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(ISSN 1530 – 3012)

From the editor

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

From the Editors 

The Spring 2009 issue of the Justice Policy Journal again brings you a spate of articles showing how the U.S. needs to alter its criminal justice policy if it is to align with current research in the field. 

First, Lisa. S. Nored, Philip E. Carlan, and Doug Goodman examine drug court implementation in five politically conservative states. Drug courts are an increasingly novel forum local governments are using to stem the tide of drug users into court, jail, and prison systems. Nored et al. found that local judges and administrators were critical in the establishment of drug courts, but that funding primarily came from the State and Federal government. Their research into the implementation of drug courts suggests that even though drug court personnel regard the program as a successful one, increased funding is necessary to keep the programs afloat, especially as Federal funding for implementation activities phases out. 

Second, Erika Gebo and Maureen Norton-Hawk examine how private employers use criminal records in employment decisions. Drawing on surveys of human resource personnel at a range of Boston companies, Gebo and Norton-Hawk examine how Massachusetts’ stricter laws regulating the use of criminal records in employment decisions impact private employers’ hiring practices. Though Massachusetts laws are notably more amenable to those with criminal records, these laws have yet to trickle into the private employment sector. As Gebo and Norton-Hawk show, this sector has yet to embrace the laws and Boston companies are more comparable to private companies in other settings than the public sector’s ban the box” practices. 

Third, Janice Proctor examines the role of spirituality in the creation of identity among imprisoned women and shows that imprisoned women often have optimistic outlooks on life, despite abusive life histories. Proctor found several avenues through which women expressed their optimism: future employment aspirations, spirituality, goals to end personal mistreatment, and a desire to educate other women about the conditions they experienced. Proctor shows that if prison system is to help those imprisoned make identity and cognitive shifts away from the criminal lifestyle, they should draw on the insights of imprisoned women themselves about the areas where help is most needed. 

Fourth, Kyung Yon Jhi and Hee-Jong Joo show that a recent Texas law that mandated the use of a range of variables to determine the risk parolee recidivism must also take into account age. As Jhi and Joo show, different subdivisions among imprisoned adults have different predictors of recidivism, thus suggesting that revisions of the Texas law are necessary if it is to most accurately target those most likely to recidivate.

Finally, Matthew Robinson and Marian Williams provide an analysis of the criminal justice system in the U.S. as a whole. Robins and Williams confront the idea that the criminal justice system is fair by detailing the range of inconsistencies in terms of race, class, and gender in each area of the criminal justice system. Like the articles before them, Robinson and Williams show that the first step towards the innovative justice policies outlined in earlier articles is taking account of the wide-ranging ways that unfairness impacts the system. 

Just as Robinson and Williams conclude for the U.S. criminal justice system overall, this issue shows how steps towards a more just, fair and equitable criminal justice system must grapple with a wide range of issues, from the optimism of imprisoned women to funding challenges in drug court implementation to the unique predictors of recidivism across age and private employers’ ability to circumvent ban the box’ regulations. As each author makes clear, the use of research based scholarship is necessary if we are to confront the system’s vast inequalities. 

Happy Reading!

The Myth of a Fair Criminal Justice System

By Matthew Robinson and Marian Williams

This paper examines whether the belief that the US criminal justice system is fair is a myth. After an introduction of the criminal justice system and its goals, we turn to possible sources of unfairness in criminal justice, including the criminal law, definitions of crime, policing, courts, and corrections. The authors explore the possibility that the criminal justice system is unfair both in what it does and in what it does not do. After a discussion of the role of mythology in criminal justice, the paper concludes with a summary and suggestions for making American criminal justice activity fairer.

The Imprisonment Insights of Female Inmates: Identity & Cognitive Shifts for Exiting a Criminal Lifestyle

By Janice Proctor

In surveying 120 female inmates at the Topeka Correctional Facility (TCF) in 2001 to test criminological theories, and in conducting life-history interviews with 22 inmates at the prison during the summers of 2002 and 2003, I discovered these inmates were subjected to extensive and severe physical and sexual abuse. Thus, I was surprised these inmates frequently conveyed hopeful and optimistic insights about their futures. This study focuses on the positive identity and cognitive shifts that might help female inmates overcome deviant identities and criminal lifestyles. Some inmates stressed their need for increased spiritual growth to end their criminal activities. Other inmates discussed pursuing vocational aspirations after their release from prison. Some shared their intention to no longer accept mistreatment they believe leads to substance abuse. Finally, some inmates described their belief that extensive physical and sexual abuse can lead to imprisonment. These inmates want to ensure that other women will not follow in their footsteps. Their autobiographical insights provide glimpses of the types of identity shifts and strategies women can employ to move away from criminal lifestyles. 

Predictors of recidivism across major age groups of parolees in Texas

By Kyung Yon Jhi and Hee-Jong Joo

Previous studies on predictability of parole outcome have mainly focused on two age categories — adults (as a whole) and juveniles — with little attention paid to the possible differences in predictors of recidivism among subdivisions of adult inmates’ age groups. Considering the invariant” relationship found between age and recidivism across societies, cultures, and various demographic groups, research on the effect of age on recidivism using subdivisions of adult age groups would enhance knowledge concerning predictors of parole outcome. Using a sample of 12,894 adult parolees in Texas, this study examined the predictive accuracy of the Texas parole guidelines and attempted to identify group-specific predictors, if any exist, for four major age groups. Findings from this study provided some evidence that significant predictors of parole outcome differ across age groups. The number and types of predictors that influenced parole outcome varied across each age group and also differed from those found in the Texas parole guidelines. With these findings, a need for revision of the Texas parole guidelines appears to be valid. Age-group specific parole guidelines that reflect such differences in predictors across age groups could enhance the predictive accuracy of parole outcome which, in turn, would improve the success rate of parole release.

Incentives and Obstacles to Drug Court Implementation: Observations of Drug Court Judges and Administrators 

By Lisa. S. Nored, Philip E. Carlan, and Doug Goodman

This study examines drug court program implementation. Surveys were disseminated to all drug court judges and administrators in five conservative states (AL, FL, LA, MS, UT). Of the 340 mailed surveys, 114 were completed (response rate of 33%). Findings revealed that respondents were active during implementation stages, primarily securing assistance from federal and state government. Local government was not regarded as a primary incentive source at all, instead perceived as the greatest source of obstacles. Lastly, administrators devoted more time to implementation activities, and generally regarded drug court outcomes as most successful.

Criminal Record Policies and Private Employers

By Erika Gebo and Maureen Norton-Hawk

The State of Massachusetts has more amenable polices toward the hiring of ex-offenders than most other US states. Boston also was among the first to ´ban the box’ asking about conviction on city and private city contractor applications. Whether or not such polices and practices have permeated into the private sector has yet to be investigated. Through the use of mail and telephone surveys, employer’s compliance with those state policies as well as employer preferences about hiring ex-offenders is explored. Results show Boston employers are not different from employers in other areas of the country. They voiced concerned about the liability of hiring ex-offenders, though they discuss needing to make case-by-case decisions. Findings show, however, that hiring procedures are counter to such an individualized decision process and to the state law requiring these actions, which are consistent with bureaucratic rationality wherein benefits do not outweigh costs and actual business processes do not allow for individualized assessments.