October-November, 2017

Distribution of People with Felony Convictions

A recent study (published online in September 2017) examined the demographic and geographic distribution in the United States of people with felony convictions, and those formerly incarcerated or with felony conviction supervision, in the years up to 2010. Demographic data in the study shows that 93% of those arrested are male; by young adulthood, up to about 23 years of age, 49% of all black males and 38% of all white males have been arrested for a crime. Three percent of the total American population, and 15% of the adult black male population, have been to prison; also, 8% of all adults and 33% of adult African American males have been convicted of a felony.

The cumulative risk for incarceration of males – especially black males – without some education is much higher than for males with some education. For example, the cumulative risk of imprisonment for a black male between the ages of 20 – 34 without a high school diploma is at 68%, in contrast to black males with a high school diploma, whose risk is at 21%. White males without a high school diploma have a cumulative risk of imprisonment at 28%.

Punishment varies significantly from state to state; some states tend toward higher rates of imprisonment, while other states emphasize community supervision. After adjusting estimates for recidivism, mortality, mobility – including deportations – the researchers determined that, in 2010, 4.5 million people were serving jail or probation sentences, and there were an additional 14.5 million people not serving sentences but who had felony convictions. In 2010, all but one of the states (Maine) had felony convictions rates of at least 5% of the adult African American population in the state. Five states (California, Florida, Indiana, Massachusetts, and Washington) had felony convictions rates in excess of 20% of the total population of the adult African American population in that state. The authors noted that the adverse impacts of felony convictions – for example, limited citizenship rights, lowered job expectations, and stigma – disproportionately affect African Americans.

The study noted that incarceration rates have begun declining, but by some estimates, it will take 80 years to return to the nationwide incarceration levels seen in 1980.

Sources:  Sarah K. S. Shannon, Christopher Uggen, Jason Schnittker, Melissa Thompson, Sara Wakefield, and Michael Massoglia, “The Growth, Scope, and Spatial Distribution of People With Felony records in the United States, 1948-2010,” Demography (2017) 54:1795-1818, shared online through Springer Nature Sharedit, September 1, 2017:

Researchers Decode Facial Images from

Monkeys’ Brain-Waves

Researchers at the California Institute of Technology report that, using fMRI technology and macaques, they were able to reproduce – using the brain waves of the primates – accurate images of facial images viewed by the macaques. Additional research is expected as only two of the known six areas of the brain associated with facial recognition were involved. In those two regions, the researchers identified almost 200 specific neurons that were stimulated when the macaques viewed a series of 2,000 different facial images. The information coded into the brains was subsequently decoded by the researchers, who were then able – using the information from the neurons – to assemble accurate facial images.

Sources:  Nathaniel Scharping, “Algorithm Accurately Reconstructs Faces from a Monkey’s Brain Waves,” discovermagazine.com, June 2, 2017:
Summary and link to study: Le Chang and Doris Y. Tsao, “The Code for Facial Identity in the Primate Brain,” cell.com, Volume 169, Issue 6, June 1, 2017:

Washington, D.C. Body-Cam Study

 A study involving 2,224 Metropolitan Police Department officers in Washington, D.C., to assess whether the wearing of body-cameras by police would result in a reduction of civilian complaints and reports of use of force, recently concluded there was no statistically significant reduction.

 In 2015, the United States Justice Department awarded in excess of $23 million to law enforcement agencies in the U.S. in support of the implementation of body-camera policies. Over 95% of law enforcement agencies in the U.S. either have, or plan on implementing, body-camera policies. One of the theories underlying the body-camera trend is that both civilians and police will be better-behaved – experience a “civilizing effect” – when their actions are knowingly recorded. Another theory is that the footage will be of benefit to subsequent investigations and judicial proceedings.

 The researchers noted that prior studies have shown mixed results. In their study, one-half of the Metropolitan Police Department officers were assigned to wear body-cameras and the other one-half were not for the period between June 28, 2015, and December 15, 2016, when body-cameras were assigned to additional control group officers. The observation period ended March 31, 2017. All seven police districts were involved in the study.

 Four areas were examined: police use of force; civilian complaints; policing activity; and judicial outcomes. “Across each of the four outcome categories, [their] analyses consistently point to a null result: the average treatment effect on all of the measured outcomes was very small, and no estimate rose to statistical significance at conventional levels.”

 The authors concluded that expectations regarding body-worn cameras be recalibrated.

Sources:  Working Paper: David Yokum, Anita Ravishankar, and Alexander Coppock, “Evaluating the Effects of Body-Worn Cameras: A Randomized Controlled Trial,” The Lab@DC, published at washingtonpost.com, October 20, 2017:

Related body-cam articles: Criminal Defense Newsletter, July, 2017, Volume 40, Issue 10

by Neil Leithauser
Associate Editor