Friday, November 12, 2010

Prison, Reform, and New Orleans

The Lens lately has been providing some good insight into what's been going on in city hall regarding a number of criminal justice related issues in New Orleans.  Topics include the new jail that's currently under construction, funding for the jail, police oversight, and expert suggestions (such as building a smaller jail).

Safe Streets/Strong Communities a New Orleans-based organization that's dedicated to criminal justice reform, has published a number of post Katrina reports on the social and economic conditions and costs of incarceration in the city.  I read through "Big Jails and Big Costs."

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education Public Hearing

Forwarded from the Louisiana Justice Institute:

Oct. 14 Public Hearing on Future of RSD Schools

The Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) will be holding a public hearing at 5:30pm Thursday, October 14, 2010 in the auditorium of McDonogh #35 High School (1331 Kerlerec Street) to discuss the future governance of the sixty eight New Orleans schools currently operating under the Recovery School District (RSD).  This public hearing comes following therelease of recommendations by State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek in mid-September regarding potential plans to return RSD-New Orleans schools back to Orleans Parish control, and will be followed by a meeting on December 7 where the Board will take a formal vote on the matter.  Students, parents, educators, groups and all citizens of New Orleans are encouraged to attend the public hearing to offer feedback and input. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Political Uses of Crime

For the past few years I've used a book called "Making Crime Pay" by Katherine Beckett in my criminology courses.  I like it because through the combined use of historical research, political discourse, media narratives, and public opinion polls, she shows how both fear of crime and the image many of us have in our heads of the young black male criminal are social and political constructions.  Here's the basic outline/argument:

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Iberville Public Housing Development

Here's an email I received regarding the Iberville Public Housing Development. Thought I'd repost it for ya'll.

Dear Fellow Friends of New Orleans’ Iberville Public Housing Development,
Iberville Public Housing residents need the support of you and your students.
Many of you participated in the New Orleans “Disaster Capitalism” tour while either at the Spring 2009 meeting of the Southern Sociological Association or the Fall 2009 gathering of the American Humanist Society. We salute you for bearing witness to the criminal destruction of public housing, including the Lafitte development, that the Bush administration carried out post-Katrina, in flagrant violation of international human rights law.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Interesting Social Fact on Urban Crime

So, one of the most recognized social facts among criminologists is that violent crime and crimes against property are more commonly found in certain areas of a city and less commonly found in others. This is no surprise, but the interesting thing is that as people who live in the crime ridden sections move out, the crime, by and large, stays. That is, it doesn't move with them. This was something criminologists discovered way back in the 1920s. Today, the reasoning and argument are much more complicated than was the case back in the day. For instance, it's now also widely recognized that some of the high rates of crime in particularly urban areas are also due to the high rates of policy surveillance, so that some of the difference in crime rate is due to the simple fact that some areas of the city aren't crawling with police. Despite this issue of visibility and enforcement on crime rate numbers, the fact remains. As people move out of crime prone areas, the crime tends not to move with them. The reason people believe this is an important social fact is because it make us ask about crime as a function of an individual, where it's due to one's psychological makeup or genetics or a function of conditions/environment. That is, an area as criminogenic, where crime is a somewhat normal reaction to abnormal conditions.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The City-Assisted Evacuation Plan

I found this in "The Trumpet" and wanted to post it here in hopes that it might reach more people. The following is taken verbatim from page 4 in the September/October edition:

"The City-Assisted Evacuation Plan (CAEP) is a program designed to help people who have no means of evacuating on their own. This may be due to financial need, unreliable or no transportation, of homelessness. If you feel you may be eligible for the CAEP, call the City's 311 hotline or (504) 658-4000 and answer the phone survey. If you are eligible for the CAEP, you will be notified via postcard and your information kept in a database for registration during evacuation."

Monday, September 6, 2010

Congressional pay (national and state levels)

I've been thinking about Congressional pay lately, and want to get your thoughts on this suggestion. Ignoring for a second the actual feasibility of this idea, what do you think about paying Congress the median income for the U.S. (or a particular state) instead of the $100,000 they currently make? I think this might produce an incentive to legislate in a way that will produce better fiscal benefits for most citizens (as opposed to say, major shareholders, etc.). I realize this would also mean that people running for Congress will likely be financially sound, but that's the case already. I'm thinking here of producing an institutionalized incentive structured into the pay scale in a way that will motivate Senators and Representatives to make and support policies that will better reflect the need of a majority of citizens, as opposed to say, major campaign donors. What are your thoughts?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Criminal Justice: New Orleans Style

Here's a great article from City Business. I've spoken with the Orleans Public Defender office and they also mentioned to me the power of the bond industry as a political block.

See below.

Bail system puts court costs on backs of poor

POSTED: 09:15 AM Friday, August 20, 2010
BY: Richard A. Webster, Staff Writer
NEW ORLEANS -- The New Orleans criminal justice system, critics charge, is funded on the backs of the poor who are processed by the tens of thousands each year and used as raw material to keep the insatiable machine churning.
Money generated from bail posted by defendants, the majority of whom are poor, black and charged with non-violent offenses, drives the enterprise, said Michael Jacobson, director of the Vera Institute of Justice, a criminal justice nonprofit based in New York. He’s encouraging New Orleans to adopt a pretrial release program that largely takes bond decisions out of judges’ hands.
Often times it seems as if there is no rhyme or reason to the bond process, said Derwyn Bunton, Orleans Parish chief public defender. Depending on who is overseeing first appearances, bond for marijuana possession can range between $500 and $25,000, he said.
The current system helps fund the courts and keeps the bail bonds industry flush with cash and criminal defense attorneys consistently busy. The ripple effect provides judges with overflowing campaign coffers. With so many hands in the jar, attempts to reform the system have been met with stiff opposition.

Need Advice

Ok, so how do I post something in a way that allows only part of the post to show, and then you click on the title and can read the rest?

Instant Run-off Voting

So, I was at the Rising Tide 5 conference for bloggers and citizen journalists yesterday at The Howlin Wolf. There were a number of good panels, one of which dealt with politics. The panelists started talking about past elections and how the entrance of some candidates ends up altering the election. We've seen this numerous times (think Nader and Gore in 2000), and as I pay attention to the upcoming congressional elections some national bloggers (like Talking Points Memo) are point out potential third-party spoiler alerts all over the U.S. It makes me think, is this how democracy is supposed to work?

What happens is that a person wins an election, which is supposed to mean that s/he is the most liked by the voters, because votes are split between his/her opponents. This means that, for example, if one republican is running against a democrat and a third-party (say the green party), and 65% of the voters either vote for the green or democrat (who presumably would both disagree with much much of the republican platform), the republican can win with receiving 45% of the vote. On the surface this might sound ok, but it means that 65% of voters didn't want the republican. In essence, the republican snuck his or her way in. Is this how it's supposed to work? As I thought about this more, I thought of a grading system where voters get to rank their choices. Lets say there are 5 different people running for major or governor, a voting system where we rank in order of preference, the candidates we want. With five candidates we could rank them 1-5, our first choice would receive 5 points, our second 4, our third 3, and so on. I think a system like this would allow elections to better represent the voice of the citizens.

There's already a movement to change voting systems that is picking up steam. It's called Instant Run-Off voting and is somewhat similar to the model I offered above. I posted a couple links below that better explain this option. I'd like to hear your thoughts on this. I understand implementation will be hard, though some cities have done it (sometimes because of court order). I'm more concerned with developing a sound model, we can discuss implementation once we know what we want and why.

Check out these links: