Some news items that caught my eye this week:
Eyewitnesses: Malcolm Gladwell (26 Apr) uses a recent case (an allegation of rape against members of the Duke University Lacrosse team) to make some points about the fallibility of eyewitnesses, particularly in cross-racial identifications:
[…]the Duke case is an example of another, even more problematic aspect of eyewitness identifications, and that is that we aren’t particular good at making them across races. There is a huge amount of psychological research in their area, pioneered by Roy Malpass at the University of Texas at El Paso. A few years ago, John Brigham and Christian Meissner did a big meta-analysis of all of the cross-racial identification studies and concluded that given the task of picking someone out of a lineup, the average person is something like 1.4 times more likely to correctly identify an own-race face than a different-race face, and 1.6 times more likely to incorrectly identify a different race face. These are not trivial error rates. Clearly we need to treat cross-racial identifications with a special level of caution.
Rehabilitation of prisoners: Offenders’ anger control classes help make some more dangerous, according to The Guardian (24 Apr).
[…] Home Office instructions sent to the probation service say that anger management courses are counterproductive and actually help violent offenders who make premeditated attacks to manipulate the situation to their advantage.[…] A Home Office spokesman said that anger management courses were effective at teaching self-management techniques. However, some offenders did not engage in violent behaviour because of anger. “They use violence as a means to achieve a specific goal, for example to intimidate a victim during the course of a robbery, or the imposition of will on a partner in … domestic violence. There are other interventions and therapies that address the root causes of this instrumental violence (such as lack of empathy) which might be more beneficial to these individuals when delivered as part of a risk management package.”
Prostitution: Men who knowingly have sex with trafficked prostitutes will be prosecuted for rape as part of a police crackdown, reports the Guardian (25 Apr).
South Yorkshire deputy chief constable Grahame Maxwell, Pentameter’s programme director, said: “Trafficked women are being forced to work through fear and intimidation. Men who act as their clients risk being charged with rape.”
Criminal aetiology: Also in the Guardian (25 Apr), a report on a new study on criminal careers, suggesting that criminal mentors are crucial. The study’s authors, Carlo Morselli and Pierre Tremblay, of the Université de Montréal, and Bill McCarthy, of the University of California at Davis, examined the lives of 268 prison inmates in Quebec.
They offer up a nugget from Indiana University criminologist Edwin H Sutherland’s 1937 book The Professional Thief, By a Professional Thief. “Any man who hits the big-time in crime, somewhere or other along the road, became associated with a big-timer who picked him up and educated him,” the thief told Sutherland, adding that: “No one ever crashed the big rackets without education in this line.”
- Reference: Morselli, C., Tremblay, P. and McCarthy, B. (2006). Mentors and Criminal Achievement. Criminology 44(1). Follow the link for access to the free PDF download.
Deception: Yet more depressing news about the use of voice stress analysers, this time reported in the Stamford Advocate,(26 Apr).
Norwalk police used a lie detector that many scientists say is inaccurate to draw confessions from at least two men in the 2004 murder of a cab driver.[…] Norwalk’s police department is one of about 1,400 police departments and government agencies in the country that own the controversial voice stress analyzer, according to the Web site for the National Institute for Truth Verification, manufacturer of the machine.
Juries: Potential Jurors May Lie to Gain Seats on Important Cases, according to the American Bar Association eReport (14 Apr).
Are “stealth jurors” infiltrating jury pools, lying on questionnaires and during voir dire to land seats on high-profile cases for bragging rights? […] Several other jury experts agree that jurors sometimes lie or omit key information, but they say most do so for other, more innocent reasons. The jurors are embarrassed and don’t want to speak up about sensitive issues in a room full of strangers. But Anthony says his research shows that between 15 percent and 18 percent of potential jurors have a distinctly biased mindset, one that views jury service as a way to comment on or influence the outcomes of trials. This is a stark contrast from the traditional view of jury service as a civic responsibility, Anthony says.
The Courier-Journal (23 April) runs a story about what happens when jurors are allowed to ask questions during trials:
[…] critics, including some judges, say a slew of questions from the jury can cause difficulties. “Everybody becomes Perry Mason, and that becomes a problem because all you are doing is answering questions,” most of them irrelevant, said Circuit Judge Geoffrey Morris.
Juvenile sex offenders: The dangers of including juvenile sex offenders in online sex offender registries is highlighted by the Delaware News Journal (22 Apr)
Juveniles make up a third of the people charged with child sexual abuse in Delaware and nationwide. If convicted, their names, addresses, pictures, birthdays and sometimes schools can be included on the state’s sex-offender registry. […]The easy, online availability of juveniles’ personal information worries their families and counselors, especially in light of the slayings of two adult sex offenders in Maine last weekend. Police say Stephen Marshall of Nova Scotia, Canada, looked up 34 sex offenders before shooting two of them with a .45-caliber handgun. Marshall killed himself after police cornered him on a bus in Boston.