Sunday, July 29, 2007

A youth club in every 'hood?

That's the new plan out of Great Britain, whose young people have the highest rates of drinking, drug use, gang membership, and fighting in all of Europe.

But just having a center at which to congregate may not do the trick. Youths need organized activities and mentorship.

So says the Institute for Public Policy Research, a British think tank. Research by the Institute determined that young people who participated in organized activities at age 16 were less likely to be depressed, living in poverty, or incarcerated as adults.

The research is available online, as is a BBC report and commentary.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Court interpreters increasingly needed

The proliferation of languages spoken in the United States has created a new and costly challenge for courts: How to provide an interpreter to each criminal defendant who claims to need one.

The challenge is garnering headlines with the dismissal of charges against a Liberian man accused of raping a 7-year-old relative. A court-appointed psychiatrist recommended that the defendant, Mahamu Kanneh, be given an interpreter. But his native language is Vai, which is spoken by only about 100,000 people in West Africa.

One interpreter tearfully left the courtroom because “she found the facts of the case disturbing,” according to a Washington Post story on the case, and a second was “rejected for faulty work.” The case was finally dismissed because a replacement could not be found in time to provide Kanneh with a speedy trial. The prosecutor's office in Montgomery County, Maryland, is appealing the dismissal.

Court interpreters and linguists say the case demonstrates the need for a national database of interpreters.

The full story is in the July 22 Washington Post.

Rape prosecution - an uphill battle

I’ve come across several stories lately pertaining to the difficulty of prosecuting rape cases. Many of you readers will have heard about the recent Nebraska trial in which the judge forbade witnesses – including the alleged victim – from using the word rape (or related words such as “victim,” “assailant,” or “sexual assault kit”). That trial resulted in a hung jury.

You are less likely to have heard about international data coming out of New Zealand, Australia, Great Britain, Scotland, and elsewhere about astonishingly low rape conviction rates in recent years. For example, data from Victoria, NZ indicate that only one of six rapes reported to police proceeds to prosecution and less than one-fourth of those result in a rape conviction. With only a tiny proportion of rapes being reported in the first place, this attrition has led to what some call the “virtual decriminalization” of sexual violence.

While these stories were coming across my desk this month, I happened to be in the middle of a provocative analysis by law professor and former sexual assault prosecutor Andrew Taslitz. Rape and the Culture of the Courtroom uses social science research to explain why rape prosecutions remain so difficult, despite the rape reform laws of the 1980s. Through linguistic analysis of actual cases, Taslitz shows how subtle innuendos, proxies, and other linguistic devices can cue jurors to place the victim into certain cultural narratives, such as that of “slut” or “scorned woman” – in other words, “liar.”

Taslitz’ linguistic analysis jives with my experiences in court. When I’ve been retained as an expert for the government (prosecution) in rape cases in which the defense was consent, I’ve been amazed at how rarely jurors convict even when the evidence is pretty solid and the woman has no plausible reason to lie. Taslitz emphasizes that even jurors who are consciously pro-feminist may fall prey to appeals to subconscious cultural scripts about virtuous womanhood.

Taslitz’ blueprint for legislative reforms includes such controversial ideas as allowing rape victims to present their stories in an uninterrupted narrative, using “intermediaries” rather than defense attorneys to question the victims, and having linguistic experts explain to jurors the effects of subconscious biases on decision-making.

My full review of the book is on Amazon.

The Nebraska trial of Pamir Safi, an Army reservist, is featured at Time Magazine’s online site.

Photo credit: fabbio (Creative Commons license).


Friday, July 20, 2007

Emotions and prisoner reintegration

Now that the punishment pendulum appears to have hit its most extreme, the new buzzword in criminology is "reintegration." How can criminal recidivism be reduced by helping newly released prisoners succeed? As I've previously posted, more resources are being devoted to projects aimed at assisting prisoners transition, through job training, housing, and mental health services.

A new study out of Australia looks at the role of a prisoner’s emotional state. The study, funded by the Criminology Research Council and available from the Australian Institute of Criminology, examines the association between successful reintegration and the emotions of depression, anger and anxiety.

Photo credit: Carf (Creative Commons License)


New report on racial disparities in sentencing

The Sentencing Project has issued a new report, “Uneven Justice: State Rates of Incarceration by Race and Ethnicity.” The study found that African Americans were incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites and Latinos at nearly double the rate. The 23-page report is based on data from five states in the Northeast and Midwest. The report recommends “addressing disparities through changes in drug policy, mandatory sentencing laws, reconsideration of “race neutral” policies, and changes in resource allocation.”

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Rand study: Mental health court cost-effective

People with mental illnesses are vastly overrepresented in prisons and jails.

In a promising attempt to rectify this problem, mental health courts have sprung up around the United States in the past decade. These courts are designed to divert nonviolent, mentally ill offenders out of their pattern of cyclical incarceration through individually tailored treatment programs.

In 1997, there were only four such courts nationwide. In 2004, the courts got a boost with passage of the federal Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act, which authorized $50 million for states and counties to establish more mental health courts and provide other mental health resources to prisoners. Now, there are dozens of courts. As I write, one is even getting off the ground in my own county (Contra Costa County, California).

Because the courts are relatively new, they have not been widely studied. Now, the imminently respectable Rand Corporation has weighed in with a new study on the fiscal side of one such court, the Allegheny County Mental Health Court in Pennsylvania.

The study’s bottom-line conclusion: Sending people to treatment instead of to jail has the potential to save the taxpayers money.

The full report, “Justice, Treatment, and Cost,” is available online.

For more information on the movement toward reducing prison expansion through model prisoner reentry programs, see the web site of the Re-Entry Policy Council, a public/private partnership involving the U.S. departments of Justice, Labor, and Health.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

New Report: Anti-Gang Strategy Failing Badly

From today's Washington Post:

"Anti-gang legislation and police crackdowns are failing so badly that they
are strengthening the criminal organizations and making U.S. cities more
dangerous, according to a report being released Wednesday.

"Mass arrests, stiff prison sentences often served with other gang
members and other strategies that focus on law enforcement rather than
intervention actually strengthen gang ties and further marginalize angry young
men, according to the Justice Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C., think tank
that advocates alternatives to incarceration.

" 'We're talking about 12-, 13-, 14-, 15-year-olds whose involvement in
gangs is likely to be ephemeral unless they are pulled off the street and put in
prison, where they will come out with much stronger gang allegiances,' said
Judith Greene, co-author of
Gang Wars: The Failure of Enforcement Tactics and the Need for Effective Public Safety Strategies."

Link to the full Post article.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

ForenSnips

Model prisoner reentry program

New York has been selected as one of seven states to receive a grant from the National Institute of Corrections to implement a model prisoner reentry program. The goal is to reduce recidivism “by promoting an effective transition process through the coordination of criminal justice and human service programming.”

See the full article in the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.

Book review

A review of Jonathan Simon’s new book, Governing Through Crime: How The War On Crime Transformed American Democracy And Created A Culture Of Fear (Oxford University Press), is online at the the Law and Politics Book Review, sponsored by the Law and Courts Section of the American Political Science Association.

Did forensic profile go too far?

Psychological profile helped convict teen who maintains his innocence

Police detective Jim Broderick in Fort Collins had set his sights on 15-year-old Tim Masters. He was convinced that the boy had kidnapped, sexually mutilated, and murdered a woman.

No physical evidence tied the boy to the crime. But for years after the 1987 crime went cold, Detective Broderick continued to insist that Masters was the killer.

The detective was haunted by Masters’ oddness during questioning, his collection of survival knives, and the timing of the woman’s death - within a day of the fourth anniversary of the boy's mother's death. But most troubling of all, according to a Denver Post expose on the case, were Masters’ violent sketches. Especially one featuring a blade tearing into a diamond shape.

Finally, in 1995, Broderick telephoned forensic psychologist Reid Meloy and asked him to study Masters' artwork. “Meloy had developed a reputation as an expert witness on sexual homicides,” writes Post reporter Miles Moffeit. “He even disclosed a deeply personal fascination with the subject, according to court testimony, saying he himself had sexually sadistic fantasies.”

Without interviewing Masters, Meloy wrote a damning opinion: Masters fit the profile of a killer because he was a loner who came from an isolated or deprived background and harbored hidden hostility toward authorities as well as violent fantasies. This was a displaced sexual matricide, stemming from Masters' feelings of abandonment by his dead mother. "The killing of Ms. Hettrick translated Tim Masters' grandiose fantasy into reality," Meloy wrote.

Meloy’s profile helped garner a conviction, and in 1999 Masters was sentenced to life in prison.

Now, a legal team has launched what the Post characterizes as “one of the most ambitious and expensive bids ever in Colorado to prove a man's innocence.” The investigation focuses on a sexually deviant medical doctor who lived near the scene of the killing; the doctor committed suicide and police destroyed much of the physical evidence that could have tied him to the crime.

Watch the Denver Post's online video, “The Story of Tim Masters,” which shows details of Masters' interrogations at the hands of police.

My more recent posts on this topic are here, here, and here.

Thanks to Denver forensic psychologist Michael Karson for bringing this case to my attention.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Crusade for abused women in prison

California has a "unique law" intended to assist domestic violence victims in prison. Under the law, a woman who killed her abusive partner and who was convicted before 1992 is entitled to petition for a new trial if she did not have an expert witness on battering.

The law was enacted in 2002. The problem is, many women in prison did not hear about it. Then, a young lawyer named Olivia Wang began a crusade. Her Habeas Project has grown into a statewide coalition that is celebrating victory in the freeing of Joyce Walker, who spent 16 years in prison for killing her horrifically abusive husband.

The story is featured on page 1 of Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle.

The Habeas Project has helped win freedom for 19 domestic violence survivors serving life sentences in California.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Drug courts: Do they work?

Drug courts are expanding nationwide in the United States. But do they work? And do they save money?

A series of new reports suggest that the answers to these questions is "Yes."

Several new reports are now available online:

The Department of Health and Human Services’ Center for Substance Abuse Treatment has issued a 161-page outcome report about one type of drug court – the Family Treatment Drug Court. The report focuses on courts in California and New York.

A report on California’s drug courts is available at the web site of NPC research.

And, finally, the National Institute of Corrections has a full page of excellent reports and resources on drug courts.

Should special witnesses summarize expert testimony?

Can jurors really understand all of the data presented to them in complex legal cases? Or should a special witness be allowed to summarize the information for them?

That is the issue coming up before the U.S. Supreme Court in Harms v. United States (Docket number 06-990, 442 F.3d 367, 5th Cir.).

In that worker’s compensation case, the prosecution called a summary witness who presented a flow chart of the information that the jury had heard.

A Fifth District appellate court ruled that the case was complex enough to justify this special witness. The testimony was allowable because it was both impartial and accurate, the court ruled.

In this month’s “Judicial Notebook” of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, attorney/psychologist Jennifer Groscup writes that more psychological research on this topic would better inform the upcoming Supreme Court decision.

The limited empirical research suggests that summary information might help jurors understand information and make better decisions, Dr. Groscup writes. Such summaries might be especially useful to increase understanding of complex testimony by expert witnesses.

Dr. Groscup's article, co-authored by Jennifer Talon, is available online.

Attorneys in the testing room – Yes or No?

Hey, you forensic psychologists: When an attorney asks if she can sit in while you test her client, what do you tell her?

If you think there is one accepted answer, think again.

The National Academy of Neuropsychology and the American Academy of Clinical Neuropsychology say you should keep that attorney out. Her presence may violate test standardization, skewing the results.

But some forensic psychologists, such as Randy Otto, say banning third-party observers may be legally problematic. Some states allow defendants in court-ordered evaluations to bring in observers. And when a defendant speaks another language, we may need an interpreter in the room.

This issue is heating up, as the Committee on Psychological Tests and Assessment (CPTA) of the American Psychological Association’s Board of Scientific Affairs prepares to issue a policy statement on third-party observers.

You can watch the fireworks as proponents debate their positions at the American Psychological Association convention in San Francisco next month. The debate, “Third-Party Observers in Psychological and Neuropsychological Forensic Psychological Assessment,” will be Saturday, August 18, at noon.

Another source of information is the latest issue of the journal Ethics & Behavior. Robert Cramer and the eminent forensic psychologist Stanley Brodsky have co-authored an article, “Undue Influence or Ensuring Rights? Attorney Presence During Forensic Psychology Evaluations."

The article summarizes the neuropsychological literature on extraneous influences in testing and the limited literature on the effects of attorney presence in the testing room. It also discusses legal and ethical mandates pertaining to attorney presence and offers suggestions for forensic evaluators on how to answer the attorney who asks to sit in.

Requests for reprints of the article may be sent to crame001@bama.ua.edu.

“Romeo and Juliet defense” bucks sex offender trend

Back in the day, many 16-year-old girls dated 18- or 19-year-old guys. After all, the conventional wisdom went, girls are more emotionally and physically mature than guys their own age.

That was back before politicians discovered the quintessential vote-enhancing bogeyman, and began enacting an ever-widening array of sex offender laws.

Never mind the growing evidence that such laws may do more harm than good to victims of sex abuse and to society more broadly. Now, in many states, an 18-year-old man who has sex with his younger girlfriend can be required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. This limits opportunities for jobs, college, and even for student loans.

Take Indiana. When sex offender registration laws were first enacted there, they were reserved for the most serious of sex offenses, primarily rape. As time went on, more and more offenses were added, until some sexually active teenagers in dating relationships found themselves caught up in the political dragnet.

But now, Indiana legislators have created a loophole for teenagers in love.

Public Law 216, which went into effect this month, decriminalizes consensual sex among teenagers in a dating relationship if their age difference is within four years. The new law can protect a 19-year-old man from felony charges if he has sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend.

It will be up to the accused to prove all the elements of the new “Romeo and Juliet defense.” He must be younger than 21, he must be in a dating relationship with the girl, and she must be at least 14.

The state prosecutors' association, Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, supported the legislation.

One thing about pendulums is that they always swing. If it’s swung to its most extreme side in Indiana, I suspect it may start swinging back toward moderation in other states as well.

Public Law 216, also called House Enrolled Act 1386, is available online. In the "Go to Bill" box, type 1386. Scroll to the bottom of the page and click on "Enrolled Act." New portions of the statute are in bold type.

For an excellent opinion piece on the unintended consequences of sex offender laws, see Amanda Rogers’
blog. Also see my April 10 blog post, "Sex Offender Laws Gone Amok," for some extreme examples of sex offender laws in practice.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Mentally ill behind bars – a national crisis

Michael Moore’s new film Sicko documents the crisis for Americans who need medical care. But for those whose illnesses are mental, the situation is even more dire. With almost no treatment resources left in the community, if you are mentally ill and poor you are likely to end up one of the 7 million Americans – or 1 in 32 adults – behind bars. Indeed, the behemoth L.A. County Jail now houses the largest psychiatric population in the country (and perhaps in the world?).

A Washington Post opinion piece calls for immediate action to address this "national emergency." The editorial, "The Wrong Place to Treat Mental Illness," is by Marcia Kraft Goin, a past president of the American Psychiatric Association:

Last month the Supreme Court rightly blocked the execution of Scott Panetti, a Texas man who was convicted of a double murder and who suffers from delusional schizophrenia. The case drew public attention to the intersection between mental illnesses and executions.

There is a pervasive attitude in this country that such people are getting what they deserve: After all, like Panetti, they are in jail for something.


But did you know that the Los Angeles County Jail houses the largest psychiatric population in the country? That's not justice. That's emblematic of a national emergency.

Before the 1960s, people with mental illnesses were generally cared for in institutional settings, mostly state-run psychiatric facilities. Many advocates correctly saw this as "warehousing" people who could be cared for in less restrictive settings. Federal legislation and the courts powered a move toward deinstitutionalization, calling on states and counties to provide resources for social services, vocational rehabilitation and treatment services. The introduction of effective antipsychotic medications also drove the trend toward deinstitutionalization.

In the decades since, community-based services have helped many people. But the situation today constitutes a national failure.

What's gone wrong?

Most important, the necessary community resources didn't materialize in anywhere near the level that was needed. Also, antipsychotic medications, while powerful treatments, don't work in isolation. Patients need a relationship with a psychiatrist, clinic or other stabilizing force to ensure adherence to drug regimens and achieve the best possible recovery.

Deinstitutionalization has succeeded in decreasing the overall number of hospital beds, but an unforeseen consequence has been the proportional increase in the number of people with mental illnesses housed in the criminal justice system. Worse, once imprisoned, people with mental illness are shown to have much longer incarcerations than other inmates, primarily because a prison environment and lack of treatment aggravate the very illness that has led to their objectionable or antisocial behavior.

While no one would argue that Scott Panetti belongs on the streets, his case compels us to consider the justice system's role: Is it to mete out punishment that seeks retribution, or are there cases where real justice means effective treatment that seeks rehabilitation?

Consider again Los Angeles County: In 2002 there were 38,600 psychiatric evaluations at the inmate reception center of the Twin Towers jail. Of these, 23,190 people (60 percent) were found to be in need of mental health treatment. A reasonable person could not fail to see the correlation between decreased funding for mental health resources, the closure of hospital beds, homelessness and the criminalization of mental illnesses. Untreated and lacking access to long-term care, people with mental illnesses often end up with symptoms and behaviors that result in jail time.

Cuts in state Medicaid budgets promise to exacerbate these problems. Not only is this shift in funding a blight on our society, it also costs money -- a lot of money. Corrections officials, mental health workers, medication, amortization of buildings and time spent by police in court all cost more than treating patients appropriately in their community. This doesn't make financial sense, much less humanitarian sense.

When considering the direction of public policies that affect those with mental illnesses, politicians and other officials must be guided by the latest research.

Government-funded studies have shown in recent years that jail-diversion programs, which help people get the treatment they need, result in positive outcomes for individuals, communities and the criminal justice system. While jail diversion does generally result in lower criminal-justice costs and greater treatment costs, studies are underway to analyze the differential.

The question the court answered in the Panetti case was about one's fitness to be executed, but in many more cases, the question is about the appropriateness of incarceration at all.

Posted with written permission of the author, Marcia Kraft Goin.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Execution Slated Despite Recanted Testimonies

From National Public Radio's "All Things Considered":

"Troy Davis is scheduled to be executed by the state of Georgia later this month, despite the fact that most of the witnesses have recanted their testimony and implicated another man — new evidence that has never been heard. Davis is a black man convicted of killing a white police officer. There was no physical evidence in the case."

Listen to the show.

See the State of Georgia's press release and Amnesty International coverage of the case.

UPDATE: On July 15, after a national outcry over the case, Davis received a 90-day stay of execution. Former Congressman and U.S. Attorney Bob Barr's editorial on the case appeared in the Aug. 9 Atlanta Journal-Constitution and also on his web site, the Barr Report.

New book on offender rehabilitation

A new book by two leading criminologists, Shadd Maruna and Tony Ward, promises to make an important contribution to criminology. Here’s the blurb for Rehabilitation:

“Over the last two decades, empirical evidence has increasingly supported the view that it is possible to reduce re-offending rates by rehabilitating offenders rather than simply punishing them. In fact, the pendulum’s swing back from a pure punishment model to a rehabilitation model is arguably one of the most significant events in modern correctional policy. This comprehensive review argues that rehabilitation should focus both on promoting human goods (i.e. providing the offender with the essential ingredients for a 'good' life), as well as reducing/avoiding risk.

“Offering a succinct summary and critique of the scientific approach to offender rehabilitation, this intriguing volume for students of criminology, sociology and clinical psychology gives a comprehensive evaluation of both the Risk-Need Model and the Good Lives Model.

“Rehabilitation is a value-laden process involving a delicate balance of the needs and desires of clinicians, clients, the State and the public. Written by two international leading academics in rehabilitation research, this book argues that intervention with offenders is not simply a matter of implementing the best therapeutic technology and leaving political and social debate to politicians and policy makers.”

More information on this book is available at Psychology Press’s new on-line “Forensic Psychology and Psychiatry Arena.”

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Tragic end for Texas hate crime victim

David Ritcheson was a popular 16-year-old at his Houston high school. He played football and was featured in a fashion layout in the school yearbook.

Then, last April, the young Mexican-American made the mistake of attending a party at which racist skinheads were present.

Ostensibly because Ritcheson had drunkenly tried to kiss a 12-year-old girl, two white supremacists shouting “White Power!” viciously beat and sodomized him with the pipe of a plastic umbrella stand. The attack lasted over an hour. Ritcheson was knocked unconscious and internally injured. He barely survived.

After months of hospitalization and dozens of surgeries, he physically recovered enough to testify before a Congressional committee in support of a hate crimes bill.

But psychologically, he never recovered. He declined counseling, and he never talked about his experience. In an interview earlier this year, he said it was hard to handle being known as “the kid” – the victim of an infamous hate crime.

Last week, the small, quiet young man leapt to his death from a cruise ship.

His attackers, David Tuck and Keith Turner, are serving prison terms of life and 90 years, respectively.

For more on the psychosocial motivations underlying these types of crimes, see my article, "Enacting Masculinity."

Hat tip to Jane for alerting me to this report.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Report provides blueprint for reducing wrongful convictions

Jeffrey Deskovic was 16 when he confessed to raping and murdering a classmate. He spent the next 17 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.


Now, the District Attorney’s Office has released an independent review of the case that provides a blueprint of what goes wrong in false confession cases, and how to fix the problems.

The case against Deskovic was built on his own statements, most of them unrecorded. No eyewitnesses or physical evidence connected him to the crime. Indeed, seminal fluid and hairs found in and on the victim’s body “definitely excluded” him.

Over the years, Deskovic exhausted all of his state and federal appeals. But he did not give up trying to prove his innocence. Finally, the Innocence Project took his case. The DNA found on the victim was matched to a man serving life for another murder. That man subsequently confessed and pleaded guilty. Deskovic was released last November.

The independent review was commissioned by the D.A.’s office and prepared by two retired judges, a former district attorney, and a criminal defense attorney. It highlights the following structural errors, many of them common in wrongful confession cases:

Over-reliance on offender “profiling”: Police obtained an offender “profile” that proved inaccurate in almost every way, but which fit Deskovic.

Tunnel vision: Partly because of the profile, police and prosecutors focused unduly on Deskovic. Taking advantage of his youth, naivete, and psychological vulnerabilitites, they hammered at the 16-year-old until he confessed. As is common in these types of cases, they failed to adequately investigate other theories of the crime or other potential suspects.

Failure to record statements: Police only selectively recorded the series of statements that they took from Deskovic over a period of days. In one of several interviews, they recorded only 30 minutes out of four hours. On the day he confessed, nothing was recorded. Prosecutors told the jury that Deskovic knew details of the crime that only the killer could know. Given his innocence, it is likely that police – either deliberately or inadvertently – communicated that information to him during the questioning.

Downplaying of physical evidence: Police ignored the fact that no physical evidence tied Deskovic to the crime. At trial, the prosecutor presented “strained and shifting theories” to explain away the DNA evidence.

Defense failures: The defense failed to present evidence about false confessions, such as why someone might confess due to their psychological vulnerabilities, or the rates of such confessions. The defense also did not adequately confront the lack of scientific evidence against their client, which should have been the “centerpiece” of their case.

The task force strongly recommended that police videotape the entirety of all interrogations in felony cases. In addition, they recommended honoring defendants’ post-conviction requests for DNA matching. It was not until a new chief prosecutor was appointed in Westchester County that Deskovic’s repeated requests were finally granted, leading to his exoneration.

The report is available at the Westchester District Attorney’s website.

The Innocence Project's profile of Deskovic is also available online.

Hat tip to Jane for alerting me to this report.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Psychologists and Torture


By Larry Wright, the Detroit News

Monday, July 2, 2007

Racial Bias in Jury Selection is Common Yet Denied, Study Finds

It is illegal to kick someone off a jury because of his or her race. That’s what the Supreme Court ruled back in 1986, in the case of Batson v. Kentucky. But in the real world, proving such a “Batson violation” is next-to impossible.

Now, researchers have validated this difficulty through laboratory research examining the decision-making of three groups of participants – college students, advanced law students, and practicing attorneys.

Participants were told to assume the role of a prosecutor in a criminal trial involving a Black defendant. Across the board, participants kicked off Black jurors at higher rates than White jurors. But they justified their decisions using race-neutral excuses.

This research finding conforms to a growing body of data on subtle, sometimes unconscious racism.

“People can offer compelling explanations for their behavior even when unaware of the factors – such as race – that are actually influential,” wrote researchers Samuel Sommers and Michael Norton in the current issue of the journal Law & Human Behavior. “Even if attorneys consciously and strategically consider race during jury selection, they would be unlikely to admit it.”

Of course, prosecutors do not have to be closet racists to dismiss African American jurors. Jury research consistently finds that African Americans are less likely than are White jurors to convict, particularly in interracial cases involving African American defendants. Such findings are complicated, however, because real-life juries are complex groups rather than the single individuals used in most of the laboratory studies.

The full article, “Race-Based Judgments, Race-Neutral Justifications: Experimental Examination of Peremptory Use and the Batson Challenge Procedure,” is available on-line.

See also, "How Much Do We Really Know about Race and Juries? A Review of Social Science Theory and Research." S. R. Sommers and Phoebe Ellsworth, Chicago-Kent Law Review, 2003, pp. 997-1031.

Anti-Gay Crimes Widespread, Research Finds

Nearly four in 10 gay men and about one in eight lesbians and bisexuals in the United States have been the target of violence or a property crime because of their sexual orientation.

That is according to the most comprehensive study to date, with a randomly selected, nationally representative sample of 662 adults. Previous studies have relied on samples that were smaller or not representative of the U.S. population.

The study is by Gregory Herek, a widely respected scholar on antigay violence and a psychology professor at the University of California, Davis. It will be published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence.

About one-fifth of the survey respondents reported being the victim of violence or a property crime because of their sexual orientation. Almost half said they had been verbally abused because of their sexual orientation, 23 percent reported being threatened with violence, 12.5 percent reported having objects thrown at them, and 11 percent reported housing or job discrimination.

"These data highlight the continuing need for criminal justice programs to prevent and deter anti-gay crimes, as well as the need for victim services that will help to alleviate the physical, economic, social andpsychological consequences of such crimes," Herek said in a press release from UC Davis.

Visit Dr. Herek's blog for more details on the study.

 
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