Sunday, October 07, 2007

Sunday morning tidbits

Here are a few items I noticed this morning that may interest Grits readers:

A gentle soul, unbroken by injustice
The Texas Observer interviews Billy James Smith on the anniversary of his release from prison for a wrongful conviction. Smith did 19 years and 11 months in TDCJ for a rape that he did not commit.

What is a constable?
They're the oldest type of Texas law enforcement officers, but the answer depends on who, and where, you ask, says Mark Babineck at the Houston Chronicle.

A solution for the Houston crime lab?
Barry Scheck of the NYC-based Innocence Project tells what he thinks should happen with the troubled Houston crime lab. If I were Democratic District Attorney candidate C.O. Bradford, I'd make Scheck's op ed more or less a white paper on what should be done with the crime lab. The public has mostly lost confidence that the DA and the police department are doing all they can to get to the bottom of things.

East Texas rehab centers underfunded
According to a report from the state health department, "113,938 East Texans who need treatment for alcohol or drug use don't receive it - 14,495 of those are in Smith County alone." Reported the Tyler Telegraph, Susan Erwin of the East Texas Center for Alcohol and Drug Abuse said that, "'Incarceration is very expensive ... Treatment should be provided to a person who committed a non-felony crime to quickly re-enter society and become a productive part of it. Too many times people go to jail and don't come out better.' Erwin said funding and a community's view of addiction both need reconsideration."

Genetics, economics, fairness and punishment
In large part our criminal justice system is based on simple economic theory. Punishments are the "price" for crime, and people are expected to make rational choices or pay an escalating price for their behavior. But what if economic choices, especially attitudes about "fairness" and self interest, aren't always rational but may be genetically determined? What does that do for the economic theory of crime and punishment? (Via Corrections Sentencing)


Anonymous said...

The economy described in the article is artificial. It only requires decision making in the context of positive gain or no gain. No one loses anything except money they never had to begin with. Sounds more like there are people who are willing to risk rejecting a small gain on the chance they will be able to get more.

It doesn't matter what someone's genetic proclivities are. If they are willing to rob, cheat, and hurt other people then the public needs to be protected from them.

The Texas correctional economy only says the worse the crime, the more the time, the longer people are protected. If the theory is true, correctional agencies would need to alter the rehabilitative theory to identify effective strategies for identifying and altering self-defeating thought processes. This happens all the time, at least in other states...

If you apply this model to plea bargains we would have far more trials than we do now?

Anonymous said...

So if your theory of punishment as protection is right, 11:49, how does that apply to drug crimes? Or prostitution? Even possession of less than a gram of crack or meth is a felony - is that because we need to be protected longer from drug addicts than people who beat up their wives and get charged with a misdemeanor?

Anonymous said...

Most Texans seems to think so. You notice i didn't mention those types of crimes in my post.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Well, and the reason you didn't mention those types of crimes is that the economic theory of crime you're suggesting doesn't really apply to those offenses, right?

You may not think deterrence is a reason for high penalties, but that's how they're discussed among lawmakers: "This will send a message," they'll say, as though the crook will receive a phone call or a letter in the mail. If prison is only for protection, not "deterrence," there'd be a lot fewer people incarcerated.

Anonymous said...

It sends a message alright, but not to the people implied by the statement. Those engaged in criminal activities never expect to get caught or get the full sentence IF they even consider it in the first place. Those (what we would call here) middle class law abiding citizens are the people who the message sticks with, and it's a politial message more than a justice-based one.

Editor said...

Another component to the offender's estimate of the price of committing a crime is that individual's perceived odds of getting caught, odds of getting convicted, and odds of getting a particular sentence. That's a pretty complicated line of thinking to suppose someone would go through before robbing a store or committing any other crime. Maybe all else being equal, these calculations can predict behavior between two different individuals, but my guess is that economic theory of crime is woefully lacking.

Anonymous said...

There is no unified theory of crime causation and the economic theories do not make verifiable predictions (a theory that does not make verifiable predictions is toast in other fields of research).

There are a lot of sociological variables (high poverty rates, overcrowding, high school drop out rates etc.) that are associated with high crime rate neighborhood but correlation and association are not causation.

In order to work with data you are forced to deal with variables based on average properties of a group of individuals. Crimes are committed by individuals so there is a major disconnect.

Anonymous said...

In the same way that the major cause of death is ------ life, the major cause of crime is human activities that are made illegal by legislators.

The more activities that are classified as "criminal", the more crime. It is as simple at that!

There is a point at which some percentage of individuals will engage in criminal activity as defined. That point involves about 20% of the population measured over time.

The duty of the Courts is to protect the individual or minority against unfair laws enacted by the majority. If the courts were doing their job correctly by protecting the minority according to the Constitution and Bill of Rights; that percentage whould represent less than 5% of society. Anything more than 5% is unjust and indicates a failure of the Courts to do their job!

Crime reduction is far more dependent upon the legislature than it is upon police and DA activities to "protect the public safety".

Anonymous said...

What I fear is that smoking in a public place will become a crime. BTW I stopped smoking in 1962.