Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Crime News Roundup

Three interesting stories caught my eye this morning.

Are iPods Behind Increase in Crime?

Could the temptation for stealing iPods be so strong that they're behind an increase in the crime rate? Researchers at a public policy institute say yes.

They argue that the tantalizing gadgets are perhaps the main reason U.S. violent crime rose in 2005 and 2006 after declining every year since 1991...The Urban Institute, a Washington think tank, first raised the subject of an "iCrime wave" last September, and held a panel discussion Tuesday to explore it further. The researchers don't blame iPod maker Apple Inc. or any other device maker for crime, but they do say consumers should demand technologies that would render stolen gadgets useless.
I haven't read the Urban Institute's report, but I think you can chalk up my reaction to what Jack McDevitt, associate dean at Northeastern University's College of Criminal Justice, said: "I guess I could sort of understand and buy that in a very narrow place, in a short period of time — a short spike for a few months. But to suggest that that's driving the crime numbers in any major way, I don't think so."

Government Starts Cutting Sentences of Crack Inmates:

The federal government said yesterday that it has received hundreds of court orders reducing the prison sentences of crack cocaine offenders in the two days since new sentencing guidelines took effect.

A spokeswoman for the Federal Bureau of Prisons could not say how many prisoners have already been released under the U.S. Sentencing Commission's new guidelines, but the bureau has processed about 400 orders modifying prison terms nationwide.

Some activists say the guidelines bring a much-delayed sense of equity, but the Bush administration asserts that they will result in the release of violent criminals.
We'll see exactly where this goes, from a political capital point of view, but my guess is you haven't heard the end of this story quite yet.

Ex-Mayor of Atlanta Enrolled in Drug Prison Drug Program After Denial of Problem:
ATLANTA — The federal Bureau of Prisons allowed Bill Campbell, the former mayor of Atlanta now serving time for tax evasion, to shorten his sentence by enrolling in a drug treatment program just a few months after he told a federal judge that he had no substance abuse problems.

Mr. Campbell, originally sentenced to serve 30 months in prison and get out in February 2009, has completed the program and since December has been in a halfway house where he has a job and is eligible to go home on weekends, prison officials said. Completion of the residential treatment program allows up to a year to be deducted from an inmate’s sentence, and permits early transfer to a halfway house.

Mr. Campbell’s projected release date is in June, more than seven months short of his original sentence. About half of the reduction is because of good behavior in prison; the rest is because of his participation in the rehabilitation program.

Several students asked about a similar story regarding Michael Vick's federal sentence and participation in drug rehab as a way to shorten his sentence. I would have to look at the specifics of the programs involved (efficacy, generalizability, diagnostic criteria, etc.), but I would agree, at first blush, that this seems to be another extension of what Austin & Irwin (2001) call the "treatment arm" of the correctional-industrial complex.

The idea that substance-abuse programs can help inmates is, of course, without question, and I applaud any effort in getting inmates both help and out of incarceration who are ready.

But affording inmates without any kind of substance abuse history a chance to "work the system" in order to gain an early release (a program, I'm sure, which maximum-security inmates aren't offered), smacks of the same old "voodoo criminology" and penology we've been dealing with for decades.

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