Thursday, November 29, 2007

New study: Brooklyn, NY prisoner reentry program

Prosecutors push alternatives to crime

Today's New York Times features an editorial on a pioneering prisoner reentry program in Brooklyn, NY. The ComAlert program has been going strong for eight years, and was just the focus of a study by a criminal justice expert at Harvard.

No surprise, the study found that paroled prisoners are more likely to stay out of trouble if they undergo rigorous counseling and drug treatment along with immediate job training and work experience.

The surprise (which isn't mentioned by the Times) is who is running and promoting the innovative program: The Brooklyn District Attorney's Office. Indeed, ComAlert stands for "Community and Law Enforcement Resources Together."

The New York Times editorial is here. A longer article by researcher Bruce Western is online here. Western is the author of Punishment and Inequality in America, an enlightening look at crime, race, and employment that was published last year.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Calif. court overrules governor on prisoner parole

It's always safer to err on the side of predicting high risk. You can never be proven wrong. If a prisoner is released, he can go out and commit a new crime that can come back to haunt the judge, parole board, or elected official who approved release. If he is not released, he has no way to prove that he would not have committed that next crime.

Nowhere is that defensive posture more in evidence than in California. Former Gov. Gray Davis had a reputation for blocking the release of every convicted murderer that the state's parole board approved for release. That was a spectacular record, considering that the parole board only grants parole to the most stellar success stories - 5% of the cases it hears, and even less than that for murderers.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has largely mimicked his predecessor, vetoing about three-fourths of such paroles. But, in the latest example of a recent trend, a state appeals court has overruled the governor's veto. The case involves Curtis Lee, who spent 22 years in prison for abetting a murder. He was 18 when his friend shot another young man to death on an Oakland street. Convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 17-years-to-life in prison, Lee became a model prisoner, undergoing extensive job training and therapy.

Today's San Francisco Chronicle has the story. The court ruling is here.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Canada: How false confessions occur

Yesterday's Toronto Star, in the latest in a series of excellent articles on criminal justice issues, features an analysis of false confessions. The article, "Pressure of interrogation imperils even the innocent" by Tim Moore, discusses how police bias toward guilt and resultant high-pressure interrogation techniques can coerce innocent people to confess:

The recent [Canadian] Supreme Court decision in R v Singh, in which the court upheld the conviction of a man who confessed after police continued to question him despite his repeated assertions of his right to remain silent, has attracted renewed attention to the protection that the right to silence is supposed to afford….

There is a substantial body of research on the psychology of confessions. We now know that depending on how they are interrogated, actual innocence may put innocent people at risk. Police cautions are imperfectly understood in the first place, especially by young people or adults with cognitive impairments.

Some innocent suspects waive their right to silence because they perceive innocence to be protective and believe that their blamelessness will soon be self-evident. Unrealistically, they anticipate they will be able to explain to investigators the error of their ways. Regrettably, the ensuing interrogation risks eliciting a false confession from an innocent person, possibly contributing to a false conviction.
The article continues here.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Expert witness controversy spreads

Wrongfully convicted woman can sue expert

Last week, I reported on the brewing controversy in England over unfettered reliance on expert witnesses. Now, the Toronto Star has an article focusing on the controversy in Canada, as well as elsewhere in the world.

It's a fascinating look at some of the high-profile cases that have led to the current attitude of skepticism toward expert scientific and medical witnesses.

As the article explains, the adversarial system is premised on an equal fight between
the accused and the government. Yet the criminally accused typically do not have the funds or expertise to obtain their own experts to challenge the government's expert witnesses, who often wear sterling credentials.

In reaction to a series of convictions based in large part on the testimony of a government pathologist, Canada has reformed its civil laws to allow people to sue an overzealous expert over his findings. The case was brought by Louise Reynolds against forensic pathologist Dr. Charles Smith, whose testimony led to her conviction in the death of her 7-year-old daughter. It later turned out that the girl was mauled to death by a dog. (See my previous blog post on the judicial inquiry into Dr. Smith's expert findings.)

Such tort law is "a first for the common-law world," according to the Star.

Tasers face growing opposition

U.N. Committee calls it "torture"

In the wake of the deaths of six people in just one week and a videotaped incident at an airport in Canada in which a man died after being tased, calls for the restriction or ban of shock-inducing tasers are becoming increasingly urgent.

On Friday, the controversy grew when a United Nations Committee Against Torture called taser use a form of torture. The comment was embedded in a larger report on the committee’s activities, and focused on the use of tasers in Portugal.

Although public criticism focuses on taser use by police, much more out of sight the weapons are widely used as weapons of control in U.S. prisons and juvenile detention facilities. Such widespread tasering of prisoners is documented in the BBC documentary, "Torture: America's Brutal Prisons."

A CBS news report is online here. An Amnesty International report on taser use is here.

Death penalty: Theory vs. practice

Newsweek magazine has an interesting summary of the state of capital punishment in the United States today. The remarkable disconnect between theory and practice seems like another example of today's cultural schizophrenia. Consider these two competing facts:

  • Popular support for capital punishment remains fairly strong, at about 65%.
  • Front-line decision makers - judges, juries, and even prosecutors - are less and less willing to impose the ultimate punishment.
The reasons for this disconnect? The Newsweek writers pose a few possibilities, including highly publicized cases of wrongful conviction, increased attention to "mitigating circumstances" (such as child abuse) by the defense, and the skyrocketing legal costs of prosecuting death cases.

A new breed of prosecutor is another factor. As an example, Newsweek gives us Craig Watkins, the District Attorney of Dallas, Texas, the hang-'em-high state. Watkins is African American, a Democrat, and a former defense attorney. "In the near future, we will see the death penalty rarely," Watkins said. An even starker example not mentioned in the Newsweek article is Kamala Harris, the District Attorney of San Francisco, who has taken a public position against the death penalty.

For these and possibly other reasons, "what is acceptable in theory seems less and less tolerable in practice," the Newsweek authors comment. The article, entitled "Injection of Reflection," is online here.

Although it isn't mentioned in the Newsweek article, an intense debate is currently underway about whether capital punishment deters crime. The issue has resurfaced thanks to a series of research studies by economists, suggesting that the death penalty may deter crime. Other scholars, most of them non-economists, are highly critical of the studies. Adam Liptak of the New York Times summarized the competing positions in a Nov. 18 article.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Georgia court overturns sex offender law

I haven't found time yet to read or analyze yesterday's ruling on sex offender laws, but this overturning of residency restrictions looked important enough to immediately pass along to my readers. The full opinion in Mann vs. the Georgia Department of Corrections is here; Greg Bluestein of the Associated Press reports on it as follows:

ATLANTA (AP) - Georgia's top court overturned a state law Wednesday that banned registered sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of schools, churches and other areas where children congregate.

"It is apparent that there is no place in Georgia where a registered sex offender can live without being continually at risk of being rejected,'' read the opinion, written by presiding Justice Carol Hunstein.

The law had been targeted by civil rights groups who argued it would render vast residential areas off-limits to Georgia's roughly 11,000 registered sex offenders and could backfire by encouraging offenders to stop reporting their whereabouts to authorities.

State lawmakers adopted the law in 2006, calling it crucial to protecting the state's most vulnerable population: children.

While many states and municipalities bar sex offenders from living near schools, Georgia's law, which took effect last year, prohibited them from living, working or loitering within 1,000 feet of just about anywhere children gather - schools, churches, parks, gyms, swimming pools or one of the state's 150,000 school bus stops.

It also led to challenges from groups like the Southern Center for Human Rights, which argued that it would force some offenders to live in their cars or set up tents or trailers in the woods, and undermine other efforts to keep track of offenders.

The Georgia Supreme Court ruling said even sex offenders who comply with the law "face the possibility of being repeatedly uprooted and forced to abandon homes."

It also said the statute looms over every location that a sex offender chooses to call home and notes while the case in question particularly involves a day care center, "next time it could be a playground, a school bus stop, a skating rink or a church.'"

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Serial killers stalking South Africa

The darker side of international "necrocapitalism"?

Serial killers are trendy. They are the topic of an ever-increasing array of movies, books, and TV shows. One theorist has gone so far to suggest that they are the "gothic double" of the zombie-like consumers wandering the malls of a "necrocapitalist" world, in perpetual quest for another purchase. Indeed, argues Brian Jarvis in "Monsters Inc.: Serial killers and consumer culture," the commodification of violence is an integral aspect of the violence inherent in commodification.

If that is so, then it is no surprise that the United States – where millions of consumers stagger under crippling loads of credit card debt – would lead the world in serial murders. Although I don’t know of a central repository of such data, that is what I've always heard (with Russia following closely on our heels).

How, then, to explain South Africa's claim of passing us by as the world's largest producer of serial killers, surpassing both the United States and Russia?

For one thing, South Africa has a much higher overall murder rate than do either the United States or Russia.

But perhaps a more precise answer will come out of the largest-scale research project on serial murders in the world. The research is being conducted by the specialized Investigative Psychology Unit (IPU) – the South African equivalent of the FBI's Behavioral Sciences Unit – and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice from the City University of New York.

The IPU was established in 1994 by investigative psychologist Micki Pistorius, who became notorious in South Africa and earned praise from legendary FBI profiler Robert Ressler (see my blog essay on profiling). According to a news story this month in South Africa's Daily Star, however, "her methods raised eyebrows in some quarters, and may have contributed to the common public perception that serial killer profiling involves more 'mumbo jumbo' than scientific compilation and analysis of data."

Pistorius theorized that interruption of the normal stages of psychosexual development as posited by Freud could generate a serial killer. She was well known for spending time at the scene of a murder in order to experience the residual energy field the killer left behind.

"I want to retrace the steps of the killer, and it is a place where I can get into his mind. These are the places where they act out their most secret fantasies and I believe the atmosphere is still laden with emotion, waiting for me to tap into it," she once said.

It may have been her emotional approach that caused her to develop post-traumatic stress disorder a few years ago. Such vicarious traumatization is not uncommon among professionals whose work brings them close to trauma survivors and perpetrators.

The brisk business of serial killing in South Africa is keeping the new head of the IPU, psychologist and criminologist Gérard Labuschagne, quite busy. In addition to handling two dozen serial murder investigations over the past six years, he conducts research and provides training to others in South Africa and around the world.

Profiling in South Africa is based not on hunches or emotions but on science and research, taking into account the uniquely South African perspective, Labuschagne insists.

"Our situation is unique in terms of socio-economic and cultural factors," he told the Daily News. "Our high unemployment rate, for instance, makes it easy for killers to lure victims with promises of work."

For a different, and very intriguing, perspective on serial killers, I recommend anthropologist Elliott Leyton's class-based analysis, Hunting Humans: The Rise of the Modern Multiple Murderer. (My review of the book is on its Amazon page.)

Hat tip to Psychology & Crime News for alerting me to the "Monsters Inc." article, which (along with thousands of other articles) is available for free from Sage Publications through the end of November.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Call for juvenile justice reform

The New York Times today issued a radical call for juvenile justice reform. The editorial was triggered by a new report by the Campaign for Youth Justice that lays out the scope of the crisis in juvenile incarceration. As many as 150,000 juveniles are currently incarcerated in adult jails, where they are often raped, beaten, or pushed to suicide. The full report and an executive summary of "Jailing Juveniles: The Dangers of Incarcerating Youth in Adult Jails in America," are available here. The editorial begins:

The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 created a far-sighted partnership between the federal government and the states that agreed to remake often barbaric juvenile justice systems in exchange for federal aid. Unfortunately, those gains have been steadily rolled back since the 1990s when states began sending ever larger numbers of juveniles to adult jails — where they face a high risk of being battered, raped or pushed to suicide. The act is due to be reauthorized this year, and Congress needs to use that opportunity to reverse this destructive trend.

As incredible as it seems, many states regard a child as young as 10 as competent to stand trial in juvenile court. More than 40 states regard children as young as 14 as "of age" and old enough to stand trial in adult court....

Some jails try to protect young inmates by placing them in isolation, where they are locked in small cells for 23 hours a day. This worsens mental disorders. The study says that young people are 36 times as likely to commit suicide in an adult jail than in a juvenile facility. Young people who survive adult jail too often return home as damaged and dangerous people. Studies show that they are far more likely to commit violent crimes — and to end up back inside — than those who are handled through the juvenile courts.

The rush to criminalize children has set the country on a dangerous path. Congress must now reshape the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act so that it provides the states with the money and the expertise they need to develop more enlightened juvenile justice policies. For starters, it should rewrite the law to prohibit the confinement of children in adult jails.
The full editorial is online here. The "Jailing Juveniles" report summarizes data from seven key states: California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, North Carolina, Virginia, and Wisconsin. It calls for radical changes in the way that juveniles are transferred to adult court, such as requiring that a judge - rather than a prosecutor - make that decision. Among the findings:
  • Far from the image of the juvenile superpredator, most children tried as adults are charged with non-violent offenses.
  • The number of youths being housed in adult jails is increasing, thereby jeopardizing the safety of more and more young people.
  • New state laws often contradict core federal protections meant to prohibit juveniles from being confined with adult prisoners.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Expose of FBI's bullet lead analysis

Science discredited, but many remain in prison

For those of you who missed the breaking news this weekend, 60 Minutes and the Washington Post released a devastating critique of the sequelae of bullet lead analyses pioneered by the FBI's crime laboratory.

From the CBS website:
Evidence Of Injustice: FBI's Bullet Lead Analysis Used Flawed Science To Convict Hundreds Of Defendants
Aside from eyewitness testimony, some of the most believable evidence presented in criminal cases in the United States comes from the FBI crime laboratory in Quantico, Va. Part of its job is to test and analyze everything from ballistics to DNA for state and local prosecutors around the country, introducing scientific credibility to often murky cases.
But a six-month investigation by 60 Minutes and The Washington Post shows that there are hundreds of defendants imprisoned around the country who were convicted with the help of a now discredited forensic tool, and that the FBI never notified them, their lawyers, or the courts that their cases may have been affected by faulty testimony.

The science, called bullet lead analysis, was used by the FBI for 40 years in thousands of cases, and some of the people it helped put in jail may be innocent....
Related links:

Washington Post website on "Silent Injustice"

FBI press release, issued Saturday, announcing that the FBI will work jointly with the Innocence Project (what a first!) to identify prisoners who may have been wrongfully convicted due to the bunk science

"TAINTING EVIDENCE: Inside the Scandals at the FBI Crime Lab," a 1998 journalistic expose of the FBI crime lab's bungling of the Oklahoma City bombing case and other high-profile cases

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Call for greater regulation of expert witnesses in England

On CSI, the scientific evidence never lies. In the real world, the truth is far less clearcut. In the wake of a series of highly publicized scandals involving the testimony of expert pediatricians and pathologists, some in England are calling for more professional oversight and regulation of forensic experts. A similar scandal underway in Canada (see Saturday's blog post) could lead to calls for reform in that nation and elsewhere.

The most highly publicized miscarriage of justice in England was the 1999 conviction of Sally Clark for murdering her two children. Clark was eventually exonerated but died earlier this year of likely suicide. In that case, Sir Roy Meadow gave inaccurate testimony that the chances of Clark's two babies having died of natural causes were one in 73 million.

Today's Times of London has an article on the current legal climate vis-à-vis expert witnesses. According to the article, the British public is "clamoring" for legislation to regulate expert witnesses. "But how to do that without calling into question thousands of court decisions will not be an easy task."

Fueling this public sentiment is a recent case in which a bogus scientist, Gene Morrison, was found to have given evidence in 700 cases. Morrison, who in February received a five-year prison term, admitted he pretended to be an expert witness and bought his qualifications on the internet because it "seemed easier" than getting real ones. The Times article cites a study by a senior judge finding that most judges and lawyers do not check experts' qualifications.

But even more worrisome, the article states, has been the recent proliferation of parents convicted of causing cot deaths, shaking babies to death, or harming them by creating symptoms of fictitious illness. Social workers bristle at accusations that these cases are exaggerated, saying that the cases represent heightened vigilance in response to a previous era in which children were left to die at the hands of their parents. "In comparison with the volume of cases, the number of errors is tiny," said one social work official. "We never rely on expert witnesses alone."

The full Times of London article, entitled "The Expert as Judge and Jury," is online here.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

More international news

Since we're on an international kick today, here are a few other interesting criminal justice stories from around the world.

Major overhaul of South African justice system

South Africa's criminal justice system is in for a series of far-reaching changes after the Cabinet last week approved a turnaround strategy that goes to the heart of the problems with the country's anti-crime methods and structures.
The story, with lots of relevant links, is here.

Dire prison overcrowding in Great Britain
Since you read the news, you already know about prison overcrowding in the United States. And I've previously blogged about the problem elsewhere in the world, including in New Zealand. Yesterday's Times reported on the dire situation in England these days, with prisoners being driven around for hours in search of a cell to squeeze them in. It sounds like the crisis situation in hospital emergency rooms here in the United States!

Britain’s most senior judge has given warning that the shortage of prison spaces was now "critical" as a result of ministers' failure to take account of the cost implications of their sentencing policies.
Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, the Lord Chief Justice, said that the present prison overcrowding could not continue. And he delivered a stark message to ministers — either they should fund the sentences that judges impose or change the sentencing framework that requires them, often, to jail offenders.

"We are in a critical situation," he said. "The prisons are full to capacity." Prisoners who went to court did not know if they would return to the same cell or even the same prison. Cells designed for one were being used for two and prisons were being forced, literally, to close their doors to more admissions. "Prisoners are being driven around for hours on end in a desperate search for a prison that can squeeze them in," he added. "As often or not 200 or 300 are spending the night in police or court cells. We simply cannot go on like this."
The full article is here.

Expert calls for overhaul of Brazilian criminal justice system

The criminal justice system in Brazil is in fare more dire straits than those in South Africa or England, according to a United Nations expert.
Brazil's police engage frequently in extrajudicial executions and many moonlight in death squads or militias involved in racketeering, an independent United Nations human rights expert said today, calling for wholesale reform of the country’s culture of policing.

Philip Alston, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said in a statement detailing his preliminary observations after conducting an 11-day visit to Brazil that its prisons are also severely overcrowded, leading to riots and numerous killings by both guards and inmates.
While Brazil's authorities, especially in its biggest cities, face enormous pressure in protecting citizens from the threats of gang violence, drug trafficking and other forms of organized crime, he said the criminal justice system must be overhauled to stop the routine abuse of human rights.
The U.N. news release is here; the full report is here.

Expert witness scandal rocks Canada

Louise Reynolds of Ontario was incarcerated for three years for stabbing her 7-year-old daughter more than 80 times with a pair of scissors. She served most of her prison time in solitary confinement to protect her from other prisoners and guards who wanted to kill her for her vicious crime. Her only visitor was the spirit of her dead daughter, who brought her ghostly comfort from the grave.

Then it turned out Reynolds had been telling the truth when she denied guilt. A pitbull had mauled her daughter to death.

William Mullins-Johnson spent more than 12 years in another Ontario prison for sodomizing and strangling to death his 4-year-old niece.

Then it turned out the little girl had died of natural causes, possibly from complications of a chronic stomach ailment.

The unifying factor identified in these and at least a dozen other wrongful convictions in Canada was the testimony of Dr. Charles Smith, one of Canada’s most renowned pediatric forensic pathologists. The revelations of Dr. Smith's erroneous findings in multiple high-profile cases has severely tarnished the image of the judiciary in the eyes of the Canadian public.

This week, Canada began a judicial inquiry into what went wrong. The hearings, expected to last several months, will examine not only the practice of pediatric forensic pathology but the broader issues of prosecutorial tunnel vision, overreliance on expert testimony, and public overconfidence in forensic science as a result of the "CSI Syndrome."

One commonality among many of the cases is the socioeconomic status of the accused, who included racial minorities, aboriginals, and single mothers, which likely stacked the deck against them.

The scandal follows a highly similar scandal in England over Sir Roy Meadows' testimony falsely accusing dozens of mothers of harming their children due to so-called Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy. Other scandals involving expert scientific testimony have erupted in the United States, including one that I've previously posted about involving forensic odontologist Michael West of Mississippi.

Overall, these scandals are driving home the fact that experts are not infallible.

"We give great deference to experts," said Bill Trudell, chairman of the Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers. "The [Canadian] inquiry will change that and start people thinking that these experts are human and can make mistakes."

The Toronto Star has all the latest on the hearing, including a detailed list of the cases and the known facts underlying them.

Photo: Pediatric forensic pathologist Charles Smith.

Gory details sway jurors to convict

That's the fascinating finding from new research out of Australia. As reported in today's Sydney Morning Herald:

JURORS given gruesome evidence including pictures of a murder victim or descriptions of torture and mutilation are more than five times more likely to convict than jurors not given gory details, Australian research shows.

Findings from mock criminal trial studies by University of NSW researchers provide the first direct link indicating that juries might be prejudiced by such evidence and might make biased decisions influenced by a desire to punish.

One researcher, a university PhD candidate, David Bright, said both those studies, and a third with similar results involving a mock civil accident damages case, were the first in which "emotional reactions were directly measured in response to gruesome photos which were then shown to have an impact on decisions" of the mock jurors. The results underscore concern expressed more than 20 years ago by the Australian Law Reform Commission that allowing gruesome evidence could be prejudicial to defendants.

Mr Bright, soon to submit his PhD in forensic psychology, said Australian judges were more likely to override defence objections and admit gruesome evidence because its probative value, or ability to prove or disprove a controverted fact, outweighed any potential negative influence.

The story continues here.

Nov. 26 UPDATE: The jury consultation blog DELIBERATIONS has more detail on this topic.

Friday, November 16, 2007

California court upholds indeterminate commitment of Sexually Violent Predators


An appellate court yesterday denied a challenge by a group of civilly committed sex offenders to the state's new Jessica's Law.

The sex offenders had argued that the indeterminate commitment provision of Jessica's Law did not apply retroactively to them. Prior to last year's passage of the Sexual Predator Punishment and Control Act (Proposition 83, or Jessica's Law), civilly committed sex offenders were entitled to a jury trial every two years on the issue of whether they remained mentally disordered and dangerous. Now, commitments are for an indefinite period. A group of previously committed sex offenders whose recommitment petitions were pending when the law passed had argued that they should either be released or, at minimum, should remain entitled to a new hearing every two years. A new law cannot be applied retroactively unless it specifically says so in the text of the law, they pointed out.

In the ruling, Bourquez v. Superior Court, the Third District Court of Appeal disagreed. Using rather strained logic, the court held that it is not a retroactive action to apply the new law's commitment criteria, because an extension hearing is "a new and independent proceeding" aimed at determining the person's current mental state. Under California's SVP law, a sex offender may be civilly committed if he has a mental disorder that keeps him from controlling his sexually violent behavior, making him dangerous and likely to sexually reoffend. (See Hubbart v. Superior Court, 1999, 19 Cal.4th 1138.)

The intention of both Jessica's Law and a similar bill passed by the state Legislature earlier last year (the Sex Offender Punishment, Control, and Containment Act of 2006, SB 1128) was to increase the punishment and control of sex offenders, not to let some SVP's go free, the court pointed out.

Much of the media coverage of Jessica's Law has focused on its residency restrictions banning sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of schools or parks, its longer periods of parole, and its requirement that sex offenders be monitored for life using global positioning technology.

But the changes in the SVP laws under which people may be civilly committed after serving their criminal sentences were also significant. The previous requirement of two separate victims was reduced to only one victim. The single offense may have been committed as a juvenile. And the requirement of "substantial sexual conduct" in crimes against children was eliminated. Theoretically, then, the new law might allow lifetime commitment of a 16-year-old who had fondled a child on a single occasion.

Yesterday's ruling will likely further foment the unrest I've been reporting (here and here) among the men being held at Coalinga State Hospital.

The full text of the ruling in Bourquez v. Superior Court (2007 SOS 6712) is available here. The changes to California statutory law made by Jessica's Law are viewable here. (The SVP provisions fall under Welfare & Institutions Code sections 6600 et seq.) California's Department of Mental Health also has a listing of related statutes and legal cases, online here.
Photo credit: lyzadanger - "The End of Coalinga, California" (Creative Commons license)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

L.A. Times investigates "Titanic State Hospital"


"BREAKDOWN"


California's sex offender treatment and detention center in shambles

Two days ago, I posted about the continuing problems at Coalinga State Hospital, California's expensive new detention facility for civilly committed sex offenders. Today's L.A. Times features an in-depth look at the institution's problems. The article, "Breakdown: Turmoil replaces treatment at Coalinga hospital," is written by Scott Gold and Lee Romney, who have been covering California's troubled state hospital system over the past couple of years. Astonishingly, the reporters found a former psychiatric technician from the hospital who was willing to assert on record that many of the men being detained at Coalinga pose little risk to the community if released.

Excerpts of the hard-hitting article follow; the full article (plus a photo gallery) is available online.
Two years after California opened the nation's largest facility designed to house and treat men who have been declared sexually violent predators, Coalinga State Hospital is described by both patients and staff as an institution in turmoil.

Convinced that they stand little chance of being released and angry about perceived deficiencies at the hospital, patients are engaged in a tense standoff with administrators, according to interviews with more than 40 patients and staff members.

… "We're calling it the Titanic State Hospital," said a psychiatric technician who, like most other current employees, spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisal from administrators. "We've lost control. I've been saying for a couple of months now that the monkeys are running the circus."

Patients, meanwhile, are despairing.

"It's hopeless," said Robert Bates, 41, who was sent to Coalinga after serving a 10-year prison term for committing a lewd and lascivious act. "This is a therapeutic setting, supposedly. But it's nothing more than a mock-up prison. They can call it what they want. But it's prison."

… Michael Feer, a psychiatric social worker with more than three decades of experience, worked at Coalinga for a year before leaving this spring. He now works in San Diego County with recently paroled sex offenders, men who in some cases committed the same crimes as those at Coalinga but who are being released into the community, he said.

Feer said that although all Coalinga patients qualify as violent predators on paper, he believes that more than a third of them would pose no threat if released.

"They did their time, and suddenly they are picked up again and shipped off to a state hospital for essentially an indeterminate period of time," Feer said. To get out, he added, "they have to demonstrate that they are no longer a risk, which can be a very high standard. So, yeah, they do have grounds to be very upset."

The hospital, Feer said, "is a setup" - ostensibly a treatment hospital but one built with a wink to a public that has little compunction about locking up sex offenders forever....

Article continues here.

Oregon high court clarifies drug-free school zone law

Prosecutor need not prove defendant's knowledge

A drug dealer need not know of his proximity to a school in order to be convicted under a drug-free school zone law, the Oregon Supreme Court has ruled. The ruling follows similar case law in other states.

Oregon's law is intended to protect children "regardless of whether the dealers know they are within 1,000 feet of a school," the ruling states.

"That's typical with drug crimes when you're looking ... at the social harm as opposed to the mental intent of the seller," commented law professor Laura Appleman.

A 2001 study by the Boston University School of Public Health found that a similar drug zone law was not effective in reducing drug sales near schools.

The full AP story is online at the Oregon Statesman Journal website.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Criminal justice news out of Washington

Prisoner reentry

The U.S. House of Representatives has voted overwhelmingly in favor of a bill to provide help to people leaving prison. The Second Chance Act of 2007 would ease the re-entry process by providing increased funding for mentoring programs, substance abuse treatment and job training.

Federal sentencing equity

Earlier this month, the U.S. Sentencing Commission lowered the federal sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine offenses due to widespread concern over racial inequities. That change will likely impact about 3,500 prisoners per year, reducing the average sentence by 15 months.

Yesterday, the commission held a hearing into whether the change should be made retroactive. That would make about 19,500 crack cocaine offenders now in prison eligible for shorter sentences. The U.S. Justice Department strongly opposes retroactivity.

Paul G. Cassell, a law professor at the University of Utah, has an excellent op-ed in today’s Washington Post that provides a lot of background on this issue, along with links to further references.

More information on these and related issues is at The Sentencing Project.

Studies debunk popular beliefs about youth sexuality

Two new studies are contradicting widely held beliefs about adolescents and sex.

Sex and delinquency

The cause-and-effect link between early sexual activity and juvenile delinquency is widely accepted. Teaching youngsters about this link is even a mandated component of federally funded "abstinence-only" school curricula. But researchers from the University of Virginia, studying 500 pairs of twins within a larger data set of 7,000 children, have made a surprising finding: All other things being equal, adolescents who have consensual sex earlier are less likely to end up delinquent.

"There is a cultural assumption in the United States that if teens have sex early it is somehow bad for their psychological health," said the study's lead researcher, Paige Harden. "But we actually found that teens who had sex earlier seem to have better relationships later."

The surprise finding "calls into question the usefulness of abstinence education for preventing behavior problems," Harden added. More useful, she said, might be education pertaining to the prevention of contraception and venereal disease.

Hip hop music and sexual activity

Another assumed connection challenged by recent research studies is that between the explicit sexual lyrics of hip hop music and early sexual behavior.

After spending three years studying the hip hop dance club scene in New York, a Columbia University professor said the relationship is more complicated. Rather than music and dancing, it is the old standbys of alcohol, drugs and peer pressure that influenced sexual behavior, found Miguel A. Muñoz-Laboy.

That finding is consistent with last year's research by the Rand Corporation finding that degrading lyrics, not sexual lyrics, are connected with early sex. Out of the 1,400 teenagers interviewed for the Rand study, those who listened to the highest levels of sexually degrading lyrics were twice as likely to have had sex by the end of the two-year study. The researchers defined degrading lyrics as those that portrayed women as sexual objects and men as insatiable.

The San Francisco Chronicle has online coverage of the sex and delinquency research. The Munoz-Laboy study on the hip hop dance scene is in the current (November) issue of the journal Culture, Health, and Sexuality. The New York Times has additional coverage. The Rand study was published last year in the journal Pediatrics.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Problems continue at newest California civil commitment center

I haven't seen much media coverage of a 3-month strike by civilly detained sex offenders at the new Coalinga State Hospital in California.

Today, the detainees issued a press release claiming that a patient's death last Thursday illustrated a pattern of inadequate medical care for the aging men. Frank Valado, 45, apparently collapsed and died while playing basketball last Thursday.

Although hospital administrators are denying the strike's existence, sex offenders say the nonviolent revolt is in its third month and that they have effectively shut down all sex offender treatment. Among the patients' main grievances are inadequate psychological evaluations and medical treatment. The average age of detainees is 51, about 20 years older than the average state prisoner in California, and many of the men have substantial and costly medical problems.

The $400 million hospital, which opened two years ago amid great fanfare, houses more than 600 patients out of a capacity of about 1,500. Most are sex offenders who completed their prison terms and were then civilly committed as Sexually Violent Predators.

The hospital has had enormous trouble recruiting staff; I personally have received multiple enticing offers to relocate to the tiny, out-of-the-way Central Valley hamlet that in my mind will always be connected with its 1983 earthquake. (After the quake, a popular T-shirt read, "Where the hell is Coalinga?") Last year, the L.A. Times reported on unrest among both patients and in-house police over the hospital's suspension of normal staffing levels due to an inability to recruit qualified staff. According to detainee spokesman Michael St. Martin, the hospital currently has only four licensed psychologists and only three psychiatrists, the latter recruited from India.

The latest problems come as the U.S. Department of Justice continues its probe into deficiencies in the state hospital system, including at Coalinga.Four of the five state hospitals in California are operating under a sweeping federal consent judgment reached last year. Earlier this year, staff members at Coalinga and other state hospitals protested outside their facilities to decry unsafe and deteriorating conditions, according to an L.A. Times article on May 22.

The detainees have a web site that is worth checking out. Other sources of information include a web site at Geocities and the Sex Gulag blog. On Aug. 27, KPFA radio also covered the strike, which started Aug. 6.

My related blog posts are here and here.

Mother prosecuted for talking to her children about sex

Just when you think you've heard the most ridiculous extreme to which the current sex hysteria can go, along comes something even more bizarre.

A Wisconsin woman was successfully prosecuted for talking to her children, ages 11 and 15, about sex, according to the Portage Daily Register.

Amy Smalley was prosecuted for the felony crime of exposing children to harmful descriptions, which carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison. She pleaded guilty so that her children would not have to testify. She was sentenced to probation and mandatory counseling.

Smalley's attorneys had argued unsuccessfully that Smalley's conversation with her children was protected free speech, and that the law under which she was prosecuted was aimed at protecting children from pornography, not preventing parents from providing their own children with information about sex.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Do mental health courts work?

From a new study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry:

Many communities have created specialized mental health courts in recent years. However, little research has been done to evaluate the criminal justice outcomes of such courts. This study evaluated whether a mental health court can reduce the risk of recidivism and violence by people with mental disorders who have been arrested. In this study, 170 people who went through a mental health court were compared with 8,067 other adults with mental disorders booked into an urban jail during the same period. Statistical analyses revealed that participation in the mental health court program was associated with longer time without any new criminal charges or new charges for violent crimes. Successful completion of the mental health court program was associated with maintenance of reductions in recidivism and violence after graduates were no longer under supervision of the mental health court. Overall, the results indicate that a mental health court can reduce recidivism and violence by people with mental disorders who are involved in the criminal justice system.
The report, “Effectiveness of a mental health court in reducing criminal recidivism and violence,” is by DE McNiel and RL Binder of the Langley Porter Psychiatric Institute in San Francisco. It was published in the September 2007 issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry (Volume 164 Number 9). For a reprint, contact the authors at dalem@lppi.uscsf.edu.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Claim in 15-year-old girl's stabbing will highlight prison failures

The family of a 15-year-old San Francisco girl who was severely stabbed by a paroled prisoner plans to file a claim against prison officials next Monday.

Scott Thomas, who was accidentally paroled from San Quentin Prison due to a clerical blunder, had a documented history of bipolar disorder and was flagged by guards as needing treatment that he never received, two prison clinicians secretly told the San Francisco Chronicle. He randomly stabbed the 15-year-old girl and a man who came to her rescue at a bakery. After his arrest, he mumbled, "I'm taking on the world" before breaking into incoherent song, according to a police report.

Accidental releases are lawsuits waiting to happen. And it is lamentable when prisoners slip through the cracks of psychiatric treatment. But these issues miss the bigger picture: Thomas, a repeat theft offender who was only violent when in prison, was released to the streets straight out of solitary confinement.

Recipe for violence

Imagine being locked up all by yourself in a windowless cement box no bigger than a bathroom. Imagine being all by yourself in that box for months on end. (Thomas was only in "the hole" for four months; some prisoners in supermax prisons are kept in isolation for decades).

As depicted in the 1973 Steve McQueen film Papillon, based on a true story about an escape from a prison colony in French Guiana, it doesn't take long to have a mental breakdown under these conditions. Just a couple of days of solitary confinement with sensory deprivation can trigger psychotic hallucinations. Ellectroencephalogram research shows that after only a few days in solitary confinement, prisoners' brain waves shift into a stuporous, delirious pattern.

Now imagine that you are locked up in that windowless little box when you are already mentally ill and tormented by demons inside of your head.

Many prisoners, such as Thomas, are already fragile and unstable. They are even more prone to psychiatric breakdown than are healthy people who did not undergo severe childhood trauma. Putting mentally ill prisoners in solitary confinement is like putting an asthmatic person in a room with no air, as a federal judge once put it.

When I worked in a segregation housing unit (SHU) for the mentally ill, I saw these effects first-hand. After a short time on the unit, many prisoners began to babble incoherently or to lie semi-comatose in a fetal ball. They screamed and yelled and hurled excrement and urine through the narrow slits in their cell doors. They tried to kill or mutilate themselves.

Further demolishing the psyches of these vulnerable prisoners is not only cruel, it is also a surefire recipe for community endangerment when they get released, as most eventually will. Some prison administrations have realized that discharging convicts straight from the hole to the streets is a dangerous practice. Oregon, for example, integrates prisoners back into the prison mainstream through classes and jobs before releasing them.

Despite the demonstrated, permanent harm to prisoners' psyches – which ultimately translates into harm to vulnerable victims such as the 15-year-old San Francisco girl – solitary confinement is on the rise. From 1995-2000, its use rose by a dramatic 40%, surpassing the overall prison population rise of 28% during that period.

"We have to ask ourselves why we're doing this," psychiatrist Stuart Grassian, a Harvard professor and expert on segregation psychosis, told Time magazine. (For more on Grassian and his research, see my web page on "segregation psychosis.")

Wouldn’t it be great if rationality and community safety prevailed, and this barbaric practice was put to rest? Perhaps more lawsuits like this family's will get the attention of prison officials.

National Public Radio has an excellent, three-part series by Laura Sullivan on solitary confinement. In one episode, she spends the day with Daud Tulam, a New Jersey man adjusting to life on the outside after 18 years in solitary confinement. Tulam struggles with the common everyday things that we all take for granted, such as smalltalk, noise, and mere human companionship.

Circumcision: Sexual abuse or religious freedom?

Circumcision is a hot topic this week. It's made its way in front of its highest court ever, in oral arguments before the Oregon Supreme Court.

In one corner, a father who recently converted to Judaism and wants to circumcise his 12-year-old son, over whom he has custody.

In the other corner, a mother who contends the religious rite is dangerous and amounts to sexual abuse.

It's not clear what the boy wants. According to an affidavit by the mother, the boy told her he did not want to be circumcised but was afraid of contradicting the father. (How many 12-year-old boys relish the prospect of a knife to the genitals?) But anyway, the father maintained in response to a question from one of the high court justices, the child's wishes are not legally relevant.

Do custodial parents have the right to impose genital mutilation or a nose job "on children whose faces are just fine," another justice asked the father. Yes, the father responded during this week's oral arguments; parents may do anything to their children that is not illegal, except perhaps tattoo "a swastika on the forehead."

The original trial court had ruled in favor of the husband, and an appellate court upheld that ruling.

Anti-circumcision groups and Jewish groups are weighing in with opposing amicus briefs in the case, which has a colorful history. According to court papers in a 1998 dispute over a restraining order, the wife - a Russian bride - was whipped by her husband while playing the role of "slave girl" to her "god" and "master."

With this week's hearing before a state high court, the ex-slave girl has certainly found her voice. Although if I had to bet, I'd wager that her ex-master will win this battle; courts do not like to interfere with custodial parents.

The Wall Street Journal's Law Blog, the New York Sun, and the Concurring Opinions blog have interesting coverage and commentary.

Thanks to subscriber Kirk Witherspoon for sending me the cool bear photo.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Of profiling, astrology, and magic

Malcolm Gladwell exposes the tricks of forensic profilers

The Rainbow Ruse, the Barnum Statement, the Fuzzy Fact, the Greener Grass technique, the Diverted Question, the Russian Doll, Sugar Lumps, Forking, and the Good Chance Guess.

These are all magic tricks described in the classic how-to manual of magician Ian Rowland, "The Full Facts Book of Cold Reading." When skillfully woven together, these tricks can convince even the most skeptical observer that you possess uncanny wisdom and insight.

For example, take the Rainbow Ruse. Here, one attributes to the listener both a personality trait and its opposite, as in: "I would say that on the whole you can be rather a quiet, self effacing type, but when the circumstances are right, you can be quite the life and soul of the party if the mood strikes you." Or, the Barnum Statement, an assertion so general that anyone would agree. And the Fuzzy Fact: a seemingly factual statement couched in ambiguity, as in: "I can see a connection with Europe, possibly Britain, or it could be the warmer, Mediterranean part?"

Writing in the Nov. 12 New Yorker magazine, Malcolm Gladwell presents a crash course in how such time-worn magic tricks have convinced the world of the scientific legitimacy and deductive powers of forensic profiling.

Like a fortune teller's prognostications, the profiles generated by famous FBI profilers John Douglas and Robert Ressler are "so full of unverifiable and contradictory and ambiguous language that [they] can support virtually any interpretation." The magic lies in the fact that police detectives and laypersons alike do not realize this without the aid of detailed, sentence-by-sentence analyses.

Gladwell cites the research on profiling, which shows they are accurate enough to lead to an arrest in only a tiny fraction of cases, less than 3% in one study by the British Home Office.

Partly, the failure of profiling may be due to the unscientific manner in which its premises were generated. For example, the well-known organized/disorganized typology of serial killers – which falls apart under empirical scrutiny – came out of a convenience sample of offenders interviewed using no scientific, standardized method. FBI profilers Douglas and Ressler just "sat down and chatted" with "whoever happened to be in the neighborhood." That's not how one generates good science.

Criminal profiling is glorified in prime-time TV shows such as Criminal Minds. Perhaps as a result, I get multiple queries from youngsters interested in becoming criminal profilers. And I typically get at least one such student each year in my graduate courses on forensic psychology. As a result, I devote at least one lecture to debunking profiling as pseudoscience; I also make this point in my online essay on becoming a forensic psychologist. Thus, I am tremendously excited to see this lucid and wonderfully written essay in the popular press. Perhaps naively, I hope it may lay to rest some of the unwarranted allure of profiling.

Further resources:

The Forensic Psychologist's Casebook: Psychological Profiling and Criminal Investigation, edited by Laurence Alison

"The organized/disorganized typology of serial murder: Myth or model?" by Canter, D.V., Alison, L.J., Alison, E., & Wentink, N. (2004). Psychology, Public Policy, & Law, Vol. 10, pp. 293-320.

"Validities and Abilities in Criminal Profiling: A Critique of the Studies Conducted by Richard Kocsis and His Colleagues," by Bennell, C., Jones, N.J., & Taylor, P.J. (2006). International Journal of Offender Therapy & Comparative Criminology, Vol. 50, pp. 344-360.

Minds on Trial: Great Cases in Law and Psychology, edited by Charles Patrick Ewing and Joseph T. McCann (see especially Chapters 1 & 11, the latter a great account of profiling in the USS Iowa disaster)

"Criminal profiling: the reality behind the myth: Forensic psychologists are working with law enforcement officials to integrate psychological science into criminal profiling," by Lea Winerman, American Psychologist, August 2004.

Photos: Top: Robert Ressler (left) and John Douglas (right); Bottom: The presence of actor Shemar Moore in television's prime-time drama Criminal Minds hasn't hurt the popularity of criminal profiling.

ADDENDUM: Criminal profiler John Douglas, critiqued in Gladwell's essay, has issued a lengthy response that is printed in full at the Crimson Shadows blog.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

9th Circuit upholds lifetime supervision of child pornographer

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday upheld lifetime supervision of a child pornographer after he finishes serving his prison term.

Gordon Cope, 58, was caught with computer images and videos depicting child pornography during an undercover FBI investigation of Internet chat rooms. He pleaded guilty to a single federal charge of possession of child pornography and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

The appellate court held that lifetime supervision was "reasonable" and Constitutionally permissible in light of the California man's previous conviction in 1981 for attempted sexual assault on a minor.

Cope also appealed special sentencing provisions requiring that he comply with forced medications, penile plethysmography, Abel testing, and polygraph testing as part of mandatory sex offender treatment. The appellate court held that such requirements are permissible, but that Cope should have been provided with adequate notice and more explanation of why these special conditions were needed. The case was remanded back to the trial court for such proceedings.

Yesterday's ruling is available online.

Monday, November 5, 2007

The future is now: Forensic applications of emerging technology

High-tech surveillance techniques are staples of science fiction books and movies such as Gattaca and Minority Report. But many once-fictional technologies are hitting the mainstream. Here are three in the news right now:

Brain scanning and lie detection

A British academic has published what he is billing as the first real-world use of fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) brain-scanning technology to investigate a criminal suspect's veracity. Sean Spence at the University of Sheffield studied the brain waves of a woman who spent four years in prison for allegedly poisoning her child. The woman was accused of Munchausen's syndrome by proxy, a highly controversial syndrome that has led to the jailings (and subsequent exonerations in some cases) of many mothers, especially in England. (Forensic psychiatrist Robert Kaplan of the University of Wollongong, New South Wales, discussed this fascinating topic yesterday on Australia's ABC National Radio show, Ockham's Razor. The episode is entitled "The Rise and Fall of Sir Roy Meadow," in reference to the leading British doctor who testified against mothers in these cases.)

Adding an extra layer of potential controversy, the research was funded by a television station and featured on the station's Channel 4 Lie Lab. The Psychology & Crime blog has some comments on the ethics, and potential limitations, of this media-funded research.

In a previous post, I provided links to online resources about forensic uses of brain scanning technology.

Routine iris scanning?

Meanwhile, in Alameda County, California, police are gearing up to scan the irises of all 2,500 registered sex offenders in the county. With sex offenders such undesirable bogeymen that almost anything goes, the sheriff's department is using them as guinea pigs to test the technology for potentially wider use in the near future.

Imagine that police receive a call about a person annoying a child. Within minutes, they arrive on the scene, whip their handheld iris scanner from their belt, and determine whether the person is a known sex offender.

With iris scanning technology projected to improve to the point that eyes can be scanned from yards away without the target's knowledge, critics worry about "function creep," or more and more widespread use that will invade people's privacy rights.

The San Francisco Chronicle has a report.

Vein pattern recognition

This is a much lesser-known technological gem that's coming to the forefront in the long-running child pornography case of R&B star R. Kelly.

Kelly was charged in 2002 with engaging in videotaped sex acts with an underage girl. He claims that his likeness may have been computer-generated, and has raised doubts about the age and identity of the girl, who is now an adult and who testified before a grand jury that she is not the girl on the tape.

Prosecutors are seeking to introduce testimony of Sharon Cooper, a developmental and forensic pediatrician, that the girl's denial is typical of victims of child pornography. As part of her testimony, Cooper wants to testify that the vein pattern in Kelly's hand is similar to that of the man in the video. The judge has ordered an evidentiary hearing to determine whether the "vein pattern comparison" test is generally accepted in the scientific community.

Law professor Colin Miller, blogging at EvidenceProf Blog, located a web site claiming that such vein pattern recognition technology is gaining momentum as one of the fastest-growing new forensic technologies. Apparently, the technology has found "easy acceptance" in parts of Asia, where there is strong resistance in fingerprinting.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Two new texts in forensic psychology

Joining an increasingly crowded forensic psychological arena comes Rebecca Jackson's Learning Forensic Assessment. I haven't read it so I can't endorse it, but it's got some great chapter authors and is being advertised as more practical than many texts, providing both didactic information and discussions of specific assessment instruments and techniques. At 600-plus pages, it includes topical coverage of:

  • Competency to Stand Trial
  • Insanity
  • Psychopathy
  • Violence Risk
  • Civil Commitment of Sex Offenders
  • Capital Sentencing
  • Competency for Execution
  • Juvenile Assessment Issues
  • Civil Assessment
  • Child Custody
  • and more ...
For other forensic psychology texts, check out my Forensic Psychology book list at Amazon.

And from Oxford University Press comes Stalking: Psychiatric Perspectives and Practical Approaches, edited by Debra A. Pinals, Director of the Forensic Psychiatry Fellowship and Training Program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

It's written by a committee of nationally recognized forensic psychiatrists for use by mental health professionals, judges, lawyers, law enforcement officials, journalists, and anyone else with an interest in this increasingly high-profile topic. Topics covered include classification of stalking behaviors, risk assessment and risk management, the victim's perspective, celebrity stalking, forensic assessment, juvenile and adolescent stalking, and the emerging topic of cyberstalking.

The American Journal of Psychiatry has an online review by Sibel Cakir, MD.

Do childhood mental disorders cause adult crime?

Forensic scholar Tom Grisso has a nice editorial on the link between childhood mental disorders and adult crime, in the current issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry. The editorial, commenting on new epidemiological research out of the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, starts out:

The past ten years have witnessed a surge of research on adolescent offenders with mental disorders. The research shows that youths with delinquencies often have mental disorders, and youths with mental disorders are at greater risk of delinquencies. This 'overlap' of the two populations is a good deal less than a majority when examined as a proportion of all delinquent youths or of all youths with mental disorders. Yet it is substantial, especially among the subset of delinquent youths in juvenile justice secure facilities, where about one-half to two-thirds meet criteria for one or more mental disorders.

These findings have focused attention on the implications of public child protective and mental health services for criminal conduct. Is the national crisis in child community mental health services contributing to delinquency and causing the juvenile justice system to become the dumping ground for youths who are inadequately served? Can we reduce delinquency by providing better resources for responding to youths with mental disorders?
The essay continues here.

The important Smoky Mountains study, "Childhood Psychiatric Disorders and Young Adult Crime: A Prospective, Population-Based Study," by William E. Copeland, Shari Miller-Johnson, Gordon Keeler, Adrian Angold, and E. Jane Costello, is also available online. Here is the Abstract:
While psychopathology is common in criminal populations, knowing more about what kinds of psychiatric disorders precede criminal behavior could be helpful in delineating at-risk children. The authors determined rates of juvenile psychiatric disorders in a sample of young adult offenders and then tested which childhood disorders best predicted young adult criminal status. A representative sample of 1,420 children ages 9, 11, and 13 at intake were followed annually through age 16 for psychiatric disorders. Criminal offense status in young adulthood (ages 16 to 21) was ascertained through court records. Thirty-one percent of the sample had one or more adult criminal charges. Overall, 51.4% of male young adult offenders and 43.6% of female offenders had a child psychiatric history. The population-attributable risk of criminality from childhood disorders was 20.6% for young adult female participants and 15.3% for male participants. Childhood psychiatric profiles predicted all levels of criminality. Severe/violent offenses were predicted by comorbid diagnostic groups that included both emotional and behavioral disorders. The authors found that children with specific patterns of psychopathology with and without conduct disorder were at risk of later criminality. Effective identification and treatment of children with such patterns may reduce later crime.

 
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