Tuesday, May 31, 2022

New Hope for a Fairer, Greener Society


Stoppress Tuesday, 31 May 2022 The Australian Labor Party has just gained a majority in Parliament and will be governing in its own right

We hope that in Australia’s case a new era of justice, reason and integrity has begun. The first signs are promising. The Sri Lankan family which has been in detention for four years has finally been allowed back into the community which has fought so hard for their release. We hope that this mercy will soon extend to the many less publicly known detainees who remain incarcerated, including our whistleblowers and particularly Julian Assange, who not only deserves to be restored to his place in society, but elevated beyond the status we accord to sports people in this country.

There is a lot of work to be done by our new government, whatever form it takes, to restore the sense of justice and fair play and to plan for an uncertain future, which we hope will see us move away from reliance on fossil fuels.

The good news on that front is that Australian billionaire, Mike Cannon -Brookes has started the ball rolling by preventing the demerger of AGL - Australia’s largest power generater, and shifting it towards renewable energy. Now that’s my kind of millionaire, along with Simon Holmes a Court who has generously contributed to Climate 200 which enabled a number of greens and Independents to get into parliament. A shout too to Nicola Forrest, wife of mining billionaire Andrew “Twiggy,” Forrest, who is contributing $24 .6 million for better early childhood education. She argues that failure to provide better and more affordable care costs the government $15 billion in combined child protection services, youth detention and mental health services, and I’m inclined to agree. While I appreciate such endeavours, what I would like even more, is to have  citizens pay their fair share of taxes – and forget the additional tax cuts for the already wealthy, and have governments do their job of caring for the vulnerable in our society. 

The latter is important for its relevance to our present topic about Crime and Punishment to which I’ll return shortly.


Friday, May 27, 2022

Prisons are not the answer to preventing crime [ Reprinted with kind permission from The Conversation]

The U.S. incarcerates more people than any other place in the world. Warehousing people in prison is costly and unsustainable. Shutterstock
Jodi Viljoen, Simon Fraser University and Gina Vincent, UMass Chan Medical School

Each day in the United States and Canada, it seems like the news media reports another shooting or act of violence that ends in tragedy. As a result, politicians and the public often leap to the conclusion that violence is on the rise and that the answer is to throw more people behind bars.

However, this conclusion flies in the face of research. Crime statistics demonstrate that since the 1990s, rates of violence have fallen in the U.S. and Canada. And although some people are dangerous and need to be in prison, in other cases, locking people up is a waste of taxpayer dollars that may do more harm than good.

Rather than getting tough on crime, justice agencies need to get smart on crime. For instance, rather than indiscriminately cramming everyone into prison, justice agencies should use scientifically supported methods to identify which defendants truly pose a danger to others.

We are researchers who work with American and Canadian justice agencies to help them develop effective methods to identify and manage people who may be violent towards others. We explain why jailing everyone is not the answer to preventing violence, and how many researchers have developed risk assessment tools to help justice agencies make better decisions about who to imprison and what services to provide.

Jailing everyone is not the answer

The U.S. incarcerates more people than any other place in the world. However, many politicians have recently concluded that warehousing people in prison is costly and unsustainable. As such, politicians have been trying to bring down prison rates. An example of this is the new First Step Act in the U.S., which obtained strong support from both Republicans and Democrats. American politicians are shifting their thinking for many reasons. Here are a few:

1. Prisons cost a lot

Prisons are expensive to operate. In the U.S., the total state expenditure on prisons is at least US$81 billion. In Canada, taxpayers pay an average of $114,000 a year per prisoner. It’s cheaper and more effective to provide treatment than it is to put someone behind bars.

2. Locking people up doesn’t make us safer

Research shows that putting people behind bars does not reduce reoffending, and some studies show it can make matters worse. From working in prisons, we have seen this firsthand; prisons can be schools for crime. If you take a teenager who’s never gotten in trouble before and stuff them in a confined space with people who are already entrenched in crime, they won’t necessarily turn into a good law-abiding citizen.

3. We lock up the wrong people

Although some of the people we jail are dangerous, many are not. Many have mental illnesses and addictions. Some are teenagers who have made bad decisions. And many have not even been found guilty — they’re still waiting for their trial. Also, decisions about who we put behind bars are prone to biases and disparities.

For example, in Canada, even though incarceration rates have fallen, the proportion of prisoners who are Indigenous is growing — 60 per cent of imprisoned teenage girls are Indigenous.

Who is dangerous?

How do law makers decide who is dangerous and truly needs to be locked up? Judges, police, and probation officers make these decisions all the time. They can use one of two approaches — they can either rely on their own intuitions or hunches, or they can use decision-making aids called risk assessment instruments.

Option 1: Rely on hunches

Historically, professionals had to rely on their hunches about who would be violent. Prior to the 1980s, research was scarce and there were no guidelines to help professionals. Without guidance, it can be difficult to predict who will be violent — even for experts. Early studies suggested that experts who use their intuitions to decide who will be violent were accurate less than half the time. They would be better off flipping a coin.

Option 2: Use risk assessment instruments based on research

Given these worrisome findings, scientists set out to develop better ways to determine a person’s risk of violence. They conducted hundreds of studies on factors that predicted violence — for example, substance use and antisocial beliefs. They used these factors to create tools that told professionals what risk factors to consider and how to identify them.

Risk assessment tools can help those in the judicial system make better choices according to recent research. (Shutterstock)

Some of these instruments are formulas or algorithms, whereas others are decision-making aids that include a list risk factors and rating criteria, but allow professionals to take into account unique considerations for a given person. Although these instruments are not crystal balls, hundreds of studies demonstrate many of these risk assessment approaches help to predict violence.

Risk assessment tools used globally

Justice agencies in Canada, the U.S. and many other countries now routinely use these risk assessment tools to help decide who to detain or imprison, and what rehabilitation programs to provide. These assessment devices are also used to decide who is ready for release.

What impact do these decision aids have?

Risk assessment decreases incarceration

In a new study that looks mostly at the U.S., we compiled data from over a million defendants and offenders at 30 sites. We found that when justice agencies adopted risk assessment instruments, detention rates decreased slightly. Even though fewer people were being locked up, crime rates either declined or stayed the same. In other words, risk assessment can help minimize incarceration without jeopardizing public safety.

Are the assessment tools biased?

But do these assessment tools help counteract over-incarceration of Black and Indigenous Peoples or do they contain invisible biases that amplify preexisting disparities? In our recent review, we found that when justice agencies used risk assessment instruments, jail rates decreased slightly for Black and white people. However, findings varied as to whether the size of this decrease was similar across groups. Also, studies have not yet tested how the use of these tools impact incarceration rates for Indigenous Peoples.

We need more research. In Canada, the Supreme Court recently reprimanded the prison system for failing to adequately test if the risk assessment devices they use are appropriate for Indigenous Peoples.

In sum, risk assessment instruments are not going to fix all our problems. However, justice systems need to make decisions about who is dangerous somehow. And, given the choice between relying on untested intuitions, which historically have resulted in dramatic racial disparities, or using instruments that were developed through decades of research, instruments offer clear advantages.

They may help justice systems make decisions that preserve public safety without falling prey to knee-jerk calls to lock everyone up.

However, whatever approach justice agencies ultimately decide to use, they need to make sure it is fair and just, and they need to carefully test its effects. These decisions are far too important to simply rely on hunches.

[ Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter. ]The Conversation

Jodi Viljoen, Professor of Clinical and Forensic Psychology, Simon Fraser University and Gina Vincent, Associate Professor at the Implementation Science & Practice Advances Research Center, UMass Chan Medical School

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Love Thy Neighbour 2 – Good Karma Networks and other ways to be more neighbourly


This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND

A National Network

In Australia Good Karma Networks are flourishing in some 90 communities. According to Amy, who began the first one in the Melbourne suburb of Kensington six years ago, “They are suburb specific Facebook groups which are designed to help neighbours with whatever challenges they face. They are for people to connect and solve each other’s problems and bring care and value back into their communities.” The important thing is that they must be non -transactional – in other words, you can’t sell goods or services on them and there should be no expectation of reward given for anything which you do. It’s just about spreading kindness and positivity.

You can find out if there’s a network in your neighbourhood by clicking here. Click here too if there isn’t and you want to start one.

International neighbourhood networks

 Though not as personal, many suburbs and towns also have dedicated Facebook Groups to let people know what’s happening in their area. I’m told that these can be very broad, big and busy and can also harbour a lot of trolls.

In the UK the Good Neighbour Network has been running for forty years and just one region –Hampshire, has 120 highly localised groups, offering practical help, emotional support, befriending schemes and local activities. It also tells you how to start one yourself.

The USA's  Good Neighbor Network started in March 2022, and has some very good ideas as to what might want to do in your community. In both cases the groups are small and local. They should not be confused with another group called Good Neighbours International or its Australian offshoot Good Neighbours.com.au. Though though this organisation does a lot of excellent work, it is more in the form of humanitarian aid to other countries. It is currently organising aid to the Ukraine and Ukrainian refugees, so still worth checking out if you would like to help there 


Nextdoor.com is San Francisco – based,  but operates in 11 countries and had some 270,000 neighbourhoods in 2020. Its brief is broader in that it includes things like community alerts from local authorities such as the police and local government advising which streets will be undergoing repairs, as well as goods and services for sale. There were even some entries for my community. While it does take the work out of setting up your own group, there are some caveats.

One is that it is a commercial operation which presumably makes its money from advertising by local companies who want to reach their neighbourhoods so expect ads. for local services.They also ask for way too much information e.g. I stopped when it got to “Who else lives in your house?” There have also been some reports of thieves using the information on the site to target homes offering goods for sale. It could also be a way to find out when people are going away –for example when people advertise for dog sitters. In the US, there have also been some complaints about racism and the like, though the company is working hard to address this by offering training to local leads (moderators) and reminding people to be kind.  The following YouTube video explains how to change your settings to retain more privacy.


How ever you do it, do it now

What is apparent, is that more and more people are seeking greater connection with their communities. How much and the kind will depend on the individuals within it. With good moderators most of the potential downsides can easily be avoided. Covid has obviously been an enormous catalyst but when I think of the people in Queensland recently who,  facing the second hundred -year flood in three years,  found themselves without communication or government support of any kind and were totally reliant on their neighbours for rescue and help, I think it’s time we all started looking around and making a point of getting to know our neighbours, preferably before any kind of disaster.


 PS We congratulate the Labor Party, the Greens and the Independents on their excellent election results!