Chris Uggen's Blog: March 2010

Sunday, March 28, 2010

stigma creep: adding johns to the kansas sex offender registry

The Kansas City Star reports that a bill passed by the Kansas House would require those convicted of soliciting a prostitute to be listed on the state’s sex offender registry for 10 years.

Prostitution involving adults is typically a misdemeanor, subject to fines and/or a short jail term, though the activity has long drawn shame-based sanctions. For example, police departments in Minneapolis and St. Paul now post photos of people arrested for soliciting prostitutes -- a punishment that can be far more frightening than a $700 fine. In many jurisdictions, those soliciting prostitutes must also attend "john school," where the lessons combine deterrence (e.g., powerpoint slides of late-stage STDs; a stern prosecutor's lecture) with an appeal to family and community values (and their wives, mothers, and daughters).

While recognizing the social harm involved with prostitution, I'd hate to see further expansion of state registries. If you think it is tough to get a job with a felony conviction on your record, try applying as a sex offender. I'll never forget a phone call from one such offender in a western state. He had worked steadily throughout his adult life until his conviction, but had been unable to gain any real employment in the nine (crime-free) years his name appeared on the registry. When he learned his ten-year term of registration was changed to a lifetime registration requirement, he broke down completely and resigned himself to social isolation and dependency.

In short, a decade-long registration requirement would represent a significant increase in punishment if the Kansas bill were to become law.

-via sentencing law & policy.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

proliferation -- an animated mapping of u.s. prison growth

via Sarah W: Artist Paul Rucker uses animated mapping and a powerful original score to depict U.S. prison growth in Proliferation. Each dot corresponds to a new prison -- and the punishment, pains, and penance therein. I believe the source data are based on some Geographic Information Systems work by Rose Heyer at the Prison Policy Institute. The result is surely more effective and affecting than social science presentations of the same information.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

state prison population drop is first since 1972

The number of U.S. state prison inmates fell for the first time in 38 years, according to a new report by The Pew Center on the States. A few figures from the report: Pew attributes the drop to greater diversion of low-level offenders and probation and parole violators from prison; stronger community supervision and re-entry programs; and, a quicker release of low-risk inmates who complete risk reduction programs. State budget problems have likely played an important role in accelerating each of these trends. While the magnitude of the 2009 change is small -- a drop of 5,739 inmates (or .4%) on a base rate of 1.4 million -- any change in direction is meaningful after four decades of unabated growth. Nevertheless, I should note that the total number of state and federal prisoners actually rose in 2009, since the federal inmate count expanded by 6,838. And, despite a crime rate that has fallen over at least the last two decades, the United States still maintains the world's highest incarceration rate.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

on apples not falling far from trees

Deborah Appleman was an inspiring public school teacher at Henry Sibley Senior High, whose poetry class blew our young minds to kingdom come. Today I read that she's a Carleton professor with a new book, based on her work at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Stillwater. So I went right to Amazon, of course, and ordered the anthology: From the Inside Out: Letters to Young Men and Other Writings Poetry and Prose from Prison.

If anybody wonders why a sociologist and criminologist like me wants to write poetry posts (prison poetry posts, no less) or edit magazines, it probably started with the teacher we called "Apple." She pushed and nurtured and cajoled and cultivated creative writing and dangerous thinking. And she was tough. If I'm remembering right, I got a B+ on my final project -- a full album of angsty original love songs, recorded on a four-track reel-to-reel. The songs sucked, of course, but c'mon! I'd never worked so hard in my life. I'd like to think she was just as tough on the guys at Stillwater -- and that maybe she'll have the same long-term impact on their lives.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

fewer reconvictions, more revocations in reentry court

Zachary Hamilton and The Center for Court Innovation offer perhaps the most rigorous evaluation to date of the prisoner "reentry court" model championed by Jeremy Travis and others. The basic idea is to facilitate reintegration and protect public safety by giving some focused indivualized attention and intensive services during the critical period immediately after release.

More specifically, the Harlem Reentry Court "provides intensive judicial oversight, supervision and services to new parolees during the first six months following release from state prison. The goal of the program is to stabilize returning parolees in the initial phase of their reintegration by helping them to find jobs, secure housing, remain drug-free and assume familial and personal responsibilities."

To criminologists, this may sound like low-caseload intensive supervised release programs -- and results from the reentry court evaluation seem to mirror those of earlier ISP/ISR evaluations. The difference in the 3-year reconviction rate suggests that the reentry court significantly reduced new crime -- from about 52% in the comparison group to 43% in the treatment group. Nevertheless, the greater attention given the treatment group likely led to their significantly higher revocation rate for technical violations of parole conditions (56% vs. 38%).

Like other forms of intensive supervision, the Harlem Parole Reentry Court probably observed violations in the treatment group that went unnoticed in the comparison group. However much reentry courts help clients adjust to life outside prison, the high rate of technical violations remains a stubborn problem in such programs.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

chris (@) cornell

I'm leaving tomorrow for a Spring Break trip to the sunny beaches of Ithaca, New York. These days I'm spending most of my time on college budgets, department administration and Contexts editing, so it is especially lovely to think and talk about research. I could really use some feedback on a couple lines of research, so I'll be doing half the talk on a crim project and half the talk on a soc of law project.

My talk is co-sponsored by Cornell's Policy Analysis and Management and Sociology programs. Tuesday, March 16th, 3 PM, The Rushmore Room, MVR 114. Please stop on by if you're in the neighborhood.

Sex and Stigma: Experiments and Observations on Discrimination and Harassment

Chris will present ongoing work from two lines of research on crime and the employment relation:

(1) An Experimental Audit on Low-Level Criminal Records and Hiring

A prison record clearly reduces employment outcomes for entry-level job applicants. Yet many employers now have access to applicants’ arrest records, even for misdemeanor cases that never resulted in formal charges. We present experimental evidence from a new audit study testing the extent to which employers consider low-level arrest records in making hiring decisions. Our team sent matched pairs of African American and White men to apply for jobs, experimentally manipulating whether they reported or did not report a low-level criminal record during the application process. We find a modest effect of arrest records on employability, with callback rates about 4 percent lower for the experimental group than for the matched control group.

(2) Sexual Harassment, Workplace Authority, and the Paradox of Power

This article uses longitudinal data from the Youth Development Study (YDS) to predict change in the likelihood of experiencing sexual harassment and in its frequency and severity. Expressions of gender and workplace authority emerge as consistent predictors. In particular, women supervisors are more, rather than less, likely to report sexually harassing behaviors and to define their experiences as sexual harassment than non-supervisors. Intensive interviews with a subset of survey respondents suggest that male coworkers, clients, and supervisors use harassment as an "equalizer" against women in power, consistent with research showing that sexual harassment is less about sexual desire than about control and domination.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

if you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write something worth reading or do things worth the writing

If USC can recruit a 13-year old quarterback, then our sociology graduate program should offer early admission to 13-year-old Rowan Garrigan of St. Paul.

Garrigan has been writing daily tweets as Ben Franklin, using the same abbreviations she uses with her friends. Tweets and translations are available at and there's a nice story on Ms. Garrigan on fox9 news. A sampling:

Tweet: OMGYG2BK JBro is B& and wz bustd by the judge for his OP ed in 1/1723 Courant quotn Sil D0good (he still dk its me lol) im the print shop DBAU. I h8 it. :-P

Translation: OH My God you've got to be kidding! James is banned and was arrested by the judge for his Opinion Editorials in the January 1723 Courant quoting Silence Dogood. (he still doesn't know its me Laughing Out Loud) I'm back in the print shop doing business as usual. I hate it. Yuk

Tweet: JBro wnts me 2 run BAU & prnt Courant 4 him in mah nme, but HE is IC! NW! im OH & goin 2 NY! I <3>

Translation: James wants me to run the business as usual and print the Courant for him in my name, but HE is in charge! NO WAY! I'm out of here and going to New York! I love New York! See you there!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

kelly kulick

When Kelly Kulick became the first woman to win a men's Professional Bowlers Association Tour title, Billie Jean King called it "a motivational and inspirational event for girls and women competing at all levels all around the world." Rick Reilly of ESPN went further, calling it the greatest moment in women's sports. According to Reilly, this is the first time in American history that a woman has defeated a field of male athletes in any ball sport.

Heather McLaughlin has been schooling me lately on gender and sport. Reading her prelim, I learned how the press described the first women's 800-meter race in the 1928 Olympics as “eleven wretched women fainting or delirious.” It was not until 1960 that women were again allowed to subject their putatively delicate constitutions to distances longer than 200 meters. Now some gender scholars are advocating greater opportunities for women to compete directly with men, as in the PBA competition won by Ms. Kulick.

Of course, this might affect how we view the events as well as the athletes. I suspect that many sports fans will minimize and devalue any event that includes women -- just as earnings may decline as women enter historically-male occupations or industries. David Whitley of Fanhouse offers an ideal-typical catch-22 argument along these lines:

How could a guy lose to a girl in an athletic event?
Simple, really.
Bowling isn't an athletic event.
Rule No. 1 in determining whether an activity is a sport: If the best female in the world can beat the best male in the world, it doesn't qualify.

Yeesh. Reading this makes me hope that Paula Radcliffe breaks the men's marathon record -- just to see Mr. Whitley tie himself in knots.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

sainted n' tainted

Getting to know the distinctive personalities of Minneapolis and St. Paul is one of the true pleasures of living in these twin cities. Take a summer stroll in each city, for example, and you'll know why the Minneapolis Star-Tribune runs features like How I Got this Body, while St. Paul's Pioneer Press instead offers up community fare like Sainted and Tainted.

I love how the latter feature uses informal social controls to call out those who exemplify or offend community values. This being Minnesota, many features emphasize helping behaviors like snow shoveling and car-pushing. This being Minnesota, there are also a lot more saints than ... well, I guess you would call them 'taints.

For me, there's no better start to the weekend than reading about a li'l or big act of kindness undertaken by my friends and neighbors. And, not being a big tsk-tsker, I usually get a chuckle out of the "tainteds" as well. Here's the basic format:


Belated thanks to the couple who took the time to help me, a total stranger no less, with a flat tire in the Lino Lakes Kohl's parking lot. They not only filled my tire with air, they led me to the Wal-Mart auto store, which I know was out of their way, to make sure I got there safely. They just drove off and I never got to thank them.


I collect for snow plowing an alley in the Como area. Sainted to the people who pay without question; tainted to the few who think I am a big bother; and a super tainted to the couple who "bought a house and not a neighborhood; we don't care what happens to everyone else."

Ouch! Now that's a profoundly un-Minnesotan attitude about both snow removal and neighboring. My friends and neighbors also tend to dwell on the positive aspects of their stories -- relegating their own very serious troubles to the background:


Several weeks ago, Air Force Tech. Sgt. Aime Dahl, James Magee and Erin Courtney quickly responded when they saw a medical emergency involving my husband. They calmly and professionally did everything they could to try to save his life. They truly deserve to be sainted.

It is getting tougher and tougher for the twin cities to support two independent dailies, but I'll lobby hard to save Sainted and Tainted if a merger is really inevitable.

Monday, March 08, 2010

new paper on innovation and tolerance for failure

Here's a quick post via Minnpost for my friends at org theory. Brad Allen summarizes:

Initial public offering firms backed by more failure-tolerant VCs not only produce a larger number of patents but also ones with larger impact, as reported in a paper titled “Tolerance For Failure And Corporate Innovation,” co-authored by Tracy Yue Wang, assistant professor of finance and insurance at the U of M’s Carlson School, and collaborator Dr. Xuan Tian, assistant professor of finance at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University.

I'm sympathetic to this argument, since it fits my idealized notions about productive failure and fostering innovation in academic units. I'm no expert in the area, so I can't vouch for the empirical foundation (though I'm a little wary about period effects within the 1980-2006 observation period). Nevertheless, I like how Professors Wang and Tian operationalized the "failure-tolerance" of venture capital firms using the average duration of investment in past failed projects. Clever. From the manuscript's conclusion:

Other things equal, the longer the VC investor on average waits before terminating funding in an underperforming project, the more tolerant it is for early failures in its investments. We then examine whether such failure tolerance spurs innovation in a sample of VC-backed IPO firms between 1985 and 2006... We find that IPO firms backed by more failure-tolerant VC investors exhibit significantly higher innovation productivity. A rich set of empirical tests shows that this result is not driven by the endogenous matching between failure-tolerant VCs and startups with high ex-ante innovation potentials. Further, the analysis suggests that being financed by a failure-tolerant VC is particularly important for ventures with high ex-ante potentials but also high failure risk. VCs’ tolerance for failure allows the startups’ innovation potentials to be realized.

It all reminds me of an old quote attributed to Woody Allen: "If you're not failing every now and again, its a sign you're not doing anything very innovative."

Friday, March 05, 2010

how to stay cool when interviewed by an aggressive ideologue

I enjoy talking publicly about my research, though I'm sometimes caught off-guard by an aggressively partisan interviewer. During a "talk radio tour" for Locked Out, I remember how a producer put me at ease and told me to relax and have fun. But as soon as the theme music ended and I let down my guard, the host snarled, "So, Mister Professor, tell my listeners why you think Charles Manson should pick the next President of the United States?"

I honestly don't remember my response, though I'm sure it involved both stammering and yammering. This sort of thing happens a lot on talk radio and television. How best to approach such attacks? As Danielle Maestretti reports, Yes! magazine asked Pramila Jayapal, director of the immigration-rights group OneAmerica, how she handles guest appearances on shows like the O'Reilly Factor. Ms. Jayapal's advice is spot-on and heartening:

I look for something that I can agree with. The host says, “I believe in law and order.” I find a way to take that argument and connect it to my values. When I become reasonable, that deflates both my anger and the conversation. The host is not expecting me to agree with anything they say. They’re expecting an all-out fight.

I cite statistics. I am the one with the facts. The facts are not to convince anybody but to establish my identity as someone who is calm, uses logic, and isn’t just speaking wildly. The host becomes the angry, shouting, loud, mean person.

I focus on values that I believe most people hold deeply. I say, most Americans value respect or hard work, and that’s what this debate should be about. The host is not going to say he or she doesn’t believe in respect or kindness.

Then when I come home, I need to be around people who can shower me in wonderful, nice things. The hosts’ comments are not directed at me personally, but they are personal. A good glass of wine, good friends, good family, good love are important if you are going to be out there on the front lines.

I'd summarize these points as finding common ground, citing solid evidence, referencing shared values, and -- if all else fails -- limping off to lick your wounds. I never want to sound like an egghead, but I try to remind myself that I'm a researcher and educator rather than a combatant in such settings. That means that I don't have to play if someone starts making personal attacks, or questions my patriotism, masculinity, or fashion sense. With regard to the evidence, I also carried around a little folder with all the basic facts and figures I might need for an interview.

If you can keep your facts straight and keep your cool, you might even connect with audiences hostile to your research. I'll never forget how a regular listener called in after I'd been savaged in an especially rough interview: "I listen to you every day, Bob, and we agree on most things, but the professor makes sense -- I got out of jail twenty years ago and I sure as hell deserve the right to vote!" I can't say that this sort of thing happens very often, but it sure feels good when it does.

Monday, March 01, 2010

data reduction: gains and losses in magazine circulation, 2008-2009

Vanity Fair makes the case that liberal magazines such as The Nation and Mother Jones have taken a major hit, "now that they don't have W to kick around anymore." In contrast, conservative standard bearers, such as The National Review and The Weekly Standard, have prospered since Barack Obama's election. I graphed the 2008-2009 gains and losses reported in Matt Pressman's story below:

When I ran image searches on "Obama cover," I was a little surprised to see so many mean-spirited caricatures coming from the left as well as the right. As I recall (and I could certainly be mistaken), it seemed to take a few years before the really nasty Bush II and Clinton caricatures started appearing on newsstands. In any case, Vanity Fair interprets the circulation changes as indicating that "hate sells," though I'd need more evidence to support that conclusion and rule out alternative explanations.