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Therapeutic Jurisprudence

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Gun Control is a Distraction: the President is Sending Grief Counselors.

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 . . . And, Lester Jackson on Benny Lee Hodge, Sonia Sotomayor, and Apologies for Mass Murderers

Great Leader chatter about Obama healing the nation is engulfing every network news station — including Fox — following the mass killing in Connecticut.  Was it always this way?  I’m thinking back on Columbine, David Koresh, Oklahoma City — is anyone else getting nostalgic for mere partisan political jabs in the wake of grim and senseless violence?  There is something profoundly creepy about the bureaucratic/therapeutic/paternalistic vibe emanating from Washington.  Of course, this is part of the Department of Justice’s ongoing efforts to expand their mission beyond crime control . . . to social control.  Flying under the flag of “anti-bullying,” “hate hurts,” “restorative justice,” and “prisoner re-entry,” the Department of Justice continues its Great March behind the Great Leader into people’s lives, this time using the excuse of a nut with a gun.

The goal isn’t merely gun control.  Gun control is a speed bump on the way to social control.

In order to align law enforcement’s activities with the agenda of collectivism, it is necessary to either therapeuticize or politicize every crime.  One or the other: a school shooter is generally therapeuticized.  He falls into the category of “victim,” probably of bullying, so long as he didn’t express any of the select group of “hatreds” that are deemed atrocities and thus politicized.  Luckily for school shooters who target females, that particular preference has been slotted back into the inconsequential category, and as it is the only category of shooter choice that has manifested in recent school shootings, school shooters generally just get counted as victims of social suffering — the therapeutic slot.  The Department of Justice is making noises about social bullying today, for example — it’s the stuff on which they can build expensive and intrusive bureaucracies without violating Eric Holder’s allergy to incarceration and law enforcement itself.

So, expect a lot of talk about bullying from the nation’s federal law enforcement agency — and everyone else — in coming weeks.  Ironically, early reports suggest that the killer in this case may have been systematically encouraged to see himself as a victim of “bullying” and social maladjustment.  There’s something to contemplate as the experts descend on schools throughout the nation to cash in on the actions of one unstable individual: might we produce fewer school shooters if we had fewer school professionals encouraging children to see themselves as victims — of garden-variety bullying, social slights, and social exclusion?

For if there’s one common thread that ties together otherwise diverse killers, bank robbers, terrorists, street thugs, and assorted psychopaths, it’s self-pity.  So as the armies of school psychologists and grief counselors and other soft-soap contract-remunerated social engineers fan out across the land, think about both intended and unintended consequences.  It’s bad enough that the federal government is using a tragedy to grow the bureaucratic-therapeutic federal government machinery, but is it even worse than that?  Are we growing future criminals in the process of therapeuticizing violence?

I was driving through South Georgia when the news reports of the Connecticut shootings broke.  It may be Terrific in Tifton but it’s darn hard to get A.M. radio reception from the highway there, so we had to listen to public radio.  “Obama Will Save Us” positive visualizations popped up immediately, with NPR devoting its earliest hours to Dear Leader chatter and gushing praise for the FBI.  Why the FBI?  Because the federal government was on the way to save the day.  Not that they actually did anything.  But the purpose of NPR is to justify federal powers and federal funding — for themselves and for actual government officials.  So they talked obsessively about how wonderful it was that the FBI was doing this and that for local law enforcement, even though local law enforcement was doing the actual work.

The therapeuticization of justice dictates two responses to crime.  Offenders are transformed into victims of society, and victims are transformed into suspects, at least until they demonstrate that they are also willing to blame society and not the individual offender for victimizing them.  Once everyone agrees that society is at fault, the experts can step in to dictate the cure, which involves creating more therapeutic non-incarcertive responses to crime.  Response is an artful term: it expresses the bureaucratic view that we are one enormous sensate organism reacting with animal reflexes to pain or shock.  If criminals are simply part of the sensate whole, how can we blame them for their actions?  It’s like blaming us . . . well, we are blaming us.  We are all responsible: nobody is responsible.

The alternative view is to accept the existence of moral choice and individual responsibility for crime, followed by judgment and consequences.  As readers of this blog have learned from the anonymous Professor Dunderpants of CUNY’s Media Studies Department, merely believing in such things is considered terribly primitive these days, and not the sort of good primitive that stimulates the anthropology department.  It is bad primitive to  harbor a secret belief in free will these days, let alone express it publicly.

The power to transform criminals into victims and victims into suspects — to dictate not just the administration of justice to the guilty but the emotional responses of everyone to crime — is a tremendous, intrusive power cupped in the hands of the bureaucrats calling the shots.  Fascist power, one might say.  Soft fascism.  The creepy kind.

Therapeuticizing criminals is the end-game of the social roots-theory of crime.  Roots theory was invented by sociologists in the 1960’s who wished to displace responsibility for criminal actions away from the criminal himself and onto society — onto injustice arising from poverty and prejudice in particular.  Poor and minority offenders, the story goes, are not responsible for their actions: they are merely reacting to injustice directed at them when they steal your car or mug your husband or rape your sister.  And social engineering is, of course, the only known cure.  Forty years later, the roots-theory movement has expanded to the point that it may even be applied to a young white male from an upper-class suburb who just slaughtered 20 innocent schoolchildren.  In coming days, even the most rational expressions of anger at the shooter will be quickly smothered by ministrations of therapeuticized justice in the government and the media.

Let the intensive policing of the innocents begin.

          ~~~~~

Related:  Lester Jackson has a compelling article about Justice Sotomayor and judicial sympathy for repeat killers in American Thinker today.  It’s a timely read:

 As detailed elsewhere, pro-murderer media suppression of the truth has played a major role in enabling a wholesale evisceration of capital punishment. Justice Sonia Sotomayor recently provided a graphic example, one that would be excruciatingly painful to survivors of murder victims if they knew about it. Many people unfamiliar with the practices and philosophy of the current Supreme Court would very likely be shocked to learn just what values some justices hold. . .

When pro-murderer justices seek — often successfully — to focus upon criminals rather than crimes, the result is to grant certain perpetrators greater protection against punishment for their brutality than others who commit identical or less serious acts without Supreme Court succor. The reductio ad absurdum, of course, is the Court’s fiat proclaiming a Constitutional right, nowhere to be found in the real document, for the most depraved and vicious barbarians . . .

Read the rest here.

And see also:   Rwanda and Columbine: The Politics of Forced Reconciliation

Gaming The System: DragonCon Founder Edward Kramer Caught With Another Boy

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I wonder what Bob Barr has to say about Ed Kramer’s health these days.

Ed Kramer, Pre-Miraculous Recovery/New Child-Endangerment Charges

As reported here, back in 2009 Barr, the former Libertarian Presidential Candidate, helped his client Ed Kramer avoid trial — helped him avoid justice — in multiple felony charges for child molestation and aggravated child molestation.  Barr and fellow defense attorney Edwin Marger managed to convince a judge in Georgia that Ed Kramer simply could not stand trial because it would be too painful for him to show up in a courtroom because of some obscure, obviously pretend spinal illness.

You know, kind of like fantasy role-playing.

Kramer had first been arrested in 2000 — yes, 2000 — on charges of molesting three boys.  The DragonCon founder had managed to “game” the system for nine years.  Then Bob Barr took a little break from running for President and representing Baby Doc Duvalier to score a highly unusual deal for his DragonCon client: house arrest on the grounds of his extreme-yet-vague “disability.”  Not a plea, mind you: just no trial.

In other words, the three young victims were denied justice. Their rights as citizens were literally stripped from them via legal wizardry performed by someone who claims to represent individual liberties.

Well, some people’s liberties.

Of course, Ed Kramer immediately pushed the envelope and demanded release from house arrest. Of course, the judge granted it, along with the right to travel to another state and to “check in” by telephone.  Of course, Kramer didn’t even bother to meet those requirements.  Of course, nobody in our ever-so-vigilant court system bothered to follow up.  Of course, the victims, and the molestation charges, simply got lost in the shuffle.

Ed Kramer, Pre-Pretend Spinal Cord Disease

Everyone knows how this genre fiction ends: of course, Kramer was arrested in Connecticut this week after being found in a motel room with a 14-year old boy:

A 50-year-old man who is already facing multiple charges of child molestation, was arraigned in Superior Court on a risk of injury to a minor charge Thursday after authorities said they found him staying in a hotel room with a 14-year-old boy earlier this week.

Kramer, a science fiction author and co-founder of the popular sci-fi convention DragonCon, was first charged with multiple charges of child molestation and aggravated child molestation by investigators in Gwinnett County, Ga in 2000. The district attorney’s office contacted police in Milford [Connecticut] about the pending charges after receiving a tip Kramer may be in the Connecticut area.

Gwinnett County [Georgia] District Attorney Danny Porter said he was contacted this week by a woman whose daughter is filming a movie in the Hartford-area. Crews started to worry about the way Kramer was acting around the 14-year-old boy, who was hired as an actor in the movie, Porter said.

Kramer claimed he was the child’s guardian, according to police.

On Tuesday, Porter said a crew member contacted Milford police after went to the boy’s hotel room and became concerned when the boy opened the door in a towel. Kramer was allegedly sitting on a bed inside the room, Porter said.

Congratulations, Congressman Barr.  Your client seems to have completely overcome his pesky back problem.

Among other gut-wrenching questions, this question remains: why didn’t anyone with the “movie crew” do something about a molestation suspect sharing a motel room with a 14-year old boy?  One person did eventually come forward, but what about the rest of them?  Surely they knew Kramer — he’s uniquely famous in SciFi circles.  What’s the matter with these people?  Why didn’t they choose a better role for themselves — Avenger of the Innocent, Protector of the Voiceless, anything but More People who are so Emotionally Arrested They Can’t Bring Themselves to Act to Save a Child?

In my alternative fantasy universe, Convicted-Con, the act of denying victims their day in court would be taken as seriously as the act of denying rights to defendants.  In my alternative fantasy universe, law professor bloggers and other activist types would work themselves up in a frenzy whenever some raped child got conned out of their rights by powerful politicians and uncaring pseudo-guardians of the law.

Star Trek Court, Where Defendants Face Justice, Unlike Real Court

In my alternative fantasy universe, when a lawyer gets his sex offender client off on claims of disability, and the disability turns out to be fake, there would be consequences for the lawyer:

Kramer’s attorneys [had] succeed in delaying his trial by arguing his health [was] too frail for lengthy courtroom sessions. One attorney described Kramer to the Daily Post last year as an “anatomy lesson” in decrepitude, suffering from ailments that include a problematic back, weak lungs and narcolepsy. He was said to get around on a motorized scooter and rely on oxygen tanks.

Last year, a judge agreed to abbreviated trial sessions and specialized seating for Kramer, but the trial was again continued and has hung in limbo since. . . Kramer was staying in the motel with the boy. . . Officers descended on the Super 8 and found Kramer alone with the minor, the police report states.

What’s more, [Danny] Porter said at least one witness is claiming to have proof Kramer’s not as sick as he made out.

“They saw him hiking in a rural area — no breathing apparatus, no wheelchair, no cane,” Porter said.

Are we actually supposed to believe that Bob Barr and his partner, Edwin Marger, knew nothing about Ed Kramer’s real physical condition when they claimed he was too sick to attend court in 2009, or that he had basically fled what little court-ordered control they had managed to wrangle for him under extremely questionable circumstances?  Well, here’s some clues:

Ed Kramer sporting a Barr ’08 button

Here’s Ed Kramer in either 2007 or 2008.  He claimed he was too sick to stand trial for molestation, but he looks like he was having a really good time campaigning for his lawyer, Libertarian presidential candidate Bob Barr.  If anyone knows more about this photo, please contact me.

Ed Kramer at the 2008 DragonCon

Here’s Ed Kramer hanging out at DragonCon when he was supposed to be housebound and in such serious pain from a “spinal injury” that he couldn’t stay awake for trial.  Hundreds of people saw him hanging out at a hotel in downtown Atlanta after midnight, chilling with some guy in latex shorts carrying a bongo drum.  What, they couldn’t pick up a phone when they saw the following story in the newspaper a few months later?  You know . . . acting to protect kids from getting raped, like their favorite superhero might do?

Edward Kramer told Gwinnett County Superior Court Judge Karen Beyers he was uncertain he could stay awake and alert enough to assist in his own defense. A spinal injury makes it difficult to sit, stand or breathe, and he is chronic pain, he said.  “I understand your diseases are degenerative,” the judge told Kramer. “I do not believe your ability [to stand trial] is going to improve.” . . . The judge suggested a trial schedule with three breaks a day ranging from 30 to 90 minutes. Beyers also tried to accommodate Kramer by offering to set up a room outside the courtroom for him to lie down in during the breaks and providing an orthopedic chair for him in court.

But he wasn’t too sick to party with female Klingons until the inter-galactical cows came home.  Shame on Bob Barr for using his influence to set this up.  Really, shame on him.

And double shame on his partner, Ed Marger, who classily had this to say about his client’s most recent arrest in a motel room with a young child found wearing nothing but a towel:

I don’t know if this was a 14-year-old child or a 41-year-old midget.

Nice.  What a great way to say: “I’m sorry for playing sleazy games with the lives of children and degrading rape victims in the newspaper while also insulting short people and homosexuals.”

Ed Marger and His Carefully Staged Pelts

Here’s a picture of Marger, pseudo-cornpone, et. al.  That depressed-looking thing sitting on his desk is a taxidermied groundhog: his other moldy client, “Baby” Doc Duvalier, must have been busy that day.

There are a thousand different freak shows in the big city.  Or as Dashiell Hammett used to say, well, I can’t remember what he said.  But the gist of it is this: grey people in grey cities with grey outlooks produce grey moral results.  It takes a village not to notice the guy in the wizard outfit and long black gloves slipping away with the little kid who should have been tucked away safely in bed instead of hovering in a grungy convention hotel lobby looking for someone to look up to.

And don’t ever, ever expect a defense attorney to do the right thing.

~~~

Local reporter Scott Henry keeps up on the Kramer case Here and Here.

{Updated} Aesthetic Tragedy, New York Times Style: Mime Panic Buttons Defunded in California

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It’s hard to find anything to say about this story that the New York Times has not trumped simply by writing it:

A Safety Valve for Inmates, the Arts, Fades in California

NORCO, Calif. — Fifteen men darted across the room, their faces slathered in greasepaint, reciting lines from “Tartuffe.” The stage, such as it was, was a low-ceilinged recreation room, and the cast was a troupe of felons who had just stepped in from the dusty yard of the California Rehabilitation Center . . . Two years ago, arts in corrections programs were a mainstay of prisons across the country, embraced by administrators as a way to channel aggression, break down racial barriers, teach social skills and prepare inmates for the outside world.

Or, maybe not.  Though such activities are supposed to reduce recidivism, Times writer Adam Nagourney acknowledges “there is no conclusive research on that.”

No conclusive research.  No conclusive research, not anywhere in the vast offender-validating, crime-denying rabbit warren of California higher education?  Not one, single, believable, peer-reviewed study subsidized by all the drooling millionaires of PEN?

In other words, despite the best efforts by armies of superlatively funded academic researchers, nobody could cook up a justification for spending money on those “arts coordinator[s] in each of the 33 California state prisons, overseeing a rich variety of theater, painting and dance.”

“[The] programs have become a fading memory,” the Times laments.

Once, in the golden age of not long ago, there were mimes teaching Moliere on your dime to child molesters; felons riffing Tartuffe with tax dollars.  Now, no more.

Mime tear.

Tartuffe, incidentally, is a play that happens to be about distrusting expressions of virtue, and authority in general.  So maybe the problem isn’t “the arts.” Maybe the problem is the art being taught, and who is doing the teaching.  The Times story inadvertently serves as Exhibit A for this theme:

Only two prison arts programs are left in California, and both rely on volunteers and private contributions. The one here is run by the Actors’ Gang, whose artistic director is the actor Tim Robbins [who] has become nearly as familiar a figure at the prison as the warden himself.

Of course, that “familiarity” comes with a price tag for the rest of us, though you can bet your last button they’re not including our names on the embossed fundraiser invites.  It costs money for Tim Robbins to prance around maximum security reliving old movie roles.  “The real actors are issued panic buttons to attach to their belts, in case they are cornered,” notes the Times.  Why the “real actors” don’t rely on the curative power of aesthetic accomplishment is not explained. But, enough of that; back to Tim Robbins:

Mr. Robbins instructed the inmates to feel fear . . . “What is Tartuffe afraid of?” he said, wearing a wool skullcap and dressed in black. “Being discovered. Because that would mean jail for him.”

“Something is coming after you!” he said urgently to the inmates as they scampered around. “What is it?”

“Cops!” one inmate yelled.

“Cops!” Mr. Robbins responded, clapping his hands in delight. “Then run!”

How wry, shouting at prisoners to run away from the police.  How, Attica-ey.

Admittedly, Mr. Robbins does have experience successfully encouraging the dreams of aspiring young actors.

Oh, wait, scratch that: Mr. Robbins has experience encouraging the murderers of aspiring young actors who dream of success.

Richard Adan, Murdered by Jack Abbott at 22

Ask the family of Richard Adan.  Adan was a 22-year old aspiring actor and playwright who was brutally stabbed to death in 1981 in his own family’s restaurant by Jack Abbott, a sociopathic killer who was supposed to be in prison but had been freed early because Robbins‘ future wife, Susan Sarandon, and others used their star power to obtain his release {Sarandon, in cahoots with Norman Mailer, helped get Abbott released before she met Robbins; Robbins and Sarandon chose to name their son after Abbott a few years later — the original version of this post was incorrect about Robbins’ attendance at Abbott’s 1982 trial — thanks to Cinesnatch for noting the error}.

Robbins‘s future wife Sarandon said she saw artistic talent in Jack Abbott, so obviously he should go free.  Bolstered by intense lobbying by the New York Times, New York’s literary elite, and PEN, some pathetic, star-struck losers on the New York State parole board agreed to let Abbott go, even though he told his artistic sponsors that he would kill again, which he did, a mere did six weeks after his release.

Jack Abbott, Toast of New York’s Intelligentsia

So, to summarize: in 1981 Tim Robbins‘ future wife Susan Sarandon was among those who helped get murderer Jack Abbott out of prison on the grounds of Abbott’s perceived artistic “talent.”  Abbott immediately satisfied the edgy aesthetics of Susan Sarandon by performing the ultimate act of “outsider” art, stabbing an innocent young man to death outside the man’s family’s restaurant.  The day after the murder, the New York Times ran a glowing review of Jack Abbott’s art (I can’t provide a link: the Times has Stalinistically mopped away this reprehensible little bit of its own history).  Now, in 2011, the Times runs a story about Robbins teaching theater to violent offenders in order to help them gain early release — because participating in programs like this one is all about gaining points towards release, never mind the claptrap about race harmony and self-actualization.

Yet, somehow, the Times doesn’t feel the need to mention Tim Robbins’ previous record with prisoners and arts programs in this story.  Curious choice.

In 1982, Abbott went on trial again. A few of his other supporters, like Norman Mailer, mustered enough big-boy shame this time to cower in the shadows.  But not Susan Sarandon: she continued lobbying for Jack Abbott’s release on the grounds that he was a talented artist.  Robbins’ especially shameless wife showed up daily for the trial in support of her talented murderer.  Later, after she met Tim Robbins, they named their firstborn son after the killer: Jack Henry Robbins.

It is difficult to imagine the degree of callousness it takes to sit in full view of a family mourning for the death of their son while fawning over his killer.  Then, to name your child after the killer?  That should have been the end of those sickos’ careers.  But in Hollywood, Sarandon and Robbins are considered voices of moral authority, not in spite of this heinous inhumanity, but because of it.  Sarandon and Robbins weren’t done torturing and degrading crime victims after the Abbott case, however: they and Sister Helen Prejean made the lives of several other victims hell in the process of making their film, Dead Man Walking.  They grotesquely rewrote and toned down the crimes, wrote the existence of inconvenient survivors out of the story, and invented the killer’s on-screen remorse wholecloth, all under Tim Robbins’ direction.

Robbins chose to disappear victims and crimes.  Why does the corrections system of California permit him to continue using taxpayer resources to perpetuate similar whitewashing today?  The Times‘ story about Tim Robbins’ touching drama academy behind bars carefully avoids mentioning the crimes these sensitive thespians committed.  Reporter Adam Nagourney did not bother to contact the victims of these men, some of them rapists.  He didn’t bother to ask the victims for their point of view on the program.  Isn’t that what reporters are supposed to do?  Instead, we get giggly effervescence (from the slideshow):

The workshops and rehearsals are antic and oddly entertaining: guards can be spotted peering through a window. The inmates, like Matthew O’Day, are animated, campy, energized, liberated and fearlessly engaged, comfortable even playing women in a sea of gang tattoos and muscles.

“Campy, energized, liberated and fearlessly engaged.” “Cops!” cries Tim Robbins, “clapping his hands in delight.”  “[R]un,” he shouts.  What are these inmates supposed to be learning?  What do they learn in other programs, like Changing Lives Through Literature (see here and here), which is taught by anti-incarceration activists who pen long, weepy paeans thanking their offender-students for enriching their pale, law abiding lives?  Check out this particularly troubling story.

I first became interested in prisoner education programs when my own rapist got cut loose early (to commit more heinous rapes of his favorite prey, elderly women) because he allegedly completed “college psychology” courses in prison, a fascinating accomplishment for someone who also got time off the front of his sentence for allegedly being mentally slow.  Too many prison higher educations programs and arts programs are run like this, and by people like Tim Robbins, who see rapists and murderers only as heroes and rebels striking out righteously against America’s “stultifying, capitalist, fascist state.”

And so, unsurprisingly, the material taught is most frequently about crooked justice and wrongful incarceration.  How, again, is this supposed to rehabilitate anyone?  It doesn’t, as respected criminologists have observed.  Vocational training, GED preparation, 12-step programs — those things often help, and contrary to the fabulists at the Times and elsewhere who claim that prisoners today have no access to enrichment or education, they are available to higher numbers of inmates — and also higher percentages of inmates — than ever.

In contrast, all these fantasy workshops on poetry, Restoration drama performances, and college classes about injustice in America do nothing but stroke offenders’ — and their teachers’ — egos.  Reading news stories about such programs, it is impossible not to notice how the teachers pose as acolytes, blaming society for their students’ crimes and praising offenders for their extraordinarily special talents and insights.  In this program funded by crime victims and other Virginia taxpayers, Andrew Kaufman brings his young U.Va. students into prison to read books like The Death of Ivan Illyich with offenders.  Ivan Illyich, remember, is a story about an unethical judge.  The U.Va. students — girls — coo on command over the offenders’ good manners, while judging their own non-felonious classmates harshly.  How early they learn what is wanted from them.  “All four women said the residents were far less superficial and more respectful to them than many male U.Va. students,” the reporter writes.  Really?  Did the girls see the offenders’ records?  Does Kaufman also take them on field trips to visit their victims?

No.  Of course not.  In the moral universe occupied by people like this, the only victims are the men behind bars.  “Cops,” cries Tim Robbins, “run!”  Inmates can still pursue the arts and read books in all of these prisons, of course.  It’s just that taxpayers and crime victims are no longer subsidizing anti-American, anti-incarceration, anti-bourgeoise arts camps for inmates, as they were once forced to do.  “We enjoyed this real lush period when there was this boom in prison growth,” brags Laurie Brooks, speaking of the time in the early 1980’s when then-governor Jerry Brown forced taxpayers to shell out for “lush” prisoner arts programs.

Remember how well that turned out? Crime rates continued their steady climb until sentencing reform took hold, removing prolific offenders from the streets for longer than a semester  or two.  So why is it that Tim Robbins, one of the most troubling figures of the pro-offender cultism that resulted in unmeasurable bloodshed and suffering, even permitted to go into California state prisons to hobnob with violent felons?  Why do taxpayers  and voters allow him to enter correctional institutions and foment his own special brand of resentment towards authority figures and police?  Why aren’t victims’ groups up in arms?

Tim Robbins

Isn’t one Jack Abbott one too many?


Rodney Alcala’s Criminal Appeals: Is Alcala Smart, Or Is The System Stupid?

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Much is being made about Rodney Alcala’s allegedly superior intelligence. I don’t buy it any more than I buy it when defense attorneys wave a piece of paper in the courtroom and claim their client is mentally challenged and thus deserves a break.  It’s just theater.  Alcala’s a haircut with cheekbones: his IQ, whatever it might be, matters far less than the pro-offender sentiments of the era when he was first tried, and re-tried.

It certainly didn’t take a rocket scientist to play the California criminal justice system for a fool back in the 1970’s.  Unfortunately, in many ways, the same is still true.

Here are ten specific breaks the system gave Alcala, breaks that either enabled him to add to his body count or torment the families of his victims.  Such breaks weren’t reserved for serial killers with MENSA memberships, which is why places like L.A. were so fatal for all sorts of women.

How fatal?  Seven, or fifty, or even 100 women and girls, depending on how much evidence Alcala provides and the police uncover with the massive public appeal for assistance now underway.  Again, I have to ask: why weren’t these pictures distributed to the public decades ago?  Why were families forced to sit in limbo while authorities had hundreds of photos linking a known sadistic rapist and murderer to scores of unidentified women and girls?  I’m sure the police, given adequate resources, would have worked these cases.  But we’ve never given police adequate resources.  We still don’t charge even serious offenders with the totality of their known crimes.

Still it’s a tribute to reformers that some (though not all) of these fatal justice system errors would not occur today.

#1: Judicial Leniency, Indeterminate Sentencing Sets a Killer Free, 1971

Rodney Alcala was 25 in 1968, when he was caught in the act of raping and beating an eight-year old child to death.  That’s a chilling number, 25.  Kidnapping from a public place, the brutality of the rape, the extreme violence — all are hallmarks of an experienced, brazen killer who had escalated his behavior long before that crime.  If Alcala conformed to typical patterns (and there’s no reason to believe he did not), he probably started sexually victimizing girls and women around the time he reached puberty, a full decade before he attacked “Tali S.”  That’s potentially a lot of unnoticed crimes:

His first known attack was in 1968, when he abducted a second-grade girl walking to school in Hollywood, using a pipe to badly bash her head and then raping her — only to be caught red-handed because a Good Samaritan spotted him luring the child and called police. When LAPD officers demanded he open the door of his Hollywood apartment on De Longpre Avenue, Alcala fled out the back. Inside, police found the barely-alive, raped little girl on Alcala’s floor. It took LAPD three years to catch the fugitive Alcala, living under the name John Berger in New Hampshire — where the glib and charming child rapist had been hired, disturbingly, as a counselor at an arts-and-drama camp for teenagers.

Attempted murder, plus kidnapping, plus rape of a child, plus absconding.  Seems like he’d never see the light of day again.  Unfortunately, for future victims at least, pro-offender psychologists and other activists had so infiltrated the criminal justice system in California that the horror of Alcala’s crime was ignored by the courts.  From the moment he appeared in some California judge’s courtroom, he ceased to be a (failed) killer and child rapist.  He became a client and recipient of social services, a victim needing guidance, rehabilitation, “education,” and counseling.  It’s a soul-sickening travesty, one that deserves more exposure:

When Alcala was caught hiding out under the assumed name Berger on the East Coast [in 1971], a conviction for brutally raping a child in California was not a guarantee of a long prison sentence. California’s state government of that era had embraced a philosophy that the state could successfully treat rapists and murderers through education and psychotherapy.  The hallmark of the philosophy was “indeterminate sentencing,” under which judges left open the number of prison years to be served by a violent felon, and parole boards later determined when the offender had been reformed. Rapists and murderers — including Alcala — went free after very short stints. He served a scant 34 months for viciously raping the 8-year-old, who is known in official documents only as “Tali” . . . Deeply controversial, “indeterminate sentencing” was ended by then-governor Jerry Brown. But by that time, Alcala was free. . . . Retired LAPD Detective Steve Hodel, who investigated Alcala’s rape of Tali, recalls, “My impression was that it was his first sex crime, and we got him early — and society is relatively safe now. I had no idea in two years [he would be out] and continue his reign of terror and horror. I expected he was put away and society was safe. … It is such a tragedy that so much more came after that.”

“Education and psychotherapy.”  For raping and trying to kill a little girl.  It is important to understand that these highly educated “experts” were not simply trying to grope towards to some psychological discoveries that would only be discovered later.

Knowledge that murder is bad, for example, pre-dates 1971.

As I’ve written previously, I believe Alcala would have received a more severe sentence if he had just bludgeoned the little girl, instead of raping her and bludgeoning her.  I suspect the rape actually acted as a mitigating factor, turning him into a victim in the eyes of the people empowered to run our courts.  For when a prison psychiatrist found him “considerably improved” and ready for release less than three years after being convicted of attempted murder and child rape, that psychiatrist was undoubtedly referring to the fad psycho-sexual therapies in use at the time — and still being promoted by many academicians and practitioners today.  Like Dr. Richard Rappaport, Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, UCSD Medical School, San Diego, who testified in Alcala’s most recent trial that Alcala should not be held responsible for serial sex murder because he just can’t help enjoying . . . sexual murder.

#2: Parole Board Leniency, 1974

It takes two to tango: a judge who refuses to hold a sick predator responsible for his crime by giving him an indeterminate sentence, and then a parole board that decides the “rehabilitation’s taken.”  Who served on that parole board in 1974, the one that decided to cut Alcala loose?  I’d love to see the transcript.  If anyone would send it to me, I’ll post it.  This wasn’t some gray-area first offense.  I wonder why the media hasn’t sought out these people and asked them why they let Alcala go.  As public servants, the parole board members should feel obliged to revisit such a devastating error.  A year’s worth of such decisions would make interesting reading — and yet one more interesting corrective to mythic beliefs that our country is too harsh on criminals.

#3: Prosecutorial/Judicial Leniency, Not Believing a Victim, Failure to Punish Recidivism, 1974

After the parole board cut him loose, it took Alcala two months to get caught with another child.  Two months.  Or, possibly, less:

In 1974, two months after he got out of state prison, Alcala was found at Bolsa Chica State Beach with a 13-year-old girl who claimed he’d kidnapped her. He was convicted only of violating parole and giving pot to a minor, however . . .

A convicted, violent, child rapist is found with a 13-year old girl who tells police she has been kidnapped.  What happens next?  Somebody doesn’t believe the child.  Who?  The judge?  The prosecutor?

#4: Parole Leniency, 1977

Alcala served another short sentence, and was apparently declared “re-reformed.”  Then a parole officer cut him some breaks.  It makes you wonder: was there anyone, anywhere in California’s criminal justice system, outside police themselves, who harbored a negative attitude towards violent offenders?

[T]wo years later, upon his second release from prison, the law went easy on Alcala again. His parole officer in Los Angeles permitted Alcala, though a registered child rapist and known flight risk, to jaunt off to New York City to visit relatives. NYPD cold-case investigators now believe that one week after arriving in Manhattan, Alcala killed the Ciro’s nightclub heiress Ellen Hover, burying her on the vast Rockefeller Estate in ritzy Westchester County.Orange County Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy, who hopes during the current trial to put Alcala permanently on death row for Samsoe’s 1979 murder and the slayings of four women in the Los Angeles area, says: “The ’70s in California was insane as far as treatment of sexual predators. Rodney Alcala is a poster boy for this. It is a total comedy of outrageous stupidity.”

#5:  Social Leniency, 1977 – 1979: The Polanski Effect

It really does take a village.  Between the time Rodney Alcala was released from prison on his second child offense charge, and when he was captured after the murder of 12-year old Robin Samsoe, it seems that nobody he encountered (outside the police) felt it was right to judge him for — oh, little transgressions like trying to murder a young child he was raping, or being a suspect in several other murders, or being investigated in the Hillside strangler cases, or ending up on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list.  Surely, FBI agents and other detectives approached Alcala’s co-workers and employers when he was being investigated for these crimes; surely his family and friends and professional acquaintances knew about the rape and beating of the 8-year old child.

So why did the L.A. Times choose to hire him anyway?  Why didn’t his supervisors there act on the knowledge that he was circulating his home-made child porn to co-workers?  Why did the Dating Game producers allow a child-rapist on their show?  Why did Alcala have such success in high-end social circles, in the art world, and with celebrities such as Roman Polanski?  Well, that one’s pretty easy to answer.

Was Alcala’s social success, in fact, based on his status as a “sexual outlaw,” being “persecuted by the pigs”?  Such was the argot in newsrooms and art circles, after all.  Funny how all the people who knew him then are so tight-lipped now: it sounds as if he really got around, between slaughtering young women:

1977  Ellen Hover, Jill Barcomb (18), Georgia Wixted (27)

1978  Charlotte Lamb (32), Monique H. (15), Jill Parenteau (21).  And more to come.

#6: Yet More Judicial Leniency, and Help From Mom, 1979

Another kidnapping and rape, another lost chance to get Alcala behind bars.  The police catch ’em and the courts let ’em go, leaving two more girls dead.  This type of behavior from the bench, sadly, continues today:

Alcala’s alleged reign of terror might have been halted in early 1979, when a 15-year-old hitchhiker called police from a motel in Riverside County to report she had just escaped from a kidnapper and rapist. Although Riverside police quickly charged Alcala with kidnapping and rape, a judge set his bail at just $10,000, paid by his mother. While free, police say, Alcala killed 21-year-old computer keypunch operator [Jill] Parenteau five months later in her Burbank apartment. The killer cut himself climbing through her window, and prosecutors now say Alcala’s rare blood type has been matched to the blood remnants.  Six days after Parenteau’s slaying, Robin Samsoe disappeared, a child-snatching that sent fear rippling through safe, quiet Southern California communities. Samsoe’s friend Bridget told police the two swimsuit-clad girls were approached that day by a photographer who asked if he could take their pictures. The man was scared off by a suspicious neighbor, but shortly after that, Bridget lent Samsoe her yellow bicycle so that Samsoe could make it to ballet class. Samsoe was never seen again.  Detectives circulated a sketch of the mysterious photographer to the media, and a parole officer recognized his parolee Alcala. Twelve days after she vanished, on July 2, 1979, Samsoe’s skeletal remains were found by U.S. Forestry Service rangers. Alcala was arrested on July 24 at his mother’s house in Monterey Park.

#7:  Criminal Appeals, 1984

Alcala was found guilty of murdering Robin Samsoe in 1980 and was sentenced to death.  But that verdict was overturned in 1984 by the California Supreme Court.  The court found that the jury had been “unduly prejudiced” when prosecutors introduced information about about the rape and attempted murder of the 8-year old child in 1968.

Evidence of prior crimes is sometimes admissible at certain times, so long as the priors are materially similar to to crime being tried.  For instance, is raping and trying to murder an 8-year old girl at all similar to raping and murdering a 12-year old girl?  There’s a four-year difference in the ages of the victims there, and a higher success component on the whole “murder” thing.  I’m sure, however, that the California Supreme Court could not have overturned Alcala’s death sentence on such a frivolous distinction.  It must have been some other frivolous distinction.

#8: Criminal Appeals, 2001

This time, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals got a piece of the action.  They decided that, because one witness’ testimony from a previous trial was read from the stand without the witness being in the room, the entire second trial, which doubtlessly cost hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of taxpayer dollars to re-try, simply had to be tossed out because of this.

What’s the matter with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals?  Richard Posner says they’re just too large for their own good, with too many different justices thinking together, and he’s got a well-known large brain that thinks in perfect unison with itself.  Me, with my quotidian little intellect, I think they just never saw a serial killer appeal they couldn’t bleed for, since they don’t have to, like, literally bleed, like the victims.  Not a very elegant argument, I know, but maybe it would pass muster before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

#9: Alcala’s Exclusive Access to the Courts, 1979 – 2010

With his denim pantsuit aesthetic and not-very-bright courtroom performances, Alcala doesn’t really present as a brain trust.  But he doesn’t need to be one.  And defendant can tie up the courts — and further devastate victim’s families — with frivolous lawsuits and endless appeals designed to catch certain activist judges’ eyes:

Alcala has spent his time behind bars penning You, the Jury, a 1994 book in which he claims his innocence and points to a different suspect; suing the California prisons for a slip-and-fall claim and for failing to provide him a low-fat diet; and, according to prosecutors, complaining about a law that required he and other death-row inmates to submit DNA mouth swabs for comparison by police against unsolved crimes. Alcala is still as cocky as ever — bold enough to represent himself in the trial for his life, now unfolding in Orange County. And why not? He has a talent for mining legal technicalities and has repeatedly enjoyed success with appellate judges.

Orange County prosecutor Matt Murphy likens Alcala to a video game villain that keeps coming to life and says that the appellate courts have hit restart on this real-life murderous villain’s rampage through the system. The families of the victims as well as those close to the investigation criticize the decisions as misguided political statements by justices who opposed the death penalty and ignored the facts of the case. For Murphy, who tried the latest Samsoe case, each decision to overturn stripped away more evidence from his arsenal against Alcala. And for Robin Samsoe’s family, the legal setbacks have altered the course of their lives, ripping through like aftershock upon aftershock following a devastating earthquake. . . Samsoe’s mother [Maryanne Connelly] spoke eloquently about the hardships she has endured in the 31 years since her daughter’s murder, waiting for justice that never came. . . Meanwhile, her daughter’s killer has spent most of his life in prison, and has perfected the art of working the system to his advantage, filing lawsuit upon lawsuit when he felt his rights were violated while in custody – such as a civil suit against an investigator who did not respond to a request for discovery within 10 days. In fact, a contempt case against the Orange County Jail is still pending. . . Connelly wonders where her rights were, while the man who killed her daughter became comfortably institutionalized. This inequity has become the rallying cry of all the victims’ families, as well as victim’s rights advocates, who say the system has coddled a vicious killer while failing victims’ loved ones.

If the victims’ families had the same rights as Alcala, they could sue him for mental cruelty.  Where such a trial could be held is a difficult question, because his co-defendant would be the justice system itself.

#10: Turning the Courtroom into His Last Killing Field, 2010, and Beyond

“He was blowing kisses at me across the courtroom, and I thought I was going to lose my mind,” Connely said. “And I thought I was going to go crazy, you know. And I reached into my purse and I was going to grab it, you know, and I thought, ‘I can’t do this.'”

That’s Marianne Connelly, speaking recently about Alcala’s 1980 trial for the murder of her daughter: back then, she once brought a gun to the courtroom to shoot Alcala.  I doubt anyone would have blamed her then, and they certainly wouldn’t blame her now, after thirty more years of sitting in courtrooms watching Alcala toy with her, and other victims, for fun.

Where was the judge while Alcala was blowing kisses at his victim’s mother?  Did that judge feel his hands were tied, thanks to our perverse appeals system?  Or did he simply not care?  Why did he allow the defendant to behave that way?

This unique, public humiliation and torture of crime victims is one thing that has not changed in 30 years.  From the most recent trial:

Robin’s brother Tim Samsoe, 44, said the worst thing was watching Alcala perk up in court every time he got the chance to see old photographs of his alleged victims.  “You see the gleam in his eye,” said Samsoe. “He’s enjoying this again.”

According to prosecutors, Alcala always enjoyed torturing his victims:

[Orange County Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt] Murphy told the packed courtroom that Alcala took his time terrorizing his victims by choking them with his bare hands, waiting for them to wake up at least once, then strangling them again — sometimes using shoelaces or panty hose. “It is a staggeringly horrific way to die,” exclaimed Murphy. “There is ample evidence the women put up some resistance….He gets off on it. It was fun.”  Once they were dead, Alcala allegedly [he has since been found guilty] would then pose their bodies.

Now the only victims he has access to are the relatives of the women and children he killed:

Robert Samsoe, who was 13 when his little sister was slain, tells L.A. Weekly, “I don’t have any faith in the system. Some people, they are just afforded all the chances in the world. Alcala has cost the state of California more than any other person because of his lawsuits. And they treat him like a king. Everybody is walking on pins and needles around him.

Alcala dragged out his latest trial for weeks, representing himself, attacking victims, rambling on and enjoying himself.  If this judge felt he simply had no power to prevent such behavior, he should now take steps to do something about the warped system of which he is a part.  When is enough enough?

At the trial’s close, Alcala forced family members to listen to a recording of Alice’s Restaurant, a move that nearly drove one columnist to violence.  Frank Mickadeit, of the OC Register, wondered how family members could hold themselves back:

To make the family and jurors listen to somebody, even Guthrie, sing: “I wanna kill. Kill. I wanna, I wanna see, I wanna see blood and guts and veins in my teeth”? I guarantee you, that made nobody in the room think about how horrible Alcala’s death might be, as was apparently his intent. . . In all the years I’ve covered trials, I’ve never once wanted to personally wreak vengeance on a defendant. I can dissociate along with the hardest of professionals. But at Minute 50 on Tuesday, Murphy got me to go to that unprofessional place, where the father, brother and uncle lives.  I think it might have been one young woman’s morgue-photo – a head that was missing a third of its face because Alcala had bashed it away with a rock.  I stared hard at the back of Alcala’s tan sports coat, where the collar met the unruly mass of gray curls that cascades down his back (Arlo-like, if you must know), and I thought hard about that 15 feet between me and that thin neck. A cat-like leap, a bound, a forearm-lock, a snap – he’d never see me coming. The burly deputy sheriff between us would, though, so there was no chance even if I had indulged my momentary fantasy.  I looked to my left. Immediately across the aisle from me was Robert Samsoe, Robin‘s brother – roughly my age and size. He was wearing jeans, penny loafers and white socks, and I could see his right foot tapping nervously during these last 10 minutes of Murphy’s closing. The photo of another victim, her lower lip torn away, flashed up. Murphy hadn’t even begun recounting Robin’s death yet. . . Mercifully, there are no morgue photos of Robin, at least not in the sense that there are of the other murder victims. When they found Robin, just a skull was left – albeit a disfigured one from where Alcala had bashed in her teeth.  Robert Samsoe didn’t leap out of his chair and break Rodney Alcala’s neck, as part of me would have like to have seen.

Of course he didn’t.  The victims figured out long ago that they are not actually people, with human rights, including the right to dignity, in the eyes of the law.  The only person in that courtroom whose rights were being protected was Rodney Alcala.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Rodney Alcala: The Forrest Gump of Sex Murder. And What That Says About the Rest of Us.

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Yesterday, serial killer Rodney Alcala was sentenced to death for the third time for the 1979 murder of 12-year old Robin Samsoe.  He was also sentenced for the torture-killings of four other women.

Today, the media is reporting brief, painful snippets about the five victims.  Many other victims are believed to exist.

Tomorrow, Alcala will undoubtedly begin appealing the sentence again.  Why not?  The taxpayers of California pay his legal bills: his lawyers have grown fat over the past three decades, helping a serial killer play games with the appeals process.   The victims have spent lifetimes sitting in courtrooms watching him toy with their loved ones’ memories.

Perhaps the worst part of this story is the role played by certain culturally powerful people who knew about some of Alcala’s most vicious crimes but still allowed him get out of prison or provided him with the cover of social credibility.

Had Alcala been put away for life after he was caught, in 1968, in the act of raping and beating an 8-year old girl, his later victims — Georgia Wixted, Jill Parenteau, Charlotte Lamb, Jill Barcomb, Robin Samsoe, and others — would be alive today.  But in 1971, at his sentencing, the state of California decided that Alcala deserved another chance.  They gave him to just a handful of months for the crime, practically letting him walk free for the near-murder of an 8-year old.  The child survived only because police broke into Alcala’s house while he was beating her head in with a steel pipe.

This sentence is a perfect illustration of the theory that, until recently, predators actually received lesser sentences when they sexually violated their victims.  I believe Alcala would have gotten a much longer sentence if he had merely tried to kill the child, without raping her, too.  In the therapeutic environment of the 1970’s justice system, being a sexual offender was literally an excuse for lawbreaking.  Sex offenders were to be pitied, if not slyly admired.

Anybody care to challenge that?

Rodney Alcala

Now for the weighty hangover of such indulgences. Investigators are asking anyone missing loved ones to look at this gallery of photographs that were in Alcala’s possession.  It’s not known how many women and girls he killed, so the photos may lead police to more victims.

You have to wonder why this wasn’t done decades ago.  The photographs have been in the possession of authorities since around 1979.  Perhaps if the state were not so strapped from subsidizing Alcala’s relentless manipulation of the courts, they would have a little more cash on hand to look for more of his victims:

Alcala has spent his time behind bars penning You, the Jury, a 1994 book in which he claims his innocence and points to a different suspect; suing the California prisons for a slip-and-fall claim and for failing to provide him a low-fat diet; and, according to prosecutors, complaining about a law that required he and other death-row inmates to submit DNA mouth swabs for comparison by police against unsolved crimes. . . He has a talent for mining legal technicalities and has repeatedly enjoyed success with appellate judges.

Astonishingly, after being convicted of the vicious rape and attempted murder of an 8-year old, making the FBI’s ten most wanted list, absconding, being sent to  prison, being released, then getting packed off to prison again for abducting a 13-year old girl, Alcala landed a job at the Los Angeles Times.  The newspaper is being quite circumspect on the whole serial killer recruitment snafu thing, but it was reported in L.A. Weekly.

You might think a whole building full of investigative reporters would have betrayed a little curiosity when a two-time convicted child rapist started flashing home-made child porn around their water cooler, particularly considering the fact that he was also under investigation for the Hillside Strangler killings at the same time.

You’d think so, but you would be wrong.  From the L.A. Weekly:

Even as the L.A. Times was publishing sensational articles in the late 1970s about the mysterious Hillside Strangler, who terrorized much of L.A. at that time, Alcala, who worked typesetting articles for that paper, was being questioned by the LAPD in relation to those very murders.  In an interview with the [L.A.] Weekly, Alcala’s former Times colleague Sharon Gonzalez remembers: “He would talk about going to parties in Hollywood. It seemed like he knew famous people. He kept his body in great shape. He was very open about his sexuality. It was all new to me.”  He brought his photography portfolio to show his Times workmates, she says, and the photos were “of young girls. I thought it was weird, but I was young, I didn’t know anything. When I asked why he took the photos, he said their moms asked him to. I remember the girls were naked.”

You don’t want to seem like you’re judging the man.

Gonzalez adds that she wasn’t “smart enough or mature enough to know” that she was looking at child porn. Yet incredibly, she describes how L.A. Times‘ management in the 1970s had a golden opportunity to turn Alcala in, but did nothing: “There were other people in the department who were in their 40s and 50s. The [Times] supervisor at the time — she saw it.” Instead, the reaction at the newspaper was, “We thought he was a little different. Strange about sex.”

Which L.A. Times managers knew about Alcala’s record? His impromptu workplace polaroid shows?  Good for Gonzalez for coming forward: does anyone else have a conscience?  Considering the paper’s current editorial stance opposing sentencing enhancements and measures to monitor sex offenders, it would be illuminating to know if any current editorial board members were among those who knew him back then.

Of course, doing nothing to stop child rape was in at the time.

It is actually hard to believe that Alcala was given a job at the Times despite his heinous record.  Was he given the job because of it?  There is no way they couldn’t know about his past: he was a registered sex offender, had made a daring escape and had been, you know, in the papers.  Were journalists actually so besotted with ideas about the illegitimacy of incarceration that they bought the idea that he had been . . . rehabilitated?

Had Maileresque outlaw mentality really eroded such giant chunks of the ethical hive?

Alcala studied film-making under Roman Polanski, too. I wonder what other passions they shared.

Hollywood pedophiles, media crusaders, rapist-loving parole boards, lenient judges, hip defense attorneys, art-world glitterati, The Dating Game (also post-child rape): this guy was the Forrest Gump of sexual torturers.

The most painfully comprehensive coverage of the Alcala saga is Christine Pelisek’s excellent series of articles in L.A.Weekly.  Read them and weep:

Dating Game Serial Killer Suspect Cross-Examines Himself Over His Hair

Orange County Prosecutor: Suspected Serial Killer and Dating Game Contestant Rodney Alcala Savagely Killed His Victims Because “He Enjoyed It.”

Rodney Alcala’s Final Revenge: Begged to Spare Victims’ Families At Trial, The Alleged Serial Killer Ratchets Up The Suffering

Rodney Alcala: The Fine Art of Killing: One Man’s Murderous Romp Through Polite Society

Orange County Judge Sentences Serial Killer and Dating Game Winner Rodney Alcala to Death

~~~

Tomorrow: Rodney Alcala’s Criminal Appeals

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.

The Guilty Project: Patrick Hampton

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From the Bradenton (FL) Herald:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1994:

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

1995:

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

1996:

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

1997:

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

2003:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s that saying about the definition of crazy?

Jonathan Redding, 30 Deep, the Blue Jeans Burglaries, the Standard Bar Murder, and Disorder in Atlanta’s Courts

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Jonathan Redding, suspect in the murder of Grant Park bartender John Henderson, suspected of firing a gun in an earlier armed robbery outside the Standard (Why isn’t it attempted murder when you fire a gun during a robbery?  Are we rewarding lack of aim?), suspect in a “home invasion gun battle” in which Redding shot at people, and was shot himself (Two more attempted murders, at least, if sanity existed in the prosecutor’s office), suspected member of the “30-Deep Gang,” one of those pathetic, illiterate, quasi-street gangs composed of children imitating their older relatives, middle-schoolers waving wads of cash and firearms on YouTube: Jonathan Redding is 17.

How many chances did the justice system have to stop Johnathan Redding before he murdered an innocent man?  How many chances did they squander?

In May, Fox 5 ran a chilling story about the 30 Deep Gang.  Deidra Dukes reported:

Police say 30 Deep is based in Atlanta’s Mechanicsville community. The gang reportedly popped up on their radar about three years ago, and recruits members as young as in middle school.

“They know that the juvenile laws are a little more lax than they are when they are adults so they get them to do so they get them to do more serious crimes between the ages of 14 and 16, they won’t get into as much trouble,” said Harper.

Everybody knows this.  Everybody knows that there are 14-year olds waving guns on the streets and 16-year olds committing murder.  How can they not know, when there is video evidence of it, not to mention the bodies?  Spend a few minutes on YouTube watching the videos in which young men identify themselves by their housing project, some by the names of housing projects that were torn down but have managed to survive in the imaginations of eighth-graders as places where life was good in direct, not inverse, proportion to violence and chaos.

Look at the apartments these kids live in, that appear in the videos: they have little cathedral ceilings and nice fixtures, but nothing else — no beds, just mattresses, no pictures on the walls.  Nobody is starving: this is cultural poverty.  These are children: they take pictures of themselves in their classrooms, pictures of the school bus, then, inevitably, pictures of wads of cash and guns and little groups of kids who would have a hard time reading Goodnight Moon throwing gang signs with their hands.

What never ceases to amaze me is that I went to college with people who looked upon this stuff as romantic, not tragically stunted.  From the first time I walked into an apartment like the ones on these videos, I could see that what we were doing wasn’t working, if this was the result.  And yet people still debate this, as if there is anything left to say in the face of such colossal ignorance, and violence, and wasted lives, subsidized by us.

For the last year, the Mayor, the Police Chief, the usual editorialists and academicians, have all been denying that any of this is a problem.  One Jonathan Redding is one too many, but the powers-that-be, even at this late and tragic date, want to punish the public for daring to say this out loud.  If voters don’t reject this status quo next week, it will be a shame.

~~~

Jonathan Redding’s defense attorney is laying the groundwork to claim that her client’s profound ignorance is some type of defense — that he “doesn’t understand” the charges against him.  His life was empty, nihilistic, wasted, violent: this is an argument in favor of him.  Such routine suspension of disbelief in favor of defendants, and the rules of evidence that block the search for truth at every turn, are in Redding’s favor from now on.

It is not believable that Jonathan Redding is such a naif in the courtroom.  Some prosecutor or judge let him go, over and over — first as a truant, then as a juvenile, then as “just a robber” or “just a kid breaking into cars,” or “just a member of the gang stealing blue jeans.”  Now he is lucky to be alive, having been shot, and he is facing a lifetime in prison, and John Henderson is dead.

“They know that the juvenile laws are a little more lax.”  Our justice system has tied its own hands in a thousand different ways, and the judge wants Redding to testify before a Grand Jury, to give up names.

Who are we kidding?  Nobody in the juvenile justice system, nobody on the police force, knows who Redding was running with?  How many bites at the apple did they have with this kid?

Sure, put him in front of the Grand Jury; however, the Grand Jury is too little too late: plenty of people with authority to stop him knew precisely what Johnathan Redding was doing and who he was doing it with, but they didn’t take it seriously, and two more lives are over.  When will this price finally seem too high?

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:

Not So Funny: Project Turn Around

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So Al Sharpton, Andrew Young, Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard, and Fulton Superior Judge Marvin Arrington walk into a courtroom. . .

There is no punchline.  They walked into a courtroom to hold yet another courthouse special event for yet another group of criminal defendants who were having their crimes excused, who then failed to avail themselves of all the special tutoring and counseling and mentoring provided to them in lieu of sentencing, all paid for by us, the taxpayers.  What is going on in the courts?  Here is the press release from Paul Howard’s office:

On May 22, 2008, the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office joined by Fulton County Superior Court Judge Marvin Arrington unveiled a pilot program designed to clean our streets of rampant, unchecked illegal drug activity. With its innovative programming, this endeavor entitled Project Turn Around . . . [will] provide an opportunity for young drug dealers, with limited criminal histories, a chance to remove themselves from illegal drug activity . . . Project Turn Around is an intensive 12-month program that will provide these young men with drug counseling, G.E.D. classes, job training, family counseling, enrichment courses, life skills training and other social services. . . Fourteen young men, between the ages of 17-25 years old, were officially entered into the program on May 22 with an additional six more program participants enrolling within that same week.

To say that they did not change the landscape of Fulton County is apparently an understatement, according to this comment by a community member who volunteered to mentor the youths assigned to Project Turn Around.  In fact, the post by this person, who goes by “Nich,” challenges pretty much everything the D.A. said about the Project.  The comment appeared in an interesting Atlanta Journal Constitution discussion about crime:

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.

So the D.A. failed to prosecute — how many?  20 repeat offenders?  “Nich” also reports an extremely troubling exchange with another D.A.:

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?

The public deserves some answers from Paul Howard (not to mention Arrington):

  • How many of the 20 enrolled youths failed to complete Project Turn Around?
  • How many were then prosecuted for the crimes that brought them to your attention in the first place, as you pledged to do?  As is your job, for that matter?
  • How many of these youths were arrested for additional crimes while “enrolled” in Project Turn Around?
  • How many of those crimes have been prosecuted?
  • What were the actual arrest records for the 20 participants prior to their enrollment in Project Turn Around: what constitutes a “limited criminal history”?
  • Is it true that your office has a policy of giving minors multiple passes — 2 or 5 or 12 “get out of jail free” cards — before you actually bother to prosecute them?

And don’t forget these easily-overlooked questions:

  • Who got paid for this?  Where did the money come from?
  • Is this failed attempt at rehabilitation going to be evaluated and dutifully entered into the academic literature on the efficacy of alternative sentencing programs, or is the whole mess just going to be swept under the rug?

~~~

It isn’t just the Fulton County D.A. who stands accused of failing to bother to prosecute serious crimes: over at the blog Dekalb Officers, cops and others are weighing in about multiple failures to prosecute violent offenders in DeKalb County, too.  The pattern of complaints about Dekalb D.A. Gwen Keyes resembles the complaints about Paul Howard, and both are extremely troubling.  Here are just a few:

Thank Gwen for taking years to indict!! When you don’t even get an indictment within a year or two of the crime, what chance does the state have at trial?? Remember, it is the STATE who was to bring in all of the witnesses and evidence. Try finding reports, evidence, and witnesses years after a crime took place. The more time that passes, the easier it is to get a not guilty verdict. Why do you think defense attorneys in DeKalb rarely demand a speedy trial?? It only happens if their client is unable to make bond. If their client is out, they know every day that goes by is to the defense’s advantage. But our DA’s and Judges don’t care.  The dirtbag who dumped his baby son in the sewer committed an armed robbery and kidnapping at a business over a year ago. He STILL hasn’t been indicted!! Defense attorneys like to say, “Indictments don’t mean anything. You can get an indictment against a sandwich.” Apparently, not with our DA’s office!! They can’t be bothered to bring violent criminals up for indictment within a reasonable amount of time!

And:

Most cases are pending for years. They usually get NOLLE PROSCESS.

And:

Take a look at the recent arrest in DeKalb County of a worthless coward who killed three people, including a three year old child. The perp has 5 different felony arrests in his past. Some have multiple felony charges. Guess how many indictments he has? ZERO!! Way to go Gwen!! Maybe if you indicted him on ONE or TWO cases, that three year old child might be alive today!

And this comment, which makes the important point that police officers’ lives are particularly endangered when offenders face no consequences in the courts:

Detectives have a good phrase for the D.A. Office and the Judges…..they plead guilty and guess what ……..TIME SERVE AND PROBATION. They get a second chance to steal again or rob you with a gun.

~~~

There are many reasons why programs like Project Turn Around fail. One of them, surely, is the confidence offenders must feel in knowing that they won’t face real consequences if they don’t bother to follow the rules.  Every young man who entered that program apparently failed to complete it.  Did anything get accomplished, other than reinforcing the participants’ sense of invulnerability?

In the current courtroom culture, any program like Project Turn Around is just one more free ride.

But this particular initiative is even more troubling.  It appears to have encouraged offenders to view themselves as victims of the justice system:

During the unveiling of the program, Judge Arrington told the young men, “I want to make sure before I send somebody to jail for an extended period of time that I’ve done everything I can do to make them a better person.” In addition to hearing from the judge, the young men were addressed by the Honorable Andrew Young, former Atlanta mayor and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton.

First of all, it’s not Arrington’s job to “make people into better people.”  That’s a nice sentiment, one we can all agree with, but Marvin Arrington’s job is to enforce the law.

Second, what, precisely, was Al Sharpton doing there?  He has committed anti-Semitic and unapologetically racist acts, and his followers, encouraged by his rhetoric, have burned down businesses, threatened witnesses, rioted, and committed murders.  He is anti-cop, and his appearance at the side of Fulton County’s District Attorney sends a disturbing message to every police officer on Atlanta’s streets.

What’s the matter with Howard, in his position, agreeing to associate with the likes of Sharpton?

More mundanely, Al Sharpton has repeatedly demonstrated contempt for the justice system in cases filed against him.  After being found guilty of slander and defamatory statements in his false accusations of rape against a Dutchess County prosecutor, Sharpton disgracefully refused to pay the damages the court ordered him to pay.  The Federal Elections Commission found that he broke election finance laws — apparently with few consequences for him.

Most recently, he shockingly advocated for the release of four men who raped, sodomized and beat a Haitian immigrant in Miami, forced the woman to perform sex acts on her 12-year old son, and then doused them both with household cleansers and tried to set them on fire.

He went from that performance to Marvin Arrington’s courtroom a few months later, ostensibly to encourage young offenders to become better people.  What message did that appearance really send?  Something like this:

Don’t worry about following the law, because if you don’t, nothing will happen to you.  Look at me: I have no respect for the law and I’m rich and famous and on TV.  I hang out with your judge and your prosecutor, who admire me, even though I side with violent rapists and murderers and against the innocent people they torment.  You are the victims of an unjust system and deserve to be set free.

Is it any wonder that the young defendants did not bother to take Project Turn Around seriously?  No courtroom program featuring Al Sharpton should be taken seriously.  Of course everyone wants young offenders to be rehabilitated.  But the public deserves safety, and this is just craziness.

Marvin Arrington and Paul Howard are up for re-election in 2010.

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
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
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
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
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: 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.

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

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

                                             Theodore Dalrymple, in Not With A Bang But A Whimper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She cracks the following joke:

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

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

She cracks another joke:

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

Before admitting this:

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

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

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

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