Best Criminal Justice in the world?

I had a guest speaker in my class earlier this week who began her presentation by stipulating that the US Criminal Justice system is the “best in the world.”  Of course, much of the rest of her presentation suggested otherwise, so I somewhat doubt she really meant this.  I’m no expert on comparative criminal justice, but my thought was that if we are the best in the world, damn is the rest of the world hurting.  Not to mention, in general Northern European democracies seem to be so much smarter about public policy, so I figured they probably are on criminal justice policy, too.

Well, with the power of google and the World Justice Project, my suspicions are confirmed:

Want a just society? Consider moving to northern Europe. The U.S. isn’t even in the top 15.

This week, the World Justice Project released its annualRule of Law index. It’s base don a survey of 1,000 people in three major cities in 99 countries, each asked identical questions about the limits of government powers, corruption, civil liberties and crime.

The criminal justice system in the U.S. is what pulls the rug out from higher rankings here. [emphasis mine] The general public view it as discriminatory, and stories like the murder of Trayvon Martin in central Florida in 2012 help perpetuate that negative perception.

And here’s the cool graphical summary of the US:

cj

No, we’re not the worst in criminal justice, but safe to say not exactly best in the world.  Like most everything else public policy-wise, we could do so much better.

Quick hits (part II)

I’ve been a horrible blogger lately.  Good stuff coming soon– I promise.  Until then, lots more good links.

1) The Supreme Court thinks it is just fine for cops to pull you over because they don’t actually know the law.

2) The Northern Lights are awesome and it is hard work to film them.

3) Tax day last week brought lots of talk about the IRS.  It really is just unconscionable how the Republican slash their budget and then complain that they can’t get anything right.  Of course, Ted Cruz says we shouldn’t even have an IRS because every one would surely pay their taxes then.

4) It’s not easy out there for cable channels that are not part of big media conglomerates.

5) So, just one more totally, obviously innocent prisoner who is languishing away in Virginia.  I would have liked a little more focus in this article on why the Democratic governor still has not pardoned him, as that is the obvious solution at this point.

6) Enjoyed this comparison of cities that have professional sports teams in all four of football, basketball, baseball, and hockey.

7) Bloomberg View with a nice editorial on how we need to defeat the NRA and actually do research on gun violence.

8) Apparently Washington state is also suffering horrible drought— especially in apple-growing regions.  I take this quite personally (I eat 2-3 apples every day).  That said, at this point in the year, the Washington Apples preserved from the Fall our pretty horrible.  I’m desperately awaiting the Southern hemisphere apples to arrive from Chile and New Zealand.

9) Yet more on the increasing evidence that, for most people, salt is pretty harmless.

10) I always enjoy pieces knocking down libertarian utopias– in this case the idea that the interrnet will somehow make government regulation obsolete.

11) Sure, professors need to reach out more to a general audience, but I’d argue that political science is doing a pretty good job at this.  The Monkey Cage, for example, has proved hugely influential (at least indirectly) among young, smart journalists.

12) I so cannot wait for the new Star Wars movie.   I’m so excited about actually seeing a Star Wars movie in the theater with my kids.  And watching this trailer, I have to say that John Williams Star Wars score probably has more emotional impact on me than about any music.

13) Regardless of what’s going on with the law, the death penalty in America is definitely on the wane (which, given its huge flaws, I would argue is a good thing).

14) In Republican North Carolina, we need more prayer and less debt:

— ​Sen. Norman Sanderson, R-Pamlico, and 10 other legislative colleagues are rounding up signatures for a “call to prayer for America” from fellow lawmakers, hoping to start a national movement…

“The consensus among those in attendance was that people of faith can no longer sit idly by and watch as our nation’s history and Judeo-Christian heritage are being re-written with a false narrative,” according to a handout that Sanderson passed out to his colleagues. The formal resolution says that those in Charlotte “realized the need for America to turn back to God and prayer.”

Asked what issue he thought should be the focus of the prayer, Sanderson said there were several.

“One of the greatest threats facing our nation right now is our level of debt,” he said. “I don’t know you could list all the things our nation is facing right now. There’s just many.”

15) Contrary to what you may have been told, marijuana is not a “gateway drug.”  Nicotine, however, is.

16) To their credit, the Koch brothers support much-needed criminal justice reform.  To their discredit, they don’t let this play any role at all in the Republican candidates they support.

17) The self-fulfilling power of Moore’s law.

18) How a Union general stopped Raleigh from being destroyed after Lincoln was assassinated.

19) You know what’s crazy?  How much we rely on Alcoholics Anonymous despite the fact that it is not based on medical science whatsoever and has incredibly little evidence to support its efficacy.  There’s way better approaches that are, you know… evidence-based, that they are smart enough to use in other countries.  Heck, I’d never even bothered to read the 12 steps before reading this article.  I’m sure it really does help some people, but just reading these steps, you’d have to think there’s surely many a better approach out there.  And there is.

Photo of the day

Love a good juxtaposition– hard to beat this one from a Behold gallery on Medieval re-enactors:

19

SCA events are often geographically quite far apart, usually requiring several hours of driving each way to attend.

Euan Forrester

Photo of the day

From the NYT Lens blog on an “Evolving View of Animals” series:

Tim Flach

Quick hits (part I)

I was at a political science conference over the weekend, thus pushing back quick hits and regular blogging.  Sorry!

1) There’s something remarkably pathetic about a man (Orthodox Jews in this NYT story) who is unwilling to sit next to a strange female on an airplane.  My sympathy is with the women unwilling to move.

2) Tom Edsall asks whether Obamacare has turned voters against redistribution.

3) Not only do Republican presidential candidates dodge questions on evolution, they are even dodging on how old the earth is (and as compelling as the science for evolution is, the science for the age of the earth is far more compelling).

4) Nice post in the New Yorker on how the death penalty deserves the death penalty.

5) Can you trust your ears?

6) When even Jesse Helm’s former political strategist says the NC Republicans have gone too far (in the Wake County redistricting), you know it’s true.

7) The difficulty journalists face in reporting on quacks and pseudoscience.

8) Back before he was discredited, Jonah Lehrer wrote a nice piece on how brainstorming doesn’t work.  Reading that actually changed the way I teach.  And here’s a recent piece summing up the evidence on the matter.

9) Jimmy Carter is not happy with how organized religion discriminates against females.

10) James Fallows piece a while back on the troubles with civil-military relations these days talked about the unfortunate and inappropriate demise of the A10.  And here’s an NYT Op-Ed from a former A10 squadron commander who is now a Republican Congresswoman.

11) The sentences for the teachers in the Atlanta cheating scandal strike me as way too harsh.  Why do we have to use long prison sentences as the solution for everything in this country.

12) A must-see for Game of Thrones fans– why you shouldn’t invite Jon Snow to your dinner party.

13) Sure, very few people read most published articles, but there’s a lot of crappy journals out there.  Serious scholars have serious impact in serious journals.  Yes, perhaps professors need to pen more for “popular media” but I’d say that Political Science is actually doing a nice job of this.

14) Encouraging teenagers to read with adult, instead of “young adult,” books.

15) Jon Cohn on the terrifically effective anti-poverty program based on home visits.  We need to scale this up!

Child First is a “home visiting” program, which means staff members work with families mostly in their homes rather than in office settings, sometimes meeting as frequently as three or four times a week. The first priority is addressing tangible problems like poor housing or lack of medical care, which sometimes means connecting families with public programs. But the main focus is improving relationships within the family, particularly between the parents and children, through a combination of advice and therapy…

Child First has its own data to back up claims of success. Studies have shown that participation in Child First reduces the incidence of developmental problems and mental health issues for children, and decreases calls to child welfare authorities.

16) If the head of the DEA is clueless about what really makes sense in the war on drugs, it’s time for her to go:

1. Dead kids as a sign of drug war success

In 2011, the Washington Post wrote about a report on the deaths of hundreds of children at the hands of Mexican drug cartels. Asked to comment on the findings, Leonhart said that “it may seem contradictory, but the unfortunate level of violence is a sign of success in the fight against drugs.”

“If this is a sign of success, maybe we should reconsider waging this war,” wrote Alex Pareene in Salon at the time.

17) No, students should not assault teachers, but there’s some real potential for taking this too far if we label it a felony.  Especially for children with special needs (obviously, this concern hits close to home).

18) This was a terrific Radley Balko column on absurd interpretations of the 4th amendment and everything that is wrong with modern drug raids.  It totally deserved it’s own post.  I’ve failed long enough– just read it.

Driving while black

Is a lot worse than driving while white.  That is, if you don’t like being pulled over by police on minor pretense.  A new study based on data right here in NC from UNC professors:

The researchers at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill analyzed more than 1.3 million traffic stops and searches by Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers for a 12-year period beginning in 2002, when the state began requiring police to collect such statistics. In their analysis of the data, collected and made public by the state’s Department of Justice, the researchers found that black drivers, despite making up less than one-third of the city’s driving population, were twice as likely to be subject to traffic stops and searches as whites. Young black men in Charlotte were three times as likely to get pulled over and searched than the city-wide average….

Not only did the researchers identify these gaps: they showed that the gaps have been growing. [emphasis mine] Black drivers in Charlotte are more likely than whites to get pulled over and searched today than they were in 2002, the researchers found. They noted similar widening racial gaps among traffic stops and searches in Durham, Raleigh, and elsewhere in the state…

Black drivers in Charlotte were much more likely to get stopped for minor violations involving seat belts, vehicle registration, and equipment, where, as the Observer‘s Michael Gordon points out, “police have more discretion in pulling someone over.” (Scott was stopped in North Charleston due to a broken brake light.) White drivers, meanwhile, were stopped more often for obvious safety violations, such as speeding, running red lights and stop signs, and driving under the influence. Still, black drivers—except those suspected of intoxicated driving—were always more likely to get searched than whites, no matter the reason for the stop.

If more discretion for police means more racism, perhaps it is time to really think how much discretion police have in traffic stops for very low-level offenses.

Marijuana hearts and minds

Really interesting new survey from Pew looking at changing attitudes on marijuana legalization.  Most interesting to me, the growing support is much more than just generational replacement– at every age level people are getting more supportive.  Even old marijuana-hating geezers (I suspect that’s very much the medical marijuana argument):

Opinion on Legalizing Marijuana:  1969-2015

What’s also interesting to see is the number of people who admit to changing their mind on the issue.  And it is overwhelmingly in the direction in change of support for legalization:

Supporters of Legalization More Likely Than Opponents to Have Changed Minds

While I think there are genuine medicinal benefits, I’m far more persuaded by the fact that marijuana is clearly not as harmful as other drugs– especially alcohol.  Good to see that this fact is catching on with a decent portion of the population (though, the medical argument appears to be especially key):

Many Supporters of Legalization Cite Marijuana’s Health Benefits

So, the public is definitely moving in the right direction on this issue.  Just need more politicians (especially Republican ones) to catch up to public opinion and scientific reality.

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