Category Archives: Crime and corrections

Business As Usual in the Old Dominion: Gridlock, Greed and Confusion

After LaHood report, more squabbling over Metro’s future. In the wake of recommendations by former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C., are edging toward compromises that would reform the ailing mass transit system’s governance system and shore up its financing. LaHood’s proposal to shrink the Metro board from six seats to five is drawing some bipartisan support, and legislation in Congress is being drafted, reports the Washington Post. But suburban jurisdictions in Virginia and Maryland, worried about losing their voice on the board, are unhappy with the plan. Also, while LaHood affirmed the need for an additional $500 million a year to work down a massive maintenance backlog, he did not propose how that massive sum might be funded — mainly because there is no consensus for a regional sales tax, the main proposal on the table. Also unaddressed is the not-insignificant matter that Metro really needs an additional $1.5 billion a year, not $500 million, to fix its problems.

Good business if you can get it. (Alternative headline: First, kill all the lawyers.) Richmond has emerged as the preferred venue for bankruptcy trials, reports the New York Times. Toys “R” Us, Gymboree, a West Virginia coal company, and a Pennsylvania fracking company all have filed in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court there. The federal district court’s so-called rocket docket resolves cases swiftly. Also, precedents in the court’s legal record make it easier for companies to walk away from union contracts. But perhaps the biggest draw is the ability of bankruptcy lawyers to charge outrageous fees — as much as $1,745 per hour. Lawyers advising troubled companies, writes the newspaper, tend to gravitate toward courts that approve higher fees.

Dazed and confused — but mostly confused. A state review of the police response to the chaotic white nationalist protest in Charlottesville in August describes a confused command structure, a breakdown in communication, and uncertainty among officers about the “rules of engagement” with protesters, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The review, led by James W. Baker, a consultant with the International Association of Chiefs of Police, did not address whether or not police were ordered to “stand down” in the face of escalating violence between white supremacists and leftists. Nor did it assign responsibility for the confusion to anyone in the Charlottesville city administration.

Second Year Running: Lowest Recidivism of Any State

Source: Virginia Department of Corrections

When Virginia ranked last year as the state with the lowest recidivism rate in the country, it wasn’t a fluke. The Old Dominion has repeated the performance.  Of the 11,576 offenders released from prison in 2013, only 2,588 wound up back in jail by 2016. The percentage of felons readmitted to state-responsible incarceration within three years was 22.4%. 

“I am proud of the work my administration has done to pursue policies and initiatives that rehabilitate incarcerated individuals, helping them develop the tools and skills they need to be successful,” said Governor Terry McAuliffe in a press release. “A low recidivism rate means fewer victims, it means safer communities, and it means we are returning offenders to their communities better prepared to be productive, law-abiding Virginians.”

Continues the press release:

Virginia Department of Corrections (VADOC) tailors its programming and supervision to address each offender’s criminogenic risks and needs in keeping with the agency’s mission to enhance the quality of life in the Commonwealth by improving public safety. About ninety-three percent of individuals incarcerated in Virginia will one day be released back into their communities.

“We are in the business of helping people to be better,” said Virginia Department of Corrections Director Harold Clarke. “Virginia’s leading rate is due to the successful reentry programming and treatment offered by the Department of Corrections during an offender’s incarceration, and the effective supervision in the community after release through VADOC Probation & Parole.”

Bacon’s bottom line: Virginia should be proud of its record of low recidivism. Unless people are monkeying around with the numbers (a possibility never to be dismissed), we have the best prison programs of the 45 states surveyed for reintegrating felons into society. (I have written in the past about the special efforts made to ensure that inmates get drivers’ licenses and ID cards immediately upon release from prison, as well as programs in local jails to kick substance abuse, learn anger management, and master other life skills.)

However, I have to call McAuliffe for the boastfulness of his press release. The prisoners alluded to in the 2016 data were released from prison in 2013. McAuliffe didn’t set foot in the Governor’s Mansion until 2014. Whoever deserves credit for their low rate of recidivism, it wasn’t McAuliffe, it was the McDonnell administration. Hopefully, the McAuliffe team built upon the good work of its predecessors. But we won’t really know until McAuliffe is out of office.

Plugging “Mercy” into the Judicial System

O. Randolph Rollins, founder of Drive to Work.

Just when it looked like the country was so locked in partisan gridlock that no one could agree about anything, along came the Republican-dominated General Assembly, the Democratic governor, and the Virginia Supreme Court to put into place reforms that make it easier for people owing court fines to keep their drivers licenses and continue driving to work.

More than 600,000 Virginians have had their drivers’ licenses suspended for failure to pay court fines, and nearly 200,000 have had them suspended for drug offenses unrelated to driving. The penalties, which arose from war-against-drugs legislation in the 1980s, trapped people in a cycle of poverty. But over the past decade, the unintended consequences have grown too big to ignore.

As House Speaker William H. Howell described it during a panel discussion at the annual banquet of the Drive to Work non-profit Monday, the suspension of drivers licenses for failure to pay court costs is reminiscent of 18th-century debtor’s prison. If someone can’t pay his court debts, he can’t drive. If he can’t drive, he can’t work. If he can’t work, he can’t pay his court fines. And if he gets caught driving repeatedly with an unsuspended license, he goes to jail… where he can’t work or repay fines.

As it became increasingly clear that the license-suspension penalty was adding immeasurably to the hardship of poor Virginians — an awareness raised largely by the Drive to Work program — a bipartisan consensus emerged that the system needed to change. After picking at the edges of the problem for several years, the General Assembly passed six bills in the 2017 session addressing the drive-to-work issue.

Perhaps the most significant reform was the measure that gives judges more leeway to consider an individual’s circumstances before suspending his or her driver’s license. A law enacted in 2015 conveyed a policy message to the judiciary that they should apply the law more flexibility, but provided few specifics. The Judicial Council, which is charged with overseeing the rules and procedures of Virginia’s judicial system, issued guidelines to local judges on how to apply the law. In 2016, the chief justice of the Supreme Court appointed a panel to devise “rules of law” that carried greater weight than the guidelines. Early this year, Del. Manoli Loupassi, R-Richmond, introduced a bill that would embed the rules of court into state statute.

Speaking in the panel discussion, Loupassi described how he thought his bill had “zero percent” chance of passing until Governor Terry McAuliffe and Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran made it an issue. Before he knew it, other key legislators fell in line. “It’s a great thing,” he said. “There is something inherently good and positive about people working.”

Associate Supreme Court Justice William C. Mims praised the bipartisan nature of the legislation. The reforms have occurred the right way, he said. They weren’t imposed by judicial decree but emerged organically from the interaction between the General Assembly, the Supreme Court and the McAuliffe administration, which added a key provision to the bill.

“The system worked, and it worked for all the right reasons,” he told Bacon’s Rebellion. The courts “plugged mercy into the equation.”

Related laws enacted this year created a uniform set of standards for people with suspended licenses to repay their court fees, and gave judges more discretion not to suspend the driver’s license of some one convicted of a first-time marijuana possess in offenses unrelated to their driving.

In a keynote speech, McAuliffe framed the drive-to-work initiatives as part of a larger effort to make it easier for felons to return to productive lives after their release from prison. He cited other programs such as transferring youths from central state-run facilities to locally based programs near their homes, cutting the cost for prisoners to make phone calls and maintain contact with family members, and starting programs that help felons get their state ID cards and drivers’ licenses before their release from prison. It’s no accident, he added, that Virginia has the lowest recidivism rate in the country.

“We want everyone back in society,” he said. “We want to help their re-entry. We want them providing for their families, and paying taxes.”

While great progress has been made, O Randolph Rollins, founder of Drive to Work, said more remains to be done. Looking ahead, he wants to decouple drug convictions from the loss of driving privileges. The law enacted in the 2017 session, which relaxed the penalty for marijuana possession, was a “baby step” in the right direction, he told Bacon’s Rebellion. He wants to break the link between all drugs — even including cocaine, heroin and meth — and driving privileges.

Roughly 185,000 Virginians have had their licenses suspended for drug offenses, he said. Only about 1,000 of those offenses were tied to driving, such as driving under the influence of drugs. If lawmakers want to put drug abusers in jail or go to treatment, that’s a different debate. But it makes no sense to take away their right to drive, he said. Taking away their license does little to deter them from abusing drugs. But it does interfere with their ability to make a living and support a family.

“I Love Mankind. It’s Just People I Can’t Stand.”

Counter protesters professing their love of humanity. Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

On Sept. 9, 12-year-old Bethany Harper and her nine-year-old friend Solai Coleman were sitting on the front porch of their house on Fifth Avenue in Richmond. Bethany heard the crackling pop of gunfire, and a random bullet struck Solai in the hip.

“We had nothing to do with the transaction [that led to the shooting] Saturday, but they shot at our children” Bethany’s father Thomas told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “We have a new rule in this house: ‘You’re not allowed to go beyond this line,’ he said, planting his foot on the front of the family’s wooden porch.

The number of killings in Richmond has surged this year, reaching 59 so far compared with 45 at the same point last year, which itself was the worst in a decade. Many victims are innocent bystanders. So far, the 2016-17 school year has seen 25 students in Richmond city schools shot, along with a one-year-old child of two students. Fourteen others were victims of aggravated assault or malicious wounding.

No one will hold a vigil for Solai Coleman. No one will protest the injustice of criminal actions that confine Bethany Harper to the inside of her home. There will be no marches, no placards, and no made-for-TV media spectacles. Apparently, black lives don’t matter when the killers are black. Black lives matter only when the shooter is white or a police officer. Or when when the sight of Civil War statues offend the sensibilities of those who view the world through the filter of white oppression.

The Times-Dispatch ran the article about Coleman’s shooting atop the front page of its Sunday edition. With no sense of irony, it published underneath an article about a Saturday rally around the Robert E. Lee statue that drew about seven pro-Confederate, heritage-not-hate types and a crowd of counter protesters estimated to be a couple hundred in number.

The counter protesters were incensed by the handful of neo-Confederates (most of whom came from out of state), just as they are incensed by the KKK, Nazis, white supremacists, President Trump, and “haters” generally. But neo-Confederates didn’t shoot Solai Coleman. Nazis didn’t shoot her. The KKK didn’t shoot her. Nor did white hate groups shoot any of the other 59 homicide victims in Richmond this year. Aside from occasional vigils held by victims’ family members and immediate neighbors, however, the social justice warriors have not ginned up much outrage or marched in protest of the black-on-black slaughter in Richmond’s inner city.

If the social justice warriors cared about real people instead of abstractions like “institutional racism,” which serve mainly to validate their sense of moral superiority, they would volunteer to tutor inner-city school children. Or befriend an adolescent through the Big Brother/Big Sister program. Or pound nails with Habit for Humanity to build affordable housing. Or ladle out soup in a community kitchen to serve the hungry. Or help felons build a productive life outside jail. But that takes real effort, sustained effort. And it’s not nearly as rewarding as virtue signalling to your peers how politically correct you are or venting about the evils of KKK/Fascists/Trump.

As an aside, I have to commend Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney and Police Chief Alfred Durham for making sure that the Richmond rally didn’t turn into another Charlottesville. They made it clear from the very beginning that violence would not be tolerated, and they worked to separate the protesters from the counter-protesters. By broadcasting their intent, they snuffed out interest in the rally by right- and left-wing radicals looking to bang heads and make headlines long before the event took place. Job well done.

Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t

The Charlottesville City Council, City Manager and Police Chief have been tearing themselves apart with blame shifting as citizens demand accountability for the passive behavior of the police force that appeared to “stand down” as the white supremacist rally on Aug. 12 spiraled out of control. Nexus Caridades Attorneys Inc., an Augusta County law firm focusing on social justice issues, announced its intention to file suit against the city for failing to intervene. And at a town hall meeting last week, a crowd of some 300 gathered to vent social justice concerns and lacerate city officials for their failure to prevent the violence.

So, it was with particular interest that I read the Richmond Times-Dispatch article today explaining how the Charlottesville police had changed its tactics during the Aug. 12 rally after receiving a similarly blistering criticism from the social-justice set for its “militarized response” to a a previous KKK rally on July 8.

In the smaller July rally, which never received much attention outside Charlottesville because no one was injured or killed, the KKK presence protesting the remove of the Robert E. Lee statue had prompted a counter rally. As Ned Oliver and Graham Moomaw described the event:

Police officers outfitted with riot helmets and shields formed two lines, parting the sea of anti-racist protesters to create a path for the Klan. After the KKK rally was over, riot police formed up to disperse protesters lingering in the road, eventually firing three tear gas canisters to force the crowd to leave.

Notably, there were no deaths or injuries in July. But that didn’t prevent a storm of outrage among the social justice warriors. Activists and residents berated Council at its next meeting. Writes the T-D:

“We have profound concerns with the militarized law enforcement presence on July 8, with police wearing riot gear, driving armored vehicles and carrying weapons typically reserved for war zones,” said Mary Bauer, the executive director of the LegalAid Justice Center and one of a dozen speakers to criticize the city’s handling of the KKK rally.

“We ask the city to acknowledge that this choice to use these kinds of tactics instead of planning for de-escalation is inconsistent with Charlottesville’s values and good policing. …

At the same meeting activist Jalane Schmidt handed [Mayor Mike] Signer an emptied tear gas canister she said had been launched at her during the really. “You dropped something, councilor,” she said. … “This has to stop, this militarization of the police. When there’s militarization, the inevitable result is violence. To a hammer, everything’s a nail.”

And to a social justice warrior, everything’s a cause for outrage. No matter what the police do, they’re wrong.

As it turns out, the Charlottesville police appear to have taken the criticisms to heart. They did not gear up for a riot. They did not physically separate the white supremacists from the anarchists. They did not intervene until the rally descended into chaos. The result: a couple dozen people were injured and a young woman died.

So, the list of parties who bear a share of the blame for the disastrous outcome on Aug. 12 gets ever longer. First and foremost, we can blame the mostly out-of-state white supremacists for organizing the rally, spewing bile, acting in a deliberately provocative manner, and coming ready to rumble. Secondly, we can blame the Leftist anarchists who came to town spoiling for a fight — and giving the white supremacists someone to rumble with. Thirdly, we can blame the non-violent social justice warriors for creating the political conditions that caused the police to back away from its previously successful strategy. And fourthly, we can blame the city officials who, despite an explicit warning from the Department of Homeland Security that both the far Right and far Left were gearing up for a violent confrontation, cravenly capitulated to the demands of the social justice crew.

Welcome to Virginia in the 21st century.

Authorities Warned about Charlottesville Clashes

State and local officials had plenty of warning before the infamous white-supremacist rally that led to a fatality and multiple injuries earlier this month. Politico quotes a Department of Homeland Security warning that an escalating series of clashes had created a powder keg that would likely make the event “among the most violent to date” between white supremacists and anarchists.

The assessment, says Politico, “raises questions about whether Charlottesville city and Virginia state authorities dropped the ball before, and during, a public event that was widely expected to draw huge crowds of armed, emotional and antagonistic participants from around the country.”

The Aug. 9 assessment by the DHS Office of Intelligence and analysis, was made in coordination with state, local and federal authorities at the Virginia Fusion center. “Anarchist extremists” had attacked white supremacists at previous gatherings, leading to fights, injuries and arrests.

Both sides were clearly gearing up for an unprecedented confrontation in the weeks leading up to the Aug. 12 “Unite the Right” rally and a weekend of events planned around it by white supremacist rally organizers and those protesting it.

“Anarchist extremists and white supremacist extremists online are calling on supporters to be prepared for or to instigate violence at the 12 August rally,” the assessment warned.

One “probable” white supremacist, it said, had posted an online “call to arms,” saying “antifa must be destroyed.”

“They predicted it,” one senior law enforcement analyst from another state said of the assessment. Each side was saying, “’All right everybody, go get your weapons, and we’re gonna go kick their asses.’ And that’s exactly what happened in Charlottesville.”

Bacon’s bottom line: This revelation puts more heat on state and local authorities to explain their actions on Aug. 12. Why did the police remain passive for so long? Could they have averted the tragedy by intervening earlier, more aggressively, or differently?

Any inquiry into the events on that fateful day should be viewed in the context of the moral posturing by Charlottesville’s mayor and Virginia’s governor denouncing the white supremacists (who richly deserved the criticism) without mentioning the contribution of “anti-fascist” elements to the violence. No one takes a political risk excoriating Nazis and racists — 99% percent of all Americans would agree. But rebuking Antifa and other anarchists… that’s not so easy. Many Americans are ambivalent, especially on the Left. While they may not approve of Antifa’s violent tactics, some politicians and pundits seem to think the nihilist group’s anti-Nazi, anti-KKK, anti-Trump sentiments confer it with moral legitimacy.

Bacon Bits: Bristol, Big Ships, and Blue on Blue

Petersburg, Meet Bristol. The City of Bristol has been identified as “City A” in the recent report by the state Auditor of Public Accounts that scored even lower than Petersburg in a rating of fiscal stress, reports the Bristol Herald-Courier. Bristol hasn’t experienced the dramatic budget deficits of its fiscally challenged counterpart on the Appomattox River, but the city of 17,000 on the Tennessee state line is burdened by general-obligation bond debt of more than $100 million stemming from its backing of the failed The Falls commercial center.

Here Come the Big Ships. The CMA CGM Theodore Roosevelt, the largest ship to ever call on an East Coast U.S. port, docked Monday in Norfolk, reports the Richmond Times-DispatchThe vessel, which carries the equivalent of 14,400 containers, made its way to Virginia via the widened Panama Canal, Served by the deepest channels on the East Coast, Norfolk is the logical first stop for a generation of massive new ships; after unloading cargo there, ships rise in the water enough to navigate shallower channels in other ports. As part of a $670 million expansion plan, the Virginia Port Authority is ordering four massive cranes capable of reaching across a vessel that is 26 containers wide.

Blue on Blue. In the aftermath of the fatal white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, city government has descended into vituperative in-fighting almost as anarchic as the protests and counter-protests themselves. The proximate cause is a controversy over who to blame for the police department’s failure (or unwillingness) to intervene to shut down the demonstrations before violence broke out. Did someone order the police to “stand down”? Mayor Mike Signer, City Manager Maurice Jones, and Police Chief Al Thomas are all in major ass-covering mode. Angry citizens shut down a Council meeting. Documents are leaking. Fingers are pointing. Read the latest installment in the Daily Progress here.

It Takes Two to Tango

The discourse over Saturday’s events in Charlottesville has evolved so rapidly that it is hard to keep up. If there’s one thing that most of us can agree upon, it’s that the mayhem and murder may have taken place in Virginia, but it does not define Virginia. Heather Heyer, victim of the car attack, was a Virginian. But the advocates and violence and the man who (allegedly) struck her down, came from Ohio. We Virginians may disagree about the merits of placing statues of Civil War generals in public spaces, but we are not Klansmen, Nazis, white supremacists or murderers.

To the contrary, as my friend Jon Wight observed on his Economics and Ethics blog, while out-of-state protesters and counter-protesters were bashing heads in Charlottesville, “thousands of people of all races gathered 70 miles away to celebrate ideas that unite us—the sounds of blues, jazz, and everything in-between at the Richmond Jazz Festival. The races of humanity mingled, laughed, shared food and fans, danced, and enjoyed each other’s company.”

It has been remarkable to see how the incident in Charlottesville has been hijacked by the national media to serve national political agendas and to observe how the battle has begun to frame the meaning of the violence. The national media seems particularly fixated on President Trump’s reluctance to denounce white supremacist groups by name in his formal remarks condemning “this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.” But even before Trump made his scripted and oddly detached comments, media pundits had been depicting the violence as exclusively the handiwork of the radical right — even as videos flashed on our TV screens showing confrontation between the far Right and the far Left.

Insofar as the most devastating crime that occurred yesterday can be attributed James Alex Fields, Jr., a white supremacist from Ohio, and insofar as participants in the rally came armed with shields and batons in expectation of conflict, the white nationalist movement deserves the lion’s share of odium for recent events. But that expectation of violence did not occur in a vacuum. It takes two to tango, folks. And it takes two to whack each other with sticks and clubs. The white nationalists we saw on those videos were not wailing away at phantoms.

I bring this up not because it is the most significant part of the story but because it is the most neglected part of the story and the most likely to be white-washed by the national media.

Here’s the truth: Both the far Right and far Left came to Charlottesville spoiling for a fight. Virginia authorities had plenty of advance notice. As Governor Terry McAuliffe said in a press release issued the day before the rally took place:

In advance of tomorrow’s rally there have been communications from extremist groups, many of which are located outside of Virginia, who may seek to commit acts of violence against rally participants or law enforcement officials. In the event that such violent or unlawful conduct occurs, I have instructed state public safety officials to act quickly and decisively in order to keep the public and themselves safe.

One can argue how effectively the Charlottesville police and State Police handled the events. Right-wing rally participants have already begun blaming them for letting the violence running out of control. But plenty of evidence suggests that both sides came ready to rumble. As Richmond Times-Dispatch’s Ned Oliver reported:

Attendees ranged from clean-cut young men in pressed white shirts to heavily armed militia members in body armor and camouflage. Others were outfitted more crudely, but nonetheless ready for battle, carrying homemade shields, sticks, and wearing all manner of helmets and face masks. Many attendees embraced Nazi imagery and chanted racist slogans. …

At least as many counter protesters, some also militarized and clearly prepared to fight, surrounded the square. By 10:30 a.m., extremely violent skirmishes broke out between the two groups.

Both groups repeatedly fired pepper spray and other chemical weapons at each other. At one point, the rally attendees launched at least four tear gas canisters on the counterprotesters, scattering them in search of medical attention. Sticks and batons also figured prominently in the clashes, which would flare up in a wild melee and then quickly die down as both sides retreated to regroup.

The reporting I’ve seen suggests that most (though not all) of the white nationalists came from outside Virginia. I have not seen a comparable level of journalistic curiosity about the identity of the counter-demonstrators, although perhaps someone will fill in those details. Based on my superficial impressions, the counter-demonstrators appear to have been a mixed bag. Most were Virginians — a friend of my son’s, who was hit by Field’s car, had come from Fairfax County — and their intention was to protest peacefully against racism. But I have questions about those who came to confront the white nationalists. Were they locals, or were they part of the so-called Antifa movement from outside Virginia looking for confrontation?

Some readers of Bacon’s Rebellion seem to think that violence emanates exclusively from the right side of the political spectrum. Yet the man who shot the Republican congressmen in Alexandria was a Bernie Bro. The murderers of police in Dallas and New York were agitated by Black Lives Matter rhetoric. Radicals have used violence to shut down conservative speakers on multiple campuses. The sad reality is that both the far Left and far Right are prone to violence. Further, the interests of both groups are served by confrontations like the one that occurred in Charlottesville. Both sides seek to polarize public opinion, and both benefit when violence and raw emotion encourage people to seek refuge in tribal (racial, ethnic, religious or class) identities.

It is the responsibility of those who don’t want the United States to descend into downward spiral of anarchy to push back. And that requires an honest appraisal of the dynamics driving the violence. Not surprisingly, I have seen no such honest appraisal in the mainstream media. (I do not purport to have conducted an exhaustive analysis, so my impressions must be regarded as anecdotal.)

Judging by the response to my previous post, I expect to be accused of drawing moral equivalence between the far Left and the far Right, so I want to make a few points crystal clear. Nazism is a loathsome ideology. KKK racism is abomination. The volatile mix of these strains of evil on display with the so-called white nationalists who demonstrated in Charlottesville yesterday is an affront t0 core American values and to the conservative/libertarian principles that I espouse.

But I’m not blind. What happened Saturday is part of a larger struggle between far Left and far Right. I expect the events in Charlottesville to further inflame both sides and to inspire even more violence. This time, the rightists committed the most heinous crime. Next time, it will be the leftists. People of moderation and good will serve no useful purpose by denying the reality that threatens to consume us all.

Update: Excellent piece by Robert Tracinski, a conservative, Charlottesville-based writer, who makes many of the same points I do. Hat tip: Reed Fawell.

Update: I took down a picture of Heather Heyer, victim of the terrorist-style attack by a white nationalist in Charlottesville, and replaced it with a photo depicting the melee between white nationalists and counter protesters. The photo in combination — “It Takes Two to Tango” — with the headline was potentially misleading. The photo of the physical altercation better illustrates the thrust of the post.

Sustaining the Biggest Public Nuisance in Richmond

Mosby Court, public housing project in Richmond

Republished from Cranky’s Blog.

Not satisfied at maintaining the largest public nuisance in Richmond – the one that just led to the shooting death of a State Policeman – the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority (RHHA) now proposes to do nothing realistic about it:

  • Fencing and gates. RRHA says this remedy is “largely . . . impractical.” I guess killing policemen is more “practical.”
  • Parking stickers and IDs. Not a bad idea, but worthless until they have the off-duty cops in place to catch the trespassers.
  • Empowerment programs. So, the problem largely is male visitors and they are going to “empower” the tenant girlfriends who are harboring those males? Please! The remedy is to evict those girlfriends.
  • Summer programs for the kids. Good thing to do but unrelated to the visiting male problem.

This is not rocket science, folks:

  • The feds tell us “(1) that effective property management can have a major impact on the health of a community, and (2) that accessible, legitimate techniques can be used to stop the spread of drug activity on rental property.”
  • Indeed, as to drugs (and certainly as to other crime), nuisance abatement is the sole tactic that has been shown scientifically to reduce crime in residential places. The DOJ monograph says: “With the evidence available we are relatively certain that holding private landlords accountable for drug dealing on their property by threatening abatement reduces drug related crimes.” Whether as to drug activity or other disorder, the landlord is the only entity that can make the physical changes to the property, evict the troublesome tenants, hire the security, control the access, and enforce the lease terms necessary to make the property safe.

Yet, RRHA, aside from the fences they have rejected, is not talking about what we know can help here:

  • Lights;
  • Cameras;
  • Access control;
  • Off-duty cops on patrol;
  • Rigorous trespass enforcement; and
  • Rigorous lease enforcement (i.e., eviction of the girlfriend who harbors the disorder)

As to that last point, the HUD lease [at Para. 25] contains the necessary provisions. These include eviction for, inter alia:

  • Drug related criminal activity engaged in  on or near the premises by any tenant, household member, or guest; and
  • Criminal activity by a tenant, any member of the tenant’s household, a guest or another person under the tenant’s control that threatens the health, safety or right to peaceful enjoyment of the premises by other residents or by persons residing in the immediate vicinity.

Yet, when I spoke with them about this (in the distant past), they said

  • Legal Aid makes it difficult to do anything;
  • The judges are reluctant to enforce the lease;
  • It would be “onerous” to ask RRHA staff to follow up on all offense reports and calls for service; and
  • Given the quality of the people who live in subsidized housing, RRHA can’t be expected to do much better.

To judge from their response to the current murder rate, and the shooting of the policeman by a trespasser who was living at RRHA, their indifferent attitude and the soft bigotry of their low expectations have not improved.

It is clear that RRHA is not serious about controlling its property. City Council is quiescent. The Commonwealth’s Attorney is not prosecuting the RRHA Board for maintaining the nuisance. Your tax dollars at “work.”

Bringing Social Science Rigor to Jailhouse Programs

Sarah Scarbrough interacts with Richmond city jail inmates. Photo credit: Style Weekly.

Richmond Sheriff C.T. Woody spent his early career as a policeman and detective putting people behind bars. As sheriff, he has made his mark by trying to keep people out of jail.

One of the smartest things Woody did was bring on Sarah Scarbrough as director of internal programs at the city jail to deliver programs that give inmates the life skills needed to cope on the outside. One of the smartest things that Scarbrough has done is to subject the jailhouse programs to rigorous social scientific analysis to determine what works to reduce recidivism and what doesn’t.

A recent study by a University of Richmond professor, Lisa Jobe-Shields, found that inmates who enroll in the city’s Recovering from Everyday Addictive Lifestyles program have shown a demonstrably lower rate of recidivism than those who don’t. But the study had an important caveat — the results apply only to those who participate for more than 90 days, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Nationally, recidivism runs between 60% and 70%. In Richmond, where Woody has long emphasized learning and self-improvement programs in the jail, the rate is lower. The Jobe-Shields study found that the rate for inmates who participated in the Addictive Lifestyles program for more than 90 days is lower still: Only 30% re-offended within a year of release, compared to 55% who didn’t. There was no difference in the rate for those who took party for fewer than 90 days.

As the Times-Dispatch describes the program, it “treats jail life like a full-time job where male and female inmates complete classes ranging from remedial math and creative writing to anger management, parenting and drug abuse treatment through a 40-hour week.”

The study provides feedback for improving the program. Noting that the city jail is a short-term facility, some inmates don’t stay long enough to complete the program. Scarbrough said she plans to add evening and weekend sessions to extend the program beyond a 40-hour week. She also would like to provide support to inmates who were released from graduating from the program.

Bacon’s bottom line: I’m not saying that Woody and Scarbrough have devised the nation’s best anti-recidivism program — there may well be programs in other parts of the country that do just as well, or even better. But they are going about the job the right way, and results should improve over time as they incorporate feedback and make continual improvements to the program.

The sociological reality is that many jail inmates come from shattered families and dysfunctional subcultures of poverty, and had no one to teach them basic skills required to function successfully in life. In the Woody-Scarbrough paradigm, jail does far more than keep criminals off the streets — it provides an opportunity for inmate to learn life skills that will enable them to function successfully in society as workers, parents, family members and members of the community.

It is a truism that jails and prisons can be incubators of crime — inmates learn how to be more successful criminals. Likewise, it is a truism that society should invest in giving inmates the skills they need to become productive members of society. Jails offer many programs run by noble-minded people with ideas of how to help. But which skills are most needed to function on the outside? What is the best way to inculcate those skills? Which programs work the best, and what traits make them successful? Virginia sheriffs can’t reliably make those judgments based on anecdotal evidence.

Finding reliable answers requires social scientific rigor. By nudging government programs toward what works, social-scientific insights can save thousands of inmates from lives of crime — and, as a worthwhile bonus, save taxpayers millions of dollars.