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Justice Policy Journal - Volume 8, Number 1 - Spring 2011

(ISSN 1530-3012)


From the editor

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

From the Editor

This issue of Justice Policy Journal brings together a diverse group of articles that provide compelling insights into a range of criminal and juvenile justice policies.

Danielle M. Shields starts the issue with a much needed critique of the current housing of mentally ill youth, showing that public policy largely supports warehousing youth.  Juvenile facilities are ill-equipped to serve as mental institutions, but have had to assume this role given the lack of community treatment options for mentally ill youth.  Shields shows the historical processes that led to the warehousing of mentally ill youth and provides a current assessment of the prevalence of treatment options existing today.  In conclusion, she considers alternatives to the contemporary policies of warehousing youth.

Richard Greenleaf, Arthur Lurigio, Jamie Flexon and Teri Walker examine another issue relevant towards more informed policy decisions.  Building on studies that demonstrate the impact of race on police officer's discretion, Greenleaf and his colleagues examine the impact of race on municipal court data.  Using court data, the authors show how the failure to produce a driver's license or proof of automobile insurance led to many more citations for African Americans than other races.   In court, however, African Americans were more likely to have their cases dismissed for lack of evidence or probable cause.  Practices of racial profiling, as Greenleaf and colleagues show, thus ultimately undermine and degrade public support for police officers, especially in African American communities. 

Samara McPhedran and Jeanine Baker provide an analysis of policy from another geographical context, and show the dangers of equating increased firearm legislation with decreased incidences of mass shootings.  As many countries around the world struggle with incidences of mass shootings, legislation in Australia and New Zealand developed in response towards mass shootings have not had the intended reductions.  In Australia, strict firearm regulations were enacted that banned several firearms in the country; by contrast, New Zealand's approach allowed many of these firearms to continue to be purchased.  Using a thirty year period, McPhedran and Baker show that even though Australia adopted more stringent controls, these controls did not prevent mass shootings. 

Together, Elizabeth Brown and Mike Males examine the question of whether high arrest rates among youth are tied more towards age or poverty.  Traditionally, criminologists and policy makers assume that biological and immutable characteristics, like age, influence rates of crime.  One of the most important ways this can be seen is in the explanation for high rates of youth crime and homicide relative to adults that reasons that the biological category of age is responsible for greater (in the case of youth) and lesser (in the case of adults) amounts of crime.  However, youth are also disproportionately represented in U.S. poverty rates, and thus, Brown and Males explore the question of whether age or higher rates of poverty explains the youthful propensity towards crime.  Instead of the immutable characteristic of age, Brown and Males show how the mutable characteristic of poverty explains higher rates of crime and homicide among youth.  Any attempts to decrease crime must thus tackle poverty, and not the assumption that youth are naturally immature. 

William Brown directs our attention towards the impact of war, and multiple deployments, on the lives of military personnel.  Many veterans returning from war show the signs of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) directly related to the combat experience.  Many veterans turn to alcohol to cope with PTSD, as a form of self-medication in an effort to combat sleeplessness and nightmares.  Combined with civilian attitudes towards veterans, these ingredients combine to increase the rate of veteran incarceration.  Drawing on a study of war veterans, Brown shows that PTSD and alcohol combine to increase the likelihood of a veteran becoming embroiled within the criminal justice system. 

Together, each of these articles provides a compelling insight into current public policy, criminal justice, and juvenile justice practices.  Each article compels politicians and academics alike to consider the evidence supporting current practices, and the possible pitfalls of invoking non-evidence based policy solutions.

Happy reading!

Warehoused: The Plight of 'Mad' Youths in the Juvenile Justice System

By Danielle M. Shields

On any given day, tens of thousands of youths are housed in juvenile correctional facilities and unfortunately, a staggering proportion of these individuals suffer from mental illness. Though juvenile justice facilities are largely ill-equipped to serve as surrogate mental institutions, they have assumed this role out of necessity, as there is a distinct lack of community treatment options for mentally ill juveniles. Faced with inadequate assessment and treatment practices once they are absorbed into the correctional system, many incarcerated mentally ill youth are simply warehoused. Drawing upon available research, this paper recounts the historical events that contributed to the current dearth of community treatment options for juveniles, describes the prevalence, treatment, and assessment of mental illness among juvenile detainees, and considers alternatives to the current policies that exist within the system.

Race-Based Decisions: Traffic Citations and Municipal Court Dispositions

By Richard G. Greenleaf, Arthur J. Lurigio, Jamie L. Flexon, and Teri J. Walker

Numerous studies have demonstrated that race can affect a police officer's decision to stop and ticket a motorist. With a large sample of traffic cases from a major city in the Pacific Northwest, the present study examined the effects of driver race on criminal justice decisions in the street and in the courtroom. Using municipal court data, analyses showed that police officers were more likely to cite African Americans than other races for failing to produce a driver's license or proof of automobile insurance but were less likely to ticket African Americans for committing a moving violation. Police officers were equally as likely to ticket White and African American drivers for equipment violations, which can be used as a pretext for more intrusive police practices. Logistic regression analyses showed that African Americans were more likely than other racial groups to have their traffic tickets dismissed in court for a lack of evidence or probable cause. A race-based pursuit of questionable traffic cases can undermine the perceived legitimacy of the police and degrade public support for police officers, particularly within African American communities.

Mass Shootings in Australia and New Zealand: A Descriptive Study of Incidence

By Samara McPhedran and Jeanine Baker

The development of legislation aimed at reducing the incidence of firearm-related death is an ongoing interest within the spheres of criminology, public policy, and criminal justice. Although a body of research has examined the impacts of significant epochs of regulatory reform upon firearm-related suicides and homicides in countries like Australia, where strict nationwide firearms regulations were introduced in 1996, relatively little research has considered the occurrence of a specific type of homicide: mass shooting events. The current paper examines the incidence of mass shootings in Australia and New Zealand (a country that is socioeconomically similar to Australia, but with a different approach to firearms regulation) over a 30 year period. It does not find support for the hypothesis that Australia's prohibition of certain types of firearms has prevented mass shootings, with New Zealand not experiencing a mass shooting since 1997 despite the availability in that country of firearms banned in Australia. These findings are discussed in the context of social and economic trends.

From War Zones to Jail: Veteran Reintegration Problems

By William B. Brown

When individuals return home from war they are not the same individuals who left for war. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars have been on-going since October 2001, and nearly two million service members have been deployed to these wars -- many have been deployed multiple times. When military personnel return from war, and are discharged from military service, they are issued the label of veteran. Initially, this term has little meaning or significance to individuals recently released from military service. As they begin their process of reintegrating back into the civilian culture the term veteran begins to develop meaning for many veterans. That meaning is influenced by factors such as interpersonal relationships, education, and employment/unemployment experiences. Depending upon the level of influence that the Military Total Institution has had on the veteran, which includes the veteran's combat experiences, many veterans find themselves confronted with mental health issues, particularly posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is an artifact of her or his combat experiences. A significant number of veterans with PTSD symptoms have turned to alcohol as a form of self-medication. Many veterans with PTSD say that alcohol reduces nightmares and difficulties initiating and maintaining sleep (DIMS). In many instances the experiences of war, PTSD, alcohol, combined with lethargic civilian attitudes of the problems veterans confront provides the ingredients of a recipe designed to accelerate the probability of increased veteran incarceration. This article addresses the aforementioned issues by analyzing the data collected during a study of 162 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans during a 15-month period, and spanning across 16 states. The data strongly suggest that veterans with PTSD and alcohol use/dependency issues related to combat increase the probability of veteran criminal justice entanglements.

Does Age or Poverty Level Best Predict Criminal Arrest and Homicide Rates? A Preliminary Investigation

By Elizabeth Brown and Mike Males

High criminal arrest and homicide mortality levels among young people are often attributed to biological and developmental flaws innate to adolescence. A special data run by the California Criminal Justice Statistics Center detailing arrests by offense, age, and race/ethnicity for 2006 provides new opportunities to examine the relationship between demographic and socioeconomic factors and crime outcomes by age. Preliminary rate and bivariate regression analyses find that poverty is more concentrated in younger than older ages, low poverty status is strongly connected to higher levels of criminal arrest and homicide for every age, and poverty level is a significantly larger predictor of arrest and homicide risk than is age. The conclusion that higher rates of crime and murder among young ages, like high rates among African Americans, relate more to low socioeconomic status than to innate characteristics adhering to age challenges prevailing notions of the "crime proneness" of adolescents.

Keywords: economy, education, Mike Males, risk, youth

Posted in Volume 8

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