Bernard Harcourt, Julius Kreeger Professor of Law and Criminology and Director of the Center for Studies in Criminal Justice, has been asked by L'Express -- a French news magazine similar to Time or Newsweek -- to cover the U.S. elections for their readers. His election blog can be found here.
LAST August, a prison inmate in Jackson, Mich. -- someone the authorities described as ''floridly psychotic'' -- died in his segregation cell, naked, shackled to a concrete slab, lying in his own urine, scheduled for a mental health transfer that never happened. Last month in Florida, the head of the state's social services department resigned abruptly after having been fined $80,000 and is facing criminal contempt charges for failing to transfer severely mentally ill jail inmates to state hospitals.
Ten days ago, the Supreme Court agreed to determine when mentally ill death row inmates should be considered so deranged that their execution would be constitutionally impermissible. The case involves a 48-year-old Navy veteran who is a diagnosed schizophrenic. In the decade leading up to the crime he was hospitalized 14 times for severe mental illness.
On Thursday, November 16, Professor Bernard Harcourt gave a talk in the Chicago's Best Ideas series entitled "Against Prediction: Punishing in an Actuarial Age." He has a new book out with a similar title (Against Prediction: Profiling, Policing and Punishing in an Actuarial Age) and presented part of this material to the students. The talk was a very interesting look at law enforcement profiling and whether it works. Professor Harcourt approached this empirically, disussing whether it works on a practical level, injecting a new element in a debate that is traditionally about morals and ethics.
Professor Bernard Harcourt delivered a fascinating Chicago's Best Ideas Talk on April 5, 2006, entitled "Language of the Gun: A Semiotic for Law & Social Science." Professor Harcourt's talk was based on his recent book Language of the Gun: Youth, Crime, and Public Policy and covered some fascinating, if often disturbing, data from interviews with incarcerated teens about their opinions about guns. Professor Harcourt analyzes the particular language the teens use to talk about guns and the associations their words have, and what the implications are for public policy. WARNING: while this talk is certainly worth your time, it does include some explicit language (as Harcourt repeats some of the comments the study participants made) and violent subject matter. This may not be work-appropriate and is almost certainly not appropriate for young children.
You'll benefit from looking at Professor Harcourt's slides along with the talk, as some of the charts are discussed in detail, and the opening photos bring the talk into even clearer focus.Download harcourt_language_of_the_gun.ppt. You can listen to the talk here. Instructions on listening to the podcast are here. The blurb for Professor Harcourt's talk is below the fold (the text of this is a bit explicit as well).
Professor Bernard Harcourt is a man of many talents. What you may not know is that one of those talents is fluency in French. He recently appeared on a Radio France program called Le Bien Commun, an hour long program which is the leading in-depth talk-show on law and culture in France. The program Professor Harcourt appeared on was titled "La Justice Actuarielle" (or "Actuarial Justice"). The other participant was Gilles Chantraine, who is a sociologist and CNRS member at the CESDIP (Centre de Recherches Sociologiques sur le Droit et les Institutions Pénales). They discussed Professor Harcourt's forthcoming book, Against Prediction: Profiling, Punishing, and Policing in an Actuarial Age. The book and radio program focused on the use of actuarial methods in the field of crime and punishment. Actuarial methods refer to the use of statistical methods on large data sets of offenders to predict future dangerousness and to administer individual criminal justice outcomes. Such methods increasingly permeate the crime and punishment area--from parole decision-making and sentencing of sex offenders and other convicts, to prison classification and police profiling. While a handful of academics decry the rise of the actuarial in criminal justice, many citizens and policy makers today have embraced the trend. To many, it simply makes common sense to base the length of a criminal sentence on the likelihood of future recidivism or to identify which tax filers to audit on the basis of their likelihood of cheating. Professor Harcourt is a critic of the trend and offers, in the book and radio program, three specific critiques of the actuarial turn.
The radio program can be listened to (in French) here. Professor Harcourt's research and forthcoming book on the topic is summarized here. If that's not enough links for you, podcast instructions are here. If you would like to know more about the program Professor Harcourt appeared on and a related conference, information is below the fold.
Over at the Legal Affairs Debate Club this week, Bernard Harcourt is debating whether police efforts to reduce minor crimes (think vagrancy, panhandling, and the like) can really lead to a significant reduction in more major crimes -- the so-called "broken windows" theory of policing. Joining him in the conversation is David Thacher from the University of Michigan.