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Obsessing over record victim counts

Posted by James Alan Fox, Crime and Punishment July 30, 2012 11:45 AM

Long before Guinness published the first edition chronicling various world pace-setting achievements in virtually every walk of life and death, Americans have been obsessed with records -- the good, the bad, and the deadly. It certainly does seem that events and accomplishments, from the trivial to the tragic, take on special significance if they can somehow be cast as “the best” or “the worst” of their kind.

As if the recent shooting spree at an Aurora, Colo. movie theater, which resulted in 12 killed and another 58 injured, wasn’t horrible enough, many news outlets felt compelled to declare it as a record of sorts -- thereby blurring the fine line between awful and awesome. Although the Aurora shooting spree wasn’t nearly record-breaking, certain members of media tried hard to describe it as a superlative nonetheless.

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Patrick's wise move to amend 3-strikes bill

Posted by James Alan Fox, Crime and Punishment July 28, 2012 08:45 AM


12:30 PM -- Author's Note and Update: Within hours of posting this blog piece calling on Governor Deval Patrick to veto the three-strikes component of the pending sentencing reform bill, he did in fact send the measure back to the Legislature with a proposed amendment that would allow for judicial discretion. Rather then attempting to override, the Legislature should embrace the wisdom of Patrick's modification.

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8:45 AM posting


Governor Patrick should veto 3-strikes

With the legislative deadline fast approaching, lawmakers, lawyers, and legal observers are all watching closely to see what Governor Deval Patrick decides to do with regard to the sentencing reform bill on his desk. Will he veto the legislation out of concern that the three-strikes component does not permit judicial discretion -- the so-called “safety valve”?

And if the Governor does indeed bounce the measure back to the legislature, will it move quickly to override? Here’s hoping that the Governor does and the legislature does not. The bill potentially has unintended deadly consequences.

Leaving aside the debate over correctional costs associated with warehousing criminals well past their crime-prime years, I have two concerns. The first involves the overly broad range of offenses among those that disallow parole, and the other relates to the subset that is punishable by life without parole.

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Accused mass killer: Over-exposed

Posted by James Alan Fox, Crime and Punishment July 22, 2012 01:45 PM

With the movie theater massacre days in the past and the booby-traps discovered at the suspect's apartment having been disarmed, the media has turned its focus on assembling a clear picture of the 24-year-old man who the police say caused so much pain to so many. The race is on to locate sources -- neighbors, former classmates, friends, and even relatives who can explain what seems inexplicable.

We have learned that the accused mass murderer dropped out of graduate school, despite his earlier academic achievements -- the kind of profound disappointment that typically characterizes this type of offender. We also have learned about his fairly recent move from San Diego to the Denver area -- the kind of social upheaval that can strand someone on a social island, without adequate support systems or a sounding board for keeping things in perspective.

While this rush to know as much as possible about the accused gunman and to solve the motivational puzzle may satisfy our curiosity and fascination with the dark side of human behavior, it also feels like an empty exercise that lacks any practical value. No matter how much we uncover about this man believed to have killed 12 innocent movie-goers and wounded scores more, we will never be able to use this intelligence to predict or identify like-minded individuals who potentially pose a threat to public safety.

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The Colorado shooting and gun control

Posted by James Alan Fox, Crime and Punishment July 20, 2012 11:30 AM

Author's note: I hope you'll take the time to read the entire piece. Unfortunately, it is easy for some to jump to quick conclusions without moving past the headlines. So let me be clear about this post. As my frequent readers know, I do support reasonable gun restrictions and regulations--certain steps designed to reduce our nation's overall rate of firearms violence. Still, murder in its most extreme form, as in the Colorado shooting, is particularly difficult to prevent through gun restrictions, or other strategies, for that matter. Of course, that doesn't mean we shouldn't try nonetheless. It would be the right thing to do, although not necessarily for the right reasons. Those reasons occur every day on the streets of America.

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There are few criminal events as stunning and frightening as a mass shooting. The suddenness, randomness and unpredictability(CNN) -- There are few criminal events as stunning and frightening as a mass shooting. The suddenness, randomness and unpredictability of episodes like Friday's early morning massacre at an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater cause us all to wonder whether any place is safe.

In our search for some pattern or commonality to these tragedies that might help us make sense of what appears so senseless, we invariably seek answers to such questions as: "What would inspire someone to commit such a dreadful act, one that was clearly planned in terms of time and place?" and "Are there measures that would reduce the likelihood of such events or at least reduce the carnage associated with them when they do occur?"

Read the full article at CNN.
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Just punishment for Penn State

Posted by James Alan Fox, Crime and Punishment July 15, 2012 02:30 PM

The substance and tenor of sports radio is sounding like crime and punishment once again. Just short of one year ago, the air waves that ordinarily provide a forum for discussing wins and losses featured instead speculation about whether the NCAA should invoke the "death penalty" against the University of Miami football program surrounding allegations of under-the-table payments to amateur athletes. And now that same "death penalty" debate has resurface in relation to much more serious transgressions involving a Penn State cover-up of its former assistant football coach's reprehensible sexual abuse of children.

I, for one, will not jump on the fast-growing "death penalty" bandwagon. Fine the University, if you want. Sue those who failed to fulfill their duty to report, if the evidence warrants it. Suspend the football program and strip it of scholarships, if that sends the right kind of message. But let's lose the death penalty term. Notwithstanding the atroctious actions of one and inexusable inactions of others, the metaphor for NCAA sanctioning must go.

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About the author

James Alan Fox is the Lipman Family Professor of Criminology, Law, and Public Policy at Northeastern University. He has written 18 books, including his newest, "Violence and Security on Campus: From Preschool through College." More »

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