JAMA Study: Strict Gun Laws Reduce Firearm Homicides

A Journal of the American Medical Association study found strong evidence that laws strengthening background checks and purchase permits helped decrease gun homicide rates. A second JAMA paper found an increase in gun homicides following implementation of Florida’s stand-your-ground law in 2005. Such scientific studies of firearms have been rare since Congress began withholding funding for gun violence research 20 years ago.

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Support for Prisoner Reentry Policy Tied to Religious Beliefs

A belief in divine forgiveness leads to a more positive attitude toward providing help to individuals returning from prison, according to a study published in Criminal Justice Policy Review. The study, based on a survey of 915 randomly selected Missouri residents, examined the impact of religious beliefs on support for rehabilitative programs such as housing assistance and transitional counseling, noting that support for prisoner reentry initiatives often “fades dramatically” when serious and chronic offenders are the recipients of such services. The survey results suggested that “both advocates and opponents of specific reentry initiatives will miss a critical piece of an effective strategy to alter public attitudes if religious beliefs are ignored,” write Brett Garland, Eric Wodahl, and Rebecca Gretchen Smith in the study entitled “Religious Beliefs and Public Support for Prisoner Reentry, The researchers found that those whose beliefs involved a “punitive God” were less likely to support such initiatives. The authors noted that the historical correlation between religion and the American corrections system can be seen as early as the American Revolution. More recently, Congressional support for the Second Chance Act of 2007 was secured by citing Biblical passages about forgiveness.

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Can New Technology Improve Policing?

While new developments in technology have given law enforcement organizations potentially important tools, such developments will have a minimal impact unless police managers pay closer attention to how they are deployed and used at every level of their organizations, says a study conducted by researchers at the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy at George Mason University, the Police Executive Research Forum, and Southern Illinois University. The multi-site study, supported by the National Institute of Justice, focused on four large U.S. police agencies in rural and urban areas to examine how police are using tools ranging from video surveillance and license plate readers to DNA testing, and new information and communications technologies . The research findings, according to an updated version published last month, showed that technological advances “do not always produce straightforward improvements” in productivity, job satisfaction, effectiveness in reducing crime, or citizen engagement. “This is not to say that technological advancement in policing is undesirable, and will not bring improvement,” wrote Christopher Koper and Cynthia Lum of George Mason, the principal authors of the study. “However…substantial improvements in police performance (require) significant planning and effort, and…infrastructure and norms that will help agencies maximize the benefits of technology.”

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NYC Study Finds Decline in Misdemeanor Arrests Following Changes in Policing Strategy

A survey tracking enforcement rates in New York City found a significant decline in misdemeanor arrests and summonses in what authors suggested was a result of significant changes in NYPD policing strategy, such as a reduction in the use of stop-and-frisk tactics by officers. According to the study, prepared by Prof. Preeti Chaudhan of John Jay College and five other authors, there were “approximately 800,000 fewer enforcement activities” between 2011 and 2014. The study by the Misdemeanor Justice Project at John Jay College of Criminal Justice showed that the level of arrests of African-Americans in particular had significantly dropped during that time period. NYPD Commissioner William J. Bratton's strategy of allowing “police resources to be redeployed to better use” as part of his so-called “Peace Dividend” from the plummeting crime rates in New York. was a direct inspiration for the new strategy, which gives police greater discretion in exercising authority, and reduce(s) the number of negative interactions with the public,” said the study, entitled “Tracking Enforcement Rates in New York City, 2003-2014.”

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Identity Theft Tops Maine Survey on Crime

More than one-third of Maine residents responding to a survey on crime said they had been a victim of identity theft—partly as a result of an increase in corporate data breaches and smaller-scale scams—according to a report published by the Muskie School of Social Service at the University of Southern Maine and the Maine Statistical Analysis Center Advisory Group. The rate of victimization for identity crime represents a 15 percent increase from the last survey conducted in Maine in 2011, write Robyn Dumont and George Shaler in a study entitled “2015 Maine Crime Victimization Report: Informing Public Policy for Safer Communities.” They attribute the increase to “the large number of people who are affected when corporate data breaches occur as well as to the increased frequency of these breaches” and to the fact that the 2015 survey featured three additional answer choices about identity theft—including a question about “unauthorized access of bank or department store accounts.” “Identity crime continues to capture headlines here in Maine and nationally,” the authors write. “With a large elderly population, Maine is especially vulnerable to perpetrators who specialize in identity theft crimes.”

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Why Immigrant Communities Have Less Crime

Do strong ties to family and neighborhood institutions explain why immigrant communities experience less crime and delinquency than communities of native-born residents? Building on previous research that determined foreign-born youth are less likely to commit violent acts, a study in the journal Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice tries to pinpoint why. Its findings are inconclusive. In “The Power of Place Revisited: Why Immigrant Communities Have Lower Levels of Adolescent Violence,” researchers used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to look at whether community social capital—such as a parent's involvement in community organizations—and violent victimization—such as having witnessed violent crime—are factors that lessen adolescent violence in immigrant communities. “The findings from this study raise more questions than they answer, which suggests several future directions researchers should consider,” write Charis E. Kubrin and Scott A. Desmond.

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Teen Cigarette Smoking Declines, But More Americans Using Pot, Study Finds

Cigarette smoking among teenagers has declined significantly since 2002, but more people are using marijuana, according to a newly released report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The “2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health in the United States” — which measured substance use and mental illness statistics between 2002 and 2014—found that while tobacco use among young adults aged 12 to 17 declined by about 50 percent since 2002, along with a slight decrease in alcohol use for the same age group, marijuana use grew for adults aged 26 years and older. The study, entitled: “Behavioral Health Trends in the United States: Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health,” found that the percentage of tobacco users (which mostly accounts for cigarette smokers) 12 to 17 years old decreased from 13 percent in 2002 to 4.9 percent in 2014. While marijuana use decreased slightly among adolescents, from 8.2 percent in 2002 to 7.4 in 2014, it rose among people 26 years and older from 4 percent in 2002 to 6.6 percent in 2014. The rise in marijuana use corresponds with a growing marijuana legalization movement in the U.S. in recent years.

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Raising the Age of Juvenile Court Jurisdiction

The age of juvenile court jurisdiction should be raised to at least 21 years old, researchers propose in a new report released by Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government citing studies that show brain development continues past the teenage years. The research is part of a series published by the Executive Session on Community Corrections at the school, which aims to develop new correctional policy and explore the role communities could play in a more “age-responsive” criminal justice system. The age at which young people can be tried in adult court for criminal law offenses varies from state to state—in some states it has been as low as 16—and also can depend on the nature of the offense. In some states, an assessment of the youth’s age, offense and prior record can place a young offender under the jurisdiction of both the juvenile and criminal courts. “Our new understanding of the developmental process through young adulthood and historical shifts in the early life course demand new kinds of institutions,” write Vincent Schiraldi, Bruce Western and Kendra Bradner in Community-Based Responses to Justice-Involved Young Adults.”

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Learning from “Forgotten Prisoners”

Inmates serving long prison sentences have been neglected by both researchers and policy makers despite their potential to be “valuable leaders” within the prison community, write Lila Kazemian and Jeremy Travis in a research paper titled “Forgotten Prisoners” published in Criminology & Public Policy, a journal of the American Society of Criminology. Kazemian, an associate professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and Travis, the president of the college, argue that investing in the well-being of “long termers” and “lifers,” who spend a significant portion of their lives behind bars, could have a positive impact on the prison environment as a whole. “Leadership is a quality that shapes and enriches any given community, and the prison community is no exception,” the authors write. “Given their prolonged presence in prison, long termers and lifers are ideal candidates for positions of leadership and mentorship in this environment.” To better address the unique needs of individuals serving long prison sentences, Kazemian and Travis make several research and policy recommendations, including offering “long-termers and “lifers” opportunities to engage in leadership positions in prison, encouraging useful habits and skills that will ease inmates' reentry, and developing research that focuses on long periods of incarceration.