Category Archives: Crime and corrections

Herring Wrestles with Root Causes of Crime — and Comes up Short

Michael Herring, who has just announced his resignation as Richmond Commonwealth Attorney to become a law partner at McGuireWoods, has been an effective prosecutor. He has worked hand-in-glove with Richmond police, and the city has one of the highest murder-clearance rates of any inner-city jurisdiction in the country. But he’s become increasingly frustrated. After a lengthy period of decline, violent crimes are on the rise again.

“We couldn’t correlate it to the drug markets in the way that we used to be able to do in the ’80s, ’90s and early 2000s.” Herring told Community Idea Stations. “We have literally used every arrow in our quiver, that is us, the police department, city hall, to try to tamp down the violence.” Even though Richmond police emphasize community policing and building trust, Herring said residents in communities most affected by the violence are less willing to cooperate. “We would go out and say to communities, if you don’t help us, we can’t prosecute the cases and prevent the crime. A pretty simply message, right? And yet, it didn’t seem to resonate.”

In his effort to understand what was happening, Herring co-researched and co-authored an inquiry into the root causes of crime. That inquiry, “Beyond Containment,” provides few answers, advocates few remedies, and is notable for its humility in purporting to understand complex reality. “Crime, like any behavior, is a complex function of individual traits and external realities,” he and co-author Iman Shabazz write. “Economic factors, housing patterns, peer culture, school experiences, family dynamics, and health issues can all contribute to criminal behavior.” Mostly, the treatise raises questions for discussion. Continue reading

Illinois to Legalize Recreational Pot: Implications for Virginia

Legal tokin’ in the Land of Lincoln. Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker is expected to sign Illinois’ recreational marijuana legalization bill tomorrow. Illinois, America’s sixth most populous state, will become the 11th state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. The District of Columbia has also legalized the possession of ganja. This has implications for Virginia.

First, Illinois is the first state to legalize the possession and sale of marijuana via the state legislature. Vermont’s legislature legalized the possession but not the sale of marijuana. All other states came to legalization via citizen led ballot initiatives. Since the Virginia Constitution has no provision for citizen-led ballot initiatives, the General Assembly would have to follow in the footsteps of the Illinois legislature to legalize marijuana in the Old Dominion. Illinois has proven this is possible. The second implication is the looming encirclement of Virginia by states with legalized recreational marijuana. The closer legal pot dispensaries get to Virginia the harder it will be for Virginia to stop cross border marijuana flows. Continue reading

How Crime-Prone Students Worsen Educational Outcomes for Everyone

Exposure to crime-prone students in school has “large and significant” effects on test scores, school discipline and even adult criminal behavior, finds a new study by Stephen B. Billings and Mark Hoekstra published by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Exposure to crime-prone peers in the same neighborhood also has an effect, but the negative influence is far stronger in the school setting.

“We estimate that a five percentage point increase in school and neighborhood crime-prone peers increases arrest rates at age 19-21 by 6.5 and 2.6 percent respectively,” state the authors in “Schools Neighborhoods, and the Long-Run Effect of Crime-Prone Peers.” 

Billings and Hoekstra stick to the narrow issue of establishing the correlation between “crime-prone peers” and students’ cognitive and behavioral outcomes, but the study is sure to influence the debate over school disciplinary policies. If students displaying anti-social behavior are kept in school as part of the therapeutic disciplinary regime now in vogue, one can predict negative spillover effects on fellow students.
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Brace Yourselves, Arlingtonians, for SJW Law Enforcement

Liam Bissainthe’s nightmare has come true (see his blog post here), and Arlington voters nominated Parisa Dehghani-Tafti yesterday as the Democratic Party’s nominee to run for Commonwealth Attorney. In ultra-blue Arlington County (76% Clinton, 16.7% Trump), the Democratic nomination is tantamount to election. Now Arlington will become a petri dish for progressive theories on law enforcement.

To get an idea of Deghani-Tafti’s priorities, here is a statement the George Soros-backed candidate issued last month, according to ARLNow:

I’m for impartiality. Even though rare in our community, use-of-force incidents require impartial review. I’m also a reformer and any time you run as a reformer you get pushback but pushback means we get to talk about the issues. My opponent has fought reform at every turn. Now she has decided to go negative because it distracts from her record of failing to adequately support victims, including survivors of sexual violence — a record of opposing cash bail reform, opposing voting rights for returning citizens, opposing using diversion instead of incarceration for individuals with mental illness, opposing expungement of minor infractions, opposing civil asset forfeiture reform, and opposing transparency and impartiality. I will continue to focus on these issues in the campaign and once elected because that’s what makes everyone safe.

The great thing about America is that it is still (even with an overbearing federal government) a laboratory for democracy. Continue reading

Mass Shootings a Multi-Faceted Phenomenon

Victims of the Virginia Beach shooting

Tragedy struck Virginia yesterday in the form of a mass shooting at the Virginia Beach municipal complex. The investigation into the shooter’s motive — undoubtedly tied to workplace violence — remains incomplete, but that probably won’t stop pundits and talking heads from indulging their usual tropes for and against guns.

I find both sides of the gun-rights debate to be tiresome. Gun control zealots act as if the availability of guns were the one and only issue: Limit access to guns and the country will be a safer place. Gun rights zealots act as if the ubiquity and easy availability of guns has nothing to do with the lone-shooter carnage that erupts periodically across the country.

To my mind, mass shootings are a complex social phenomenon for which there are no easy remedies. Permit me to advance a few propositions that, hopefully most reasonable people can agree upon.

Yes, the ubiquity and easily availability of guns is part of the problem. The fact that the overwhelming majority of mass killings are mass shootings is all the evidence we need to make this point. True, you can kill people by exploding bombs, running them down with trucks, and even stabbing them with knives (a growing phenomenon in countries with low rates of gun ownership). But alternative means of committing mass mayhem are either more difficult to execute, easier for law enforcement authorities to intercept, or less likely to be deadly. Continue reading

Counseling, Jail Time, and the Cycle of Violence

Prayer vigil at Carter Jones Park

Families in south Richmond have long held community cookouts at the Carter Jones Park. Last Sunday evening, an altercation broke around at a basketball/skateboard facility nearby. Gunshots were fired. Nine-year-old Markiya Simone Dickson and an unnamed 11-year-old boy were struck by bullets. Markiya died.

Community members and city leaders gathered at a vigil yesterday to protest the violence. One of the city officials in attendance, Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras, addressed the impact of trauma upon school children.

Dozens of children in the park witnessed the tragedy, said Kamras, as reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “They will carry that trauma into their lives, and certainly into their classrooms. Sadly, this is all too common for many of the young people in Richmond Public Schools.”

As Richmonders held their vigil, First Lady Pamela Northam was addressing Southwest Virginia’s Rural Summit for Childhood Success across the state in Abingdon. Shootings that kill random by-standers are rare in that part of Virginia, but child abuse and child neglect are far from uncommon. According to the Washington County News, Northam said: Continue reading

SJWs Strike Again: Police Field Reports Are Biased

VCU Professor Liz Coston says black Richmonders are “overpoliced.”

Here we go again. Today readers of the Richmond Times-Dispatch are treated to a front-page, top-of-the-fold article highlighting racial disparity… not in arrests… not in convictions… not in stop-and-frisks… but in the Richmond Police Department’s use of racial identifiers in “field interview reports.”

The newspaper’s indictment:

Of the 29,997 reports Richmond police officers documented in 2017 and 2018, a disproportionate number of them described the subject of the report as a black person. In a city where black residents make up 49 percent of the population, 65 percent of the people documented were listed as black.

The RTD’s Ali Rockett quotes the Richmond Transparency and Accountability Project as describing the disparity as an “alarmingly disproportionate policing of black boys and men.” And it quotes Liz Coston, a Virginia Commonwealth University sociologist, as saying that the numbers constitute evidence of “overpolicing” of Richmond’s black community. “It’s clear that black residents in Richmond are impacted by policing to a much greater extent than white citizens are.”

Not until 31 to 33 paragraphs down does the reader encounter quotes from interim Police Chief William Smith making an obvious point: The reason a disproportionate number of field interviews are conducted with African-Americans is that a disproportionate number of violent crimes and property crimes occur in high-crime neighborhoods populated by… African-Americans. Continue reading

Replacing One Inequity with Another

Governor Ralph Northam vetoed a bill yesterday that would have imposed mandatory minimum sentences on repeat domestic abusers on the grounds that racial minorities would be disproportionately affected.

I nearly headlined this post, “Northam to Domestic Abuse Victims: Drop Dead.” I decided that wouldn’t be quite fair. But I wouldn’t be surprised if many people interpret his action that way.

Thanks to Northam’s veto, Virginia might be “fairer and more equitable” to perpetrators of domestic violence. But will it be “fairer and more equitable” to victims? The data is patchy, but considerable evidence suggests that African-Americans are roughly twice as likely to be victims of domestic violence as whites. One could argue that creating racial “equity” for African-American criminals creates inequity for African-American victims, primarily females. Continue reading

However You Define it, Solitary Confinement is Barbarous

by William Thorpe

In a recent column about solitary confinement, Richard Hall-Sizemore discredited any observations he made based upon his visits to Virginia prisons when he acknowledged that guards and correctional officials may not have showed or told him everything. “They would have if I had asked, but I did not always know enough to ask,” he confessed.

Mr. Hall-Sizemore is in accord with his compatriot Mr. James Bacon, who in an earlier work about solitary confinement opposed the idea that conclusions should be fact-based and data driven, in defending the indefensible.

We are hard-pressed to take Mr. Hall-Sizemore’s column seriously. Is he saying that if Virginia’s use of Solitary Confinement doesn’t comport with Hollywood’s depiction of prison — i.e Cool Hand Luke, The Great Escape, or Communist North Vietnam’s practice of Solitary Confinement — then it is not Solitary Confinement and that society can safely ignore what is being done by its prison officials? If this is Mr. Hall-Sizemore’s position, then the vehicle of its dissemination, Bacon Rebellion, sullies the deeds of Nathanial Bacon in 1676. But considering the the reactionary worldview Mr. Hall-Sizemore’s work intimates, it isn’t surprising that the historical Bacon’s Rebellion and its ethos have been misappropriated and perverted. Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Restored Licenses; Dominion’s Millstone Plant; RGGI

Organic Carbon Capture Device

Wait.  How many suspended licenses? Today’s Virginia Mercury has one of those stories that raises more questions than it answers, this one about the suspended driving license issue. My warning that there would be massive lines at DMV were groundless because, hey, these people still have their actual licenses.  DMV never got them back or ordered them destroyed. Do you think that might have contributed to the decision so many debtors made to keep driving and blow off the collection efforts? Continue reading

Virginia’s Decline in Crime

Source: Demographics Research Group, StatChat blog

One of the advantages of living in Virginia is that citizens are less likely than other Americans on average to become crime victims. The rate of violent crimes (seen above ) is about half the national average, according to data published today on the StatChat blog based on 2017 FBI crime data. The rate for property crimes is only three-quarters of the national average. That’s pretty impressive considering that Virginia’s demographics come pretty close to matching the national profile. The Old Dominion is doing something right.

Not that you’d know it by reading Charlottesville’s Daily Progress today. Continue reading

Courts Authorizing “Reverse Location” Warrants in Virginia

FBI “reverse location” warrant in Henrico County…. Photo credit: Forbes

Big brother Google is watching you. Back in October, 2018,  Forbes reported that a Virginia court had authorized the FBI to use a “reverse location” warrant to try to solve a series of crimes in Henrico County, Va. This warrant, also known as a geofence warrant, allows police to compel Google to provide all cellphone activity for all people in a general area over a specified period of time. The resulting handover of data includes locations and other information on potentially hundreds, if not thousands, of people. While Google has complied with the warrants in the past, it is unclear whether the company complied in the Henrico case. Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Taxes, Crime and Schools

Cigarette taxes rarely yield projected revenues. A Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy study on cigarette taxes in Virginia has found: (1) cigarette taxes produce the most income the year they are imposed, then revenue declines in subsequent years; (2) over the long run, revenues rarely meet projections; and (3) convenience stores and small grocery stores don’t lose just cigarette sales when customers shop for better deals in neighboring jurisdictions, they lose the sale of incidentals. Conclusion: “Any short-term revenue gain often times comes at the expense of a long-term decline in sales and diminished economic activity.”

Baltimore, scandal and violence. The super-prosperous Washington metropolitan statistical area is flanked by two smaller MSAs: Baltimore to the north and Richmond to the south. The core jurisdictions of each, the City of Baltimore and the City of Richmond, have similar demographics and similar challenges with inner-city poverty. But crime-ridden Baltimore is losing population while Richmond, though hardly Nirvana, is gaining residents. The Washington Post profiles Baltimore in an article headlines, “Weary of scandal and violence, Baltimore residents ask: ‘Why do we stay?'” The last time the WaPo paid attention to Richmond was to highlight the police force’s success, one of the best in the nation, in closing out murder cases. The crime rate is a critical variable in inner-city revitalization. Continue reading

Virginia’s “Secret” Medical Marijuana Program

The doctor who should be governor. State Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant is a Republican from Henrico County. She is also a practicing physician. In this year’s General Assembly session she put forth SB1557 which expanded last year’s so-called “Let Doctor’s Decide” legislation (HB1251).

What’s new? The 2018 legislation (HB1251) authorized licensed medical providers to prescribe CBD and THC-A oil “to alleviate the symptoms of any diagnosed condition or disease determined by the practitioner to benefit from such use.” CBD, or cannabidiol, is a naturally occurring compound found in the resinous flower of marijuana plants. It is used to treat a variety of maladies. It is non-intoxicating. THCA, or tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, is the non-psychoactive acid form of THC found in marijuana plants when raw. It is also non-intoxicating unless it is heated. Once heated, THCA releases THC which is intoxicating.  The 2018 legislation restricted THCA oil to contain no more than 5 mg of THC (the psychoactive component of marijuana). Continue reading

Will Virginia’s Real Recidivism Rate Please Stand Up?


In previous posts I have made much of the 23.4% recidivism rate from Virginia prisons. That’s the lowest — hence, the best — rate of all the 45 states that keep track. I’ve always construed the number as a fact that Virginians can be proud of. I have touted it as evidence that Virginia’s Department of Corrections was doing something right, and that, whatever it was, we should be doing more of it.

I should have known better. It turns out that there are many definitions of “recidivism.” And it’s not clear that Virginia is using the same definition as other states. We should hold off patting ourselves on the back until we’re certain that we’re comparing apples to apples.

Kudos to Jeff Schwaner with Staunton’s News Leader, who has dug into the numbers.

Update: Dick Hall-Sizemore, an expert in correctional issues, offers his own take on the numbers here in the comments. Continue reading