Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Race and Prosecution: A Review of the Evidence

The Vera Institute just released a report reviewing the evidence from over 30 published, peer-reviewed studies examining the relationship between race/ethnicity and prosecution.

From the website:
Vera’s Prosecution and Racial Justice Program (PRJ) conducted a review of 34 empirical studies on the relationship of race and ethnicity to prosecutorial decision making published between 1990 and 2011 in peer-reviewed journals. The literature review distills the research and provides a reference resource for a diverse audience—including academics, practitioners, and interested generalists—about the current state of the debate on these subjects. The aim of the literature review is to encourage additional empirical research on the relationship between race and prosecution by identifying areas that need further study; provide prosecutors and other criminal justice practitioners with a frame of reference in which to assess their own practices; and strengthen the general public’s understanding of the criminal justice system.

From the Press Release:
“No other actor in the criminal justice system drives case outcomes as profoundly as the prosecutor,” PRJ director Whitney Tymas writes in her introductory note. “Nevertheless, empirical research analyzing racial impacts of prosecutors’ routine choices on the thousands of defendants and victims with whom they interact daily has been scarce.” 
Among the review’s key findings: 
  • Defendants’ and victims’ race appear to affect prosecutorial decisions. Most of the 34 studies reviewed found influences on case outcomes, even when other legal and extra-legal factors are taken into account.
  • The effect of race and ethnicity on prosecutorial decision making is inconsistent.
  • As compared to whites, it is not always blacks or Latinos and Latinas who receive more punitive treatment.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Alt-Fuel Vehicles Star in Louisiana's Latest Political Drama

From TalkingPointsMemo.

There’s a storm a-brewin’ in Louisiana over alternative vehicle tax credits. (There’s a sentence that didn’t end like you’d expect.)
In 2009, the state legislature passed Act 469 (PDF), which offers a tax credit of up to $3,000 to anyone who purchases a low-emissions vehicle that runs on alternative fuel, “including but not limited to compressed natural gas, liquefied natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas, biofuel, biodiesel, methanol, ethanol, and electricity.”
Which is fine. Many states have such laws on the books, so Louisiana wasn’t breaking new ground here. And in the grand scheme of things, Act 469 was cheap: estimators expected it to cost the state just $900,000 over five years.
All went smoothly until April 30, 2012, when Louisiana’s Revenue Secretary Cynthia Bridges made an “emergency” ruling, which expanded the type of vehicles that qualified for the tax credit. Specifically, she added flex-fuel vehicles to the list, which seems reasonable, since “ethanol” was mentioned in the original bill.
As the always-astute Clancy Dubos at Gambit Weekly points out, this might not have been a problem, except for three curious things:

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Changes at The Times-Picayune lay bare the roots of a national trend

From The Lens, a report on the role of media deregulation at the FCC and it's implications for the Times-Picayune.

Changes at The Times-Picayune lay bare the roots of a national trend:

The recent changes at the Times-Picayune to stop publishing a daily paper and instead publish three days a week are unfortunate for the residents of the city and surrounding areas.  However, it was only a matter of time before this or something similar happened given what’s been happening to newspapers across the country for the past couple decades.  Lots of people claim that this is a result of the growing popularity of online news and the glut of information in general available on the internet, or of not enough people subscribing to the paper and paying for content.  While this is partly true, it’s important to see this change in its broader context. There are two other, very important things to note that help explain what happened to the TP: changes in policies relaxing media ownership regulations and the cost of producing and distributing news.  Once we take these into consideration, we can better understand the role of consumption patterns and the internet in the changing news industry and the likely consequences of current policy decisions.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Louisiana and School Privatization

From Reuters:
(Reuters) - Louisiana is embarking on the nation's boldest experiment in privatizing public education, with the state preparing to shift tens of millions in tax dollars out of the public schools to pay private industry, businesses owners and church pastors to educate children.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Stanford Project on Income and Inequality

A group of sociologists at Stanford and Harvard (and on from U. Mich) recently finished an impressive and sizable project on inequality in the US called Inequality in the United States: Understanding Inequality with Data (click here for the entire, 89 page report, complete with multiple tables and charts).  They don't just focus on income inequality, but also include debt, education, employment, family, gender, health, immigration, mobility, politics, poverty, race, violent crime and wealth, and they offer many specific analyses within each category (e.g., changes in union membership, or changes in US industry as part of the employment section).  Many of the tables show changes over time so you can get a sense of today's rates compared to those of years before.  Further, you can see at what point in time significant changes in trajectories occurred (click here to see a select number of slides individually). This is really an impressive assembly of data put together into an easily understandable format.  This would be perfect for journalists, researchers, students, and other bloggers who write about these topics.  Some of the data is even broken down by state so you can compare across states (e.g., violent crime) and others allow you to see how the US compares with other countries.  More about the project and other material can be found on the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality website. Here you can test you poverty and inequality IQ and learn the 20 facts about poverty and inequality that everyone should know.

To address these issues through policy, the Center posted a short chapter from a popular book called "Inequality by Design" which uses sociological data to critique the popular Bell Curve viewpoint and explain inequality as a consequence of they way our social institutes are designed and function.  They also offer a short (5-page) report on aspiring for income equality in a 2007 issue of Contexts, which is a publication of the American Sociological Association.

Below I posted their May, 2012 press release (after the break).

Thursday, June 7, 2012

People Eating Each Other

Everywhere I look I'm finding news clips about people eating each other.  It started in Miami about about a week and a half ago with that guy who apparently ate part of another guy's face.  Now I hear about it in other parts of the country and even the world.  This is beginning to look like a classic example of constructing a crime wave.  Vincent Sacco is one of the leading researchers on this topic.  Among many other publications, he wrote a readable book called When Crime Waves in which he discusses how news organizations make it appear that there's been a rise in a particular criminal behavior.  He points to a number factors that happen in the corporate news industry to increase coverage of a particular crime, but that are completely independent of any actual increase in that behavior.  By extension, this is one of the ways that news constructs public opinion and consciousness.  If a fundamental goal of the corporate news is attract viewers and generate revenue then the sensational and extraordinary is one effective way to do this.  When a particular issue or topic temporarily grabs the public's attention (such as kidnapping, elderly abuse, or the current zombie phenomenon), then responsible news workers and news organizations go out and find more stuff like it.  Not only that, but they also might try to link other less interesting content to that particular theme in an effort to "feed off" the popularity of the theme and increase consumption.  The actual frequencies of the specific behavior might not be changing at all, but the news' attention to it has and now they're trying to fit everything they can into that popular theme.  With the increasing amount of surveillance cameras, cell phone cameras and other such recording devices (there's a whole literature on panopticism and a surveillance society) recording and disseminating strange events occurring randomly around the globe, the news' ability to construct a crime wave or other wave is even greater.  Now much of it happens online, through social media sites.

News Priorities

Conan O'Brien's video commentary on news priorities (courtesy of SavetheNews.org).