Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Media Mass Incarceration Link

A good example of how the media continues to be wed to the "crime run amok, government doesn't care" scare story of the 1960s and 1970s is Associated Press' apparent campaign against parole reform (for predictions of such backlash, see my last few posts on this). Despite decades of ever tougher laws, to many in the media, its always the summer of love, and murderers are clocking out of prison faster than their victims' corpses will decompose. Forget the fact that murderers in California now serve longer than genocide convicts in Europe and many will never leave prison alive. It was the media, abetted by politicians, who succeeded in turning New Orleans, after Katrina, into a crime story, and who beat the drums in anticipation of the looting in Haiti for days while no looting happened and aid shipments waited for military to deploy ahead of water and food. Now the AP is pushing a story that violent criminals are being released in California (and other states doing parole reform) despite promises that "early release" measures would apply only to the non-violent. Read Don Thompson's reporting published here by the SFChron. The AP takes credit for causing one state to back off reform.

Gov. Pat Quinn suspended Illinois' program in December after the AP found that hundreds of inmates were being released too early. About 200 of the paroled inmates were returned to prison within the first four months of the program because of violations.


Precisely what happened is very hard to figure out. The law was mainly about state prisons and parole, but the stories of early release all focus on jails. It may be that these are parole violators, released from jail where they were being held on parole holds for non-violent parole violations but who are listed as violent offenders because their original commitment offense was violent. In any event, I have some research assistants working on this and will report back. In the meantime, the fact that California has a lame duck Governor will protect the current program for at least the ten months or so until the election. But if this kind of toxic reporting continues, look for the Gov-Elect to announce plans to cancel it before their even inaugurated.

2 comments:

Warren said...

Early release is a great idea, but here's the problem: states like Illinois may no longer have the infrastructure in place to do this in a rational manner. My impression is that the typically bumbling IDC released some seriously violent folks, along with the appropriate contingent of drug dealers and parole-violators. (Though I could be wrong. I'm basing my information on the perpetually unreliable St. Louis Post-Dispatch.)

It does the cause of reform NO favors if even a few people are let go who by any reasonable objective standard should still be locked up. We need change and need change now, but that doesn't mean throwing open a door or two and shouting "see ya'."

p.s. And I'd love to see your work on property values and crime. This is a very complicated issue in St. Louis.

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