Smart Sentencing, Dumb Policy

This article from the New York Times touches on a series of ideas to reduce prison populations emanating from the “smart sentencing” mantra currently dominating the narrative among liberal criminal justice practitioners and commentators; which, if implemented, will increase crime.

It is important to remember that the prisons filled up because criminals were being put into them, and, consequently, crime dropped substantially; and it dropped so deep and so long that most forgot why—broken windows policing and three strikes sentencing, criminal justice policies resulting in filling prisons.

And the idea that once criminal reach thirty they reduce their criminality so we should start releasing them from prisons, is absurd.

What happens is that most professional criminals reach their prime in their thirties and do not get caught as much.

An excerpt from the Times article.

Breaking three consecutive years of decline, the number of people in state and federal prisons climbed slightly in 2013, according to a report released Tuesday, a sign that deeper changes in sentencing practices will be necessary if the country’s enormous prison population is to be significantly reduced.

The report by the Justice Department put the prison population last year at 1,574,700, an increase of 4,300 over the previous year, yet below its high of 1,615,487 in 2009. In what criminologists called an encouraging sign, the number of federal prisoners showed a modest drop for the first time in years.

But the federal decline was more than offset by a jump in inmates at state prisons. The report, some experts said, suggested that policy changes adopted by many states, such as giving second chances to probationers and helping nonviolent drug offenders avoid prison, were limited in their reach….

But experts say it will take more far-reaching and politically contentious measures to markedly reduce the country’s rate of incarceration, which is far above that in European nations and has imposed especially great burdens on African-Americans.

Mandatory sentences and so-called truth-in-sentencing laws that limit parole have not only put more convicts in costly prison cells for longer stretches but also have reduced the discretion of officials to release them on parole.

Given the evidence that few people are involved in criminal activity beyond their mid-30s, some experts are also asking whether it makes sense to keep aging inmates behind bars rather than under community supervision.

Retrieved September 16, 2014 from





Hegemony is Hegemony

A wonderful point made in the blog, Questions from a Ewe.

An excerpt.

I recently read, “Pope Francis: Untying the Knots,” a book by Paul Vallely. The book indicates Pope Francis is not a fan of people from Europe and North America having over-riding influence on the Catholic Church.  He thinks most Europeans and North Americans don’t have a clue about life in Africa and Latin America.  Therefore they aren’t credible guides.

Furthermore, he sees the church thriving to the point of busting at the seams in these same developing areas while it atrophies amongst the European and North American/European-descent crowds.  Therefore he further questions the European folks as credible guides. It’s sort of a “walk a mile in another person’s shoes” kind of commentary in that Francis thinks the European and North American folks lack street creds to tell Africans and Latin Americans what to do.

He also disagrees with having a shrinking minority group within the church guide the growing majority.  Basically Francis describes why he’s tired of Western / European hegemony within the church and why it’s an invalid governance model.

Amen, Brother Francis! I am standing up applauding you, but I am also shouting, “Welcome to the world of women in the church, my friend!”  We are as thrilled with male hegemony in the church as you are with European hegemony..

I think Francis understands how hegemony blinds people because he’s felt the stinging ill effects of it.  I can only hope that he is self-aware enough to see the parallel.  He is frustrated by a bunch of people with a different worldview trying to boss him around – i.e., “hegemony.”  Francis, do you understand that male hegemony isn’t any more fun or effective than European hegemony?

Unfortunately, a persistent issue when addressing hegemony is the hegemonic group’s lack of self-awareness to acknowledge that they, in fact, are part of a hegemonic group.  This historically has been the case with Catholic hierarchy with regards to male hegemony, but I’m hoping Francis’ primary experience being outside of one hegemonic group opens his eyes to realize he operates within another hegemonic group.

Retrieved September 13, 2014 from

Capital Punishment

In the context of rereading the book, Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States, by Sister Helen Prejean, the leading force in the American movement to abolish capital punishment; a new poll shows support for capital punishment has dropped in California.

The abolitionist arguments are built on emotional stories of brutal childhoods, the court economics of capital cases and the horror of death row housing.

The capital punishment supporter arguments are built on the recognition of evil, the recognition that there are crimes that cry to heaven and it is only through taking the life of the evil doer, through proper judicial action and in our name, that evil is truly confronted and true justice rendered.

An excerpt from the Sacramento Bee article.

Support for the death penalty in California is at its lowest point in nearly 50 years, although more than half of the state’s registered voters still favor it, a new Field Poll has found.

The poll found 56 percent still believe the death penalty should be kept as a punishment for serious crimes, with 34 percent opposed and 10 percent undecided.

The findings come as states nationwide are grappling with a shortage of drugs used for lethal injections and critics who say some recent executions have been botched and left inmates suffering as they died. They also come after a July ruling by a federal judge in Los Angeles that found lengthy delays in executing California inmates have made the death penalty unconstitutional in the state.

Support for the death penalty in California has been eroding steadily for years, falling from a high of 83 percent in 1985 and 1986 Field Polls to its current level, the lowest since a 1965 survey found only 51 percent approval. The last Field Poll done on the issue, in 2011, found 68 percent in favor of keeping the death penalty, compared to 27 percent opposed.

Retrieved September 12, 2014 from




Monks Make Men

A great story from City Journal about the Benedictines success in New York helping create responsible men from at-risk boys.

An excerpt.

As a high school student, I took a bus every school day for four years into the center of Newark, New Jersey, passing neighborhoods that bore the scars of the July 1967 riots and the spreading urban decay that followed them. I was headed to a century-old, all-boys Catholic high school, St. Benedict’s Prep, which my parents had determined I would attend no matter how much the inner core of Newark was changing. The school had been founded in the nineteenth century by Benedictine monks to provide an education for the sons of Irish and German Catholic immigrants, who were not always welcomed in the local public schools. Many graduates went on to successful lives. Over time, wealthy alumni started sending their kids to the school. But St. Benedict’s Prep nevertheless maintained its reputation as “the white workingman’s prep school,” educating the sons of successive generations of immigrants through the early and mid-twentieth century.

Then, about a year after I graduated, the monks who ran the school announced that they were shutting it down and closing up their home, Newark Abbey. The shock to the school’s community—students, parents, and alumni—was profound. Some wealthy alumni pledged to do anything necessary to save the institution, but nothing seemed to move the monks. Later we learned of a rift within the Abbey. Some of the monks wanted out of Newark. They left, but a core group stayed and reopened St. Benedict’s within a year with a new mission—principally to serve Newark’s minority children. It seemed like a quixotic task. As Newark deteriorated around them, the monks took on the job of educating teenage boys growing up in a chaotic urban environment. Many students were products of a collapsing public school system that would one day be seized from the city by state officials.

Decades later, St. Benedict’s is still there, and its recent history is a remarkable story of educational success under extraordinarily challenging circumstances. The Rule, a documentary by Marylou and Jerome Bongiorno opening this Friday in New York and next week in Los Angeles, recounts the improbable tale of priests and brothers living under a nearly 1,500-year-old monastic code, and the Newark kids whose lives they have transformed.

Retrieved September 11, 2014 from

Recognizing Evil

Liberal Catholics, those who believe war and capital punishment have no place in today’s world, need to read this column by Victor Davis Hanson, but of course they won’t, so, to my beloved blog readers who do recognize evil, enjoy.

An excerpt.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings was sometimes faulted by literary critics for caricaturing the evil orcs as uniformly bad.  All of them were as unpleasant to look as they were deadly to encounter. There is not a single good orc or even a reformed orc in the trilogy. The apparent one-dimensional assumption of men, hobbits, dwarves, and elves is that the only good orc is a dead orc. So the absolutist Tolkien tried to teach us about the enduring nature of absolute good and evil. Apparently he did not think that anything from his contemporary experience might allow him to imagine reforming or rehabilitating such fictive folk.

Tolkien’s literary purpose with orcs was not to explore the many shades of evil or the struggle within oneself to avoid the dark side; he did that well enough in dozens of once good but weak characters who went bad such as the turncoat Saruman the wizard, his sidekick Wormtongue, a few of the hobbits who had ruined the Shire, and, best of all, the multifaceted Gollum. Orcs, on the other hand, are unredeemable. Orcs, goblins, and trolls exist as the tools of the even more sinister in proud towers to destroy civilization, and know nothing other than killing and destruction. Their reward is to feed on the crumbs of what they have ruined.

In the 21st century we are often lectured that such simplistic, one-dimensional evil is long gone. A ubiquitous civilization has so permeated the globe that even the worst sorts must absorb some mitigating popular culture from the Internet, Twitter, and Facebook, as if the sheer speed of transmitting thoughts ensures their moral improvement.

Even where democracy is absent, the “world community” and a “global consciousness” are such that billions supposedly won’t let Attila, Tamerlane, and Genghis Khan reappear in our postmodern lives. To deal with a Major Hasan, Americans cannot cite his environment as the cause, at least not poverty, racism, religious bigotry, nativism, xenophobia, or any of the more popular –isms and-ologies in our politically correct tool box that we customarily use to excuse and contextualize evil behavior. So exasperated, we shrug and call his murdering “workplace violence” — an apparent understandable psychological condition attributable to the boredom and monotony of the bleak, postmodern office.

But then suddenly along comes the limb-lopping, child-snatching, and mutilating Nigerian-based Boko Haram. What conceivable Dark Age atrocity have they omitted? Not suicide bombing, mass murder, or random torture. They are absolutely unapologetic for their barbarity. They are ready to convert or kill preteens as their mood determines for the crime of being Christian. In response, the Nigerian government is powerless, while the United States is reduced to our first lady holding up Twitter hashtags, begging for the release of the latest batch of girls.

Now we are glued on ISIS, the Mesopotamian killers who are beheading on video streams American journalists, as they murder, rape, and mutilate their way from Syria to central Iraq. One of the beheaders, Jihadi John, has a British accent, and seems to enjoy shocking Westerners with the fact that he is more familiarly savage than his fellow Arabic-speaking masochists. Apparently his family immigrated from the Muslim world to the affluence and freedom of the United Kingdom for a more civilized life so that their pampered son could one day leave it to seek to destroy all that had enabled him — and thereby find “meaning.”…

Evil is ancient, unchanging, and with us always. The more postmodern the West becomes — affluent, leisured, nursed on moral equivalence, utopian pacifism, and multicultural relativism — the more premodern the evil among us seems to arise in nihilistic response, whether it is from the primordial Tsarnaev brothers or Jihadi John.  We have invented dozens of new ways to explain away our indifference, our enemies hundreds of new ways of reminding us of our impotence. I suppose we who enjoy the good life don’t want to lose any of it for anything — and will understandably do any amount of appeasing, explaining, and contextualizing to avoid an existential war against the beheaders and mutilators, a fact well-known to our enemies.

Retrieved September 9, 2014 from


Catholic Women, Catholic Priest’s Jokes

As this article from the National Catholic Reporter shows, the quality of comments and jokes being made about women in the Church over the past few months by the Pope and a Cardinal are representative of the big tin ear some leadership in the Church seems to have regarding women in the Church.

An excerpt.

Two years ago, when Cardinal Gerhard Müller criticized the Leadership Conference of Women Religious for promoting radical feminist themes, the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith offered a stark reminder that feminism has no place in the Roman Catholic church.

In his most recent interview in L’Osservatore Romano (the Vatican’s “semi-official” newspaper), Müller further indicates that any suggestion of misogyny on the part of the hierarchy is a claim best answered with a punch line.

Sadly, it’s a comedic lesson Müller likely learned from his boss, the pope.

Back in July, when journalist Franca Giansoldati asked Pope Francis whether the pontiff’s tropes about the “church as a woman” and the “the church as a feminine word” were misogynistic, he responded with a joke about women as Adam’s rib. The pope then went on a roll of sorts, making another zinger about priests coming under the authority of female housekeepers.

Now Müller is taking his turn as the court jester. In his interview Monday (featured, by the way, in a special pullout section on “Women Church” in L’Osservatore Romano), when asked about the doctrinal congregation’s ongoing “reform” of LCWR, the cardinal insists, “We are not misogynists.”

“We don’t want to gobble up a woman a day,” he then quips. (“Non vogliamo mangiare una donna al giorno,” for those hoping something was lost in translation.)

Is this the progress on women in the church that we’ve been hoping for? With both Francis and his doctrinal watchdog yukking it up about misogyny, it becomes harder to imagine that any substantive treatment of issues related to women is on the horizon.

Sure, the pope has mentioned in interviews the need for a deeper theology of women or a more incisive role for women in the church. But 18 months into his pontificate, these remain little more than sound bites. (Even John L. Allen Jr., earlier this week, named the role of women in the church as the No. 1 question on which the pope should be pressed.)

Retrieved September 4, 2014 from


Research on Nuns is Revealing

One Catholic narrative is that the progressive orders from the LCWR are dying and the conservative orders are growing; which new research from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate finds is not exactly true.

An excerpt.

In spring 2014, CARA began analyzing membership data reported by the religious institutes of women in the United States as listed in The Official Catholic Directory (OCD). Forthcoming is a CARA Special Report based on this research entitled, Population Trends among Religious Institutes of Women. This post presents a teaser to this Special Report as well as some re-analysis of a CARA poll regarding vocational interest focusing on young never-married women’s interest in a religious vocation. Two CARA summer interns contributed substantially to these efforts, Erick Berrelleza, S.J., a Jesuit Scholastic at Boston College and James Fangmeyer, Jr., a senior at the University of Pennsylvania. This is all part of a recent flurry of research on religious life by CARA in addition to CARA Senior Research Associate Mary Gautier co-authoring New Generations of Catholic Sisters: The Challenge of Diversity (Oxford University Press, 2014) with Sr. Mary Johnson, N. and Sr. Patricia Wittberg, S.C.

As an applied research center, there are many reasons for CARA to focus on women religious. Perhaps the most pressing is that if current trends continue (…and they may not), there would be fewer than 1,000 religious sisters in the United States in 2043 (…most of this change would occur through aging and mortality with 11% of sisters in the United States currently in their 90s, 26% in their 80s, and 32% in their 70s). This estimated 2043 total would be similar to the number of sisters in the United States in the middle of the 19th century. Currently the total number of sisters in the United States is similar to totals for the first years of the 20th century….

Here in the United States, Gautier and her co-authors note, “Some commentators, for ideological purposes, attempt to create generalized typologies that mask the complexity of the religious reality, arguing that all new entrants go to traditionalist (CMSWR [Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious]) institutes and few or none go to LCWR [Leadership Conference of Women Religious] institutes. … The reality of the situation is that almost an equal percentage of LCWR and CMSWR institutes have no one at all in formation at the present time (32 percent and 27 percent, respectively). One of the most striking findings regarding new entrants is that almost equal numbers of women have been attracted to institutes in both conferences in recent years.” (pg. 20-21).

One of the key differences between those attracted to LCWR institutes is that they are more likely to be over the age of 40, whereas those attracted to CMSWR institutes tend to be younger. As Gautier and her co-authors note, the Millennial religious sisters (b. 1982 or later)—in an institute in either conference—are more likely than those who are older to say the following types of prayer are “very” important to them: daily Eucharist, common meditation, Eucharistic Adoration, and other devotional prayer. Younger sisters are also more likely than older sisters to place more importance on aspects of community: they find living with other members, sharing meals together, and socializing together to be “very” important to them. Finally, the younger sisters are also more likely than older sisters to be attracted to their institute’s fidelity to the Church and its practice regarding a habit.

Retrieved September 3, 2014 from

Two Views on LCWR & Vatican

Both are good and both are, in their own way, true.

The first is from Time Magazine.

An excerpt.

Nuns are an endangered species. They are dying and not being replaced.

If you think the news is bad now, a world without nuns would be a far worse place. The nuns that I know are much too humble to tout their achievements and all of the good they contribute to society, but make no mistake, they are an integral part of the fabric that holds our civilization together.

In 2014 there were just 49,883 religious Catholic sisters in the United States, down 13% percent from 2010 according to figures from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. To put it in greater perspective, that is a 72% decline since 1965.

Because nuns don’t brag about all of the good that they do or hashtag how awesome they are on Facebook, many people have no idea about the things they accomplish on a daily basis.

You probably haven’t heard about Sister Joan Dawber. Sister Joan, a Sister of Charity of Halifax, runs a safe house in Queens for victims of human trafficking—former sex and labor slaves. She takes these women in when they have no one else to protect them and risks her life to help them rebuild theirs.

About 20 minutes away by car from Sister Joan’s safe house, Sister Tesa Fitzgerald works tirelessly to raise the children of mothers who are incarcerated. When those women get out of prison Sister Tesa helps them get clothes, jobs and an apartment. Those women credit Tesa with nothing less than saving their lives.

Most people don’t know about Sister Nora Nash, a Franciscan Sister who lives just outside of Philadelphia. As her order’s Director of Corporate Social Responsibility, Sister Nora wakes up every single morning determined to make corporations more responsible to the human race. Sister Nora and her assistant director, Tom McCaney have taken to task the grocery store chain Kroger over the rights of farm workers, Hershey’s chocolate company over child labor, McDonald’s over childhood obesity, Walmart on raising their minimum wage and Wells Fargo over predatory lending practices. Nash wakes up every single morning determined to make corporations more responsible to the human race. Then she follows through on it.

Retrieved September 1 2014 from

The second is from Catholic Culture

An excerpt.

In a  highly tendentious Time essay about tensions between the Vatican and American women religious, Jo Piazza begins with the accurate observation that American nuns are “dying out and not being replaced.” She then goes on to convey the impression that the sharp decline in the number of women religious is due to the Vatican’s unwillingness to accommodate feminists. Anyone acquainted with the reality of the situation knows that the religious orders bucking the downward trend—the ones that actually are attracting new vocations—are the ones most in tune with Vatican thinking, and least influenced by secular feminism. Piazza goes on to deliver these very revealing lines:

Many of the women who are nuns today joined the vocation because it was a way to become highly educated, travel the world and dedicate themselves to a higher good without being beholden to a husband or children.

Young women today can do that with a passport and a Kickstarter account.

If Piazza’s notion of what motivated older nuns is accurate, then the old mainstream religious orders deserve to die, and Kickstarter is a perfectly acceptable alternative. If a young woman’s only goal is the pursuit of some inchoate “higher good” (plus perhaps an aversion to husbands and children), religious consecration is not necessary. Piazza supports nuns because they do things that she wants done, not because they are nuns.

Retrieved September 1, 2014 from

How New York Cut Crime

This article from City Journal is from 2009 but details and reminds us of how the crime rate was cut, and it is crucial to remember this, as memories get short and crime again starts rising.

An excerpt.

Just 20 years ago, New York City was racked with crime: murders, burglaries, drug deals, car thefts, thefts from cars. (Remember the signs in car windows advising no radio?) Unlike many cities’ crime problems, New York’s were not limited to a few inner-city neighborhoods that could be avoided. Bryant Park, in the heart of midtown and adjacent to the New York Public Library, was an open-air drug market; Grand Central Terminal, a gigantic flophouse; the Port Authority Bus Terminal, “a grim gauntlet for bus passengers dodging beggars, drunks, thieves, and destitute drug addicts,” as the New York Times put it in 1992. In July 1985, the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City published a study showing widespread fear of theft and assault in downtown Brooklyn, Fordham Road in the Bronx, and Jamaica Center in Queens. Riders abandoned the subway in droves, fearing assault from lunatics and gangs.

New York’s drop in crime during the 1990s was correspondingly astonishing—indeed, “one of the most remarkable stories in the history of urban crime,” according to University of California law professor Franklin Zimring. While other cities experienced major declines, none was as steep as New York’s. Most of the criminologists’ explanations for it—the economy, changing drug-use patterns, demographic changes—have not withstood scrutiny. Readers of City Journal will be familiar with the stronger argument that the New York Police Department’s adoption of quality-of-life policing and of such accountability measures as Compstat was behind the city’s crime drop.

Yet that explanation isn’t the whole story. Learning the rest is more than an academic exercise, for if we can understand fully what happened in New York, we not only can adapt it to other cities but can ensure that Gotham’s crime gains aren’t lost in today’s cash-strapped environment.

As New York suffered, an idea began to emerge that would one day restore the city. Nathan Glazer first gave it voice in a 1979 Public Interest article, “On Subway Graffiti in New York,” arguing that graffitists, other disorderly persons, and criminals “who rob, rape, assault, and murder passengers . . . are part of one world of uncontrollable predators.” For Glazer, a government’s inability to control even a minor crime like graffiti signaled to citizens that it certainly couldn’t handle more serious ones. Disorder, therefore, was creating a crisis that threatened all segments of urban life. In 1982, James Q. Wilson and I elaborated on this idea, linking disorder to serious crime in an Atlantic story called “Broken Windows” (see below).

Yet it wasn’t just intellectuals who were starting to study disorder and minor crimes. Policymakers like Deputy Mayor Herb Sturz and private-sector leaders like Gerald Schoenfeld, longtime chairman of the Shubert Organization, believed that disorderly conditions—aggressive panhandling, prostitution, scams, drugs—threatened the economy of Times Square. Under Sturz’s leadership, and with money from the Fund for the City of New York, the NYPD developed Operation Crossroads in the late 1970s. The project focused on minor offenses in the Times Square area; urged police to develop high-visibility, low-arrest tactics; and attempted to measure police performance by counting instances of disorderly behavior.

Retrieved August 29, 2014 from


Russia & the Church

In the final few pages of my 2013 book: Catholicism, Communism & Criminal Reformation, I wrote:

Within this environment of change, the decision by Vatican II to focus on change or as the elements were called then: aggiornamento, development, and ressourcement, or, modernizing, evolving, and returning to sources, respectively, was a wise response to the spirit of the Aquarian times.

One of the ideas, once obscured but now leaping out, is that rather than continuing the strong pronouncements against Communism characterizing the first five decades of the 20th Century, the Church now decided to embrace in order to convert Communism…

And one wonders how much this approach opened the door for Pope John Paul II to play one of the leading roles in vanquishing the Soviet empire a few decades later, and to the emerging potential coming together of the Russian Orthodox with Rome. (pp. 162-163)

With that as context, this article from Crisis Magazine is truly and wonderfully hopeful.

An excerpt.

For much of the twentieth century, Catholics around the world prayed after every Low Mass for the conversion of Russia.

Called the Leonine Prayers, originally they were conceived as a protection of the sovereignty of the Papal States, which were then under attack. This intention ended with the Lateran Treaty of 1929 but the prayers continued from that time for the conversion of Russia that had become an atheistic state bent on destroying religion.

The prayers included 3 Ave Marias, a Salve Regina, a versicle and response, a prayer for the conversion of sinners and the “exaltation of Holy Mother Church,” ending with the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel. Pius X added the invocation “Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, Have Mercy on Us.”

Before the prayers were suppressed in 1965 just think of the billions of them offered for this intention? From little schoolgirls to Catholic heads of state to canonized saints, they all prayed for the conversion of Russia. Does any faithful Catholic think that the end of the Soviet Union in 1991 was not the result of these prayers?…

I believe I’ve seen a glimpse of the conversion of Russia.

Vladimir Yakunin, head of the Russian railroad and a long-time close associate of Vladimir Putin, a man sometime suggested as Putin’s successor, had sponsored a visit to Russia of the True Cross of St. Andrew.

The True Cross of St. Andrew was burned in the French Revolution. Before being consumed in toto, a Catholic priest snatched it from the flames. During the pontificate of Pope St. John Paul the Great, it was returned to the Greek Orthodox Church.

Yakunin, along with his wife who brought her husband to the faith, brought the True Cross to Russia. It was shown in Moscow only a stone’s throw from the Kremlin at Christ Our Savior Cathedral, a highly symbolic Church that was built by the Tsar to celebrate the defeat of Napoleon but that was razed by Stalin and then rebuilt under Putin.

On the day I was there, the faithful stood in the rain for five hours to venerate the cross—to kiss the glass—for about one second before Cathedral aides gently but firmly shoved them on their way. Five hours in the rain for one second of veneration. Meditate on that.

Retrieved August 29, 2014 from



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