ASSOCIATION FOR CRIMINAL JUSTICE RESEARCH (CA)
OCTOBER 19-20, 2006
The following notes reflect the personal observations of Mike Stefanko, Ph.D. regarding the presentations made at the 64 th meeting of the Association for Criminal Justice Research. They reflect those items of interest to him and how he absorbed them.
Today’s address focuses on politics versus research in forming policy. It must first be noted that at the moment crime rates are low, so criminal justice is more of a backburner topic. However, politicians recognize that there are always strong feelings and opinions, so criminal justice policy will always be a strong weapon for a politician seeking re-election, or for the opponent.
Greenwood began by studying NYPD detectives under Mayor John Lindsey. He found that case clearance was not relevant, conviction rate was the key stat that interested detectives. This was followed by a study of Los Angeles district attorney’s and the effects of their unreviewable discretion. Judges also had wide latitude. After this came studies of criminals, with the key findings being that a small percentage of criminals committed the majority of the crimes. To reduce the crime rate, selective incapacitation seemed from the research to be the best idea. The problem, from the perspective of researchers, is that you cannot predetermine who these repeat criminals will be. Perhaps a worse problem is that many people, including politicians, think that you can.
In the juvenile justice system, there is more latitude for the delinquents, so much of the system has become based on what is easy for the staff. There are some private providers, such as VisionQuest, who have had their working models evaluated. The results of the evaluations were mixed and no-one paid much attention. Many aftercare programs were tried, none had a significant impact on recidivism. As for three strike laws there has been no evaluation of costs and effects.
In California, criminal justice has been driven almost purely by politics, with the effect of shifting vast sums of money from higher education into corrections. Starting in 1993, crime rates declined. Some politicians tried to claim that new laws like Three Strikes accounted for all of the decline. Research indicated that prevention programs and parent training had some impact. Rob Reiner then stepped up to tout the benefits of investing in early childhood education. This led to Greenwood noting the large importance of a cause having a Champion.
Research moved into a “blueprints” phase. This involves finding the best of what works and replicating it, while using true randomized-assignment experiments to evaluate these programs. This model came out of pediatrics and psychology, not criminal justice. The experiments done in these settings were very costly, multi-year efforts. Such studies did not become commonplace in criminal justice, with the difficulty in random assignment as an important reason.
Another example of policy being driven less by research and more by politics, including the “headline of the day,” is the 1994 Clinton Crime Bill. The emphasis was on funding more cops and prisons. Much of the prevention funding was dropped. One reason appears to be that much of this funding would be directed to low income, high risk areas, areas where the elected officials were members of the Black Caucus.
Some programs with good trials and significant results include: nurse visits to families, interventions at the kindergarten level, family therapy (minimum of 12 visits linked to 30% less recidivism), multi-systemic approaches to “creating functional family units,” and multi-dimensional foster care (with training for foster parents). The “bad news” part of this for California is that these programs are all hard to implement completely and effectively, have lots of structure, and require a lot of supervision and feedback. You get the effects only if you do it right. The typical learning curve is two years, but government funding requires results by then. One way around this is to approach prevention through the California Institute for Mental Health. They have money and are used to this type of model.
PANEL #1: EXAMINING JUVENILE JUSTICE AT THE LOCAL, REGIONAL AND STATE LEVELS
The first presenter was Dr. Lydia Hollie, the Chairperson of the Youth and Gang Violence Prevention Task Force in the City of Long Beach. Dr. Hollie began by explaining that the key operating principal of the Task Force was to interview and to involve all major stakeholders. The police were a major participant, with representatives from about 40 other agencies and groups. This included every leadership sector and every demographic group. One key factor is that Long Beach is about 40% youth.
The Task Force arose from a Human Relations Commission Report in 2003 regarding increasing amounts (both real and perceived) of juvenile violence. A comprehensive approach to reduce violence was presented. There are Mediators – former gangsters who had changed the direction of their lives from being destroyers to builders. There was a need to increase public awareness of the problem in order to de-glorify violence. There were ethnic-specific programs developed as well. Youth were to be treated as respected contributors to society.
There were four foci developed: 1) media and community awareness; 2) youth engagement and violence prevention; 3) early childhood education; and 4) workforce development. The latter focus has shown particular success. Placement of youth in jobs rose from 100 to 1000. Five thousand youth accessed the services made available. Ninety-three percent completed the planned services. Eighty-six percent improved their academic performance by more than one grade level. For 19 to 21 year olds, 70% were placed in jobs.
The Task Force has meetings open to the public once a month. There have been community forums. There is a core group of mediators doing conflict resolution citywide. There has been an analysis of criminal activity and specific police beats have been identified for additional services. Mobile recreation sites have been developed to increase access to recreation. Youth have been involved in designing the outreach campaign. Cal State Long Beach has been involved as evaluators of the various programs and processes.
The Program has already received several regional awards and recognitions. In the future there is a desire to involve more youth, to have more community input, to increase collaboration with the school district, and to include gang members in a meaningful way. Recently, the development of a Weed and Seed grant proposal has become a fifth future desire.
The second presenter was Darlanne Mulmat of SANDAG (San Diego Area Governments), who discussed juvenile justice programs in the San Diego County area. This discussion focused on an evaluation of the Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act. The Act, passed in 2000, had components for prevention, intervention, and graduated sanctions. There was a focus on the entire family system, not just the juvenile. Elements of the San Diego effort included a community assessment, nurturing, truancy intervention (including supervision), probation supervision, and treatment elements. The evaluation was a combination of some quasi-experimental design and some pre- post-test. Both recidivism and measures of risk and resiliency were used to define outcomes.
WINGS, a program for female wards, was one program evaluated. This program was pooled with a broader Community Assessment program when funds declined. Both were multi-disciplinary and used a case-management approach. There was an increase in protective factors and a decrease in risk factors. More knowledge of and use of available services also occurred. Academically, attitudes became more positive and performance improved. Recidivism was lower compared to the baseline period.
The Truancy Supervision program had one focus on reducing out-of-control behaviors through intense supervision. This program also showed an increase in positive or protective factors, but no change in risk factors. Recidivism was much lower than the baseline period (in this case 120 days post-program versus 120 days pre-program). There was more compliance to wardship conditions. The program had set 60% levels of improvement for a variety of school factors (academic performance, suspensions, etc.). All factors improved by over 80%.
The third program area Darlanne discussed was the Drug Court/PMSA (Parent Mentoring of Substance Abuse) program. Both programs involve monitoring and parental involvement. Drug Court is more intrusive in its supervision. The combined analysis showed that protective factors increased greatly, while risk factors declined. There was no real change in recidivism, but this could be because only a poor comparison group was available. There was better compliance, but poorer payment of restitution (although there was still time to pay off the restitution). Another benefit occurred in the improvement in parental relationships. In particular, parents changed their behaviors to be less of a friend and more of a role model.
Breaking Cycles focused on providing high risk youth with the “carrot” of a continuum of services and a “stick” of graduated sanctions. In this program, risk factors declined, while there was a slight increase in protective factors. There was a positive impact on recidivism compared to when the youths first started the program.
The next speaker was Los Angeles City Councilman Tony Cardenas. Prior to gaining his council seat, he was a state assemblyman involved in criminal justice committee and issues. The Schiff-Cardenas Act shifted criminal justice funds from being only for additional police to include juvenile justice and rehabilitative programs. Funding things other than police and prisons is very tough in this legislature. While prisons receive $5 billion in funding, the proposed $500 million in funds was cut down to $120 million. Further cuts seem likely now, which led to Councilman Cardenas’ key point – having a champion, a legislator willing to make this her/his #1 issue, is critical to getting a program funded. Even with a champion, things can be very rough. The Councilman does not see any champions for juvenile justice in today’s legislature.
Elizabeth Siggins , Chief of Juvenile Justice Policy for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, also looked at juvenile justice at the state level. The key problem is that juvenile justice is primarily county-based, so there are more like 58 systems than one state-wide system. Many reforms are driven by lawsuits. The current preeminent suit concerns conditions of confinement. All six remedial plans required by the suit have been filed.
The Department of Juvenile Justice is trying to change this reactive culture to a proactive one. Important keys include: safe and secure facilities, effective rehabilitative treatments, preparation for reentry, and evaluation of program quality. Juveniles in state facilities are no longer viewed as a “general population.” Every juvenile has specific treatment needs and a concrete reentry plan. Plans need to focus on the role of the family and on access to continued treatment.
Another important facet of state confinement is the need to reduce living unit sizes and staff to juvenile ratios from 1 to 19 toward the desired 1 to 9. Because our peace officer salaries are so much higher than other states, it costs us $100 million to confine 3,000 youth. Despite the high salaries, we still have problems filling all the positions budgeted. And we are under-funded in key areas, like IT. Two positives is the consensus for evidence-based research and the improvements seen in the one facility with lower ratios.
A big question is how the state office can influence the rest of the system, since 99.5% of youth are not in state confinement. The Governor’s Juvenile Justice Group is trying to forge consensus on various issues. One issue is the need for state leadership and direction. Another is the need for better data collection. There is a project to survey current practices and to develop outcome indicators, especially in individual data. There is great cooperation among counties, but many limitations to the existing data. Some areas being regarded include risk assessment tools, the “typical day” in detention/confinement programs, the “what and how” of placement, supervision practices, resource availability, and how programs define “success.”
PANEL #2: EXPLORING THE EFFECTIVENESS OF RE-ENTRY POLICIES AND PROGRAMS
This panel was chaired by Michael Prendergast of UCLA. Michael began with an overview of re-entry issues. He began by discussing an after-care program for parolees. This was a continuum of care. There is a substance abuse treatment facility at Corcoran state prison that was later expanded into 40 programs of 200 to 250 beds each.
There are three basic models. Institutional Outreach works best if there is one provider within the institution who then works with a number of providers in the community. Community Reach-in is the preferred model when you have a large number of strong providers out in the community. The third model, Third Party Coordination, is preferred if there are a number of inside providers as well as a number of community providers. The third party acts as a link facilitator between the inside and community providers, creating the best matches for the parolees.
Aftercare in California includes the Parolee Services Network, which works from the prison to the parole office to the community, and the Female Offender Treatment and Employment Program (FOTEP). The Substance Abuse Services Coordinating Agency (SASCA) is another aftercare program in California. FOTEP has five in prison providers which “reach in” to recruit women. SASCA consists of 40 different programs with four coordinating agencies linking these programs to hundreds of community programs.
William Burdon of UCLA then described the Substance Abuse Services Coordinating Agencies (SASCA) in more detail. Some of the functions of SASCA include: generating and maintaining the contracts with the prison-based programs and community-based providers, securing placement for parolees, monitoring the parolees’ progress, communicate with Parole about the programs, refer parolees to other agencies to meet other needs, and facilitate access to other “markets.” A big advantage of the Coordinating Agencies is that there is only one contract needed for the small community provider, rather needing a contract with each prison-based program. There is also only one agency that Parole needs to deal with, rather than hundreds. This also leads to more flexible allocation of treatment dollars and an expanded ability to match treatments with parolee needs.
There is one situation that needs further explanation: when the prisoner is declared a “civil addict” versus just being in prison on a drug offense. For the drug-offense felons, about 30% go from an in-prison program to aftercare treatment, while for addicts it is over 80%. The felon percentage rises to the 50% range if they were in the prison-based program for over 90 days. Return-to-prison decreases the more in-prison treatment and aftercare participation that occurs. Those who completed an in-prison treatment program and start aftercare have a larger return than those who dropped out of the in-prison program, but those who complete both the prison treatment and stay in aftercare have the best results.
Another interesting result occurred in looking at residential versus outpatient treatment. The assumption was that those with more severe drug problems would benefit more from a residential program than an outpatient one. The study results showed no difference, the most significant factor was time spent in aftercare. Another area that needs much study is the quality of the 455 community programs involved in this area. Casual regard indicates that the quality varies greatly.
The next speaker was Christine Grella from UCLA. Christine’s presentation focused on FOTEP, the Female Offender Treatment and Employment Program. There has been a huge growth in the need for parenting, mental health and trauma-related services for women offenders. Typically these problems are more severe in women offenders than in men. Women offenders are also more likely to be in prison on drug charges (30% versus 20% for men) and the percentage increase in women with drug-related issues has been much greater than for men (3.9 times versus 3.3 times for men).
The study being reported involved 1,404 women and began with their admission to an in-prison program. The FOTEP offers more services, but places more demands on those involved. Those in the FOTEP were also in need of more services. Services included case management, job training, parenting skills training, mental health and trauma-related services, and co-residence with children for incarcerated mothers.
Some of the demographics of those studied include: low education levels, 36% black, 83% drug dependent (with 20% injecting daily at the time of their arrest), 44% reporting physical and/or sexual abuse, and 32% diagnosed with high end mental health problems. There was an average of 15 arrests and 6.7 jail stays of over 30 days for the group.
Sixty-one percent had volunteered for in-prison treatment. Data was acquired from the prison system database, in-prison assessments and from aftercare programs. On the need-for-treatment scale, the average score was 17.4 out of 52. Higher needs were found to be associated with: unstable housing, abuse, mental illness, and dependence. Dependence and education were the factors best predicting the completion of the program. Those with mental health problems were less likely to complete.
Just under 33% returned to prison within twelve months. The factors best predicting the return to prison were: mental health, race (black), and the number of previous incarcerations. Those with co-occurring needs and blacks were less likely to complete FOTEP. FOTEP was seen as a positive in that it was able to address more needs than other programs.
The third presenter was Sheldon Zhang, a researcher from San Diego State University. Zhang reported on the STAR program (Substance Abuse Treatment And Recovery), comparing it to the Parole Services Network (PSN) and the Residential Multi-Service Centers (RMSC). STAR is considered to be a “coerced” program, where the incentives to participate are so large offenders feel pressured to join. It is an education-based program.
The evaluation focused on variables that included the treatment mode and amount of treatment, while controlling for gender, age, race, risk, offense, region, and prior incarcerations. For the Parole Services Network, there was a big difference between those offenders who enrolled but did not complete (48% recidivism) and those who finished at least one goal (25% recidivism). For RMSC, the recidivism dropped from 49% for those with little treatment to 29% for those with some treatment, to 15% for those who completed the program. For STAR, there was no difference between those who completed less than 60 hours and those who did more, but there was a big drop in recidivism for those who graduated.
Another factor that was regarded was “survival.” This was the average length of time offenders stayed out of prison before returning. STAR program participants stayed out 1.3 times as long as the offender with no program. For PSN participants it was 2.5 times as long. RMSC participants stayed out 3 times longer on average than non-program parolees.
Since program completion was an important determinant of improved outcomes, the research looked at factors that effected completion. The two factors found were age and prior incarceration. The conclusion is that there are benefits to all these program models, but benefits would increase with more targeted alignment of offenders and programs. In particular, placing those who would most likely benefit in STAR versus coercing them to participate was seen as having much improved effects.
PANEL #3: ANALYZING THE IMPACT OF CURRENT POLICY AND PRACTICE IN LOS ANGELES JAILS
The third panel discussed the overcrowding conditions in Los Angeles County jails, especially the Men’s Central Jail facility. The first speaker was District Attorney Steven Cooley. He began by noting that the problem certainly is not unique to Los Angeles, 30 counties have similar overcrowding issues. At this point incarceration is the weak link in the justice system. Not only are there inadequate facilities, these facilities are seriously understaffed.
Cooley sees a lack of creative thinking in regards to the problem. Such things as expanded community service, especially CalTrans work, electronic monitoring, and more use of early dispositioning could all contribute relief. We cannot just blame the Sheriff. He has statutory responsibilities and needs the resources to carry these out. When he is forced to release offenders early because of overcrowding, we are shifting sentencing to the jailer, which is NOT where it belongs. Pubic safety is adversely affected by minimizing sentences, both in putting criminals back on the street and in emboldening them with the knowledge that the punishment will not fit the crime.
Overcrowding has been a long-standing issue. The first suit brought by the ACLU regarding conditions was filed in 1975. A systemic solution is required. The state needs to help with more funds. In addition, since about 30% of jailed offenders are undocumented, the federal government needs to help as well.
The second presentation was made by two attorneys from the ACLU, Hannah Cannon and Pak. They were making a presentation on behalf of Melinda Bird, the Lead Counsel from ACLU. Ms. Bird was in a court hearing on a motion the ACLU had filed regarding the prisons. The initial lawsuits stem back to Rutherford versus Pitchess which allowed the ACLU access to the jails to check on conditions as specified in Title 15. It must be remembered that about 70% of those in jail are pre-adjudicated, that is, they have not been convicted of a crime. Since they are presumed innocent and are awaiting processing by the judicial system, they are entitled to more rights under the 14 th Amendment than those who have been convicted.
The ACLU receives about 25 to 30 letters per week and about 200 phone calls regarding jail conditions. In addition, complaints are received by the in-house monitors. Most of the complaints (about 80%) are of a medical nature. They stem both from the large percentage of inmates with mental health issues and from the understaffing of the jails by the Sheriff’s Department. The ACLU sends a written response to the inmate and a fax to the Sheriff’s Department. There are also emails, reports, and court appearances. From all this attention, a Jail Advocacy Task Force was established consisting of representatives from 25 different organizations.
Much of the focus has been on Men’s Central Jail. This is a 40 year old facility that is the largest jail in the country. It was built with two to four man modules in a linear design. Unfortunately, this does not allow deputies to see into the cells unless they walk the aisles. Also, this means that inmates are kept in their cells for long periods of time. Judge Pregerson has found massive overcrowding and has asked for solutions. Other remedies have resulted in having fewer inmates per cell, increasing the crowding issue. Inmates are now allowed out of their cells in shifts, visitations have been increased, inmates have been reclassified by danger levels, and deputies have been assigned to specific rows. On the negative side, a large number of inmates have been held in the reception area with no access to showers, food, or working toilets.
The third presentation was made by Commander Dennis Conte of the Sheriff’s Department. Commander Conte’s responsibilities include the Men’s Central Jail. He noted that the Sheriff’ Department oversees over 20,000 inmates. While not denying the issues with Men’s Central Jail, most inmates are housed in newer facilities with better layouts and more dorm settings. A major problem is that over the past few years of County budget crises, over 1,000 deputy positions have been lost, resulting in the previously discussed understaffing of the jails.
Commander Conte mentioned the Twin Towers. One is devoted to inmates with mental health issues and the other is currently a maximum security facility. Miraloma is under federal contract with a thousand immigration and customs detainees, but was designed specifically for this type of inmate and could not be readily converted to help the overcrowding issue. The over 180,000 bookings per year are now classified into the Northpoint danger-focused system from 1 to 10, with 11 being used to designate homosexual inmates.
Some progress is being made, especially now that there is some additional money in the budget. More deputies are being hired – there are five training academies going on right now. There are plans to renovate Sybil Brand, formerly for female inmates. However construction takes time. A final note is that state facilities for those with serious mental health issues were closed with the idea that community facilities and programs would replace them. These have not appeared and the jails have become the de facto place to house those with severe problems.
PANEL #4: POLICY BY INITIATIVE: REFORMING THE THREE STRIKE’S LAW
This panel was chaired by Jennifer Walsh of Azusa Pacific University, who began with some initial remarks. She noted that originally there were two versions of the law, a legislative version and an initiative version. The initiative was passed overwhelmingly. Since then there have been a number of challenges, both judicial and legislative. The most important change was the decision by the California Supreme Court that the initiative allowed prosecutorial discretion but not judicial discretion and this imbalance was unconstitutional. Therefore some judicial discretion in “disallowing” previous convictions as strikes was permitted. Of further note, California is the only one of the 26 states with variations of a third strike law to allow a non-violent offense to be a third strike. Finally, research on the effects of the law is mixed. One study says it has had a deterrent effect, the next study says there is no effect. One problem is that a lot of the research has been by groups with a vested interest one way or another in the law.
The first speaker was Lael Rubin, Special Counsel with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. She crafted the District Attorney’s opinion on the implementation of the Third Strike Law. She began by observing that it is easy to focus on the day-to-day items and miss the broader perspective. Before he was District Attorney, Steve Cooley believed that the voters wanted to be tough on crime and were requesting a rigid application of the Law. As mentioned above, the California Supreme Court noted the imbalance in discretion and allowed more judges discretion. A rigid application of Third Strikes swings the imbalance in the opposite direction. It denies prosecutors their discretion and leaves all the discretionary power to the judge.
This imbalance, plus the observation that in some cases a sentence of twenty-five years to life seemed unjust, led to a desire to develop a policy with more prosecutorial discretion. District Attorney Cooley asked Special Counsel Rubin to craft this new policy. Beginning in 2000, potential third strike cases received more review. At the same time, there was a move for statutory change, but this was a difficult sell to the voters. Proposition 66, which Rubin feels would have emasculated Third Strikes was defeated. Another initiative attempt was turned into a Senate bill sponsored by Senator Romero. This also did not get very far.
We now need to look at what we charge as a third strike offense. Correctional officers generally agree that the rigid application leads to a bad use of prison resources. Another disparity as the rules have changed and judicial discretion was allowed is that those sentenced in the early stages of Third Strikes have substantially lengthier sentences than those in similar circumstances but sentenced later (there are also great disparities from county to county, but those disparities are not limited to the third strike law). District Attorney Cooley feels that the courts should have the opportunity to review these cases as well.
The second speaker, Senior District Attorney Brian Gurwitz from Orange County had the opposite view. Brian began by reviewing his background, which included third strike trials and arguing before the California Supreme Court. He currently heads the Felony Panel of the Orange County District Attorney’s Office. He got involved in the anti-Proposition 66 campaign when he saw the proposition as gutting the intent of the Third Strike Law.
He stated that he personally has never seen a third strike case where the sentence of 25 years to life was not justified. Knowing the details of some of the headlined cases is helpful in understanding them. For example, the person who got the sentence for “stealing a cookie” was in fact caught after burglarizing a Mrs. Field’s store. The cookie was the evidence linking him to the burglary, certainly a serious crime (under the heading of “serious or violent” third offenses). The person convicted for taking a piece of pizza in fact terrorized a group of children, much more violent and traumatic than portrayed in the media.
Brian also noted the disproportionate effect of sentencing in Third Strike cases. Los Angeles is a different county from Kern. But sentencing disparities are not unique to Third Strikes. For example, the death penalty is automatically sought in all cases involving the death of a police officer, except in San Francisco County. He also responded to the idea of having judges review cases settled before the Romero decision gave judges discretion. He noted that the prosecutors would not be able to go back to review cases, and had not been able to after other decisions in other areas. Brian feels that the decline in life sentences and the dropping of third strikes was principally an example of judges trying to manage their overflowing calendars and avoid time-consuming trials. They were not “in the interest of justice.”
Brian also mentioned a few aspects of the history of Three Strikes. The original Reynolds case was a purse-snatching that turned into a murder. The victim’s father started a campaign for a law to keep repeat violent offenders off the streets for good. It originally did not get very far until the Klaas case captured the public’s attention. One observation on the discussion: by labeling a small set of crimes as “serious or violent” you are implying that other crimes are not serious, even thought their effects can be profound.
Brian suggested that if Third Strikes was to be changed at all, the first thing would be to see that the discretion to give life sentences even if the third offense is not violent not be taken away. Second, Brian would like to see the “25 to life” mandatory sentence changed to “10 years to life” so people would be less reluctant to seek it and to impose it. On this last point, Leal Rubin wanted to offer the rebuttal that this shifts the responsibilities for length of incarceration to understaffed and overworked parole boards which are not subject to oversight.
PANEL #5: POLICY BY INITIATIVE – JESSICA’S LAW
The panel was chaired by Jesse Janetta, an MPP from the University of California at Irvine. He made some preliminary remarks and then made a presentation later in the panel. The preliminary remarks included introductions of the speakers and the note that sex offenders and their treatment, sentencing and effect on communities is an expanding policy area. There is even more emotions and concern than with Three Strikes. Definitions of sex offenses keep expanding, as does research into types, causes and the effectiveness of treatments.
The first presenter was Becky Warren, the state campaign manager for Jessica’s Law, Proposition 83. Becky began by describing the initial interest in child safety displayed by two legislators, the Runners. There was also a push from the offices of district attorneys to close perceived loopholes in current sex offender codes. Like with Third Strike, the Runners legislation did not make it out of committee. Then a Florida case of a nine year old girl who was taken, then raped and buried alive, made national headlines. The perpetrator had 22 previous molestation convictions. Still the legislature did not act until the initiative qualified for the ballot. The legislature has now belatedly passed legislation that mirrors parts of the initiative.
The initiative closes some loopholes, better defines which offenses qualify as strikes (others state that it greatly expands the list of offenses), and changes some misdemeanors into “wobblers” (which can be filed as either misdemeanors or felonies depending upon the specific circumstances). It expands the GPS program that has begun and imposes it for the life of the offender, not just while the offender is on parole. It extends residency restrictions and closes some loopholes in the Sexually Violent Predator program. The initiative has overwhelming support, including some defense attorneys.
Jesse Janetta then spoke about the GPS monitoring program that he is involved in evaluating. A lot of his presentation was in clarifying just what GPS can and cannot do. GPS provides data feedback on the position of the unit. This information is sent to a computer server every couple of minutes. Printouts can then be produced that show the change in positions. There are five goals for the GPS monitoring program: 1) reduce sexually violent behavior; 2) improve detection of violations of parole conditions and risky behavior; 3) increase compliance of parole conditions; 4) identify or eliminate offenders as suspects in crimes; 5) form partnerships between parole and local law enforcement.
So far about 500 of the highest risk offenders have been designated for GPS devices since June of 2005. There has been very little evaluation done. Janetta’s study focused on offenders in the San Diego and Orange County areas. There were six parole agents involved in the implementation team. Janetta looked at operations after six to seven months.
The agents received three types of information. First, there were activity reports and alerts. These were automatically generated and sent by email to the agent each morning. Urgent alerts were sent by phone call and text message. One primary purpose in reviewing these reports was to look for tampering, message gaps, and zone violations. A key concern was determining whether an offender might be approaching an intended victim. These reports were useful, but limited.
The second type of information was offender tracking. Agents could access a display of points on a map where the offender was at various times. This provides much more information than the reports, the difficulty was in determining on which data to focus. The agents needed to first develop a normal pattern of movement, for example, home to work to shopping to visit a relative to home. Then locations off this normal pattern could be investigated. A difficulty is that this review would happen long after a problem behavior occurred.
The third type of information involved crime scene correlation. After a sex crime had occurred, the GPS data could be used to determine if the offender was in the crime area about the time the crime occurred. The program determines “hits” and sends this information to the parole agent who can then investigate. It is more frequent that the data eliminated the offender as a suspect.
Several important limitations to the GPS data must be noted. First, the data says Where the offender has been, but not What the offender was doing. Often the agent must visit the places noted in the data report to try to determine what the offender might have been doing. This is made more difficult by the fact that the data is precise to the block, but not to a specific spot on the block. A second limitation is that all of this data interpretation is extremely labor-intensive (and hence, expensive). A third limitation is that this does not prevent crimes of opportunity, it only identifies suspicious behaviors which can be discussed with the offender at the next parole meeting. The public might think that this will eliminate additional crimes by offenders, but this is not the case.
Finally, there is an issue of victim proximity and identity. Offenders are not permitted to be within a specified distance from their victims. If the data is correlated with victim location and shows a breach, what should be done. Is the offender stalking the victim again, or did the offender not know where the victim was until the agent brought it up? If the agent tells an offender not to continue going to a certain location because of victim proximity, is this giving the offender knowledge that could be used to commit an additional (and perhaps deadly) crime?
The third presenter for this panel was Chrysanthi Leon, an attorney who is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California at Berkeley. Chrysanthi discussed shifting influences in sex offender punishment. She looked at public portrayals of sex offenders and the punishment meted out since the 1930’s to the present. From 1932 to 1974 incarceration rates for sexual offenses were fairly low and flat. Then there was a huge jump and rates continue to increase.
Leon identified three eras in punishment. From 1930 to 1955 the concept was that of the sexual psychopath. The public perceived the threats of monsters in their midst from several sensationalized cases. The focus was on catching signals from these psychopaths to prevent serious crimes. Incapacitation was the focus of policies. However, the realization that some offenders were “pillars of the community” led to confusion and concerns. In reality there was no real change in prison admissions.
From 1955 to 1980 there was an era of optimism regarding the rehabilitative possibilities with sex offenders. Since 1980 this optimism has waned and we are now in an era of containment. This last era has seen an increase in misdemeanor prosecutions as part of the containment desire.