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Justice Policy Journal - Volume 7, Number 1 - Spring 2010

(ISSN 1530-3012)


From the editor

By Elizabeth Brown, Ph.D. and Randall G. Shelden, M.A., Ph.D.

From the Editors

Welcome to another exciting issue of Justice Policy Journal.  In this issue, we have several articles calling attention to current issues in the criminal justice system, and the problems with implementing policy in ways that ignores academic research on justice issues.  Each of our full-length articles draws attention to a compelling issue in public policy and each also offers new ways of thinking about old problems.  First up, however, is a short commentary by a budding scholar with a personal reflection on living within a family experiencing domestic violence.  Jenell Sutton, a student at UNLV, provides personal insight on the struggles her mother has gone through with domestic violence.  While domestic violence is often seen as an issue that affects only two people--the perpetrator and victim, Sutton draws our attention to the lasting effects of domestic violence on herself, the next generation, and many others.


After this short commentary, Debra Lee Cochrane and M. Alexis Kennedy begin our full-length article section by examining the important issues of juvenile sex offenders.  As Cochrane and Kennedy show, national efforts to establish "Megan's Law" or sexual offender notification registries across the country have led to many juveniles being forced to register the rest of their lives for offenses committed as children.  Cochrane and Kennedy find that Megan's Law has many proponents, and many of those they surveyed believe in the abstract that juveniles should be forced to register as well.  However, when faced with actual scenarios about offenses that require registration, many people contradict earlier, abstract statements about Megan's Law and instead believe that some juveniles should not have to register for their offenses.  Cochrane and Kennedy call attention to public sentiments about Megan's Law in an effort to illustrate that much more public education needs to happen to make people aware of who and what is actually on sex offender registries, and to reinvigorate the "best interests of the child" doctrine of the juvenile court, a now seemingly forgotten ideal of the juvenile court, instead of the stigmatization that occurs when juveniles are forced to register for many years of their lives.


Margaret Cleek and colleagues follow this article with an important discussion of the selective use of curfew tools.  Like other legislative solutions based in moral panics, Cleek and colleagues draw attention to the selective enforcement of juvenile curfews.  Curfews are a key strategy to keep children out of public space at night, but as Cleek and colleagues show, this strategy undermines the rights of law-abiding juvenile and parental authority.  Even further, it offers a "tool" for law enforcement to use in the selective policing of some.


Matthew Robinson also critiques current public policy, but instead targets his attention at national drug control.  Robinson notes that many of the statistics used to support the national war on drugs are manipulated in ways that make it look effective, while ignoring a mountain of evidence to the contrary.  Robinson asks important questions about drug control policy and offers ways for those concerned with developing smart, and evidenced-based, public policy to understand the real problems with drug control.  In doing so, he offers those who develop public policy a way to question current regimes and still keep public safety at the forefront of consideration.


Finally, M. Alexis Kennedy and Melanie Taylor draw our attention to the important issue of harassment during online social networking.  Surveying college students about their use of social networking sites, Kennedy and Taylor find that in general victimization was infrequent, and that it occurred much more frequently offline than it did online.  Even further, Kennedy and Taylor made the surprising finding of a curvilinear relationship between privacy settings and victimization.  With the work of Kennedy and Taylor, contemporary moral panics around stranger danger lurking on the web are found to inaccurately describe the very real dangers that people face, which occurs predominantly from someone they know and in the offline world.


Each of these articles draws attention to the importance of research-based understandings of contemporary justice policy and calls, in its own way, for a reconsideration of current political trajectories.  Happy reading!

Toward A More Policy-Relevant National Drug Control Strategy

By Matthew Robinson

Critics have pointed out that the annual National Drug Control Strategy (NDCS), presented each year by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), is not very useful for informing citizens and policy-makers about the successes and failures of the nation's "drug war." In this paper, the author highlights some of the major problems with the NDCS and then presents an outline of how a more useful NDCS would look. That is, he shows how the NDCS must be changed including what must be contained within the document for the NDCS to be more useful for informing policy. Finally, the author poses specific questions to policy-makers that must be answered in order to determine the efficacy of national drug control policy.

Online Harassment and Victimization of College Students

By M. Alexis Kennedy and Melanie A. Taylor

The purpose of this study was to examine the prevalence of victimization occurring through social networking sites. Information was also sought on the internet behavior of college students. Data were collected from 354 college students from September 2007 through April 2008.  Anonymous, self-report surveys were completed polling experiences with harassment, stalking, and sexual assault. Analyses showed that the majority of victimization types were reported infrequently, while rates of sexual assault overall were quite high compared to prior research. The types of victimization varied by where they were occurring -- online or offline.  Acts such as verbal harassment, pestering, unwanted behaviors, and sexual harassment were all fairly prevalent online, while other victimizations, such as being threatened or stalked, occurred more offline. The rates of victimization initiated through online contact suggest that although social networking sites may provide opportunities for certain types of victimization, college students are still at a greater risk from people they meet offline.

My Mother, My Hero: A personal reflection on domestic violence

By Jenell Sutton

Attitudes Towards Megan's Law and Juvenile Sex Offenders

By Debra Lee Cochrane and M. Alexis Kennedy

Sex offender registration laws are very controversial. All fifty states require adult sex offenders to register.  Currently forty-two states have extended registration and community notification requirements to juveniles (Szymanski 2009).  These states seem to have failed to look at the unique nature of juvenile sex offending.  Juveniles have a very low recidivism rate and often represent complex culpability issues due to the strict liability of age-of-consent laws.  Applying Megan's Law to juveniles and forcing public registration can lead to negative consequences for juveniles' social development. One of the main stipulations of the registration laws is the requirement to notify schools which harms juvenile offenders, causing social isolation and labeling them as sexual predators (Lowe 1997).  Impairment at school interferes with children's social development.  Expansion of registration laws should balance the need for juvenile offenders to reintegrate into society and this study sought to examine where support for such an expansion exists.

"Don't Worry, It's Just a Tool": Enacting Selectively Enforced Laws Such as Curfew Laws Targeting Only the Bad Guys

By Margaret Anne Cleek, John A. Youril, Michael Youril, and Richard Guarino

The United States Constitution is in place to protect the rights of the citizens.  Yet, the current environment leans towards the enactment of more and more laws at all levels of government which erode or eliminate those rights.  It is suggested that the fear and chaos of these stressful and uncertain times results in a willingness on the part of legislators and the public that elects them to trade freedom for security.  This can have disastrous consequences. Cicero (42BC) observed, "When people are willing to give up rights for security, they will, in the end, lose both."  This paper examines how laws which violate civil rights, such as curfew laws are passed by municipalities and accepted by the community with an understanding that they will only be selectively enforced against "the bad guys".  Citizens are told by law enforcement that they need such laws as a "tool" and without them they are powerless to deal with the problem population.  The fears and frustrations of the public are played upon to give increased powers and latitude for discretionary enforcement of laws to police.

Keywords: criminalization, curfew, public safety, youth

Posted in Volume 7

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