April 29, 2011

ATSA issues call for change in sex offender policy

The Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers has just issued a major policy paper calling for a shift in public policy toward sex offending. The balance has tipped too far toward criminal justice punishments, causing unintended consequences such as families who fear coming forward to report sexual abuse, the paper emphasizes.

Experts agree that a criminal justice response alone cannot prevent sexual abuse or keep communities safe. Yet, tougher sentencing and increased monitoring of sex offenders are fully funded in many states, while victim services and prevention programs are woefully underfunded.

Key recommendations of the 54-page policy statement include:
  1. Design and implement evidence-informed policy.

  2. Develop successful community policies that expand the notion of what constitutes abuser accountability; encourage community responsibility and healing; and provide safety, restitution, healing, and avenues for input for victims.

  3. Integrate what is known about perpetration into prevention programs, victim services, and public education.
The reported is co-authored by Joan Tabachnick, a well-known educator on sexual violence prevention, and Alisa Klein, ATSA's public policy consultant. It was partly funded by a grant from the Ms. Foundation for Women.

The introductory quote from Eleanor Roosevelt makes me optimistic that this may signal a major shift for ATSA, which has significant legislative influence around the United States, in the direction of primary prevention.

When will our consciences grow so tender that we will
act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it?

-- Eleanor Roosevelt

April 27, 2011

Steffan's Alerts #4: Supermax, school shooters and Asperger's

Click on a title to read the article abstract; click on a highlighted author's name to request the full article.

The Journal of Forensic Psychology Practice has published online a new issue focusing on ethics in criminal justice settings. Sharon Shalev offers an analysis of ethics in solitary confinement and supermax prisons and calls for more active participation by health professionals in these settings.

Criminology and Criminal Justice has published Laura Caulfield and Ann Browning’s review of the literature on the connection between Asperger’s Disorder and criminality as well as the criminal justice system’s understanding of the condition.

In the Journal of Criminal Justice, Mark Cunningham and colleagues examine assaults on prison staff occurring over a 14 month period in a state correctional system. They provide data on prevalence of serious assaults and characteristics of inmate perpetrators and staff victims.

Adam Lankford and Nayab Hakim posit that they are, based on their review of school shooters in the United States and suicide bombers in the Middle East. Their article appears in Aggression and Violent Behavior.

Melissa Grady and colleagues review the psychometric properties and validation of measures commonly used in sexual offending treatment programs. The authors offer recommendations on measures to assess core treatment areas in their new article in Aggression and Violent Behavior.
Treatment for child sexual abuse victims and their families

In the same issue of Aggression and Violent Behavior, Poonam Tavkar and David Hanson offer information on effective treatment options for victims of child sexual abuse and their non-offending family members.

Steffan's alerts are brought to you by Jarrod Steffan, Ph.D., a forensic and clinical psychologist based in Wichita, Kansas. For more information about Dr. Steffan, please visit his website.

April 26, 2011

Judge upholds indefinite detention of California sex offenders

In a long-awaited ruling, a San Diego judge has ruled that indefinite detention of Sexually Violent Predators (SVP’s) is constitutional, even though other forensic patients are entitled to periodic reviews.

The ruling in the legal challenge by sex offender Richard McKee came after a 6-week hearing featuring experts from around the United States. The California Supreme Court had ordered the hearing, saying prosecutors must justify the differential treatment of SVP’s by proving that they are categorically different from two other types of forensic patients. The other two classes of   people who are civilly committed based on criminal behavior are Mentally Disordered Offenders (MDO’s), who are hospitalized when they come up for parole due to the immediacy of their threat of violence to the public, and persons found not guilty by reason of insanity (NGI). Jessica’s Law, enacted by voters in 2006, eliminated the right of committed sex offenders to a recommitment trial every two years.

In his 35-page ruling, Judge Michael Wellington said prosecutors had met their burden of proving that SVP’s are a distinct class that is harder to treat and more likely to commit additional sexual offenses.

After hearing from all of the experts, the judge acknowledged the significant controversies regarding the reliability of the paraphilia diagnoses, the accuracy of actuarial risk prediction instruments such as the Static-99, and the base rates of recidivism.

If anything is clear from the evidence presented in this case, it is that key factual matters are controversial. It is also apparent that the evidence of the relative danger the classes represent is analytically nuanced and deeply rooted in developing medical and psychological science.

Psychiatric diagnoses unreliable

Interestingly, the testimony of state hospital representatives lent some support to McKee’s legal challenge.

For example, Dr. Alan Abrams, Chief Psychiatrist at the California Medical Facility at Vacaville, testified that sex offender diagnoses (pedophilia and other paraphilias) are imprecise, and he has little confidence in their accuracy.

Two professionals from Coalinga, the state hospital built to house SVP’s, also testified that they favor having an external review every two years. Dr. Robert Withrow, the hospital’s acting medical director, said indeterminate terms reduce hope in both patients and staff, and discourage patients from signing up for treatment. Dr. Kasdorf, also from Coalinga, agreed. He said patients work harder in treatment and have more trust in the system when they know they will get a hearing.

This contradicted testimony by David Thornton of Wisconsin's Sand Ridge civil detention center, who argued that periodic recommitment hearings are disruptive to treatment.

Actuarials controversial

Among the most controversial issues emerging from the trial was the value of actuarial instruments -- and the much ballyhooed Static-99 in particular -- to assess sex offenders' risk of recidivism.

Mark Boccaccini, who teaches psychometrics and psychology and law at Sam Houston State University in Texas, testified about his research showing that "the Static-99 has only marginal to moderate predictive reliability, little greater than chance." Boccaccini also testified that use of a single good actuarial tool is a better predictor than the use of multiple tools. Many government evaluators in California report data from other actuarial tools in addition to the Static-99, such as the MnSOST-R and the RRASOR.

California need not be enlightened

McKee's attorneys, from the San Diego Public Defender's Office, were allowed to present evidence of two alternate models: Texas's outpatient halfway house model, and Canada's Circles of Support and Accountability, which provides support to ex-convicts returning to the community. But ultimately the judge ruled that testimony irrelevant:

The [Canadian] representative who testified presented an impressive picture of a successful community-based program. While this evidence was offered to show that less restrictive alternatives exist to SVP treatment, it fails to gain traction in an equal protection context…. California is not obligated to follow Texas or Canada's examples however much more enlightened they may seem.

Bottom line, ruled the judge, is that we must make do despite the controversies and uncertainties:

It is this court's conclusion that the evidence presented satisfies the People's burden of establishing, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the different treatment given to SVP's under Proposition 83 [Jessica's Law] is "based on a reasonable perception of the unique dangers that SVP's pose rather than a special stigma that SVP's bear in the eyes of California's electorate." (McKee, supra, at 1210.) The fact that the evidence supporting this may be subject to controversy does not detract from its reasonableness or from the validity of the legislative distinctions based on it.

As someone who evaluates all three categories of offenders here in California --SVP’s, MDO’s and NGI’s -- I was astonished by the argument that the harm caused by SVP’s is categorically greater than that inflicted by members of the other two categories. Violence need not be sexual to inflict severe trauma. Some of the most disturbing cases I have been involved in were MDO and NGI cases in which psychotic individuals inflicted horrific brutality, torture and even death upon women and children. In contrast, I know of one young man who is currently committed to Coalinga as an SVP whose only offenses since age 18 were two consensual affairs with late teenage girls, one of whom even testified on his behalf at trial (saying she initiated the relationship and was a willing participant). Triggering his civil detention was not any sexual recidivism, but rather a parole violation for smoking marijuana.

That's the problem with separating criminals into artificial groups and then pretending they are all the same.

The art on this page is by Ricky Romain, an internationally acclaimed human rights artist in the UK whose work focuses on themes of justice, alienation and sanctuary. Mr. Romain has kindly given permission to showcase his art here. I encourage you to check out his extensive online gallery (HERE).

April 24, 2011

Encephelon #86: Blogging scientific mysteries

Of Florence Nightingale, free will, psychopath-hunters and -- yes -- even octopuses

It’s my turn to host the neuroscience and psychology blog carnival, Encephalon. This month, my blogger colleagues were busy analyzing fascinating unsolved mysteries in the wide-ranging fields of brain and behavior. So all of you sleuths out there, dust off your magnifying glasses and come exploring with me....

The mystery of the bedridden activist

At Providentia, psychologist Romeo Vitelli probes the mysteries surrounding pioneering public health activist Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) in a 2-part series, "The Bedridden Activist." Dr. Vitelli (who for all of you forensic folks escaped Ontario's maximum-security Millbrook Correctional Centre after a 15-year stint) marvels at Nightingale's indefatigable crusade for the poor and downtrodden, despite a debilitating illness that rendered her unable to travel. While discussing the theories of her mysterious illness, Dr. Vitelli also corrects the historical record:
Although Florence Nightingale opposed the Contagious Diseases Act, it was not because she opposed the germ theory of disease (as some critics later argued). Even though germ theory was not taken seriously before Joseph Lister and Louis Pasteur made the theory acceptable, Nightingale actually pioneered the need for sanitation and antiseptic conditions. Her opposition to the legislation that was eventually passed stemmed from the intrusive nature of the Act (including mandatory screening of prostitutes for syphilis and detaining infected women). When the act was passed in 1864, she campaigned for its repeal. 

The mystery of free will

Should a man who takes out a murder contract on his wife and children be held responsible? For most people, the obvious answer is, “Of course!” But for pure determinists, free will is an illusion; no one is responsible for anything.

That doesn't fit well with the assumptions of our criminal and civil court systems. Or does it? As Peter reports in his post on "expertimental free will" at Conscious Entities, an odd thing happens when determinism runs up against moral values. In an experiment in which subjects were told to assume that determinism is correct (meaning people are not responsible for their actions), subjects still assigned responsibility to the man who took out a contract on his family.

The mysterious octopus

Octopuses fascinate scientists. That's partly because they are so different from mammals like us. Not only are their brain regions not arranged to correspond with bodily systems, but their individual arms can control some movement without input from their brain. Over at Cephalove, Mike Lisieski discusses a study on the unsolved mystery of exactly how an octopus’s brain uses vision to control ongoing movements. The post is, "The octopus, the maze, and why it matters: behavioral flexibility and sensory-motor integration."

The mystery of the sightless mind

While some researchers study the role of vision in the elusive octopus, others study it in humans. Janet Kwasniak at Thoughts on Thoughts reports on new research into the brains of sightless humans. In “How is the world represented without vision?,” she muses on how, given the importance of vision to our species, it is possible to produce a conscious model of the world without it. And how does the brain use the third of the cortex involved with vision when vision is idle? Attempting to solve those mysteries, the researchers used fMRI technology to compare the brains of congenitally blind people, blind people who were once sighted, and sighted and blindfolded sighted individuals.

The mystery of the calcium in the brain

Here's one that I bet few of my readers have thought much about:

Zen Faulkes at Neurodojo, a biology professor at the University of Texas-Pan American, ponders long-held assumptions about the role of calcium in neuronal functioning. How do you prove the neurons don't use calcium, he wonders? And what do they use instead? These are among the questions addressed in the post, “Neurotransmitter release without calcium.”

The mystery of the ulcer-less zebra

Daniel Lende at Neuroanthropology is highlighting the intriguing teachings of Robert Sapolsky, a MacArthur Fellow who divides his time between teaching biology and neuroscience at Stanford University and conducting stress research on baboons in Kenya. In "Robert Sapolsky and Human Behavioral Biology," Daniel provides links to an entire course of study on human behavioral biology that's available for free online at YouTube. If you’re interested in anything from memory and plasticity to schizophrenia, language, individual differences, and human sexual behavior, this 25-session course is worth checking out.

After reading Daniel’s post, I couldn't resist buying a copy of Sapolsky's latest book, Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers, which explores stress and stress-related illness. To answer the question: Zebras don't get ulcers because they – like our ancestors – do not have to confront the chronic stresses of contemporary life, which our bodies were not designed to withstand.

The mystery of the psychopath hunter

Back to this blog’s central theme of forensic psychology I bring you (drum roll) the biggest mystery of all: What motivates US! I blogged about research into why some psychologists give higher scores than others on a measure of psychopathy. In case you haven't read the post I won't give it all away here, but the researchers found that subjects' levels of empathy and excitement-seeking affected whether they saw others as psychopathic. The post is, "Psychopathy: A Rorschach test for psychologists?"

That's it for now. Past -- and future -- issues of Encephalon are available HERE

April 21, 2011

Special journal issue on psychology-law available for free!

A special issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science showcasing the latest psychological research applied to the legal system has received enormous interest. As a result, the editors and Sage Publications are making the full contents available free to the public through June 15, 2011. The articles cover a wide range of topics of interest to my readers, including competency, violence risk assessment, profiling, false confessions, eyewitness evidence, and jury decision making. You are encouraged to download these articles for later reading, and to freely share these links with colleagues. 


Comment From the Editor
Randall W. Engle

Editor's Introduction: Special Issue on Psychology and Law
Ronald P. Fisher

Resolving the Offender "Profiling Equations" and the Emergence of an Investigative Psychology  
David V. Canter
Forensic Interviewing Aids: Do Props Help Children Answer Questions About Touching?
Debra Ann Poole, Maggie Bruck, and Margaret-Ellen Pipe

Interviewing Cooperative Witnesses
Ronald P. Fisher, Rebecca Milne, and Ray Bull

Current Issues and Advances in Misinformation Research
Steven J. Frenda, Rebecca M. Nichols, and Elizabeth F. Loftus

Eyewitness Identification
Neil Brewer and Gary L. Wells

Outsmarting the Liars: Toward a Cognitive Lie Detection Approach
Aldert Vrij, Pär Anders Granhag, Samantha Mann, and Sharon Leal

Suspect Interviews and False Confessions
Gisli H. Gudjonsson and John Pearse

Current Directions in Violence Risk Assessment
Jennifer L. Skeem and John Monahan

Future Directions in the Restoration of Competency to Stand Trial  
Patricia A. Zapf and Ronald Roesch

The Utility of Scientific Jury Selection: Still Murky After 30 Years
Joel D. Lieberman

Expert Psychological Testimony  
Brian L. Cutler and Margaret Bull Kovera

The Psychology of Trial Judging  
Neil Vidmar

Jury Decision Making: Implications For and From Psychology
Brian H. Bornstein and Edie Greene

April 20, 2011

Australian man spends decade in prison without trial

Mental competency laws are designed to protect people who are accused of crimes from being subjected to legal prosecution if they cannot understand the proceedings or rationally assist in their defense. But some offenders are spending more time behind bars after a finding of unfitness to stand trial than if they had been tried and convicted.

Marlon Noble and supporter (Photo credit ABC News)
In Western Australia, the case of one such man is making headlines. Marlon Noble has spent 10 years behind bars after being accused of sexually assaulting two girls. He is mentally impaired from a childhood bout of meningitis.

"If he has been tried and found guilty he would never ever been sentenced to the length of time," said longtime supporter Ida Curtois, a retired social worker.

He is one of 29 people in West Australian jails who have never been found innocent or guilty.

If he has been tried and found guilty he would never ever been sentenced to the length of time.
-- Ida Curtois            

But in an unusual twist, the two alleged victims are now coming forward to clear his name. Since Noble never had a court hearing on the allegations, the case against him was never tested.

If Noble is released, his supporters say they will continue lobbying until all accused people being held indefinitely due to mental disabilities are given other options.

Incompetent defendants also detained indefinitely in U.S.

Most forensic psychologists in the United States can tell you about Theon Jackson. A "mentally defective deaf mute with a mental level of a pre-school child," Jackson could neither read nor write and was not proficient in sign language. Evaluators called his prognosis for attaining competency to stand trial "dim." Taking the case up to the U.S. Supreme Court, his attorneys argued that he was effectively getting a life sentence for two street robberies that netted a grand total of nine dollars.

In a landmark ruling in 1972, the high court agreed, ruling that an accused person who is found incompetent to stand trial cannot be held longer than "the reasonable period of time necessary to determine whether there is a substantial probability that he will attain that capacity in the foreseeable future."

If it is determined that the individual will not become competent, "then the State must either institute the customary civil commitment proceeding that would be required to commit indefinitely any other citizen, or release the defendant."

In the current era of the sexually violent predator, however, incompetency statutes have made it easier to civilly commit accused individuals whose cases were never proven in criminal court.

In New York State, for example, which has just begun implementation of a new civil detention scheme for sex offenders, the government argued that since civil commitment is a civil proceeding, they should not have to prove their cases beyond a reasonable doubt as they would have to in a criminal trial. Instead, they argued that the standard of proof should be the lower "clear and convincing evidence" standard (sometimes equated to a level of certitude of about 75% as opposed to 95-99% for the beyond a reasonable doubt standard).

Late last month, U.S. District Judge Deborah A. Batts upheld a challenge to that position, declaring that despite the ostensibly "civil" nature of preventive detention, its consequences are too onerous to allow for a lowered standard of proof:

Here, the risk of an erroneous deprivation is high…. Those committed as "sex offenders" under Article 10 are housed in a secure psychiatric facility and segregated from those who are not "sex offenders." After release from confinement, those labeled "sex offenders" are subjected a regimen of "strict and intensive supervision and treatment," which may include but need not be limited to, electronic monitoring or global positioning satellite tracking for an appropriate period of time, polygraph monitoring, specification of residence or type of residence, [and] prohibition of contact with identified past orpotential victims. Given the attendant stigma and significant liberty infringements that result from application of the label "sex offender" under Article 10, the consequences of an erroneous application of that label are severe.
The legal challenge was brought by the state's Mental Hygiene Legal Service, which provides legal service to psychiatric patients, including at least 22 pretrial defendants who -- like Mr. Noble in Western Australia -- have been found incompetent to stand trial on sex charges.

April 15, 2011

"Cruel and unusual": Sex offender seeks refuge in Canada

The autobiographical romance "Summer Of '42" depicts a coming-of-age relationship between 15-year-old Hermie and an older married woman. By the time "Dorothy" vanishes from his Nantucket vacation community, Hermie has matured from boy to man.

How much has changed in the 40 years since that movie was made. Today, rather than disappearing for parts unknown, Dorothy would be shackled and riding the bus to the nearest women's penitentiary.

But is it fair to sentence a woman to 30 years in prison for a consensual relationship with a willing teenage boy?

That is the question confronting Canadian authorities in the case of a Florida woman who is seeking refugee status in Saskatchewan. Denise Harvey fled the United States with her husband after she was sentenced to a 30-year prison term for a consensual relationship with her son's 16-year-old friend.

Denise Harvey (photo credit TC Palm)

In Canada, the age of consent is 16 so her conduct would not have been criminal. Saskatchewan authorities have not extradited Harvey because Canada does not extradite people unless the conduct is a crime in both countries. In appealing to the Canadian government for refugee status, Harvey claims her sentence amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, forbidden by the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

More than 10 percent of the residents of her home community of Vero Beach, Florida agree that her sentence was too extreme. They signed a petition demanding that Florida's governor pardon her.

"She didn’t get any justice down here," said petition sponsor George Sigler, a flight trainer. "She's a nice, soft-spoken woman who I believe made a mistake but that doesn't mean she should go to jail for 30 years. No one in their right mind believes a 16-year-old wasn't a willing participant."

Harvey rejected an 11-year plea bargain offer and went to trial. The teen testified that the two flirted and had a long kiss in a car before engaging in brief sexual interludes at his home and elsewhere. Harvey did not testify, but her attorney told jurors the boy stalked her after she rejected his advances. The jury heard a 20-minute recording surreptitiously recorded by police with the boy's cooperation, in which the two discussed what to do if their sexual encounters were disclosed.

After Harvey's conviction on five counts, prosecutors urged the lengthy sentence because she continued to deny wrongdoing. She fled after losing her appeal to the Florida Supreme Court.

With the case now making international headlines, the question becomes whether this is the most sensible face for a world leader to portray to the rest of the world.

The Toronto Star and the Treasure Coast Palm have additional news coverage. 

April 14, 2011

Feed that hungry judge!

Photo credit: vistavision (Creative Commons)
Attorneys: If you want your client released from jail, make sure the judge just had a bite to eat.

That is the take-home message from a new study of experienced judges in Israel. Judges were much more likely to grant parole right after they had a lunch or snack break:
The team studied more than 1,000 parole decisions made by eight experienced judges in Israel over 50 days in a ten-month period. After a snack or lunch break, 65 percent of cases were granted parole. The rate of favorable rulings then fell gradually, sometimes [to] as low as zero, within each decision session and would return to 65 percent after a break.

Jonathan Levav, a professor at Columbia Business School who co-authored the study, said the more rulings a judge makes, the greater the tendency to “rule in favor of the status quo,” but a snack break can interrupt that tendency.

The current study left unsettled the issue of whether it was the food itself or the rest period that came with it that improved the judges' dispositions toward the hopeful convicts. Previous research has shown that both glucose and mental breaks can restore mental functioning.

The study adds to a growing body of evidence on psychological bias in judicial decision-making.

  • The study, "Extraneous factors in judicial decisions" by Shai Danziger, Jonathan Levav and Liora Avnaim-Pesso, was just published online by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. A press release with additional information on the study and its authors is HERE.

April 8, 2011

"Jurors Gone Wild": Blogging, texting, tweeting in court

On his blog, "Juror No. 7" portrayed the defense lawyer as "whacked out" and having a "Columbo detective-style of acting stupid." He complained about the court's long breaks and likened court staff to "Caltrans freeway workers" who always seem to be "picnicking alongside the freeway." … After complaining about the length of the 19-day trial, he told his readers that he had volunteered to be foreman to "expedite matters." During deliberations, he used his cell phone camera to photograph the murder weapon -- a 15-inch saw-toothed knife -- and posted the image on his blog.

Although an appellate court upheld the defendant's conviction, finding Juror No. 7’s conduct harmless, appellate attorney Linda C. Rush disagreed:
"The problem with his blog was, the responses he got were affirming his cynical attitude toward the judge and the process. He created an audience, and during deliberation he was playing to an audience that other jurors didn't even know was there."

Juror antics like this are no longer unusual, according to an article in the current issue of California Lawyer magazine. Judges and attorneys are finding themselves struggling with "how to protect a defendant's Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial when jurors are awash in social media, potentially contaminating the integrity of the proceedings," writes Pamela MacLean:
Leslie Ellis, a jury consultant with TrialGraphix in Washington, D.C., says she advises her clients to monitor jurors' Facebook, MySpace, or Twitter accounts and blogs during a trial to make sure none are discussing the case outside court sessions. "That's how a lot of jurors have been caught," she says.

Another possible alternative, raised in a case that may soon be taken up by the California Supreme Court, involves making all private social media communications posted by a juror during trial available to defense counsel.
But how much monitoring is too much? At what point will jurors begin to feel like criminal suspects and balk at serving altogether? And is all this much ado about nothing?

The full California Lawyer article is online HERE.

Related post: Blogging jurors (Nov. 26, 2008)

April 7, 2011

U.S. high court restricts federal death penalty appeals

In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this week that federal habeas appeals cannot consider new evidence, but must limit themselves to information already presented at the state court level. The majority opinion, written by Judge Clarence Thomas, will severely restrict federal petitions in capital cases.

The case involved Scott Pinholster of California, convicted and sentenced to death in 1984 for the robbery-murder of a local drug dealer. The only witness to testify for the defense during the penalty deliberations was Pinholster's mother, who testified that he was "a perfect gentleman at home."

Pinholster pursued his federal habeas claim after losing two appeals to the California Supreme Court, in which he argued that his court-appointed lawyer (later disbarred) had failed to present mitigating evidence during the penalty phase of his trial. Pinholster suffered severe abuse and at least two head injuries as a child; he was institutionalized for much of his adult life and there were some indications of a psychiatric disorder.

The crux of Justice Thomas's message is, "Who cares?" If errors are made during a death penalty trial, they are harmless. That is, they don't change the bottom line. Jurors would have voted for death even if they heard additional mitigating evidence, given the weight of the aggravating evidence against these bad hombres.

That's a fiction, of course. A skillful trial attorney who presents a compelling narrative of a defendant's life can often win a life-without-parole verdict (or negotiate a plea deal), even when faced with an egregious crime. Judy Clarke, Jared Loughner's attorney, is one such lawyer. Contrast her with some of the deadbeat lawyers who dine at the public trough, billing the government to represent capital clients while doing virtually no investigation and presenting little in the way of mitigating evidence at the penalty phase of the trial.

In a lengthy dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor (joined in part by Justices Elena Kagan and Ruth Bader Ginsburg) lamented that federal judges must now "turn a blind eye" to such miscarriages of justice, even when they result in "harsh" outcomes. "Some habeas petitioners are unable to develop the factual basis of their claims in state court through no fault of their own," she noted.

Commenting at the Law and Biosciences Digest blog, Stanford Law School visiting professor Nita Farahany portrays the case as a virtual death knell for federal claims of ineffective assistance in capital cases:
After [this] major decision … all bets are off on the likely success of claims for ineffective assistance of counsel for failure to introduce mitigating brain evidence at trial. The case may have such broad implications that the double-edged rhetoric about brain damage evidence in the majority opinion is of minor interest by comparison…. A popular claim for ineffective assistance of counsel is failure to introduce particular mitigating evidence at trial. If [federal review] is limited to the record before the state court, then the days of new evidentiary hearings on federal habeas review for ineffective assistance of counsel cases is numbered or over.

The case is the latest stemming from the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, §2254, which restricts the power of federal courts to grant habeas relief to state prisoners.

April 6, 2011

Oregon training on forensic work with immigrants

           "But they don’t speak
English!": The assessment of
immigrants in forensic and administrative contexts

April 18 at Portland State University, Oregon

We’ve always been a land of immigrants, but now more than ever issues of language and acculturation are at the forefront of many forensic evaluations. Never fear, our colleagues at the Northwest Forensic Institute in Portland, Oregon have set up a training to help you maneuver in these challenging contexts.

Tedd Judd, the presenter, is a Certified Hispanic Mental Health Specialist and Past President of the Hispanic Neuropsychological Society who has taught neuropsychology in 21 countries on 5 continents.

The all-day training workshop will address practicalities, skills, ethics, and resources for such evaluations in order to provide equitable services. The objective is to teach skills so participants are able to choose and refer cases appropriately and increase the range of cases they can deal with confidently and ethically. The workshop will include case presentations.

The early-bird registration fee of $175 is good until Monday, April 11; after that, the fee is $190. What a deal for six hours of Continuing Education credits.

More information is available HERE.

Also in Oregon: May 21 training on forensic diagnosis

For those of you planning to be up in the Pacific Northwest the following month, I am going to be giving an all-day training up in Oregon. My workshop, “Psychiatric Diagnoses in Court: Current Controversies and Future Directions,” will be May 21 at picturesque Wallowa Lake in eastern Oregon.

More information is available HERE (or visit my website).

April 2, 2011

Good news on young criminals

Desistance the rule, with or without incarceration 

The most thorough study to date, just released by The U.S. Department of Justice, brings lots of good news about criminal desistance among serious adolescent offenders.

The most important finding is that even adolescents who have committed serious offenses are not necessarily on track for adult criminal careers. Only a small proportion of the offenders studied continued to offend at a high level throughout the followup period.

The other critical finding was that incarceration is for the most part unnecessary and ineffective:
Longer stays in juvenile facilities did not reduce reoffending; institutional placement even raised offending levels in those with the lowest level of offending.

Instead, the study found, interventions that combined community-based supervision and substance abuse treatment helped youthful offenders stay in school, get jobs, and avoid further offending.

"Pathways to Desistance" is a multidisciplinary project that intensively followed 1,354 serious juvenile offenders ages 14 to 18 (184 girls and 1,170 boys) in metropolitan Arizona and Pennsylvania for 7 years after their convictions. Data included multiple interviews with the young offenders and their families, and analyses of official records. Edward Mulvey, Ph.D., director of the Law and Psychiatry Program at the University of Pittburgh Medical School, authored the study, which was just released by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

The findings should be welcome news not only for young miscreants and their loved ones, but also for taxpayers, as it supports the current move toward less expensive community interventions as an alternative to costly juvenile prisons.