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20 December 2010

Crime declines continued unabated in first half of 2010

via Grits for Breakfast by Gritsforbreakfast on 12/20/10

Via Sentencing Law & Policy, here's a notable and welcome development regarding crime rates for the first half of 2010 compared to the same period in 2009: The FBI says they're going down significantly nationwide, as evidenced by this graphic:

Doug Berman's takeaway from this news hit most of the high points:
This continuation of the great crime decline is notable and exciting for lots of reasons. First, crime rates in 2009 were already relatively low (especially compared to crime rates in the 1980s and 1990s), and yet further reductions were achieved in 2010.  Second, given that the economy has not been great and that many states have been taking steps to reduce their incarceration rates, there were crime rate reductions in 2010 despite the presence of legal and social factors that many folks believe contribute to crime increases.  Third, low crime rates should help skittish politicians feel more comfortable backing "smart on crime" policy initiatives over the "tough on crime" political rhetoric.
As is my wont, I went to look at state and city level data for Texas and while I discovered some interesting tidbits, I also found the cities of of Austin and San Antonio missing from their data table for cities with more than 100,000 population. I don't know why that is and an email to the feds and a phone call to Austin PD's public information office didn't get any immediate answers. (UPDATE: Austin PD called back to say the mid-year submission is not mandatory but all their data will be in the year-end UCR report.) Overall, data for Texas cities tended to jibe with national declines, though some smaller jurisdictions saw increases, bucking national trends. Brownsville saw violent crime increase by a whopping 50%, though some of that is because their violent crime numbers were so small in the first place - e.g., murders there increased 200%, from one in the first half of 2009 to three in the first six months of 2010. Laredo and McAllen, by contrast, saw violent crime decrease by 15.4% and 18% respectively, and El Paso saw impressive reductions in violent and property crimes, belying any trend toward "spillover" crime from drug cartels across the river. For some reason, Killeen saw the second highest increase in violent crime and also led the state in the percentage increase in property crime from 2009.

Violent crime in Houston is down 8%; in Dallas it's down 4.7%, while there was a 3.8% increase in violent crime overall in Fort worth. See additional state and city level data here.

Posted via email from the Un-Official Southwestern PA Re-Entry Coalition Blog

Incoming California AG plans to shake up state's approach to crime and punis...

via Sentencing Law and Policy by Doug B. on 12/20/10

Yesterday's Los Angeles Times had this notable piece about California's new Attorney General-elect, which is headlined "The time may be right for Kamala Harris; She hopes the tough economy, shifting public opinion and her savvy transition team will bolster her prison reform goals."  Here are snippets from the piece:

Kamala Harris, the state's next attorney general, last week announced a transition leadership team that was a marvel in its political heft... [which] underscored Harris' intent to ... upend[] decades of California attitudes about crime and punishment.

Along with some of the better-known names were a number of reformist police chiefs, like Los Angeles' former leader William Bratton, San Francisco's George Gascon and Oakland's Anthony Batts, who in the future may serve as symbolic assurance to voters as Harris works to make the criminal justice system reform criminals rather than lock them up perpetually.

Californians have been far more ensconced in the lock-'em-up camp, of course, loading ballots with measures to extend sentences and preclude judicial flexibility.  But Harris believes that she has a new and powerful ally: the foundering economy.

Harris, currently San Francisco's district attorney, has made no secret of her desire to shake up the prison system.  Nine days before the election, from the pulpit of Greater Zion Church in Compton, she mocked those who called her views "radical."

"We need to incorporate that age-old concept of redemption into the work that we do in the criminal justice system in California," she said, to murmurs of support from the congregants.  "It is a broken system and there has to be reform….  Yes, I am radical in my belief in what we can do to improve the system.  How we can change without being caught up and burdened with just a blind adherence to tradition.  How we can be smart on crime and not just talk about 'Are you soft? Are you tough?'"...

"Smart on Crime" is something of a Harris franchise, the name of her 2009 book.  In it, and during her campaign, Harris argued that criminal justice money is wasted on the "revolving door" that prison has become as 70% of the 120,000 convicts released annually end up being caught committing new crimes.

She believes that prison should be the punishment for serious offenders and that greater pains should be taken to prod milder offenders with education, counseling, probation and other community-based support.  "I firmly believe in and advocate accountability and consequences when you are talking about rapists and murderers and child molesters — you've got to lock them up," she said.  "But you've also got to look at the fact that crime is not monolithic."

Policy-wise, what Harris is talking about is an extension of the statistics-based policing advocated by chiefs like Bratton and used to help drive down crime in Los Angeles and elsewhere.  Her argument is that at a time when California's budget is under siege, it makes no sense to spend tens of thousands of dollars housing prisoners who could be helped by programs that cost one-tenth the amount.

"Because of the crisis that we are facing in terms of the economy, we now have an opportunity to be very practical," she said, noting that voters she met this year "don't want to have a conversation about rhetoric and ideology."...

Politics-wise, however, elected officials and voters themselves usually recoil from reform efforts that could be painted as coddling criminals....  But recent polling suggests that, more than in past years, Californians may be in the mood to at least entertain changes to the system.  Poll after poll has found that Californians want cuts in the prison budget, and those cuts would be entertained during the present period of lower crime rates rather than in the emotion of high-crime years.

Posted via email from the Un-Official Southwestern PA Re-Entry Coalition Blog

Helping Children of Incarcerated Parents

via The Crime Report by cara on 12/20/10

The Urban Institute Press has put out a new handbook, Children of Incarcerated Parents, on best practices in dealing with the nearly 2 million children in the United States whose parents are in prison.

The handbook  covers new research and policies for this rapidly growing subset that will hopefully improve these children’s life chances.

Access the book here.

Use the Crime Report for more information on incarceration.

Posted via email from the Un-Official Southwestern PA Re-Entry Coalition Blog

Fixing Urban Biking’s White Bias

via GOOD by April Streeter on 12/20/10

Bikes for Kids

Can Portland, Oregon realize its ambitious goal of increasing the percentage of trips taken by bike from 7% to 25% by 2030? Only if it gets a lot more women and people of color into its bike lanes. Greg Raisman, traffic safety coordinator for Portland’s Bureau of Transportation (PBOT), acknowledges that the issue of bike-lane equity is high on his radar, and is also local biking’s Catch-22.

To reach those numbers in less than twenty years, part of Portland’s process included a gap analysis of actual bike infrastructure, which revealed that the network of bike lanes was weakest where the largest communities of color in the city reside. Portland isn’t a highly diverse city (in fact, it's approximately 75% white), and though it already has the highest percentage of women biking of any American city (around 32%) more people of color and women must be convinced of cycling’s many benefits to make the goal.

Raisman explains that Portland’s plan to build 600 miles of new bike paths over two decades, turning slower residential streets into bike-friendly "neighborhood greenways," can provide built-in equity. "The actual projects we have going serve equity needs better than any other time I’ve been in transportation." On the other hand, Raisman can’t ignore that bike paths are considered by some Portlanders to be “the white stripes of gentrification.” (as first reported in the local alternative weekly The Mercury.)

Carla Danley, a year-round African-American cyclist in Portland, offers her take. "There’s a hard conversation that needs to take place about the perception that bike infrastructure in communities of color equals gentrification. And that’s not really considered a polite conversation."

But people and organizations including Portland Community Cycling Center (CCC) are having that conversation now. The CCC has had a bike shop in an historically African-American neighborhood in the city, and has been sponsoring biking programs for lower-income neighborhoods for over 15 years. As many programs do nationwide, CCC gives away hundreds of kids’ bikes annually. But after the 2009 gap analysis uncovered the paucity of bike lanes in low-income neighborhoods, CCC got a local grant to study other barriers to biking in Portland.

Hundreds of interviews demonstrated the many reasons Portland’s swiftly-growing ethnic community has yet to become a significant part of the expanding bicycle community. Cost was cited a major barrier. Respondents, especially from the Hispanic community, said there was a lack of access to secure bike parking. African-Americans reported feeling that drivers are hostile to cyclists. The issue of safety, always of high importance to women in other biking studies, was also mentioned frequently.

Appraising the barriers began to shift the focus of the organization explains Alison Graves, executive director of the CCC. "We used to be more of a service organization, now we are moving into community organizing, into advocacy." CCC realized its own "cultural competency" needed improvement, and instead of focusing so firmly on fixing the problem, in the usual way of non-profits, the organization needed to actually listen to community needs. "The processes within non-profits generally have white bias built into them,” says Graves. “We had to rethink the process."

So instead of steering committees and top-down program design, CCC had to become a dedicated long-term partner with two of Portland’s lower-income housing developments, Hacienda and New Columbia. For example, after research revealed it was logistically difficult for families to take advantage of CCC’s most popular initiative, Bikes for Kids, the program was revamped. Now, a BikeMobile van now brings the bikes into neighborhoods and directly to kids.

Other successful CCC programs such as Earn-a-bike, which lets kids learn basic maintenance and get a bike at the end of the apprenticeship, and Create-a-Commuter, which offers bikes for jobs seekers, have found new outlets at Hacienda and New Columbia.  Eventually, Hill Graves says, 'seedling' satellite CCC offices will morph into mini-cycling hubs, staffed from within. These locations will help those new to cycling to get information on different ways to obtain a bike, instruction on how to ride, as well as offer bike repair and bike sales.

These programs don’t erase the problem of bike lanes as a possible precursor to unwanted gentrification, but they’re a step in the right direction. Says Graves, "We’re considering inviting neighbors to talk about it. We’re naming it. That’s an important step, getting out of our comfort zone."

Posted via email from the Un-Official Southwestern PA Re-Entry Coalition Blog

Temporary employment

via Marginal Revolution by Tyler Cowen on 12/19/10

This year, 26.2 percent of all jobs added by private sector employers were temporary positions. In the comparable period after the recession of the early 1990s, only 10.9 percent of the private sector jobs added were temporary, and after the downturn earlier this decade, just 7.1 percent were temporary.

Here is more.  And this:

Temporary employees still make up a small fraction of total employees, but that segment has been rising steeply over the past year. “It hints at a structural change,” said Allen L. Sinai, chief global economist at the consulting firm Decision Economics. Temp workers “are becoming an ever more important part of what is going on,” he said.

Posted via email from the Un-Official Southwestern PA Re-Entry Coalition Blog

Crime Down, Experts Still Searching

via Crime and Consequences Blog by Kent Scheidegger on 12/20/10

Alicia Caldwell reports for AP:

"Reports of violent and property crimes continued to decline in the first half of 2010, according to preliminary crime report released by the FBI Monday."

Earlier reports of falling crime despite bad economic times had produced puzzlement from experts.  Today's AP story says,

"Some experts have been hard-pressed to explain the decreasing crime when a weak economy has put a continuing strain on local police budgets.

"David Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said it's a common misconception to believe the economy alone influences crime rates.

"'Any impact the economy has on crime ... is really insignificant compared to much more powerful influences, especially drug epidemics,' Kennedy said."

That's somewhat better.  Drug epidemics do indeed have an influence.  Still, the effect of simply locking up large numbers of evil people remains curiously and conspicuously absent from quoted experts' pronouncements on the reasons for crime decline.

Posted via email from the Un-Official Southwestern PA Re-Entry Coalition Blog

Inside the FBI report: The recession is hard on criminals, too.

The FBI report showing plunging rates of violent and property crime is really just another indication of tough economic times. In a nutshell, there's a lot less worth stealing.

Posted via email from the Un-Official Southwestern PA Re-Entry Coalition Blog


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