, and not just their alcohol use,’ ’’ Delaney said.”
It doesn’t get much better as you read through the article, but you clearly need to be aware of what’s going on so read it all anyway. Whattdya think? Baby Boomers ever going to be called “The Greatest Generation”?
Friday, February 5, 2010
Ask Offenders What Would Stop Them????!!!!!
Surely you jest. That could lead to punishments that would deter them
instead of punishments that deter people who make policies, who, by definition,
are not the targets. We’d risk overturning decades of precedent just
to actually stop crime better???? Better not let word of this
study in Montana of repeat DUI offenders and their perceptions of what
punishments would be most effective and why their “repeat” status shows how
the ones we have now haven’t, by definition, you know, worked. Here’s
a bit to show you why it’s interesting:
“Among its findings, the study conservatively estimates that felony DUI offenders have driven under the influence 369 times per conviction and become alcohol dependent at an early age. In Montana, DUI becomes a felony after the fourth offense.
The majority of the inmates surveyed said treatment is more effective than incarceration in preventing future offenses, and that the Assessment Course Treatment program - a current requirement for offenders convicted of their first, second and third DUI offenses - is ineffective and fails to prevent repeat offenders from driving drunk.
The inmates were split evenly about whether DUI should become a felony earlier than the fourth offense; treatment populations endorsed a felony charge after a third DUI or less because a felony gives them better access to residential treatment.”
Goodness. It’s a good thing all our criminal processing commissions and councils and workgroups have former offenders as representatives on them so members can get this kind of feedback regularly . . . oh, wait.
Addiction Research—Lessons from Juveniles and Rats
A couple of reports here and here on
some new research on addiction. The first one relates how early consumption
of drugs like coke and ecstasy can set juvenile brains up for later difficulty
avoiding addicting on those and similar substance. The second one pulls
on the fact that place has an impact on drug use and relapse, that is, being
in familiar settings for past drug use increases the likelihood of resumption,
and claims that novelty can be used to entice addicts away from those places. At
least if the addicts are rats. Clearly, you need to read the whole thing
to get the context, but here’s the takeaway:
"We identified a window of opportunity for conditioned rewards to compete for control over choice behavior," at least among rats, the authors wrote.
By understanding how long and how well novelty can compete with the allure of addicting drugs, researchers may start to consider using it in the real world. The human equivalent of new "toys" -- such as scuba diving, mountain climbing, whitewater rafting and snow skiing -- could work as a behavioral reward. As the researchers pointed out, novelty does not involve medical treatment or side effects, and could be cheaper as well.
"Treatment programs implementing novel rewards targeted to those individuals that have high novelty/sensation seeking tendencies may offer addicts the opportunity (e.g., with vouchers) to participate in one of the activities mentioned previously in hopes of maintaining abstinence," wrote Reichel and Bevins.
At least for rats.
Thursday, February 04, 2010
Crime Drop, Part Deux
part of the three-part series at The Crime Report on reasons for the
crime drop in the last decade plus is up. Focus primarily on impact
of law enforcement (you knew Bill Bratton gets quoted, right?) and (finally!)
incarceration. It’s done as well as the first part and gets us psyched
for the finale. Here’s just a bit to get you over there.
““The dramatic increases in incarceration did contribute to the crime decline in the 1990s,” says Richard Rosenfeld, of the University of St. Louis-Missouri. “The bulk of the evidence shows that. But from 2000-2009, the rate of incarceration slowed. In New York, for example, it’s flat or in decline. So the current decline can’t be ascribed to incarceration.”
John Jay Professor David Kennedy agrees. Recent incarceration rates have been marginal,” he says, while decreases in crime have been dramatic; so any new increases “are likely to be grabbing low level [criminals]. Anything going on is taking place at the margins in terms of incarceration, and is not very powerful.”
Carnegie Mellon University Prof. Al Blumstein also dismiss incarceration as a factor. “We’re close to equilibrium in terms of changes in incarceration,” he says. On the average, the inflow is roughly equal to the outflow. We’re way down to less than one percent increase [in imprisonment], whereas for most of the ’80 and ‘90s the rate was going up by 6 to 8 percent a year.””
Still nothing on the possibility that our data may be wrong in significant ways that might overestimate the drop itself. Along that line, here’s a legitimate story getting some attention about how the Census data on the elderly really should be taken with a can of salt, in case you’re among those non-practitioners who have never seen actual criminal justice data being made (much like laws and sausages). Finally, while you’re over at The Crime Report, click on the story about the toll of homicide on black communities. Here’s The Report’s blurb, so maybe it will entice you over to the link:
“According to a new report by the Violence Policy Institute, blacks make up 13 percent of the population and 49 percent of all homicide victims. VPI analyzed data from the FBI’s 2007 Supplemental Homicide Report and found that the homicide rate for blacks in the U.S. is five times the national average and nearly seven times greater than for whites. 86 percent of black homicide victims were male and 82 percent were killed by guns.”
Sexual Abuse, Alcoholism, and Genes
Some things we pretty much know. Those exposed to extreme stress when
young have higher rates of alcoholism than those not, and child sexual abuse
is what a lot of us think of when we hear of “extreme stress” situations. And
we know that propensity to alcoholism is about half determined by genes, the
other half by environment. (We enjoy annoying the “nature” v. “nurture”
folks by denying that the case is “either-or” here.) So, something we
pretty much didn’t know turns out. If you, child sexual abuse victim,
have a particular set of genes, you get protection from the alcoholism that
is much more likely to hit your peers. The importance of this,
obviously, is that we’re seeing greater identification of genetic dispositions
that may in the future allow tailoring of gene therapy treatments to help those
who lack the necessary genes to protect against alcoholism. Think that
might have an impact on our prison populations?substance abuseHow to Make Up
Those Budget DeficitsFaced with the declining revenue bases that most every
government in the country is? Want a surefire idea to build them back up, maybe even get
into surplus? Just go here for
the details on this:
“A growing number of states and cities are cracking down on handicap parking scofflaws with stiffer fines and placards that are less susceptible to fraudulent use.”
From the people we’ve seen in Oklahoma parking lots, this could raise billions!!! OR, you could try what’s being recommended in Britain, really taxing the bejeesus out of alcohol:
“Last year, Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer in England, touched off a storm of controversy with his call for a government-mandated minimum pricing schedule for the sale of alcohol.
Donaldson’s pricing plan would set a minimum of 50p per unit of alcohol, or roughly 80 cents. This floor on alcohol pricing would mean that a bottle of wine could not be sold for less than $7.20, a bottle of whisky for less than $22, or a six-pack for less than about $9.50. Such a measure would effectively double the price of the cheapest alcohol sold in some discount supermarkets. Sir Liam Donaldson and other health officials have pointed out that, while alcohol consumption in many European countries has fallen since 1970, consumption in England has increased by 40%.”
And don’t let the evidence discussed in the piece that this really won’t work dissuade you. It’s not like we let evidence guide anything else we do. Besides, if you want to raise revenue, you DON’T WANT it to work. No need to thank us.
This Week at NCJRS
The research world just keeps spinning, and the good folks at the National Criminal Justice Reference Service just keep giving us the abstracts of some of that research. Below are a few titles of what’s there this week, just to prove the point, but you need to click the link to make sure we didn’t miss any you might have wanted to see.
- Caring for Individuals With Schizophrenia In Correctional Settings and Beyond
- Understanding Homicide Trends: The Social Context of a Homicide Epidemic
- Justice in Transition: Community Restorative Justice in Northern Ireland
- Detecting Specialization in Offending: Comparing Analytic Approaches
- Different from Adults: An Updated Analysis of Juvenile Transfer and Blended Sentencing Laws, With Recommendations for Reform
Wednesday, February 03, 2010
Are You Ready for a Throwdown???
Might be one coming between drug enforcers and pharmacists and their stores over the latest proposals to require prescriptions for basically all cold remedies with pseudoephedrine behind the counter in the effort to stop Mom-and-Pop meth makers from getting ingredients easily. The people selling the cold remedies aren’t that thrilled with the prospect of the extra time and work that will force on their businesses, and they’re predicting that the doctor’s visits to get the prescriptions will drive up health care costs, too. This could be a good one. The drug guys have already won one in Mississippi. Keep an eye out for Bobby Flay (apologies to those of you without spouses who watch the Food Network). (h/t The Crime Report)
Why Did Crime Go Down?
We’ve paid a lot of attention here to all the studies
that purport to explain how much of the crime drop of the ‘90’s was the result
of this or that policy or social attitude or practice change or no more lead
paint or gasoline or just people growing up. So far it’s probably fair to say that we’ve explained
about 178% of the drop. And that’s without the recent stories which we’ve
noted calling into question the data used to claim the drop happened, given
the decline in crime reporting that has happened in recent decades, too. But
The Crime Report is making a noble effort to bring some clarity to the questions,
if not the answers, in a three-part series that starts here. Most
of its immediate attention is on law enforcement activity and, to its immense
credit, culture changes, but it promises to get to the impact of incarceration
in the next offering, which we will link to when it comes up. In the
meantime, here’s a little bit to get you going and to show you that this is
really a thoughtful and thorough examination, not the usual stuff you get from
politicians or academics (although where’s the possibility that our crime data
are as screwed up as our economic data, huh???).
“Clear notes that cultural criminologists, such as his colleague John Jay Distinguished Professor Jock Young, also link cultural change to lower crime rates. Those arguments, which claim that the attraction to violence is waning among low-income African American youth living in inner cities, are “intriguing,” says Clear, though he quickly adds, “I haven’t seen any great evidence to back (them) up.”
Similarly, David Kennedy, who spends a lot of time on the street in hard-hit communities, is convinced that a cultural change is occurring, even though he can’t prove it. “You talk to anyone in these neighborhoods – grandmother or gangbanger, and eventually they say, ‘I’m tired, I’ve had it.’ People just don’t want to live like that any longer.”
Alfred Blumstein wonders whether cultural change could be connected to larger factors in American society. He suggested that we might be seeing an “Obama Effect” that could be causing some young African American males to see a future of possibilities, as opposed to dead ends. If that that’s the case, Blumstein suggests, it could be serving as a “countervailing force to the job-frustration effects of the recession.”
Another [culture-related] factor emerging in the research, says Richard Rosenfeld, “is that cities with significant increases in immigration have had lower crime rates. It’s part of the story in New York and L.A. Twenty years ago South Central Los Angeles was poor and black. Today it’s predominantly immigrant Hispanic. Immigration trends [areas] towards revitalization, and decentralizes the concentration of entrenched poverty. Immigrant communities—even in disadvantaged areas—have seen increases in small business [that help] stabilize areas and change the character of communities.””
Stopping Drugs with Drugs
Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, and it’s something we’re going to have to deal with more intensely if our current budget crises in the states continue to cast doubt on our ability to house all the inmates we have and we cast about for alternatives. This post links you to some interesting pieces on the problem and notes the recent research indicating that perhaps the best treatment therapy for heroin addicts isn’t methadone (which they may sell to get better stuff) but heroin, only under a doctor’s supervision. See why it might be an interesting post for you to check into? So go do it.
Tuesday, February 02, 2010
Latest from the Urban Institute
A friend sends along the latest newsletter from the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center, which includes notice of a couple of new reports of significant relevance, which we will conveniently provide the sidebars on below, which means we have no reason to continue adding clauses beginning with “which” now, which will probably make you happy, which is what we, of course, live for.
JPC just released “An Evolving Field: Findings from the 2008 Parole Practices Survey.” With funding from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the Urban Institute conducted a survey of parole supervision field offices to examine the current state of parole practice. Parole supervision has been a somewhat overlooked field in recent years, even as the challenges of prisoner reentry have attracted increasing attention. Parole supervision can and should play an important role in facilitating successful reentry, yet parole agencies must systematically adopt the practices and policies that have been demonstrated to work. The findings of the survey are summarized in this report, and indicate that the principles of effective supervision are beginning to take root.
The Urban Institute recently published a self-assessment tool designed to aid correctional administrators in evaluating and improving their release planning practices. Departments of corrections have increasingly embraced the important role that release planning plays in successful reentry. But their efforts to improve release planning are often hindered by the absence of accurate data and the lack of a systematic method to develop goals and measure performance over time. With funding from the Annie E. Casey Foundation and in partnership with the Wisconsin Department of Correction, Urban Institute staff developed and piloted a monthly assessment tool for individual correctional institutions and a yearly assessment tool for correctional agencies to monitor overall departmental performance. The policies and procedures identified as best practices in the tool are drawn from Release Planning for Successful Reentry: A Guide for Corrections, Service Providers, and Community Groups, a 2008 UI report that incorporated the results of a national survey of state correctional departments, a national scan of practice, and a literature review on the topic of release planning.
Reforming Mississippi’s Prison System
Another kind reader sends news of this
new report from the Pew Center on the States regarding efforts at correctional
reform in Mississippi. Here are a couple of highlights, but you need
to check out the whole thing. It’s not long and you can call it work.
“Mississippi provides an example of a state that, prior to the fiscal crisis, began a series of sentencing reforms with broad support that were designed to enhance public safety and control corrections costs by concentrating its prison space on more serious offenders. The most significant reform changed the state’s “truth-in-sentencing” law. Non-violent offenders in Mississippi are now eligible for parole after serving 25 percent of their prison sentence, down from the requirement of 85 percent that was established in 1995. This change was passed by the legislature and signed into law in 2008 by Governor Haley Barbour.
The JFA Institute analysis found:
- By instituting changes to its parole eligibility requirements and parole risk assessment instrument, Mississippi between July 2008 and August 2009 released 3,076 inmates earlier than they would have been under prior law. The median sentence reduction of those released was 13 months.
- Through August 2009, 121 of those released offenders have been returned to custody—116 for technical violations of parole; five for non-violent offenses. One reason for the low recidivism rate is the use of a newly-developed risk assessment instrument to help authorities decide which inmates are suitable for release.
- The JFA Institute estimates that the reforms will permit Mississippi to avoid having to build and operate an additional 5,000 prison beds over the next 10 years.
While these results are encouraging, it is important to recognize that they are preliminary. The most recent of the legislative changes took effect in July 2008 so their long-term impact remains to be seen. Moreover, the report does not address any efforts that the state is taking to ensure strong supervision of the additional parolees.”
Top That Off for Me, Wouldja, Dad?
Okay, don’t want your kid to drink but know s/he probably will. Better
to keep it at home and under your watchful eye than to let them run around
doing who knows what or how much, right?
Uh . . . no. Not according to the research reported here. In fact,
“In a study of 428 Dutch families, researchers found that the more teenagers were allowed to drink at home, the more they drank outside of home as well. What's more, teens who drank under their parents' watch or on their own had an elevated risk of developing alcohol-related problems.
Drinking problems included trouble with school work, missed school days and getting into fights with other people, among other issues.”
And let’s not even start with that “playing with matches” notion, okay?
Monday, February 01, 2010
How Offenders Change Their Lives
A new book, with summaries of chapters available here right
now, that shows promise. You can get it from Willan Publishing. Here’s
the abstract of the whole book.
“It is known that many offenders, particularly the incarcerated population, have serious health, addiction, and mental health conditions. They also have poor education and employment skills, marginal housing, and often come from violent neighborhoods and dysfunctional families. They are distinguishably different from the common notions of an average citizen. Understanding that millions of these offenders will be returning to their communities from shorter stays in jails, reentry has become the current buzzword used to organize and control the panic that States and communities are now voicing. The focus of this introductory chapter is to outline a series of studies within this volume that investigate individual identity transformation beyond offenders' criminal selves and how former or current prisoners change their lives from offender to prosocial, nonoffending roles. The work highlights the perspective of the men and women who are currently or formerly incarcerated. Each piece provides an empirical analysis of the interaction between current or former prisoners and innovative prosocial programs and networks grounded in the most theoretical work about individual transformation and change. The chapters in the book are organized into three broad areas of concentration: 1) the nature of identity transformation, 2) the role of programs, families and social support on the transforming self, and 3) how reformed peers use their ex-identity in service to others. The book concludes with a chapter on the policy implications of these studies and ideas.”
What Other States Are Doing
If you’ve been hankering for a comprehensive listing of what important legislation on sentencing and corrections is happening in your state and others, well, you’re strange. But you’re also lucky because you can find one here, courtesy of the National Conference of State Legislatures. Interesting stuff, probably to get more interesting if more federal stimulus money doesn’t come available fairly quickly. Hopefully they’ll update regularly. Enjoy, you wild and crazy one. (h/t Sentencing Law and Policy)
We’ve noted from time to time here the impact of lead ingestion on human behavior, particularly young people’s and particularly criminal behavior. Here’s yet another study, finding links with ADHD. Good thing inability to focus attention and plan for the future well don’t have anything to do with criminal behavior.
There ARE Places That Welcome Inmates
When it comes time to count population for federal benefits and legislative district representation. Oh, and maybe when their labor reduces costs for taxpayers. (Of course, that’s one of the first programs to get cut when we have to cut.)
Policy Revision Timing
If you know anyone who likes to do the operational policy revision process, hook them up with the “hankering for state legislation” people mentioned at the top. However, for those who do it and those who might, there is a nice overview to go through the relevant who, what, where, and whys that can remind and teach if you link on it. No need to thank us.
The Other Costs of Schizophrenia
Average over $1400 just within the criminal processing
system annually. That’s
report of a study on the topic says. From what?
“Haya Ascher-Svanum led a team of researchers from Eli Lilly and Company, USA, who used data from a study of around 600 people with schizophrenia to estimate the prevalence and cost of involvement with the criminal justice system. They found that 46% had had at least one encounter, and these patients were more likely to be younger, with poorer mental health, and less likely to adhere to their medication regime. Being a crime victim was the most prevalent type of encounter, comprising 67% of these patients.”
One more way mental health and corrections intertwine that the public usually doesn’t have a clue. Well, actually, most of us in corrections don’t either. So this timely monograph on how to treat schizophrenics in our custody may prove very useful to a lot of people.
Ecstasy, Alcohol, and Three-Headed Dragons
Report here on a study of death data related to drug use claims that ecstasy hits a healthier and younger population in the “club use” category than other drugs like meth. Since the report doesn’t indicate the actual numbers of users, only deaths, or any controls, it’s hard to know whether to take this very seriously beyond “an age category of young people tote up more deaths using ecstasy than meth and they tend to be younger and healthier.” IOW, may be helpful, maybe not. Anyone wants to read the actual study and get back to us, we’ll be glad to put it up. In the meantime, this study uses controls and finds that that legal drug, alcohol, may do very real and permanent damage to teen brains, at least teens who don’t die from doing ecstasy in clubs. 12-14-years olds, looked at their white matter compared to non-binge-ing counterparts. Not good news if you’re into white matter, which you should be since it seems to be important up there. Finally, what you actually read this post for, the three-headed dragons. It’s a metaphor for the areas needing treatment to get addicts un-addicted—physical, psychological, and spiritual, detailed in this post, which argues against confidence that drug therapies to end addiction will be effective without attention to the latter two. The problem here, of course, is that, if we come up with vaccines and counter-drugging that can be shown to make a major impact on addiction and its related correctional problems and thus reduce the spending and effort that go into those corrections, there’s not likely to be much concern with whether the drug abuser feels good about it. With genetic therapies and intrusive delivery mechanisms getting closer and closer to reality, this is a debate that will likely continue, but, if we don’t have the money for “voluntary” or even caring, it’s not hard to see how it will end. Maybe just when.