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Significant Issues in Criminal Justice: California

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An exerpt from our department newsletter, CCJS News:

California has become a leader in the passage of laws and the implementation of policies that are a harbinger of change in other states and the federal system. While the merits of this are hotly debated, crime and its control are among the most contentious issues in politics and each year there are many issues that capture public and lawmaker attention. The following are certainly among the many important ones being discussed today.

Gun Control
Certainly one of the most significant national discussions relating to criminology and criminal justice has been the issue of gun control in the wake of mass killings in Newtown, Aurora and elsewhere and the recognition that death from weapons, accidental (e.g., and otherwise, is significant in American society.

Overall the discussion revealed the powerful role of money, lobbyists and the NRA in lawmakers' decisions to refuse to support any federal legislation. California continues to maintain its position as one of the leading states with controls on access
to high power weaponry and (most recently) appropriations for enforcing existing laws prohibiting certain categories from having weapons, but New York, Connecticut and Colorado have also passed significant legislation in the past few months. Amazingly, with overwhelming U.S. citizen support support for universal background checks on weapons purchasers, the attempt to even debate the issue was stopped in the Senate by mostly Republican opposition. There is no surprise that unfavorable public opinion of Congress is now at the lowest point it has ever been measured by pollsters (see PEW 2013 at Perhaps the move for concerned citizens today will be toward citizen initiatives where these are allowed (see, e.g., this discussion).

One of the biggest changes being felt at both the state and local levels is realignment, which is a direct result of the court ordered transfer of inmates from state prisons in California to county jurisdiction. There is a great deal of discussion about, monitoring of and related information about realignment underway in California.

The general issues posed by realignment are provided in the most recent issue of the Western Criminology Review at The latest updating on the monitoring of realignment is available through the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, which is directed by SSU's Dan MacAllair, at There is wide-ranging discussion about the topic at city, county and state levels (e.g., see the Public Policy Institute Report at; KQED's examination at; and the California Report at

Gay Marriage
The 9th Circuit Court struck down Prop. 8, which limited marriage to a man and woman, but the law was eventually upheld and subsequently gay marriage was upheld nationwide.

California Spending More On Prisons Than Colleges, Report Says

As mentioned before on this site, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, California spends much more today than it has on past on prisons than colleges. Here is the latest news article on this topic:

California Spending More On Prisons Than Colleges, Report Says. For example, "Over the past three decades, the number of inmates in California facilities has increased eight times faster than size of the overall population."

Prison Break

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The California Report's Prison Break is worth visiting. They have put together a video and three articles on realignment:

  • Were Counties Prepared for Flood of Inmates Under Realignment?
  • Prison Costs Should Drop With Realignment
  • LA Uses Realignment Funds for Re-Entry and Mental Health Programs
  • Television Special Preview

Registry of Exonerations


A common experience in teaching criminology, punishment and corrections is a denial that wrongful conviction ever occurs, or that if it does the individual in question had punishment coming anyway, or that when there seems to be an instance occurring it actually means that criminals are being let off for trivial technicalities. What do you do in these circumstances? The easy way is to accept the status quo--people who accept Fox television will believe what they see: that criminals are criminals and appeals should be abolished or severely limited.

As teachers, however, your goal is, among other things, to present facts openly and honestly, allowing students to see for themselves what evidence exists for the assertion that people are wrongfully convicted and how it is that they actually do spend lengthy periods of time in prison for crimes they did not commit. If only you had examples, students could readily see for themselves how and why it happens, how humans who participate in the process (prosecutors, defense attorneys, witnesses to crime, jailhouse snitches, aggressive interrogators, etc.) make mistakes, serious errors in judgement, lie or bend the truth, and how the entire system of criminal justice becomes a part of problem that needs to be fixed. Some obvious questions are "Where can you find data that impartially describes such cases?" "How many are there?" "Are they isolated instances or indicators of a systemic problem?" And so on.

Recently the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law and the Michigan Law School created and are updating a Registry of known U.S. exonerations since 1989. "Exoneration" means people are freed from prison who have been wrongfully convicted. You can go there and read the lives of people who have experienced this.

Reading these cases is an eye-opening experience. What you learn first of all is that the kinds of cases leading to exoneration is very narrow--people convicted of serious crimes for whom there is a particular kind of evidence that lends itself to judicial review. This is not a criticism; it simply means that many peoples' claims that they are innocent are ignored. You have to wonder how many cases there really are involving false conviction. Immediately you have to question how it happens so frequently. So many defendants (especially those with incompetent legal counsel) are faced with the horrific choice of either pleading guilty to a crime they did not commit for a short sentence or going to trial and facing extremely long sentences if they are found guilty; what kind of a choice is that? Along with that you learn that attorney incompetence is rampant, that eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable, that jailhouse snitches are often used in generating evidence to define guilt or culpability, that exculpatory evidence is overlooked or ignored by prosecutors, that forensic evidence is improperly used, inappropriately assessed, or ignored, along with many other issues.

As you look at these cases and see prosecutors making motion after motion after motion to dismiss the conviction charges that led to exoneration, you see crystal clear evidence that serious mistakes happen, again and again and again. In these days of mass incarceration, mandatory minimum terms, and widespread public belief that conviction and imprisonment are the solution to the crime problem, this is a useful site that points out the serious anomalies involved in using the existing criminal justice machinery to effect justice.

"Prison Realignment:" The Time Has Arrived

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The long awaited realignment in California has begun. The state of California now transfers responsibility for specific categories of less serious criminal offenders to county jurisdictions rather than state prison. Let us hope that it goes smoothly. Perhaps other jurisdictions could then see a viable way to reduce overused prisons and return offenders to local jurisdictions where they may have a greater chance of successful reentry. It is clear that many other states (and the federal system) have serious crowding and other problems, but it appears that California leads the pack in the size, extent and severity of the problems. If we have learned anything in California, it is that history can repeat itself: using prisons as we have to solve the problems of crime is an extraordinarily costly use of scarce public money that is highly likely to fail.

The colossal California prison failure has taken a narrowly defined federal court order (one that had to go to the U.S. Supreme Court) to change, which coincides with a financially broke state that has no money for teachers, roads, health care, and the like. So it's about time. Some of the nearly ten billion dollars that goes to the state's prisons--over eleven percent of the state's budget--should be reduced by $1.5 billion.

Observers estimate that almost twenty-six thousand would-be prison inmates will do time in local jails now instead of prison, which one would expect would be closer to home, job, family and perhaps even rehabilitation or job training programs. There won't be the rapid and wasteful "churning" of parolees.

There is a lot of speculation about the effects of the realignment on local jail capacity, crime levels, and the like. An editorial by our local paper says that it is an "experiment" and a "gamble." Much of the discussion statewide mirrors that that surrounded of the probation subsidy program of decades past: "Will the money for all of these inmates materialize?" (When and exactly how much are reasonable questions); "Will crime levels increase?" (Hard to imagine they could ever be as high as the recidivism levels of released prisoners in California); Can we develop effective local programs to manage our own criminal offenders? (What a refreshing question. Local experience in Napa County suggests that local programs can provide beneficial employment training, drug testing and yet have substantially reduced recidivism levels.)

Let us hope that the experience with realignment will be carefully studied by researchers. We need ways of rationally assessing the consequences of our policy choices rather than allowing such things as politicians with simplistic crime control agendas, pundits, and high profile cases to guide policy decisions. The last thing we need is the hyperbolic thinking that got us into this enormous problem to begin with, like that supplied our own Republican State Senator (Runner) commenting on realignment:

"Now is the time for Californians to get a dog, buy a gun and install an alarm system. The state of California is no longer going to protect you."

The 2010 Census: Where Do Prisoners Live, Anyway?

Recently updated. Originally posted in April 2010.

Have you filled out the 2010 Census form yet? What does this have to do with crime and corrections? Quite a bit once you think about it.
"Fixing prison-based gerrymandering after the 2010 Census: A 50 state guide" is a very important look at where prisoners are counted as living for the purpose of the U.S. Census. Since residence defines where representation and resources are supposed to be apportioned, and with two million people locked up and prisoners counted as residents of the institutions (cities/states) where they are housed, it can give an unfair representative advantage to jurisdictions with prisons. As researchers note, "communities that bear the most direct costs of crime are also the communities that are the biggest victims of prison-based gerrymandering."

As these researchers and advocates for change note, states can change the way the Census counts are used for the allocation of representation and resources society.

More recently, the state of New York has changed its laws dealing with this issue. See the editorial in the New York Times.

Now Gov. Jerry Brown has signed legislation (AB 420) mandating that prisoners in California will be counted based on their residence at commitment, not in the prison that they happen to be housed in, beginning in 2020. California is the fourth state to do this.

America's prison failure

On Dec. 6 the New York Times published an opinion piece worthy of note. In response to the California prison conditions case now before the U.S. Supreme Court, Schwarzenegger v. Plata. Federal oversight of California's broken system determined that population must be reduced by forty thousand inmates to provide adequate, but minimal, health care to inmates, who die routinely as a direct result of the the poor quality of care and a failure of the prison to respond to court orders issues to prevent these problems over the past couple of decades.

The editorial concludes: "America's prison system is now studied largely because of its failure -- the result of an expensive approach to criminal justice shaped by fear-driven ideology. California's prisons embody this overwhelming failure."

Public Attitudes on Crime and Punishment

PEW's just released study, National Research of Public Attitudes on Crime and Punishment, is must reading for people concerned with correctional reform in the U.S.

The study shows that voters want citizens and communities safe and want offenders to be accountable. In addition: "Voters believe a strong public safety system is possible while reducing the size and cost of the prison system."

The findings detail how much people are willing to release offenders from prison, the high priority they place on funding education over prisons, and how important people view preparing people who are released from prison (since 95% are) to become productive members of society.

Do the PEW findings apply to California? Some data suggests that the answer is yes. For example, the table below is derived from a random sample of Californians as of January, 2010 collected by the PPIC. It shows support for cutting various state agencies in California to reduce the deficit. The data show that nearly 70% of the California public supports cutting prison budgets to reduce the deficit. The public is, however, strongly opposed to cutting budgets in education and health and human services to reduce the deficit.


Crime and Victimization Data through 2009

People want to know how much crime there is. The data below have been taken from publicly accessible data sources identified in the tables below or in the text.

Police Data. Here are some police data generated from the Uniform Crime Reports, 2009.

Part I or Index Personal/Violent Offenses, 1990-2009:
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Part I or Index Property Offenses, 1990-2009:
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UCR reported offenses cleared by arrest or exceptional means, 2009:
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UCR Arrests, 2009, all offenses and jurisdictions (% of total computed):
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Justifiable homicides by police over time, by time of weapon:
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Justifiable homicides by citizens over time, by type of weapon:
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Victim Data. Latest data (see year on table). Here are some data from National Crime Victim Survey: Americans reporting on how frequently and what kind of victimization they have experienced, as well as whether or not they have reported it to the police. One recent report is Criminal Victimization 2008

Proportion of victims who do/do not report victimization, by offense:
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Why victims report victimization to police:
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Why victims do not report victimization to police:
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Dramatic declines in victimization, 1998-2008 (from Criminal Victimization above):
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Violent personal victimization by gender, race, ethnicity and age:
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Violent personal victimization by race, controlling for gender:
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Victim-offender relationship in violent victimization, by type of crime and gender of victim:
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Self-protective measures taken by victims of violent personal crime, by gender and race
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Property victimization by annual household income:
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Self report data. The third method of measuring crime is by asking those who break the rules. For reasons that are not entirely clear, these kinds of questions are often only asked of juveniles. Today one of the best known self-report program is called Monitoring the Future, which has been collecting data for thirty-six years. At present self report data are collected annually from 8th, 10th and 12th graders. Here's a small sample from the latest survey. A report overview (pdf) is available.

View table

Some data are available for juveniles and adults on illicit drug use. For example, the National Institute on Drug Abuse conducted a national survey in 2008 available at this link. The latest data are available in this report. The table below displays marijuana use level by age for the U.S. as a whole:

View table

Peace Officer/Correctional Officer Crimes Against Citizens/Inmates


The conviction of a peace officer for the killing of Oscar Grant raises the question of how frequently police are charged with crimes against citizens and what the outcomes of accusations are. The table on p. 5 of Crime in California, the California Attorney General's advance report on crime in California, shows how many times police in California were charged with crimes against citizens over the past six years. In 2009, 600 felony and 833 misdemeanor charges were leveled against officers by citizens. Fifty-one (8.5%) of the 600 felonies were "sustained," as were 101 (12.1%) of the misdemeanors. Click the table to enlarge it. An important question--not addressed in the report--is the meaning of "sustained" and the consequences of this for officers, departments and citizens.


Accusations against prison guards by inmates at this time appear to be far more hidden than accusations against police by free citizens. One would think that the California prison system would be far more open and transparent in its dealings with inmates given the sustained criticism of the operation of prisons but for varied reasons it is not. A recent Sacramento Bee investigative story discusses what happens to complaints filed by inmates in California prisons against correctional officers. Will this instigate more inquiry?

"Daniel Johnson, a recently retired state prison research analyst, was assigned in 2008 and 2009 to record information into a database from about 10,000 employee-misconduct appeals filed by prisoners over more than five years. He told The [Sacramento] Bee that virtually every complaint filed against a correctional officer was rejected by officials, including hundreds of appeals alleging physical abuse 'even when medical records supported the complaint.'"


In an update of an earlier report at the Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice, The California Miracle: Drastically Reduced Youth Incarceration, Drastically Reduced Youth Crime, authors Mike Males and Daniel Macallair examine whether adult and juvenile crime rates have changed in California as the incarceration of juveniles has dramatically declined. For the record, in the past thirty years the rate of incarceration for juveniles has declined by eighty percent. The answer (relax conservatives, don't sweat it politicians, take heart progressives): decarcerating juveniles has been a very good thing. As incarceration has decreased, crime among juveniles has decreased. For example, from 1980 to 2009, the felony crime rate among juveniles dropped sixty percent.

The study also compares the juvenile and adult experiences and looks at particular counties that have widely varying rates of incarceration.

This is an important reading in a state with staggering budget deficits and an over reliance on incarceration as a solution to crime problems. Criminologists will appreciate how the study directly addresses the meaning and implications of the results for incapacitation theory. These kind of results do not bolster SuperCell's reputation.

Congress has done the right thing

Today the House passed legislation that will greatly decrease the wide disparities in sentencing for crack and powder cocaine sentences. It will also repeal the five year mandatory minimum sentence for simple possession of crack cocaine. This comes on the heels of the Senate vote. The legislation now goes to the President. The issue of whether the changes will be applied retroactively is unknown.

This was bipartisan legislation, although one has to wonder whether it could ever have happened had Democrats not had the upper hand. It's the first repeal of a mandatory minimum drug sentence since the days of the Nixon administration. Various groups, including the Sentencing Project and FAMM have argued strenuously for reform of the laws.

Mental Illness: What Hath Been Wrought

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During the early 1970's in California Ronald Reagan decided to deinstitutionalize persons with mental illnesses. With legislative support that's what happened, and it was supposed to be somehow replaced with some kind of community care system and psychotropic drugs that somehow never fully materialized. Over the years many commentators and researchers have noticed the increased presence of persons with varied mental illnesses or dual diagnoses in prisons and jails.

The Treatment Advocacy Center's latest nationwide study on the mentally ill in confinement notes:

"In historical perspective, we have returned to the early nineteenth century, when mentally ill persons filled our jails and prisons. At that time, a reform movement, sparked by Dorothea Dix, led to a more humane treatment of mentally ill persons. For over a hundred years, mentally ill individuals were treated in hospitals. We have now returned to the conditions of the 1840s by putting large numbers of mentally ill persons back into jails and prisons" (emphasis in original).

Have you been to a local jail lately and checked out how many persons identified as having mental illnesses are there and how many of them are walking around with shackles? It's upsetting to behold, but when you put people in a jail and they don't behave, you do what jailers do. A sad part of this is that there are no bandaid, panacea solutions. Over 30% of women inmates, and a little over half of male inmates, have serious mental health problems, and Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca can say with authority, "I run the biggest mental hospital in the country" (cited in the above study, p. 4).

Clearly U.S. priorities and California's in particular are to criminalize problems that belong elsewhere. Criminal justice incarceration, here in the form of local jails, is one of the most inappropriate, expensive and least effective solutions around. The above study suggests that states with the greatest spending on hospitals for the mentally ill spend the least money on mentally ill inmates in prisons and jails. Moreover, mentally ill inmates cost a great deal more to manage than other inmates--and they stay longer (not surprisingly, many have trouble following institutional rules! After all, it is a place of punishment in form if not intent.).

This is one of those areas of criminal justice where it is very clear the form of our structured response to people in trouble (jail and shackles for the mentally ill) is inappropriate. Our society--through our leaders--has put all its money into a criminal justice solution to everything: we're now governing through crime, to use the title of Jonathan Simon's book, Governing Through Crime, a vital way of thinking about the mass incarceration response to crime today.

How can we get out of this mess? It seems advisable to decarcerate the mentally ill with soundly planned and executed community based alternatives designed to keep them out of jails and prisons and which do not infringe on their civil liberties. There are programs that work to do that. Mental health courts appear to have promise, as may other alternatives suggested in the report. The non-help, non-system, let them eat cake solution of Ronald Reagan doesn't work and the current policy of incarceration doesn't work. Moreover, in today's world, throwing psychiatrists at them will do little more than lead to drugs: in today's world, psychiatrists have moved away from talk therapy. (See Talk Doesn't Pay, So Psychiatry Turns Instead to Drug Therapy.) Instead, it's all about drugs and more drugs.

Today it appears that jails and prisons have become for the mentally ill what the juvenile court was in the early 1960's to juveniles having minor run-ins with the police: a solution of first resort. Edwin Lemert's angrily toned (and lengthy) report, Instead of Court: Diversion from Juvenile Justice, drew attention to the overreach of the juvenile justice system and suggested the importance of finding alternatives to formal processing. Since that time diversion programs, which have their own issues, have flourished and many states have decarcerated or completed closed their youth training schools (prisons for young offenders). The important lesson from research on these states' experiences is that with careful planning it is possible to decarcerate young offenders--as California has been doing--without increasing public risk and while providing people with the services and assistance to make them self-sufficient adults. Perhaps similar things can be done with mentally ill persons along lines suggested in the Treatment Advocacy Center report.

Collateral Effects of Mass Incarceration: the (non)Right to Vote

The loss of the right to vote because of a felony conviction under a de facto policy of mass incarceration in the U.S. means--translated into practice--that one-third of black men in Alabama can no longer vote. That is unbelievable. More will be added each year in that state and elsewhere as we continued to lock up massive numbers of inmates who are disproportionately represented by minorities and the poor. The NAACP has just completed a report on the general topic, "Free the Vote: Unlocking Democracy in the Cells and on the Streets." This is worth a close read and discussion. The question of whether disenfranchisement is inconsistent with the Voting Rights Act is an interesting one. See the recent opinion by Linda Greenhouse in "Voting Behind Bars."

Supreme Court Nominations

In these important times of U.S. Supreme Court replacements it is helpful to have a reference point for how the process is supposed to work. Try Supreme Court Nominations

1 in 31

PEW Center on the States, One in 31: The Long Reach of American Corrections provides the latest look at the reach of corrections in the United States. It documents the unprecedented growth in and costs of the increases in community and institutional corrections and points as well to ways out of the mess that we're in.

From 1 in 31:

For some updated statistics see this study from the Correctional Research Service.

Swine Flu - panic watch

For the moment, fears about the H5N1 avian flu--and related criminological issues--have receded while U.S. and other investigators look into the latest outbreak of Swine Flu. WHO and the Center for Disease Control appears to be on top of this and (as of June 11) a worldwide pandemic has been declared. The CDC is careful to say that "WHO's decision to raise the pandemic alert level to Phase 6 is a reflection of the spread of the virus, not the severity of illness caused by the virus." As of 6.25.09 there have been 127 deaths in the U.S. and its territories and a total of 265 deaths worldwide.

People are discussing primarily the flu in general and swine flu in internet forums. The figure below, created from BlogPulse, shows the trends in mention of swine flu relative to "flu" and "avian flu" on 6.29.09 for the prior six month period. It is notable that the June 11 announcement barely led to a slight blib in discussion.


Remain aware by reading regular updates from the Sonoma County Public Health Division.

The link below is one way to keep on top of official CDC information.

What, We Worry?

A recent article in the local newspaper, "Santa Rosa crime rate plummets," notes the dramatic drop in crime. It asks whether local citizens are safer than they were 20 years ago--an interesting question to ask when 'objective' indicators of crime clearly show dramatic decreases.

In light of this, we may ask, What is newsworthy about the drop in crime? In another entry, we reviewed some of the statistical evidence--using the most accurate measures of crime we have--which indicate that crime is declining dramatically--not just police data but also victim reports of crime and other sources. Moreover, there are steep decreases even though reporting of crime is improving. However, the truly astounding fact is that even though crime is going down, citizens are still afraid of crime and still believe that crime is going up. Year after year, the same pattern continues. How is that possible?

Here's data from Gallup on public opinion about whether a nationally representative sample of Americans think crime is going up. Believe it or not, even though crime continues to go down, as it has for decades, a higher percentage of people feel crime is going up than has existed for more than a decade. See the table here.

Here we are, one of the richest and most educated nations in the world, and many people are out of touch with reality. How is this possible? Why are people so afraid when they're safer now than they have been for decades?

Health Care of Prisoners

The Health and Health Care of US Prisoners: A Nation wide Survey, from the American Journal of Public Health, is the first study of prison and jail inmates health across the country. Not surprisingly, it shows high levels of serious illness and little available health care. The data were analyzed by researchers from Cambridge and Harvard for 2002 and 2004. Of the two million inmates, around forty percent (40%) report a chronic medical problem like asthma, diabetes, or ongoing heart or kidney problems. Their illness rate is thus much higher than free citizens of a similar age. A fifth of state prison inmates had not seen a doctor or nurse since being locked up; fully sixty-eight percent (68%) of sick jail inmates had not gotten nurse or doctor attention.

The problems of mentally ill offenders are equally sad, but incarceration appears to coincide with the pattern of existing mentally ill persons not receiving care to get something after incarceration. See the more recent post, "Mental Illness: What Hath Been Wrought."

These findings are disturbing but not surprising and serve as baseline information for development of public policy to address these issues.

IRS Audits of Large Corporations on Decline

We often hear about how large corporations are one of the greatest beneficiaries of lenient tax policies of conservative administrations. Now TRAC writes in an email, summarizing a study they just completed: "the audit rate for corporations with $250 million or more in assets has dropped to its lowest point in the last 20 years. The report...further shows that the IRS has shifted audit resources from larger to smaller corporations. In an unprecedented action, the IRS also is seeking a court order to bar future access to agency statistics that are essential for this report."

This report is certainly worth reading. It's not very long and filled with many details of interest.

1 in 100 citizens incarcerated

The latest PEW report made the headlines around the country as the U.S. became the first nation in the world to lock up 1 out of every 100 citizens. Even someone from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, could see that we are locking up too many people.

There is also an interview with the manager of the PEW Center for the States in the Washington Post.

This report, and the attention it has generated, reveals both the serious financial and social implications mass imprisonment has had on the U.S. and the utter stupidity and emptiness of arguments for a continued policy of mass incarceration.

This is, however, old news for us Californians. We've had a rate of incarceration over 100 since around 1988. See the basic data at the Attorney General's web site.

Sexual Victimization of Prison Inmates

The Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 mandated a self-report survey of prison inmates to determine the nature and extent of sexual victimization in prisons. The first wave of research has been done and a report has been issued: Sexual Victimization in State and Federal Prisons Reported by Inmates, 2007.

There are numerous findings of interest but only two are reported here: the percent of inmates in prison who have been victimized nationwide and in the California prisons sampled, and the nature of such victimization. Table 4 shows the percent of adult inmates victimized. The "Total" is for the U.S. as a whole. About 2.1% of prison inmates experienced an instance of inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization while 2.9% experienced staff-on-inmate victimization.

Click for Table 4

Table 6 shows the level of coercion involved for incidents reported in Table 4. The "Total" is for the U.S. as a whole. A partial glimpse of the problem of staff-on-inmate sexual victimization is revealed in these data.

Click for Table 6

For the definition of terms see the report.

New Jersey & the Death Penalty

New Jersey took the simple step of responding to the voluminous and weighty objections to the death penalty by repealing the sentence of death on Monday, Dec. 17th, 2008. The Governor declared it an end to "state-endorsed killing." They converted sentences of condemned inmates to life without possibility of parole.

In light of the fact that California politicians think it is political suicide to consider taking such an action, note this:

  • there is no grass roots effort underway to recall politicians in New Jersey
  • There is no call for the Governor's resignation
  • There is no strike by prosecutors, police or corrections officers who feel the death penalty is the answer to the crime problem
  • There is relief that the state will not have to worry about executing inmates who have an unacceptably high likelihood of being found factually innocent of the crime that they have been convicted of; nationwide, 2% of convicted defendants who are sentenced to death eventually have their sentences reduced or are exonerated
  • There is little or no controversy about New Jersey's decision to abolish capital punishment.
  • California, and the Pacific region, have much to learn from this experience.

    Is New Jersey a bellwether state? I may well be. It is the first in a generation to abolish the death penalty. There certainly is vocal opposition to the death penalty as such and many judicial systems are crippled by the controversy. Studies continuously show that the death penalty costs more to implement than life without parole, that it does not act as a deterrent (the U.S. has high homicide rates in states with capital punishment), that the U.S. is distinguished by being the only Western democracy in the world that still retains the punishment, and that public opinion--when measured appropriately--is moving toward abolition.

    Letter from a mom in prison

    This semester one of my classes read Sue Stauffacher's book, Harry Sue, to learn what young adults (and others) are reading about children whose parents are incarcerated. The book is written from the perspective of an eleven year old girl, who develops a world of prison in her daily life. The book provides insights into what young people are learning about imprisonment other than what they consume through mass media, especially television.

    In a separate venue, and available in pdf at through this link, here is a letter written by an imprisoned mom to her children:

    My dearest, my precious, my beautiful daughters,

    Hello sweethearts. Yes, it's me, I'm still alive, even though the break in my heart branches out and tears holes in my soul each and every day. Every second since the last time I saw my two beautiful daughters has been filled with agony. You are both loved beyond description. There truly is no possible way to put into words how very precious you both are to me. I know the both of you know deep in your soul how much I love you!!

    I am so mad at myself, in fact, at times I hate myself for letting you down. I didn't walk away from you. I was shoved away long before either of you were ever born by becoming a drug addict.

    On the days you were born, I held you up and looked directly into your eyes and swore with every fiber of my being that I would always love you and be there for you. And to always protect you, to see to it that you would never hate me for one iota of a second the way I hated my mother and father for all the mean nasty things they did to me, and the way they made me feel worthless. I would always try my hardest to make you both know how beautiful, special, sweet and awesome, smart and wonderful you are.

    I know a lot of people tried to make you believe that you two didn't mean as much to me as drugs. They were so wrong. Please don't believe that. I did drugs to keep from hurting deep inside my heart. And I've come to realize drugs don't make it better. It only stops the pain for a minute, then it comes flying back at you, twice as hard.

    Both of you meant everything and still mean everything to me. God gave me the opportunity, the beautiful moment, to be your mom. Not just your mother. Any woman can be a mother. But it takes love to be a mom. And I love you with every fiber of my being.

    Please don't think for a fraction of a second that it's your fault or that I didn't want you. Because that is not true. It was the drugs. I didn't do drugs, baby girls, they did me! And since you have been gone, not one day has passed that I didn't think of you, miss you or wonder if you were all right. I'm clean now. And I'm gonna stay clean one minute at a time.

    I look forward to the day you come home.

    Please forgive me! You can go to any courthouse and find me! Just tell them to look it up. It's in the paperwork from the court, the ones that took you away...they have to tell you!

    Love you with all of my soul!

    Your mother
    [name deleted]

    There are other letters and poems included in the collection.

    Unlocking America

    This latest report from the JFA Institute, authored by a distinguished list of contributers, entitled, Unlocking America: Why and How to Reduce America's Prison Population, is must read material for conservative and liberal citizens, politicians, students of crime and punishment and serious criminologists who know their stuff in the area of the effects of a policy of mass imprisonment. Given the extraordinary cost of imprisonment--and the concomitant lost opportunities to spend money on alternative, proactive ways of managing the crime (or other) problems--we should be asking important questions about the use of our scarce resources.

    Does imprisonment reduce crime by incapacitating offenders? Do rehabilitation programs provide the solution to the problems of crime? Does it make sense to lock up nonviolent offenders for long periods of time? Are current punishment levels consistent with what Americans want? If less severe (and less expensive) punishments have the same effects on recidivism as severe punishments, should we consider adopting them?

    This is a frank and honest approach to these and other questions. It is not the conservative or liberal drivel that permeates discussion about whether people should be locked up and for how long. It also speaks to the political community that is so lacking in this debate--people who represent most Americans, who want genuine, long-term solutions to our crime problems rather than the costly lock-them-up mentality of elected representatives who respond to political fires with tough-on-crime rhetoric and drive-by (enhanced) sentencing legislation.

    How could anyone not want to read a discussion about excessive punishment for crime that begins with such a quote from President Bush on 7.2.07:

    "Mr. Libby was sentenced to 30 months of prison, two years of probation and a $250,000 fine...I respect the jury's verdict. But I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive."

    Gambling in California

    California's Office of Problem and Pathological Gambling (OPG) has provided funding for the largest gambling prevalence study of its kind in California or the U.S. Over 7000 adult California citizens were surveyed using random digit dialing techniques with varied attempts to reach respondents. The 2006 California Problem Gambling Prevalence Survey is definitely worth examining.

    Given that states like California are gambling on gambling to help finance their tenuous state budgets, that gambling has a long history of being associated with varied social problems and crime, and that varied groups have huge financial stakes in gambling in California (and elsewhere), there's a need for information about such an important issue.

    The significant increases in gaming and gambling across the country and California have raised concerns about the increase of 'pathological' or problem gaming. How many people gamble or have gambled? How many of these have gambled recently and how many have varied levels of 'addiction' or associated problem behaviors? A very big question is: How does access to local gaming affect whether or not people engage in problem gaming? This study does a very good job of attempting to estimate the prevalence and incidence of gambling in California. The results should be of great interest to the debates about casinos and gaming.

    On p. 31 of the study (see link above) Table 3 (click here for popup) of the study shows that the frequency of gambling participation is not trivial.

    Did you know there is a the hot line for people who have a gambling problem (1.800.GAMBLER)? This study shows that most people don't.

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