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The Guilty Project, Kevin Eugene Peterson and Charles Montgomery: Two Sex Offenders Who Would Have Been Better Off Behind Bars

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Early release is going to be a disaster. It would be less of a disaster if the public had access to the real criminal histories of the people being released.  But we’re being kept in the dark: nobody wants to admit the chaos in criminal record-keeping.

genthumbKevin Eugene Peterson

Already, someone has been cut loose on the pretense that was merely a non-violent offender, when he was not.  He immediately tried to rape a stranger.  How immediately?  A few hours.  Expect more of the same:

Kevin Eugene Peterson, who was released from the Sacramento County Main Jail around 11:30 p.m. Monday, was arrested by Sacramento police around 12:30 p.m. Tuesday after he allegedly attempted to rape a female counselor at Sacramento’s Loaves and Fishes on North C Street.

Peterson qualified for the early-release program, supposedly restricted to non-violent offenders, because his latest arrest was for violating parole on an earlier felony: assault with a deadly weapon.  Get it?  He should have still been in prison for the felony weapon charge, but because they let him go early to save money, once he got sent back to prison for breaking the law again, he was classified non-violent, rather than counting the parole revocation as a reinstatement of his previous sentence.

Most people assume that revoking parole means reinstating the person’s original sentence.  That is, after all, what we are told about the parole process.  We’re not told the truth, apparently.

So by failing to abide by the law the last time he was released, Peterson got himself to the head of the line to be released early a second time.  Now a woman has been abducted and terrorized.  Authorities say their hands are tied, however, because they are bound by the rules that classified Peterson as “non-violent”:

Peterson was one of 121 non-violent inmates released from Sacramento detention Monday and Tuesday after the state penal code was re-written as a cost-saving measure.  About 250 inmates were expected to be let free by week’s end.  While good behavior traditionally could cut up to a third of a California jail inmate’s sentence, the new law passed by the state Legislature last year mandated county jail inmates with good behavior be set free after serving only half of their sentenced term.  While all of the inmates considered for early release are non-violent offenders, Peterson was originally arrested in August 2007 in south Sacramento on a felony assault with a deadly weapon.  However, since Peterson served that sentence and was sent back on a non-violent probation violation in December, he was eligible for early release.  Also, the assault with a deadly weapon charge did not result in great bodily injury to the victim, nor did that attack include the use of a fire arm.

More loopholes: because Peterson failed in his effort to do “great bodily harm” to someone, and the “deadly weapon” he used was something other than a gun, the great whirling roulette wheel of justice eventually slotted him out as a non-violent offender.  There are a million such loopholes in our sentencing laws, not to mention the giant classificatory loophole that is plea bargaining.

Which raises a serious, though entirely neglected question: how many of these other “non-violent” offenders slated for release, or released already, are actually violent felons?

When politicians promise that only non-violent offenders will be allowed to walk free in these cost-cutting schemes, they’re lying.

~~~

Speaking of erasing evidence of crime, here is one sadly typical consequence of extreme leniency: subsequent violent death of the offender.  He might have been safer in prison, after all:

charles_montgomery_cousinCharles Montgomery

Charles Montgomery was born in the back room of his grandparents’ house on the 400 block of E. 104th St. in the Green Meadows neighborhood of South Los Angeles. Twenty-four years later he died on that very street, a few houses down, shot on his way home from the store in the early afternoon, his family said. . . Montgomery, a 24-year-old black man, was shot several times in his upper body about 2 p.m. Friday, Jan. 15 by a man who approached him on foot, police said. Montgomery died at the scene. . . Police said they have no suspects and no witnesses have come forward.  “It was broad daylight — it just don’t get more blatant,” said Kali Kellup, Montgomery’s  cousin. ”Somebody saw something.”

No witnesses have come forward.  Kellup also said that people were shocked because his cousin was shot in a little section of the block that was “considered neutral territory.”  That a war zone with agreed-upon “neutral” spaces is an accepted reality in any corner of America ought to be more shocking.

Raised by his grandparents, who have lived on the block for more than 50 years, Montgomery was known to be “happy go-lucky” and constantly in motion. His family said he had the mental state of a child; he was afflicted with an unknown mental condition that doctors could not diagnose.  “He was always happy, always laughing about something,” Kellup said. “Even if you didn’t know what it was, he was laughing about something.”

He was also charged with attempted forcible rape, and kidnapping, and assault with a deadly weapon, serious charges that got pleaded down to a non-sexual charge.  I tend not to believe people who claim that a predator isn’t responsible for his crimes because of mental incapacity.  If you’re capable of kidnapping and assaulting someone, you’ve got some competence, not to mention enough to face the consequences.  If there are consequences:

As a teenager, Montgomery spent two years at juvenile hall before being charged as an adult with assault with intent to commit a felony, assault with a deadly weapon, kidnapping, and attempted forcible rape, according to court documents.  In 2003, two years after he was taken into custody, his court-appointed attorney agreed to a plea on his behalf. Montgomery was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon, and the other charges were dropped, according to court records. Montgomery was sentenced to two years in state prison; however, he was given over two years of credit for time in custody and good behavior and was released, according to court records.

Two years, and no record as a sex offender, for assault with a deadly weapon, kidnapping, and attempted forced rape.  That’s what passes for normal these days, but the Justice Department and their Crime Experts keep insisting that we are far too harsh on all offenders, that we need to roll back sentencing even more.  To what, minutes or hours in a cell?  When you already get time served for armed kidnapping and attempted forcible rape, or a slap on the wrist and two-time early release for assault with a deadly weapon, what exactly are we going to cut?  The people controlling this debate are not speaking honestly.

Kellup said he believed his cousin was innocent.  “He was basically a fall guy,” he said. “It was a travesty of justice.”

Just a “fall guy” in a kidnapping and attempted rape?  Hmm, with a deadly weapon involved?  If everyone, from the prosecutor and the defense attorney and the judge, to his own family, had not worked so hard to excuse Montgomery’s prior crime, then he would probably still be alive today.  In prison, but not dead.

“I wish they’d stop the killing,” Montgomery’s grandmother said. “Young people killing one another for no reason at all.”

Julia Tuttle Bridge, Redux: More Made-Up Reporting on the “Sex Offenders Under the Bridge”

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Quick, what’s more bathetic than a sack of drowned kittens?

Why, it’s the Sex-Offenders-Under-the-Bridge in Miami.  Again.  In Time this time.  Apparently, it’s just not possible to guilt the fourth estate into covering this issue factually (see here, here, and here for my prior posts).  Is some defense attorney running a tour bus for gullible reporters to guarantee a steady supply of this melodrama?  If so, I wish they’d take a side trip to go shopping for new adjectives:

The Julia Tuttle Causeway is one of Miami’s most beautiful bridge spans, connecting the city to Miami Beach through palm-tree-filled islands fringed with red mangroves. But beneath the tranquil expanse sits one of South Florida’s most contentious social problems: a large colony of convicted sex offenders, thrown into homelessness in recent years by draconian residency restrictions that leave them scant available or affordable housing. They live in tents and shacks built from cast-off supplies, clinging to pylons and embankments, with no running water, electricity or bathrooms.

Draconian . . . clinging to pylons . . . tranquil expanse . . . it’s beginning to sound like a Simpsons episode.  And then, there is the embarrassing failure to fact-check:

Miami is hardly the only place in the U.S. where registered sex offenders can’t find shelter. In Georgia, a group living in tents in the woods near Atlanta was recently ordered out of even that refuge.

Oh, please.  “[O]rdered out of even that refuge.” Cue to violins.  That’s not what happened.  The county spent taxpayer resources arranging housing for them, just as they spend taxpayer money to address all their needs.  Didn’t the Time reporter bother to speak to county officials?

Press releases from activist organizations are not facts.

Here’s a better way to describe the “homeless sex offender” drama in its entirety: inspired by the Miami story, reporters coast to coast set out to comb bridges and underpasses, eagerly seeking encampments of homeless sex offenders.  Lightening their trip by jettisoning the heavy burden of objectivity, they finally stumbled upon a handful of men shacked up in the woods outside Marietta, Georgia — living there for about five minutes while other housing was being found for them.  Included in the group was a particularly violent child abuser who had been booted from his last taxpayer-subsidized dwelling because he couldn’t be bothered to pay a token bit of rent (he, of course, was the one being represented by a “civil rights” group suing the rest of us for failing to provide him with more free housing after he screwed up the last handout).  Plus there were a few other child molesters crying poverty and misrepresenting their convictions to the gullible gal Friday sent to interview them.  Meanwhile, nobody really noticed the hundreds of sex offenders living nearby in perfectly legal housing, just like nobody noticed the thousands of non-homeless sex offenders in Miami.

Other than the Miami encampment and the blink-of-an-eye Atlanta thing, the only other reported sighting of a homeless sex offender was by the New York Times’ Dan Barry, and that was entirely accidental: Barry didn’t realize that the manipulative old coot he was slavishly profiling was actually an absconded child rapist . . . because he didn’t do a simple thirty-second online fact-check to confirm any part of the man’s sob story.  Ouch.

Of course, the media’s failure to actually find more homeless sex offenders (let alone homeless sex offenders whose homelessness can be vaguely attributed to living restriction laws) did nothing to quell their passion for the story.

Anyway, back to the latest breathless confabulation:

But the Miami shantytown, with as many as 70 residents, is the largest of its kind [make that the only one of its kind], thanks to a frenzied wave of local laws passed in Florida after the grisly 2005 rape and murder of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford by a convicted sex offender. The state had already been the first to enact residency rules for convicted predators, barring them in 1995 from living within 1,000 feet of schools, playgrounds and other children’s sites. Municipalities, with questionable authority, then adopted even tougher ordinances — there are 156 of them so far. Miami Beach, for example, bars offenders from living within 2,500 feet of all school-bus stops, effectively precluding them from living anywhere in the city.

Not true, not true, and not true.  Consistency: not always a virtue.  A “frenzied wave of local laws”?  What kind of reporting is that?  Frenzied?  Is the public “frenzied,” or did elected officials pass laws in response to public concerns about child rapists living incognito in homeless shelters and on the streets, in poor neighborhoods, among children who often lack supervision?

Note to self, Reporter Skipp: two courts have ruled that, in fact, the authority of the municipality in question is not “questionable”: that’s your opinion, and your opinion hardly belongs in a purported news story now, does it?  Particularly with no mention of the fact that, when challenged by the well-heeled lawyers from the side you’re on, the county won in court.  Twice.  Who died and made you a judge in Miami-Dade County anyway?  You are supposed to be a journalist.  This is supposed to be a news story.  Go read the court rulings.  Then report them.  Easy, right?

And are these men really homeless because they’re sex offenders?  How many had housing prior to their convictions?  How many assaulted a child in the last place they lived, with relatives or girlfriends, and that’s the real reason they’re on the streets now? “Effectively precluding them from living anywhere in the city”?  Wrong again.  Thousands of other sex offenders are housed throughout the city.  What’s wrong with these particular men?  And what does the ordinance actually say?  Reporting on this story has been shamefully devoid of such facts.

Could it be that the bridge-dwellers are sexually violent drunks and druggies who would be homeless anyway, especially as many of them have long records of other crimes that would make anyone choose to reject them as tenants?  Could it be they’re cleverly playing journalists like violins in the interest of advancing their lawsuit against the city, and busking up the federal handout they’ve been promised?  Do they, like so many homeless we shower with resources, prefer to live rough rather than avail themselves of taxpayer-subsidized housing that comes with some behavioral strings and a move away from their old stomping grounds?

And what happened to all that federal funding (our tax dollars) slated to be thrown at this trumped-up problem six months ago?

This tiny minority of Miami-Dade’s sex offenders who are living under the bridge are the only ones responsible for their own homelessness and the persistence of the encampment.  Some are staying on because they are suing the city, of course.  You know, that “questionable authority” place across the water?

Ah, but who cares? The academics have arrived to assist the lawyers suing the city, armed with their trumped-up research about how living restrictions cause rapists to do more rapin’.  None of this can actually be proven, of course, but that doesn’t stop certain politicians from repeating the claim, over and over and over again:

“The safety of Floridians has suffered as local politicians have tried to one-up each other with policies that have resulted in colonies of homeless sex offenders left to roam our streets,” says state senator Dave Aronberg, a Democrat running for state attorney general.

Has it really?  Are sex offenders really “roaming the streets” more because they’re being watched?  How does that work?  Prior to living restriction and registry laws, all sex offenders were free to “roam the streets” with impunity: to say that more do so now due to rules against such behavior is just intellectually dishonest.

Also intellectually dishonest?  Not getting a quote from someone who disagrees with the claims you’re pushing as fact in what’s supposed to be an objective news story.  You know, reporting both sides of a contentious issue?  Whatever happened to that?

Incidentally, the very last thing Florida needs is an A.C.L.U.-style Attorney General who spouts inane anti-incarceration propaganda at the drop of a hat.

To actually report this story, which not one journalist has done, you have to consider the offense patterns of this small group of men and others offenders like them.  Where did they find their victims?  Should society allow them to go back to identical circumstances?

To make the claim that living restriction laws threaten public safety, you have to compare recidivism rates before and after living restrictions were put in place.  And nobody has done that, either.  In fact, they cannot do it, because child molestation (the law in Florida applies to child molesters, not that you would know that from the news) so rarely gets reported, let alone reported in a timely manner.

Recidivism is nearly impossible to measure in a system where the vast majority of serial offenders, especially those who start as juveniles, are permitted to plead down to single offenses or non-sex crime charges.  So there are many things we cannot know.  Researchers claiming that they can isolate a specific cause-and-effect relationship between criminal behavior and the existence of these laws are just churning out propaganda in the service of activists who are looking for ways to pad their lawsuits.

No matter what David Aronberg claims.

Here’s an example of the type of research claims now being made by activists:

Research by agencies like the Minnesota Department of Corrections has found that a stable home is the strongest guarantor of sound post-incarceration behavior among sex offenders.

Well, of course it is.  It’s also the type of self-selecting factor that makes research conclusions suspect in the first place.  Having a “stable home” to go back to means you’re among the cohort of offenders who haven’t utterly bollocked every aspect of your life, or engaged in such chaotic and violent behavior that you had no stability to begin with and nothing left to lose.  It means you haven’t raped your own kids and thus can’t go home (hopefully, it means that).  It means you aren’t so addicted or psychopathic or mentally disorganized or impulsive or violent or lazy that you won’t follow the rules for the housing you’ve been offered.

By the taxpayers, including rape victims who pay taxes and are thus frequently forced to pay their own rapists’ rent.  A little gratitude would be attractive, instead of all this carping.

Academics take obvious insights like ‘offenders with stable lives are more stable’ and mutate them into policy arguments against monitoring offenders.  This is politics disguised as research.  And don’t think they’ll stop when they overturn living restrictions; the ultimate goal of the pro-sex offender movement is to do away with registration itself, so offenders can slip back into anonymity once they’ve served the six months (or mere probation) that still passes for punishment for many child molestation convictions.

It’s worth asking why reporters continually get so snowed by myths — like the claim that living restriction laws are magically forcing sex offenders to re-offend when they wouldn’t do so otherwise.  I think it’s the consequence of a mindset that refuses to contemplate, or write about, the existence of the crime itself.  They see the criminal, and empathize, but work hard to deny the existence of his victims.  Consequently, the thing that’s missing from all the extensive coverage of the “homeless sex offenders” is their crimes, as if these men are just people who have been randomly and unfairly designated “sex offenders” and sent to live under a bridge.  How can we even begin to have a conversation about the efficacy of these laws when reporters refuse to include any discussion of the types of crimes the men committed, and might commit again, in their stories?  Once we’re done reading about the lean-tos, and the slap of the waves, and the extension cords snaking through the encampment, could we possibly talk about child rape for a moment?

I once had a reporter tell me that he didn’t choose to write about an offender’s crime if he has “paid his debt to society.”  That’s risible.  We don’t write sentencing laws in order to let reporters feel that cinnamonny rush of self-esteem for opposing them; reporters shouldn’t cover crime policy without including the subject of . . . crime.

So, despite all the award-winning coverage of the view of the unjust sunset from under the Julia Tuttle Bridge, we haven’t really begun discussing the real issue, which is this: considering these men’s actual records and our continuing extreme leniency in sentencing, which settings pose the most risk for re-offense?  The last homeless shelter where they stalked vulnerable runaways?  Their ex-girlfriend’s apartment, where they raped their last six-year old victim?  Enough with the drama about pitiful child maulers: what works?

The men under the bridge are neither heroes nor victims; most would probably be homeless anyway, and it is grotesque that activists posing as journalists continue to trumpet their cause in editorials disguised as new stories and devoid of even the most basic facts.


New York City, 1990; Ciudad Juarez, 2009; Justice Reinvestment, Tomorrow

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A shiny new euphemism is bouncing around Washington these days: it’s called Justice Reinvestment.

That sounds nice.  Thrifty.  Far better than the unfortunately named “Prisoner Reentry,” which was former President Bush’s euphemism for his program handing $300 million dollars over to FBCOS (faith and community based organizations, in other words, any darn thing) to provide “services” (“mentoring,” putative job training, free housing and other goodies) to offenders “reentering” their communities.

In other words, getting out of jail.

Of course, Bush was an unrehabilitated knuckle-dragger, so the new administration has announced, to great fanfare, that those dark days of denying offenders services (“mentoring,” putative job training, free housing, and other goodies) have Finally Come To An End, now that they’ve invented an entirely new name for them.

Justice Reinvestment definitely sounds better than Prisoner Reentry, but other than the stationary headings, both programs do precisely the same thing: they pay a whole bunch of pricey advocates to put a good spin on the fact that our streets are crawling with offenders who ought to be in prison but are not.

Like all spin on crime, Justice Reinvestment is an expression of the foundational myth of crime and punishment in America, neatly summarized in this Nation editorial and thousands of identical screeds.  I paraphrase, but not much (* are real quotes):

Once upon a time, during the Golden Age (roughly, 1963 to 1989), we rehabilitated criminals, instead of punishing them.  But then, a vindictive and stupid public woke up one morning and demanded that their leaders become tough on crime.  Spineless politicians, driven by the unslaked blood-thirst of the public, started putting vast numbers of people in prison for no reason whatsoever, and soon we became a prison state where there was no rehabilitation, no parole, and no second chances.  Then we were worse than Iran!  Cruel and irrational new laws “sent young men to prison for life for stealing a slice of pizza,”* when we could have been using all that money to send them to Princeton.  Ivy League, not Central Lockdown!  Except, not the campus where I’m sending my daughter, please.  Everybody knows that prisons don’t prevent crime.  “All prison is likely to teach . . . is how to commit crime again,”* whereas, at Princeton, young offenders could have been taught literary criticism instead.  If there were no prisons, there would be no recidivism.  That’s a fact.  But because we destroyed the consequence-free paradise that was 1974, we are forcing young, one-time offenders to become lifetime criminals.  Now, because we have chosen enforcement over empathy, “half of those released will be convicted for another crime within three years.”* So it’s vital that we admit we were wrong and, from this point forward, avoid holding criminals accountable in any way, lest we turn them into recidivists.  Using laws.   They just need understanding.  And job training.  And mentors.

This myth, exactly none of which is true (except the shocking recidivism stats) has been embraced by both Democrats and Republicans, which doesn’t make it more credible, just more bipartisan.  How wrong-headed is this thinking?  This chart should do the trick:

800px-NYC_murders

See 1963ish?  That is the dawning of the Age of Anti-Incarceration, rising to full bloom in the bloodshed-ey Eighties.  See 1990?  That was when three-strikes, enhanced penalties for gun crimes, and broken-windows policing began replacing the leniency of the previous two decades.

See the blank spot on the far right side of the declining ski slope between 1990 and 2000?  Those are the thousands of lives saved in New York City alone, thanks to those terrible Americans who began to demand that the justice system incarcerate offenders instead of automatically cutting them loose.

I saw an interesting statistic in the newspaper.  Ciudad Juarez, where 16 young people were shot to death at a birthday party yesterday, had about as many murders last year as New York City had in 1990.  So if you want to imagine what contemporary New York would look like if only those horrible law-and-order types hadn’t turned America into Iran some time around 1992, think Ciudad Juarez.

In fairness, the murder rate in Ciudad Juarez today is far higher than the 1990 New York City murder rate: there are only 1.5 million people in Juarez, one-fifth the population of NYC three decades ago.  But there were roughly 1.35 million poor living in NYC when the city’s murder rate spiked, and, of course, the vast majority of the killings took place exclusively among the poor.

So it really was that bad.  Sending more people to prison really did save more lives.

And yet, the anti-incarceration activists continue to insist that “fascist” law enforcement, not crime, is the only real problem, and the only real solution to everything is more leniency and more administration.  That is the real intent of the Justice Reinvestment movement, though I dare anyone to read through the Byzantine prose of the official Four-Step Strategy and explain what they are actually saying.

It is, after all, your money they’re throwing at that guy who just stole your lawnmower.

Media Bias in Crime Reporting: Hank Asher, the St. Pete Times, and Journalists’ Favorite Armed Robber (of the Week)

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Two stories today underscore the media’s fundamental prejudices — prejudice against those who try to uphold the law, and prejudice for offenders.

In the St. Petersburg Times, there was a follow-up story to Susan Taylor Martin’s highly personal hatchet job on Mark Lunsford, father of murder victim Jessica Lunsford.  Back in November, Martin sneeringly attacked Lunsford for, among other things, having the temerity to earn $40,000 a year working as an advocate for child predator laws although, as she observed, he holds “only” a high school diploma.  She also criticized Lunsford for comping a $73 celebration at Outback Restaurant on the night the man who raped and murdered his daughter was convicted for her death.

You know, comping . . . one . . . meal.  Like journalists like Ms. Martin do when they attend nicely-heeled journalistic ethics conferences, and civil rights banquets, and other activities approved by the Central Committee for the Maintenance of Media Elitism.

See my previous post on the article here.

Now Martin has returned to the subject of Lunsford’s employer again, publishing a less lurid but hardly objective “follow-up report” on Hank Asher, the computer mogul who hired Lunsford as a lobbyist.  The article purports to address Asher’s work in data mining to support anti-terrorist, child predator, and foster care investigations, but Martin cannot seem to resist indulging her weird obsession with the lifestyles of people who advocate for, rather than against, law enforcement.  The photo caption once again mentions the price of Asher’s house and the fact that he owns a jet; the story is largely a re-hash of ground covered in her earlier story.

Maybe someone at the Times decided that Martin’s November slash job on Asher and Lunsford was so far outside the bounds of acceptable reporting that they’re doing a make-over.  If this is it, well, the third time around, they need to send in someone who isn’t so busy examining the silverware:

Data-mining whiz Hank Asher, who has a private jet and a $3 million mansion, rents part of the Boca Raton office park where IBM once made personal computers.

We actually know that already, because such details were prominently featured in the Nov. 11 story.  You don’t see the Times obsessing over the personal income of people with whom they see eye-to-eye, like defense attorneys and prisoner advocates.  You don’t see them questioning the motives of former elected officials who dedicate themselves to the defense bar after retiring from public service.  But anyone who works, instead, to put child predators behind bars — well, surely they must be hiding something.  Read the rest here.

On the flip side, criminologists and journalists are mourning the death of their favorite armed bank robber.  No point in lingering over little details like what it felt like to be his victim when he held the gun to their head, though.  John Irwin, you see, was not only an armed felon who fell into crime for the noble reason that he found it stimulating — he then went on to become a criminologist and anti-incarceration activist, serving on the board of the radical anti-incarceration Sentencing Project, organizing a “prisoner’s union” to hijack more of our tax dollars for frivolous lawsuits, and most recently celebrating his media-approved adventures in anti-victim advocacy with an autobiography titled Rogue.

Of course, the media is reverential towards this type of contemptuous behavior toward the law, and against crime victims.  The innocent person whose brains Irwin threatened to blow out for kicks and giggles was, of course, not consulted:

John Irwin had the usual choice when he got out of Soledad Prison in 1957 after a five-year stretch for armed robbery: Do more crime, or remake his life.  He chose rebirth – with a passion.  Over the next half century, Mr. Irwin became one of the nation’s foremost advocates for compassionate reform of the prison system, the author of six heralded books dissecting criminal justice, and a tenured sociology professor at San Francisco State University. . .”John was fearless about being honest about the realities of crime and justice,” said Naneen Karraker, a national advocate for prison reform. “He had the courage to see things differently from the common way.

That would be “compassion” towards predators, not their victims, and “fearless” and “courageous” as in spewing the journalist-and-academic approved party line opposing incarceration for all offenders, even the most violent and dangerous, no matter the cost to society.

Among other “fearless” acts, Irwin started something called the Convict Criminology Movement, in which inmates and ex-cons got tax dollars to get college degrees, and a leg up in getting hired as college professors — while their victims received nothing, of course, and thus ended up subsidizing their predators’ educations and careers.  Nice.  The man who raped me got one such utterly fake prison-house degree, which helped enable him to get out of prison early (for the third time) and get back to his true calling raping elderly women.

Thanks, John Irwin.

How many people have been raped and murdered by convicts who should have been in prison but were out on the streets because of Irwin’s campaigns?  There’s no way to ever know.

But to call such activism “courageous” in the virulently anti-victim, pro-offender, anti-incarceration circles Irwin moved in is absurd.  Anyone who thinks being an ex-con would in any way be a detriment to the tenure process hasn’t spent much time being “fearless” on college campuses over the last 30 years.  There is nothing courageous about telling the choir exactly what they want to hear.

Do Jobs Programs Cause Crime?

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With something approaching fifty years of economic and crime statistics consistently disproving any correlation between recessions and crime, not to mention the last 12 months of terrible economic news coupled with still-dropping crime rates, you’d think journalists might finally start questioning their knee-jerk pronouncements about “lack of opportunity” being the primary motivation for unlawful behavior.

But they won’t.  Journalists simply can’t, I think, let go of the idea that young people (males, mostly) commit crime primarily because they are being unjustly deprived of economic opportunity.  To let that idea go would result in nothing less than the catastrophic collapse of a myth on which rests perhaps a fifth or more of the emotional underpinnings of the fourth estate.   It would require shifting culpability for criminal behavior from society at large, where journalists and policymakers are comfortable placing it, onto individuals who commit crimes (and in many cases their families and immediate communities, but no farther).

With the exception of some big city newsrooms, however, the rest of the world is moving on.  Journalists who cling to the disproved crime-economy calibration are even starting to sound out of step with many crime experts, and not just conservative think tank ones like Heather Mac Donald who have long argued against “root theories” of crime.  Even James Allen Fox of Northeastern University was quoted this week denying the correlation between recession and crime:

Prof. Fox said a common assumption that crime goes up during a recession is wrong. Historic data show there is little connection between economic conditions and crime, particularly violent crime.

Then again, this was an article in the Wall Street Journal.  Almost exactly a year ago, in a now-widely derided editorial, the New York Times drew a very different inference from Fox’s statements on the economy:

Federal and state programs that are supposed to provide jobs, services and counseling have been poorly financed for years. They are likely to suffer further as cash-strapped states look for ways to save money. The timing couldn’t be worse.

Fewer jobs programs are going to equal more crime, the Times cried.  They continued:

A new study by James Alan Fox and Marc Swatt of Northeastern University suggests that violent crime among young people may be rising, that the much-talked-about reduction in the crime rate in the 1990s may be over, and that much more must be done to prevent young people from succumbing to the gang culture.  The study also shows that the murder rate for black teenagers has climbed noticeably since 2000 while the rate for young whites has scarcely changed on the whole and, in some places, has actually declined. While more financing for local police would be useful, programs aimed at providing jobs and social services are far more important.

The inconsistency here is not Fox’s: he was calling for varied interventions, including policing.  But the Times is simply incapable of acknowledging the role of policing and incarceration in lowering crime rates.  They can’t stop chanting “jobs or crime,” even though economic and crime trends in the 1960’s, 1970’s, 1980’s, 1990’s, and now 2000’s utterly belie that claim.  Only one thing will stop crime, they insist (hysterically, it’s fair to say):

[T]he economic crisis has clearly created the conditions for more crime and more gangs — among hopeless, jobless young men in the inner cities. Once these young men become entangled in the criminal justice system, they are typically marginalized and shut out of the job market for life.  President-elect Barack Obama’s administration and Congress will need to address the youth crisis as part of the country’s deep economic crisis. That means reviving the federal summer jobs programs that ran successfully for more than 30 years.

Ah yes, summer jobs programs.  The single biggest graft incubator and inner-city political corruption cash cow since the mafia tipped its first garbage pail.  Start a riot and burn down all the legitimate businesses in your neighborhood?  Get a jobs program.  Serial killer on the loose?  Get a jobs program.  Fiscal conservatives take over Washington?  Get a jobs program to sop mayoral nerves.  Big government liberals take over Washington? Jobs programs, jobs programs, jobs programs.

After years of observing jobs programs in Atlanta, which is an epicenter of such things, I came to the conclusion that jobs programs themselves are a cause of crime, and not just the proximate crimes that arise directly from the grants-giving process, like kickbacks, or pay for play, or just plain stealing, though such graft is not inconsequential.  Beyond the immediate larceny, jobs programs grow a culture of extreme political corruption.  They bankroll the most crooked, on-the-make actors in city and county politics, many of whom started out on the jobs side of community outreach and resurfaced a few years later peddling substandard mortgages and community redevelopment scams, scams that contributed mightily to the current economic crisis.  When a critical mass of community leaders are on the make, when political appointees like chiefs of police are chosen by people who are themselves on the make, you get a culture where crime flourishes.

I’m no statistician, but somebody who is could probably create a nice chart correlating jobs program dollars with indictments for political corruption: in Atlanta, that chart would prominently feature former Mayor Bill Campbell, who built both his indictable inner circle and his “get out the vote” muscle on such programs, most notably the hundreds of millions of dollars in squandered and pilfered “empowerment zone” monies.  Hundreds of millions of dollars buys a lot of bad actors, large and small, from the “community activists” who can be relied on to squeal and grandstand for a few thousand bucks, to the classes who expect a few hundred thousand in contracts for their spouses and children in return for political cover.  These people didn’t care that some neighborhoods in the city were ringing with gunfire: that sound was merely cha-ching in their pockets as they held out their hands and Washington filled them with money.

Atlanta’s worst years, while crime skyrocketed and the mayor and his cronies ransacked city government, only came to an end after the jobs program money ran out, and chastened city leaders had to cope with the hangover.  And with this reality: jobs programs don’t create jobs: they create programs.  Once the grant money runs out, or, more likely, gets pocketed, there’s nothing left in its place.

The crack epidemic ended the same way: things got crazier and crazier and crazier until people burned out, or they went to jail and cleaned up their acts, or they died, and those who survived were more cautious not to go down that path again.

This time around, positive results are occurring in cities where police and courts, or the public, or all three engage in tactics that can be broadly named “broken windows” policing.  A neighborhood group that patrols its own streets and takes on vandalism and abandoned buildings and shows up in court to testify is engaging in broken windows policing, even if the police aren’t officially involved and the judiciary is still dragging its heels.  Atlanta is the best example of that happening at the community level — while New York, Los Angeles, and Orlando are proving the effectiveness of the “broken windows” theory directly through their police and courts.

In contrast, cities that continue to do things the “old way,” and, not incidentally, are still mired in the same old political culture — Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago — still have high homicide rates, give or take a few points.

I don’t know what, if anything, will “tip” the current pockets of high-crime, inner-city culture away from self-destruction this time.  But empowering two-bit political hacks by handing them wads of money for fictional “jobs programs” will just make things worse.

No matter what the editorial board at the New York Times believes.

Tax Breaks for Hiring Ex-Cons. No Tax Breaks for Hiring the Law Abiding.

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Back when the economy was flush, President Bush (yes, that President Bush) started the “prisoner re-entry” ball rolling with $330 million dollars in federal funding to go for housing, drug rehab, jobs, and various therapies for ex-cons.  But now that we are a year into record unemployment for non-ex-cons, should the federal government still be offering tax breaks as a reward for hiring people with criminal records?

With one in ten people (probably more) unemployed, should committing a crime give people a leg up over other job applicants?

Consider one state with a (relatively) good financial outlook, Kansas.  24,000 people are on the unemployment roll in Kansas: the unemployment rate, around 6%, is far better than in many other places.  But the state has also lost 60,000 jobs since last November.  Nevertheless, taxpayers in Kansas seeking work are still subsidizing tax breaks for businesses who choose ex-cons over law-abiding job seekers.

Amazingly, the federal program offering tax breaks for hiring offenders even provides employers with “free insurance to protect them against losses including by theft, forgery or embezzlement.”  You know, for when the rehabilitation doesn’t take.

I’m all for offering offenders the chance to clean up in prison: who wouldn’t be?  But A.A. and N.A. programs cost nothing to run or attend, in or out of jail.  There also seems to be no shortage of naive (often religious) volunteers eager to teach offenders how to dress right for a job interview.

But the minute there’s grant money involved, expect wrap-around freebies for “clients” and zero accountability regarding whether a single dime spent does any good at all.  Here is a description of some of Kansas’ federal tax-funded re-entry expenditures, from a March 2009 article in U.S.A. Today:

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. . . 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.

The coloring class, gym memberships, et. al. are part of a gamble the state is taking with violent felons.  In an effort to cut costs, ex-cons are assigned to community-based “behavior modification” classes rather than being returned to prison for parole violations.  So that guy breaking into your garage might just get sent to art class, instead of back to prison.

Gee, who needs an anger management class now?

Does any of this busywork actually rehabilitate criminals? Or are the few successes held forth for the press just the people who would have gotten their act together anyway?  Even if the overseers of these programs weren’t utterly unreliable reporters, thanks to their nearly universal anti-incarceration ethos, there’s really no way to know.

For when states simultaneously set up crayola workshops for felons and instruct parole officers to send fewer violators back to prison and send the word down to prosecutors that more cases should be pleaded away, there are a million ways to make the results look good.  With layers of politicians and government workers and non-profits, there’s always somebody willing to point at the crayon box and declare (for a fee, of course) that the patient has been cured.

Well, except for this guy.  According to Kansas offender records, he absconded some time after U.S.A. Today introduced us to him in his coloring class.

prisoneconomyx

Not in Kansas anymore?

And So It Begins: Rhetoric on “Early Release for Non-Violent Offenders Clogging Prisons” is Dangerous Hot Air

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From the Denver Post.  Not exactly Girl and Boy Scouts, these “best of show offenders” chosen as the first early releases in Denver.  Ironically, these records make precisely the opposite point than the one the Justice Department is making, which is that we are too harsh on offenders and “too vindictive” on sentencing.

Expect more of the same as Eric Holder gears up to throw massive amounts of money at anti-incarceration initiatives and activist groups like the Vera Institute, who do “studies” that all end up showing that we need to empty the prisons to save money.

Well, some people’s money, and good luck with that:

The Real Perception Problem is the Perception of the Courts

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The comments thread in response to this article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution contain a lot more insight than the article itself, which morphed from the purported subject of policing into another attack on the public for caring about crime.*  No surprise there.  While the criminologists try to minimize crime using formulas measuring relative cultural pathology and other number dances, the public hones in on the courts:

It is time that we stop protecting the young criminals – Start publishing names, parents names and city – Might just be that some parents will be so embarrassed that they will take control of these young people – Start publishing names of judges that continually grant bail bonds or m notes for “REPEAT” offenders. — “D.L.”

[T]he court systems are a huge part of the problem…. i am shocked how many repeat offenders of street crimes are released on a “signature bond” …basically they sign their name and promise to come back to court and walk out….below is the legal definition.  “A signature bond, or recognizance bond, is a promissory that is signed by the individual who was arrested in order to be released on bond. Though no monetary transaction takes place when the promissory is signed, a signature bond contends that the arrested individual will pay an agreed upon amount if he fails to appear in court on the given date and time.”” — “Too Many Signature Bonds”

There’s one important part of the equation left out – the court system. Many of these offenders have arrest histories of multiple felonies but are still out on the street. The police can lock people up, but they can’t keep them in jail…how about an expose on the criminal history of these high profile offenders and why they are out on the streets? I’d really be interested in seeing that article. it seems the heat always comes down on the police, but not the courts who let offenders out while they have two or three armed robbery charges. — “Georgia Dawwg”

One major problem is that the Fulton County Courts dead docket over half of the cases that they could prosecute. Also, the judges are too lenient on young offenders. This is destroying our city. — “S.M.”

Most seem to be saying the same thing: the police can only do so much, then the judges and the prosecutors let offenders go free.

Why, for example, has there been no follow-up on the 43 murder defendants walking the streets?

When people start picketing the D.A.’s office and the Fulton County Superior Court to demand full public disclosure of case dispositions and sentencing so they can make informed decisions about electing judges, things will change.

But meanwhile, we’re utterly in the dark, and while the Atlanta Journal Constitution is beginning to respond with more reporting on these issues, for a very long time the newsroom status quo was a sort of mushy empathy for offenders and reflexive anti-incarceration biases, with some color coverage of victims from time to time — while the justice system went quietly to hell.

There’s no other way to put it.  Many scores of people in Atlanta say the same thing — this offender or that offender isn’t being put away — and the newspaper essentially ignores them.  Judges react with petulant anger when challenged.  Academicians cook up wild excuses for criminality.  Journalists point fingers at the public.

The new mantra is “re-entry” and claims that we “don’t do enough to rehabilitate youths.”  Same as the old mantra — we’re “not doing enough for the kids.”  “We’re denying them job opportunities / education / empathy.”

People who say these things are willfully blind to the fact that billions have been spent and will continue to be spent on all sorts of rehabilitation.  The fact that these efforts fail doesn’t mean we aren’t paying for them.  It isn’t lack of effort: it’s the extreme degree to which the underclass is mired in dysfunction — and the ugly fact that many in the establishment are endlessly willing to deny and excuse that behavior, right up until somebody gets killed (and even after that).

Spend some time with a 14-year old kid whose dad and mom doesn’t parent him, whose head is filled with violent and sexualized videos and rap songs and shockingly little else, who goes to school in Atlanta and gets told that he is a victim of the system instead of actually being taught anything useful.  Then try to change that child’s mindset when there are so many forces working to sustain it: the victim culture and some very questionable “educating” in the public schools, the parents who still aren’t parenting, the pop culture violence: it’s too late for that kid if he stays in that environment.  It really is too late, and I don’t say that because I would give up on him; I’m just trying to inject some reality.

The people who go on endlessly about needing to give juveniles more chances are the people who have never gotten involved at all, who blame the police and society but do little other than complain.  People who actually make the commitment to help learn three things very quickly:

  • there are already scores of intervention and rehabilitation and jobs and education programs
  • the programs don’t tackle the real problems, not because we “don’t care enough” but because they wrong-headed
  • kids in the justice system get a “second chance” already: they get serial second chances, no matter what they have done and even as their crimes escalate

I found the following comment especially interesting: “Nich,” whoever she is, from Grant Park, took the time to get involved in a rehabilitation program.  Her experience reflects my own:

The courts are a very big problem, especially with regard to minors. A lot of the offenders are young. Evidently, there is a 12-step program (you get 12 strikes before you are out) that applies to all minors, per Zone 3 DA. So if a 16 year old boy walks into my home, slays my husband and robs us, is that strike 7? Also, I joined a group called “Project Turnaround” as a council member. (volunteer PO, basically.) This was a program to help these participants/offenders get back on track monitored by the DA’s office. Most every offender was recommended by the council members to be exempted from the program/put back in jail, for repeat offenses. Nothing was done. My participant, for example, never went to the classes, continued to sell drugs and was shot in during a drug deal gone bad. Why was he not thrown out of the program and into jail? The DA’s office eventually just walked away from the program, but the kicker…NONE, NADA, 0% of the participants were put into jail. They basically were given “get out of jail free cards!” They are roaming the streets worse off today, because they don’t believe they will ever receive consequences. Sadly, all evidence supports that theory. — Nich

“Most every offender was recommended by the council members to be exempted from the program/put back in jail, for repeat offenses. Nothing was done.”

This person has a story to tell — a shocking, disturbing story about scores of recidivist offenders — given rehabilitation, given help — let out of jail over and over and over by irresponsible judges and prosecutors despite victimizing more people (and ending up, seemingly inevitably, shot).  Why is the AJC retreading the offensive and inane “perception of crime” theme when there are real stories to be reported?  When you can learn more from the comments threads than the article itself, well, maybe the death of journalism isn’t going to hurt all that much.

*Thomas D. Boston’s research on public housing patterns and crime rates, also discussed in the original article, is a different subject.


A Truly Offensive Effort to Whitewash the Crime Problem

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What’s the matter with the Atlanta Journal Constitution?

In the last year, the residents of Atlanta stood up and declared that they do not want their city to be a place known for crime, where murders and muggings are taken in stride.  They declared that one murder, one home invasion, is one too many.  They partnered with the police — ignoring the headline-grabbing anti-cop types who perennially try to sow divisiveness.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution stubbornly failed to grasp the significance of these events.  They mocked the anti-crime activists and denied the crime problem with a scorn they would not dream of directing at other types of community leaders or social movements.  They sought out the usual political operatives to feed them quotes denying the seriousness of crime.

They didn’t understand that the public had long-ago grown tired of these condescending tactics.  The newspaper of record especially didn’t understand that the internet gave citizens powerful new ways to see precisely how much their lives and pocketbooks were being affected by crime — whether it was sharing information about the ten-time recidivist standing in their driveway or finding out how many other people got put on hold when calling 911.

Atlantans began to demand a healthier, saner, safer status quo.  They set out to change the culture of the city in ways that will benefit every single person, from the well-off to the poor to criminals themselves (for criminals are not helped by a system that allows them to destroy their own lives).

Now, less than a year later, anti-crime activism has brought about a sea change in the political culture of the city.  Several candidates are running in this election on solid platforms of public safety — notably Adam Brackman, a leader in the volunteer court-watching movement that pressures judges to remove repeat offenders from the streets.

Every politician in this election is on notice that they dismiss public concern about crime at their peril.

And by the time the next election rolls around, I suspect that some of the judges who are failing to uphold the law and siding with offenders rather than law-abiding citizens will be folding up their black robes.  Pressure on the courts, and pressuring the city to end the police furloughs, has already set the city on the path to reducing crime, though it will be a long road.

So why did the AJC choose this moment to retreat to the “crime is a perception thing” debate again?

“People are scared,” said Kyle Keyser, founder of Atlantans Together Against Crime. The group formed in January, in a near-spontaneous reaction to a perceived crime wave that crested with the killing of a restaurant worker near Grant Park.

“Near-spontaneous.”  “Perceived crime wave.”  “Crested.”  Could the reporter wedge in a few more diminutives?  I lived in that neighborhood for decades, and in reality, crime has always been unacceptably high there.  It would be a lot higher if residents weren’t paying through the teeth for security patrols and motion detectors and cameras inside and outside of their homes, a veritable self-imposed police state that reflects the failure of city leaders and especially judges to behave as if all crime matters.

So why is the newspaper still hammering away at the theme that it is the perception of crime that is the problem?  Even when they acknowledge that crime is up alarmingly, from a base rate that is alarming enough, they feel the need to remind people that such things are normal, you know, in urban places:

Residential burglaries are a key component of the property crime category. But while all property crime decreased, reports of residential break-ins grew by 65 percent from 2004 to 2008. This year alone, home burglaries in southeast Atlanta are up 52 percent.

Larcenies have steadily decreased, as well. But thefts from automobiles, a frequent grievance of in-town residents, rose 30 percent in five years.

Criminologists say a high crime rate is inevitable in Atlanta, where widespread poverty and an influx of commuters, conventioneers and tourists create an atmosphere conducive to illicit activity.

Yeah, that pickpocket’s trade show sure brought a bunch of pickpockets to town.  The problem isn’t poverty: it’s profound social dysfunction, and the primary targets of crime are not conventioneers in the security-heavy downtown business district but residents going about their lives.  Some criminologists will say anything, however, in the service of rejecting legitimate worries about criminal behavior:

How well a police department performs its most basic job — preventing crime — can be assessed three ways, said Robert Friedmann, a professor of criminal justice at Georgia State University.

“One is the numbers,” he said. “Two is the numbers. And three is perception.”

Is it?  “Perception” is criminologist-code for “hysteria.”  The argument that Atlanta’s crime problem is merely the “perception” of paranoid whiners was rejected by the public months ago.  Yet here comes the AJC, once again, scolding people for failing to lower their expectations to meet the “inevitable” reality of violent urban crime.

The reporter doesn’t stop there, however.  The end of this article, an article that purports to investigate “dysfunction in the police department,”  is instead dedicated to dismissing the seriousness of John Henderson’s murder and by extension the legitimacy of the entire anti-crime movement.

He does this by claiming, again, that John Henderson’s death was probably just “an accident,” foolishly valued and misapprehended by those who reacted to it:

The case featured many archetypal elements of the high-profile urban crime story: the neighborhood’s historic poverty contrasted against the Standard’s hipster scene; the free-roaming young killers, possibly gang members; the overmatched police force, struggling to keep pace with crime. To many, the case seemed to be a metaphor that captured Atlanta as a growing threat.

Except it wasn’t.

It wasn’t?  It wasn’t what?  The bullet that entered John Henderson’s head was neither an archetype nor a metaphor nor a plot twist: it was a chunk of metal that ended an innocent man’s life, fired from a gun by malicious thugs who displayed murderous contempt for other people’s lives.  To point to the dead body of that young man and say “those who have reacted to this loss are making too much of a big deal about it: it’s just routine, the sort of thing that happens is the big city,” is utterly, starkly, reprehensible.

It smacks of telling people that if they’re “hipsters” who choose to live in-town, they must accept a certain body count among their friends and loved ones, and to complain about that is the real crime.  The reporter backs up this sleazy assertion by insisting that the murder wasn’t as bad as people thought.  Get it?  The murder wasn’t all that bad:

Much of what was reported about Henderson’s killing turned out to be false. He was not shot execution-style. Nor was he wounded four times. He was hit once in the leg during the robbery and once again in the head, maybe by accident, as the robbers fled. One of the bullets came from a handgun the robbers took from Henderson’s co-worker.

“He was hit.”  “Hit,” not shot, a softer word.  “Once in the leg during the robbery.”  Only once, not four times, so why complain about it?  “Once again in the head, maybe by accident.”  Accidentally shooting someone in the head?  What is motivating the AJC to keep bluntly denying the horror of this crime?

I’d interject here that this is not the way the AJC reported on Vernon Forrest’s death.  Forrest chased his robbers with his own gun.  He was no less a victim for it, and the AJC took the right line on that murder, as they did on that family’s demands for justice (as did the Chief and the Mayor, who leaped to action, in stark contrast to their response to Henderson’s murder).  And yet, even after finally doing the right thing, the AJC has now returned to Henderson’s murder to throw a little more dirt.

This is selective policing of the public’s reaction to a cold-blooded murder.  Cold-blooded, no matter where the killer was standing when he fired the bullet.  When you shoot a person through a door, you are as legally and morally as responsible for killing them as you would be if you stood over their body and fired the gun.

The reporter, not the public, is the one wallowing in metaphor and fiction here.  John Henderson is just as dead as he would be if the killing were expertly choreographed.  The public understands this.  They understand that adolescent killers waving guns are just as dangerous as — maybe more dangerous than — seasoned thugs who control their firing range.   Why is the AJC so obsessed with diminishing the responsibility of the killers in this case?  Why do they seem more outraged by the public reacting than by the killing itself?

[T]he area around the Standard was hardly unprotected before the robbery.

From 2:55 to 3:05 a.m., police dispatch records show, the officer assigned to the neighborhood was checking on a gas station at Memorial Drive and Hill Street — 500 feet from the Standard. The officer resumed patrol moments before the robbers smashed the bar’s door.

Short of standing guard at the Standard, it appears the officer could have done little more to prevent the crime.

“There’s a limit to how much officers can impact,” said Friedmann, the Georgia State criminologist. “If someone wants to commit a crime, they’ll commit a crime.”

Well, thank you for clearing that up.  Let’s just forget about it, then.  What’s the big fuss?  The police can’t be everywhere at all times.  This isn’t, like, The Matrix, dude.  So you should forget about complaining when your friends get gunned down.  It’s just life in the big city, after all.

And if it’s the right kind of crime, one involving a victim or location presumed immune from violence, news coverage often implies a broad menace, Friedmann said.

Memorial Drive is presumed immune to violence?  Since when?  Bartenders closing shop are presumed immune to violence?  Sometimes I think criminologists will say absolutely anything to whitewash the reality of crime.  Maybe Fridemann was quoted wildly out of context, because this makes absolutely no sense: he is saying that crime is omnipresent and unavoidable but that a bartender working late at night on Memorial Drive is an utterly unlikely potential victim of crime.  Say anything, in other words, so long as it ineluctably reinforces the conclusion that crime is just a “perception” problem:

“You have a story, people pay attention to it,” he said. “You don’t have a story, people don’t know about it, and it’s as if it didn’t happen.”

I speak fluent Hackademese, so let me try to translate.  Dr. Friedmann is saying that it’s not the murder that is the problem: it’s the fact that people made a big stinking deal about the murder that’s the problem.

Now, to mix things up, back to the reporter denying the severity of Henderson’s murder:

In this case, all that followed — protests over police furloughs, a property tax increase to put officers back to work full time, the “City Under Siege” media frenzy over later crimes — was based on inaccurate information provided by a police detective the day of Henderson’s killing.

Keyser now knows the story was exaggerated.

Does he?  I know Kyle Keyser, and he is committed to ignoring the media’s relentless claims that crime doesn’t matter — the reporter’s insinuation here flies in the face of Keyser’s message and actions.   Playing “gotcha” journalism with a person’s death is pretty ugly stuff.

Sadly, reports of John Henderson’s death were not exaggerated.  Thus, claiming that all that followed — a young man’s funeral, a city coming together to confront the problem of violent crime, more murders, more funerals — hinges on precisely how the gun was held when the bullet entered Henderson’s brain is setting up a straw-man of peculiarly grotesque intent.

The AJC really ought to be ashamed of peddling this type of underhanded opinion-mongering as news.   Nobody in touch with reality cares whether John Henderson was shot by somebody standing over him or shot through a door after being shot once already.  Nobody with a shred of decency would obsess over that distinction and conclude that public outrage over the murder and other crime is just “hype.”  Nor crack a joke about it, as the reporter does:

Pennington has a chance to try to turn the hype to his advantage, to convince Atlantans they’re safer than they think. On Tuesday, the chief is scheduled to address an annual breakfast sponsored by the police foundation.

The event’s theme: “Crime is toast.”

Get it?  Just stop worrying about crime, you ignorant hysterics, and it will all go away.

How Many Women do You Need to Slaughter Before it Becomes a Hate Crime?

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Let’s see. According the the silence of the “experts” in the face of Walter E. Ellis’ crimes, apparently it’s some number higher than seven.  And counting.

So what constitutes a hate crime against women?  Nothing, in practice.  Not selecting and slaughtering woman after woman after woman.  Not scrawling hate words across a murdered woman’s body.  Not ritualistically destroying a woman’s breasts or sex organs.  Not spreading fear among other women through your attacks.  Not inflicting “excessive” violence, “overkill,” whatever that means.

All those things are indicators of hate when they’re done to other types of victims, the experts tell us.  But they’re not indicators of hate when they’re just directed at women.

Here is the Anti-Defamation League weighing in on Walter Ellis’ systematic targeting, stalking, and murder of women . . . silence.

Here is the Southern Poverty Law Center . . . silence.

Here are esteemed “hate crime experts” James Allen Fox and Jack Levin, who shamefully worked overtime to insinuate that the crimes of the Pennsylvania gym murderer, George Sodini, were something other than hate crimes — after Sodini posted hate-filled screeds against women on-line, then opened fire on a random group of women, killing three and wounding others . . . silence.

Here is the National Organization for Women weighing in on Ellis’ stalking and killing of women.  Whoops, sorry, they haven’t uttered a peep about Ellis, even though investigators are sifting through evidence of the murders of 20 more female victims in addition to the 9 already tied to Ellis.

The N.O.W. is too busy for such things.  For example, they are currently busy making the case that teen vitamins are sexist:

According to the One-A-Day website, among the the “top health concerns of moms and teens” are the fact that teenage girls need to have healthy (read: aesthetically pleasing) skin, while teenage boys should have healthy muscle function. In case potential consumers aren’t picking up the difference, the vitamins come in color-coordinated boxes, the pills themselves have been dyed pink or blue, and “for Her” and “for Him” appear on the boxes in fonts that were clearly chosen to convey feminine or masculine vibes.

In reality, most of the actual ingredients of the two products are the same, working toward the same ends: supporting a healthy immune system, bone strength and energy. The issue here is not the contents of the pills, but rather the way in which these differences are marketed. The message sent to girls is that looks are paramount, and by contrast, their own strength is unnecessary or irrelevant. Likewise, boys are encouraged to be active and adventurous — there’s even a Major League Baseball logo on the boys’ box, while the girls’ box features a breast cancer awareness ribbon. But, why shouldn’t girls be concerend [sic] with having healthy muscles? And surely boys would like healthy skin, too, right?

While having sex-based differences in nutrition is understandable — women typically need more iron, for example — the method of packaging and advertising that Bayer employs is insulting. Not to mention, promoting these sex stereotypes to girls and boys during their teenage years lays a foundation for a lifetime of buying into rigid gender roles.

Pay no attention to the 29+ murdered women in Milwaukee, ladies.  Nothing to see here, move along, move along.

The Genesis of a Lie: How Brutal Killers Become Victims, Part 3

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On August 28, jurors in the Michael King trial in Sarasota, Florida found King guilty of raping and killing 21-year old mother, Denise Amber Lee.  Here is a photo of Lee’s father, Rick Goff, listening to the last 911 call Denise managed to make, in which she was recorded begging for her life.  It’s worth remembering that the families were forced to sit through all the courtroom games the defense played while trying to get King off on a technicality.  Which technicality?  Any and all of them, of course.

Immediately following the jury’s conviction, the sentencing hearings began.  King’s lawyers set out to argue that a childhood sledding accident rendered him incompetent, a mitigating factor the jurors would have to weight against his crimes — if it was true.

Before the trial, King’s lawyers had attempted to have King declared incompetent.  Then, during the trial, he stumbled around acting catatonic, putting on a show.  At one point, the judge stopped the trial and ordered him evaluated — again.  The judge was probably trying to prevent grounds for later appeals, and King was found to be competent.

But here is a troubling thing: even though King was found competent, the fact that the judge requested the test, instead of King’s own attorneys requesting it, is also grounds for appeal.  His lawyers didn’t request the test themselves, at that very moment, though they made the case for incompetence at other moments, so King can claim that he had insufficient counsel.

Get it?  If the judge hadn’t ordered the test, the absence of the test could trigger an appeal, and because the judge did order the test, then that’s grounds for appeal.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t: the justice system is crippled by the power of the defense bar.

Likewise, one of the arguments they were allowed to make against a death sentence is the fact that King wasn’t drinking or using drugs.  But if he had been drinking or using drugs, that could be a mitigating factor, too.

So the man in the picture above is not done re-living his daughter’s horrific death: he is now facing ten or twenty more years of sitting in courtrooms, watching the lawyers play games on behalf of her killer.

~~~

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune slipped into advocacy for the killer at several points in their coverage of the King trial, but it was their story choice during the sentencing phase that really crosses a line.

Two days after the jury returned a guilty verdict, when they were about to begin deliberating sentencing, the Trib published an article implying that the jurors might have nightmares and psychological problems if they voted for death.  Of course, the reporter quoted so-called academic experts (actually, academic anti-death penalty activists), who claimed to have conducted objective research:

Studies by professors and other death penalty experts suggest that some jurors lose sleep, some have nightmares and many keep the experience shielded from their closest family and friends.

Well, of course they do.  Being forced to confront a murderer’s actions and autopsy photos is also disturbing.  Knowing that the man you have just sentenced to death is about to become a media darling and cause célébre for the next twenty years probably causes some compunction, as does being accused of everything from bad faith to bloodthirstiness to vengefulness to racism, which are things that get said every day in courtrooms and classrooms and the news about jurors who vote for death.  Oh, and religious impropriety, also:

One lesson central to the many faiths is to hate the sin but forgive the sinner.  So even if jurors find the defendant a monster, it can be difficult to choose death.

the Tribune reporter scolds.

In a news story.

Is it the death penalty, or the murder, or the false accusations of bias that actually keep jurors awake at night?  Is there “research” measuring that?  You certainly won’t get a straight answer from the Capitol Jury Project, consulted here and described as an objective research group studying “why people make the decision they make, how they interact with other people making the same decision and whether it affects their lives.”

Actually, the Capitol Jury Project is one of many anti-death penalty groups that use public tax dollars to manufacture research designed exclusively to overturn death penalty laws.  The project’s director, William J. Bowers, is indeed an academician, but he calls the death penalty “Legal Homicide,” works as an “activist in the trenches,” and testifies in courtrooms that jurors are incapable of comprehending or fairly applying the law.  If I was a juror, I would not let them interview me for one of their many studies seeking (and inevitably, finding) bias or incompetence or heartlessness in jurors.

Or post-traumatic stress disorder, as the Tribune implies.   Of course, the reporter didn’t seek the otherwise journalistically de rigeur “opposing view” offered by death penalty supporters, who observe that jurors often experience pride and satisfaction in helping see justice done by sending killers to death row.

That viewpoint just isn’t newsworthy, you see.  And wouldn’t it be inappropriate to raise such a subject on the eve of the sentencing deliberations?

Tomorrow: Coming Down on the Jurors, and Turning Michael Smith into Society’s Victim

Outrage: Lisa Davenport, R.I.P. “Always Full of Happiness.” And Others.

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What do you say to the judge in Athens, Georgia to justify kidnapping somebody, stabbing them repeatedly with a screwdriver, and leaving them for dead?

Well, your honor, she’s mine, and she deserved it:

Police first arrested [Phillip] Scruggs in 2001, after family members say he abducted [Lisa]  Davenport, stabbed her with a screwdriver and left her for dead.

A Clarke County grand jury indicted him on charges of kidnapping, kidnapping with bodily injury, aggravated assault and violating the state Family Violence Act, and as part of a plea agreement Scruggs pleaded guilty to kidnapping, false imprisonment and battery.

He received a three-year sentence, but with credit for time served in county jail, Scruggs was back out in September 2004.

In 2001, the jury indicted him and the judge (and possibly the prosecutor) let him walk.  At the time, why wasn’t Scruggs charged with attempted murder instead of aggravated assault, which can be excused with one year — a one year suspended sentence, even, if the judge’s hair happens to be blowing that way?

And then why did the prosecutor agree to drop even the aggravated assault charge and let him plead to battery?

Who was this Lisa Davenport, whose life was so unimportant that someone who kidnapped her and left her for dead in 2001 got a slap on the wrist, enabling him to come back later and finish the job?

“Lisa was the kind of person who was always full of happiness and had a glow around her,” [her brother, Eric] said.  Lisa Davenport is survived by her mother, father, two brothers, a sister, daughter and two grandchildren.

I do not give a whit that this was a “domestic violence” case: aren’t the legal experts always nattering on about how the victim is only a witness to a crime, that the prosecutor represents society, not the victim, because the crime is committed against society?  Aren’t victims supposed to be these untrustworthy, dangerous creatures who must be repressed into symbolic non-personhood in the courts lest they feel “vengeful” or something, a thing far worse than the crime itself, according to the experts?

Isn’t that one of the noble ideals under-girding our entire legal system?

Well, here is (I should say was, for she is dead now) one victim whose perspective truly should have been consigned to the status of “state witness” because she was tragically brainwashed by some sick monster into believing her own non-personhood: she went back to Scruggs after he got out of prison.  Then she tried to escape him again, and he killed her.

Here is the truly chilling thing, the thing that ought to give voters in Clark County pause the next time they must stand with their consciences at a ballot box: in 2001, the judge agreed with Phillip Scrugg’s interpretation of Lisa Davenport’s non-personhood.  The judge sided with the man wielding the screwdriver, not the woman being stabbed with the screwdriver.  How, otherwise, do you explain a three-year sentence (actually less) for trying to murder her?

The prosecutor and the judge were supposed to prosecute, and sentence, Phillip Scruggs for the crime he committed, no matter who it was he tried to kill.  But they didn’t.  They failed, and we failed by letting them, and now Lisa Davenport, whose life was deemed so cheap by the courts in 2001, has been murdered by the man we didn’t keep in prison:

A 42-year-old woman who was doused with kerosene and set on fire has died from her injuries.

Family members say Elisa Davenport died around 5 p.m. Saturday at the Joseph M. Still Burn Center, due to complications of burns she suffered on more than 60 percent of her body from the Aug. 17 attack.

“The trauma that her body went through was just too much for her to hold on,” her brother, Eric Davenport, said.

Athens-Clarke police say they plan to take out warrants Monday charging 49-year-old Phillip Scruggs with murder.

Scruggs, who was her boyfriend, had originally faced charges of aggravated assault and first-degree arson for the incident, which caused a blaze that gutted her home and spread to other units in an Athens apartment complex.

Lisa Davenport took two weeks to die in a burn unit in Augusta.  Her brother said Scruggs set her on fire and then sat and watched her burn:

“He didn’t shoot or stab her, but he set her on fire, and set more fire in her house in a way that made it almost impossible for her to escape,” Eric Davenport said. “Then, he just sat across the street to watch what happened, until people pointed him out to the police.”

~~~

How do we minimize the killing of a woman? The criminologists weigh in with clinical terms like “spree killer” and “serial killer,” words designed to distract from the moral outrage of the crime, making it curious, not outrageous.  Or “domestic violence,” which sounds — well — it sounds so domestic.  Minimal.

Ironically, the very same criminologists who are consulted to label certain murders “spree” or “domestic” are also the leaders of the hate crimes movement.  Those crimes, they tell reporters, are the really serious ones, the ones that ought to provoke moral outrage.  Not like killing a woman.  Or twelve women.

Here are celebrated hate crime advisers and criminologists James Allen Fox and Jack Levin, weighing in on George Sodini, who walked into a gym in Pittsburgh and picked off 12 women, killing three of them, a crime that Fox and Levin ever so carefully avoid labeling “hate”:

There are so many features about this shooting spree that are tragically textbook. Like most mass killers, Mr. Sodini struggled through a long history of failure and rejection, from childhood, with a brother he regarded as a bully and a father he saw as distant and unconcerned . . . In his extreme loneliness, Mr. Sodini was without emotional support and comfort . . . Aside from the gunman, the real culprit in explaining mass murder can be found in society itself . . . Many Americans simply have no place to turn when they become desperate. Their misery has no company. Without options and without support, mass murder can sometimes seem like the only way out. . . we must still make an effort, perhaps by reaching out to the seemingly isolated stranger sitting alone at the next table in the restaurant or working out with an iPod at the next treadmill in the gym. We may, in the process of trying, enhance the well-being of others . . .

No outrage here, except at society, which made Mr. Sodini feel bad.  It was just killing a woman — a bunch of women, one woman, whatever, just women.  That’s not hate crime, according to these experts, not even if you set the woman on fire and then sit down to watch her burn because you think you own her, not if you pick off twelve strange women after telling the world you hate women in a blog: none of this is hate, according to these experts, so long as the people you’re hating are heterosexual females.

To say the least, this is not the way Professors Fox and Levin talk when they are labeling a crime — even a minor crime — a hate crime.  Then there’s no long, slow, minimizing rumination about the loneliness of the long distance runner, or other such prattle.  Then they declare zero tolerance and shout for moral outrage.

Imagine if the Athens community had spoken out in 2001 about an attempted murderer getting less than three years in prison for kidnapping and stabbing a woman and leaving her for dead?

Imagine if that crime, and that lack of punishment, had mobilized candlelight marches, and earnest speak-outs, and calls for the prosecutor and judge to step down, because they did not honor the woman’s humanity, her purported equality under the law.

Imagine if the activist politicians, the grand-standers and media-seekers, had stood up and declared that this crime was a crime of hate and would not be tolerated in Athens, that no attempted murder would be tolerated in Athens.  Would Davenport still be alive?  How many others, if other killers were called hate criminals, too, instead of the word “hate” being increasingly reserved for a select few?

And so, the grand-standers were in a jam two weeks ago when Lisa Davenport was set on fire by a man who sat down to watch her burn, because their need to defend a system that dictates that killing women is not hate crime is more important to them than actually speaking out on real cases of hatred, like that one (and so many others).

As Scruggs watched her burn, an American honor crime, like slaughtering your daughter if she tries to marry the wrong man, or setting a widow on fire and watching her burn, there was nothing but silence from the arbiters of moral outrage.

~~~

“There’s just too many of ’em,” said President Clinton in 1999, referring to acts of violence against women and why they pose a peculiar problem for the leaders of the hate crimes movement.  The Anti-Defamation League fretted that prosecutors might be distracted if women were counted, and the statistics might be “overwhelmed,” so they and others quietly found ways to instruct police and prosecutors to not find hate when women were the target.  And, always, the criminologists chimed in with their expert opinions, shining on the movement’s ideological necessity: to say with a straight face that stealing a car can be a hate crime, but blowing away 12 women is . . . you know, just an understandable expression of loneliness.

The feminist establishment, smacked down for years by the hate crime activists whenever they whimpered that hating women is hate, has learned to remain silent on the George Sodinis of the world.  No activists called for the shooting of 12 women to be labeled a hate crime — some naive young feminist bloggers did (they’ll learn), and Ms. Magazine ran a crabbed little note, but the major organizations kept their lips tightly zipped.

Attorney General Eric Holder, who was pretending to advocate for the inclusion of “gender bias hate” in federal law (it will not really count women) at the very time Sodini started blowing women away, remained silent.  Odd, that he wouldn’t take advantage of such an opportunity.

~~~

“We must give the lie to the notion that there is no difference between an assault and an assault that is motivated by bias.  The differences are very, very real,” Eric Holder thundered in 1999.

What he meant is that murders like Lisa Davenport’s are less bad.  That is the unavoidable meaning of his words: killing Lisa is not as serious as a murder the experts decide to call a hate crime, even though her killer set her on fire and sat down to watch her burn.

You can’t make some murders more morally significant without making other murders less morally significant.  That’s just a fact.

~~~

In 2001, the judge in Athens, Georgia stuck his or her finger in the wind and decided that nobody really cared, and so the judge let Phillip Scruggs plead out after he nearly killed a women who had disobeyed him.  In Pennsylvania, a man wrote that he hated women; then he killed women; then the movement that purports to “expose hate” denied it instead, because the victims were women.  In Islamic states, women get beaten with clubs for showing their ankles on the street and murdered for disobeying their husbands.  We are supposed to be different from radical Islam on the grounds that our legal system is supposed to stand between such killers and their victims.  But that didn’t happen in Lisa Davenport’s case.

How many ways are there to minimize the killing of a woman?  More and more.

Blog Post from Nigeria on Antoine Wimes’ Earlier Victim

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Interesting post on Wimes’ February victim by Mista Jay, a Nigerian-based blogger:

Sunday, February 15, 2009
Whose gun killed him?

Who’s the real killer? Antoine Wimes or Sani Abacha

Imagine being an academic and educator possesing two masters degrees. Imagine being a useful and productive member of society. Imagine having to leave that society in search of greener pastures because said society doesn’t reward true productivity.

Imagine arriving in a strange land where your skin color is already a liability and your foreign accent compunds matters by further separating you from your own kind. Imagine now having to take on part-time menial jobs to survive and care for your wife who is sufffering from kidney related problems.

Now imagine all of this ending in a burst of gunfire because some punk kid decides that your life is the obstacle to him getting a $5 tshirt! WTH?

This is the sad story of Etus Obi Onyemaechi, a 48year old Nigerian living in the US. . .

continue here

Here is the latest on Wimes, from WSB:

Neely’s son was badly beaten during the robbery.

Investigators said Wimes and McCoy may have swung the 1-year-old like a baseball bat.  “It appears as though he was struck with either a very hard object or — as hard as it sounds — he was…his body was actually struck against a hard object,” said Jones.  Wimes was out on bond after being charged in the July 2008 killing of a convenience store clerk.

Here is the original WSB report on the July 2008 murder of Onyemaechi.  Apparently Wimes tried to kill more than one person but ran out of bullets:

Atlanta Store Clerk Gunned Down Over $5 T-Shirt

Gunman Wanted White T-Shirt Size 5X

Atlanta police said a convenience store clerk was shot and killed Sunday morning by a man not demanding money, but an extra large T-shirt. . .  Elliott Glass, an eyewitness, said he was mopping the floor inside the convenience store when a young man entered and told the clerk he wanted a white T-shirt size 5X.

“These guys wear those baggy pants, and big long T-shirts,” said Glass.

Glass said when the clerk turned to give the young man the shirt, the man started shooting, then calmly walked out of the store.

“He shot him like five times, four or five times, at point-blank range for no apparent reason,” said Glass.

The store clerk is identified as Obi E. Onyemaechi, 48, of College Park, according to the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office.

“I was afraid he was going to shoot me, but I guess he must have run out of bullets because he was steadily clicking the gun as he walked out the door,” said Glass.

Glass said he called 911, but claimed the operator put him on hold, so he ran out onto Cascade and flagged down the first police officer he saw.

That’s just great.  The operator puts him on hold.  Glass continues, heart-breakingly:

“The guy was my friend you know. He was a good guy. He helped everybody around here. Senseless killing, he killed the man for no reason, you know,” said Glass.

Now we learn Onyemaechi was an educator with two master’s degrees, supporting an ailing wife.  He travels half-way around the world to support his family and some kid kills him for a five-dollar t-shirt.

Does anybody know the name of the judge who let him bond out?

I would add, to Mista Jay, that he can add another picture next to those of Antoine Wimes and Sani Abacha:

It’s the Fulton County Superior Court (Atlanta, Georgia)

Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe Questions the Sentencing Project’s “No Exit” Report

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In the Boston Globe, columnist Jeff Jacoby has other criticisms of The Sentencing Project’s anti-life sentence report:

OF THE 2.3 million people in prisons and jails in the United States, roughly 140,000, or 6 percent, are serving life sentences. Of that number, about 41,000 – 1.8 percent of all inmates – were sentenced to life without parole. Both numbers are at an all-time high.

Should Americans be troubled by this? The Sentencing Project thinks so. In a new report, the liberal advocacy group complains that the growth in life sentences has been costly and unjust. It “challenges the supposition that all life sentences are necessary to keep the public safe,’’ and particularly disapproves of life without parole.

As a matter of policy, the Sentencing Project supports abolition of both the death penalty and life without parole, an eccentric position that most Americans don’t share. Nevertheless, the group’s new report – “No Exit: The Expanding Use of Life Sentences in America’’ – has drawn deferential media attention, with stories appearing in The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, and Agence France-Press.

But good PR is not a substitute for sound analysis. . .

Read the rest of Jacoby’s column here.

Risible Poppycock from the Criminology/Journalism Complex: The Sentencing Project and The Delaware News-Journal

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It ought to take more than 25 seconds and two mouse clicks to find evidence that the media and The Sentencing Project are making stuff up.  It ought to, but it does not.

The Sentencing Project is a well-funded, powerful, anti-incarceration advocacy organization.  They pose as a think tank that publishes objective academic research on crime and punishment.

They are people on a mission.  Their mission is to empty the prisons and get murderers and rapists back onto the streets.

They get a lot of help from certain members of the media.  From the Delaware News Journal:

Report questions use of life sentences
Study’s push to abolish terms without parole likely to meet strong resistance in Delaware
BY JAMES MERRIWEATHER • THE NEWS JOURNAL • AUGUST 3, 2009

When researchers for The Sentencing Project started gathering figures for a national study last year, they found that 318 people were ordered to spend the rest of their lives in Delaware prisons.

That’s 8.3 percent of the total prison population, a proportion big enough to give Delaware a fourth-place ranking among the states.

Because of those findings, the organization recommended in its report that the 50 states and federal government abolish life sentences without the possibility of parole.

Not true.  Not even a little bit true.

If 318 people made up 8.3% of Delaware’s prison population, then the total prison population would be 3,831.  According to the Delaware Bureau of Prisons, the adult prison population in Delaware is 5,685.

318 is 5.5% of the current state prison population.

But wait, we’re just getting started!

The total number of offenders currently under some form of state control in Delaware, not counting those in pre-trial and thus not yet convicted, is 24,733.  This number includes convicts on home confinement, restitution-only, probation violation, psychiatric incarceration, prison, probation, parole, and supervised custody.

318 is 1.2% of the total prison population currently under state control.

If you want to compare life sentences to other sentencing outcomes, you have to count all sentencing outcomes, not only the ones that resulted in prison terms that are being served right now.  That is so glaringly obvious, I cannot believe the editors at the Delaware News Journal could overlook it.

But wait, there’s more!

That 24,733 may not even count offenders serving their sentences in local jails, or those convicted of crime but sentenced only to community control of some sort, or convicted but granted suspended sentences.  I don’t know how the state prison/local jail population breaks down in Delaware, but if it is like other states, large percentages of people convicted of crimes don’t ever get sent up to the state system, particularly if they are given one year or less.  On the other hand, Delaware is a very small state, and they may be more centralized.  Maybe, maybe not.

In any case, if you want to compare life sentences to other sentencing outcomes, you have to count all sentencing outcomes, not only the ones that result in state prison terms, right?

But wait, there’s more!

The Sentencing Project number (I can’t bring myself to call it a statistic) does not include juvenile convicts in the system.  If your goal is to show how many convicts receive life sentences for their crimes, there is no justification for leaving out crimes committed by juveniles.

But wait, there’s much more!

The Sentencing Project number only counts the current prison population.  But these 318 people serving life sentences were sentenced over a period of several decades.  So if you want to figure out the real percentage of convictions that resulted in life sentences in Delaware, or anywhere else, you cannot limit your count to people currently in the system.  You have to go back to the date when the first of these lifers was sentenced, and then add up all convictions for all crimes that occurred between that date and now, a number that would be very, very, very high.

How high?  Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that the oldest life sentence among Delaware’s 318 was doled out 30 years ago.  Let’s throw the activists another big bone and say that the tidal wave of crime between 1989 – 1993 never happened, and the conviction rate has remained steady.  The Delaware Department of Corrections reports approximately 20,000 “admissions” into their system last year.  If that number held steady, it would add up, very roughly, to 600,000 state-level incarcerations since 1979, 30 years ago.

Plus unknown numbers more if you actually counted the early 90’s crime wave, and counted the defendants who received sentences that did not place them in the state system at all, and counted the juvenile convictions over that time.

318 is .053% of 600,000.  We all know the real number of convictions is actually much higher.

In fairness to the Sentencing Project, you would have to add in the people who received life sentences during that time and died in prison, so the raw number of lifers would rise above 318.  But that would not really matter: we’re talking about comparing a handful of life sentences to hundreds of thousands — actually millions — of lesser sentences.

Now, let’s get back to the point of the exercise.  From the Delaware News-Journal:

When researchers for The Sentencing Project started gathering figures for a national study last year, they found that 318 people were ordered to spend the rest of their lives in Delaware prisons.  That’s 8.3 percent [not] of the total prison population, a proportion big enough to give Delaware a fourth-place ranking among the states.  Because of those findings, the organization recommended in its report that the 50 states and federal government abolish life sentences without the possibility of parole.

To paraphrase: because of fake findings, we should release first degree murderers by the thousands.  Apparently, the underlying justification is that we are insensitive to them.  According to the authors of the Sentencing Project’s “study,” life-without-parole

“discount[s] the capacity for personal growth and rehabilitation.”

Their proof?  There’s too many of them, based on cooked numbers, not just in Delaware, but everywhere:

Nationally, the organization counted 140,610 inmates — one in every 11 people in prison — serving life sentences. Some 41,095 of those lifers, or 29 percent, were serving sentences of life without parole.

Crunch the national numbers the way I did for Delaware, and that “one in every 11” would be shown up for what it really is: a lie of extraordinary proportions.

But the real issue is this: why would it matter whether 9%, or .05%, or .002% of the current prison population is serving life sentences?  It is a meaningless number.  The only thing that matters is the records of the inmates they are agitating to release.  The Project’s “researchers” do not want to talk about actual crime: for them, crime disappears the moment the offender crosses the prison threshold, leaving only an innocent, oppressed, and misunderstood prisoner in its wake.

Hopefully, legislators in Delaware and elsewhere will call The Sentencing Project on their shameless misrepresentation of the facts.

They obviously can’t count on the media to get it straight.

What Works? D.C. Moves Forward on Fighting Crime

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As Atlanta prepares for the none-too-soon departure of the current mayor and police chief, it’s worth considering the example of cities where reasonable, engaged crime-fighting policies seem to be working:

Washington D.C. is experiencing the lowest murder rate in years.  Why? D.C.’s fairly new and interesting Police Chief, Cathy L. Lanier, attributes the drop in murder rates to intensive use of communication tools and intensive planning to anticipate trouble at certain events and between certain gangs:

She said police are able to target specific locations or types of crime and policing is so high-tech that investigators are analyzing crime minute-by-minute and have greater ability to attack crime before it happens. . .

In the District, the department creates a weekly “Go-Go report,” which details where and when home-grown bands are playing, because go-go concerts often bring together rival gangs, causing violence, Lanier said. There is also a weekly gang report that tells officers which gangs or crews are feuding that week.

Armed with that information, police can better predict where crimes might happen and take measures to prevent them.

Lanier also cited community policing and reward money for tips:

She pointed to a better relationship between the department and the community as a factor, saying it has helped get more violent repeat offenders off the streets. She said tips from the community have been flowing faster than ever, due in part to patrol officers knowing their beats and developing connections in the community.

Of course, what often goes unstated is that better communication with the police is a two-way street.  The community must do its part as well, instead of simply blaming cops for every ill, including those caused by criminals and by lenient courts.  Crime-fatigue plays a role in the numbers, too: even the most relentlessly dysfunctional communities reach a tipping point when residents tire of seeing young men killing each other and start cooperating with the authorities despite the presence of loud “community activists” who paint law enforcement as the enemy.

One such tipping point occurred in the mid-nineties, when crack cocaine had take such a profound toll that law-abiding citizens in high-crime neighborhoods were emboldened to demand harsher law enforcement and longer sentences for drug traffickers, dealers — and users.

I’ve had more than one former co-worker tell me that a prison term back in the 1990’s saved his life.  You won’t see lives saved that way now.

~~~~~~~~~~~

But a less-acknowledged factor in the drop in crime in formerly high-crime cities is population-shifting.  As Atlanta shut down their centralized housing projects, crime dispersed to the surrounding suburbs.  Counties outside Washington D.C. have also been dealing with influxes of criminal activity for more than a decade now.  Too much celebration of plummeting inner-city crime rates might not withstand a closer look at some suburban enclaves where crime has skyrocketed.  Nonetheless, according to the Washington Post, crime is even down in nearby Prince George’s County, which is (somewhat) to D.C. what Clayton County is to Atlanta — an outer suburb that saw crime rates explode as conditions in the inner city worsened or the population relocated:

In Prince George’s, violence had been steadily rising since the 1990s, when the county started absorbing spillover crime from the District. But this year, crime is at a 20-year low, and homicides are down almost 17 percent.

Police Chief Roberto L. Hylton said that since he took over the department in September, there has been a more defined mission about how to attack crime.

He identified car thefts as one of the county’s major problems and a “gateway” crime, meaning if criminals get away with stealing a car, they sometimes become emboldened and begin committing more daring acts. In 2004, about 18,500 cars were stolen in the county, more than in all of Virginia.

Since then, the department has focused on arresting car thieves and educating the public about protecting their cars, and the number of car thefts has shrunk by half.

There’s a thought.  Logistically, in metro Atlanta, a car is vital for committing many crimes.  Yet car thefts are still being downgraded by judges who view property crime as unimportant.  Perhaps if prosecutors and judges stepped up to the bat and began imposing real penalties for stealing cars, even when the offender is a juvenile, more of those juveniles might live to see 30, even if they spend a few years in jail in the interim.

Most analyses of crime trends still neglect the influential and negative role judges play by letting offenders off easy.  When cops and commanders, know that they’re not going to be able to get somebody off the streets, they are naturally less motivated to waste time and resources trying.  Then they have to single-handedly shoulder the public’s ire, as well.  As policing techniques grow more sophisticated, the courts have collapsed, and nobody notices.  The police do a lot, but they can only do so much.

Gary LaFree, a criminology professor at the University of Maryland, said it has taken police decades to figure out how to effectively target crime.

“In the ’60s, crime was like an act of God, like a tornado or earthquake,” LaFree said. “Where policing has changed is that we’ve gotten the idea this is a problem we created and there are human solutions to it. Obviously, crime is not randomly distributed. It is connected to hot spots in cities and other areas.”

LaFree is one of the most credible voices in criminology today (I am trying to say more positive things about criminologists).  Two of his books, out of print now, I think, are very much worth reading for their non-ideological efforts to understand crime:

The Post reporter notes that LaFree and others discount the theory that crime goes up during economic downturns:

LaFree and others agree that crime doesn’t automatically go up when the economy is poor. Property crime is also trending down in many jurisdictions, including the District, Prince George’s and Montgomery. The FBI reported last week that bank robberies across the country fell in the first quarter of the year, with 1,498 reported, compared with 1,604 in the first quarter of 2008.

Criminologists point to the Great Depression in the 1930s as a time of relatively low crime compared with the Roaring Twenties, when the country experienced more violence.

Atlanta’s next mayor could do worse than looking to Washington D.C. when filling the role of Chief of Police.  D.C. Chief Cathy L. Lanier likely isn’t going anywhere, but the example she sets — a homegrown cop who started in the District on foot patrol; sticks close to her troops and the streets; promotes open communication channels, and is known for her “tireless work ethic” — is the type of chief Atlanta needs:

She has created a Web site where cops can take their gripes and advice directly to her. She gives out her business card to everyone she meets, and often her private cell number as well. (She guesses at least a thousand D.C. citizens now have it.) She insists on being called every time there is a shooting in the city.  “A lot of people have criticized me a little for being too far down in the weeds,” Lanier admits. “But if you separate yourself from the people involved in and impacted by crime, you’re going to fail.”

Imagine that.

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.

The New Normal: Detroit

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Seven teens were shot last week outside a school offering summer classes in Detroit.  Three were in critical condition.  A week earlier, another girl was shot in the chest outside another school.

Now the police are having trouble getting anyone to cooperate with them.  “The taboo against snitching is worse than the taboo against shooting,” the Detroit Free Press reported yesterday.

In response to the shootings, ministers in Detroit have invented another “community outreach” initiative.  It has an unfortunate name: MADE Men (Men Affirming Discipline and Education), and it probably has a fund-raising initiative up and running.  Such are the economics of outreach.  An identical effort started a few years ago after another round of school shootings folded not long after it was announced.

I’m sure the ministers mean well, and it is hard to imagine what else they could do under the circumstances, but I wish, for once, the adults would forgo the whole clever naming thing and just start doing what they say they’re going to do: get more involved in the schools.  When you create an organization and hold a press conference, that’s just time you’re not spending actually working with kids.  That’s making it all about you, and your organization, and your leadership.  And, frankly, there have been decades and decades of such failed efforts.  People are weary of the rigmarole: crisis — press conference — fund raising — then nothing.

Just start volunteering for the P.T.A. already.

It’s worth noting that, as I wrote about here, the AAAC (Academic/Activist/Advocacy Complex) has invented a formula mathematically proving that crime is not all that bad in Detroit because Detroit has the type of population that actually ought to be committing even more crime.  I’m sure that’s a comfort.

Is Detroit a terminal case of the logical consequences of the academic anti-incarceration ethic (AAIE!!!) that is currently sweeping the federal government?  On the backs of the seven youngsters shot outside school last week, and in the face of the many people who must know something about the crime but refuse to “snitch” to the police, yes, it is.

The New Normal: Atlanta

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I, for one, think newspapers are being rejuvenated by their current financial crisis.  The old-fashioned, insular newsroom, with its disturbing status quo on crime reporting (defendants are victims of society; victims are society, and thereby guilty of something) is becoming a thing of the past.

Over the holiday weekend, the Atlanta Journal Constitution ran this must-read story by Bill Torpy, in which he examines the real costs of retail burglaries for small business owners:

Last week, [Dana] Spinola’s Midtown business — fab’rik, one of her three metro Atlanta stores — was broken into by one of the smash-and-grab burglary crews that have increasingly plagued city merchants. It was, she figures, the 15th break-in during that store’s seven years of business.

“At this point, we’re surprised they got in,” Spinola said. To thwart burglars she had installed unbreakable glass, alarms, sensors and gates, and hired in-store security.

“I’m hardened to it. It’s a $2,000 robbery, not a $40,000 robbery. You don’t call insurance on this level,” she said. Besides, she adds, “We’ve never had anything recovered.” . . .

An informal check of several businesses that have been burglarized in the past year found that several have gone under or are teetering.

“It could definitely put you under,” Spinola said. “It can break your spirit.”

The “vicious cycle” can become a “quality of life issue,” said Buckhead Coalition president Sam Massell. “We all pay for it with higher insurance rates. It hurts employment. It hurts the tax base. The mom and pop stores are valuable to the city.”

Early last month, thieves smashed through the window of the popular Blue Genes boutique near Lenox Square and made off with $100,000 in merchandise. It was the seventh break-in in eight years, Jennifer Arrendale, who owns the store with two sisters, said at the time.

“We lost everything,” she said.

Add these business losses, job losses, and extraordinary security expenses to the tab for our failure to impose consequences for committing crimes.  Then consider the human toll on those who are risking their lives just by arriving at work in the morning or shutting down their stores at night.  Anyone who has ever worked a cash register or turned out the lights in a stockroom at closing time knows what it feels like to suddenly sense a threatening vibe:

Wendy Jackson, owner of Signature 4 Men on Lenox Road and frequent crime victim, said the thieves are savvy enough to surveil the businesses before they strike.

“They scope out the stores when the jeans come in, the high-end jackets, the sunglasses. They want to pinpoint where they’ll go [when they break in],” she said. “It’s out of control, out of control.”

Jackson has engaged in an arms race with Atlanta’s punks: They throw a rock through the window, she installs steel gates, so the next time they drive a truck through the window. She puts in a buzzer to screen customers who enter, so the thieves send a respectable-looking fellow to the door. He gets buzzed in, “then they bum rush the store,” she said, and run out with thousands of dollars of merchandise.

She now keeps less inventory, can no longer obtain insurance, works seven days a week to cut labor costs and would love to get out of her lease and the business. “These guys will ruin your life,” she said.

Last year, Lafayette Brazil’s boutique on Peachtree Road was hit by a robbing crew that pepper sprayed workers. Two men arrested in connection with the robbery at Brazil’s and a similar one at a Decatur boutique, Kaleidoscope, are still being held in Fulton County jail awaiting trial.

After 14 years at the site, Brazil closed. “After a while, you can’t keep getting robbed,” he said.

Kaleidoscope’s owner, Camille Wright, like many other retailers, complained that the penalties for and prosecution of smash-and-grab artists are light. “The only reason [authorities] went after the guys at my store is because there was an assault involved,” she said.

And if there had not been an assault?  Let’s tell the truth about the court system.  The thieves would get quick probation, or nolo prosequi, or their first or fifth first-time-offender free passes out the door.  Maybe a plea to a lesser offense, a drug charge, which might seem undesirable but actually opens doors to community-based treatment and approbation from those who view all drug offenders as victims of society.   This is the new normal in Atlanta, yet it is not particularly new.  Despite all the headlines screaming about our “Prison/Industrial Complex,” recidivist felons have been strolling out of jail with a slap on the wrist for forty years now.  Such as, this one.

Yet in some places, politicians are considering lowering the bar even further by making retail burglary a misdemeanor offense in order to save money.  In reality, they needn’t bother: prosecutors already can’t afford to prosecute retail burglaries and other crimes, so, as shop owner Camille Wright rightly observes, most cases of retail theft are simply pleaded away to nothing or dropped:

The problem got so bad last year that Atlanta police formed a task force to nab the so-called “Blue Jean Bandits,” who rampaged through high-end fashion stores and carried off tons of high-priced denim. Criminals employ a wide range of methods, including smashing windows of closed stores, driving trucks through protective gates and even overpowering retail clerks in the middle of the day.

The spree seemed to die down late last year but picked up again this spring.

“It’s back with a vengeance,” said Sgt. Archie Ezell, who heads the police department’s retail theft task force. He said the department made 32 arrests in “smash” cases last year but more criminals seem to be rushing in to take their place. A spokeswoman for the Fulton County District Attorney’s said 35 smash- and-grab cases have been indicted, 15 have resulted in convictions and 16 are still open.

“Kids are being recruited for this; they’re 13, 14 and 15 years old,” he said. “They are told nothing will happen to them if they are caught.”

I’d be interested to know the sentences for each of those 15 convictions.

Store owners ought to start reaching out to Atlanta’s court-watchers whenever thieves get caught.  That may help to slow down the revolving jail doors.

There is no justification for people being forced to live this way.  It’s madness.  When you read a newspaper article like this one, and hear the voices of crime victims who are perfectly aware that the system has failed to protect them, you have to ask how it is that we have gotten to this crazy place.

Allow me to introduce you to the source of the problem.

The source of the problem of not-removing-offenders-from-the-streets is something I like to call the Academic/Activist/Advocacy Complex (AAAC), an incredibly powerful network of “institutes” and “researchers” and professors and professional protesters and policy makers all united in the goal of ensuring that people do not go to prison when they commit crimes.  These people believe that incarceration itself is not only a crime but the only type of crime that matters.  They do not believe in deterrence.  They do not believe in personal responsibility.  They believe that the thugs who just drove a car through the front of your store for the third time this year should not be punished for doing this, or even prevented from doing it again, but should be “understood” and offered sympathy and job training and other types of financial and emotional support.

These people despise crime victims, because acknowledging the reality of victimization makes it (temporarily) harder for them to engage in their fantasy life, in which they are heroes and heroines “uplifting” poor, misunderstood criminals.  Browbeating the rest of us with their virtue.

It is a dangerous indulgence.  It is also a lucrative career choice.

Luckily, sentencing policy is set by the states, not the federal government, for the Justice Department is now firmly in the hands of the AAAC.

And an enormous showdown is brewing between state legislatures that try to hold the line on crime (though they’re not enthusiastic about paying for it) and the AAAC.  It will be played out directly on the backs of homeowners and business owners who are already reeling from the economic downturn.  It has been played on ordinary citizens’ backs for some forty years now, but the battle is about to accelerate, fueled by the need to cut state budgets and by stimulus money being offered by the feds for certain offender-centered projects (prisoner re-entry, community sentencing pilot programs, sentencing “reform”).

Interestingly, many newspapers are no longer firmly in the AAAC corner on this fight.  Even the New York Times has begun to show cracks in its reflexive pro-criminal preferences.

When you see the following institutions in the news, being quoted on their research, know that they are dedicated to keeping criminals on the streets, at any price to you and me:

The Pew Center on the States, Corrections and Public Safety (Pew Center Charitable Trust)

Families Against Mandatory Minimums

The Vera Institute of Justice

The Sentencing Project

The Justice Policy Institute

Central to the AAAC ideology is the belief that incarcerating criminals is a bad thing because it dis-unites communities.  But what happens to communities when decent people live under siege?  This question is answered, with dismaying clarity, at the end of Torpy’s article:

[B]lue jeans, jackets and sunglasses are quickly sold on the street at a fraction of the retail price. It’s an operation the public tacitly supports. “People are like, ‘It’s too bad for you, good for me,’ ” [store owner Camille] Wright said. “People have no guilt” in buying goods they know are stolen.

Adrene Ashford, owner of Adrene Boutique in the Castleberry Hill area south of downtown, has seen a resurgence in crime. Her store was hit twice in April. . . Ashford said a distrust of customers has crept into her life.  “You don’t even know how mad it makes you. They come in the store. They smile in your face, flirt with you and then come back to rob you.”

“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.

The Tech Crime Wave. What Can Be Done. What Can’t Be Done.

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What can be done about crime in the neighborhoods around Georgia Tech?  As reported by the AJC, the youths who have been arrested — and the ones who are yet to be caught — are perhaps the most dangerous type of criminal: immature and armed.  As James Fetig, an administrator at Georgia Tech, observed:

“[o]ne concern is the age of the criminals. Police tell us they are between 16 and 19,” Fetig said. “This is not a time when young men tend to consider consequences. We are very concerned that one of these robberies could go terribly wrong and have terrible consequences.”

Here is another concern: young men charged with gun crimes often walk out of courtrooms in Atlanta with little or no punishment — merely emboldened to commit more crime.  How often does this happen?  Nobody will say.  The DA’s office does not release such statistics.  The AJC has done nothing to produce such numbers.  The Fulton County Justices will not tell us.  The Clerk of Court?  Ha.

It is amazing that something so clearly in the public interest as the disposition and sentencing in criminal cases is secreted away from public scrutiny.  Yet, there it is.  And that is a major reason why people in Home Park and elsewhere throughout Atlanta will continue to live as prisoners in their own homes.

When you look at instances where prosecution and sentencing statistics have been released, it is easy to see why judges (and, sometimes, prosecutors) don’t wish for the public to know how they are spending their time.  In Orlando, Florida, which has an active court-watching culture, the Orlando Sentinel conducted this shocking study of sentences handed down for gun crimes:

The state’s 10-20-Life law — passed by state legislators and signed by then-Gov. Jeb Bush in 1999 — promised crime-weary voters that armed criminals would face long, no-bargain prison terms. Florida quickly spent $500,000 on newspaper, radio and TV ads spreading the message: “Pull a gun: 10 years. Fire a gun: 20 years. Shoot someone: 25 years to life.” . . .

[B]ut few suspects in Orange County get such tough mandatory penalties even as the campaign to end gun violence enters its 10th year, the Orlando Sentinel has found.

Only 5 percent of 7,437 suspects arrested in Orange County on gun charges from 2003 through 2007 received mandatory sentences, court and prison records show.

The record is even worse for suspects arrested with an AK-47 or other assault weapons, those military-style rifles that police officials say warrant the most serious punishment when misused. Just less than 2 percent of such cases in Orange County produced mandatory terms.

Do not believe that Atlanta is any different.  It may be worse.  It is the rule, not the exception, that offenders get a free pass on their first adult conviction.  It is the rule, not the exception, that most cases get pled down, usually a process involving prosecutors agreeing to redefine the charge to avoid minimum mandatory laws.  In Orlando:

Records show a third of all gun cases in Orange County were dropped by prosecutors who screen incoming cases. Additional cases were dismissed, bargained down or acquitted — casualties of evidence problems and the need to keep nearly 80,000 cases moving through justice system every year.

The vast majority of suspects receive very little punishment.

And when a defendant caught with a gun does not get charged, he may still qualify, the next time, for judges’ absurd passion for letting all “first time offenders” walk free.  Wouldn’t it be interesting to find out exactly how many times the Georgia Tech area defendants have been arrested and released, or allowed to plead down, as in the following?

What happened to Daryl Barndo Ford demonstrates why tough sentences are rare.

Four years ago, the 22-year-old was arrested in Orlando when drug agents seized a fully automatic assault rifle, a pistol and 16 grams of crack cocaine.

Because Ford was a felon with six prior arrests, state and federal laws prohibited him from having any type of firearm. When caught hiding under his mother’s bed, Ford had eluded three arrest warrants for weeks by sleeping in local motels rather than the family’s Clear Lake home.

The AR-15 rifle found in Ford’s locked bedroom had been converted illegally to fire automatically like a machine gun, according to police reports. Two ammunition magazines were taped together so the weapon could be reloaded instantly after firing a 20- or 30-shot burst.

As part of 10-20-Life, Ford faced a minimum three-year sentence if the office of Orange-Osceola State Attorney Lawson Lamar successfully prosecuted him as a felon with a firearm.

Problems arose when police did not want to disclose the identity of an informant who led them to Ford. And Ford’s mother would not say whether Ford had exclusive access to the locked bedroom. So prosecutors cut a deal.

Dropped were felony charges of dealing crack, possessing a machine gun, possessing a gun with altered serial numbers — a common sign of a stolen weapon — and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

Ford pleaded guilty to possession of drug paraphernalia, a misdemeanor.

His punishment: 23 days in jail.

Since then, Ford has been arrested six more times on drug and gun charges. His longest sentence to date: six months in county jail.

Ford has now accumulated a dozen known arrests for drug and gun charges.  He is a repeat felon.  And judges and prosecutors in Florida still have not obeyed state laws requiring them to sentence him to at least three, if not ten years behind bars.

How do people like Ford continue to walk?  Why do judges get away with ignoring the will of the people, who have decided, legislatively, that certain crimes require mandatory minimum sentences?  Usually, it appears, prosecutors simply do not try to put offenders away for the minimum time because they are overwhelmed by cases.  Pleas must be negotiated in nearly all cases if prosecutors are going to have the time to prosecute anyone.  Why is the system like this in the first place?  Because, contrary to what the mayor and academicians and newspapers will tell you, we have lots of crime and lots of criminals.

We also release criminals back to the streets every day because the criminal bar has succeeded in twisting the system until it simply does not resemble a rational search for the truth.  The ridiculous latitude in suppressing evidence, for example, efficiently and speedily re-delivers criminals to the streets,  No other country has a system so hell-bent on excluding evidence from scrutiny.

And so, Daryl Ford loose on the streets with his dozen convictions is what we get.  We get streets saturated with criminal activity, so much so that authorities are forced to simply throw up their hands and say: We know they’re guilty, but we have to let them go.  We know they will eventually kill innocent people, but we don’t have the resources to even begin enforcing our own laws as they are written.

And still, the Pew Foundation and the editorialists and many criminologists keep telling us that the problem is too much incarceration, too harsh sentencing.  These claims do not even begin to stand up to real evidence, of course:

Light sentences are no rarity in assault-weapons cases. In the 243 cases analyzed by the [Orlando] Sentinel that went to court, prosecutors won 112 convictions, but just seven suspects received the 10-20-Life penalties. In 43 cases, the state dropped the gun-related charges in return for pleas to lesser crimes, such as possession of drug paraphernalia.

Of those convicted, 83 served less than a year in jail. The median sentence was six months. . .

All charges were dropped in 40 percent of the 243 cases. Reasons for those 97 dismissals included insufficient evidence and problems with victims and witnesses.

The remaining 34 cases include defendants still awaiting trial, fugitives and seven defendants tried in U.S. District Court under federal law. Two of the federal suspects were acquitted over an invalid search warrant. The other five received sentences of five to 17 1/2 years.

Out of 243 cases of gun crime in Orlando in 2008 involving assault-weapons, only seven defendants received the minimum penalty required by law.  This is not the type of fact you will find in the highly influential Pew Center report urging lawmakers to cut back on incarcerating convicts — because we’re just too harsh on the poor guys.  It is not the type of fact you will find in most newspaper articles purporting to examine the criminal justice system.

It is the type of fact you should think about the next time you are staying late at the library and need to figure out how to safely make your way home.  And it is definitely what students should think about after they matriculate and leave the dangerous parts of town behind, because there are still children living in those places, without a way out.

What can Georgia Tech students and all the other beleaguered residents of Home Park do to make their streets safer, not just temporarily, or for this semester?  They should go to court.  They should go watch a day or a few days of processing violent criminals, and tell other people what they saw there.  They should take that Orlando Sentinel article and try to replicate that research in their own city — or pressure the newspaper to do so (newspapers being in the business of trying to get readers to read them these days), because catching gun-wielding criminals is only the first part of keeping them off the streets.

We don’t even know how bad it is in the courts.  We don’t know what we don’t know, and there is little excuse for not knowing it in a metro area with hundreds of thousands of undergraduates, thousands of professors, three law schools, and millions of residents.

More on Emergency Medicine and Murder Statistics

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A subscription is required to read the study I talked about on Friday.  It is titled “Murder and Medicine, The Lethality of Criminal Assault, 1960 – 1999.”  Here is the abstract:

Despite the proliferation of increasingly dangerous weapons and the very large increase in rates of serious criminal assault, since 1960, the lethality of such assault in the United States has dropped dramatically. This paradox has barely been studied and needs to be examined using national time-series data. Starting from the basic view that homicides are aggravated assaults with the outcome of the victim’s death, we assembled evidence from national data sources to show that the principal explanation of the downward trend in lethality involves parallel developments in medical technology and related medical support services that have suppressed the homicide rate compared to what it would be had such progress not been made. We argue that research into the causes and deterability of homicide would benefit from a “lethality perspective” that focuses on serious assaults, only a small proportion of which end in death.

Homicide Studies, Vol. 6, No. 2, 128-166 (2002)
DOI: 10.1177/108876790200600203

Here is a brief article describing the study — one that does not require a subscription.  Note:

In the research [Dr. Anthony Harris] and a team from Massachusetts University and Harvard Medical School found that technological developments had helped to significantly depress today’s murder rates, converting homicides into aggravated assaults.
“Without this technology, we estimate there would be no less than 50,000 and as many as 115,000 homicides annually instead of an actual 15,000 to 20,000,” they say in a report of the study in the journal Homicide Studies (2002;6:128-66).
Another way of looking at this is that 50,000 to 115,000 attempted murders are defined down to aggravated assault each year.  And we know how fluid sentencing may be for aggravated assault.  In Atlanta, a young man who fired a gun outside a crowded club, striking his target three times, was sentenced earlier this year by Judge Marvin Arrington to “staying in school.”  Thus are crime stats and prison costs kept in check — on the backs of the rest of us.
We still pay for all of those lifesaving medical interventions, however, even if such costs do not show up in Pew Center studies advocating for “community sentencing” and other alternatives to incarceration — alternatives like telling a gun criminal to “stay in school” instead of sending him to prison.

That Perception of Crime Thing

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I stop by the convenience store near my house a few times a week. It is the only store for a few miles in either direction, on a rural stretch of highway.  There’s a stop light, the divided highway, a single train track, the convenience store, and then 55+ trailer parks, tomato fields, and cow pastures leading out to the bay.  If you drive south on the highway, you hit the county line.

In other words, it is a perfect target for crime.  Easy-in, easy-out, with little traffic and a good view of the people coming and going.  The women who work as cashiers there are world-weary.  They are bitter and fatalistic about the fact that they keep getting robbed.  When I spoke with one of them a few weeks ago, she seemed a little embarrassed that she was even upset about the latest armed robbery.  She looks like somebody who has had few breaks in life and has learned not to complain.  She stands less than five feet tall and might weigh 100 pounds soaking wet, as they say.  Like most of the store’s employees, including the security guard they have hired, she is a senior citizen.  Once you get to be in your sixties, it’s hard enough to find work.

Frustration was visible in her eyes as she described the robbery-before-the-last-one.  She gets up and goes to work every day, and then she has to deal with constant worry when she gets there.

The store is part of a chain, and the owners have spent significant amounts of money on security, which, of course, gets passed on to all of us.  They installed cameras and hired a security guard.  Now there are signs in English and Spanish telling customers that the cashiers will not change large bills and that cash is deposited into a locked safe during business hours.  The next step, I suppose, is bulletproof glass, but the employees will still have to come out from behind the glass to stock shelves.  It is no way to live, sitting behind bulletproof glass.  And (shades of Florida, and the generational divide) what will happen when the cashiers need to go outside to smoke their cigarettes?

Apparently, the robbers never get much cash, but this does not stop them from coming back.  The cashier looked jumpy as she told me this.  She is angry that these men would rob working people.  She is angry that her life is being put on the line for a handful of twenties and a few rolls of change.  “They took quarters,” she said, disgusted.

Meanwhile, last Monday, Attorney General Eric Holder spoke before the National Institute for Justice about ways the Justice Department is working to reduce the stigma of having a criminal record.  “Prisoner re-entry” is the feel-good buzzword of the year.  The feds are gearing up to spend massive amounts of taxpayer dollars on programs to help criminals “re-enter” society (I worked for a man who got a grant from the City of Atlanta to do this: he was supposed to teach repeat offenders how to produce rap videos as “job-training.”  I suppose it is a silver lining that he did not really bother to do the work).

Now the Justice Department is sponsoring research that looks to me to be laying the groundwork to conceal criminal records from prospective employers — on the unsurprising grounds that employers tend to choose non-criminal over criminal applicants for any given job.  The idea that people who do not have criminal records actually merit a leg-up over people who have committed crimes is not the type of idea that gets bandied around in research circles, of course.

Attorney General Holder feels the problem lies not with the character of people who commit crimes but with the way the public perceives people with criminal records.  He said:

Most employers perform criminal background checks on everyone they consider hiring and have varying levels of concern about the criminal records of prospective employees. That means that people with criminal records are always vulnerable to being turned down for a job. In many cases, employers may want to hire an otherwise qualified person, but they feel that his or her criminal record suggests a future risk of criminal conduct. Without some ability to assess whether a person with a criminal record presents a greater risk than someone else, they prefer to err on the side of caution and pass him or her over.

This new research – which is preliminary and ongoing – has found that there may well be a point at which someone who has committed a crime is no longer at any greater risk of committing a future crime than someone who has never committed a crime before.

Why not let employers decide whether or not an ex-felon seems to have reformed himself enough to merit being trusted with a job?  Is it now out of bounds to suggest that acknowledging one’s criminal past is part of rehabilitation?  Holder apparently feels it is within the mission of the Justice Department to reform (conceal?) the reputation of people with criminal records, even at considerable cost to the rest of us — the employer who is liable if someone they hire robs them or harms someone else while on the job; the safety of employees who are not made aware that their co-workers are ex-felons.

What Attorney General Holder did not say is more telling than what he did say.  He did not mention punishing criminals as deterrence, of course (such talk is strictly taboo).  He did not address the needs of people who have been victimized.  What he chose to speak about was the needs of ex-cons and his desire to change the way other people perceive them.

How exactly, one might ask, would researchers determine the “point at which someone who has committed a crime is no longer at any greater risk of committing a future crime than someone who has never committed a crime before”?  This sort of stuff smacks of manufacturing desired results.  Can anyone imagine criminologists announcing, at this stage of the game, that their “preliminary and ongoing” research has actually revealed that employers are taking unacceptable risks when they hire people with criminal records?  No, the point of funding this research is to support the Attorney General’s stated goal of “prisoner reentry.”  The table is set in advance.  Statistical justifications will doubtlessly follow.

To put it another way, the head of the law enforcement branch of our government has nothing to say to the hard-working convenience store clerk down the road from me who keeps getting robbed at her job because he has chosen, instead, to offer job assistance to the men who keep robbing her.

That Perception Thing

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The release of the FBI’s semi-annual report on crime has provided Atlanta’s pathologically tone-deaf Mayor and the Chief-of-Police-In-Absentia with another opportunity to shower contempt on every citizen of the city.  What else could inspire the Mayor to repeat the words, “the city is ‘safer now than it has been in decades’,” given her knowledge of public feelings on her attitude?

Apparently, according to City Hall, a slight drop in the still unacceptable high rates of some crime in some areas, a rise in crime rates in other areas, and a sharp rise in property crime rates is cause to break out the bubbly.

How much of this drop in crime in some areas of the city can be attributed to heroic, time-consuming, and expensive efforts by neighborhood groups and individuals?  How much higher (than the 7.6% increase) would the property crime rate climb if people weren’t bankrupting themselves paying for alarm systems, burglar bars, security cameras, guns, and off-duty cops to patrol their neighborhoods?

Should the burden of preventing crime fall so heavily on residents who already pay the city to protect them?

Chief Pennington, bizarrely, has refused to comment on the FBI report.  Does the guy even show up for work anymore?  Why has the City Council caved to demands by the usual activists to re-re-re-investigate city cops in shooting incidents (after the appropriate authorities, and the FBI, the courts, and everybody else already investigated/prosecuted/sentenced the officers involved), but they seem utterly incurious about Pennington’s performance, not to mention grotesquely timid on the subject of denying injured cops their medical benefits?

Can we get one public statement from the Chief in exchange for the latest kangaroo court for cops who put their lives on the line?

Chief of Police is a political gig. Some chiefs manage to rise above the politics — in places other than Atlanta.  The national organization representing police executives is a political organization, too, which explains why the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum comes down on the side of pooh-pooing that Real Clear Politics report ranking Atlanta as the second-most dangerous large city nationwide, by population:

The ranking, compiled by the Web site Real Clear Politics, was derived by dividing the total crimes detailed in the FBI’s report by city population. Atlanta’s per-capita crime rate measured at 16 percent.

“Determining whether a city is safe or not is not as easy as that,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, which has representatives from law enforcement agencies nationwide.

“That’s a very simplistic approach.”

All due respect to Wexler, what would be a “less simplistic” way of determining the prevalence of crime?  Criminologists, of course, have many answers to this question.  Unfortunately, their answers involve using very complicated number-crunching, statistic-discombobulating, and hide-the-peanut tomfoolery to achieve one overweening goal:

to deny the problem of crime

What is harder to deny is this:

  • 1.4 million violent crimes,
  • 10 million property crimes,
  • 17,000 murders
  • and nearly 100,000 rapes is a tidal wave of suffering, violence, fear and wasted lives.

The irascible Randall Cobb, one of those community activists who probably clocks ungodly volunteer hours trying to do the job the Mayor and Chief are paid to do, had this to say:

“Franklin and [Atlanta Chief of Police Richard] Pennington have been trying to get us to drink the Kool-Aid for 12 months now,” said Randall Cobb, safety chairman for the Midtown Neighborhood Association. “The biggest thing they’re doing is refusing to take responsibility for crime in this city.”

Amen.

Tomorrow: two crimes I did not report…

They Really Do Hate Us: Academics on the Law-Abiding Public

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The long list of slights committed by the public against criminals just grew a little bit longer.  We are now guilty of not thinking about the incarcerated enough during the time that they are behind bars, a distraction predicted to grow worse as prisons rely on videoconferencing for prisoner doctor appointments, psychiatric counseling, and family visits.

Although the actually relevant parties — from guards to prisoners to psychiatrists — seem happy with videoconferencing, it does not sit well with Nancy Stoller, a professor of something called “Community Studies” at University of California, Santa Cruz:

Relying on technology to keep inmates behind bars makes them “disappear more and more from the public consciousness, and I think there’s a (negative) long-term consequence of that,” said Nancy Stoller, a professor at the University of California-Santa Cruz and the coordinator of a jail and prison task force at the American Public Health Association. . . .

Expanded videoconferencing could have long-term consequences on prisoners’ mental health and their ability to interact effectively with others, she said.

Ah yes, the negative consequences of not being able to fling your feces at health care workers, or stab the guard transporting you to psych intake.  We’re all a little poorer for that.

The Right Rat: Groundless Accusations Towards Victims of Crime

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Yesterday, I wrote about the hysteria that arises when crime victims seek modest rights, such as the right to know when their offender will be cut loose from prison (a shifting proposition — never shifting further ahead, either), or the right to offer a victim-impact statement at the same time the convicted offender is permitted to parade his supporters before the sentencing judge.

It is a measure of society’s disdain for the rights of victims that, even when such laws are on the books, they are spottily enforced and treated like an afterthought, not a rule of law. Our courts are in far worse shape than most people realize, as evinced by my earlier post today. The first causalities of this chaos, inevitably, are crime victims.

In 1997, the U.S. Department of Justice released a study showing just how rarely victims’ rights laws were being enforced. A large majority of victims — 63% in states with strong victims’ rights laws, 74% in states with weak laws — were not being informed when convicted offenders were released on bail. Half of the victims in “strong law” states were not informed of plea agreement negotiations, even though prosecutors were required by law to notify them. 25% of victims in “strong law” states were being denied their legal right to present a victim impact statement at sentencing.

These actions were violations of the law, perpetrated by the justice system against people who had already been victimized. But they aroused no protest from the types of people who normally scorch the earth to find reasons to accuse authorities of not abiding by the law. Such silence gives the lie to organizations like the A.C.L.U., and others, who claim to defend individual rights. It really is true that they only care about the rights of some people — namely, criminals.

The rest of us, and especially crime victims, can lose every right on the books, and they could not care less.

This irrational hatred of people victimized by crime is likewise a powerful force in academia. It is tossed off casually, the hallmark of any hegemonic prejudice. If one levies wild, virulent claims and there is no response at all to them, then those around you are also in very deep.

In 2007, David P. Barash, a psychology professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, castigated faceless, nameless crime victims in a feature story he published in the Chronicle of Higher Education (October 5, 2007, by subscription only)  Titled “The Targets of Aggression, ” the article was ostensibly about something he names “redirected aggression” (actually a much older and less novel concept — vengeance), which Barash loosely defines as any reaction whatsoever to harm, other than no reaction at all:

Jesus urged us to love our enemies, and, if slapped, to turn the other cheek. But for millennia — before Jesus and after — human beings and their animal brethren have been far more likely to respond to pain and injury with a retaliating barrage of the same sort, generating yet more injury, more pain.

True enough, I suppose, if viewed with a wide angle lens, a very wide one indeed. Such is the vague pudding of evolutionary psychology.

Barash wanders widely in his piece, from the Illiad to Bosnia (perhaps not so far at all), but he returns repeatedly to intimate violence — the calculus of crime and justice. And whenever he arrives at the matter of crime, he joins the vast army of academicians who now refuse to include within their calculations any consideration of the idea that crime victims might be motivated by some emotion other than pure, murderous vengeance.

This world-view is both sentimental and cold-blooded. It posits that there is no difference between a sociopath preying on a weaker individual and a victim seeking protection and justice. “Are all victimizers themselves previous victims?” Barash asks, failing to ask if there is some social space — say, civilization — where all people do not behave like rats in a cage, and thus the distinctions between victims and victimizers are more nuanced than not.

But what is particularly jarring about Barash’s methodology — and is a typical flaw of most evolutionary psychology arguments — is his obvious preference for some of the caged rats he summons. When considering criminals, he muses vaguely about their possible traumas, affording the most benign, empathetic view of their motives for preying on innocents:

If people who seek to hurt others are doing so because they have themselves been hurt, does that diminish their responsibility or guilt? Should we pity the poor perpetrator? Are all victimizers themselves previous victims? And what if they are? Does that let them off the hook? When does passing the pain become passing the buck?

When considering crime victims, however, he can barely contain a pointed contempt:

We might also want to reconsider “justice” and ask what is really going on when victims demand punishment, nearly always claiming, of course, that they are not out for revenge. But, in fact, aren’t they insisting — although not in so many words — that their pain be offloaded onto someone else? Once the wheels of pain have begun to spin, what really seems to matter is that someone — anyone — must suffer, must be made to “pay.”

Wow, we are suddenly a long way from scholarly musings, Dorothy. No hazy gates of Troy anymore, either. These victim-people sound like real bad seeds. Better get out of town before sunset.

Barash continues:

By the same token, consider the fact that crime victims typically resent the presence of exculpatory evidence, which is likely to lead to an acquittal: If their interest were simply in seeing justice done, shouldn’t they applaud any information that makes it less likely that an innocent person might be punished, and thus more likely that the criminal justice system will instead spend its energy on finding the real culprit?

I would love to see the lab experiment that demonstrates “the fact that crime victims typically resent the presence of exculpatory evidence.” What did they do, show the rats Twelve Angry Men on tiny little screens? Seriously, how can Barash make such an allegation — that victims want innocent men to suffer and don’t care about justice? Where is the evidence? This is a serious, and historically pointed, and — oh, the irony, the return of the repressed — false accusation.

More extremely complicated rat experiments:

It appears that the accumulated burden of physiology, evolution, and cultural expectation is so great that redirected aggression typically feels better than no response at all. Revealingly, there is a deep insistence on the part of victims and their families that — by virtue of their suffering — they are entitled to a defendant’s punishment almost without regard to the matter of guilt.

There is, is there? Says who?

This isn’t just bad thinking, or bad writing, or bad science: it is bad faith. Really, what is the Chronicle doing, publishing this type of insupportable slur, directed at an entire population?

David Barash is not the first evolutionary psychologist to collapse into existentialism-with-a-dollop-of- Discover magazine, and he certainly is not the first to end up hobbled by the same infantile romanticizing of bad guys that hobbled existentialism in all of its previous incantations.

But it still remains shocking that somebody can make light intellectual work of slaughters throughout history, tripping good-naturedly across battlefields, then pull up short in righteous indignation at the perfect boogeyman his fantasy has created — the entirely imaginary psychotically vengeful victim of crime.

“Defendants Have the Right to Remain Silent. . . Victims Have the Right to be Heard”

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I found this quote on the website for the Larimer County, Colorado District Attorney’s office. It is a neat sentiment: well-intentioned, not overly ambitious. It is, in other words, a fitting description of the aims of victims’ rights laws.

It is also utterly untrue.

The “right to be heard” is not a right in the ordinary sense of the term. It is not actually enjoyed by the vast majority of crime victims. There is no criminal court where victims may go to plead with authorities to take up their case, if theirs is one of the vast majority of crimes that go un-prosecuted for any one of a hundred reasons.

Other than murder, there is far less than a guarantee that even serious crimes will be taken up by the court. And prosecution rates for murder are far less than most people would imagine: authorities in Houston last week announced that they were stepping up efforts to “do something” about 600 murder cases that had foundered despite identifying a suspect:

More than 600 accused killers from the past four decades have yet to see the inside of a Harris County courtroom for their crimes, according to the Harris County district attorney’s office.

Records show that a handful of those jumped bail, fleeing the area before they could be prosecuted. But most were suspects who were never arrested, said Assistant District Attorney Russell Turbeville. . .

The push to find the fugitives was sparked in part by the case of Tho Minh Quach, who was charged with murdering his neighbor more than 20 years ago, but who disappeared and now will never stand trial because investigators did not try hard enough to find him.

One county, forty years, six hundred un-prosecuted murder suspects. How can this be?

In reality, virtually all crimes result in nobody being held accountable, a situation that has taken an extraordinary toll on hundreds of millions (yes, hundreds of millions) of crime victims since criminologist Milton S. Eisenhower lamented the 1 1/2% incarceration-for-crime rate in 1969. Here is Eisenhower speaking in 1970, twenty-two years before crime rates peaked in the early 1990’s:

There remains one very obvious reason for mounting crime in our society: the increasing failure of law enforcement agencies to cope with it. Consider the grim statistics. Probably 10 million serious crimes were committed in the United States last year. About half of these crimes were never reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Only 12 percent of those 10 million crimes resulted in the arrest of anyone. Only 6 percent resulted in the conviction of anyone, and this 6 percent included many pleas to lesser offenses. Only 1 1/2 percent resulted in the incarceration of anyone. And of those who were incarcerated, most will return to prison another time for additional offenses. As Lloyd Cutler . . . remarked on these statistics: ‘It would be hard to say that crime does not pay. The sad fact is that our criminal justice system, as presently operated, does not deter, does not detect, does not convict, and does not correct.’ (Violence: The Crisis of American Confidence, ed. Hugh David Graham, Johns Hopkins Press, 1971)

Hundreds of millions of victims of unresolved crimes walk the streets, and yet, virtually nobody, not even a fraction of a percent, resorts to vigilantism — this despite hysterical claims by mostly-liberal commentators that we must remain vigilant to hold back the horrifying threat posed to society by emotionally wounded, vengeful victims of crime.

I have long wondered why it is that so many people to the left of the political center despise and fear victims so much more than they despise or fear criminals themselves. Self-loathing, I think lies at the root of this phenomenon, self-loathing busked up by education at the hands of other self-loathing people who are entirely convinced that our justice system is over-reaching and cruel.

To say that the types of statistics mentioned above do not enter into classroom discussions of justice is to wildly understate the case. The only type of literature taken seriously in the classroom is the literature of the wrongly accused (too numerous to mention), or rightfully-accused-but-persecuted-anyway (Orestes, Oedipus Rex, The Crucible, The Stranger, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Clockwork Orange: how the mighty have fallen).

There is also the litmus test, administered with fierce regularity, that one must show the right type and quantity of empathy for criminals before you may speak about criminal justice at all. This is the price of the ticket — no similar admission fee exists regarding victims, save a few politically sanctioned types.

In the face of such orthodoxy, or rather, repression of facts, perhaps it isn’t surprising that so many people agree, with so very little evidence, that crime victims are too powerful, when they are actually legally powerless.

The exception to this powerlessness, now, consists of being allowed to offer a victim impact statement after the accused has been found guilty of the crime, during the time when his representatives may plead for lenience from the judge. Even this right, however, is strongly opposed by those who feel that the presence of victims in courtrooms represents a sort of perversion of pure justice. Character witnesses for the convict, such people argue, are only right, to keep the vengeful passions of the public in check, but character witnesses against them are — just awful.

When victim advocates began pushing for Victims’ Rights Laws in the 1980’s, reaction was extreme. These laws were written to provide extremely limited rights to the small fraction of victims whose cases actually made it into a courtroom, including the right to be notified about hearings, the right to be notified when one’s offender is up for parole or is being released, and the right to make a victim impact statement before the judge. Victims’ rights laws do not in any way impede on the vast rights afforded defendants before, during and after prosecution: in fact, their modesty underscores the degree to which victims have fewer rights than the public itself, let alone criminals.

Nevertheless, defense attorneys, law professors, and editorial writers (defenseattorneyslawprofessorseditorialwriters) behaved as if granting victims even extremely limited rights to speak in the sentencing phase of the judicial process was tantamount to bringing back witch-burnings, fueled, of course, with trampled copies of the Bill of Rights.

Tom Teepen, a nationally syndicated columnist based in Atlanta, compared the 1999 Victims Rights Amendment to a murderer stalking an innocent and endangered United States Constitution: “The Constitution has just ducked another bullet, but beware the ricochet”; “You can’t be sure this monster won’t walk again,” he wrote, and, nastily:

You almost have to feel sorry for the politicians working the law-and-order hustle. Crime has been falling sharply for several years. . . It is, in short, getting hard to sell criminals to the electorate.

This, in a year when there were 15,000 murders, 90,000 reported rapes, and nearly a million aggravated assaults.

Teepen never writes about criminals with such sneering contempt. His colleague, Cynthia Tucker, has written movingly about crime victimization at other times, but she called the Victims’ Rights Amendment “a crime in itself,” and accused victims of wanting too much:

The system has already kicked in on behalf of the victim — conducting an investigation, arresting a suspect, proceeding to take the suspect to trial.

Gee, thanks. Except when it doesn’t, which is nearly all of the time.

Tucker went on to accuse all politicians who speak up for victims of “pandering” to society’s hatefulness, prejudice, and barely-suppressed violence, then accused the public directly of wishing to undermine all rights of the accused. That the public, let alone victims, might be innocent of nefarious intentions until proven guilty is not the way this game gets played:

This latest bit of pandering by the vice president [Gore] is disgusting but not surprising. It has become an article of faith among centrist Democrats that a tough law-and-order stance in essential to win elections. . . . As hard as it is for most Americans to accept, a suspect is innocent of a crime until convicted by a jury of his peers (or until he pleads guilty).

In twenty years of advocating for and working with crime victims, I have never met a victim who wanted to undermine the justice system or see the wrong person go to jail for a crime. Such accusations are sheer hysteria, and like most hysteria, they arise from a reality that is inverse to the charge.

The “Benjy Brigade”, Part 1: Boston’s Finest Mount an Attack on an Elderly Victim of Rape

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The theme this week is punitive attitudes towards victims of crime. At the most primal level, the mere existence of victims threatens to spoil all the fun that can be had as you lift your glass from the tray, turn to Professor Ponytail (who could dress better at these things), and say: “When I was mentoring at the federal pen last weekend I met the most inspirational young author — wrongly convicted, of course — we must do something about getting his poetry published. We must!”

Oh, the headiness. That Seventies Susan Sarandon vibe, edgy alchemy of righteousness and rebellion — what a shame if it were all interrupted by flashing on the pensioner in her wheelchair in ugly tan compression stockings, rope scars on her wrists from where the young poet had bound her so tightly the paramedics had to peel the phone cord out from under layers of swollen skin.

No, that will not do. Better not to think about it.

Better still, picture the pensioner as a malevolent hag, somebody deserving of the torture she got (for there is no way to stretch the truth around the fact that she got it) — a racist, of course, accusing the ethereal and handsome young poet out of pure malice.

This is what the city leaders of Boston did throughout the 1990’s to the victim of Benjamin LaGuer, a sadistic rapist who become the toast of the city’s elite, from Boston University President John Silber, to noted pseudo-intellectual Noam Chomsky, to now-governor Deval Patrick, and, sadly, human rights activist Elie Weisel, as well as scores of law professors, judges, lawyers, journalists (including Barbara Walters), celebrities, and authors.

Although the victim identified LaGuer, her neighbor, as the attacker, and other evidence linked him to the crime, Boston’s elite was quick to rush to judgment of the victim after the rapist reached out to them. The story that the victim was a racist and that LaGuer was framed “without evidence” became the only story that mattered in the pages of the Boston Globe, the classrooms of Harvard Law School, and the courtrooms of the Massachusetts appeals courts, where supporters of LaGuer, who adolescently named themselves the “Benjy Brigade,” wielded their considerable social power to push for his release.

LaGuer was showered with literary prizes and honorary degrees, including a magna cum laude degree from Boston University and a PEN award for his barely-literate “memoir,” A Man Who Loves His Mother Loves Women. He became pen pals with dozens of journalists and authors. Although, in reality, LaGuer is no writer, his supporters spoke volubly of his literary talents and personal presence. “My masculinity was like Jimi Hendrix’s guitar on acid,” LaGuer said of himself. John Silber said that LaGuer was “a highly talented young writer who can express himself with remarkable ability.”

LaGuer also said, repeatedly, that he was a victim of prejudice on the part of the rape victim and even suggested that she had not actually been raped. His followers lapped it up.

Only a few spoke for the victim. Dean Mazzarella, a rookie cop at the time of the rape who went on to become the mayor of Leominster, Mass., was the officer who found the woman in her apartment. “The thing I’ll never forget is the smell,” he said years later, “[t]here’s still nothing I’ve come in contact with that’s been that bad.” The rape lasted eight hours: LaGuer broke bones in his victim’s face and left her, naked and bound, to die on her apartment floor. She nearly did die in the hospital, from a heart attack brought on by the assault.

None of this, however, fit the story the Benjy Brigade longed to see fulfilled. Consciously or unconsciously, journalists supporting LaGuer excised the story of the rape and prosecution evidence and details about the victim from their extensive, years-long coverage of LaGuer’s appeals. The Boston Globe went so far as to report that the victim had died not long after the attack, though she was still alive sixteen years later. This wishful thinking, amounting to an excruciating desire that nothing interrupt the rescue fantasy being painted by LaGuer and his supporters, would verge on funny, if it were not horrifying.

The victim’s life story was also distorted by the press. Reporters, reprinting defense arguments as fact, claimed that the woman was both too mentally unstable and physically incapable to identify a suspect after the attack. Family members disputed these allegations, but over the years their statements were rarely included in the long feature stories that focused on LaGuer’s celebrity supporters and legal battles.

The victim’s military service during World War II and her career as a nurse were never mentioned in print: in contrast, LaGuer’s military service was approvingly cited, though his brief stint in the army actually ended when he was caught selling drugs.

Even the wounds inflicted on the victim by LaGuer were used against her. Returning to the case files years later, reporters cherry-picked details in an effort to strengthen LaGuer’s claims. The victim was merely “white,” or “a schizophrenic,” or “a diagnosed schizophrenic who was heavily medicated for pain when she identified LaGuer in a photo line-up.” Few articles failed to mention her race, implying that she made a questionable cross-racial identification from her hospital bed. Most failed to mention that she knew LaGuer because he was the son of her next-door neighbor and no stranger to her.

The fantasies of rescuing LaGuer from his evil captors, especially the recently deceased victim, and the undercurrent of rage directed at her took on a life of their own, mounting to a crescendo in 2001 when Dr. Edward T. Blake, a colleague of Barry Scheck’s, announced that advances in DNA testing had evolved to the point that the small sperm samples taken from the victim’s body could now be identified. John Silber led those preparing for the celebration of LaGuer’s presumed immanent release, but he also said that LaGuer should be released even in the case that he was found guilty. “He has been rehabilitated to any degree that rehabilitation can be measured,” a fawning Silber told the fawning press.

Tomorrow: Journalists Identify the Real Victim: Themselves

Meanwhile, In the Groves of Academe and the Forests of Newsprint

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There’s no such thing as a crime problem. It’s just a perception problem, you silly hysterics. From the Houston Chronicle, which wants you to know that daring to be worried about crime is the only crime problem that matters:

In the words of a statistician, the decrease in criminality appears to have an inverse relationship, at least for now, with political rhetoric on crime, which has ramped up in recent months.

Is it possible that continually heaping contempt upon the concerns of newspaper readers has a non-inverse relationship to the decline of newspaper subscribers?

“It’s probably very difficult for any politician to acknowledge that the problem of crime is decreasing, because that undermines the importance of the issue,” said Dennis Longmire, a professor of criminal justice at Sam Houston State University who has studied public attitudes toward crime. “Politicians use a fear of crime to garner support and get voters’ attention.”

Or perhaps the public is concerned about crime because they do not want to see the fragile progress of recent months dissipate. Or perhaps crime rates are still astonishingly high despite a modest drop in incidents. Or perhaps people are successfully preventing certain incidents of crime, but only because they are remaining alert and focused on the issue, even though reporters and academicians find this more troubling than crime itself.

This type of canned denouncement echoes recent statements by Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin and Chief of Police Richard Pennington, both of whom responded to truly horrifying incidents of crime by scolding the public for caring.

Public concern is not going to go away, not in Houston, not in Atlanta, not anywhere. As daily newspapers tank and the public begins to question “studies” put forth by academics who don’t even pretend to objectivity, the internet is stepping in. You can expect more accusations of “vigilantism” and “hysteria about crime” from the usual suspects. And you can ignore them, too.

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.