Chris Uggen's Blog: June 2005

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

midyear incarceration numbers

The Department of Justice's Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2004 arrived in my mailbox yesterday (after 10 years of professin', DOJ still addresses stuff to "graduate student Christopher Uggen"). I'd seen the report online, but always give a little more attention to the hard copies. The national incarceration rate (including jails as well as state and federal prisons), is now at 726 per 100,000 residents. This is quite high by international standards -- about 5 to 10 times higher than other nations similar to the United States (England and Wales have a rate of 141, Canada a rate of 116, Germany 96, Japan 58, and so on). Still, the social distribution of this .7% of the population is the real story:
  • A rate of 1,348 per 100,000 for males
  • A rate of 4,919 per 100,000 for African American males
  • A rate of 12,603 per 100,000 for African American males age 25-29

So, about 13% of the population in the latter age/race/gender category is currently incarcerated. A much higher proportion, of course, is under some form of criminal justice supervision. The probation numbers dwarf prison numbers and still more are supervised on parole in the communities. To these one might add former felons who have served their time -- people currently "off-paper" but with a history of criminal justice supervision. I believe that about 1/3 of the African American male population is currently or has once been under criminal justice supervision. This figure seems unbelievably high to most people, but more credible once they see the current population data.

For 25 years, the Bureau of Justice Statistics has provided high quality U.S. crime and justice data. As in other government agencies, there has been talk of "outsourcing" or downsizing the small staff at BJS. I hope that such ideas are quickly put to rest. "Quick and dirty" crime and justice data collection or, worse, subjecting such data collection to greater politicization, would seriously undermine both criminological research and the public trust.

Monday, June 27, 2005

I made a foam cheese for her head...

Keats has long been my favorite 19th century emo-core poet, and La Belle Dame my favorite 19th century emo-core poem. The poem's two versions also make for great conversations about revising manuscripts: who could change "knight-at-arms" to "wretched wight?" C'mon, wretched wight? Today Batgirl offers a third La Belle Dame for woebegone Twins fans as the hated White Sox run away with the division.

O, what can ail thee, Skip o' Twins!
So haggard and so woebegone?
The vat of Gatorade is full,
And the line-up's done.

I see a stress rash on thy brow
With anguish moist and fever dew
And on thy cheeks a fading rose
Fast withereth too.

I met a lady in the meads,
Full beautiful—a faery’s child,
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild.

I made a foam cheese for her head,
And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She look’d at me as she did love,
And made sweet moan.

I set her on my mascot bear,
And nothing else saw all day long,
For sidelong would she bend, and sing
The Twins fight song.

She found me roots of lager sweet,
And honeyweiss, and Munchen dew,
And sure in language strange she said—
“Come play my crew of Brew.”

She took me to her new ballpark,
And there she wept, and sigh’d fill sore,
And there I shut her beer gog'ling eyes
With kisses four.

And there she lulled me asleep,
And there I dream’d—Ah! woe betide!
The latest dream I ever dream’d
On the cold hill’s side.

I saw sad Twins, and Prince Fielder too,
And my boys, death-pale were they all;
They cried—“La Belle Dame sans Merci
Hath thee in thrall!”

I saw their starved lips in the gloam,
With horrid warning gaped wide,
And I awoke and found me here,
On the cold hill’s side.

And this is why I sojourn here,
Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sucking has come upon us all,
And no birds sing.

Batgirl surely has Keats' gift for imagery. The new ballpark and "lager sweet" make me long for Milwaukee -- outdoor baseball and a young club on the rise (note the Prince Fielder reference). All I'd add would be a little dig at the DH rule (As pitchers hit, and sigh'd full sore).

Thanks Batgirl, for easing our pain.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

better than the magic 8 ball


Shag's "Push Your Luck" show at the Ox-Op gallery closes on the 30th. I stopped by with a friend last week because Shag's work is perfect for illustrating numerous topics in my sociology of deviance course. Though the pieces were pricier than I expected, the show was cool. Best of all, a large, upright, wheel of fortune-style spinning wheel stood near the door. It was well-constructed and sturdy, so we had to give it a spin. I like this wheel because spinners have a 0.5 probability of a "bad" outcome (and "a date with chops" looks really bad). I thought it would be a useful accessory for a department chair's office but was told it was not for sale. Given recent legal developments, I suppose I could have seized the property and turned it over for private development. Maybe I'll have to construct a sociological/academic variant... Posted by Hello

Monday, June 20, 2005

stigma II

I wrote last month about the extreme stigma of the sex offender designation. Today I'm bracing for the backlash from an AP story by Michael Hill citing me on this point. I referred Mr. Hill to Jill Levenson, who (along with Leo Cotter) published her survey of released Florida sex offenders in an issue of Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice I guest-edited on collateral sanctions (Richard Tewksbury also has a nice piece on this subject in the same issue, using data from Kentucky). Here is Mr. Hill's lead:
Clamps are coming down on released sex offenders like never before. Laws restrict where they can go, Web sites list their names, satellites track their steps. Leery neighbors and bosses force them from their homes and jobs. The full-court press that comes after high profile cases around the nation is being done for public safety. But is it possible to push sex offenders so far to the fringes actually makes them more dangerous to society?

This question seems absolutely fundamental to the scientific study of prisoner reentry and the policy move toward restorative justice. When, if ever, does social control begin to compromise rather than enhance public safety? Todd Clear and others are asking this more generally about the impact of incarceration on communities. But "sex offender" is the ideal type here -- rivaling "terrorist," "nazi," "serial killer," or "satanist" as the most stigmatized designation in contemporary American society. Both the Levenson and Cotter piece and the Tewksbury article find that sex offenders report job losses, housing problems, and threats of harassment today. Criminal justice policy toward them is clearly based on "stigmatizing" rather than "reintegrative" shaming, to adopt John Braithwaite's distinction. Of course, there are some compelling reasons for identifying and supervising this group closely. According to a Bureau of Justice Statistics study, those convicted of sex offenses do seem to persist later in life than other sorts of criminals. Nevertheless, their 3-year rearrest rate (43% overall, 5% for new sex crimes) is lower than those convicted of other sorts of crime (68% overall, 1% for new sex crimes). So, while the flatter age profile and potential severity of their crimes may justify greater scrutiny, most of the people convicted of sex crimes do not appear to be irredeemable or "life-course persistent" offenders (at least as measured by arrest).

In my view, the application and management of stigma should be getting much more attention from sociologists. I've argued before that if any Durkheims were in grad school today, they might be gathering dissertation data at sex offender community notification meetings (observing distinctions between the normal and pathological, the sacred and profane, the exercise of collective conscience, and the effervescence of crowds). If I were advising a modern-day Durkheim, however, I might try to talk her out of such potential career suicide (steering her to a safer diss topic, such as Suicide!). Whenever an article like this appears, I always get some emails from supporters (thanking me for my "courage"), detractors (asking me how I'd feel if my family were victimized or questioning my motivations), and broadcast media (inviting me to take an indefensible position in a public debate). The issue is clearly a lightning rod, in need of some good sociological scholarship that could help guide policy, or at least help us understand our current practices.

causality, voting, and recidivism

Jeremy Freese regularly offers insightful comments about social science research in his blog. Today he had an interesting post about "causal-sounding insinuations of relationships" between felon re-enfranchisement and recidivism, based on this statement from the Iowa governor:
Gov. Tom Vilsack of Iowa announced yesterday that he would restore voting rights for all felons who have completed their sentences, ending what advocates for voting rights had called one of the most restrictive disenfranchisement laws in the country. Mr. Vilsack, a Democrat who has been called a dark-horse presidential candidate for the 2008 election, pointed to research showing that ex-prisoners who vote are less likely to end up back in prison.

I'm not sure that's a statement of causality, but I guess that's not really the point. I confess that sometimes I slip into causal thinking even when I am careful to avoid making explicit causal inferences in my writing. I offered a (way too) long comment based on a recent law review piece with Jeff Manza.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Iowa re-enfranchises ex-felons

The Des Moines Register reports that Iowa will no longer disenfranchise former felons beyond the completion of their sentences, effective July 4. Unlike Nebraska, Iowa didn't mess around with a 2-year waiting period. Nor did it exclude particular categories of felons, as states such as Maryland have done. The article cites a figure of 50,000, but I believe that about 98,000 Iowans will be enfranchised in time for the next election.

Karl Mueller


The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports that Karl Mueller, the bassist for Soul Asylum, died Friday of throat cancer at 41. Most folks remember 1992's "Runaway Train" but don't know the band's louder, faster, and more storied history. Mueller, Dave Pirner, and Dan Murphy have been together since 1981 (initially as Loud Fast Rules). Denise Sullivan's Allmusic bio describes them as the "quintessential little band that could" and that's how Ithink of them -- touring the midwest relentlessly and pretty much thanklessly throughout the 1980s. They were such a friendly, likable band that I was often caught off-guard at the quality of the songwriting. I'd hear a well-turned lyric pierce through the cacophany and then they'd be off again on some original raver, alt-country weeper, or inspired cover. I notice that their '98 prom show covered Sexual Healing, Rhinestone Cowboy, I Can See Clearly Now, School's Out, and To Sir with Love (!).

The album cover is from 1988's Clam Dip & Other Delights. That's Karl Mueller on the right, alongside Herb Alpert's 1965 original. Here's a more recent picture. By all reports, Mr. Mueller was an uncommonly generous soul and I mean no disrespect in showing him in one of his lighter moments. On stage, he didn't seem to put a lot of distance between himself and the audience, which, no doubt, contributed to the band's likability. My favorite SA work is on the two weak-selling A&M records (Hang Time and And the Horse they Rode in On) -- smarter and prettier than the early Twin Tone material, but with a tough, desperate quality that I didn't always hear on the later Columbia stuff. The Karl Fund was established to raise money for Mr. Mueller's treatment and I'm sure that the family could put any donations to good use. Sometimes nice guys don't get paid. Posted by Hello

Friday, June 17, 2005

3-year-old criminals and the false positive problem

According to Worldnet Daily (via Ann Althouse),
"A leaked 250-page report on proposed crime-fighting strategies, drawn up on instructions of UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, recommends training nursery workers to target children as young as 3 years of age as potential criminals... if the[y] exhibit bullying behavior in nursery school or if there is a history of criminality in the immediate family."
This is a classic example of the "false positive" problem. Yes, looking backward, most of the people in prison today had some early history of antisocial behavior. But there is strong evidence from life course criminology that most antisocial children do not become serious criminals as adults (see, e.g., Gove 1985). Worse still, identifying and treating kids at 3 could worsen their prospects by labeling and isolating them from "normals." Although the report proposed "soft" measures such as education (presumably versus hard measures involving institutionalization), how hard would you fight to keep your kid out of the special class for 3-year old bullies? How long would you want the designation to remain on their school records?

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

husker du(de)

I enjoyed a great meal at The Nortons' this weekend, bringing to mind both comforting past connections and the idea of reinvention. The comforting past connections arise from the chef and proprietor, Greg Norton. Mr. Norton spent the 1980s as the bassist for Husker Du, a band of eviscerating power and tender beauty. As the overwrought prose of the last sentence suggests, I did a little time as a college rock critic. Still, I consciously avoided reviewing anything Du-related for fear of fawning all over them (though here's the sort of piece I would like to have written). And, truth be told, their lyrics still hang by my family pictures at work. The Minneapolis trio had a nasty split in 1987, when Nirvana picked up the (flannel) mantle in Aberdeen, Washington.

Regarding the past: I wanted to send a link to my dining companions about the band, so I did a little googling. Turns out that Mr. Norton and I both attended Henry Sibley High School in West St. Paul. He was about 5 years older than me, so I doubt our paths crossed much. Then I read that he (and drummer Grant Hart) both worked at Melody Lane records, where I misspent much of my youth as a budding music geek. Now I'm starting to feel some connection. If I squint hard enough, I can see a deep-voiced young dude at the counter talking 13-year-old Chris out of selling his New York Dolls and Black Sabbath albums, just as punk started to break in the late 70s. I took his advice, I think, and still own enough vinyl to side a house.

Regarding reinvention: As Mr. Norton made his way to each of the tables in his chef's whites, I was struck by how rarely people reinvent themselves as adults. Kids do it all the time -- switching from Black Sabbath to Black Flag, for example. Tor starts high school this fall and he's adding "football player" to the "bass player" identity kit of middle school. Hope starts middle school at the same time and she senses that all the old hierarchies of elementary school will be reshuffled. Today, Greg Norton seems as comfortable and confident in his restaurant as he did on stage twenty years ago. For the record, I can strongly recommend New Day Rising (or Flip Your Wig) from the former period and the elk ribeye with cherries from the latter.

Monday, June 13, 2005

decline in family (and nonfamily) violent (and nonviolent) crime

The Department of Justice recently ran a press release noting "the rate of family violence fell by more than one-half between 1993 and 2002, from an estimated 5.4 victims to 2.1 victims per 1,000 U.S. residents 12 years old and older." But violence overall is declining as well, as are property crimes.

The report and the rates cited above are all based on high quality data from the National Crime Victimization Survey (the 1993 start date is important because the NCVS had a major redesign in '93 that clearly affected reporting of family violence).

Friday, June 10, 2005

race and punishment

Minnesota has long had some of the greatest racial disparities in punishment in the nation, with African American incarceration rates over 10 times those of white rates for several years. In fact, whites have represented a minority of prisoners in a state that is 87% white overall. Today's Star-Tribune reports that white prisoners are now back in the majority in Minnesota prisons: 59% of MN prisoners are white today. This is due in large part to a deluge of white methamphetamine cases (only about 1 in 20 meth prisoners is non-white) and longer sentences for sex offenders, who also tend to be white.

Minnesota has historically had a very low incarceration rate, but is experiencing rapid (though not California-style) expansion the past few years. Politicians on both sides of the aisle are now calling for reform, early release, and other programs that would reduce the economic and social costs of incarceration. Now connect the dots: "The surest way to get sentencing reform is to over-incarcerate white people," said Rep. Keith Ellison, DFL-Minneapolis..."All of a sudden, folks want to talk about redemption." When I read Ellison's quote, I was reminded of Naomi Murakawa's excellent work on mandatory minimum sentences. The last time that the number of mandatory minimums was actually reduced came in the Nixon administration -- when white college kids were sent away for long prison terms for drug offenses.

the crime drop continues

I've been teaching juvenile delinquency and criminology since the mid-1990s. Each year, I show my classes how the crime rate has generally declined as measured by household victimization or crimes known to the police. At the end of each term, however, I always get a few papers that lead off by citing "alarming increases" in crime/homicide/violence. The FBI's preliminary numbers for 2004 again show a drop of 1.7% for property crime and 1.8% for violent crime nationally since 2003. For the past 10 years, the news has been great with regard to trend, though crime levels remain unacceptably high in many communities.

Some criminologists have been predicting a crime surge, but I see room for further reductions -- particularly if graduation rates and labor markets improve. I guess a better way to put it is that I haven't been convinced that the pessimistic predictions are justified by much more than regression to the apparent "mean" established in the worst of the bad old days. It is very tough to make crime projections over the long-term, since the effects of things like age structure, economic performance, and incarceration seem to vary quite a bit over time (that is, I think a model predicting crime in the 1960s wouldn't do so well in explaining 1990s trends). In any case, I now warn my classes that I will completely freak out if they cite "alarming" increases without indicating precisely what has increased and when it began to rise.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

washington election sustained

The Seattle Times reports that the Washington gubernatorial election is finally settled. Christine Gregoire (D) will remain in office because the challengers could not establish that "illegal felon voters" were responsible for her victory in the 2004 contest. A reporter covering the story asked me whether both sides were "flying blind" here. I hedged, but couldn't disagree. I could make a rough prediction about how these felons would have voted based on the available data, but it requires some big assumptions to do so. I'd have to know much more about the characteristics of these voters to even know whether I was in the ballpark. From what I could glean from the Times' fine coverage of this lengthy battle, there were few voices asking the basic "should" question: should people who have served their time in Washington remain barred from voting? I thought that this sort of controversy might spur some useful public discussion on this issue, but of course such discussion is difficult in the heat of a partisan battle.

Monday, June 06, 2005

talking baseball

Last year my favorite baseball line was "it takes two doubles to score him from first," said by many about one Mathew LeCroy and several generations of Uggen softball players. This year's early-season favorite is from a piece on scouting by the Star-Tribune's Joe Christiansen:
With lefthanded pitchers, the Twins' scouts have a running joke.
The question isn't "How hard does he throw?" -- it's "Can he get it there in the air?"

morcheeba for milton

In Gonzales v. Raich, the Supreme Court today struck a major blow against medical marijuana use. According to a recent Forbes article, however, 500 economists just signed off on a letter and report advocating marijuana legalization. Notables include Milton Friedman and faculty at many of the top-ranked econ departments. Friedman's support shouldn't be that surprising, given that he's always advocated straight free-market/invisible-hand economics. The cost/benefit analysis in the report seems a bit thin to me (heroic assumptions, sparse data), but the upshot is about a $10 billion net projection annually:
  • savings of $7.7 billion per year in government expenditure on enforcement of prohibition, most of it at the state and local level
  • tax revenue of $2.4 billion annually (or $6.2 billion if we tax pot at the same rate as alcohol and tobacco).

The $10 billion figure could be reasonable if the model accounts for all the "large" effects and if the ceteris paribus assumption (that nothing else changes) actually holds. The toughest thing to model, in my opinion, is whether (and to what extent) legalizing and taxing marijuana would increase use (or decrease it, I guess, depending on tax rates!). If use rates are unaffected, no problem. If use changes by 5% or 10%, then the analysis gets complicated. It would have to put a number on the costs (or benefits?) to long-term health, increased Doritos sales, and myriad other factors that are tough to identify, let alone measure. Lifetime marijuana prevalence rates for high school seniors have fallen since 1997 to about 46% in the 2004 Monitoring the Future data series. I don't hear many people making the "gateway drug" argument these days, but I'm sure that (socially) conservative critics will raise the spectre of increased cocaine, meth, and heroin as well. Though supported by the pro-reform Marijuana Policy Project, I think this study probably understates the costs of the drug war. In addition to the impossible position of those prescribed medical marijuana who remain subject to prosecution, a detailed analysis would need to estimate the intergenerational costs of incarceration to families and communities. It seems as though a pilot experiment (or quasi-experimental comparison of laws across states and time) would help provide some additional traction here. What would Friedman say about banning Sudafed?

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

the gopher "gold country" 5k is saturday


The gold country run is a fun 5k for folks around the minnversity. It starts in dinkytown at the civilized hour of 9:30, and ends at the track with lots of food. I'm a little beat up from Saturday's 30k but wouldn't miss this one. If you register here I'll see you there... Posted by Hello