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The Guilty Project: Patrick Hampton

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From the Bradenton (FL) Herald:

Repeated Judicial Leniency, Misuse of Mental Incompetence Status, Parole Board Leniency, Repeated Failure of “Community Control”

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This is Patrick Hampton. In 2003, he tried to kill a man by stabbing him “several times” with a steak knife.  Instead of sending him to prison, Judge Peter Dubensky sent him to a mental institution.  Some six months later, Dubensky ruled that Hampton was competent for trial.  Then he sentenced him to four years in prison.

Four years for aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.  Why?  Hampton walked into prison in March of 2005.   Two and a half years later, August 2007, he walked out.

So, between Judge Dubensky’s inane sentencing and the equally inane actions of Florida’s parole board, which persists in letting violent felons walk early despite the trail of broken bodies that ensue (like, mine), Hampton was free to kill his stepmother last Friday.

There is nothing wrong with judges finding people mentally unfit to stand trial, of course.  But once they are deemed fit, they need to actually be held responsible for their crimes, or they need to be kept incarcerated if they’re so dangerous that they’re not responsible.  One or the other, right?  Mental illness combined with criminal acts shouldn’t be treated like some sentencing version of an early-bird two-for-one.

Did Dubensky go easy on Hampton because he decided that his mental illness excused his attempt to murder someone?

Or does Dubensky just go easy on extremely violent, recidivist felons?

Or did he go easy on Hampton for some other reason, some dangerously misguided paternalistic impulse for a man he’d seen in his courtroom before?

According to Manatee County’s criminal records, the 2003 stabbing was not the first time Judge Dubensky encountered Patrick Hampton in court.  That would be way back in 1997:

ADJUDGED GUILTY SENTENCED TO 6 MONTHS COUNTY JAIL WITH CREDIT FOR TIME SERVED CONCURRENT WITH 93-3601F $261.00 COURT COSTS BY JUDGMENT THIRTY DAYS TO FILE AN APPEAL-JUDGE PETER DUBENSKY PLEA SHEET FROM 07/07/97.

From what I can tell from the on-line sources, that incarceration appears to have resulted from the last time someone went easy on Hampton because he was mentally ill.  After he attacked his father, he was given outpatient therapy and probation instead of a prison sentence, then he violated the terms of probation:

REPRESENTED BY PATRICK FORD, ASSISTANT PUBLIC DEFENDER STATE REPRESENTED BY IRENE PLANK WITHDREW DENIAL ACKNOWLEDGE & WAIVER OF RIGHTS FILED IN OPEN COURT COUNT I ADMITTED VIOLATION OF PROBATION. PROBATION REVOKED ADJUGED GUILTY ON ORIGINAL OFFENSE PLACED ON 2 YEARS COMMUNITY CONTROL, CONTINUE AND COMPLETE OUTPATIENT PROGRAM AT MANATEE GLENS. CONTINUE TAKING MEDICATION. ORIGINAL CONDITIONS TO APPLY. COST OF SUPERVISION WAIVED. COUNT II ADMITTED VIOLATION OF PROBATION. PROBATION REVOKED CREDIT OF TIME SERVICE IN THE COUNTY JAIL 30 DAYS TO FILE AN APPEAL-JUDGE ROBERT J BOYLSTON VIOLATION OF PROBATION DOCKET FROM 4/3/96

So, let’s get this straight: Hampton violated probation, so he was placed on outpatient community control?  What the heck is probation anyway?

Note, too, the “cost of supervision waived.”  It and other waivers appear throughout his lengthy trips through the Manatee County Courts.  Between that freebie, and the price of giving him multiple public defenders, and dozens of separate court hearings, and the cost of hospitalization for his victims, and the cost of some court shrink evaluating him every time he decided to stop taking his medication and went on another tear, and the cost of the police catching him and delivering him to one courtroom or another, where yet another well-paid judge let him go on “community control” again and an admonishment to take his meds, can you imagine how much it has cost the taxpayers of Florida to allow this violent, recidivist felon to walk the streets?

Think about that the next time some liberal state politician screams that alternatives to incarceration cost less than incarceration.  Also think about it the next time some conservative state politician screams that we’re spending too much on the state prison budget and quietly betrays his own “tough on crime” stance by colluding with the liberals to let offenders out early to save a dime (thus displacing costs to the counties, where they’re harder to track).

And then there’s that other cost: one human life, Maxine Hampton, 83. Evidence of her murder includes a broken glass, a knife, and a frying pan.  Imagine that.  Who could have possibly predicted that a mentally unstable, non-medically compliant, violent recidivist who had stabbed at least one person in the past and had a history of violence towards his parents would do the same again?

1994:

REPRESENTED BY DAVID EHLERS, ASST PUBLIC DEFENDER STATE REPRESENTED BY IRENE PLANK COUNTS 1 & 2: PLEAD NOLO CONTENDERE, ADJUDICATION WITHHELD COUNT I- WITHDREW PREVIOUS PLEA ACKNOWLEDGE & WAIVER OF RIGHTS FILED IN OPEN COURT PLACED ON 5 YEARS PROBATION. ENTER AND COMPLETE THE OUT PATIENT PROGRAM THROUGH GLEN OAKS OR MANATEE GLENS. TIME SERVED COUNTY JAIL WITH CREDIT FOR TIME SERVED. WAIVE COS. WAIVER OF PRIVILEDGED COMMUNICATION SIGNED AND FILED WITH PROBATION. $250.00 COURT COSTS BY JUDGMENT.COUNT II-PLACED ON 12 MONTHS PROBATION CONCURRENT WITH COUNT I. COS WAIVED. TIME SERVED COUNTY JAIL WITH CREDIT FOR TIME SERVED. THIRTY DAYS TO FILE AN APPEAL (PAUL E. LOGAN) PRE TRIAL CONFERENCE DOCKET FROM 3/24/94

1995:

NOTICE OF CASE ACTION FILED CRIMINAL CHARGES WILL NOT BE FILED AS TO AGGRAVATED BATTERY & 2 COUNTS OF CRIMINAL MISCHIEF CHARGES WILL BE FILED AS BATTERY & 2 COUNTS OF CRIMINAL MISCHIEF UNDER MISDEMEANOR CASE #95-5668M

1996:

PROBATION REVOKED ADJUGED GUILTY ON ORIGINAL OFFENSE PLACED ON 2 YEARS COMMUNITY CONTROL, CONTINUE AND COMPLETE OUTPATIENT PROGRAM AT MANATEE GLENS. CONTINUE TAKING MEDICATION. ORIGINAL CONDITIONS TO APPLY. COST OF SUPERVISION WAIVED. COUNT II ADMITTED VIOLATION OF PROBATION. PROBATION REVOKED CREDIT OF TIME SERVICE IN THE COUNTY JAIL 30 DAYS TO FILE AN APPEAL-JUDGE ROBERT J BOYLSTON VIOLATION OF PROBATION DOCKET FROM 4/3/96

1997:

REPRESENTED BY ASSISTANT PUBLIC DEFENDER CYNDEE NEWTON STATE REPRESENTED BY CYNTHIA EVERS WITHDREW PREVIOUS PLEA ACKNOWLEDGE & WAIVER OF RIGHTS FILED IN OPEN COURT PLEAD NOLO CONTENDERE, ADJUDGED GUILTY SENTENCED TO 6 MONTHS COUNTY JAIL WITH CREDIT FOR TIME SERVED CONCURRENT WITH 93-3601F $261.00 COURT COSTS BY JUDGMENT THIRTY DAYS TO FILE AN APPEAL-JUDGE PETER DUBENSKY PLEA SHEET FROM 07/07/97

2003:

REPRESENTED BY DAVID EHLERS, ASSISTANT PUBLIC DEFENDER STATE REPRESENTED BY DAWN BUFF WITHDREW PREVIOUS PLEA ACKNOWLEDGEMENT AND WAIVER OF RIGHTS FILED IN OPEN COURT PLED /NOLO CONTENDERE, ADJUDGED GUILTY PLACED ON PROBATION FOR 3 YEARS COST OF SUPERVISION WAIVED 100 HOURS PUBLIC SERVICE HOURS IN EQUAL MONTHLY INSTALLMENTS WITHIN 34 MONTHS COURT IMPOSE COURT COSTS OF $261.00 BY JUDGMENT $150.00 COURT FACILITY FEE PURSUANT TO ARTICLE 5 TRUST FUND BY JUDGMENT $40.00 PUBLIC DEFENDER APPLICATIONS FEES, REDUCED TO JUDGMENT $150.00 ATTORNEY’S FEES BY JUDGMENT . . . TAKE ALL MEDICATIONS AS PRESCRIBED DEFENDANT SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER SENTENCING GUIDELINES FILED IN OPEN COURT THIRTY DAYS TO APPEAL – JUDGE MARC B. GILNER FROM 02/12/03 PLEA SHEET

The on-line records from Manatee County indicate at least five separate felonies against Hampton, along with either three or four other cases prior to 1993 that cannot be viewed on-line.  Some are serious felonies, some minor felonies, but in each case the result appears the same: the judge ignores Hampton’s mounting record of recidivism and sends him for more therapy.  The dockets for each viewable case involve multiple court hearings, multiple lawyers, multiple instances of judicial leniency.

One of Hampton’s many defense attorneys blamed a lack of mental health resources in the wake of his client’s latest attack:

[David] Ehlers on Monday recalled his former client as a man with obvious mental illness and needing more treatment.  “He was clearly someone who was mentally ill,” said Ehlers. “But the situation is that the demand for mental health services is overwhelming, and the state probably doesn’t keep everyone in as long as they should.”

So what did Ehlers do about his client’s obvious inability to live safely in society, which he says was clear to him?  He cut a deal with a judge for a pittance of prison time and got Hampton back on the streets as fast as he could.

In hindsight, was that really in “the best interest of his client”?

And did the state really fail to provide Patrick Hampton with mental health resources?  Since at least 1994, he has been ordered to receive, and provided with, state-provided in-patient and out-patient mental health care.  Over the last 15 years, he repeatedly rejected the outpatient treatment, but instead of protecting the public from an unstable man with a proven record of violence, judges kept sending him back for more “community control.”

What’s that saying about the definition of crazy?

Murder by Anti-Incerceration Activism

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From a City Journal article by Heather Mac Donald.  How the murder of 17-year old Lily Burk could have been prevented:

The recent arrest of a vicious murderer in Los Angeles vindicates—tragically, only after-the-fact—several policing and sentencing policies that anti-law-enforcement advocates have fought for years. . .

On July 24 at around 3 pm., 17-year-old Lily Burk was walking down a midtown Los Angeles street on an errand for her mother. A 50-year-old homeless parolee with a three-decade-long rap sheet confronted the high school senior as she approached her Volvo. . .

At 4.52 pm, Samuel pulled the Volvo into a Skid Row parking lot at Alameda and 5th Street and abandoned it. Burk had already been murdered, her head beaten and throat slashed open with a broken bottle; her body was left in her car. . .

Samuel then walked nearly a mile through Skid Row, drinking beer from a paper bag in violation of L.A.’s open container law. Two LAPD officers on horseback stopped him for the public-drinking offense and questioned him. He told them that he was on parole and agreed to be searched, according to the police. They found a crack pipe in his pocket and arrested him. The post-arrest search of Samuel turned up a Volvo key and a cell phone. The next morning, a worker from a Skid Row business discovered Burk’s car with her body in it. Samuel’s prints were in the car; his clothes had blood on them.

Samuel’s apprehension shows the enormous power of broken-windows policing, which the American Civil Liberties Union has fought against on L.A.’s Skid Row and throughout the country.. . . When officers question people in high-crime areas for misdemeanor offenses, they regularly find warrant absconders and parole violators. In 1996, a New York police officer nabbed a young man jumping a subway turnstile, a crime that a decade earlier had been regarded as simply an inevitable response to poverty and too trivial for the police to worry about. The turnstile-jumper, John Royster, turned out to be wanted for an ongoing campaign of terror against women in New York that included murder, rape, and a nearly lethal beating; had he not been picked up for the subway offense, he undoubtedly would have gone on to assault more women.

Of course, the effectiveness of broken-windows policing in capturing Charles Samuel is only half of the story.  The other half is the story of how anti-incarceration activists, and their allies in the judiciary, kept Samuel out of prison in the first place, despite his brutal, violent, recidivist record of crime:

California’s “three strikes and you’re out” law is the most reviled sentencing policy in the country—reviled, that is, by the anti-incarceration lobby. It allows prosecutors to seek a sentence of 25 years to life against an offender who has already served time for two violent or serious felonies when he is convicted of a third felony.

Anti-law-enforcement advocates fancifully charge that the law’s main effect is to send away hapless sad sacks whose only misstep was to succumb to the urge for a pizza when they didn’t have enough change in their pockets to buy a slice. These advocates regularly lobby Sacramento to loosen or repeal the law.

Mac Donald is right: the only time the media writes about three-strikes, it is to push a questionable sob story.  There is no discussion of these laws when they are used to finally get a violent recidivist off the streets.  The media will bang the drums when some offender with a long rap sheet finally kills someone.  But then they go back to playing amnesiac and reflexively opposing the laws that could have prevented the crime in the first place.

In Atlanta, for example, it appears that everybody has forgotten about the various sentencing and judgment errors that ended in Eugenia Calle’s murder.  Apparently, there will be no professional consequences for the judge and prosecutor who let Shamal Thompson walk as a “first offender” (for the third time), rather than enforcing Georgia’s minimum mandatory law, as they were required to do by law.  Are we all just going to collectively forget what happened, until the next time the next recidivist captures our attention by killing someone?  No consequences for offenders and no consequences for the prosecutors and judges who fail to do their jobs and put them away: a perfect circle.  No wonder judges so frequently identify with offenders, and not with the rest of us.

Heather Mac Donald:

Samuel was a good candidate for a third-strike sentence, thanks to an earlier attack that foreshadowed Burk’s murder. In 1986, he walked up to an elderly man sitting on his porch in San Bernardino (in the so-called Inland Empire east of Los Angeles), grabbed the man’s cane and beat him with it, then forced him inside his home and demanded money. When the old man could only come up with ten dollars, Samuel commandeered the man’s car and drove the owner to an ATM. The terrified senior citizen was unable to withdraw any money, however, whereupon Samuel struck him with his cane again, punched him in the stomach, and threatened to kill him if he called the police, according to the Los Angeles Times.  Samuel pled guilty in 1987 to robbery, residential burglary, and car theft and was sentenced to six years. He became eligible for a three-strikes sentence in 1997, following a conviction for another San Bernardino burglary (the 1986 robbery and burglary charges counted as his first two felonies). But his rap sheet failed to note that the 1986 burglary was a residential burglary, as opposed to a non-residential break-in. Only residential burglaries count as “serious” felonies for three-strikes purposes; breaking into a store, office building, or commercial space is regarded as “non-serious” and can be repeated indefinitely without triggering a three-strike step-up in sentencing. (So much for the idea that the three-strikes law is blindly draconian; in fact, it makes careful—perhaps overly careful—distinctions between felonies.)

To make a long story short (I am quoting too much already: read the article, it’s good), Samuel managed to avoid three-strikes in 1997 because somebody did not accurately record his prior record, and no prosecutor caught the error (sound familiar?), and he avoided three-strikes again in 2006 because another prosecutor, bowing to anti-incarceration activism, did not request the sentence (sound familiar?).  Over the years, he got other breaks as well and was most recently sentenced to a “community drug treatment program” despite the routine insistence that violent offenders are not permitted to take advantage of such options.   Now a 17-year old girl is dead, brutally murdered.  How many other people did he get away with killing?

Much misinformation about three-strikes laws circulates in the media:

  • When activists say three-strikes laws offer no room for the get-out-of-jail card that is judicial (in)discretion, don’t believe them.  Even California, with by far the strictest three-strikes law in the country, still allows judges and prosecutors discretion to release violent, repeat offenders to the streets.  Georgia’s law is utterly toothless, with judicial discretion over-ruling virtually any consequences for crime by allowing judges to suspend all time to be served at the times of sentencing.
  • When district attorneys tell you they don’t need addition resources, they are playing politics with your safety.  Nobody seriously believes that any district attorney’s office has the resources to actually enforce the law.  The law has not really been enforced in this country for decades.  Every district attorney’s office is so short-staffed, in comparison to the real quantity of crime, that virtually every offense gets brief consideration by some harried prosecutor and then a generous plea deal.  Criminals know this and act accordingly.  Until that changes, no district attorney should go around claiming that he doesn’t need resources.  Paul Howard.
  • It is 2009.  Even I have learned to use computers, and I am a recalcitrant luddite.  The average computer tech could design a system during his lunch break that would record and database all prosecution, sentencing and incarceration outcomes.  By suppertime, the data could be available to the public on the internet.

However, if people really knew what was happening in the criminal courts, a lot of heads would roll.  Judges and prosecutors would find themselves answering for the leniency so ingrained at every level of the system that it seems natural — so long as you don’t look too hard, and it is not your daughter they are burying this week.

No-Snitch Children and No-Punishment Adults

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Every weekday, I receive a useful summary of crime, policing, and justice news stories called Crime and Justice News, compiled by Ted Gest at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.  Considering that there are so many relevant articles from which to choose, Gest and his assistants do a good job of spotting national trends.

But, sometimes, reading through the report is singularly depressing, not only because crime is depressing, but because the trends in crime prevention that crop up regularly these days seem doomed to failure.

In yesterday’s Crime and Justice News, the first two stories on the list, taken together, are particularly grim:

Detroit Kids Say No-Snitch Culture Ingrained
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Clergy and civic groups have joined Detroit’s new leadership in calling for an end to youth violence — specifically targeting the no-snitch culture that says it’s better, and safer, to turn a blind eye to criminal acts. Kids on the street are saying: Good luck, reports the Detroit News. “In this city, it’s come down to a combination of fear and I don’t care,” said Antonio Bolden, 15. “When it comes to the no-snitch thing, this city is too far gone.”

Chief County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said, “Without people telling what they know to law enforcement we would have anarchy in the streets.” Some say that’s already a good description of Detroit. . .

Detroit News

A Formula For Less Crime, Less Punishment
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If punishments for wrongdoing are sporadic and delayed, increasing severity has only modest impact. That’s why quintupling the prison and jail population has failed to get us back to the crime rates of the early 1960s. So says public policy Prof. Mark A. R. Kleiman of UCLA in When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment, from Princeton University Press this summer. . .

Washington Monthly

There’s no need to explain why the “No-Snitching” article is depressing.  But even though Kleiman’s research is well worth a read — he argues that immediate consequences and zero tolerance for infractions can make parole and probation highly effective and reduce the need for prison sentences — his theory doesn’t have a chance of working.

Not because, as some would argue, we are philosophically wedded to harsh, long incarcerations, but because precisely the opposite is true.  Too many powerful people are so opposed to incarceration, particularly for drug crimes, that they will be no more willing to enhance probation and parole with threatened prison terms than they were to enhancing other types of sentencing.

The real problem is the power of the defense bar and the many ways they have devised to bankrupt the justice system.  That’s where all the money went.  You can spend all day jiggering the system at its edges, but if you don’t tackle the bloated, kleptocratic defense bar, with its stranglehold on procedure and evidence rules, you will accomplish nothing.

The other problem is dumbing down justice.  Academicians can come up with wonderful plans, but by the time they get enforced, they don’t look the same anymore.  We already have rules governing the behavior of people on parole, and often they simply get ignored.  We already have minimum mandatory laws that are supposed to “weed out” the worst offenders, and judges ignore them.  We already have a vast network of “community sentencing” and drug court options, and a lot of them are scams.

The only thing that guarantees that people will not re-offend during a certain time period is incarceration.

But anti-incarceration activism and the economic crisis are now working hand-in-hand to drive states to abandon crime-fighting and replace it with “job training” and “community outreach,” the money for which is showering down from federal deficit-spending largess, not scraped out of strained state and city budgets.  All of which would be lovely if only it (a) actually worked and (b) didn’t instantaneously disappear into the voluminous pockets of political cronies.

Add to that, (c) nobody in high-crime communities labors under the illusion that serious and repeat offenders are actually removed from the streets now, so communities are already spiraling out of control.  Fixing parole is a band-aid.  Activists talk about the need to empty the prisons and overturn minimum mandatory sentencing, but in reality, it’s already done.  The streets are already crawling with violent recidivists who are already getting a mere slap on the wrist for their seventh, or twenty-seventh offenses.

The Detroit News article has some interesting quotes from community members who are demanding more law enforcement and harsher sentencing — not less, as many experts propose.  But then the reporter lays the blame for lax enforcement of laws and short prison terms at the feet of prosecutors and police, as if they are the ones who want to let suspects walk and felons plead down.

Where is the blame for the criminal bar, the defense attorneys, the pro-criminal judges — the real source of the culture of leniency?

Meanwhile, academicians and policy makers continue to insist that the only “solution” is to empty the prisons.  I suspect they will win.  Then we’ll all be back in 1993, with Detroit leading the way.

At least criminology will remain a growth profession.

“National Network for Safe Communities” or More of the Same Old Song?

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The newest hot thing in crime reduction is actually an old idea that has been tried again and again, at staggering cost, with little objective evaluation of the results.  It is now being re-packaged as an initiative called National Network for Safe Communities, and several large cities are already signing on.  The idea is to “reach out” to the most prolific criminals, the ones who control drug dealing and gang activities, and try to engage them in dialogue to get them to stop dealing, robbing, and shooting — before threatening them with prison.

To put it another way, cities overwhelmed by crime will hand over yet another get-out-of-jail-free card to offenders who already, in reality, have fistfuls of them.  Cities will reinforce the status and egos of the worst offenders by engaging them in “dialogue”  (predictably, some of these offenders will simply use their new status to grow their criminal enterprise, like this M-13 gang member/executive director of Homies Unidos, a “nationally recognized anti-gang group”).  Cities will create and subsidize larger numbers of expensive, redundant, slush-fund “job outreach programs” and “youth intervention initiatives” and “community summits” and “lock-downs service provision weekends” — more, that is, than even exist now.

This is an act of desperation. Every decade or so, this idea gets the green light, or at least a new name.  Then a whole lot of money gets pumped into completely unaccountable non-profits.  Next, unsurprisingly, the politically-connected activists who draw their salaries from said non-profits declare success; newspaper reporters pen feel-good stories (before, occasionally, moving on to exposés); politicians declare victory; then academicians with ties to the politicians and activists go in and create positive “evaluations” of the programs they have been asked to evaluate positively (nobody ever reports failure: it simply is not done).

I used to (unwillingly) play this racket, so I know how it works.

How do you justify shelling out millions of dollars to essentially non-existent “jobs programs”?  First and foremost, you set your “program goals” ridiculously low.  Here is an example from yesterday’s news: according to the Boston Globe, the Boston Foundation recently set out to fund-raise 26 million dollars to institute a safe communities gang intervention program.  26 million dollars, yet their “goal” was to have “13 new street workers in targeted neighborhoods by March” and eventually 25, as well as paying existing non-profits to provide vague and redundant services like “job training” and “family support.”

Wow.  Those are some good-paying community outreach jobs.

Of course, months and millions of dollars later, they have not even succeeded in the paltry goal of getting 13 workers on the ground.  Instead, the “coalition” of community groups, all expecting fat handouts, has dissolved into predictable warfare over who gets what.  Rather than reducing gang conflict, it might be said that the program has succeeded in fomenting more of it.  Nonetheless, at the end of five years, so long as they manage to produce 25 people who will claim to have been doing “gang outreach,” then they will meet their “program goals.”

In my painfully vast experience of performing community outreach, I have learned a couple of hard and fast rules:

  • The most effective community workers are the ones who get paid the least and have the lowest profile in “coalition” boondoggles — because they choose to spend their time actually helping people, not lining their pockets.
  • Beware all expenditures on laptops, Blackberries, cell phones, computer software, car rentals, print materials and tee-shirts with logos: these materials are inevitably “provided” at ten or twenty times the actual cost through “vendors” who often turn out the be married to politicians or just friends of the mayor.  The electronics will inevitably disappear.
  • With the exception of Job Corps, which addresses the needs of late-adolescent foster care children in residential settings, and Goodwill, which is an amazing organization, “job training” is largely a mythical creature.  I have never seen a job training program (besides Job Corps and Goodwill) in Atlanta that was not essentially fake.  You get a bunch of computers (see vendors, above), stick them in a church basement (paying the politically-connected minister for “rent”), and then pay a couple of kids or homeless guys to put on a show for the academician who shows up to evaluate the program (who also gets paid).
  • A very substantial proportion of any outreach grant gets spent on pricey conferences where activists (who are getting paid to attend) meet with other activists (who are getting paid to attend) in nice hotels and eat nice meals (that are paid for) while pretending to exchange ideas and information.  Sometimes, these banquets and hotel events don’t have any purpose beyond celebrating or congratulating the program participants and the providers.  In both cases, expensive silk-screened tee-shirts and caps and bags and other gimmies must be manufactured to commemorate the event (at ten to twenty times the actual cost, see above).
  • The less likely the idea, the more likely it is to be endorsed by someone.  The less successful the outcome, the more successful the next grant application cycle will be, because the “demonstrable need” will have risen.  Funding for failure is the formula; funding for fantastical failure, the gold standard.  Success in Boston is being measured by the fact that someone managed to get a handful of ex-con “outreach” workers onto the streets with a mere 8.8 million dollars.  They did decide against spending $50,000 to play laser tag with gun felons.  I think.

Underlying this latest round of “gang leader outreach” programs is a solid criminological insight: small numbers of youths are responsible for the majority of urban crime.  David Kennedy, a professor at John Jay, designed the “persuasion-based” policies of Safe Communities after his research detailed these concentrations of crime.

So why not move into high-crime areas and build strong, comprehensive cases against these prolific offenders, instead of “reaching out” to them and essentially excusing their latest crimes?  When I look at a program like Safe Communities, I see failure in the courts.  It has simply become too difficult to put even the worst, most violent criminals away.  Community leaders, negotiating with their hands tied behind their backs, are forced to try to break bread with offenders instead, especially in the current anti-incarceration regime.

Then there’s the care and feeding of the “outreach machine,” which can derail even the most promising and well-intentioned intervention program.  Every city has one, a slick, politically-connected, vocal, and corrupt cabal that makes their living off a steady flow of block grants and foundation money and community development funds.  Cut off their money, and you will find yourself on the receiving end of protests staged by people who figured out a long time ago that paying a few homeless guys to hold up signs and chant slogans for the 5:00 news is a great way to make a fast dime.

It takes considerable political courage to stand up to this racket.  Nevertheless, reality eventually intrudes.  A couple of years, a bunch of scandals, millions of dollars, and a few avoidable deaths later, expect cities to quietly abandon these programs again.

Fulton County, Georgia to Put More Defendants Back on the Streets (Translation Provided)

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Why not spend the money actually trying the cases instead?  Why bother having a justice system at all?

Court Program to Save Fulton $5.5 Million

A program that began April 1 will increase the number of defendants given pretrial release is expected to save Fulton County taxpayers more than $5.5 million a year in jail costs.

That’s “savings” as in “we’re going to shuffle these costs further down the line in some crazed and futile attempt to get through this budget year, knowing full well that our deception will be papered over by our criminologist friends (thank you, Pew Center!!!) who are busy inventing statistics that don’t take into account the added costs arising from additional victimizations, additional police investigations, and additional court cases that will result from releasing offenders pre-trial — not to mention the overall effect of further reducing the dwindling consequences for committing crimes.”

The Superior Court of Fulton County’s Pretrial Services will operate the new Intensive Supervision Program (ISP) which was recently funded by the Fulton County Commission. The program will provide rigorous supervision of defendants who don’t qualify for release under existing criteria.

That’s “defendants who don’t qualify for release under existing criteria” as in “we already let a shocking number of people go before trial or case disposition — boy, you would probably be really surprised to see some of the people we let go — but we’re still so utterly disorganized and underfunded and distracted and in some cases, just lazy, that we’re going to swing open those prison gates just a little bit wider.”

Over the past decade the Court’s existing Pretrial Services program has racked up an impressive record of reducing jail costs while ensuring that over 95 percent of program defendants show up for all scheduled court hearings.

That’s “over 95% of program defendants show up for all scheduled court hearings” as in “5% of the people who do something serious enough to end up in jail don’t show up in court after we let them go before trial.  Since we have an acknowledged backlog of some 6,000 cases, that’s 300 absconders just from the cases that are backlogged.”

The new ISP will supervise about 150 additional defendants per month.

Candidates for the program are:

• Youthful defendants charged with non-violent crimes that the Judiciary deem appropriate for release if heightened supervision is available.

That’s “appropriate for release if heightened supervision is available” as in “since we already release juvenile offenders almost automatically, even if they have been involved in home invasions or gun crimes or assaults, these kids are really scary, but we’re going to let the go anyway if heightened supervision is available.

• Defendants whose community ties cannot be “verified” or those who have not established a six month residency in the Atlanta metropolitan area
•Defendants, with little or no criminal history, charged with property crimes who do not meet normal pretrial release criteria.

That’s “little or no criminal history” as in “pretty much everything is little criminal history these days, especially since we keep giving people first-offender status for their sixth or eighth crime” and “property crimes that do not meet normal pretrial release criteria” as in ” kicking down your front door and luckily nobody got killed.  This time.”

•Defendants referred to the ISP by a judge.

That’s “referred by a judge” as in “like the judge who let rapper T.I. free on a gun charge because he’s rich, or the judge who let murderer Shamal Thompson go because he said he was a wedding dress designer.”

ISP release requirements may include:

That’s “may include” as in “not will include or must include, but may include.  Or, thus, may not.”

•In-person office contact twice a week
•Weekly field visits to defendant’s home/employer
•Curfew
•Electronic Monitoring
•Seek full-time employment if not already employed.
•Attend in-house life skills programs or community service programs.
•Be employed or actively seeking employment or school
•Defendants without high school diploma must enter GED program
•Social service agency referrals where appropriate
•Immediate sanctions in response to program infractions

That’s “immediate sanctions” as in “is that anything like the sanctions attempted murderer Joshua Norris didn’t receive when he threatened two young women with a gun while he was out on bail for repeatedly shooting another person, as in, no sanctions, unless you count being praised for stayin’ in school and then having all your other violent gun charges reduced to community service by fawning court officers as a sanction?”

The ISP will notify the Court, District Attorney, and Defense Counsel of any violations of release conditions.

That’s “will notify . . . of any violations” as in “What?  They do this already, don’t they?”

***

Here is a troubling statistic: the Department of Justice reports that in 2002 (the latest figures available)  one-third of all defendants arrested for felony crimes were “active” in the system at the time of their arrest — in other words, on parole, probation, or pre-trial release.

Here is another troubling statistic: “[t]he Fulton county jail currently has a backlog of about 880 prisoners who have been awaiting trial — most for felonies like murder, rape or armed robbery.”

32% of the people booked into the system for new felony crimes are under court supervision yet on the streets when they commit those crimes, and most of the people currently incarcerated but available for pre-trial release in Fulton County are charged with felonies like murder, rape, and armed robbery.

Hypothetically, how much money could Fulton County save if it reduced the felony crime rate by 32%  —  by not letting people out of jail while awaiting trial or finishing their sentences?

Vaut mieux prévenir que guérir. Except, apparently, in the Fulton County Courts.

Five Ugly Pieces, Part 5: Around Atlanta

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Some mop-up for the week:

The Silver Comet Trail murder case is moving along despite efforts by the defense to derail it.  Tragically, Michael Ledford’s mother had tried to get her son put back in jail before Jennifer Ewing was killed:

The mother said her son should already have been locked up and his probation revoked on July 25, 2006, the day Jennifer Ewing was beaten to death just off the popular Silver Comet Trail in Paulding County.

She said she pleaded with authorities in early July to get her son off the streets but the probation officers only told him to “behave.”

“It they got him off the streets … that lady would be alive. They let this happen,” Mihlaek testified in her son’s death penalty trial.

“They promised to do something legally. They didn’t and now it’s too late,” she said.”

Ledford’s brother also asked authorities to do something about his brother:

Mark Ledford testified family members had called his brother’s probation officers several times to report his drinking and his penchant for staring at women. Drinking would have been grounds for revoking his probation. But he was never arrested.

He spent 10 years incarcerated for a 1991 rape and was serving 10 years on probation when Ewing was attacked.

Ledford’s mother and brother did everything they could do to keep women safe.  And when their warnings went unheeded, and Ledford came home covered in blood, they called the police and turned him in.

Not so with the mother of Jonathan Redding, the teen charged in the killing of bartender John Henderson.  Redding’s family released a statement this week:

[Jonathan Redding] is not the monster that he has been portrayed to be but was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Jonathan has strong family values and ties, and we feel he is currently a victim of the judicial system.

The wrong place at the wrong time.

Now defense lawyers in the Silver Comet Trail trial are trying to argue that Ledford is a victim of gender discrimination:

Sixteen people — 12 jurors and four alternates —were seated Friday to hear the Paulding County death penalty case against Michael Ledford, charged with murdering a Sandy Springs woman biking the popular Silver Comet Trail. . . .

The jury is dominated by men — only four women were among the 16 chosen as jurors or alternates — so Ledford’s attorneys filed a motion accusing prosecutors of gender bias because they struck so many women.

This type of thing would be laughable if it were not so costly.  Our trial system has become a joke, with the courts tilted so far towards the defense that every trial is a chilling reminder of how easy it is for murderers and rapists to walk free.

* * *

Meanwhile, in DeKalb County, a story that fell off the radar deserves a second look.  WSB-TV was the only news source that looked into this case:

Officer Accused of Exchanging Threatening E-Mails With Teen

DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — Officials with the DeKalb Police Department said a 15-year veteran of their department and an 18-year-old girl were exchanging e-mails that threatened her family.

Channel 2 Action News reporter Amanda Rosseter spent the day digging through the officer’s personnel file and she found two offenses of conduct unbecoming – both within the past four months, and both over contact and e-mails with teenage girls.

DeKalb County police confirmed Kevin Sowell resigned two weeks ago after the department said it would fire him for two offenses – including a string of e-mails that threatened a young girl’s family.

Sowell was allowed to resign instead of being fired, and, according to WSB, as of April 24, no other action had been taken regarding his possibly criminal conduct:

The first offense allegedly took place in January. Sowell was suspended after he “developed a friendly relationship with a 16-year-old child,” according to officials. According to his file, after the girl’s parents requested that he discontinue contact, he continued with the child in person, by e-mail, and by a cell phone he purchased for her.

Just two months later, the second offense allegedly occurred. The internal affairs memo said, “The content of the messages was threatening in nature and spoke of violent acts towards the female’s parents” and said he “admitted to sending the correspondence.”

And another report noted, “They were both planning to harm her parents and sister-in-law. Instead of discouraging her, he responded in a manner that encouraged further thoughts on the act to harm.”

* * *

The Village Voice’s True Crime Report has some interesting commentary about George Zinkhan, the UGA marketing professor who murdered his wife and two others before killing himself.  According to True Crime, Zinkhan had a troubling history at University of Houston, serially harassing female students and junior faculty.  At the time Zinkhan came to UGA, he was the subject of a federal lawsuit at UH for “persistent sexual harassment.”  Apparently, this did not negatively affect UGA’s decision to hire him.  What a surprise.

* * *

Finally, yesterday, I received a copy of the full transcript from the indictment of Joshua Norris, the Morehouse student who emptied a gun into another Morehouse student and walked away with probation, apparently because the prosecutor got caught up in Judge Marvin Arrington’s otherwise admirable campaign to address the problem of crime among minority youth.

The transcript is in yesterday’s comments thread.  What is striking to me is the utter lack of attention to the crime itself — it seems that Arrington, and everyone else in the courtroom, have entirely forgotten that Norris is standing before them because he tried to commit murder, firing a gun six times outside a nightclub and striking the victim three times.

Judge Arrington and the prosecutor seem far more interested in debating the relative merits of different community service positions for Norris than addressing the law, or the crime.  The prosecutor, who is supposed to be representing the public, and the victim, apparently feels that it would be inappropriate for Norris to demean himself by picking up garbage with other probationers, because his is a special case:

Prosecutor Thompson: HE NEEDS TO BE IN SOME TYPE OF A PROGRAM WORKING WITH YOUNG PEOPLE.

Judge Arrington (?): WHAT DO YOU CALL THAT, CATHY, COMMUNITY SERVICE?

Staff Attorney: BIG SISTER AND BIG BROTHER?

Prosecutor Thompson: THERE’S 240 HOURS OF COMMUNITY SERVICE, AS PART OF THE PLEA, YOUR HONOR.

Judge Arrington:  NOW, MIZELL, I WANT YOU TO FIND A CONSTRUCTIVE PROGRAM FOR THIS YOUNG MAN. I DON’T WANT NO –

Mr. Mizell: THAT WON’T BE POSSIBLE WITH THE GEORGIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, YOUR HONOR.

Judge Arrington:  WHY?

Mr. Mizell: HE HAS TO DO THE COMMUNITY SERVICE THAT’S DIRECTED BY THE
GEORGIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS. I HAD -— THEY HAVE SOME ISSUES WITH PEOPLE DOING OTHER THINGS, OTHER THEN WHAT THE DEPARTMENT MANDATES.

Judge Arrington:  WHAT DO THEY MANDATE IN THIS PARTICULAR INSTANCE?

Mr. Mizell: HE WOULD DO IT, ACCORDING TO THE -— WHAT WE HAVE SET UP, NOW. AND THAT’S THEY PICK UP PAPER, THEY WORK IN SALVAGE PLACES, BASICALLY. ALTHOUGH, THERE HAVE BEEN INSTANCES –

Prosecutor Thompson: I WOULD LIKE FOR YOU TO REQUEST AND HIS LAWYER SEE IF WE CAN GET HIM OUT TO THE CAREY STEEL PITTS HOME THAT IS WORKING WITH YOUNG PEOPLE WHO DO NOT HAVE PARENTS. IT’S A FACILITY WHERE THEY CAN LIVE ON SITE AND THEY EAT THREE SQUARES A DAY. NINETY-EIGHT PERCENT OF THEM GO ON TO COLLEGE. . . . IT’S A GREAT PROGRAM.

Judge Arrington (?): I DON’T NEED NOBODY OUT THERE PICKING UP SOME PAPER. MIZELL, YOU AND I CAN DO THAT ON SATURDAYS, PICK UP SOME PAPER. BUT I’D LIKE TO — WHO IS THE DIRECTOR OF YOUR PROGRAM, YOUR YOUTH PROGRAM?

Mr. Mizell: I BELIEVE THE PROGRAM, THE REGIONAL CIRCUIT TEAM, IS S.G.

Judge Arrington: WHERE IS SHE LOCATED?

Mr. Mizell: SHE IS LOCATED IN THIS BUILDING. . . .

Judge Arrington: YOU THINK IT’S POSSIBLE I CAN GET HER UP HERE? YOU ACT LIKE YOU’RE SCARED?

Mr. Mizell: NOT LIKELY, SIR.

Prosecutor Thompson: YEAH.

Mr. Mizell: NOT LIKELY.

Judge Arrington: WHY NOT?

Mr. Mizell: I CAN PASS THAT MESSAGE ON TO HER.

Prosecutor Thompson: HE NEEDS TO BE IN A PROGRAM THAT HAS SOME SUBSTANCE, SOME MEAT.

There is so much that is wrong with this, it is difficult to know where to begin.  But setting aside the appalling spectacle of a prosecutor buddying up with a murder defendant, talking about how ordinary community service is simply below his dignity, and the judge buddying up with a murder defendant, playing the “stay in school, son” game, and the absolute erasure of the victim from this entire process, there is a little matter of the law.

The victim stated that he was not informed of this deal and not permitted to make a statement in court.  Statements made by the defense attorney in this hearing support the victim’s claim, because the defense attorney himself seems surprised that Prosecutor Thompson has offered only community service, and not prison time, for the attempted murder:

Defense Attorney Brian Steel: ON BEHALF OF MR. NORRIS. FIRST, I WOULD LIKE TO THANK THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY. WHEN WE CAME HERE TODAY, IT WAS A PRISON OFFER. I HEARD WHAT HE SAID, AND I WANT TO THANK HIM. I, ALSO, WANT THE COURT TO KNOW THAT MR. NORRIS IS AN EXTREMELY BRIGHT YOUNG MAN.

And the crown goes to: Mr. Georgia, Joshua Norris.

So what happened in the courtroom is the prosecutor broke the law.  And then Judge Arrington seconded the breaking of the law.  And nobody in that room spoke up and reminded these people that the (absurdly low) minimum mandatory sentence for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon is one year in prison, which Arrington mentioned in the reading of the charges, then ignored.  This is why legislatures have to pass minimum mandatory sentences.  But what good is the law if the judge ignores it?

What a joke.  What a travesty.

Georgia also has a victim’s rights law.  This law provides the following rights, clearly denied to Joshua Norris’ victim:

  • To be notified of each stage in the judicial process to include pretrial hearings, bond, arraignment, motions hearings, pleas of guilty, trial, sentencing and appeals
  • To be notified of any arrest, release, possibility of release, or escape of the accused or any change in custodial status
  • To give opinions regarding release from custody or bond issues
  • To have access to a private waiting area during court proceedings
  • To offer input on plea negotiations or sentence hearings or conditions

What on earth is happening in the Fulton County Superior Court?  Can crime victims sue the state for denying them their legal rights?  This victim ought to try.

A Personal Look At Drug Court and Community Sentencing

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This week, I have been writing about alternative sentencing and drug court. My perspective is shaped by experiences as a “community outreach” worker, witnessing the gaming that takes place when non-profits and private companies are granted fat government contracts with little oversight to monitor and provide therapy to offenders in the community. We are playing with fire whenever we turn over important government duties, like protecting the public, to private individuals – especially when there is no oversight.

Community control supervised by private companies and non -profits have become the status quo, however – and now community monitoring has become one of those things, in our twisted judicial system, that is increasingly viewed as a defendant’s right.

There is much more to say on the subject of drug courts, and I will try to get back to it at some point during May, “National Drug Court Month.” There have also been serious incidents lately, in Atlanta and elsewhere, involving people wearing ankle bracelets but committing crime nonetheless. In January, a man wanted for parole violations was spotted at a traffic stop in Alpharetta, Georgia. He tried to flee after a police officer saw his ankle bracelet, and the officer shot him. Derrick Yancey, the former DeKalb County, Georgia police officer charged with double homicide, is still missing after he disabled his ankle monitor and fled. Yancey managed to escape thanks to failures in the monitoring system set up through a private vendor in DeKalb County; failures by DeKalb authorities who were supposed to respond to the alarm – but mostly the failure of the judge who let him go free to await murder charges instead of holding him in prison, where any double-murder suspect belongs. In Southeast Atlanta, a paroled burglar was recently caught exiting a home he was burglarizing – wearing his ankle bracelet for another crime.

But despite the dangers and scams associated with community monitoring and alternative sentencing, there are successes too. A reader offers the following personal account. His observations about the system are more incisive than a hundred academic studies:

To say I had a “drinking problem” would not come close to describing my situation; it was like calling a field of kudzu “green-space.” I was convicted of DUI, while being a Habitual Offender – 3 DUI’s in 5 years. I was looking at a year, easy, in prison. My lawyer, on his own, had me “evaluated” by an “alcohol/substance abuse counselor.” Basically, he found that I drank a lot, and that I felt my main problem was that I was in jail. He and the attorney came up with a plan, and presented it to me as I was waiting to see the Judge. I was to be monitored with a device that would test my breath’s alcohol level; attend group therapy 2X/week; attend AA 3X/week; be on probation for 5 yrs. I was to pay all costs (which were roughly $650/month in 1994; I noticed during that time an ad for leasing cars, and noted I could have leased a Jaguar for what I was paying). The judge agreed, and I haven’t drank since.

Point is, that ‘proactive’ plan put forth by my attorney saved me: I doubt I would have survived a stay in jail, but if I had, I really doubt I would have stayed sober once out. I cannot say that this course should be normal, common, advised, for anyone else; but it worked for me. And part of the reason it did, was fear: prison was not an attractive option, for me. A couple of weeks sober in the county jail also enabled a few neurons to spark, which gave me enough sense to have some shame of my predicament. By the time of my trial, I was physically, mentally and spiritually ready to try to right my situation.

Now, you really have to experience jail to get how degrading incarceration is for all involved, inmates, staff, everybody. I like to say that of all the people I’ve come across there (numerous overnight to 28 day stays), many may not have been guilty as charged, but none were innocent, either. Probably half that I have seen are not affected, at all, by being locked up: 3 hots & a cot is better than they have been able to provide for themselves, despite all their scheming. Maybe 10% are remorseful, the rest are hoping for their bullshit lines to pull them through. The staffs always manage to make the smallest maneuver degrading, and I’ve found them to be meaner than all but a few inmates: cruelty for the f*** of it. Inept to the point that it has been rare that I have been called by my name at any of the 7/day roll calls. Pisses ’em off big time when I don’t respond to a different name. My point here is I would find “therapeutic jurisprudence” to fit an extremely small segment of the perpetrator population.

I can also pass on my experience with “home monitoring.” That DeKalb deputy that shot his wife and yard man (no affair, the Latino was just at the wrong place, wrong time) had an ankle bracelet, but the monitoring co. didn’t notify the cops for, what? 12 hrs. after he cut it off? It’s an industry, and like all industries has its public face & PR, and the real world, which it only vaguely resembles. They try to do everything on the cheap (hey, it’s the American way), so the equipment, personnel and procedures are all suspect.

In my case, I was sentenced to home confinement, with an alcohol monitor. This machine was hooked up to the phone line, and had a phone receiver, dial pad, 2.5″ screen, and a tube. When the phone rang, I was to blow in the tube between audible beeps. I was to be home from 8PM to 8AM every day; calls would be random during that time. Most often, I’d get one call, say 9PM or 7AM. A couple nights, I got no call at all. I paid $100/wk. (1994) for the service. Same folks provided the group counseling I had to attend (2 nights/wk., $25/each). All went well, for about four months (I was also sentenced to 3 AA meetings/week. Group counselor was in AA, became a great friend/mentor/sponsor; that was his part-time gig).

So, one night, no call. Even though it had happened before, it made me nervous, so I checked the phone: the ‘on’ light was out! I jiggled the wire, and sure enough, it came on. I immediately called my probation officer (PO). He read me the riot act, telling me he knew I’d been fucking up all along, and was looking forward to locking me up (!!!). Who knows exactly where his attitude came from; I was doing all asked of me, and more, had always been respectful, and the first one waiting on him for my weekly appointments (to get in early, and then to work). When I told him of the bad wire, he didn’t give that any credibility, as he said he knew I had been out chasing women (that situation bothered me a heck of a lot more than it did him: Hi, my name is Chris, and I’m a drunk on probation. Wanna go out for coffee while it’s light out? Not a real appealing resume, so I was just biding time, with that).

Next thing I did, call the phone company. Tech – small black guy (reference matters), nonplussed about the machine and its purpose – wrote out a tag stating that it did indeed have a short. Called the monitoring company, left message. Went to work, and with limited access to a phone, called who I could. Went to the AA meeting, and to my surprise, a few members consoled me, and gave me the contact info for a lawyer that was in AA. When I got home, there was a message from the PO that my trial date had been set.

That night, and for the next 90+ days/nights, the machine would ring every 45 min., give or take a couple min. Every night. All night. By the end of a week, my eyes were falling out of my head. At a month, I was an angry knot, walking. At 3 mos., I wanted to kill. Anything, anyone.

The week before court, the lawyer asked me what I wanted out of the case. All I want, I said, is for the PO to join me in a room with the door closed for 10 f****** seconds! Well, no Chris, that can’t happen. OK- I’ll do what I’m sentenced to, but I want that PO out of my life. I want the monitoring co. to admit that their machine may have a problem, and that they fix it if broken. And – they have to go back to the original calling schedule/frequency.

All this, because I noticed, while waiting for the lawyer to finish her business, that an article in the state law review went over a case where it was decided that a probationer only had to obey the judge’s written instructions; verbal instructions were not valid. None of my conditions, aside from monetary fines, were in the original order. We slam-dunked the pissant PO at court. About 12 AA’s were in attendance behind me, along with – the telephone repairman! We all went for coffee at Underground afterward, and I asked him why he showed. He told me the residents of the complex – 99% black, many old, most with kids – told him I looked out for all of them, standing up to the j*******s that tried to push them around.

So, the lessons to me personally were many, but as to the company – they were just assholes. They were pissed as hell at court – all for a shorted wire! Fix your g*****n equipment! I was facing 1.5 years in prison: they needed to spend 10 bucks!

The companies that dealt with me are now dissolved, but records are still there from the GA Secretary of State: In-House Detention Systems, Inc. was the monitoring company. GA Recovery Center- Larry Nolting was the principal there, and his in-laws ran In-House (a fact I was not privy to until my lawyer found it). Nolting later was principal for another corp. that appears to be the successor to In-House, as it was listed at the same address. This corporation dissolved in 2005. So, I’ve stayed sober longer than they stayed in business. But, a Google search showed his address as Jett Rd., which is big money. The Bell South Tech actually called In-House from my apartment when he figured out what was wrong (short in the wire); they tried to get him to say it was something I did.

Mission Creep: Burglars With Drug Problems. And Drug Courts With Burglar Problems. And Reporters With Truthiness Problems.

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Atlanta is not the only city where recidivists with long records of serious crime are being permitted to avoid jail sentences because they are also drug addicts. From the Ithaca Journal, Ithaca, New York:

In a plea deal with prosecutors, a Groton woman charged with taking part in burglaries in three counties has been sentenced to time served, five years probation and ordered to attend drug court for local crimes.

Judge John Rowley sentenced Julianna Salerno, 30, on Friday after she pleaded guilty to third-degree burglary in Tompkins County Court. Salerno admitted that she waited in a vehicle and “acted as a lookout” for Daniel Samson, 25, of Groton, when he broke in and stole items from a building at Treman State Park.

Salerno and Samson were charged with six counts of third-degree burglary, four counts of third-degree criminal mischief, and petit larceny, a misdemeanor. . .

They were also linked to Cortland County burglaries at the Greek Peak Ski Resort and Hope Lake, and Cayuga County burglaries at Salmon Creek Sports, Grisamore Farms, Badman’s Bushel Baskets Produce, Ron’s Corner Store, Triangle Restaurant and Longpoint State Park, according to law-enforcement officials. [Ithaca Journal, “Groton Woman Receives Sentence,” 4/27/09, fee for viewing]

More than a dozen burglaries, and this woman is being offered probation and community-based treatment, instead of conviction and incarceration, because she has a drug problem. This type of story, which plays out every day, severely challenges the conventional wisdom that our prisons are stuffed with otherwise innocent drug addicts serving long sentences for merely possessing drugs. Claims that prison populations have expanded because states are locking up mere addicts are not true either, as this chart on inmates from the Department of Justice clearly shows:

The problem, again, is lenient judges, not to mention a system so steeped in anti-incarceration ideology that the mere idea that someone might expect to go to prison for committing a dozen burglaries can no longer even be taken for granted. The judge who sentenced Salerno apparently felt the need to say out loud that there was some possibility that she might go to jail despite her addiction:

While acknowledging Salerno’s actions may have been a “drug-related crime spree,” Rowley told her that she’ll be facing incarceration if she doesn’t adhere to her probation terms and treatment programs.

In other words, Salerno was permitted to get away with at least a dozen crimes against others, but if she messes up in rehab, a crime against herself, then the state might decide get serious with her. Is it any wonder that people have a hard time believing that the justice system is there to protect the rights of anyone except criminals?

Drug courts were never supposed to be used as a get-out-of-jail-free card for people with long offense records. They were supposed to be used to divert first-time offenders whose primary offense was drug-related. But even the term “drug-related” has been twisted: now, apparently, any crime committed by a drug addict is “drug-related,” as the judge in the case above above uses the term.

Another example of abusing both the concept of drug courts and the concept of “drug-related” crime, from the Baltimore Sun — note the reporter’s empathy for the criminal, and his disturbing efforts to downplay his crimes:

Break-In Artist Finally Gets Into Drug Program

Peter Hermann | Baltimore Crime Beat

Michael D. Sydnor Jr. is finally getting the help that he needs.

This is no small accomplishment, as District Judge George M. Lipman made cle[a]r when he learned that the drug-addicted defendant suspected of fueling a plague of car break-ins in downtown Baltimore had been accepted into an inpatient treatment program.

“Hallelujah,” the judge said, a pronouncement not often heard from the bench, and certainly not from this jurist, who apologized several times for being too preachy during Friday morning’s docket at the Hargrove District Court in South Baltimore. He told one man, upset that being sent off to jail meant his car would be towed, “I don’t wipe people’s noses.”

No, the judge doesn’t wipe people’s noses, but that probably needs to be put into the record, just to be clear, because he otherwise plays head cheerleader for repeat felons, as does the reporter. The victims? Well, never mind them: insurance will cover their losses.

Here is reporter Peter Herman’s heart-wrenching account of the court’s efforts to “help” Syndor. Note the way Syndor’s crimes become “petty,” “nonviolent,” and things that “drive people crazy” in the reporter’s hands, as if he is writing about some kid bouncing a basketball against a curb, not a repeat felon breaking into people’s cars, actually committing violent crimes, and betraying an utterly frightening disregard for the law:

I first wrote about Sydnor back in February, painting the 40-year-old as the face of a problem that drives residents crazy and tourists out of the city. Day after day, police reports of car break-ins pile up from Federal Hill, around the Inner Harbor and to the far edges of Canton.

Cell phones used to be the prized catch, but now navigational devices, iPods and iPhones are all the rage, usually stolen by addicts seeking electronics to hawk for a quick buck to score a quick high, a never-ending cycle of car-to-needle-to-car that ends up costing us thousands upon thousands of dollars in increased insurance premiums, car window repairs and replacements for stolen items.

Sydnor is charged with breaking into two cars in January at a garage at 218 N. Charles St., and authorities tell me he’s suspected in other break-ins at garages at The Baltimore Sun and Mercy Medical Center on North Calvert Street. He has been in jail for the past three months awaiting word on a coveted, hard-to-get drug treatment slot, and his cases will be put on hold until he gets through the program.

Police have arrested Sydnor more than 100 times in the past 15 years and he’s been convicted dozens of times, mostly of seemingly petty, nonviolent offenses.

“Mostly of seemingly petty” offenses? What about the other ones? This isn’t journalism: it’s a mutual admiration club with three members: judge, reporter, and predator.

And these admiration clubs so frequently get out of hand, which is why I question one of the main tenets of drug court: that the judge and the offender form a relationship in which the judge takes a personal interest in the offender’s progress. Do we really need to be encouraging judges to be even more enamored of their “patriarchial/matriarchial” roles vis-a-vis criminals? Haven’t enough innocent victims of crime paid, with their lives, for these special moments of bonding, Hallelujahs, slap on the backs, and all?

Shouldn’t people like this be getting their drug and alcohol counseling in prison, as they’re serving time for their crimes?

Given how he reacted while sentencing Sydnor, the judge in this case might as well have been openly berating the public for its failure to leap to Sydnor’s aid by providing him with a bed, on demand, in a drug rehab center. Yet even a brief perusal of Sydnor’s incredibly long record indicates serial neglect on the part of Baltimore’s judiciary to protect the public from this man’s violence. In 1996, Sydnor was found guilty of assault (neither petty nor non-violent). Even though he refused to acknowledge his guilt and was found guilty, he was given only a suspended, one-year sentence — in other words, no time at all. He quickly ended up back in jail again, this time for second-degree assault, and received one year again, another example of judicial carelessness.

The record grows worse as time goes by. Drug dealing, narcotics dealing, felony theft. There are 147 separate court appearances in his record. Assault, second degree, in 2005, some 97 cases in? One month in jail. And this is what reporter Peter Hermann calls a non-violent, minor record? Have they lost their minds, or do they just despise the law-abiding public?

What do you call a 100+ time offender, appearing before Judge Lipman (who is, unsurprisingly, a former defense attorney)?

You call him a good candidate for drug court.

Rehabilitating Adam and Eve, But Not Adam and Steve (Or Eve, Actually)

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Sorry for the absence of a blog post yesterday. I went into Tampa to attend a hearing to appeal a judge’s inexplicable and unheard-of release of a convicted sex offender as the offender waits out the appeals process. Appallingly, the hearing judge yesterday decided that it was more important to honor the feelings of a fellow judge than to consider the safety of the victim and the community, and he refused to overturn the prior judge’s strange and inappropriate decision to release the convicted sex offender. Richard Chotiner remains free as he appeals his 15-year sentence for sexually assaulting a mentally handicapped man. I plan to write about this awful case next week.

***

Now back to something marginally less demoralizing: community sentencing programs. On Monday, I wrote about my own accidental (and utterly ineffectual) foray into drug rehab outreach. My VISTA stint gave me ample opportunities to explore the many ways that community-based program funding can be gamed for profit.

In my old neighborhood in Southeast Atlanta, the Victory House Men’s Re-Entry Program used to set up a tent in an abandoned lot and spend days blasting wildly sexist and homophobic sermons over loudspeakers, ostensibly as part of their ministry to previously incarcerated men. Homeless, ex-felons, addicts, or none of the above: I have no doubt that these events were held to justify funding lines intended for community-based prisoner re-entry and diversionary substance abuse treatment. Pastor Craig Soaries claims to have saved many, many thousands. The Victory House Men’s Re-Entry website reads: “To date [since 1992] over 100,000 men have been reached, ministered to and provide emergency or transitional housing, life skills training and hope for a brand new life.

100,000 is a lot of men, especially considering that the Victory House on Boulevard is just a single-family home. The Georgia Secretary of State database lists Soaries as an officer of five separate corporations (four non-profit, one limited liability) located at three addresses, one of which is the Boulevard Victory House, which also houses Faith and Missions, Inc. and the Victory Community Development Corporation. Busy place.

I came to know about Victory House because — well — I had no choice, having two working ears and living a few blocks away. Soaries would plant his speakers on Boulevard and blast sermons at high volume for days at a time. He would rant about the evil of crack cocaine and homosexuality and loose women, and I, and my neighbors, several of whom were gay, would have no choice but to listen if we deigned to work in our gardens or simply walk to the mailbox.

One day I was outside tending my basil, a task considered spiritual since the Medieval era, and Soaries started up with one of his fire-and-brimstone tirades, this one about women being disobedient to their men. Women who failed to be obedient, he said, would find themselves whoring, drugging and engaging in other sinful acts, obedience to men being the only true way to control women’s innate sinfulness. Women smoked the crack pipe, for example, because they failed to recognize the superior moral guidance of men.

I put down my trowel.

I walked the two blocks to the Victory House encampment, where a few stoned-looking men sat on folding chairs in the heat, listlessly clocking their (court-ordered?) time as Pastor Soaries shouted into his microphone. To summarize the ensuing exchange, he felt that my criticism of the volume of ministering was an excellent example of disobedient womanly sinfulness, a view that even a subsequent visit from my husband, who assured the minister that I was not disobeying him, failed to deter. “Control your woman,” he screamed after us, as we walked away, banished from his earthly, possibly taxpayer-funded, paradise. For the rest of the evening, he ranted about women who don’t listen, which in fairness I was not, since I listened very closely to him after that.

Sadly, I don’t have any information about specific reimbursements Victory House may receive for their substance abuse treatment and prisoner re-entry programming and housing — there are scores of such programs, hundreds of millions of dollars churning through H.U.D. and the D.H.R. and the Justice Department — Weed and Seed, Community Redevelopment Projects, Empowerment Zones, “Community Capacity Development.” I do know that Soaries claims to provide these services, though he doesn’t register Victory House with the State as a charity. Maybe he provided for 100,000 men out of his own pocket. Maybe “reaching,” “ministering,” and “providing life skills” to 100,000 men merely means “hollering into a microphone in an empty lot next to a kudzu-covered junkyard,” which admittedly doesn’t cost much to do.

On one of his websites, Soaries quotes no less an expert than Ashton Kutcher on the topic of outreach:

“I am sharing a six part series this week on the amazing fact that as Ashton Kutcher stated and proved that “one person can actually have as big of a voice online as what an entire media company can on Twitter”.

For me that is indicative of a larger phenomena in that through the Internet one person can literally, as the Bible states, chase, interact, engage a thousand. The potential is really unlimited!”

Let’s just hope we aren’t paying for this through the courts. Hope, too, that men being released to community control in Atlanta after committing a crime aren’t being taught — on our dime — that they need to control their women in order to control their addictions. How many prison ministries — “Men’s Re-Entry Programs” — are operating this way, using public dollars from the feds, or federal dollars churned through state, county and city programs, to subsidize questionable and ineffective treatment programs? The lack of accountability in this field is staggering.

Breaking out the Bubbly: National Drug Court Month

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National Drug Court Month is just around the corner, so I am going to spend this week taking a closer look at some of the claims being made about the effectiveness of drug courts. By next week, the canned press releases will be seeping out all over the news in the form of stories lifted directly from the press kits provided by advocacy groups such as the National Association of Drug Court Professionals.

Rather astonishingly, the NADCP press kit asserts that “for twenty years, drug courts have saved millions of lives.” Millions? Really? In New York State, which has one of the larger state drug court systems, only 20,400 people have graduated from drug court since the program began, and nobody can say how many of those people stayed sober for more than a few years after they left the scrutiny of the courts. No man is an island, but really — millions of lives?

I do not oppose very limited use of drug (and alcohol) treatment sentencing diversion, but there is a big difference between diverting first-time offenders into treatment programs and the runaway drug court system that exists today. Drug courts have become dumping grounds for all sorts of criminals — including serial offenders and people charged with multiple crimes.

The system is broken when criminal defendants know to say they want help for a substance abuse problem in order to avoid a jail sentence for some other crime. Such was the case with Johnny Dennard, the career criminal in Atlanta assigned to a community-based drug treatment program upon his sixth burglary conviction.

Dennard is precisely the type of person legislators had in mind when they tried to reign in judicial leniency towards repeat offenders. But the fact that he was permitted to walk free from a burglary conviction because he claimed to have a substance abuse problem is only one of the problems with drug courts. Another problem is the quality of the “community-based treatment programs” assigned to treat offenders like Dennard.

There is, of course, a money trail to all of this. When a judge decides that someone who has broken into a dozen houses needs treatment, not incarceration, he or she picks from a list of programs that charge the state to rehabilitate offenders. Some are well-run. Others are scams, often connected to small non-profit organizations and church ministries. Public oversight of the placement choices made by judges is practically nil — another casualty of the secrecy of the courts.

Many people are made happy by this process. The judge has saved the state prison system the cost of incarcerating the offender; the criminal has gotten away without prison time and maybe even cleaned himself up — temporarily — enough to get some fat on the bones; the “service providers” have pocketed some serious cash, and the academicians can write their next study on the efficacy of drug offender programs. Troublingly, some of these studies rely on self-reporting by the very ministers/outreach workers who are profiting from the rehabilitation programs that are being studied.

Everybody is happy, except the people with unnatural attachments to, say, not having their cars stolen and their homes invaded by junkies on a post-intervention-program tear.

About twenty years ago, fresh out of college with a charmingly ineffectual degree in Renaissance Poetry, I found myself accidentally providing rehab for addicts at one such program. To say the least, I had zero qualifications as a counselor, but my boss was getting paid by the federal government to supervise me as a VISTA “community outreach” worker, and he was getting paid (six figures) by the Department of Human Resources to provide “AIDS outreach to under-served populations,” and he was getting paid to provide “rehabilitation services” and “job training” and who knows what else –- many were the people billed for his time. Billing for services, however, is not the same as providing them, which was the primary lesson I learned from my stint with this man (the other being that many “services” serve nobody but the service provider).

Nowadays, when I read about this or that “outreach” program, the image that forms in my head is of a big hand reaching out to grab a bundle of cash.

In order to pretend to fulfill one of the program goals for one of the grants my boss was receiving, I was sent over to a medical center in southwest Atlanta to educate recovering addicts on sexually transmitted diseases: your tax dollars at work. The addicts, many of them prostitutes, were sleepily polite. They were also still high. Some of them were so high, they nodded and nearly fell out of their folding chairs as I went through the pyramid of risky behaviors, which read something like a daily planner for their lives: 9:00 a.m., give unprotected oral sex in a pickup truck; 10:30 a.m., share a needle in the shooting gallery. And so on.

I didn’t belong there, and neither did they, though I learned some skills I later applied while teaching indefinite pronouns in early-morning composition classes. For example, always make sure students are seated close enough to each other that they don’t fall all the way to the ground when they pass out.

But even though I didn’t belong there, somebody (not me – I made $6,000 a year as a VISTA, or domestic Peace Corps worker) was being paid handsomely to “rehabilitate” these poor, crazy drug addicts. I am certain that some of them would have had a better chance at recovery (not to mention personal safety) if they had been sent off to prison, where they would have had a slightly harder time getting drugs and a much better chance of being forced to attend real 12-step programs and real detox programs run by real professionals, not by some community activist who wrote a grant.

To say that community-based programs vary wildly in quality doesn’t scratch at the surface of what I experienced in my year as a VISTA, or what I saw in the neighborhood where Johnny Dennard was released to another program, and where a third church-based rehab has been plying its trade in some very strange ways for over a decade now. More on that tomorrow.

Headline: “Series of Mistakes Helped Ex-Cop Escape” (Tools for Activists).

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From today’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

A string of mishaps — including uncertainty about whom to call, voice mail messages left unanswered for hours and previous false alarms — combined to help double-murder suspect Derrick Yancey remove his ankle monitor and escape house arrest, according to a report issued Wednesday. . .

A DeKalb Superior Court judge, who revoked Yancey’s bond on Monday, blasted Pre-Trial Services for “a comedy of errors” that helped him escape.

Yeah, blame the monitoring companies hired by Pre-Trial Services.  They’ll sure think twice about donating to the next round of judicial campaigns.  Especially after getting hit with any civil lawsuits that arise from whatever Yancey does next.

I’m not saying that the private monitoring firms are blameless.  But primary blame lies with the judge who let Yancey go free in the first place, over every tenet of common sense and protests by prosecutors and the victims’ families.  She clearly realized he was a flight risk: why insist on electronic monitoring otherwise?  Why let any accused double-murderer out on the streets before trial?  It is unconscionable that the DeKalb County judiciary can issue a report on Yancey’s escape that doesn’t scrutinize — well, the actions of the Dekalb County judiciary.  Maybe somebody else should step in.  The courts are not a sovereign state.   

***

You can learn a lot by following money trails.  Unfortunately, the Georgia Secretary of State, Karen Handel, has not updated her office’s website to enable the public to see individual campaign contributions to judges.  You have to go down to the Election Division of the Secretary of State’s Office to do that (1104 West Tower, 2 MLK Jr. Dr. Atlanta, Georgia 30334  404-656-2871).

Seeing who gives money to elect judges is a bracing civics exercise — sort of like a cold shower of droplets of realization that monied interests subsidize the election of sitting judges.  I’m not saying that judges act beholden to those who pay to elect them — or, at least, most judges don’t.  But what about the judges who do?  

What about the legislators who do — and then tell the public that they believe the best way out of our fiscal crisis is to release prisoners to community control, conveniently supervised by the same private companies and non-profit organizations that contributed to their election campaigns?  There’s a great deal of money in alternative sentencing.  Of course, there’s a great deal of money, as journalists love to remind us, in prisons, too, but at least they have the added feature of actually keeping the public safe.  

From where I’m sitting (staring out at a glassy bay as the morning porpoise cavorts in mangrove stands — sort of like the mural outside Underground Atlanta, only your feet don’t get stuck in abandoned gum staring at it), I don’t remember if Georgia’s election contribution records include donors’ companies, employers, or lines of work.  I think they do, and that would make for interesting reading.  

I was able to find the CEOs of the two private prisoner monitoring firms that dropped the ball along with DeKalb Pre-Trial Services when Yancey escaped.  Bruce Thatcher is the CEO for Colorado-based BI Incorporated; Fletcher McCuster is the CEO for Arizona-based Providence Community Corrections.  Did these men, or their employees, donate to judicial races in DeKalb County?  Did other private companies seeking prisoner-monitoring or community-based prisoner rehabilitation contracts?

April Hunt’s article on the delays in reporting Derrick Yancey’s escape is worth a close, slow read.  It raises all sorts of questions about the current system of monitoring convicts and accused felons in the community.  As judges move towards placing more and more violent people on “community control” instead of behind bars, we need to think about the systems that will allegedly keep track of them.  If the courts can’t adequately monitor a two-time accused murderer, what are they doing with garden-variety robbers, burglars and chronically violent gang members, like the ones who killed the young man in Peoplestown this week?  Were they supposed to be behind bars, too?     

 

What Is Your Personal “Aggregate Burden of Crime”?

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On Tuesday, I wrote about the debate that’s raging over incarcerating convicts or releasing them to “community sentencing” programs of one type or another.  Proponents of community or alternative sentencing argue that we save tax dollars when people convicted of crimes get to stay at home for therapeutic or rehabilitative interventions instead of being removed from the community and sentenced to prison terms. 

However, these anti-incarceration advocates do not count the additional costs that arise whenever a person under “community control” (or a prisoner released early) commits more crime – costs that range from additional police and justice system expenses to the injury, fear, suffering, and financial losses experienced directly by their victims and indirectly by other community members.

A friend in Atlanta describes his own “aggregate burden of crime”  (I have removed some identifying details):

“When I first moved in, and the house was about to fall down, I was burglarized twice, believe it or not.  Looking at the condition of the house, you would have thought, this guy has nothing.  But, they came in twice anyway.  Didn’t take anything, because the boys next door heard them and ran them away.  I wasn’t there.  However, they had everything electronics in my suitcase, ready to go.

I then spent about $1,300 for the installation of the security system, and $28.95 a month for monitoring.  Later on, after I bought the TV, $1,300 for flat screen, which they took, I upgraded the system and cost me another $300 – $400 dollars.  J.W. had to come by and re-install the deadbolts that are keyed on both sides.  I know the argument about flippers on the inside lock (code for the city), but I changed them to keyed on the inside.

He charged me about $250.00 for everything, because he also drilled into the windows, with those metal cylinders to stop the opening of the windows.

Now, my nerves after those next two times of coming into my house almost made me sell the house and move.  But, to where?”

That’s $350 per year for home monitoring, $1,850 for installation of safety devices, and $1300 in losses.  Not to mention the home and auto insurance rates he must pay to live in the inner city, which are substantially higher than elsewhere; the high taxes he must pay to support the police and the courts, and the immutable fact that many offenders already live on the public dime, in subsidized housing with subsidized food and subsidized healthcare, all paid by the same people they victimize. 

And what cost do you put on peace of mind, after being broken into four times?

Those are the direct costs incurred by one victim who is surely not the only victim targeted by the offenders who broke into his house.  Does anyone break into only one stranger’s home?  This is not Les Misérables: they are not stealing bread to feed a starving child.  It is a lifestyle, one that simultaneously destroys the lifestyles of decent, compassionate, hard-working people like my friend. 

***

Criminologists in America do calculate the “aggregate burden of crime” here, but these statistics (see here, here, and here) never make it into public debates or newspaper articles.  Why not?  Why is the debate about incarceration versus “community sentencing,” or “three strikes laws,” or other crime-stopping initiatives carried out without any acknowledgement of the financial burdens communities face when offenders are not incarcerated? 

In contrast, in Britain and Wales, the “Economic and Social Costs of Crime Against Individuals and Households” statistics have been part of the public debate about crime policy for several years.  Here are the official 2003/2004 numbers.  Costs counted include: physical and emotional impact on direct victims, value of property stolen, property damaged/destroyed, victim services, lost output (significant for murders), health services, criminal justice costs, and costs in anticipation of crime.

Rather than relying on the Pew Center Report, which deceptively promises vast savings every time a convict doesn’t go to prison, it’s time for American journalists to begin seeking out better data on recidivism, crime costs, and the actual effectiveness and expenses arising from drug courts, other community sentencing programs, and judges’ decisions to simply let offenders go without punishment.

Outrage of the Week: Crayons and Gym Memberships, or Incarceration? Which Actually Costs Less?

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A really interesting article in U.S.A. Today on the national push to get prisoners out of jail and into community programs.  

In a hushed conference room overlooking the town’s main drag, eight convicted felons, including an aspiring amateur fighter, brandish bright Crayola markers.

Their goal is to match their personalities to one of four colors. Tim Witte, 27, on probation for evading arrest, eyes the task as if sizing up a fellow middle-weight on Kansas’ gritty cage-fighting circuit. Witte and two drug offenders settle on orange.

The color, indicative of a restless, risk-taking personality, is the hue of choice for most offenders, says Michelle Stephenson, the corrections officer leading the unusual exercise. . . .

The class is part of a state effort to save millions of dollars in prison costs by changing how criminals are treated. Kansas is closing some prisons, boosting support for offenders on probation and declining to return them to prison for every probation violation. . . .

Probation officers now help offenders find work, health care, housing, counseling, transportation and child care.

During the past several months, for example, the office spent $110 to cover an offender’s utility payments; $500 for a rent payment; $600 for six bikes the office loans to get to job interviews; $77 for a YMCA membership to help an offender improve his physical condition and $320 for eight anger-management counseling sessions.

All of the assistance is aimed at keeping offenders out of costly prison cells, although Kansas officials say they are only beginning to review whether the offenders who received the assistance have committed new offenses.

Note that very little of this long article actually addresses the “against community sentencing” side, compared to the well-funded and well-placed “pro-community sentencing” activists.  The outspoken Joshua Marquis, alone, is quoted speaking in favor of incarceration. 

Note, too, that in the article, the Pew Center Study is quoted uncritically — even though their analysis of “cost savings with alternative sentencing” leaves out the cost of additional crimes that are committed by probationers and parolees who could be in prison at the time.  

Anti-incarceration advocacy groups like The Sentencing Project have deep pockets to fund their efforts to reduce prison sentences, free offenders to the community, and roll back the clock on the fragile gains made by victim advocates against recidivists over the last two decades.  The Sentencing Project’s “research” is advocacy-based, not objectivity-based, yet it is often reported as fact.  No sooner did we get some teeth into sentencing laws that removed repeat offenders from the streets than push-back began to free even the most prolific criminals.  

As federal funding for law enforcement begins to trickle down to the states, expect much of it to be diverted into efforts that actually release larger numbers of offenders into communities.  Those who feel that their money should not be spent on “alternatives to incarceration” will need to stay on top of grants coming to their cities and stay vocal with their legislators.  It’s clear that the media — even U.S.A. Today, which usually features thoughtful crime coverage — is not doing a very good job of covering both sides of this debate.

The Pew Center Study, Repeat Offenders, and the Real Price of Crime

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From The Tennessean

Cons commit crimes after early release

Sentencing guidelines enable repeat offenders

A college student is kidnapped, brutalized and murdered. A mother looks up from changing her baby’s diaper to find a gun pointing in her face. A 62-year-old man is bludgeoned with a baseball bat in a mall parking lot.

The crimes share one trait, aside from their brutality. In each case, the person charged with the offense was an ex-convict, out on probation or parole — a situation Tennessee prosecutors and law enforcement leaders say is all too common because of how the state sentences its convicted criminals. . . .

Amanda Sue Kelley, 19, was arrested seven times last year on charges that ranged from drug possession to domestic assault and theft. In January, police say, she wrenched open the door of a parked car, pointed a gun at a woman changing her 13-month-old daughter’s diaper in the back seat, and demanded cash. . . .

It costs about $63.90 a day to keep someone behind bars in Tennessee. A day monitoring someone’s probation or parole costs $2.95.

“We really need to do a better job of sorting our offenders by risk,” said Adam Gelb, director of the Pew Center on the States’ Public Safety Performance Project. “This is less and less an issue of being tough on crime or soft on crime and more an issue of giving the taxpayers a better return on their dollars.” 

The Pew Center study, “One in One Hundred,” has attracted a lot of attention — but less obvious is the Center’s ideological anti-incarceration bias.  The Center did not include what is known as the “Aggregate Burden of Crime” in its analysis of the price of incarceration versus the price of community sentencing.  The aggregate burden of crime, which measures the total economic effect of crime on victims, communities and the offender, offers a picture of the real cost of incarcerating convicts versus letting them go free — not a one-line argument comparing the day-to-day cost of probation to the day-to-day cost of incarceration.

There is no excuse for excluding the other costs that inevitably arise when people who should be in prison commit additional crimes — unless the study is simply designed to sway public opinion towards letting convicts back on the streets.  

In 1996, the Department of Justice issued a far more comprehensive, less ideological study called “Victim Costs and Consequences: A New Look”  which placed the cost of crime for victims at $450 billion dollars per year.  And in 1999, Professor David A. Anderson published another study, titled “The Aggregate Burden of Crime,” which placed the annual cost of crime at 1.7 trillion dollars a year.  Here is a description of his study:

Anderson takes into account all costs which would not exist in an ideal society totally free of crime. That includes the cost of private preventative measures such as locks, safety lighting, alarm systems, fencing and private security guards. In addition it calculates the cost of crime-related injuries and deaths, including medical care, lost workdays, pain, and fear, and the opportunity costs of time spent preventing, carrying out and serving prison terms for criminal activity. Finally, it mentions a $28 billion decrease in property values of real estate and buildings that are cheaper than similar facilities because they are located in high-crime areas. The costs associated with living in the suburbs to avoid crime in the city center are also discussed, since there are significant costs for activities such as commuting and parking. 

If the Pew Center had really intended to quantify the difference in cost between incarcerating offenders and releasing them to the community, they would have had to first figure out the number of crimes committed each year by offenders who could have been sentenced to prison, or kept there without parole, but who were instead released to commit more crime.  Then they would have had to plug in the price of this additional victimization.  Absent that, they are operating on the assumption that no parolees or probationers ever commit crimes.  

Victim and community expenses appear nowhere in the Pew Center report.  When you focus narrowly on the price differential between daily incarceration expenses and parole/community control expenses, you are intentionally excluding the bulk of expenses born by innocent people — victims, bystanders, and neighborhoods — who have been impacted by illegal activities.  That’s not just bad public policy: it’s dishonest public policy.

Reading With Felons, Part II: A Blog is Worth a Thousand Words

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The people over at “Changing Lives Through Literature” in Boston want you to read their blog.  They feel it will offer insight into the significance of running book clubs for people who commit crimes and have had their prison sentences deferred or reduced by participating in a book club or other taxpayer-funded, higher-education initiatives.

I think it’s a great idea to take a hard look at their blog.  After all, your federal Education Department dollars and Justice Department dollars doubtlessly support this reading experiment, either directly or indirectly (never believe anybody who says that their prisoner outreach is “funded exclusively by private resources”: the Justice Department and the states pony up tax dollars to support every prisoner initiative in some way.  Many of these programs would not exist without funding from the Justice Department’s Weed and Seed grants — federal tax dollars that are spread among the states.  All of these programs require oversight from corrections departments.  And public universities are public entities, as are the courts — it’s all on your dime, one way or another).  

The blog is very informative: in fact, it’s a roadmap of romanticized ideas about “rescuing” prisoners while having meaningful personal experiences along the way.  It also makes my point, better than I could, about the denial of crime victimization practiced lockstep by such activists.  In post after post (and article after article on the organization’s main page), convicts are “citizens” and victims are nonexistent, untouchable, unmentionable — surgically excised.  If you step back from the professionally-designed pages and contemplate the absence of any mention of crime, there is a sort of horror in this systematic erasure of the victim’s experience.

The blog’s first entry neatly encapsulates both the doublespeak of prisoner “outreach” and the shameless fixation on “enriching” volunteers’ lives, while pretending crime itself is not part of the equation:

Much has been said about the difference that Changing Lives Through Literature makes in the lives of criminal offenders who attend the program. . . . What’s not so easily measurable, however, is the impact of CLTL on the lives of the facilitators, probation officers, judges, and other visitors who attend the sessions. In the absence of statistics, personal accounts of one’s experiences with the program are the only measure our organization has to analyze the powerful sway that extends beyond the probationers. . . . In one session, I could see the magic of the program at work through the insights and realizations offered by the participants. I was most astonished, however, to notice the two-hour discussion had changed me as well. I became more engaged in this discussion than in any of my past literature classes. . .

Jennie

And so on.  Comments continue in the breathless voice of personal discovery and ritualistic self-deprecation, spiced with a bit of braggadocio at the thought of close contact with convicts:    

Univ. of Illinois English Department has a program that sends books to prisons, but this sounds much more powerful. It puts us academics in our place!

Libbie

 

We had chosen 10 men with really long records. We had a room full of violent thiefs, with substance abuse problems. Unlike the characters in “Greasy Lake”, they were “bad guys”. . . . I had a lagitimate fear for my own safety. It was a roller coaster of emotion, as by the end, we left shaking hands, and we all knew we had stumbled on something special. 

Wayne

The blog is all about the outreach worker, or rather the quasi-religious (magic) expectations such people bring to the experience of interacting with convicts.  It takes an impressive degree of hubris to imagine that a program that arises from someone’s else’s experience of crime is actually about your own personal growth (even the prisoners slip away beneath the urgent prose of self-awareness).  

But this is hubris with a high social return: this is Boston environs, where prisoner chic never went out of style.

Outrage of the Week: Read A Book, Get Out of Jail

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An unholy alliance between politicians and bureaucrats who want to keep prison costs to a minimum, and liberal intellectuals who pretend to see in crime a natural and understandable response to social injustice — which it would be a further injustice to punish — has engendered a prolonged and so far unfinished experiment in leniency that has debased the quality of life of millions of people, especially the poor.

                                             Theodore Dalrymple, in Not With A Bang But A Whimper

THE NOTION that criminals are merely people who have been misunderstood, or mishandled by society, and therefore need only to be understood, not punished, is so predominant in the criminal justice system that it barely needs to be mentioned, let alone discussed. That discussion ended in the 1970’s, when “alternatives to incarceration” were presented as both a solution to prison crowding and to “the problem of incarceration” itself.

Today, community service, drug courts, half-way houses, Outward Bound programs, boot camps, and mental health diversionary programs are all part of the “treatment continuum” replacing incarceration. Also replacing incarceration are: plea bargains, parole, probation, electronic monitoring, early release, and cases where judges simply “dead docket” charges or otherwise decline to prosecute. There are so many venues for not incarcerating defendants that it is a wonder anyone goes to prison anymore, though prisons are overflowing. And talk of overflowing prisons leads seamlessly into talk of new ways to release prisoners early. Victimization – and crime itself – barely register as a bump in the road.

ALL THIS is bound to affect the perspective of the courts. Alternative sentencing is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can quickly become bad when judges forget that it is their job to protect the public, not merely address defendants’ needs.

In far too many recent courtroom decisions in Atlanta, it is hard to detect any cognizance of public safety on the part of judges. Victims and criminal acts seem to disappear from the record: narcissistic displays of bonding between judges and defendants take their place.

In some cases, the outcome is merely insulting, as when DeKalb State Court Judge Barbara Mobley permitted “N.Z.” (aka “MARTA Girl”) to read her poetry aloud in the courtroom before refusing to rule on the state’s case against her. Through dead docketing the case, Mobley silenced the public. She then turned the people’s courtroom into another platform for “N.Z.’s” artistic expressiveness.

Expression, not remorse, mind you. In the therapeutic courtroom, it is untoward to suggest that a defendant show remorse, and they generally do not. Is there any evident remorse in these lines performed in Mobley’s courtroom by “N.Z.”:

“Bipolar is up and down mood swings, and when it affects me I dance and sing”?

Was that what she was doing to that elderly woman on the train? Dancing and singing for her?

OTHER incidents of therapeutic jurisprudence have ended in tragedy, as when DeKalb County Superior Court Judge Cynthia J. Becker let soon-to-be murderer and serial con man Shamal Thompson walk free instead of imposing the mandatory ten-year sentence required for his burglary conviction. The judge was impressed by the “beautiful designs” on a bridal gown website Thompson claimed as his own. So she released him back onto the streets, apparently placing his artistic ambitions and self-esteem over the burglary victim’s experience or Thompson’s prior record or Georgia’s very clear sentencing law (there is no word yet on whether Becker will face consequences for refusing to assign the mandatory sentence in that case).

In an horrific irony, Becker’s inattention to Thompson’s criminal history enabled him to murder Emory cancer researcher and bride-to-be Eugenia Calle, in cold blood, in her apartment, when he should have been in prison.

Any survey of the criminal records of murderers would reveal multiple instances of therapeutic jurisprudence enabling an escalation of violence, and finally, the most violent crime.

THE TERM “therapeutic jurisprudence” is not merely descriptive of a mindset: it is an academic theory and social movement with its own website and academic journals. The definition of therapeutic jurisprudence (searchable on the website) in criminal law (other types are mentioned) makes for lengthy but illuminating reading — illuminating not so much for its clarity but for its studious avoidance of admitting what it is: the latest effort to justify replacing incarceration with community-based rehabilitation as often as possible. One of the cornerstones of therapeutic jurisprudence theory is that the special relationship between the judge and the defendant — the quality of the communication between the two — can positively affect the outcomes of probation and parole. Here is how it is supposed to work:

[T]he judge might say, “I’m going to consider you but I want you to come up with a type of preliminary plan that we will use as a basis of discussion. I want you to figure out why I should grant you probation and why I should be comfortable that you’re going to succeed. In order for me to feel comfortable, I need to know what you regard to be high risk situations and how you’re going to avoid them or cope with them.

If that approach is followed, courts will be promoting cognitive self-charge as part and parcel of the sentencing process itself. The process may operate this way: “I realize I mess up on Friday nights; therefore, I propose that I will stay home Friday nights.” Suddenly, it is not a judge imposing something on you. It’s something you are coming up with so you should think it is fair. You have a voice in it, and presumably your compliance with this condition will also be better. [footnotes excluded]                                                                      

                                 Professor David B. Wexler, “TJ, An Overview” 

Of course, it could be said that it was precisely “cognitive self-charge” that enabled Shamal Thompson to talk his way out of Cynthia Becker’s courtroom. Yet, apparently, it is still not enough that many defendants are able to bypass prison for therapeutic settings: their experience in the courtroom must be self-empowering as well.

WHICH brings us to the first Outrage of the Week, featuring an extreme form of community-based therapeutic jurisprudence and extremely unsettling over-valuing of the judge-offender bond. As the New York Times approvingly reports, some felons in Massachusetts may “choose between going to jail or joining a book club,” a choice, one would imagine, not so difficult to make (and made, one presumes, without input from the victim, who would surely choose differently). This is the landscape of fulsome judge-offender interaction:

In a scuffed-up college classroom in Dartmouth, Mass., 14 people page through a short story by T. C. Boyle.

Of the 14 people, a dozen are male. One is an English professor, one is a graduate student, two are judges and two are probation officers. The eight others are convicted criminals who have been granted probation in exchange for attending, and doing the homework for, six twice-monthly seminars on literature.

Professor Robert Waxler (Waxler this time, not Wexler), who founded the reading program, believes “[t]he stories serve as a mirror for everyone, not just the offenders — the professors, the probation officers, the judge.” On cue, the New York Times reporter raves: “[t]he average court official is more literate than the average convict, but not necessarily more literary: for the judge, too, classroom discussion can be a revelation.”

She cracks the following joke:

Led by literature professors, the program has brought thousands of convicts to college campuses even as the withdrawal of Pell grants from prisoners (who were ruled ineligible for federal college financing in 1994) drove a wedge between the two state-funded institutions where young adults do time.

Get it? Being in college is like being a felon. Especially if there are thousands of them on your college campus, I suppose.

She cracks another joke:

Picture “Remembrance of Things Past” as a literary ankle bracelet that keeps you chained to the desk for months.

Before admitting this:

It’s easy to dismiss the program as utopian, or worse. Waxler reports being berated by parents paying college tuition for the same classes that felons receive free. If the program works, its economic logic is unassailable: running it costs roughly $500 a head, Waxler says, as opposed to about $30,000 for a year of incarceration. But that’s a big if. The most conclusive study, which shows program participants achieving half the recidivism rate of a control group, involved fewer than 100 people. More important, the literacy level needed to participate makes its population a self-selecting one, and even among those students with the skills to participate, many never make it to the final session. On the day I attended, one man missed class because his halfway house had imposed lockdown, another because a new conviction had landed him back in jail.

“ON the day she attended.” The program has been running since 1991, bringing “thousands of convicts to college campuses,” and the best they can do is a limited study of 100 offenders.

I wonder why. Perhaps because it’s best not to look too closely at these things.

“When it’s working,” Waxler says, “this discussion has a kind of magic to it.”

Should Judges Assign More Community Therapy For Recidivists?

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LAST MAY, the wired world was treated to an unpleasant, yet hardly unique, slice of Atlanta’s public transportation system via “MARTA GIRL,” a video that showed a deranged young woman berating and threatening an elderly train rider.  The older woman dealt with the barrage of threats by doing what any sane consumer of public transportation knows to do instinctively: stare straight ahead and pretend that some screeching lunatic or addict isn’t threatening to harm you.

Awful things were made visible on the video.  In a train filled with physically able passengers, nobody stepped forward to shield an elderly woman from an aggressive assailant who was inches from her face, screaming that she was going to “beat [the elderly woman’s] ass.” 

Men who could have contained the young woman (“N.Z.”) did nothing.  The person who videotaped the assault did something, I suppose, by recording and posting the video.  But how do you justify taping an incident like this instead of trying to stop it?

Were these people afraid to intervene, lest the situation escalate?  Dressed as she was, if N.Z. had a concealed weapon, it was concealed creatively.  But instead of stepping in, a few men merely called out from their seats, telling the girl to calm down.  “Chill, it’s an old lady, man,” said one lackadaisical observer.

N.Z. continued down the train’s aisle and lashed out at another passenger.  He rose up and grabbed her by her hair, and a short slapping match ensued.  Now there was physical violence in addition to the assault on the elderly woman: two crimes.  Yet nobody made a move to call the police.  Even after they exited the train, it appears that none of the witnesses contacted authorities.  N.Z. was arrested and charged with a crime only after the video was circulated on-line. 

Were these people afraid to report N.Z. because they anticipated sharing a future train with her?  Were they even afraid of drawing attention to themselves by calling police from the station?  Did they expect (reasonably) that their complaints would be dismissed?  (And were they?)  Or did this incident simply seem ordinary and not worthy of action?  

Whichever is true, such are the terms of the new, negative social contract: I will ignore your abuse of someone else if you do not abuse me next.  The man who reared up from his seat and grabbed N.Z.’s hair only after she started lunging at him may be seen as merely exercising the soft terms of this contract.

BUT AFTER SHE WAS ARRESTED, of course, the N.Z. story became a story about something else: this time, the controversy over releasing mentally ill and drug-addicted defendants to “community treatment” centers instead of incarcerating them.

Like so many defendants — drug-addicted, mentally ill, youthful or not — N.Z.’s needs and problems became the sole focus of the judiciary as soon as she set foot in court.

As reported in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, N.Z. was already on probation for a previous attack on a transit officer when she attacked the elderly train rider.  According to the solicitor in her most recent case, N.Z. had “a lengthy criminal history of violent outbursts” and “never showed up for the mental health diversion program in another case.”   

She had faced no consequences for failing to perform the requirements of probation in the officer’s assault – seeing a probation officer and performing community service.  Even though she further violated the requirements of probation by committing another assault (or two), DeKalb County State Court Judge Barbara Mobley chose to halt the criminal case against N.Z. and refer her to a “pretrial diversion program for mentally ill people” instead of allowing the state to prosecute her.

By “dead-docketing” N.Z.’s prosecution, Judge Mobley told the public that their safety simply did not matter – because N.Z. has a mental illness.  In other courtrooms, other judges are delivering the same message to other communities: “your home being broken into doesn’t matter because the defendant has a drug addiction,” or, “your car being stolen doesn’t matter because the defendant is a youthful offender.”  

N.Z. seemed aware of this double standard, if little else, as she stood hollering on the train.  Out of all the people there, only N.Z. felt comfortable asserting her rights to legal protection.  On the video, you can hear her shrieking it:

“I’m pressing charges.  I’m pressing charges.  I’m pressing charges.”