Sunday, July 22, 2007

NY Times promoting evidence based approaches to juvenile crime

Two recent items from the New York Times focus on research-based approaches to serious juvenile crime that deserve Grits readers attention.

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:

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.
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.

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.”
UPDATE: Here's an example from Fort Worth of exactly the type of anti-gang policy the NYT editorial and the Justice Policy Institute study say created havoc in Los Angeles. Wasn't it Hegel who remarked that history teaches us that man learns nothing from history? MORE from on counterproductive anti-gang proposals in Congress.

Via Doc Berman, Sex Crimes, and Talk Left


Anonymous said...

Well, of COURSE pubescent boys commit sex offenses with a frequency that is disturbing. As the quoted research noted, 90% are just young and stupid, and will never make the same mistake again.

Punishment is called for, but punishment that destroys the individual's desire to rejoin society only backfires on society, creating permanent outsiders. Although if one owns stock in CCA (Correctional Corporation of America), throwing the book at kids is a VERY profitable long-term strategy. Can't bilk the taxpayers if you haven't got your cells filled with fresh meat, old sport.

Better to create more teenage trade schools (like the BOCES programs in NY State), so that angry young men can learn a useful way to make decent money, rather than having to sell dope to pay the rent, in big cities where a dinky apartment costs $2000/month.

Anonymous said...

Juvenile sex offender treatment is limited by the Council on Sex Offender Treatment Providers to a very limited few. A Harvard educated Texas medical licensed psychiatrist can't engage in sex offender treatment without a separate license while a graduate of an unknown college with a masters degree in social work can if they have a sex offender treatment provider license. Does this make any sense??????

Anonymous said...

OLD as MOSES says: Well, I guess you can't be educated unless your family can afford to get you a DIPLOMA from HAAVAARRD! Another oblivious person who believes that anyone from an IVY league university is smarter than everyone else. I've got news for you buddy, look at all the politicians with those credentials and tell me they are a smart bunch. I dare you.

Anonymous said...

LA's approach to gangs is the "broken windows" theory, devised in the 80s, and such a spectacular failure that it is stunning that anyone would still use it.

This is the idea that the way to prevent violent street crime is to police more aggressively the small stuff. If a neighborhood is too dilapidated, has too many "broken windows," then it is a breeding ground for gang and other serious crime. So more punitive responses to graffiti, truancy, vandalism, it is thought, will reduce more serious crime.

The problem is that study after study has shown that "broken windows" doesn't reduce violent crime or gang activity. It doesn't work.

But some big-city mayors and police depts, LA's most prominently, have latched on to it. It is expensive and unsupported by evidence, but some people have staked their careers on it.

Bill Bush, UNLV

Anonymous said...

To 1:54 pm, if Harvard taught classes on the treatment of sex offenders while your Psychiatrist was at Harvard then, no, it would not make any sense. However, my experience is that few if any Psychiatrists engage in other therapy other than the pharmacological kind. After all, when I can see 4 people in an hour for $200.00 a pop and prescribe medications vs. 1 person for therapy ($800 vs $200) the pharmacology (pill) route is more lucrative. Unfortunately, pharmacology doesn't have the best of track records when it comes to treating sex offenders.

Most of your so called no name schooled masters level people may not have gone to Harvard but may have been trained in therapy techniques that have been shown to successful in treating sex offenders...personally I like the Albert Ellis in your face confrontational approach. Rogers unconditional positive regard approach just doesn't really work for me when it comes to working with sex offenders. So, in short, if your psychiatrist has not been trained in the appropriate therapy techniques for sex offenders then no, he shouldn't be allowed to treat them.

However, my experience says that insurance companies, lobbyists and politicians have more say on who does what rather than who should do what.

Also, ever wonder why TYC's sex offender recidivism rate is low, besides the fact that getting a sex offender out of TYC nearly took an act of Congress, thanks Corinne Sanders. It is because many of the sex offenders were one time offenses (selective intervention for those who know SJS).

Best student I ever worked with in TYC was a sex offender. Kid was a true pedophile though, and can never be around kids. This kid was so well behaved and compliant he had nary a CCF-225 Incident Report, none, zero, zilch! He was one of the few true pedophiles I worked with while I was with TYC and as far as the DPS records show he has remained registered and out of trouble. So far, none of the kids I released, all past their 2 year minimums, have re-offended, at least according to DPS records. Not bad for a graduate of a no named college out of the state of Texas...

Sorry, just because one goes to Harvard doesn't mean they should get a pass on requirements.

spearshaker said...

Have to agree with 5:47 anon: med schools teach more about STD's than they do about sex offenders.. same for mental retardation, social violence and substance abuse. Those psychiatrists that know anything are the ones who made the effort to learn, usually after they were licensed and practicing.

In (very limited) defense of Dr. Sanders: she came through Giddings, initially where most of the predatory juveniles went... and we had PhD in other schools who actually made reference to boys being boys or "just got caught with their girlfriend" when the juvenile was an internet predator who beat, raped a 14 year old, then pushed the mother down the stairs when she came home and discovered. Unfortunately, Dr. Sanders seemed to assume that all sex offenders at other schools were like the ones she dealt with and all psych staff were easily fooled.

Sadly, an effort to better assess treatment needs as well as better risk assessment was in progress when TDCJ over-ran the agency; if you thought Drl Sanders was a problem, TDCJ considers all TYC releases and transfers to be hard core.

Final comment regarding gangs: this may be the major negative about regional placement for TYC students, especially in
Evins (in the valley). Being close to family means also being close to gang members, both in and out of the facility; staff may have family in the same gang or find themselves and their families just a threat away from inmates gang home boys.

Unknown said...

Gee, if we legalized all drugs we could let police deal with thousands of people who commit crimes while hyped on these drugs. It would be better than having to deal with tens of thousands of people who commit crimes because they are not hyped on drugs - and are desperately looking for ways to steal the money to pay for overpriced drugs due to prohibition. And I don't see Bayer going to turf wars against Pfizer any time soon with AK47s and armed thugs.

Anonymous said...

Barrie I am not against legalizing some drugs but I don't either understand your argument or if I understand it, I find your logic faulty.

Police don't like arresting/subduing persons hopped up on drugs. Persons who are high while committing a crime are more likely to dsiplay erractic and impulsive behavior and in some cases unaware of or can't feel pain.

Studies have shown repeatedly that no matter what a drug user may claim the drugs don't improve thinking or one's ability to make decisions. Their just too high to know the difference.

Though you are right Pfizer and Bayer don't fight it out with guns, instead they use more high priced criminals like "lawyers" and "politcians." Amazing how many similar anti-social personality traits they share with gang members.

Jaime KenedeƱo said...

Good work Grits.

Keep on going

Anonymous said...

Anon at 12:37 - are you suggesting that law should be based upon what police like?

Their job is to prevent crime and protect citizens from criminal acts. I agree it is hard but we should not change the law for the convenience of law enforcement. ......surely no one thinks dealing with criminals is easy.

Many drugs can and should be legalized. Sure, crime will not go away completely, but a lot of it would.