To Deter Violence, Let’s Treat Alt-Right Groups as Street Gangs

Law enforcement efforts to avert the kind of violence seen in Charlottesville last year and Portland, Or., this year would be boosted by anti-street gang strategies, say two researchers.

Often, it has seemed that every public demonstration organized by Alt-Right groups is simply a ruse for violence and intimidation. Fortunately, violence by Alt-Right groups was averted at the Unite the Right 2 rallies in Washington, DC and Charlottesville, Va., over the weekend.

But earlier this month, violence erupted in Portland, Or., when Alt-Right groups clashed with counter-protesters. It was the second such clash in a little over a month.

Explanations given for the lack of violence in the rallies last weekend have largely focused on low attendance by the Alt-Right groups, and the massive police presence.

But if we want to prevent further outbreaks of violence, there are some important steps that can be implemented before the protesters take to the streets.

In both Charlottesville and Portland, traditional crowd control techniques by law enforcement proved insufficient to combat these Alt-Right groups. While this past weekend’s mobilization and deployment of hundreds of law enforcement officers in Washington and Charlottesville may have helped inhibit violence, this approach is not practical or sustainable for every public gathering of the Alt-Right.

Law enforcement should consider alternative approaches to curb the violence that accompanies them. As criminologists who study street and prison gangs, we argue that Alt-Right groups are no different than conventional street gangs, and should be treated as such.

Shannon Reid

Shannon Reid

Approaching these groups as gangs would expand law enforcement’s toolbox to more effective tactics. Decades of gang research have highlighted strategies to combat violence. For instance, gang databases already employed by law enforcement agencies, should be used to identify, collect and share intelligence about Alt-Right members who are routinely engaging in violence.

It would then be feasible to use civil gang injunctions to limit the association and congregation of these individuals. Another successful approach has been focused deterrence/group violence intervention, which concentrates on communicating to chronic offenders, most at risk to sanctions, that violence will not be tolerated while providing these individuals opportunities and resources for desistance.

Such a strategy could easily be deployed for Alt-Right groups.

What is a Gang?

Defining what constitutes a “gang” remains a highly debated topic amongst and between academics, policymakers and law enforcement. Even though there is not a single definition between all parties, many elements remain present.

For instance, according to the Washington, DC criminal code, a “criminal street gang” is as “an association or group of six or more persons” that participates in either a felony (e.g., aggravated assault, murder) or a violent misdemeanor (e.g., simple assault, property destruction, threats of bodily harm).

The code also deems it “unlawful for a person to solicit, invite, recruit, encourage, or otherwise cause, or attempt to cause, another individual to become a member of, remain in, or actively participate in” a gang.

Based upon Washington, DC’s criminal code, a very narrow definition of a gang, any of the individuals participating with Alt-Right groups in felony or violent misdemeanor activity, as observed in Portland or Charlottesville, should be treated as a member of an “Alt-Right Gang”.

Are Alt-Right Groups Comparable to Street Gangs?

In broader terms, gangs are groups of individuals sharing a collective identity, differentiating members that are part of the group from excluded outsiders. A common set of descriptors include particular signs/ symbols, that are either materially displayed or tattooed, colors and clothing styles, although these are not necessary elements for a group.

The typical example is a Blood or Crip gang member wearing a particular color, sports team insignia, or clothing brand. The Proud Boys, an Alt-Right group present at both Charlottesville and Portland, routinely wear their own unique uniform identifying group members— a black Fred Perry polo shirt with yellow piping. Given the historic connections of the clothes being adopted as part of racist skinheads’ uniform, it is probably no coincidence that Fred Perry shirts were selected. (The brand does not endorse these groups.)

In addition to the Proud Boys initiation process, their propensity for and support of violence against non-members clearly indicates the use of criminal acts as a tool to further solidify the groups’ Alt-Right identity.

Another characteristic that street gangs and Alt-Right groups hold in common is durability. As witnessed over the last couple years, the activity of Alt-Right groups is not short-lived. Many of these groups have been able to maintain their presence and grow through social media and online imageboards (e.g., 4chan).

A principal characteristic of a street gang is its orientation towards gathering in public space. While much of the Alt-Right developed online, their actions have spewed forth into the physical world. Furthermore, the public presence of Alt-Right groups is not diminishing and remains highly active at public demonstrations and on college campuses.

Does Ideology Matter?

People may argue that Alt-Right groups differ from gangs because their ideological underpinnings are what actually bind these groups together. The vast majority of members of Alt-Right groups remain tied together more by what they oppose: multiculturalism, feminism, political correctness, globalism, establishment politics (i.e., the Federal Government), and immigration, rather than a rigorous and complex ideology.

In fact, the ideologies referenced by members are often varied, and sometimes contradictory. In essence, ideology should be used as a descriptor instead of an identifier. Most criminal codes do not reference ideology in ascertaining if members are part of gang.

Matt Valasik

Matt Valasik

Street gangs are not a minority-based problem, yet clear bias exists towards considering people of color as gang members compared to their white counterparts. An example of this lack of local police attention towards Alt-Right gangs is clearly observed in Portland.

The Portland Police Bureau’s Gang Database lists 359 gang members, yet, only 32 individuals were listed as being a member of one of seven White Power groups. That is, less than 9 percent of all known gang members. Yet, Portland is not lacking in violent white supremacy groups. If police agencies categorize crimes involving Alt-Right groups as being part of a racist or hateful subculture treating each incident of violence as an isolated event, rather than a gang-related incident, then law enforcement will never know if these Alt-Righters are habitual offenders and will be limited in their intervention capabilities.

Adapting an old adage, if an Alt-Right group looks like a gang, acts like a gang, and sounds like a gang then it should be considered an Alt-Right Gang.

Matthew Valasik, Ph.D., is a criminologist at the Department of Sociology at Louisiana State University. Shannon Reid, Ph.D., is a criminologist at the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. They study street and prison gangs, and their research has recently focused on White Power and Alt-Right groups. They welcome comments from readers.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Trapped: How Fee-Based GPS Monitoring Puts a ‘Price Tag on Freedom’

William Edwards, released from jail with a GPS tracking device that he has to pay for, is one of thousands of poor defendants left at the mercy of an ‘E-carceration” system increasingly run by for-profit services, writes an attorney who is leading a class action lawsuit combating the practice.

William Edwards was giving a lift to a friend in Oakland, Ca., in November 2016 when he was stopped by police. After searching his car without a warrant, the officers found drugs in the friend’s bag.

Edwards was arrested, charged with possession for sale of drugs, and held on a bond he could not afford, although he didn’t know anything about the drugs. A cancer survivor, he requires daily treatment that he could not get in jail. Eventually, his health deteriorated to the point that the court agreed to release him if he wore a GPS tracking device.

He was remanded to the custody of Leaders in Community Alternatives (LCA), an Oakland-based for-profit company with a privatized supervision contract with Alameda County.

Once assigned to LCA, Edwards found himself in a financial trap.

LCA charged him $25.50 per day for the GPS tracking “services.” It demanded $532.50 just to enroll in the program and pay for the first two weeks. With an income barely over the poverty line for the Bay Area, Williams couldn’t afford to pay the fee. Although California law provides that people on monitors cannot be charged more than they can pay, LCA threatened to return him to jail if he did not pay their exorbitant fees.

This month, Equal Justice Under Law, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that fights to end the criminalization of poverty (I am Executive Director), filed a federal class action lawsuit against LCA, alleging that its business model amounts to racketeering based on testimony that LCA threatens to jail people if they do not pay LCA’s fees.

While GPS tracking — sometimes called “e-carceration” — is controversial, its problems are multiplied when the process is privatized instead of being run as part of a county’s public supervision agencies. Thousands of California residents have borne the brunt of LCA’s business model that generates profits by demanding $25.50 per day from individuals ordered to wear GPS tracking devices.

In July 2013, authorities in Alameda County, which includes the city of Oakland, contracted with LCA to take charge of the county’s electronic monitoring system for individuals released from custody and awaiting trial. LCA, a subsidiary of SuperCom, made Alameda an offer it couldn’t refuse: It would run the entire system of GPS tracking of individuals, and it wouldn’t charge the county a dime.

Instead, LCA would earn revenue by charging individuals a daily fee for wearing the electronic bracelets.

Not only did Alameda County put a price tag on freedom, but it also turned a blind eye when LCA set that amount at an unaffordable number. In doing so, it violated California law, constitutional principles, and common sense.

In a case from 1983 called Bearden v. Georgia, the Supreme Court proclaimed that a defendant could not be jailed for failing to pay restitution if he didn’t have the money. In other words, no one can be punished simply for being poor. That is why California law requires that people on ankle monitors only be charged what they can afford.

But LCA puts no meaningful effort into assessing whether its “clients” can afford hundreds of dollars per month. The majority cannot afford the onerous fees LCA requires. And many of those individuals have not been convicted of any crime at all: they are pending trial while ordered to endure to 24-hour per day surveillance by LCA.

According to many subjected to LCA’s practices, the company threatens jail for those who cannot pay.

If someone threatened to lock you up if you didn’t pay them $25 every day, you’d call that extortion, and you’d probably call the police. Many who have been subjected to LCA’s practices complain that LCA is committing exactly this kind of extortion: demanding payment on threat of jail. It will be up to a jury to decide if LCA should be liable for racketeering and whether Alameda County should be liable for not protecting basic constitutional rights.

Edwards is a client of Equal Justice Under Law. But he’s not alone. Stories like his abound across the country.

According to a Pew study, the number of active monitoring devices increased 140 percent from 2005 to 2015, largely due to the rapid advancement of GPS technology, an advance that has coincided with the expansion of privatization. LCA is a relatively small player in the electronic monitoring industry.

Well-known names in the prison industrial complex such as Geo Group and Sentinel Offender Services engage in this practice for profit.

We all should ask ourselves whether we want a criminal justice system that allows private companies to profit from people within it — many of whom are indigent and all of whom are already struggling with the consequences of being accused or convicted of a crime.

Alameda County’s adoption of a “user-funded model” allows a private company to enrich its shareholders by placing a coercive burden upon indigent individuals. Privatization of our criminal justice system benefits no one except the companies exploiting people for profit.

We deserve a justice system that puts justice before profits, and too many counties like Alameda are privatizing justice at the expense of all of us.

Phil Telfeyan

Phil Telfeyan. Photo by Simon Edelman, Syncro Studios.

Editor’s Note: For another perspective on this topic, see Lawsuit Confronts Extortion of Prisoners by Electronic Monitoring Firm.

Phil Telfeyan is an attorney and the Executive Director of Equal Justice Under Law, a non-profit civil rights organization leading the litigation in Edwards v. LCA, a class action lawsuit pending in federal court. William Edwards is one of Equal Justice Under Law’s clients and the lead plaintiff in the case against LCA. He welcomes comments from readers.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Medical Cannabis and the Law

An ongoing argument about the differences between ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ marijuana is absorbing Michigan courts and politicians. But the debate turns more on politics than science, and is likely to become irrelevant if voters approve full legalization next November, writes a commentator on drug policy.

Justice is perceived as unbiased, fair and wise. The law doesn’t have to be any of those things—it doesn’t even have to make sense—and neither do the courts or its judges.

Take medical marijuana. On July 19, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that while it is legal for someone with a medical marijuana card to possess a certain number of marijuana plants, and that it is legal for someone with a medical marijuana card to possess a certain amount of harvested, dried, and usable marijuana, it is not legal for someone with a medical marijuana card to possess marijuana that has been harvested but is not dried.

Strictly speaking, the Appeals Court ruling in People v. Vanessa Mansour means the weight of the freshly harvested marijuana—referred to as “wet” marijuana, although that term also has been used for marijuana laced with PCP or “angel dust”—can be taken into account in determining if the grower has exceeded the legal limit of marijuana.

In Michigan, a medical marijuana caregiver is permitted 12 plants or 15 ounces/425 grams of “usable” marijuana per patient licensed patient. According to the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act (MMMA), “Usable marihuana means the dried”—not drying—“leaves, flowers, plant resin, or extract of the marihuana plant,” and the Court agreed in People v. Manuel.

In Mansour, the Michigan justices relied on an earlier 2015 court ruling, People v. Carruthers. It was decided before the MMMA was amended in 2016, and before Manuel, but the lower court chose to give Carruthers precedence because it said it was “more comprehensive.”

The Michigan Court of Appeal also claimed:

  • The two rulings were not in conflict,
  • If they were, “Carruthers controls”.
  • “Even if Carruthers were not controlling, we agree with and adopt its rationale.”

That sounds like the judges personally prefer the more restrictive Carruthers interpretation. Michigan’s state court candidates are elected, politically selected, and arguably partisan. Regardless of the will of the people, if they don’t like a citizen initiative, they (like the Legislature) can find or contrive some reason to overturn it or disregard it.

Carruthers turned on whether marijuana brownies consisted of marijuana in a “usable” form. True, you cannot smoke it once it’s been baked into brownies, but you can still get high by eating them. Under such circumstances, it might make sense to consider both “usable” and “unusable” quantities of marijuana. In Manuel, it involved only drying marijuana.

According to one of Mansour’s attorneys, the Michigan Supreme Court has already thrown one case back to the MCA because it was in violation of Manuel. The same fate may be in store for Mansour.

Other reasons not to count wet marijuana include that:

  • It is not usable in this form.
  • The dried weight will be less than the wet weight (only 20-25 percent).
  • Marijuana plants can produce more than the allowable amount of marijuana—up to a pound per plant every three months—so some must be harvested and frozen in a semi “wet” condition for future use.

Why the amount of marijuana matters is the severity of the sentence. Mansour clearly exceeded the 20-plant mark which has the lightest penalty—up to four years in prison and/or a $20,000 fine. If only the plants are counted, her fewer than 200 plants could mean seven years and/or $500,000.

But if you add the drying cannabis, she could face greater penalties of 15 years and $10 million.

Montana is going through a similar dispute. Wayne Steven Penning was transporting drying leaves harvested from his four plants in sealed containers in his car. Only one ounce of “usable” marijuana is permitted to medical marijuana patients in Montana.

Montana’s medical marijuana law defines “usable marijuana” as “the dried leaves and flowers of marijuana and any mixture or preparation of marijuana.” Wet leaves don’t seem to meet any of those criteria.

Also, an article in the Billings Gazette states, “A mature female marijuana plant can produce up to 16 ounces of marijuana per yield, according to Penning’s petition to the Montana Supreme Court.” That means that “at the point of harvest, medical marijuana patients will possess more than one ounce of marijuana plant.”

Penning tried to get the Montana Supreme Court to rule on the issue of usability, but as courts like to do, they punted, declining to rule while the district court has the case, and saying that the issue of “usable” marijuana is a “question of fact, not a question of law.”

Meanwhile, the district court judge says it is a matter for the jury, which seems to make it a question of opinion.

In this instance, the law should be fact-based, but leaving it to a jury with its own predispositions towards marijuana is problematic. Jury nullification has been part of the U.S. jury system before we were a nation—since at least Crown v. John Peter Zenger in 1735. Juries don’t necessarily follow the facts.

Currently, marijuana is considered a dangerous controlled substance—as bad as (heroin) or worse than (fentanyl) the drugs causing the opioid epidemic. That designation is not based on its addictiveness. At worst, it is less addictive than tobacco, with little or no withdrawal.

Fewer substance abuse treatment centers—faith-based 12 step programs, or evidence-based non 12 step rehab centers—specialize in marijuana dependence than do alcoholism. The risk of cancer is less than tobacco, too, and no one has ever died of a marijuana overdose. The animus towards cannabis is based on prejudice and maybe politics.

One small sign that Michigan legislators and judges don’t want to deal with marijuana is in how they spell it: marihuana with an “h”. Marihuana is an older spelling, dating back to the U.S. Marihuana Act of 1937. Marijuana with a “j” has been the preferred spelling for decades, but a state website says “An act of the Michigan Legislature would be required in order to change the spelling of marihuana in the Michigan statutes, such as the Public Health Code or the newer marihuana laws.”

A more important sign is that while the Michigan medical marijuana initiative was passed by the voters in 2008, full implementation has been delayed for a decade as the legislature and the governor’s office have dragged their feet. Earlier this year the legislature got testy, declaring that all the medical marijuana dispensaries that have opened in lieu of their final regulations must close down until licenses are finally issued.

This reluctance of legislators to do their job may have backfired. Marijuana again will be on the ballot in Michigan this November, but this time it is for full legalization, recreational as well as medical, and it is supported by 61 percent of voters, with only 5 percent undecided.

Stephen Bitsoli

Stephen Bitsoli

In addition to the people who want recreational marijuana, some may support legalization because the state so passive-aggressively delayed medical marijuana, the voters may not trust the legislators or judges.

If the state doesn’t want to deal with it, the people may leave them no choice.

There’s a well-known legal maxim that justice delayed is justice denied. Politicians and judges would do well to remember that.

Stephen Bitsoli, a Michigan-based freelancer, writes about addiction, politics and related matters for several blogs. He welcomes readers’ comments.

from https://thecrimereport.org

How the Justice System Can Learn From ‘Frequent Flyers’

For some Americans, health care and criminal justice are not two separate systems, but components of one big system that too often fails them. Frustrated cops call them “frequent fliers” because they regularly cycle between jail and hospital, so why do we  think we can fix one without the other?  

If a patient commits suicide within 72 hours of discharge, the Joint Commission (the accrediting body for hospitals) requires that a hospital conduct a “sentinel event” review.

That review will include a root cause analysis designed to uncover any mistakes or latent system weaknesses that contributed to the death.  It tries to learn whatever can be learned, and to report on steps aimed at preventing repetition.

But suppose the suicide is a “suicide-by-cop”:  A distraught former patient succeeds in forcing the police to shoot him in order to protect their colleagues or a hostage or a bystander.

Then, the familiar mechanisms of the criminal justice system will automatically activate too.

There will be a homicide investigation and a coroner’s report.

The performances of the officers who pulled their triggers will be examined by prosecutors and department officials.  Did the cops have another choice?   Did they act in self-defense? Was the shooting “within policy”?  Is prosecution called for?  Discipline?

Currently, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) are providing support (through a technical assistance grant to the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice at the University of Pennsylvania Law School) for state and local criminal justice systems that want to go beyond the typical punishment-oriented reviews of the practitioners on the sharp end of the system, and to conduct “sentinel event” reviews of their own derived from the medical model when something goes wrong.  Jurisdictions are being recruited.

This will be a new thing in criminal justice.

These inquiries are focused not only on the choices of the individual cops, or forensic scientists, or lawyers, implicated in a surprising outcome, but rather on the whole constellation of system factors.

Like the hospital reviews, they ask not only “What happened?” but also “Why did it happen?” The goal is safety, and not just the safety of suicidal people, but also of the police who are forced to confront them—officers who, even if they survive their encounters, are traumatized by the experience.

So, in a criminal justice “sentinel event” review of a suicide-by-cop the role of training and supervision could be examined.   Was the cop trained in de-escalation techniques and equipped with non-lethal options?  Did the department have a Crisis Intervention capacity?

Had the 911 dispatcher gathered⸺and then conveyed⸺the useful information?  To the right people?  If not, why not?  How was this fatal situation created?  How can it be avoided?

These are system-oriented  event reviews, not personnel-focused  performance reviews; they look forward,  and they  aim at prevention, not at blame.

Are two reviews (or even three, if your city or state has opted into the NIJ/BJA  Sentinel Event effort) better than one?

An innovative recent study in Camden, N.J., (reported in The Crime Report by two of its leaders) casts doubt on that proposition.

In fact, the Camden findings (in my opinion, anyway) argue that we don’t need multiple parallel studies, but rather unified, collaborative learning reviews that enlist not only medical and criminal justice stakeholders working together, but members of the communities and the sub-groups they serve.

We need these learning reviews not only for the spectacular officer-involved fatalities, but for the “high frequency/low impact” missteps characteristic of daily criminal justice life in what a recent book called “Misdemeanorland.”

See: The Crime Report’s Q&A with Issa Kohler-Hausmann, author of “Misdemeanorland.”

The Camden study, conducted by the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers with support from the Laura and Jay Arnold Foundation, broke down the walls of multiple data silos in healthcare and criminal justice in Camden and used the numbers to illuminate the lives of a specific group of individuals entangled with both sets of practitioners.

To pull just one telling statistic from among the study’s many: 67 percent of the people who cycled through Camden’s Emergency Departments over the course of the study also cycled through its criminal justice system.

What I think the members of this group—“super-utilizers” to the public health practitioners, “frequent flyers” to the cops—could tell us is that from their perspective, health care and criminal justice are not two systems.  For frequent fliers, health care and criminal justice constitute one big system that dominates their daily efforts to survive.

It is pointless to think of a jail or an emergency room as “upstream” or “downstream.”  Each is simultaneously upstream and downstream of the other.

People who think about safety in other contexts draw a contrast between a complicated system and a complex system.  A jet airplane is a very complicated machine, but it can still be thought of in linear, sequential terms:  if x component fails, then y will happen.  So, find and fix the component.

But jet airliners in operation “become complex because they are opened up to influences that lie way beyond engineering specifications and reliability predictions.”   This is true of hospitals, police departments, prosecutors’ offices, courts, and correctional institutions too.

It looks even more true once you realize that these complex entities are themselves only elements of a more complex encompassing systems environment.

Decisions made in one part of this swirl are seldom automatic “causes” of effects in in other parts; usually they are “influences” that affect the probabilities, not switches that turn things on or off.

Look at the problem of how to launch “Abe,” one of the patient/defendants described by the Camden studies leaders, into a safe, healthy, law-abiding life (that drains fewer public resources) and you can see that you are not dealing with a simple mechanical challenge.

Over five years Abe was treated in emergency departments two dozen times, arrested more than fifteen times:  “A seemingly unbreakable cycle of hospital stays and arrests and incarceration, punctuated by periods of housing instability and homelessness, all of which appear to be driven largely by untreated substance abuse and lack of social supports.”

Some framework for collecting and disseminating cross-sector data will be an important step in breaking the cycle.  The authors of the Camden study are certainly right when they say that their work shows that there is “enormous value in fostering collaborative data sharing among agencies.”

But we should probably remember that data-measuring outputs casts only a pretty oblique light on processes. These processes, involving “lived realities of the people in the criminal justice system,” have to include the “lived realities” of the frontline emergency room nurse, patrol officer, sheriff, prosecutor, and judge who are making the decisions that keep Abe on his treadmill.

It would be surprising if these frontline practitioners greeted the Camden study’s findings with astonished shouts of “Eureka!”  The overlap of homelessness, medical issues, and criminal contacts is something they confront all day, every day.

(Innovative efforts such as the San Francisco Wraparound Project violence prevention initiative at Chan Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital have recognized the criminal/hospital nexus as a vital point of entry for community safety.)

Data-derived policies, even very good ones, won’t dispense with the people who have to execute them.  The reality is that the work the frontline workers actually do will seldom be identical to the work that policy wonks are able to describe in advance.

There is, as the Camden study notes, a tremendous variety in frequent fliers’ experiences.  That variety requires innovation, improvisation, choices between conflicting rules, and sometimes even rule-breaking—in short, workmanship—from practitioners.

With all of these actors involved, deciding how to rescue “Abe” is a complex socio-technical riddle, not a straightforward mechanical repair like mending a clockwork.

At 4:30 on some Friday afternoon, with the docket list still bulging, it made sense to each member of the “courtroom workgroup” of prosecutor, defender, and judge to offer Abe a plea to a greatly reduced charge and a sentence of “time served.”

It made sense to Abe to accept the offer and walk out the door.

That this was a mistake becomes clear only later (and in a different place, to different people) when it turns out that the record of conviction meant Abe is booted out of the family home in public housing that provides social support and allowed for medical continuity, or when it disqualifies him for a job or a program.

One of the things we can learn from looking at the general safety literature is that all of the decisions that we now deplore in hindsight as choices that kept Abe cycling were “locally rational” when they were made.

They may not have been heroic, prescient, or admirable, but they made sense to frontline people who were trying to get through their days.  Going “down and in” to focus tightly on one practitioner’s decision won’t be enough; we also have to go “up and out” to see why that decision was made. Leave the same inducements in place and the next practitioner may do the same thing.

When Diane Vaughan looked at the disastrous space shuttle Challenger launch decision she rejected the conventional view of amoral NASA administrators overriding safety concerns to meet the budgetary and political pressures driving the launch schedule.

Vaughan found that the decision was “a mistake embedded in the banality of organizational life.”  It had roots in the “normalization of deviance,” the accumulated drift, by small workarounds, informal work rules, and locally rational adaptations into accepting dangerous risks.

It was supported by a kind of structural secrecy:  that is, by “the way that patterns of information, organizational structure, processes, and transactions, and the structure of regulatory relations systematically undermines the attempt to know.”

Some part of this pattern as it applies to a frequent flyer is made up of formal confidentiality regulations:  the nurse is bound by HIPAA rules, the public defender by attorney-client privilege.  But more derives from mutual unfamiliarity: from a lack of insight into what counterparts in medicine (or public safety) are trying to do, why they are trying to do it, and how they are constrained by their environments.

Look at an avoidable suicide-by-cop or a re-entry failure or medical crisis dooming a frequent flyer like Abe to another downward loop on his spiral and you’re likely to see something of the kind.

Collecting and marshaling the data is crucial, but something like Vaughan’s ethnographic approach—complementing the data with the narratives of individual events and the “thick data” those narratives can provide—is crucial too, if we want to renovate a system that is currently keeping secrets from itself.

There is no reason to choose between, say, the Arnold Foundation’s data analysis and Jennifer Gonnerman’s rich narratives of Kalief Browder’s story.  They inform each other.

James Doyle

James Doyle

But to do this we need everyone’s perspective and on a constantly shifting variety of events.  Narratives confined in silos are no better than data confined in silos.

If everyone is doing “sentinel event” reviews anyway, why not do some together?

Editor’s Note: For another perspective on the Learning Review Process, see Ivan Pupulidy in The Crime Report, “Making Sense of Justice Tragedies.”

James M. Doyle is a Boston defense lawyer and author, and a frequent contributor to The Crime Report. He welcomes readers’ comments.

from https://thecrimereport.org

A Solitary Prisoner’s Nightmare

Life in prison is a little easier when you can find a good book to absorb your waking hours. But when you’re in solitary, reading can become an unsettling experience, writes a Washington State inmate.

Last year, I underwent a private forensic psychological evaluation in preparation for a parole hearing that could have set me free. Having served 25 years in confinement at that time of the evaluation, the results did not surprise me.

According to the psychologist:

Results indicate that the respondent does not currently appear to satisfy DSM-IV-TR diagnostic criteria for PTSD [Posttraumatic Stress Disorder] or ASD [Acute Stress Disorder], despite reporting a significant trauma history. Nonetheless, he does report significant levels of posttraumatic re-experiencing and avoidance, which is suggestive of posttraumatic stress that falls short of a diagnosable disorder. Individuals with such clinical presentations, although not meeting the full criteria for PTSD/ASD, may suffer considerable distress and often benefit from psychological treatment and/or pharmacotherapy.

Indeed, I often do experience “considerable distress” as recognized by the psychologist. The most recent incident during which I had to suffer through “post-traumatic re-experiencing” occurred while I was reading the prologue to Zek: An American Prison Story.

The author, Arthur Longworth—who has spent the last 34 years confined in the State of Washington for a murder that he committed at the age of 18—managed to make me nauseous with a four-page scene that most people would not have found to be anxiety-inducing.

Here is how the scene unfolds.

A prisoner is in long-term solitary confinement. For six months, he has been on isolation status, and has been allowed nothing other than some hygiene products and clothing. Down the cellblock, another prisoner has just been forcibly removed from his cell after being sprayed with mace, tazed and wrestled down into submission, trussed up with his ankles and wrists cuffed together, then carried off to another cell where he will remain naked for an indeterminate period.

Cell extraction complete, the prisoner notices a book amidst the other prisoner’s blood and pepper spray-smeared bedding, which was thrown out on the tier when guards removed the former occupant’s belongings.

The prisoner finds the sight uplifting, for he has not been allowed any books during the six months that he has been on isolation status.

So, he makes an improvised grappling device with thread from his underwear, a plastic comb, and several staples that he had secreted in a crack between the floor and wall; and, after numerous attempts at snagging the book as if he is fly fishing, he manages to reel in his catch and happily begins to read.

This is when my stomach got queasy, as the narrative continued with the following:

Several hours later, he let the book’s cover close but continued to stare at it for some time. Any other book he would have rationed—reading a page or two at a time, holding himself to only enough per day to keep his mind from eroding, yet still have more to read for the next day—that was the way he had learned to do it in that place. He had found that it wasn’t possible with this book, though. (Longworth:11).

Reading this really disturbed me.

It had been a long time since I had been in long-term solitary confinement. Given this reprieve, I had apparently suppressed these seemingly mundane experiences from my mind—and the memories came flooding back to me when reading this all-too-real work of fiction.

To find a book that is so good that you cannot resist the temptation to continue reading it—as if you are in the free world or the general prison population, and rationing your reading material is unnecessary to protect your sanity—is an absolute disaster when locked away in long-term solitary confinement.

Long ago, I too learned the necessity of book rationing.

From the age of 15 to 24, I spent a total of six years in isolation, confined 23 hours each day in my cell, and was only provided with two books every week.

Every time that I submitted my books to be exchanged I spent the interim worrying that I would receive books in return that I had already read, given that there were no more than 500 books available and approximately 75 prisoners clamoring to get their hands on them.

With so few books, the longer a prisoner stayed in segregation the higher the probability that he was going to be disappointed when those books slid under the door.

Yet even when I received books that I still had not read, my feelings would soon cycle between irritation and fury because of the surprises that awaited me. Without fail, there would be random messages scrawled on the pages declaring, for instance:

Mo Money, Moe Bitches.

 White Power.

 Fuck the Police.

A page (or all of them) might also have every instance of the letter “b” or “c” crossed out by a gang member who decided that the inside of a book was an appropriate place to start pseudo set tripping.

Any page might also harbor dried, bloody mucus smeared from one end to the other or a collection of crusty buggers reminiscent of a popcorn ceiling. This biohazard, I can only assume, comes courtesy of one of the countless mentally ill prisoners stuck in segregation for being a threat to themselves or others or to the orderly operation of the facility.

However, there are worse things than having to see ignorant declarations written throughout a book by imprisoned scribes and having to avoid contamination while reading.

When one finds several pages missing from a book it is truly infuriating. Usually, I would come across a gap in the story when two characters were embraced, kissing and undressing, then…I realize some freak has ripped out the sexual encounter that I was expecting.

I used to wish all kinds of calamities would befall prisoners whose prurient interests drove them to butcher the books to obtain material for fantasizing. Yet a missing erotic scene is nothing compared to a missing ending.

Imagine reading several hundred pages of a story, engrossed in the plot, only to find that the last chapter of the book is nowhere to be seen.

This happened to me time and again.

Once, a malicious malcontent (who was probably the culprit) got a kick out of writing a message where the last chapter should have been that said, “Bet you want to know the ending. Ha Ha! Eat a dick.”

There was nothing that I could do. I just put the book down, closed my eyes, laid back on the thin mattress, and had to endure the sounds of someone raging at the officers every hour that they passed by his cell.

With nothing to read, I would pace the floor hearing guys converse through the interconnected vents about their past exploits and future misdeeds.

With no book to occupy my mind, I would try to meditate as guys yelled back and forth arguing about something meaningless and threatening one another with violence if ever they got the opportunity for vengeance.

The constant yelling.

The rhythmic beating on a desk as someone raps to a made-up beat. Trying to sleep as someone kicks their door all night and into the morning.

It is a cacophony of madness and misery.

Then there is the fear that used to haunt me.

The fear that I would sleep too heavily and not make it to the yellow line at the front of the cell where I had to be standing to receive a meal to eat; and, consequently, I often awoke in a panic when I heard sounds that were similar to the food cart passing by, because I thought I had missed my meal and would have to go hungry.

The fear that made me refuse to go to recreation or shower sometimes because I had hidden some of my food in order to have something to eat during the 14 hours from dinner to breakfast—food that would be thrown away by officers as contraband if they conducted a cell search when I was getting fresh air or bathing.

There is no doubt that years of experiencing such things—on a daily basis—had a profound effect on my psyche, and exacerbated the damage being done from being imprisoned in my teens.

It is manifest when I live in my head for hours on end, find entertainment in my imaginings, and even laugh out loud at something that amuses me.

It is illustrated when prisoners and staff members come to see that I do not need the company of others to feel complete: I can be quiet, solitary, and not bothered in the least.

Jeremiah Bourgeois

Jeremiah Bourgeois

It is evidenced in that I could not continue reading Zek after the scene that troubled me, which is testament to the fact that I have been scarred by “long-term solitary confinement, a practice that most liberal democracies and human rights organizations identify as torture.”

Unfortunately, given the nature of imprisonment and my history, I have no doubt that if I remain confined there will eventually come a time when I am once again in solitary confinement. Rest assured, if that day arrives there is one thing that I will pray for.

A good book.

A book that I have not read before.

A book that is mucus and bugger free, and that is complete from the beginning to the ending.

Amen.

Jeremiah Bourgeois is a regular contributor to TCR, and an inmate in Washington State, where he has been serving a life sentence since the age of 14. He welcomes comments from readers.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Is a ‘Common Sense’ Approach to Bail Reform Finally Gaining Traction?

A recent national poll of 1,400 voters shows nearly one in five respondents want to scrap the current money bail system. That should send a message to policymakers that voters are willing to accept alternatives that limit arrests and incarceration for nonviolent offenses, writes the CEO of the Pretrial Justice Institute.

Only three percent of federal and state criminal justice cases result in a trial. The rest—97 percent—are settled pretrial, often by plea bargain.

Three percent is a shocking figure for a nation that considers trial by a jury of peers a fundamental right. Our rhetoric clearly is not aligned with reality.

A new national poll on pretrial justice, independently analyzed by the Pretrial Justice Institute and the Charles Koch Institute, shows Americans want to close the gap between how we talk about justice and what we deliver. The survey of 1,400 registered voters, conducted in May 2018, reveals that voters across a broad demographic and geographic spectrum believe the system needs to change.

Only six percent of respondents were satisfied with the status quo. Nearly one in five would scrap the current system and start over.

The U.S. criminal justice system is a maze: Once someone’s in, it’s hard to get out—and pretrial is the front door. Our analysis of the data reveals that while there is ample room for the public to learn more about pretrial processes and procedures, voters intuitively recognize a need to reduce unnecessary arrests, restrict the use of jail pretrial, replace money bond, and raise equity.

Moreover, as they learn about the common-sense solutions available, their support grows.

One of the biggest takeaways from the poll is that Americans want to reduce the number of people entering the system by adding alternatives to arrests and limiting the use of jail except as needed for public safety.

Seventy-three percent of respondents—87 percent among black voters, 75 percent among Latinx voters, and 71 percent among whites—favor reducing the number of arrests for low-level, nonviolent offenses. Seventy-six percent indicate that citations informing people of their obligation to appear in court would be a better response to low-level, nonviolent offenses than arrest.

Similarly, while 83 percent of survey respondents would allow judges to detain a person charged with a serious violent crime when necessary for public safety, respondents want limits on the system’s ability to jail people whose alleged guilt has not been proved—especially those charged with minor offenses.

Only 36 percent would allow courts to hold arrested people regardless of the severity of their charges. Voters by a two-to-one ratio think prosecutors should bear the burden of showing that a person should be in jail before trial.

One reason the system currently defaults to jail upon arrest is the use of money bond, which requires arrested people to pay money to be released before trial. Given this obvious bias toward those with money, it should not be surprising that 79 percent of respondents think the wealthy enjoy substantially better outcomes from the criminal justice system than do poor and working-class Americans.

Seventy-two percent of respondents think public safety should be the primary consideration, instead. The same percentage, 72 percent, would limit how many days people not charged with serious violent crimes can remain in jail before trial if they cannot afford money bond.

Perhaps the biggest surprise from our analysis is the support we found for services to help arrested people succeed in the community. More than three out of four voters would provide support services for people awaiting trial in the community who have substance-use difficulties.

Nearly nine out of 10 would provide support to people awaiting trial who are victims of domestic violence or who have mental health needs.

More than 60 percent of the people in U.S. jails and prisons are black or Latinx. Studies have found that black Americans face higher bail amounts and are less likely to be released on non-monetary conditions than similarly situated white individuals.

Other research indicates that being black can increase an arrested person’s odds of being held in jail by 25 percent.

Fifty-six percent of those polled believe whites have better outcomes from the system, with 78 percent of black voters, 74 percent of Latinx, and 50 percent of white voters in agreement. Asked which was fairer to people of all races, money bail or community supports—such as court reminders and referrals to services, as well as supervision—nearly half of all respondents, or 48 percent, favored supports; just 29 percent felt money bail was fairer.

But there is still a long way to go to educate the public on this issue.

Despite the media’s increased coverage of pretrial and money bail in recent years, 51 percent of respondents said they know only a little or nothing at all about money bail. The silver lining was that, over the course of the poll, as people learned more about the alternatives to money bail, their support for moving away from financial conditions of release increased.

Cherise Fanno-Burdeen

This survey holds important lessons for stakeholders and lawmakers. The public wants change. In contrast to current practice, Americans would like pretrial systems to default toward release before trial except when necessary for public safety, and they favor community-based supports for those who are unlikely get arrested on new charges but may need help getting to court.

Jurisdictions and states contemplating change should be fortified by the knowledge that people are ready to support common-sense change.

Cherise Fanno Burdeen is the chief executive officer of the Pretrial Justice Institute. She welcomes comments by readers.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Inside Prison, Racial Pride Often Looks Like Hypocrisy

Many incarcerated individuals develop a cultural or racial consciousness they ignored when they were free—and prison authorities encourage it as a healthy way to build character. But there’s a dark underside, says a Washington State inmate.

Prior to being confined, I had never heard of Kwanzaa.

I knew nothing about Juneteenth.

During my short time in the free world, I met nobody who celebrated such things.

Then, following my arrival at Washington State Penitentiary, a prisoner that I lived on the cellblock with offered me a “Happy Kwanzaa” card during the holiday season. I looked it over and could not hide my bemusement, and I said to him “Why the f—k would I send this to my family? We never celebrated no shit like this.”

He looked at me with scorn and faux sadness, and, after letting a few seconds elapse to add emphasis to his words, replied to me by saying, “It’s so pitiful that so many brothas don’t know about their own heritage.”

This was my first up-close encounter with someone suffering from a malady that I have since labeled “contradictory racial consciousness.”

It is a mental illness that hopefully will be included in a future edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Its symptoms include the constant display of affinity for one’s culture once deprived of one’s liberty.

It is prevalent amongst men who spent their time in society killing, robbing and selling drugs in their communities; then, upon being confined, begin to spend their time trumpeting the culture of the peoples they exploited while free.

Having lived benighted lives and accomplished nothing worthwhile through individual means, they seem to gain self-esteem by reimagining themselves as a faithful member of a culture that is worth celebrating.

It readily takes hold of the minds of prisoners who subconsciously need to feel vainglorious by proxy.

African-American prisoners are not unique when it comes to this contradictory racial consciousness. Remaking oneself as a culture warrior is a popular pastime among those with different races and ethnicities; and, here too, there is a bit of irony.

For instance, Native Americans come to prison and grow out their hair, burn sage and don medicine bags, and take up beadingwhile on the streets, many were members of the Bloods and Crips or, alternatively, practiced ways no different than The White Man.

Mexican Americans start to espouse Brown Pride, read books on Cesar Chavez, and study the Chicano Movement; all the while engaging in gang warfare throughout the prison system with those who share their culture and resemble them—so much for La Raza.

Not to be left out, White prisoners will become experts on European history to add grist to their ethnocentric concepts, seemingly oblivious that their swastika tattoos would be utterly repulsive to their European kinsman.

There are exceptions. However, these are representative examples of many prisoners that I have seen embark on cultural quests during my 26 years of confinement. Strange as all of this seems, the Washington Department of Corrections (WDOC) allows prisoners such as these to hold annual events aimed at fostering cultural awareness.

Several times a year, prisoners can go to the visiting room and eat ethnic dishes with their family and friends, and watch their imprisoned brethren perform tribal dances.

I am quite serious. Allow me to regale you with a tale of one such event.

 A Requiem for Kunta Kinte

Years ago, as sort of an anthropological study, I attended the annual Juneteenth celebration at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. The food was delicious; but frankly, the entertainment made me nauseous.

There was spoken-word poetry about how we need to cherish our sistas; never mind the fact that most of the brothas in attendance were in relationships with white women.

There were rappers whose lyrics on any other day of the year promoted getting money, buying kilos of cocaine, and exploiting women; but for this special occasion, they heaped praise on Malcom X, Marcus Garvey and Angela Davis.

The grand finale was the worst of it: I had to bear witness to a dozen gang members in Afrocentric garb (from where it came is a mystery) dancing to West African drumming from a sound system. These men had been allowed by some administrator to study dancers from Senegal on DVD, and they decided to mimic them as if they had arrived at Stafford Creek live and direct from the Motherland.

It was the damndest thing I had seen in a very long time.

Of course, there were prison staff watching the performance, and I studied their faces, wondering what was going through the minds of those who were crypto racists. I doubt the fake African dancers would have found it very funny.

As for the honorees in attendance, they thoroughly enjoyed the performance. These African- American women, who were respected community activists, were enthralled as they watched these men gyrate and prance to the music.

“Look at our handsome brothas,” I could hear them thinking. I could not stop sneaking glances at them as I steadily ate pieces of chicken.

Finally, the show ended: The Africans morphed back into convicts; and, when all the prisoners returned to their units, many of the brothas who had been extolled to cherish sistas got into the phone line to call up the white women they were in a relationship with (myself included).

Behind the Billing of Cultural Diversity

Were you to ask a senior WDOC administrator about the purpose behind allowing such events, the answer would likely be that they further prisoners’ understanding and appreciation for different cultures, and thereby reduce racial tension and conflict within WDOC facilities.

But this is fantasy, not reality.

In truth, the events testify to the fact that correctional systems across the nation operate in a state of de facto segregation, and prisoners remain the force behind maintaining this separate and equal stasis.

Consequently, you will not see Latinos eating gumbo with the brothas celebrating Juneteenth; whites will not be attending Hispanic cultural events listening to Mariachi; and blacks will not be going to any pow wows to share fry bread with Native Americans.

As for the European Day event that occurred at Stafford Creek, there might as well have been a Whites Only sign hanging above the visiting room entrance.

Quite simply, segregated activities are exactly how most prisoners want them to be.

When viewed through the lens of social psychology, such prejudice does however make sense.

The U.S. Supreme Court notes that prisons are filled with countless men “who have repeatedly employed illegal and often violent means to attain their ends. They may have little regard for the safety of others or their property or for the rules designed to provide an orderly and reasonably safe prison life.

In light of the dangerous company in a prison setting, prejudice seems inevitable. As psychologist Michael Lovaglia observes, “We are prejudiced to the extent we feel threatened or fearful.”

The Final Act

In the end, cultural celebrations in WDOC are a win-win situation for all parties. Prisoners extract events that they can participate in with their families and friends outside the presence of the others.

As for WDOC, it can bill itself as an agency that is open and accepting of the cultures of those whom society has rejected.

Hypocrisy, prejudice, and contradictory racial consciousness aside, there is one thing that I can guarantee.

Jeremiah Bourgeois

Jeremiah Bourgeois

No matter if these events were multicultural and the skin tones of those in attendance encompassed the color spectrum, and all the prisoners were sincere in their quests to gain cultural enlightenment, it would be a cold day in hell when you would ever see me dancing like a Zulu in the midst of this misery or applauding a spectacle endorsed by those who imprison me.

Jeremiah Bourgeois is a regular contributor to TCR, and an inmate in Washington State, where he has been serving a life sentence since the age of 14. He welcomes comments from readers.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Inside Prison, Racial Pride Often Looks Like Hypocrisy

Many incarcerated individuals develop a cultural or racial consciousness they ignored when they were free—and prison authorities encourage it as a healthy way to build character. But there’s a dark underside, says a Washington State inmate.

Prior to being confined, I had never heard of Kwanzaa.

I knew nothing about Juneteenth.

During my short time in the free world, I met nobody who celebrated such things.

Then, following my arrival at Washington State Penitentiary, a prisoner that I lived on the cellblock with offered me a “Happy Kwanzaa” card during the holiday season. I looked it over and could not hide my bemusement, and I said to him “Why the f—k would I send this to my family? We never celebrated no shit like this.”

He looked at me with scorn and faux sadness, and, after letting a few seconds elapse to add emphasis to his words, replied to me by saying, “It’s so pitiful that so many brothas don’t know about their own heritage.”

This was my first up-close encounter with someone suffering from a malady that I have since labeled “contradictory racial consciousness.”

It is a mental illness that hopefully will be included in a future edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Its symptoms include the constant display of affinity for one’s culture once deprived of one’s liberty.

It is prevalent amongst men who spent their time in society killing, robbing and selling drugs in their communities; then, upon being confined, begin to spend their time trumpeting the culture of the peoples they exploited while free.

Having lived benighted lives and accomplished nothing worthwhile through individual means, they seem to gain self-esteem by reimagining themselves as a faithful member of a culture that is worth celebrating.

It readily takes hold of the minds of prisoners who subconsciously need to feel vainglorious by proxy.

African-American prisoners are not unique when it comes to this contradictory racial consciousness. Remaking oneself as a culture warrior is a popular pastime among those with different races and ethnicities; and, here too, there is a bit of irony.

For instance, Native Americans come to prison and grow out their hair, burn sage and don medicine bags, and take up beadingwhile on the streets, many were members of the Bloods and Crips or, alternatively, practiced ways no different than The White Man.

Mexican Americans start to espouse Brown Pride, read books on Cesar Chavez, and study the Chicano Movement; all the while engaging in gang warfare throughout the prison system with those who share their culture and resemble them—so much for La Raza.

Not to be left out, White prisoners will become experts on European history to add grist to their ethnocentric concepts, seemingly oblivious that their swastika tattoos would be utterly repulsive to their European kinsman.

There are exceptions. However, these are representative examples of many prisoners that I have seen embark on cultural quests during my 26 years of confinement. Strange as all of this seems, the Washington Department of Corrections (WDOC) allows prisoners such as these to hold annual events aimed at fostering cultural awareness.

Several times a year, prisoners can go to the visiting room and eat ethnic dishes with their family and friends, and watch their imprisoned brethren perform tribal dances.

I am quite serious. Allow me to regale you with a tale of one such event.

 A Requiem for Kunta Kinte

Years ago, as sort of an anthropological study, I attended the annual Juneteenth celebration at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. The food was delicious; but frankly, the entertainment made me nauseous.

There was spoken-word poetry about how we need to cherish our sistas; never mind the fact that most of the brothas in attendance were in relationships with white women.

There were rappers whose lyrics on any other day of the year promoted getting money, buying kilos of cocaine, and exploiting women; but for this special occasion, they heaped praise on Malcom X, Marcus Garvey and Angela Davis.

The grand finale was the worst of it: I had to bear witness to a dozen gang members in Afrocentric garb (from where it came is a mystery) dancing to West African drumming from a sound system. These men had been allowed by some administrator to study dancers from Senegal on DVD, and they decided to mimic them as if they had arrived at Stafford Creek live and direct from the Motherland.

It was the damndest thing I had seen in a very long time.

Of course, there were prison staff watching the performance, and I studied their faces, wondering what was going through the minds of those who were crypto racists. I doubt the fake African dancers would have found it very funny.

As for the honorees in attendance, they thoroughly enjoyed the performance. These African- American women, who were respected community activists, were enthralled as they watched these men gyrate and prance to the music.

“Look at our handsome brothas,” I could hear them thinking. I could not stop sneaking glances at them as I steadily ate pieces of chicken.

Finally, the show ended: The Africans morphed back into convicts; and, when all the prisoners returned to their units, many of the brothas who had been extolled to cherish sistas got into the phone line to call up the white women they were in a relationship with (myself included).

Behind the Billing of Cultural Diversity

Were you to ask a senior WDOC administrator about the purpose behind allowing such events, the answer would likely be that they further prisoners’ understanding and appreciation for different cultures, and thereby reduce racial tension and conflict within WDOC facilities.

But this is fantasy, not reality.

In truth, the events testify to the fact that correctional systems across the nation operate in a state of de facto segregation, and prisoners remain the force behind maintaining this separate and equal stasis.

Consequently, you will not see Latinos eating gumbo with the brothas celebrating Juneteenth; whites will not be attending Hispanic cultural events listening to Mariachi; and blacks will not be going to any pow wows to share fry bread with Native Americans.

As for the European Day event that occurred at Stafford Creek, there might as well have been a Whites Only sign hanging above the visiting room entrance.

Quite simply, segregated activities are exactly how most prisoners want them to be.

When viewed through the lens of social psychology, such prejudice does however make sense.

The U.S. Supreme Court notes that prisons are filled with countless men “who have repeatedly employed illegal and often violent means to attain their ends. They may have little regard for the safety of others or their property or for the rules designed to provide an orderly and reasonably safe prison life.

In light of the dangerous company in a prison setting, prejudice seems inevitable. As psychologist Michael Lovaglia observes, “We are prejudiced to the extent we feel threatened or fearful.”

The Final Act

In the end, cultural celebrations in WDOC are a win-win situation for all parties. Prisoners extract events that they can participate in with their families and friends outside the presence of the others.

As for WDOC, it can bill itself as an agency that is open and accepting of the cultures of those whom society has rejected.

Hypocrisy, prejudice, and contradictory racial consciousness aside, there is one thing that I can guarantee.

Jeremiah Bourgeois

Jeremiah Bourgeois

No matter if these events were multicultural and the skin tones of those in attendance encompassed the color spectrum, and all the prisoners were sincere in their quests to gain cultural enlightenment, it would be a cold day in hell when you would ever see me dancing like a Zulu in the midst of this misery or applauding a spectacle endorsed by those who imprison me.

Jeremiah Bourgeois is a regular contributor to TCR, and an inmate in Washington State, where he has been serving a life sentence since the age of 14. He welcomes comments from readers.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Making Sense Out of Justice Tragedies

Can a process developed to analyze serious mishaps in the US Forest Service be applied to justice? Its creator believes that the “Learning Review,” now used in medicine and other fields to learn from accidents, incidents and normal work, without trying to affix blame, is ideally suited to criminal justice as well.

After the Parkland, Fl., school shooting last Feb. 14, the nation’s anger focused for a while on then-school resource officer Scot Peterson, who appeared to freeze outside the school while the gunman was firing.

“It’s easy…for people to go, ‘Oh, he should have known that that person was up there,’” Peterson, who was suspended and later resigned, said in a TV interview six months later.

Peterson explained that he stationed himself outside the building because that was where he believed the threat was located when he heard shooting.

Could we learn from asking different questions, designed to understand why it made sense for Scot to do what he did? Did our questions and conclusions lead us to deeper understanding and prevention, or did we add Scot to the list of those damaged by the Parkland shooter?

For a moment, let’s put away our natural bias to find people at fault. Let’s accept Scot Peterson’s account as accurate.

When we engage in a response to an adverse outcome event, we naturally create assumptions about the situation and, more to the point, people’s reaction to the situation. Pause for a moment and think about all the things that were not known by Scot. He did not know if there was a shooter – his first reaction was the thought that someone was lighting firecrackers.

He only heard a few shots. Were they the first shots or the last? He did not know where the shots were coming from; some reports suggested the football field.

Radio communications were not supporting the information-gathering and sense-making that Scot was attempting to conduct.

The later video showed four-plus minutes of nothing happening. If there was a school shooter, shouldn’t there be more activity? Just in case, Scot clears the area and begins shutting down the school. His dispatch does not have any information because incoming 911 calls are being routed elsewhere.

There is nothing to confirm an active shooter.

Five-six minutes. This can seem like a long time to someone watching the video. There seems like so much time to react, to do something. But emergent situations are not like a video. Your mind races as you try to make sense of a flood of often-conflicting information.

When I flew aircraft, I was often accused of calm multi-tasking. From my experience five minutes can seem like an eternity, or it can go by in what seems like seconds. Granted, some people are better at this than others . But we should ask, “How much of success and failure can be attributed to luck?”

Philip Zimbardo, a world-renowned psychologist, who is best known for the Stanford Prison Experiment, has studied heroism and action in the face of adversity. He has asked what makes a villain and what makes a hero.

Zimbardo said in his 2011 TED Talk:

“Some people argue humans are born good or born bad; I think that’s nonsense. We are all born with this tremendous capacity to be anything, and we get shaped by our circumstances—by the family or the culture or the time period in which we happen to grow up, which are accidents of birth; whether we grow up in a war zone versus peace; if we grow up in poverty rather than prosperity.” (Zimbardo 2011, TED, Ideas Worth Spreading)

It is doubtful that Scot was born bad. His history suggests otherwise. The circumstances definitely influenced Scot’s actions and decisions.

Through research and experience as an accident investigator, I developed a process designed to look for and assess the myriad of things that influence decisions and actions. The process is called the Learning Review.

The Learning Review replaced Serious Accident investigation in the U.S. Forest Service in 2013, and has been used on all fatal accidents since then.

Through this process the organizational response to incidents shifted from finding simple cause and blame to understanding the network of influences that shape decisions and actions, which led to the a sincere focus on learning from the event.

It’s important to raise this history in The Crime Report now, because criminal justice professionals and the journalists who cover them have begun to wrestle seriously with the opportunity to learn in the aftermath of unexpected outcomes.

The National Institute of Justice and the Bureau of Justice Assistance are in the process of launching a dozen demonstration sites where all-stakeholders teams will explore the process of how to conduct “sentinel event reviews.” These are seen as comprehensive, forward-looking event reviews that aim for prevention. They are not disciplinary performance reviews of individuals.

Supported by technical assistance from the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice at the University of Pennsylvania, the local teams will explore the sources of mistaken releases, wrongful convictions, “near misses,” avoidable shootings—all the events that can jeopardize public safety at many levels.

This federal effort amounts to a bet on the commitment and ingenuity of frontline state and local actors. It provides room to experiment with lessons derived from precursors such as the Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission, Elder Death Review panels, and opioid death review efforts, and from its namesake “sentinel event reviews” that the Joint Commission requires for hospital accreditation.

Ivan Pupulidy

Ivan Pupulidy, PhD. Photo courtesy Ivan Pupulidy.

The Learning Review can supply a core process template that criminal justice review teams can adopt, evaluate and modify.

Editors Note: See also Ivan Pupulidy’s TED talk on Learning Reviews.

 Ivan Pupulidy, Ph.D., first developed and implemented the Learning Review as a U.S. Forest Service Director. His career has integrated academic research with real world applications, based on his experiences as a mine geologist, exploration geophysicist and a U.S. Coast Guard pilot for rescue and law enforcement missions. He welcomes comments from readers.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Making Sense Out of Justice Tragedies

Can a process developed to analyze serious mishaps in the US Forest Service be applied to justice? Its creator believes that the “Learning Review,” now used in medicine and other fields to learn from accidents, incidents and normal work, without trying to affix blame, is ideally suited to criminal justice as well.

After the Parkland, Fl., school shooting last Feb. 14, the nation’s anger focused for a while on then-school resource officer Scot Peterson, who appeared to freeze outside the school while the gunman was firing.

“It’s easy…for people to go, ‘Oh, he should have known that that person was up there,’” Peterson, who was suspended and later resigned, said in a TV interview six months later.

Peterson explained that he stationed himself outside the building because that was where he believed the threat was located when he heard shooting.

Could we learn from asking different questions, designed to understand why it made sense for Scot to do what he did? Did our questions and conclusions lead us to deeper understanding and prevention, or did we add Scot to the list of those damaged by the Parkland shooter?

For a moment, let’s put away our natural bias to find people at fault. Let’s accept Scot Peterson’s account as accurate.

When we engage in a response to an adverse outcome event, we naturally create assumptions about the situation and, more to the point, people’s reaction to the situation. Pause for a moment and think about all the things that were not known by Scot. He did not know if there was a shooter – his first reaction was the thought that someone was lighting firecrackers.

He only heard a few shots. Were they the first shots or the last? He did not know where the shots were coming from; some reports suggested the football field.

Radio communications were not supporting the information-gathering and sense-making that Scot was attempting to conduct.

The later video showed four-plus minutes of nothing happening. If there was a school shooter, shouldn’t there be more activity? Just in case, Scot clears the area and begins shutting down the school. His dispatch does not have any information because incoming 911 calls are being routed elsewhere.

There is nothing to confirm an active shooter.

Five-six minutes. This can seem like a long time to someone watching the video. There seems like so much time to react, to do something. But emergent situations are not like a video. Your mind races as you try to make sense of a flood of often-conflicting information.

When I flew aircraft, I was often accused of calm multi-tasking. From my experience five minutes can seem like an eternity, or it can go by in what seems like seconds. Granted, some people are better at this than others . But we should ask, “How much of success and failure can be attributed to luck?”

Philip Zimbardo, a world-renowned psychologist, who is best known for the Stanford Prison Experiment, has studied heroism and action in the face of adversity. He has asked what makes a villain and what makes a hero.

Zimbardo said in his 2011 TED Talk:

“Some people argue humans are born good or born bad; I think that’s nonsense. We are all born with this tremendous capacity to be anything, and we get shaped by our circumstances—by the family or the culture or the time period in which we happen to grow up, which are accidents of birth; whether we grow up in a war zone versus peace; if we grow up in poverty rather than prosperity.” (Zimbardo 2011, TED, Ideas Worth Spreading)

It is doubtful that Scot was born bad. His history suggests otherwise. The circumstances definitely influenced Scot’s actions and decisions.

Through research and experience as an accident investigator, I developed a process designed to look for and assess the myriad of things that influence decisions and actions. The process is called the Learning Review.

The Learning Review replaced Serious Accident investigation in the U.S. Forest Service in 2013, and has been used on all fatal accidents since then.

Through this process the organizational response to incidents shifted from finding simple cause and blame to understanding the network of influences that shape decisions and actions, which led to the a sincere focus on learning from the event.

It’s important to raise this history in The Crime Report now, because criminal justice professionals and the journalists who cover them have begun to wrestle seriously with the opportunity to learn in the aftermath of unexpected outcomes.

The National Institute of Justice and the Bureau of Justice Assistance are in the process of launching a dozen demonstration sites where all-stakeholders teams will explore the process of how to conduct “sentinel event reviews.” These are seen as comprehensive, forward-looking event reviews that aim for prevention. They are not disciplinary performance reviews of individuals.

Supported by technical assistance from the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice at the University of Pennsylvania, the local teams will explore the sources of mistaken releases, wrongful convictions, “near misses,” avoidable shootings—all the events that can jeopardize public safety at many levels.

This federal effort amounts to a bet on the commitment and ingenuity of frontline state and local actors. It provides room to experiment with lessons derived from precursors such as the Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission, Elder Death Review panels, and opioid death review efforts, and from its namesake “sentinel event reviews” that the Joint Commission requires for hospital accreditation.

Ivan Pupulidy

Ivan Pupulidy, PhD. Photo courtesy Ivan Pupulidy.

The Learning Review can supply a core process template that criminal justice review teams can adopt, evaluate and modify.

Editors Note: See also Ivan Pupulidy’s TED talk on Learning Reviews.

 Ivan Pupulidy, Ph.D., first developed and implemented the Learning Review as a U.S. Forest Service Director. His career has integrated academic research with real world applications, based on his experiences as a mine geologist, exploration geophysicist and a U.S. Coast Guard pilot for rescue and law enforcement missions. He welcomes comments from readers.

from https://thecrimereport.org