First, an editorial published July 19 urges Congress not to take "The Wrong Approach to Gangs." The editorial argues for a targeted, intelligence-based approach like the one that dramatically reduced New York City's gang problem, but Congress is poised to take its cue from the opposite coast:
That last line rings true, doesn't it? We have pols here in Texas, particularly in San Antonio, promoting these same failed strategies because their fed up constituents want them to look tough. But if this study is correct those "tuff" tactics actually make gang crime worse. Here's the full JPI report, via Doc Berman.
No city has failed to control its street gangs more spectacularly than Los Angeles. The region has six times as many gangs and double the number of gang members as a quarter-century ago, even after spending countless billions on the problem. But unless Congress changes course quickly, the policies that seem to have made the gang problem worse in Los Angeles could become enshrined as national doctrine in a so-called gang control bill making its way through both the House and Senate.
This issue is underscored in a study released this week by the Justice Policy Institute in Washington. It shows that police dragnets that criminalize whole communities and land large numbers of nonviolent children in jail don’t reduce gang involvement or gang violence. Law enforcement tools need to be used in a targeted way — and directed at the 10 percent or so of gang members who commit violent crimes. The main emphasis needs to be on proven prevention programs that change children’s behavior by getting them involved in community and school-based programs that essentially keep them out of gangs.Prevention programs have worked extraordinarily well in New York, where street gangs ceased to be a big problem decades ago. But these prevention programs are difficult to sell in Congress, where lawmakers like to show the folks back home how tough they are on crime, even if it means embracing failed policies.
Meanwhile, the cover story in today's New York Times magazine focuses on the hot button topic of how the criminal justice system should handle juvenile sex offenders. It's titled "How can you distinguish a budding pedophile from a kid with real boundary problems?" It's a long piece, and contributing writer Maggie Jones did a good job with it. Here are a few highlights from the story that I considered particularly interesting:
- "Juveniles account for about one-quarter of the sex offenses in the U.S."
- "Texas lists more than 3,400 people for offenses committed when they were juveniles."
- Juvie sex offenders need different treatment protocols: "There is no proof that what [a leading researcher] calls the “trickle-down phenomenon” of using adult sex-offender treatments on juveniles is effective. Adult models, [he] notes, don’t account for adolescent development and how family and environment affect children’s behavior."
- Experts hyped bad science in the past to scare the public: "Robert Longo, now the director of clinical services at Old Vineyard Behavioral Health Youth Services, a psychiatric hospital in Winston-Salem, N.C., remembers appearing on 'Donahue' and 'Oprah' in the 1980s, making pronouncements like: 'Sex offenders can’t be cured.' And: 'Victims are damaged for life.' Neither statement was based on good research, he now says. 'We were desperately trying to bring attention to the issue,' Longo says of himself and other sex-abuse experts, “and we went way overboard.”
- "[W]hile most juveniles who have committed sex offenses are boys around 13 or 14, in other ways they are not a homogeneous population. Though a small percentage — no one knows how many — will become adult rapists or pedophiles, the vast majority, 90 percent or more, will not"
- Community notification laws "undercut a central tenet of the juvenile justice system. Since juvenile courts were created more than 100 years ago, youths’ records have, with exceptions in some states, been sealed and kept out of the public’s hands."
- Publicizing juvie sex crimes promotes shunning and recidivism: "In dozens of interviews, therapists, lawyers, teenagers and their parents told me similar stories of juveniles who, after being discovered on a sex-offender registry, have been ostracized by their peers and neighbors, kicked out of extracurricular activities or physically threatened by classmates. Experts worry that these experiences stigmatize adolescents and undermine the goals of rehabilitation."
- "Of all the worries the public registries create, though, the most frightening for many families is vigilantism. In 2005, a man killed two adult sex offenders he tracked through a Washington State community-notification Web site. And last year, a 20-year-old Canadian man with a list of 29 names and addresses from the Maine Sex Offender Registry went to the homes of two convicted offenders, shooting and killing them"
- "Another unintended consequence may be that some families will remain silent to protect their children from decades on an Internet registry rather than seek intervention that would benefit both the victim and the offender. One mother I spoke to regretted not keeping quiet."
- When given polygraph tests, "adolescents may be particularly vulnerable to 'admitting' to more than they actually did. “A polygrapher might say, ‘You failed this part; is there something else you’re not telling me?’ Then you may give up more information to try to pass.”
- Juvie sex offenders don't cross same lines as adults: “If you’re an adult child molester, you’re violating clear age and legal boundaries. You’re crossing over a lot of lines, so you have to be highly motivated,” [one researcher] said. “Kids typically don’t cross as many lines when they offend; they do stupid things all the time because their brains aren’t developed.”
Via Doc Berman, Sex Crimes, and Talk Left