Recently in Rehabilitation Category

Sasha Volokh has a couple of posts (here and here) at the Volokh Conspiracy on the question of whether faith-based prisons actually "work," i.e. produce a lower recidivism rate than the same prisoners would have had in regular prisons.  The difficulty in answering that question is the "selection bias" problem, as indicated by the title of the second post, "What if faith-based prison programs just attract better prisoners?"

"Evidence-based practices" has become a buzzword in corrections, but for the reasons Volokh points out, much of the "evidence" is nearly worthless.

After yesterday's introduction to the topic, today I'll talk about how the self-selection problem makes any evaluation of faith-based programs with regular programs problematic. I'll illustrate with some of the most problematic studies, which show the self-selection problem in its most naked form. I'll then show some of the better studies, which control for certain important variables, but I'll explain why even those are inadequate to solve the self-selection problem.
The problem is not by any means limited to faith-based programs.  It permeates the whole field.  As long as the "treatment group" and the "control group" are selected in a way that makes them different in their attitude toward going straight, the study is essentially garbage.  Random selection and large sample sizes are necessary to valid studies, but random selection is a tough sell.  Can we really assign people to rehabilitation programs in a lottery, denying the guy who wants it and assigning the one who doesn't give a damn?
Is that "navigator" who is supposed to help you through ObamaCare enrollment, and who gets lots of personal information about you in the process, an honest and trustworthy person?

Maybe not.  National Review Franklin Center Fellow Jillian Kay Melchior appears in this video interview with some disturbing findings.

The Latest Re-Entry Program

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Kent has noted today's Senate hearing at which a couple of witnesses were sufficiently impolite to point out that incarceration works better to tamp down crime than a stern lecture and rehab (see, as to the latter, any number of posts I wrote about Ms. Rehab, Lindsay Lohan).

Still, at some point almost all inmates will be released, and we need to find constructive things for them to do.  The Administration has found one.  Here are the first few paragraphs of the story:

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius admitted Wednesday that it was possible convicted felons could be hired as ObamaCare 'navigators,' giving them access to personal information like Social Security numbers and addresses of anyone signing up for the program.

Sebelius made the admission in an exchange with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas., during a Senate Finance Committee hearing. It was the second time in a week Sebelius was on Capitol Hill, forced to defend the problem-plagued ObamaCare website.

"Isn't it true that there is no federal requirement for navigators to undergo a criminal background check," Cornyn asked her.

"That is true," Sebelius answered. "States could add in additional background checks and other features, but it is not part of the federal requirement."

Cornyn pressed, "So a convicted felon could be a navigator and could acquire sensitive personal information from an individual unbeknownst to them?"

Sebelius answered, "This is possible."

I trust our readers do not include Puritanical dorks who might object to a felon's getting their Social Security numbers.  Don't you people believe in second chances?

What Rehab Actually Looks Like

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Rehab is mostly a con, to the extent it's not a joke.  This is nowhere better illustrated than in the never-ending saga of Ms. Rehab herself, Lindsay Lohan.  I've put up so many posts about Ms. Rehab that I'm not going to try to link them, in part because today's post is about something very different.

The reason rehab is mostly a con is that it takes root in a fundamentally flawed premise  --  that, with the right prison counseling, government programs, employment opportunities, and generally a sufficient degree of Officially Mandated Compassion, wrongdoers will change.  

That is incorrect for the same reason much liberal thinking about crime is incorrect, to wit, it misconceives human nature.  Human beings can change, and they can be redeemed.  But it doesn't happen because of what the government does, no matter how elaborate, expensive or well-intended.  It happens, when it does, because some few people have the courage and honesty to face up to what they've done wrong, and the conscience and inner strength to do better.

That does not mean renting a sleaze-ball shrink to write a long report about how the miscreant has seen the light.  It does not mean taking a brief timeout from your shenanigans before holding a news conference to announce your latest bid to return to prominence, a' la Anthony Wiener, Elliot Spitzer and Mark Sanford.   What rehabilitation actually means is illustrated in today's piece in the Wall Street Journal.

Ms. Rehab Strikes Again

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It didn't take even three months.

I wrote here about the latest stern talking-to by the judge directed to Ms. Rehab herself, Lindsay Lohan.  I also bet any reader who cared to take me up that Ms. Rehab, who has been given approximately 74 "last chances," would be back in trouble in less than a year.

I gave her too much credit.

Today comes the report:

Just when Lindsay Lohan seemed to be making progress in her court-ordered rehab, FOX411's Pop Tarts column has learned that the actress endured "several problems" while in lock down at California's Betty Ford clinic, and will now be getting help elsewhere.

Sources close to the situation tell us the District Attorney approved the change earlier this week, and on Thursday Lohan was being relocated to Cliffside Malibu.

In March, Lohan pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges stemming from the June 2012 car accident; reckless driving and providing false information to a police officer. She was sentenced to 90 days in a lock down rehabilitation center, 30 days of community service, and 18 months of mandated psychotherapy.

Well gosh, at least she'll be getting that "mandated psychotherapy"  --  and at a tough-as-nails place like "Cliffside Malibu."

Study on Halfway Houses

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In the 1960s, America made a terrible mistake.  We believed too easily in experts who supposedly had the answers for corrections.  They knew how to "fix" criminals who were, after all, sick and not evil.  When the fixes were actually subjected to scientific scrutiny to determine which of them worked, the stunning answer was that none of them did.  In the meantime, lax sentencing contributed to the horrific rise in crime, a rise that was brought back down only after we got tough.

Fast-forward 50 years, and those who do not remember this history are working to condemn the nation to repeat it, over the vehement objection of those who do remember.  One of the programs touted to rehabilitate criminals so we won't need to lock so many up is halfway houses.  Or maybe not.  Sam Dolnick has this story in the NYT:

The federal government and states across the country have spent billions of dollars in recent years on sprawling, privately run halfway houses, which are supposed to save money and rehabilitate inmates more effectively than prisons do.

But now, a groundbreaking study by officials in Pennsylvania is casting serious doubt on the halfway-house model, concluding that inmates who spent time in these facilities were more likely to return to crime than inmates who were released directly to the street.

The findings startled the administration of Gov. Tom Corbett, which responded last month by drastically overhauling state contracts with the companies that run the 38 private halfway houses in Pennsylvania. The system costs more than $110 million annually.

Pennsylvania's corrections secretary, John E. Wetzel, who oversaw the study, called the system "an abject failure."
Thanks to Michael Santella for the link.
Dana Nichols has this article on realignment in Calaveras County, California (locale of Mark Twain's first published piece of fiction).

The agencies charged with enforcing laws and supervising criminal offenders in Calaveras County aren't getting along with each other and are bungling key tasks required under California's 2011 criminal justice realignment, according to a county grand jury report.

Along with shifting a lot of incarcerated felons from state prison to county jail, the realignment bill also shifted the supervision of a lot of released felons from the state parole system to county probation offices.  Over the years, probation officers have developed a different culture from parole officers.  I'm sure this is due in large part to the differences in the criminal populations they have supervised.  The people supervised by probation officers in the past were, by definition, those that the judge thought were suitable for probation, largely based on the judge's assessment of their potential for rehabilitation.  Those who ended up being supervised by parole officers tended to be the hardened criminals.  Probation officers therefore tended to develop more of a rehabilitation viewpoint, while parole officers tended toward a viewpoint that their job was to protect the public from this still-dangerous criminal.

Ms. Rehab Gets More Rehab

If Lindsay Lohan didn't exist as an emblem of the unseriousness of criminal law in California, I'd have to invent her.  I mean, willy-nilly releasing criminals under what is, with intentional obscurity, called "realignment," is one thing, but Ms. Rehab is something else.

This is the latest:

Lindsay Lohan agreed to spend 90 days in a "locked in" drug rehab facility as part of a plea deal to settle criminal charges against her Monday.

The actress entered pleas of no contest on two misdemeanor charges relating to a traffic accident last summer, and she did not challenge the finding that she violated her shoplifting probation with those convictions.

This story is so chock full of goodies about the surreal nature of Hollywood justice that it should get some kind of award.  Here's one tidbit: 

She's spent 250 days in five rehab facilities since January 2007, including one long court-ordered stint after a failed drug test.

The actress has appeared in court at least 20 times before four Los Angeles judges who have now found her in violation of probation six times and sentenced her to a total of nine months in jail.

Lohan has spent about two weeks behind bars in six trips to the Los Angeles County jail, served 35 days under house arrest and worked about 67 days of community service at the county morgue.

More goodies follow the break.

Prof. Cecilia Klingele of Wisconsin Law School responded to my critical assessment of her SSRN piece (an assessment I discussed in my earlier entry) with this comment on Sentencing Law and Policy:

A small clarification. The paper does not suggest that community supervision (or any lesser sentence) should replace prison in cases where it is warranted for just punishment or public safety. The paper discusses the proper (and improper) use of community supervision in typical cases involving people whose crimes are minor, whose culpability is low, and/or whose threat to public safety is minimal; and for those who have served their sentences and are transitioning back to their communities. When community supervision is used, of course it should be thoughtful, well-resourced, and carefully executed. My point is that it is often used in ways and for people who would be better punished in differently, be it through jail time, fines, or unconditional discharge. If anything in the paper misleads on that point (or any other), I welcome suggestions for revision and clarification.

My response to her follows the break.  I hope this will turn out to be an extended discussion, because the actual plans and agenda of the "incarceration nation" critics  --  if those plans are implemented  --  are vitally important to any fair assessment of whether the rest of us should support or oppose them.  As readers will see, I continue to have considerable doubts.

The "Incarceration Nation" Shell Game

Hat tip to Doug Berman at Sentencing Law & Policy for pulling the curtain back on the actual agenda of the "incarceration nation" crowd.  This is the group, generally flourishing in academia, the media and (of course) the defense bar, that has been telling us for years that prison is vastly overused in this country, and that we would be just as safe, not to mention more frugal and more humane, to use community supervision instead.  In order to sell this idea, these folks have assured us that community supervision would consist of stringent and carefully monitored oversight of offenders.

OK.  That was then.  This is now.  I'll quote the operational part from the SSRN abstract of a paper written by Prof. Cecelia Klingele of the University of Wisconsin Law School:

To decrease the overuse of imprisonment, sentencing and correctional practices should therefore limit, rather than expand, the use of community supervision in three important ways.

First, terms of community supervision should be imposed in fewer cases, with alternatives ranging from fines to unconditional discharge to short jail terms imposed instead. Second, conditions of probation and post-release supervision should be imposed sparingly, and only when they directly correspond to a risk of re-offense. Finally, terms of community supervision should be limited in duration, extending only long enough to facilitate a period of structured re-integration after sentencing or following a term of incarceration.

Got it.   "Community supervision" was just a head fake. 

I have said for a long time that the end-incarceration crowd was an exercise in deception -- that it was just a mask for the end-punishment crowd. I very much appreciate Prof. Klingele's coming out of the closet to vindicate my assessment.

Social Impact Bonds

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Now here is an interesting idea.  The Big Apple government has this press release.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Linda I. Gibbs and Correction Commissioner Dora B. Schriro today announced that the City will award a contract for the nation's first Social Impact Bond, an innovative way to fund promising new programs at no cost to taxpayers. As part of the Young Men's Initiative, this investment will support a new evidence-based program for young adults on Rikers Island. The program - the Adolescent Behavioral Learning Experience (ABLE) - focuses on personal responsibility education, training and counseling, with the goal of reducing the likelihood of reincarceration. In this new model, private investors fund the intervention through a nonprofit contractor and the government pays the contractor only if the program meets its goals. Goldman Sachs will provide financing, Bloomberg Philanthropies will provide grant support for the effort and MDRC, a leading non-profit, will oversee project implementation.
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An independent evaluation, conducted by the Vera Institute of Justice, will assess the rates of reincarceration and determine the program's effectiveness over time. If the program does not meet its targets for reducing reincarceration, the City pays nothing. For Goldman Sachs to break even on its original investment, the program will need to reduce reincarceration by 10%.
I am deeply skeptical of the claims of "evidence-based" rehabilitation practices, because I know how easy it is for interested parties to produce "evidence" that is complete hogwash.  I also know how the amount of scrutiny that any research receives is strongly influenced by its Political Correctness quotient:  intense and hostile for research with conservative implications and vastly more lax for research with liberal implications.  But if Goldman Sachs' own money is on the line, they will surely examine the evidence of program effectiveness meticulously, and PC quotient be damned.
One flaw I see here is having the Vera Institute do the results evaluation.  That organization has a strong ideological interest in seeing rehabilitation programs declared "effective." A less interested evaluator would have been a better choice.

They are not like us

One of the most persistent errors of people who set out to reform criminal law is the idea that the people who have committed the most horrible crimes are just like us down deep.  The Quakers created the "penitentiary" way back in the late eighteenth century believing that criminals, if confined, would be penitent and reflect deeply and remorsefully on what they had done.  After all, that is what the good Quakers would do if they had deeply sinned.

Well, they aren't like us, and they don't reflect deeply and repent.  John Christoffersen has this story for AP from Connecticut:

The Connecticut killer who once called himself one of the most hated men in America said in a death row interview that he tries not to think about the murder of a suburban mother and her two daughters, suffers no nightmares and has nothing to say to the only survivor of the brutal 2007 attack.

Joshua Komisarjevsky told The Associated Press in his first interview since he was convicted that there isn't anything he could say to Dr. William Petit "that will restore the lives lost."

He also declined an opportunity to express remorse for the killings.

"I guess my reaction is not the reaction society expected," Komisarjevsky said.

It's exactly the reaction I expected.

Hiring Criminals

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Say you have an opening in your accounting department.  Wouldn't you like to know if an applicant is a convicted embezzler?  The government just might want to prevent you from learning that, under the banner of "disparate impact."  The WSJ has this editorial:

The Obama Administration's favorite antidiscrimination tool is "disparate impact," which relies on statistics to allege racial prejudice, regardless of intent. The Justice Department is using it to lean on banks to lend to more minorities, and now we hear the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission wants to use it to wield more power over business hiring.

Several sources tell us the Commission is working on policy guidance that would significantly limit companies' use of credit and criminal histories in hiring under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. A Commission spokeswoman declined to comment by email, "citing Agency practice barring public discussion of any policy that may or may not be in development."

Employment of people with criminal histories is an important issue in rehabilitation, and we don't want to choke off opportunity entirely.  After all, if the person really does want to go straight, employment is a big part of that effort.  Even so, for some jobs we do not anyone with certain kinds of histories.  We don't want embezzlers in accounting.  We don't want child molesters in day care.

Can the present Administration be trusted to give employers the necessary leeway?  I see no reason to be confident of that.

When Redemption Is Real

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The title of this post is the title of a piece in NRO about Chuck Colson, one-time Nixon hatchet man.  Colson went to prison for his part in the Watergate scandal, and is probably best known now for starting Prison Fellowship, a group that purports to help rehabilitate inmates through Bible study.

I say "purports" because claimed rehabilitation is so often a sham.  Thus, as the article notes, the concept of redemption:

has been debased in our Tilt-a-Whirl media culture that can't distinguish between notoriety and fame. In contemporary America, redemption begins sometime between the first check-in into rehab and the first cable-TV interview, and reaches completion when everyone gets distracted by someone else's attention-grabbing disgrace.

What the article reminds us of, however, is that not every inmate is Lindsay Lohan, and not every claim of redemption is fraudulent.  

Colson left government after Nixon's reelection, feeling exhausted and empty. As the furor over Watergate grew, he visited a friend one night, a successful businessman who had converted to Christianity. The friend read a passage from C. S. Lewis: "Pride always means enmity -- it is enmity. And not only enmity between man and man, but enmity to God." Later, Colson sat in his car outside the house weeping alone in the darkness, not tears of sadness nor of joy, but "of relief."

When he realized that the exigencies of his legal defense were inconsistent with the forthrightness entailed by his new faith, he pleaded guilty and became Prisoner 23226 at Maxwell Federal Prison Camp in Alabama.

Today, Good Friday, might be the time to recall that, although claims of redemption are often hogwash and should be treated as such, "often" is not "always."

The Mask Slips

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It's one of the routine conceits of the liberal/professorial view of the world that criminal law hardliners are a bunch of cowboys/dopes/wahoos, while legal academia is laced with nuance, reflection and cool reason.  If there's even a trace of embarrassment about, or even recognition of, this wonderfully self-flattering portrait, I have yet to detect it.

One of the mechanisms for polishing such a cozy view of professional life is the publication of articles in this journal or that, any number of which show up in SSRN.  Publication creates the aura of scholarship  --  an aura especially easy to maintain when those who do the "reviewing" share an identical, We Know Better view of the criminal justice system.

The resulting hothouse of liberal platitudes occasionally produces something so palpably absurd, however, as to become an unconscious self-parody.  It happened today on Sentencing Law and Policy, which featured a gem titled, "Judge orders felons to write 5-page essays." 


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