Posts Tagged ‘crime and punishment’

Jailed for missing school: the problem with truancy laws

My new piece at Reason begins:

We’ve seen it happen again and again: libertarians are derided over some supposedly crazy or esoteric position, years pass, and eventually others start to see why our position made sense. It’s happened with asset forfeiture, with occupational licensure, with the Drug War, and soon, perhaps, with libertarians’ once-lonely critique of school truancy laws.

In his 1980 book Free To Choose, economist Milton Friedman argued that compulsory school attendance laws do more harm than good, a prescient view considering what’s come since: both Democratic and Republican lawmakers around the country, prodded by the education lobby, have toughened truancy laws with serious civil and even criminal penalties for both students and parents. Now the horror stories pile up: the mom arrested and shackled because her honor-roll son had a few unexcused sick days too many, the teenagers managing chaotic home lives who are threatened with juvenile detention for their pains, the mother who died in jail after being imprisoned for truancy fines. It’s been called carceral liberalism: we’re jailing you, your child, or both, but don’t worry because it’s for your own good. Not getting enough classroom time could really ruin a kid’s life.

My article also mentions that a bill to reform Texas’s super-punitive truancy laws has reached Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk, following the reported success of an experiment in San Antonio and pressure from a Marshall Project report. Finally, truancy-law reform is looking to become an issue across the political spectrum — but libertarians were there first. (cross-posted from Cato at Liberty).

Banking and finance roundup

More riot notes

From Twitter, some further thoughts on the Baltimore riots and their implications:

In response, Twitter user @hamilt0n cites this NBER paper by William J. Collins and Robert A. Margo on the (very harmful) labor market effects of the 1960s riots, adds: “Riots=more spending, higher taxation, rich are mobile and flee, poor get stuck with the bill”

Sweetness and light in a New York Times “Crips and Bloods gangs come together to save Baltimore” story:

More from Liz Mair on how the rights just go to show what you already believed; Cathy Young (arguing, inter alia, that any system is going to accord police suspected of wrongdoing some advantages over other citizens in those circumstances and we might just as well accept this). Meanwhile, the seven-day 10 p.m. curfew threatens the livelihoods of thousands of Baltimoreans and small businesses [New York Times, Baltimore Sun]

The economics of rioting

Following the outbreak of serious riots on the streets of Baltimore, I wrote a post yesterday at Cato:

…More than twenty years ago in the Cato Journal, distinguished law and economics scholars David Haddock and Daniel Polsby published a paper entitled “Understanding Riots” that’s still highly relevant in making sense of events like these. Employing familiar economic concepts such as opportunity cost, coordination problems, and free-rider issues, Haddock and Polsby help explain why riots cluster around sports wins as well as assassinations, funerals, and jury verdicts; the group psychology of rioting, and why most crowds never turn riotous; the important role of focal points (often lightly policed commercial areas) and rock-throwing “entrepreneurs” of disorder; the tenuous relationship between riots and root causes or contemporary grievances; and why when a riot occurs the police (at least those in places like the United States and United Kingdom) seldom manage to be in enough places at once, more or less by definition.

I conclude that pundits and the news media are continuing to get the story wrong about riots like those in Baltimore, and link to the Haddock and Polsby article itself. The post is here.

P.S.: This is neat: Jack Shafer at Politico takes and runs with some of the paper’s analysis about prevention strategies and the spread of information about riot locations. And Jesse Walker looks further at the role of “outside agitators.”

Miss child support payment, go to jail

And good luck making those payments once you’ve lost your job or license. The Walter Scott shooting in South Carolina has focused belated attention on the “deadbeat-dad” rules crafted variously to please budget hawks, women’s rights advocates, and conservatives, which in practice can pile hopelessly large obligations on low-earning fathers, enforced in some states not only by jailing but also by deprivation of drivers’ and occupational licenses instrumental in earning a living. I’ve got more at Cato at Liberty, following up on New York Times coverage.

Prosecution roundup

  • Florida court blocks drug-related seizure of house as violation of Constitution’s Excessive Fines Clause [Orlando Weekly, opinion in Agresta v. Maitland]
  • Deferred- and non-prosecution agreements (DPAs/NPAs) have ushered in a little-scrutinized “shadow regulatory state” [Jim Copland and Isaac Gorodetski, “Without Law or Limits: The Continued Growth of the Shadow Regulatory State,” Manhattan Institute report]
  • Politicized prosecution: New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman throws book at bankers for not lending in Buffalo [Conrad Black via Tim Lynch, Cato]
  • Would it improve prosecutors’ incentives if localities rather than state governments paid for incarceration? [Leon Neyfakh, Slate, via David Henderson]
  • Andrew Pincus on the growing danger of enforcement slush funds [U.S. Chamber, more]
  • “The Department of Justice, if it succeeds on its new theory, may have criminalized many instances of dull employee misconduct.” [Matt Kaiser, Above the Law; Peter Henning, N.Y. Times “DealBook”]
  • A Brooklyn mess: new D.A. looking into 70 convictions obtained with evidence from retired detective Louis Scarcella [Radley Balko]

Our carceral child support system and the Walter Scott case

“In South Carolina, at least one in eight people in jail are there on contempt-of-court charges related to late or unpaid child-support orders.” [Marshall Project; Christopher Mathias/Huffington Post] For decades elected officials of right and left alike have backed punitive handling of “deadbeat dads,” with results that include repeated jail terms levied over arrears unlikely ever to be paid, as well as the denial of drivers’ licenses and other basics of participation in the aboveground economy. Earlier on child support issues.

Some writings from my Cato Institute colleagues on the Walter Scott case: Tim Lynch, Jonathan Blanks, Matthew Feeney. And a New York Times “Room for Debate” roundtable on police use of deadly force featuring Walter Katz, Prof. Seth Stoughton and others.

“When everything is a crime”

George Will on overcriminalization, mens rea, and regulatory crimes, typically clear and cogent. Second paragraph:

In 2007, professor Tim Wu of Columbia Law School recounted a game played by some prosecutors. One would name a famous person — “say, Mother Teresa or John Lennon” — and other prosecutors would try to imagine “a plausible crime for which to indict him or her,” usually a felony plucked from “the incredibly broad yet obscure crimes that populate the U.S. Code like a kind of jurisprudential minefield.” Did the person make “false pretenses on the high seas”? Is he guilty of “injuring a mailbag”?