Against socioeconomic marginality as a risk factor

risk bus juliefaith flickr

I have written several times about risk assessment of individual defendants and offenders and the role of socioeconomic factors such as employment, educational level, income, financial situation and housing. Risk assessment is used by criminal justice agencies – in the US, UK, Canada and the Netherlands, as well as other countries – to inform decisions about bail, pre-trial detention, sentencing, probation, parole, treatment, and/or supervision.

For example, a widely used tool called LSI-R and a tool that is used in New York State called COMPAS take into account the following individual factors (mentioned in Starr 2014, see below):

  • Performance at work
  • Housing stability
  • Neighbourhood crime rates
  • Dependence on social assistance
  • High school grades
  • Chances of finding work above minimum wage

Disparities

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Pardon for productive members of society

barrier (hawksanddoves flickr)

The governor of New York, Mr. Cuomo, last month announced a pardon for thousands of people who were convicted of nonviolent crimes when they were 16 or 17 years old, but have in ten or more years thereafter not been convicted for other crimes. The pardon aims to remove the barriers that people who are convicted face to get a job. People would still answer ‘yes’ to the question about past conviction on application forms, but can show documentation that they have a pardon for that offence.

It is a ‘step forward for juvenile offenders’, indeed, as the New York Times’ editorial stated: ‘The plan is welcome news to those who have been shut out of jobs and otherwise marginalized because of minor offenses committed when they were still young.’

However, it could be far more helpful for those who have been unable to get jobs, if the pardon did not require that people prove they are ‘productive members of society’ already. To be eligible,

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Anger and affluenza

justice (flickr hope4happines)

It seems that many feel Ethan Couch – the teen who killed four people while drunk driving – will finally get what he deserves, after he recently violated the terms of his probation and fled to Mexico. Justice, finally! But can we really speak of justice, when young people, even if they do commit a horrendous crime, are locked up for a decade?

It is absolutely clear that Couch cannot get away with what he did. But is 10 years of probation and mandatory treatment for alcohol and drug abuse – his sentence in 2014 – equal to ‘getting away’ with a crime? Are we willing to imagine that being under supervision until one is 26 years old, with the threat of imprisonment hanging above one’s head, will actually inflict pain and thus be experienced as a severe punishment, especially for a teen or young adult? Are we willing to take a step back and think about what would be an sensible approach to the crime committed by Couch?

Equality

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Dubbele ongelijkheid door eigen bijdrage detentie

coins (flickr final gather)

[This blog post appeared in English on Leiden Law Blog: Letting offenders pay]

In de discussie over de eigen bijdrage voor gedetineerden zijn al verschillende argumenten genoemd die pleiten tegen invoering van de maatregel. Een van de bezwaren is dat het leidt tot rechtsongelijkheid: 16 euro per dag in detentie raakt gedetineerden met een zwakke financiële positie harder dan meer welvarende gedetineerden.

Betalingsregeling

De regering erkent in de Memorie van Toelichting dat een groot deel van de gedetineerden een zwakke financiële positie heeft: cijfers van het WODC laten zien dat ongeveer 70 procent van de gedetineerden bij aanvang van detentie al (forse) schulden heeft. De regering zegt rekening te houden met de inkomenspositie van ex-gedetineerden door de mogelijkheid van een betalingsregeling dan wel uitstel van betaling te bieden. Maar uitgangspunt is dat iedere gedetineerde betaalt – de verjaringstermijn voor inning kan zelfs worden verlengd – en dus dat de eigenbijdrageregeling tot rechtsongelijkheid leidt, zoals ook Reclassering Nederland vaststelt.

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Punishing unemployment?

In a blog post for Leiden Law Blog I ask whether sentencing disparity based on work status should be acceptable. Recent research found that ethnic disparity in sentencing is partly explained by the fact that judges take into account whether offenders are employed or not: unemployed offenders are sent to prison more often than employed offenders. What are the consequences in terms of rehabilitation? And: is it fair, given that for every job vacancy there are six unemployed people (as the graph below shows). Read the full post here (500 words): Sentencing the unemployed offender.

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