Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

In late March, Texas Governor Rick Perry sent a letter to the Department of Justice (PDF) bemoaning the fact that his state would have to comply with key provisions of federal legislation intended to reduce sexual violence in prisons and jails.  This federal legislation–the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA)–was passed back in 2003, and ten years of effort have been put into researching and refining rules related to its implementation.

Image courtesy of tiverlucky

Image courtesy of tiverlucky

Now it’s time for states to come into compliance with the law, and Perry has taken the opportunity to play politics with its mandates instead of doing the right thing and making his prisons and jails safer for his communities.  The governor’s arguments against PREA implementation are not only myopic and disingenuous, but are also couched in the type of snark and sarcasm that so often passes for political discourse these days.

Let’s see what he had to say.

Point #1

The governor’s letter begins with this false claim:

The rules [of PREA] appear to have been created in a vacuum with little regard for input from those who daily operate state prisons and local jails.

In fact, the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (NPREC), which was created by the PREA legislation, sought input from correctional officials at all levels of the system for years before implementation of the law began. According to the NPREC:

The NPREC was a bipartisan panel created by Congress as part of the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003. The Commission was charged with studying federal, state and local government policies and practices related to the prevention, detection, response and monitoring of sexual abuse in correction and detention facilities in the United States. Consistent with the Act, the Commission’s recommendations are designed to make the prevention of rape a top priority in America’s jails, prisons, lockups, juvenile facilities, and other detention facilities. The commission submitted its report to the President, Congress, The Attorney General, The Secretary of Health and Human Services and other federal and state officials on June 23, 2009.

Representatives from Perry’s own state department of corrections have even gone so far as to praise the federal government’s efforts to gather information about local prison and jail operations as part of developing implementation rules:

…during one of several public comment periods, Texas corrections department head Brad Livingston wrote to the Department of Justice in 2010, “it is apparent the Department of Justice gave careful consideration to the comments submitted by many interested parties during 2010, the TDCJ has few issues relating to the proposed national standards.”

Far from being created in a vacuum, the opposite appears to have been the case. To claim now that the state cannot comply because of a lack of input by correctional experts is disingenuous, to say the least, and an outright falsehood in the worst case.

Point #2

The governor goes on to contend that his state is leading the effort to reduce sexual assaults in prisons through its Safe Prisons Program:

Since 2001, TDCJ [Texas Department of Criminal Justice] has started the Safe Prisons Program, created and tested zero tolerance policies, added additional video surveillance, established a PREA ombudsman and developed comprehensive sexual assault training for staff and offenders.

The sad fact is that Texas prisons are among the least safe in the country today. Based on data collected from 2009 to 2011 as part of PREA, the Bureau of Justice Statistics found one correctional unit in Texas as having the highest rate of sexual assault in the United States, and five other Texas prisons or jails as being particularly violent as well – a higher number than any other state in the survey.

Point #3

Next, the governor asserts that he is under “threat of criminal penalties” if he does not certify that all jails and prisons in his state are in compliance with PREA’s requirements by May of this year. This is another disingenuous statement, given that he does have other options under the law. According to the National PREA Resource Center:

Pursuant to the PREA statute, the governor has three options: 1) submit a certification that the state is in full compliance; 2) submit an assurance that not less than five percent of its DOJ funding for prison purposes shall be used only for the purpose of enabling the state to adopt and achieve full compliance with the PREA standards; or 3) accept a five percent reduction in such grants.

He is looking at losing funding if he doesn’t comply, but he could choose to simply assure that a portion of federal funding his state currently receives for prison operations could be used to bring facilities into compliance. That doesn’t sound like a threat. It sounds like a reasonable measure to help states improve their practices.


It’s pretty clear that all this is just political grandstanding. Instead of taking his obligations seriously in this area, Perry is choosing to turn his correctional system into just another opportunity to score political points with his base. Ironically, he is also choosing to operate a correctional system that is incredibly dangerous, not only to the inmates it confines, but to the public at large, including his political supporters.

One of the driving forces behind PREA is the idea that the chances of successful inmate rehabilitation are significantly reduced when inmates are subjected to sexual violence while incarcerated. Considering that Dallas and Houston are perennially among the top ten cities with the highest rates of crime in the country,  as is the state of Texas overall, you would think that rehabilitating offenders, and reducing the likelihood of them engaging in repeated criminal behavior, would be a high priority.

Further, research on the benefits of preventing sexual violence in correctional environments also make clear that such efforts are important, not only on humanitarian grounds, but also because they can result in significant cost savings as well:

Prevention dollars, if appropriately targeted, save therapeutic intervention dollars. To capture these “savings,” however, inmate safety must be a top priority. Prioritizing safety requires the establishment of reasonable standards of safety and safety benchmarks for prisons, followed by measuring performance on safety accurately and reliably and reporting performance data in ways consistent with standards of transparency and accountability. Safe, humane prisons can be expected to yield immediate savings by avoiding the costs of treating the consequences of physical and sexual assault, and longer term savings if the people leaving prison are less impaired with emotional and psychological difficulties created by the prison environment.

Instead of wasting money on programs that apparently don’t work to reduce sexual violence in prisons (the Safe Prisons Project), and wasting time complaining to the DOJ about having to comply with PREA, the governor should set his sights on taking responsibility for what he is allowing to occur in his jails and prisons.

I’m just glad I don’t live in Texas.

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Image courtesy of Simon Howden /

Image courtesy of Simon Howden /

Graphic video was released this week of an officer-involved shooting by officers from the Albuquerque Police Department (APD). The video, which appears to have been taken by a police helmet cam, shows officers at the end of a nearly three-hour standoff with a man who was reportedly mentally ill. After several minutes, the man appears to turn away from the police and is then shot several times in the back.

Release of the video has lead to protests by local citizens concerned that this was an unjustified shooting and an excessive use of force against a vulnerable person.


What role does “character” really play anymore and what is its relationship to good policing? In our highly cynical, ultra-hip, post-modern society, the very word seems little more than a throwback to another era.  Modern technologies that monitor, document, and report our every move distances us ever further from the idea that “character” is an important concept to develop internally, even in criminal justice work.


When it comes to policing, data gathered by automated logs, dash cams, CCTV systems, body cameras, and other technological devices are often held out as a proxy for what are arguably internal processes alone. We can’t monitor a person’s thoughts or beliefs in real-time (yet), but we can monitor outward behaviors that make it easier for us to differentiate those we perceive as having character from those who we believe lack it.

And isn’t that enough? Do we really care about a police officer’s actual inner character as long as he or she lives up to the legal, ethical, and moral standards we expect?


Image courtesy of koratmember /

Image courtesy of koratmember /

Last week, the US Department of State released its human rights report for 2013, which offers up an assessment of human rights compliance and non-compliance in countries around the world. Secretary of State, John Kerry, had this to say about this year’s report:

Governments that protect human rights and are accountable to their citizens are more secure, bolster international peace and security, and enjoy shared prosperity with stable democratic countries around the world. Countries that fail to uphold human rights can face economic deprivation and international isolation. Despite that simple truth, these reports show that too many governments continue to tighten their grasp on free expression, association, and assembly, using increasingly repressive laws, politically motivated prosecutions and even new technologies to deny citizens their universal human rights, in the public square, and in virtual space.

The irony here, of course, is that our nation’s credibility is questionable at best on many of these measures. The NSA’s eavesdropping activities alone, as revealed by the Snowden leaks, have made it clear that our own government is willing to engage in legally questionable practices that have a chilling effect on free speech, freedom of expression, and the willingness of citizens to lawfully disagree with their own government. Eavesdropping, of the type that the government claims is legal and necessary, also erodes press freedoms enshrined in the US Constitution that are fundamental to the maintenance of a free and vibrant democracy.


Image courtesy of tiverlucky

Image courtesy of tiverlucky

In many of the corrections courses I teach, we frequently end up having some variation of the below conversation:

Student: We need to build more prisons because crime is increasing.

Me: Actually, crime isn’t increasing, and there’s little consensus that prisons work to reduce crime rates anyway. In fact, many who research the relationship between incarceration and crime feel that we’ve gone too far in our use of prisons, which has lead to overcrowding.

Student: But if our prisons are overcrowded, we need to build more.

Me: Or, we could stop over-relying on prisons as a primary way to deal with crime.

Student: But, if people don’t believe they’ll go to prison, they’ll just commit more crimes.

And on it goes.

I don’t fault my students, of course. They’re just learning about the system and how it works, and I expect them to bring their ideas about correctional practice to the classroom. I also expect them to challenge what they’re learning and to think critically about all of the new information they’re being exposed to in their studies.

It’s certainly no wonder that students are frequently convinced that a) crime is on the rise, and b) we need more prisons. Both of those points are commonly misconstrued in the media and, more significantly, by ill-informed politicians seeking to whip the public into a frenzy over crime issues as a way to secure funding for this or that pet project.

True, the evidence is somewhat mixed on whether or not prisons actually reduce crime. There’s some research showing that the incapacitating effect of imprisonment does reduce certain forms of criminal behavior.  The relationship between incarceration and crime rates is complex, though, which makes studying it quite challenging.

But some leading academics have pointed out the illogical elements of pro-prison arguments. On this point, Dr. Joan Petersilia of Stanford University wrote that:

…if there were a close correlation between crime rates and incarceration, the prisons would have begun emptying out in the late 1990s, when crime in most of its forms began to decrease.

As we know, that’s not what’s happened at all. Incarceration rates have soared to the point where the US  leads the world in the use of imprisonment. According to a report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (PDF), the incarceration rate in the United States (including both jails and prisons) was 920 per 100,000 residents in 2012, down slightly from the 1,000 persons per 100,000 rate in 2009.

The reductions in imprisonment rates is welcome, but will that translate into increases in crime as some fear? Not necessarily, at least according to a 2013 summary by the Pew Public Safety Performance Project. According to the below infographic that summarizes state data on 2012 imprisonment rates, 29 states simultaneously reduced both the rates of imprisonment and crime.


The Pew infographic also makes a direct comparison between data from two states (Maryland and Arizona) that both experienced more than a 20% drop in the crime rate but also had very different rates of incarceration. Maryland reduced prison use by 11% while Arizona increased their use by 4%.

This highlights the complex relationship between incarceration and crime rates – but the overall message is clear:  it is possible to reduce prison use without increasing crime.

In my opinion, we’re at a point where reducing our reliance on prisons is not only a good idea, it’s a necessity. We’re spending billions of dollars annually to house, feed, and clothe inmates, many of whom could be safely and effectively supervised in the community at a fraction of the cost. As Dr. Petersilia also noted in her article above, informal discussions with correctional administrators around the country have disclosed their belief that fully 10-15% of their current prison populations could be safely released to the community.

When we couple all of this with the advancements in evidence-based practices, such as Cognitive Behavioral Interventions, it becomes apparent that we now have tools that can indeed reduce our reliance on incarceration while also increasing our ability to successfully intervene with correctional clients in community-based settings.

What are your thoughts? More prisons, less prisons? Leave a comment and share your opinions below!

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Cyber-bullies come in all shapes and sizes, including, as it turns out, parents. This past week, someone posted the below photo (which was anonymized for this post) to a social media site that shows a child holding a handwritten sign about having to sell her iPod and donate the proceeds to a bullying organization.

There wasn’t much further explanation, other than the caption: “Mom catches daughter cyber-bullying,” but the obvious conclusion is that this was punishment, meted out by a parent, for the child’s bullying of someone else.

Bullying blur

Predictably, comments by those who viewed the picture ran the gamut, from constructive feedback to out and out trolling. Here are some examples:

How to teach your kid to not be a cyber bully: post a judgmental photo of her on the internet so people can see how bad she is.

It’s not like she regrets it, the only reason this is happening is because she got caught.

Children are little people; monstrous but small. They must be taught empathy to be socialized. Sometimes that’s through poetic justice.

Somehow I’m not convinced that she’s really kind or caring person.

Humiliating your child to teach her not to humiliate other children? Gee, I wonder where she gets it!

I hesitate to criticize a parent for doing what she thinks is best when it comes to disciplining her own child but, in my opinion, publicly shaming someone in this way goes beyond parenting and strays into its own unique form of cyber-bullying.

And, the consequences of bullying run deep. Psychological, physical, emotional, academic, and other consequences can result. Research even shows that both bullies and bullied children are more likely to engage in violence later in life.

So, there’s every reason to stop children from bullying one another. But, bullying your child to teach them not to bully is setting that child up for failure and even more problems down the line.

Have a safe weekend.

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It’s been a great first year, and I want to thank all of you for taking the time to read, post, comment, share, and otherwise support this blog. I especially want to thank for all the reblogs of our content and the comments they’ve shared over the past months. Much appreciated, friends. You can read their blog here.

Image courtesy of jannoon028 /

Image courtesy of jannoon028 /

Our blog began simply as an information project, primarily to help my students. I referred them here for more info on topics that commonly came up in our discussions and the other work we were doing together. Not only was it helpful to them, and a springboard for further discussion and learning, but I soon found that other people were interested in these topics as well.

That lead to additional topics, some guest posts, experiments with different approaches, and even a shot at a podcast (I plan to revive that in the new year). We also upped the game with a new and improved research blog, also supported by the company that sponsors this blog – Æquitas Educational Services – and a new weekly news site for parents: Social Web Safety.

Our Blog — Æquitas Educational Services 2013-12-14 08-28-44

So, to wrap things up, I’ve pulled together the top ten posts from Crime & Justice in terms of views, comments, and reblogs for 2013. I look forward to another year of growth and experimentation in 2014, and we’ll continue striving to provide you with the types of content you’re seeking.

If you have suggestions, story ideas, or just some feedback you’d like to share, let me know. And, as always, please spread the word about our blog and what we’re up to.

Top Ten Posts of 2013
  1. How Many Innocent People are in Prison?
  2. Why do Non-violent Felons Lose the Right to Bear Arms?
  3. Female Sex Offenders – Hidden in Plain Sight?
  4. Compliance with Authority and The Strip Search Prank Call Scam
  5. What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?
  6. The Legal System’s Non-Response to “Revenge Porn” (Updated 11/7/13)
  7. Friday Crime Vids – The Failed War on Drugs
  8. Why Therapeutic Jurisprudence?
  9. Does Privacy Still Matter?
  10. Kratom – Wonder Drug or Potential Health Threat?

Thanks again, and have a happy and safe holiday season!

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Working in the criminal justice field hasn’t always been a high-skill occupation. In fact, early police forces were generally comprised of minimally trained volunteers or, worse yet, reluctant community members drafted to patrol the city’s streets.

The same was true of early correctional officers, or guards as they were called, who relied more on brute strength, personal toughness, and a certain amount of violence to get their work done than on any other skill set.

The work was not only dangerous and thankless in many respects, it was much less regulated, less public, and far less technical than it is today.

Modern criminal justice practitioners, by comparison, are anything but low skilled. The rise of technology in nearly all fields has contributed to a need for better educated and more highly skilled individuals who can take on today’s challenges.

Modern-day police officers, for example, carry a tremendous amount of technology with them while doing their jobs. Body cameras, firearms, tasers, pepper spray, communication gear, not to mention all of the technology carried in modern squad cars, have all become standard.

Likewise, correctional officers carry many of the same technologies, and also operate complex security systems, computerized inmate tracking programs, and other related technologies as part of their work.

But, it’s not just technology that’s driving the need for better education and skills – it’s also the need for strong interpersonal communication abilities, knowledge of research and its implications, and the ability to effectively navigate complex social issues that also drives the need.

According to an information paper by the Police Association for College Education, requiring college degrees for police officers has long been a matter of professionalizing the field:

Some 68 years ago Chief August Vollmer, the Dean of American Policing, called for mandatory college education for police officers. As society has become more complex, basic police qualifications have not maintained the same pace. If police officers are to be considered a profession in their own right, then a college education, the hallmark of a profession, must be mandated to better serve society. Departments requiring college degrees for officers have increased – not decreased – minority hiring. Establishing an associate’s degree requirement is a good start towards ultimately achieving the recommendation of several national commissions and the Federal Courts of a bachelor’s degree standard.

The same is true in other criminal justice fields, in which the ability to understand and use research has taken on increased importance. Probation and parole officers, for example, are using complex assessment instruments – such as the LSI-R, the Static-99, and the ASUDS – to evaluate offender risks and needs as part of case planning and supervision.

Likewise, those who work with juvenile offenders are using new tools, like the YLSI, to assess the unique needs that younger individuals have for intervention and rehabilitation.

Portland State University Online Bachelor’s Degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice

As a result, more police and correctional departments have been requiring a college degree of their applicants. But, even in jurisdictions that don’t require a college degree, many who apply do have some type of degree, which places those with less education at a distinct disadvantage.

I’ve long argued for higher standards for criminal justice practitioners, and a solid education is the first step in the continued professionalizing of the field and everyone who works in it.

If you’re interested in working in criminal justice, start by exploring education options and selecting a program that can help you meet your goals.

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It’s been a bit of hectic end to the week, but I wanted to share a quick post with you about some technology the police are planning to use in the future to stop fleeing motorists remotely using radio frequency (RF) radiation.

According to a recent article about the technology:

The new devices work not by frying a car’s electronics as military electromagnetic pulse weapons do, but by temporarily disabling them. “We want to disturb the car’s electronics so we can stop it, but we don’t want to break the car and leave it stuck on the motorway. And we don’t want to harm the occupants, nearby pedestrians or the police with the beam either,” says Macé. Drivers should not feel the beam – but they might hear something. “This is known as the Frey microwave hearing effect and consists of audible clicks… just a pop in the ear,” she says.

Police currently use manual technology, like stop-sticks, to deflate the tires of fleeing vehicles, but these are dangerous to deploy and have resulted in officers being seriously injured or killed.

What is a “Stop Stick”?

By comparison, RF systems allow officers to disable vehicles from a position of relative safety.

One of the leading systems is being developed in Europe, and there are plans for a prototype to be released there in the next couple of years. In the meantime, here’s a video of how this all works.

Demonstration of the RF Safe Stop system

Have a safe weekend!

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Several months back, I responded to a question on Quora about what I thought was the most dangerous drug in the world. Instead of just one, though, I settled on several drugs, partly out of confusion over some of the definitions. The answer seem to hinge on the definitions of the words “dangerous” and “illegal.”

“Danger” could be defined as the most physically harmful to the body if used chronically, the most likely to cause immediate serious injury or death, or the most damaging to society overall . Each definition may lead to a different answer.

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick /

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick /

Likewise, “illegal” may mean that the drug itself is not authorized by law, or it may mean that an individual is using a legal substance illegally. An example might be someone who takes a prescription medication that belongs to someone else.

Hairsplitting aside, though, here are my thoughts on the most dangerous drugs in several categories.


According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, meth is dangerous on several levels. It has serious and long-term negative effects on brain function and behavior, and is linked with increased violence on the part of some abusers. The manufacturing process also results in toxic chemicals and explosions, which both pose a threat to the larger community. On that basis, meth is probably one of the most dangerous drugs overall.

It’s manufactured anywhere and everywhere (which is one of the issues that makes it dangerous), and it’s relatively inexpensive (about $100 to $200 a gram, depending on where the buyer lives). About 1,000 people a year die from methamphetamine overdose in the U.S., while other die from the side effects, which are graphically illustrated in the series of images below.

In addition, while significant gang violence is associated with the drug trade generally, much of the violence on our southern border is attributed to the meth trade specifically. Guadalajara has seen significant violence related to competition between Latin drug gangs looking to service North America’s approximately 400,000 regular meth users.

Crystal Meth – The Hardest Drug

So, in terms of strictly illegal drugs as we might commonly accept the term, methamphetamines seem to lead the way.

Counterfeit Prescription Medications

Counterfeit prescription drugs have also become particularly dangerous as their availability has expanded via the internet. It’s estimated that as many as 100,000 people die each year world wide from taking counterfeit drugs (a total of approximately 250,000 deaths are attributed to illegal drugs around the world in any given year).

Are Fake Prescription Drugs Killing Us?

Most prescription medication is made outside of the United States (both legal and illegal), and the costs vary considerably depending on the drug itself. There are significant problems to overcome in dealing with this aspect of the issue because countries cannot even agree on basic definitions, such as what constitutes a substandard or even outright counterfeit medications.

Alcohol and Tobacco

Alhough we’re specifically discussing  illegal drugs, this video makes the case for alcohol and tobacco as being the most dangerous due to their wide availability, their effects on the body, and the damage done to society, even though they are both legal.

So, what’s your opinion on the world’s most dangerous drug?

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