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December 3, 2016

Another detailed and depressing report on the harms of bad sentencing in the nation's capital

The Washington Post has run a series of articles under the title Second-Chance City seeking to thoroughly "examine issues related to repeat violent offenders in the District of Columbia." The latest lengthy article in the series, headlined "Second-chance law for young criminals puts violent offenders back on D.C. streets," tells a bunch of sad and sobering stories. It starts this way

Hundreds of criminals sentenced by D.C. judges under an obscure local law crafted to give second chances to young adult offenders have gone on to rob, rape or kill residents of the nation’s capital.

The original intent of the law was to rehabilitate inexperienced criminals under the age of 22.  The District’s Youth Rehabilitation Act allows for shorter sentences for some crimes and an opportunity for offenders to emerge with no criminal record.  But a Washington Post investigation has found a pattern of violent offenders returning rapidly to the streets and committing more crimes.  Hundreds have been sentenced under the act multiple times.

In dozens of cases, D.C. judges were able to hand down Youth Act sentences shorter than those called for under mandatory minimum laws designed to deter armed robberies and other violent crimes.  The criminals have often repaid that leniency by escalating their crimes of violence upon release.

In 2013, four masked men entered the home of a family in Northeast Washington, held them at gunpoint and ransacked the house.  One of the invaders, Shareem Hall, was sentenced under the Youth Act. He was released on probation in 2015.  Almost exactly a year later, Hall and a co-conspirator shot a 22-year-old transgender woman, Deeniquia Dodds, during a robbery in the District, according to charging documents.  It is unclear who pulled the trigger.  Police said the pair were targeting transgender females.  Dodds died nine days later.  “You’re telling me you can come back out on the streets and rob again, hold people hostage again, kill again — because of the Youth Act?” said Joeann Lewis, Dodds’s aunt.

Hall is one of at least 121 defendants sentenced under the Youth Act who have gone on to be charged with murder in the District since 2010, according to The Post’s analysis of available sentencing data and court records.  Four of the slayings, including the killing of Dodds, occurred while the defendants could still have been incarcerated for previous crimes under mandatory minimum sentencing, and 30 of the killings took place while the suspects were on probation.

Youth Act offenders accounted for 1 in 5 suspects arrested on homicide charges in the District since 2010, a period that has seen a recent surge in homicides and growing public concern about repeat violent offenders.  The cycle of violence has been largely shrouded from public view or oversight. D.C. judges do not track the use of the law, which provides a collection of benefits to violent felons that experts say does not exist anywhere else in the country.

After a young adult is convicted of a crime, the Youth Act allows judges to decide whether the offender can benefit from rehabilitation and should receive special treatment.  The law gives felons a chance to have their convictions expunged from the public record if they serve out their sentences or complete their probation.  Because of the way the law was written, Youth Act offenders also can avoid mandatory prison time for certain violent gun crimes.  The Post also found that judges applying the Youth Act generally give lighter sentences across the board.

The law was enacted in 1985 during the mayoral administration of Marion Barry (D), at a time when jails were being filled with young men charged with drug crimes, in an attempt to protect African American youths from the stigma of lengthy prison sentences. “We have a value in this city that youthful offenders should be rehabilitated,” said D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser. “But I don’t think anybody expects leniency for violent criminals.”

The judges declined The Post’s requests for interviews and also declined to comment about specific cases. In a written statement, the judges said they weigh many factors in sentencing, including the ages of offenders and the effect of their crimes on the victims. “In considering whether to sentence a young person under the Youth Act, generally judges are aware that a felony conviction can create lifelong obstacles to becoming a good and productive citizen,” wrote Lynn Leibovitz and Milton Lee, who are, respectively, the presiding judge and deputy presiding judge of the criminal division of the D.C. Superior Court.

December 3, 2016 at 03:53 PM | Permalink


'rat justice. Not much else you can say. DC is just another Dem-run disaster area. But Joe will blame all the killing on laws allowing law-abiding people to own firearms.

Typical 'rat line of attack. Create a disaster and blame others for it.

Hmmm, I wonder how many of these guys, if Obama had a son, would look like Obama.

Posted by: federalist | Dec 3, 2016 10:08:27 PM

The heart of the article:

"Hall is one of at least 121 defendants sentenced under the Youth Act who have gone on to be charged with murder in the District since 2010, according to The Post’s analysis of available sentencing data and court records. Four of the slayings, including the killing of Dodds, occurred while the defendants could still have been incarcerated for previous crimes under mandatory minimum sentencing, and 30 of the killings took place while the suspects were on probation."

Charged? Do the police seek out those sentenced under the Youth Act? How many were convicted? Of the 121 slayings, "only"* 4 were freed because of the Youth Act. Apparently, for all the others , there was enough time lapse to where the Youth Act was irrelevant. In other words, Youth Act or mandatory minimum, they would have been free. Were there any successes in the Youth Act? How many went on crime free or became less violent than if they graduated from prison gladiator school? In other words, there is not enough information here to know if the Youth Act overall saved lives. We can't know if we don't know the success rate. Even if we knew the success rate, that would not guarantee what percentage of them were diverted from murder.

All that said, the shock of the article is effective.

*"only" is in quotes because it is never right to say there were "only" X number of murders. It is not prudent to say that is a good thing, and so the scale is always tipped. Joeann Lewis, Dodds’s aunt, would rightfully reject "only".

Posted by: George | Dec 4, 2016 1:00:12 AM

And Doug, doesn't this look like an example of the "urban discount" I've mentioned in the past?

Posted by: federalist | Dec 5, 2016 10:15:52 AM

federalist, do you think ALL defendants --- black/white, rich/poor, violent/nonviolent --- get the benefit of the "urban discount"? Or do you think only some in urban regions get it? Also, is it really an urban DISCOUNT or is it really a function of a rural UPCHARGE. In the death penalty literature, there is much made about the regions that use the death penalty the most, and it seems folks doing that research are lamenting a (mostly) rural UPCHARGE rather than an urban discount. (Though in Ohio the story gets even more complicated because we had through the 1990s and 2000s many more capital charges in Cleveland's county, but many more capital sentences in Cincinnati's county.)

Posted by: Doug B. | Dec 5, 2016 10:41:41 AM

Doug, I don't know---I just know that, generally speaking, and there's research on this cited in this blog, that crime in urban areas generally is not punished as harshly as say, bedroom suburbs, particularly where the suburb has control of who the judges/prosecutors are. Don't know the beneficiaries, but in DC, it's certainly concentrated among minority defendants.

This is structural lenience towards minority criminals--and it's something that doesn't seem to make its way into the "criminal justice system is racist" discussion.

Posted by: federalist | Dec 5, 2016 11:34:21 AM

Professor Berman, did you find the Post article as mystifying as I did? The point seems to be that people getting Youth Act sentences sometimes reoffend, but that is true of all people. So wouldn't this article need to somehow show that Youth Act offenders reoffend sooner or more frequently than others? That analysis seems to be completely missing. This article stikes me as seeking to assign blame to a pervasive and quite complex problem without statistics or analysis to support the article's conclusions. I would be curious to hear your opinions.

Posted by: DG | Dec 5, 2016 3:17:37 PM

federalist: if there truly is "a kind of structural lenience towards minority criminals," what explains the new data from NY Times about the NY prison and parole system seemingly being much harsher toward minorities? Similarly, federalist, how do you explain the US Sentencing Commission's post-Booker data suggesting black offenders are getting sentences 20% harsher than white offenders?

In my view, and this also serves as a response to DG, no aspect of our criminal justice system can be readily understood or explained via sound bites like "urban discount" or "more guns = less crime" or more prison means less offending or "structural lenience towards minority criminals," or really any other short-hand slogan. Humans and human legal systems are much too complicated and dynamic to be easily summarized.

That said, I do think a bunch of (too simple) heuristics often influence how humans make complicated decisions/assessments in criminal justice systems and errors will follow the flaws of the selected heuristic. I surmise that in DC there is a working view under the Youth Act that it is always better to cut a kid a break (and another break) rather than punish harshly. The result will sometimes be repeat crimes from those given breaks. In other places, the working heuristic may be always be tough-and-tougher because long prison terms at least keep the public safer from that one individual in the short term.

Posted by: Doug B. | Dec 5, 2016 5:51:18 PM

I don't see how NY State's treatment of minority prisoners in a particular prison says one thing or another about the relative lenience of many urban jurisdictions towards criminals (e.g., more likely to get a plea deal, more liberal judges, lighter sentences) and its effect on how race and sentences correlate. That's just another example of bad argumentation on your part---it's hard to deny that major urban jurisdictions tend to be less harsh on criminals and given that, there would tend, all other things being equal, to result in minority defendants getting less time on the whole than non-minority defendants. Of course, other factors may wash this out when looking at things as a whole---but a white defendant in say Johnson County Indiana is far more likely to have the hammer dropped on him than a black defendant in Lake County Indiana all things being equal (the criminal act, the criminal history).

As for minority defendants and Booker--I fail to see how federal statistics say anything about my point--namely, that urban jurisdictions tend to be more lenient (I call this the urban discount) and that "favors" minority criminals based on demography.

You can see a similar phenomenon with respect to the percentage of white murderers who have been executed for murder.. 57% of those executed since 1976 have been white, and non-Hispanic whites do not account for anywhere close to the number of murders in the US.

And once again, we have the Doug miasma of words. He can't come out and say that no, federalist is wrong, there is no urban discount, so he'll make illogical arguments about Booker and a random NY State prison. And to boot say that it's too simplistic. but you can best believe that savvy criminals know where the jurisdictional boundaries are.

The upshot, of course, is that the criminal justice system IS complicated, and my point, which I thought clear, is that the urban discount is part and parcel of that complexity.

I know it's hard to admit Doug---the faculty lounge just won't have it.

Posted by: federalist | Dec 6, 2016 7:03:03 AM

federalist, you seem to be the one dodging here, as I was taking seriously and trying to unpack your "urban discount" claim to see if you were really talking about just urban sentencing or were really trying to sneak in a point about the sentencing of people of color.

We can look at, for example, fraud sentences or child porn sentences or marijuana sentences in the federal (or perhaps some state) system and see various ways an "urban discount" may be operating. Consider the prosecution of simple marijuana possession offenses as recently reported by the US Sentencing Commission: "In fiscal year 2013, 40 districts reported at least one offender who was convicted of simple possession of marijuana. The vast majority of the marijuana simple possession offenders were sentenced in a single district, the District of Arizona... Following Arizona, the district with the greatest number of offenders was the Western District of Texas with 107 offenders (4.9% of the total) followed by the Eastern District of Virginia with 34 offenders (1.6%). Of the remaining districts reporting simple possession offenses, the majority reported fewer than ten marijuana simple possession offenders (32 districts). Fifteen of these districts sentenced only a single offender and 54 districts reported no marijuana possession offenders in fiscal year 2013."

Or lets look at federal fraud and CP sentences in SDNY: http://www.ussc.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/research-and-publications/federal-sentencing-statistics/state-district-circuit/2015/nys15.pdf. According to FY2015 data, nationwide the mean fraud sentence was 35 months, in SDNY it was 30 months; nationwide the median CP sentence was 157 months, in SDNY it was 101 months.
Of course, to fully unpack and understand these number requires engaging with a complicated urban/rural case processing reality that has lots of different kinds of moving parts.

BUT, and here is the rub, I sumise you federalist are really trying to talk about racial sentencing issues not geography issue when talking up an "urban discount." Indeed, you pull back the curtain when you assert that there is some kind of "structural lenience towards minority criminals." It was this comment that prompted my citation to just two of the latest serious student which seem to show, in fact, a kind of structural SEVERITY towards minority criminals. Indeed, given the considerable data of racial disparities in case processing ALONG WITH your not-unreasonable claim that all in urban centers get a kind of geography discount, you should be especially worried about the reality behind the stark statistical data driving "the criminal justice system is racist discussion." After all, if there is an urban discount, and yet still data shows offenders of color from urban areas do worse than white offenders in rural areas, this would be even great proof that race rather than geography is driving parts of our criminal justice system.

federalist, I am willing/eager to admit what words and data show. Your words show that you throw around "urban discount" to hide what I surmise is you your suspect belief that whites are treated more harshly than persons of color in US criminal justice systems. In other words, I do not think you are wrong, federalist, about an "urban discount," but I do think you are wrong to claim that US justice systems reject "a kind of structural lenience towards minority criminals."

So, if you want to continue the discussion, federalist, please try to be clear about the sentencing biases your care about. Is it a geographic bias that concerns you or a racial bias? When you say "urban" are you really trying to say "black" in a more polite way? Your own failure to state candidly and clearly the true nature of your "discount" concern, federalist, leads to my confusion and commentary. So please try to clear that up if you want to continue.

Posted by: Doug B. | Dec 6, 2016 9:39:49 AM

Doug, please read what I have written. You want to obfuscate with white-collar stuff and generalized claims about racial bias or idiosyncratic federal districts. Fine. Make them--but they don't have much to do with what I am saying--the DC lenience towards youth benefits young minority criminals, given the demographics in DC--and the same sort of thing that animates that lenience (more liberal) manifests itself in places like Chicago. That tends to benefit minority criminals, particularly violent ones. And that's part of the "criminal justice system is racist" conversation. Why is this so hard to admit?

And by the by, urban areas also tend to be easier on plea agreements, which is a hidden benefit to those who happen to commit crimes there. So let me ask you--from a hammer perspective, all other things being equal-who is more likely to be the nail, a minority home invasion rapist in a courtroom on 26th and California or a white rapist in Will County, Illinois?

Posted by: federalist | Dec 6, 2016 1:37:40 PM

I have read what you have written, federalist, and you have referenced a general "urban discount" as well as "structural lenience towards minority criminals." Now you are changing your tune again, it seems, to focus on (just?) DC and Chicago, and are now asserting that a kind of liberal lenience in these cities "tends to benefit minority criminals, particularly violent ones."

Just what are you precisely claiming/saying, federalist? Are you saying ALL violent criminals in ALL big cities get sentencing breaks relative to similar criminals in rural areas? Are you saying ONLY minority criminals in ONLY some big cities get sentencing breaks relative to similar non-minority criminals in rural areas? I am sincerely trying to understand just what you are claiming with your statements, federalist, and also wondering if your views are based entirely on anecdotes or have any statistical foundation. (E.g., if we want to play the anecdote game, how do we compare Brock Turner and Cory Batey as race and sexual offenses go? http://www.kansascity.com/news/nation-world/national/article82781372.html)

Notably, the folks at the Sentencing Project recently did a big report with state-by-state racial break downs of incarceration levels in various states: http://www.sentencingproject.org/publications/color-of-justice-racial-and-ethnic-disparity-in-state-prisons/

And some years ago PPI looked at how certain laws enhancing punishment based on location were applied more in urban areas: https://www.prisonpolicy.org/zones/urban.html

And the NY Times looked at this recently in another way: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/02/upshot/new-geography-of-prisons.html?_r=0

I bring all this up only because you often like to throw out sloppy statements, federalist, and then fail to carefully explain what you are really trying to say with these sloppy statements. I think that you are trying to assert that (some?) urban sentencing systems are too nice to (some?) minority defendants. If that is your claim, just make it and ideally make it with reference to data so all can better understand the basis for your claim.

Posted by: Doug B. | Dec 6, 2016 6:04:53 PM

Doug, I am not changing my tune.

(1) You don't really dispute that sentencing harshness (for lack of a better term) isn't uniform across jurisdictions. Nor do you dispute that the criminal demographic (for lack of a better term) isn't uniform either.

(2) You don't really dispute that, from the standpoint of urban areas vs. suburban/rural, on the whole, in this country that urban areas are more lenient when it comes to criminals in terms of availability of pleas and sentencing. Chicago, for example, isn't known for its harshness on criminals.

What you do is to suggest that I am saying that minority criminals get a break in urban areas. I'm sure that happens, just like I'm sure that white defendants sometimes get unjustified breaks too. See, e.g., James Burmeister. As for minority defendants, check out the UT rape where a minority rapist urinated on a white victim and said "this is for 400 years of slavery"---and the black judge handed down the minimum. But that's not my point, and you know it. What I am saying is that many areas where minority defendants tend to be concentrated also happen to be lenient on crime, and that fact creates structural lenience towards minority defendants. It's not favoritism towards minorities, as, presumably, white defendants in those areas profit from the same lenience (e.g., Daley's nephew). But it matters---and should be part of the conversation. Like I asked---who is more likely to get the hammer, all things being equal--white home invasion rapist in Will County or minority home invasion rapist being tried at 26th and California? That's the reality. The urban discount is actual personal. My dad's best friend was "manslaughtered""---he was the victim of a stray bullet being aimed at some criminal rival. In any sane jurisdiction that's murder through the doctrine of "transferred intent"--but not in New York City. The assailant wasn't even charged with murder.

I am very dubious of a lot of the studies that look at convictions and sentencing, as they don't take into consideration plea deals (and often don't take into consideration criminal history). I remember one cited on the Washington Post editorial page about juveniles which did not. A pled down crime doesn't measure actual criminal conduct.

You know all this, yet choose to engage in sophistry.

Posted by: federalist | Dec 7, 2016 8:28:43 AM


1. Sentencing disparity is a statistical fact measured in lots of ways in lots of studies with lots of (sometimes conflicting) results. So to are differences in criminal offending (see, e.g., men v women). Not much to dispute there unless living in a fantasy world.

2. But I dispute forcefully that "on the whole, in this country urban areas are more lenient when it comes to criminals in terms of availability of pleas and sentencing." What is your data/support/evidence for this assertion referencing ALL (or even most) "urban areas"? As you should know, "Urban" Houston and NOLA and Miami are MUCH different in all sorts of obvious and not-so-obvious criminal case-processing ways than "urban" Chicago and DC and Detroit. Indeed, I know very well and can show you many stats that, even just in Ohio, "urban" Cleveland is much different than urban Columbus and urban Cincinnati and urban Toledo and urban Akron and urban Dayton. Anecdotes of a few cases from Chicago or DC or elsewhere does not alone support your blanket claims.

3. I now get, because you have finally stated it directly, that your main point seems to be the claim that "many areas where minority defendants tend to be concentrated also happen to be lenient on crime, and that fact creates structural lenience towards minority defendants." This fact is demonstrably false in so many ways, especially if one considers that the states with highest black populations by % -- e.g., Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, Maryland, South Carolina, Alabama --- all are states with among the highest incarceration rates. And federal sentencing data also shows those minority defendants brought into the federal system for drug offenses get slammed harder than non-minority defendants (sometimes due to formal legal factors like the crack/powder disparity and use of MMs in drug cases, other times dues to softer discretionary decisions).

4. What I know federalist is that you believe a few anecdotes, filtered through your own subjective biased lens, establishes something in your own self-serving mind that many rigorous studies/data suggest is demonstrably false. So I also now know this conversation is yet another example, of which there are plenty on this blog, of federalist whining about a CJ discourse that focuses on data/measured reality rather than on the cherry-picked cases that federalist self-servingly believes are more representative of reality. I know you like your bubble, federalist, but I also know it readily bursts if and whenever I ask you to really try to back up your actual claims.

Posted by: Doug B. | Dec 7, 2016 10:12:43 AM

I agree with you that state laws will have an effect on this as well and that I should have made more clear that the idea is relative lenience within a state. I would have thought that somewhat obvious given that my two examples were intra-state, but that's fine. And I completely agree that harsher state regimes will skew the numbers as well. (of course, if we're looking at nationwide stats, that skew should be corrected for if the idea is racial bias--of course, it's not, so we have a flawed conclusion--that Alabama has chosen to be meaner to criminals and that, due to demographics, skews the numbers nationwide, actually explains some of the disparity that everyone whines about--I'd also guess that, within Alabama, there are non-uniform applications of those harsh laws)

I actually find it fascinating that you lump in "softer sentencing factors" with "legal factors"--if legal factors cause a disparity, that disparity really isn't attributable to racial bias, and to use those numbers to inflate the disparities is sophistry.

Like I said, this is all part of the conversation. The real issue, it seems to me, is that if, within a particular jurisdiction (county or federal district) that race isn't a factor when it comes to the criminal justice response.

There is an urban discount in a lot of areas (and you'll note, of course, that "urban discount" presupposes a discount from something, i.e., state law, so that's another reason you shouldn't have tried to play gotcha with raising tough on crime states with relatively high minority populations).

And no, I didn't mention those cases as representative of general reality (although you'll focus on one capital case in Georgia and ask if race was a part of it)---I mentioned them to show that race does sometimes seem to have an effect on sentencing outcomes. And that's not acceptable.

Your vehemence here seems odd--the issue of race and sentencing is so much more than pointing at minorities being overrepresented in terms of our prison population. There are a lot of non-racial factors which explain that disparity, and those non-racial factors (i.e., tough on crime laws in Alabama), and that gets short shrift, and the defensiveness that you have when I also point out that it's probably better to be a black defendant in Baltimore City than a white one in Western Maryland for the same conduct, all other things being equal, is telling.

Posted by: federalist | Dec 7, 2016 11:56:03 AM

federalist: what is the basis for your blanket assertion that "it's probably better to be a black defendant in Baltimore City than a white one in Western Maryland for the same conduct" without any evidence/data to support this assertion. Can you cite to ANY case processing data from Maryland to support this claim? Here are some efforts to study racial disparity in Maryland sentencing:
Neither of these studies (though they are dated) would seem to support your claim at all.

I am not being "defensive" about your assertion. Rather I just want to understand if it has any real-world basis other than being a figment of your fertile imagination, federalist. (Moreover, your blanket assertion is problematic not only because it seems contradicted by extant data, but also because it seems to leave out the potential impact and import of policing practices and prosecutorial resources -- i.e., a whole lot of crime (especially drug crimes) surely goes unreported and unprosecuted in Western Maryland because there are less police/prosecutors working cases than are on the job in Baltimore City. Similarly, and this is the story I know well in Ohio, very few capital prosecutions are even started in rural areas often because rural county DAs lack the resources to pursue capital cases effectively. In contrast, urban county DAs often have special teams of prosecutors to bring capital cases.)

And, critically, I "lump in" formal sentencing factors when discussing racially-disparate sentencing outcomes because it is often clear that certain factors become or remain legally significant because of their racialized practical impact. The crack/powder disparity is the most obvious example of an extreme "legal" sentencing factor that has obvious racial overtones, but there are many others (e.g., school zone enhancements, certain gang enhancements, often juve bindover etc.)

Also, I do not accept your "discount" phrasing, which is why I asked you to explain your meaning from the get-go. I do not believe there is ever an obvious "right" sentence from which some get a "discount." This is not simple accounting, this is complicated sentencing, which is a dynamic process that is not well understood by using the kind of simplistic, sound-bite phrases/thinking that too often seems to be your stock-and-trade, federalist.

yet again, federalist, when I press you to explain what you think you mean when you throw out simplistic, sound-bite phrases, we end with so much backtracking gobbledygook from you. It makes me often wonder why I even bother to try to see if there is anything of merit or substance below your rhetoric.

Posted by: Doug B. | Dec 7, 2016 3:38:20 PM

Did those studies take into consideration plea bargains, and are you really seriously contending that Baltimore City is a tough on crime jurisdiction as compared to other parts of the state? Certainly not compared to Baltimore County . . . .

I'll go through your nonsense later . . . .

Posted by: federalist | Dec 7, 2016 6:34:46 PM

And yeah, I am well aware that rural jurisdictions can't really get to death because of costs, but that doesn't seem to help white murderers who are overrepresented when it comes to those actually executed for murder in the US. Funny how that reality never comes up in the disparity discussion

Posted by: federalist | Dec 7, 2016 6:36:08 PM

federalist, I am not contending anything, but rather continuing to seek some/any substantiation for your assertion that "it's probably better to be a black defendant in Baltimore City than a white one in Western Maryland for the same conduct." I am not saying this assertion is wrong, I am just looking for more than just your say so.

Relatedly, do you have substantiation for the assertion that "white murderers ... are overrepresented when it comes to those actually executed for murder in the US"? Candidly, I am not sure what you mean by "overrepresented" here, especially given (1) many studies suggesting race of the VICTIM is a key factor in who gets sentenced to death, and (2) nearly all condemned murderers who waive appeals and move faster to execution are white.

Posted by: Doug B. | Dec 7, 2016 6:47:47 PM

Doug, I'll deal with most of this later, when I get some time. According to DPIC, 57% of those executed since 1976 have been non-Hispanic whites. Non-Hispanic whites don't commit 57% pf murders in this country. Volunteers don't account for the disparity.

And are you saying you're agnostic about Balt. City vs. Balt. County? On the DP, Balt. City used to go for it every time statute was met. That's indicative of a seriously tough on crime jurisdiction.

The victim disparity is not irrelevant to the discussion, but is likely explained by the correlation between the jurisdiction and the composition of murder victims and other non-racial factors.

Posted by: federalist | Dec 8, 2016 7:38:14 AM

Some quick data points:

1. DPIC counts 141 of the executed as volunteers, so that can skew the racial numbers of who is executed somewhat significantly. (E.g., the total white executed population excluding volunteers is close to 50% of total executed which is itself not so far from the general % murder rate for non-Hispanic whites

2. The race of victim data is a real skewing factor here, as over 75% of victims in DP-given cases were non-Hispanic white, but whites are only about 50% of all homicide victims.

3. Texas alone skews these numbers, as it accounts for nearly 50% of all executed whites nationwide, and 75% of all executed Latinos, but only about 20% of all executed blacks. Take out Texas (and volunteers), and whites end up being arguably underrepresented when it comes to those actually executed for murder in the US.

4. All comparisons here are crude comparisons anyway, because the proper comparison needs to be of DP eligible murders/murderers, and those are not easy data to collect.

On the Balt. City vs. Balt. County front, I thought your point/claim was that Balt. City was lenient, but now re DP you seem to be saying the urban area is "a seriously tough on crime jurisdiction." Again, it seems that as we drill into your silly sound-bites, out flows confusing backtracking gobbledygook.

Posted by: Doug B. | Dec 8, 2016 5:30:26 PM

I meant Balt. County sought DP every time--it did--you can look that up.

As for the DP, I don't agree that volunteers shouldn't be in the count. Maybe some discount, but not excluded. But more to the point, you're wrong---non-Hispanic whites do not account for 50% of the murders in this country.

As for DP, you could be (likely are) mistaking correlation for causation. Geography likely plays a huge role in the skewing of those stats.

As fot the rest . . . . the Maryland stuff seems long on whining and short on facts. I should have stopped reading after the study recited the nonsense about drug use across races. Drug use isn't a proxy for criminal behavior likely to attract the attention of the criminal justice system. And gee, people with access to better lawyers have better outcomes . . . . surprise surprise.

Posted by: federalist | Dec 11, 2016 10:42:13 AM

federalist, lots of (too quick) replies:

1. That Baltimore County seeks DP every time is not poof of "toughness" --- same was true of Cuyahoga County in OH for a long period because a particular prosecutor was using a DP charge to grease a plea deal AND because a DP charge ensured a defendant got a better attorney appointed. In contrast, the real tough local prosecutor, Joe Deters in Hamilton County, was sparing with his DP charging but then refused to plea down EVER once charge brought. And this is why a larger % of OH murderers on the row come from Hamilton county. Long story short: charging policies is only a small part of the entire case-processing reality.

2. Here is the latest UCR data on homicide: https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2015/crime-in-the-u.s.-2015/tables/expanded_homicide_data_table_3_murder_offenders_by_age_sex_and_race_2015.xls

You will see that a big "unknown" category skews matters so it makes it hard to do a crisp race assessment. But you must also see that a large % of murder by people of color are committed by persons under 22, which is a population rarely given/considered for DP (and, of course, those under 18 are not eligible for DP). When you control for age and other key victim variables (e.g., DP more likely if you kill a woman, which whites do more), the execution data look fairly reflective of the "real" DP murder date. (Here is the victim data showing white are much more likely to kill women than other races: https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2015/crime-in-the-u.s.-2015/tables/expanded_homicide_data_table_6_murder_race_and_sex_of_vicitm_by_race_and_sex_of_offender_2015.xls

3. How am I confusing correlation for causation when noting Texas data skews national execution data? I am not trying to make either a correlation or causation argument, I am just trying to unpack with some specificity and precision your misguided and/or incomplete and/or sloppy assertion that "white murderers ... are overrepresented when it comes to those actually executed for murder in the US." Again, as I see it, we just have here yet another example of federalist using a silly sound-bites, from which flows confusing backtracking gobbledygook when I seek to better understand the basis for your silly sound-bite.

Tellingly, federalist, you admit that you stop reading when you come across a statement that does not fit your self-serving world view. That is a great way to ensure your distorted bubbled view of the world does not burst. But lately it seem when I try to take some of what you say seriously to see if it has some solid/valuable foundation, I tend instead to hit a gusher of confusing backtracking gobbledygook. So be it.

Posted by: Doug B. | Dec 11, 2016 7:00:58 PM

Fascinating, Doug, truly fascinating. You cite a situation where the racial particulars of the defendants were cited as reasons for mercy, and then close your eyes to the idea to the possibility that some jurisdictions (not all) may institutionalize lenience. Wow.

I'm strapped for time, so some quick hitters:

(1) I didn't say that I didn't read that Md. study--I said that I wanted to after reading the nonsense about drug usage rates. I'm surprised that you would actually cite to a study with that nonsense--or do you really think it all that enlightening?

(2) Non-Hispanic white murderers are overrepresented. Bottom line. The significance of that fact is, as I've said in this forum before, is open to debate, but we constantly hear comparisons of minority rates of incarceration---so why is this fact ignored? Because it doesn't fit the narrative.

(3) The white victim disparity could very well confuse cause for effect. If you look at the Paternoster study, for example, you see that geography is what counted. Other factors (resources, jury pools etc.,) likely account for a lot of that. So for example, SC has 7 W/B executions. Does that mean that SC is harsh on W/B killings? Or does it mean that those 7 executions represented reprehensible crimes in jurisdictions with the resources and will to prosecute?

(4) Are white killers more likely to choose women or are whites generally more likely to kill women?

Posted by: federalist | Dec 12, 2016 11:00:53 AM

Perhaps because of the limits of this medium, federalist, I am struggling to even understand your references. Let me just try to understand what you are saying:

A. You say I "cite a situation where the racial particulars of the defendants were cited as reasons for mercy," but I do not understand what this is a reference to. What situation did I cite in this way, and in which prior comment? I am not trying to be snarky, I am just trying to understand what you are referencing as "fascinating."

B. I cited the MD study as an example of a study that would seem to contradict your assertions, which you continue to fail to provide any evidentiary support for. I am not asserting the MD study is gospel, rather I was just showcasing that a little research reveals (1) no data to support your sound-bite assertions, and (2) some data to contradict your sound-bites. And I am still awaiting any support you could provide for your sound bites other than "because I say so."

C. Non-Hispanic white murderers are NOT overrepresented among those executed when you control just a few obviously relevant homicide/execution factors such as executing state/appeals process AND the race/gender of the murder victims. That you want to dispute/deny this reality suggest you are desperate to cling to a racial narrative to serve your world-view despite obvious evidence to the contrary.

You are starting to dig into relevant questions with points (3) and (4) that need to be explored before one could or should state in a blanket way that "Non-Hispanic white murderers are overrepresented" among those executed. The irony here, in my view, is that I largely agree with your (core?) belief that a lot of studies that claim this or that outcome is best explained by race in fact overlooks a lot of other factors. (In the federal system, I think factors related directly and indirectly to socio-economic status and local/state-punishment norms explain a lot of what gets coded and perceived to be race bias in federal sentencing outcomes.)

In other words, federalist, you make the same mistake that you assail in others when you cling to the assertion that "Non-Hispanic white murderers are overrepresented" among those executed. There are many factors --- some legally relevant, some not --- that have little or nothing to do with race that helps account for execution patterns. Same goes for death sentencing and every other multi-dimensional, multi-actor outcome in the CJ system.

Posted by: Doug B. | Dec 12, 2016 11:42:28 AM

(A) The post, not the commentary, quotes the idea that we need to be lenient based on racial particulars. Sorry I wasn't more specific.

(B) I don't see how the MD study proves up anything.

(C) Argh, this is frustrating. I am citing the white murderer and executed thing not to say that the DP system is biased against white killers, but as an example of how simplistic "overrepresented" arguments often are. In other words, the "criminal justice system is racist" people need to deal with these facts.

I don't doubt, and I never have argued otherwise, that race does not have some effects on who gets what (and I mean race, not other things associated with race such as family means) sentence. I also know that in some jurisdictions, e.g., Chicago (and all you have to do is pay attention to the news), there is a softness on crime that happens to benefit criminals. Just like if a high minority state is tough on crime, it's going to skew results, but, and here's the important thing, the skew isn't evidence of racism. What I don't like is the idea that we have to be nicer to criminals because the numbers "don't look good," and that underpins a lot of the commentary. I don't particularly care that a particular hammer (e.g., kiddie porn) happens to hit white criminals hard. And so, I reject the idea that because Texas or Alabama tends to be tough on crime that we need to worry that makes the numbers bad. What I do care about---lenience/harshness specifically based on race.

If Chicago decides to get tougher on crime, there will be a demographic effect on the composition of the Illinois prison system. So what? We saw what lenience did in DC--it resulted in a lot of unnecessary and brutal crimes.

And "overrepresented" by the way, is simply a descriptor--just like whites are overrepresented in terms of CP prisoners in the federal system.

Posted by: federalist | Dec 12, 2016 1:48:30 PM

(A) okay, now I understand, federalist, though I hope you are not just now trying to shoot me as the messenger: I cite a whole lot of news and commentary in ways that are never meant as an endorsement nor even as a suggestion of accuracy. I lack the time, energy, staff and interest to "peer review" all that I reprint here. I just want to be a conduit (and a sometimes commentator) when my own time, energy and interest permits.

(B) whether the MD study proves anything still does not speak to whether you have any serious/systematic data/evidence to support your rural/urban sentencing claims, and I still want you to provide me with some evidence for the claim so I can know if it has more support than just "federalist says so."

(C) I think we both agree that sound-bite statements about race and CJ outcomes can often be overly-simplistic and fail to confront important facts and factors. But the recent newspaper study of Florida sentencing and lots of other research efforts do some pretty rigorous reviews of sentencing and other CJ outcomes that often suggest at least some race impact in some ways. Those race impact results may often be the result of a failure to be able to pick up lots of potentially significant factors that are very hard to "code" such as factors like, e.g., quality of defense counsel, family support for defendant, race/sex/status/family of victims, etc.

As we have drilled more into this discussion, I think we are coming to similar points. At the same time, I wonder what you need is the "right" systemic response to what might be called "discrimination/disparity in lenience": if, say, rich white drug dealers are, on average, getting 2 years in prison and comparable poor black drug dealers are, on average, getting 4 years in prison, how should the system respond? Would you advocate for changes that increase the odds that everyone gets 2 years or that everyone gets 4 years? And what if, as is not crazy to believe, ONLY by bringing severity down across the board do we have a realistic chance to minimize the harms of "lenience/harshness specifically based on race."

Long-story short as a lesson, perhaps: sound-bites (e.g., "racist" or "urban discount") can be distorting and distracting when dealing with complex systems, so let's all try to avoid using them.

Posted by: Doug B. | Dec 12, 2016 2:46:58 PM

I think the "urban discount" is a very good shorthand term for places like Chicago (particularly when compared to collar counties). And it ain't just federalist saying so . . . . just read Chicago newspapers . . . . and you'll see enough sentences that just boggle one's mind (either from a current standpoint or a looking back, i.e., why was the guy out on the street). "Lake County rapsheet" isn't something I made up, and you yourself cited a Johnson County prosecutor who prosecuted to the max (as compared to Marion County, i.e., Indianapolis).

Perhaps in Alabama, the dynamic isn't the same. Who knows?

Posted by: federalist | Dec 12, 2016 5:05:02 PM

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