Archive for the ·

The Sentencing Project

· Category...

Thanks to Modern Sex Offender Registries and DNA Databases, A Rodney Alcala Would Not Succeed Today

1 comment

Today, the lead story on all my local news stations was about a Schizu named Tuchi who saved his family from a house fire by barking incessantly at the flames.  Dog-saves-family-from-fire stories are always popular.

Not so popular, at least to the media?  Stories about how registering sex offenders saves lives.  There is only one story to be told about sex offender registries, according to the fourth estate, and that story is how registries viciously destroy men’s lives when all they did was commit one little sex crime and must now live forever under the cold eye of the state.

The corrective to such thinking is always just under the reporters’ noses, but most never seem to suss it out.  Rodney Alcala is one such corrective, but once you get past the fact that Alcala has a giant IQ and funny hair and was once a contestant on The Dating Game, the media (with one significant exception) seems to have lost interest in any lessons that might be learned from his long and shocking criminal career.

For the L.A. Times, studied incuriosity is understandable: after all, they literally allowed Alcala to operate under their noses — in their offices — after he’d racked up an incredibly horrifying, publicly recorded sex crime record.  I’d be busy changing the subject, too.

But what about everyone else?  Alcala is a poster boy for the efficacy of registering sex offenders and other demonstrably violent criminals.  Here is a guy who went from raping and trying to murder an 8-year old in California to working as a camp counselor in New Hampshire while spending weekends in New York killing socialites.  Sure, he did it under an assumed name, but when you combine fingerprinting and national registries and DNA database sharing, you come up with a pretty compelling explanation for the sharp reduction in sex crimes over the past twenty years.

And when you don’t bother to do these things right, what you get is a trail of raped and murdered women, from places like Venice (Florida) to Bradenton, precisely where I once tried, and failed, to prevent a similar trail of women’s bodies, eighteen years ago.

Things are better today.  But they won’t stay that way if we don’t recognize and acknowledge innovations that have actually lowered the crime rate.  Powerful, well-funded, pro-offender activist groups are always working to roll back the clock on things like DNA databasing and minimum mandatory sentencing and three-strikes laws and sex offender registration, and, sadly, they’ve got most of the print media yipping their agenda like so many toy poodles.

Real Recidivism *Update*

no comments

I received this interesting note from Dr. Greg Little (see yesterday’s post) explaining his research methods in more detail and discussing his findings:

Overall you present a good summary. But I can answer your questions. The study’s subjects all applied for entry into a drug treatment program (MRT) operated by the Shelby County Correction Center in Memphis, TN from 1986-1991. All were felons serving from 1 to 6 years. The control group was formed from a smaller number of individuals who were randomly excluded because of limited treatment slots. The treated subjects were randomly selected to enter…after all the subjects were placed into a pool of eligibles.

So both the study group and the control group were people who had applied to take part in a drug treatment program.  That solves the problem of self-selection, in a way, making the data on the effect of the treatment more reliable, for the main difference between the two groups would be the treatment program, and only the treatment program.

It makes me wonder about the recidivism rates for offenders who didn’t try to apply for the drug treatment program, though (not that you can get a recidivism rate much higher than 94%).  Were they simply not substance abusers?  Were they excluded because of behavioral issues such as violence?  Additionally, felons serving more than six years were excluded from the study, so we don’t know the recidivism rates for them.  Undoubtedly, members of that group include the sorts of violent criminals whose propensity for recidivism is most worrying.  And offenders serving less than a year weren’t counted either.

None of this is to say that the study isn’t valuable, nor that the researchers here are misrepresenting their findings.  But it’s important to be aware of the difference between what a study proves and what it cannot prove.  Too often, the media ignores this difference.  And when the research is conducted by activist organizations with anti-incarceration agendas (not the case here), like the Pew Foundation, or the Sentencing Project, the claims they make are often extremely unreliable.  At best.

Dr. Little continues:

There were no differences between the treated and control groups. There have been about a dozen prior published studies in peer-reviewed journals on these groups covering their time periods from 1 to 10 years after release. We were interested in what honestly happens to these people after 20 years of release. The local government, which we are not affiliated with, supplied the data.

You are correct that the authors (I am the senior author) are engaged in starting programs that reduce recidivism. We all make our living in criminal justice, we are all long-term professionals, and I have been in the field since 1975. All rearrests, only with minor traffic charges excluded, were collected as were all reincarcerations. The criminal justice system has always supplied misleading statistics, and that’s something we have battled for decades and have included such ethically-challenged issues in our textbooks and articles. There is a difference between what could be called “accurate” and what is “true” or “honest,” and we wanted to present a true and completely honest picture of what happens after 20 years. The data were, quite frankly, highly disappointing, but also somewhat encouraging. The real point is that there is a proportion of offenders that will return after their release no matter what we do. Right now, reducing those rearrested from 94% to 81% after 20 years is the best anyone has found. Reducing the reincarceration rate (which is rearrest, conviction, plus new sentence) is from 82% to 61%, also the best ever found. It means even using the best treatment known currently, 81% will be rearrested and 61% will still be reincarcerated. Without using that method, 94% are rearrested and 81% are reincarcerated.

The link to the original full article can be found here:
http://www.i-newswire.com/what-happens-over-twenty-years/21666

As I wrote yesterday, I don’t oppose realistic rehabilitation efforts (who would, really?).  What I object to is using substance abuse as an excuse for crime, which results in untold numbers of offenders escaping punishment simply because they say they’re helpless addicts.  And that doesn’t do anyone, including them, any good at all.  Nor does it help to romanticize criminals, or encourage them to believe that they are victims of society, as so many rehabilitation programs do.  Changing Lives Through Literature, for example, seems less about “rehabilitating” offenders than convincing them that their own convictions were unjust (see here and here).

Unfortunately, such anti-incarceration activists (who are currently in force in the Justice Department, in academic departments, and, of course, in the rehabilitation industry) never change their tune, no matter the evidence presented about the inevitability of re-offending.  Their first line of defense is claiming that recidivism rates are not nearly as high as many believe.  But hand them a 94% re-arrest rate, and they will say it’s proof that prison doesn’t work.  If we never incarcerate anyone, the line goes, then there will be less crime (thank goodness they’re not in charge of the laws of gravity).

A few years ago, I ran into a former co-worker who attributed his ability to kick a cocaine habit to a long sentence behind bars.  He never would have stuck with drug treatment, he told me, if he had not been incarcerated.  Then he listed other co-workers we knew who died young.  He considered himself lucky.  The so-called drug war, and stiff sentencing, doesn’t get enough credit for saving lives.

What do we do with a 94% re-arrest rate?  There’s no one good answer.  But one thing we definitely should not do is keep pretending that all that crime doesn’t really exist.

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

no comments

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

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

In other words, getting out of jail.

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

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

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

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

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

800px-NYC_murders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 comments

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

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

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

See my previous post on the article here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks, John Irwin.

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

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

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

1 comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not true.  Not even a little bit true.

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

318 is 5.5% of the current state prison population.

But wait, we’re just getting started!

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

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

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

But wait, there’s more!

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

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

But wait, there’s more!

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

But wait, there’s much more!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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