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Tag: iq

Parker: Lead Poisoning in Flint and Future Crime Statistics

Ross Parker was chief of the criminal division in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit for 8 years and worked as an AUSA for 28 in that office.

Ross Parker

Ross Parker

By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com

In the plethora of political finger pointing and civil and criminal investigations, as well as the avalanche  of media reports on the lead contamination crisis in Flint, Michigan, one aspect of the debacle has been barely mentioned—the effect of lead poisoning of children on crime rates in future years.

The only media report of this potential is by the online journal thinkprogress (Click here to read).

As this column noted in November 2013 and January 2014, several scientific studies during the past two decades have demonstrated a positive correlation between lead exposure to children and their later propensity toward crime as a juveniles and young adults. Lead in the air and water has been shown to be especially harmful to children, causing or contributing to ADHD, decreased IQs, and emotional problems. These problems are especially present among low income groups.

One such study on this issue has been done by an Amherst College Professor, Jessica Wolpaw Reyes, who compared Massachusetts kids’ 1990 lead exposure with their 2000 test scores and behavior problem records. She found that even moderately elevated blood lead levels could be responsible for increased adult aggressiveness and violent criminal behavior. Reyes hypothesizes that it could also cause a tendency toward impulsive behavior, ADHD, substance abuse and a host of other social ills. Other studies around the world have confirmed these finings.

Other studies have pointed out the striking parallel between the increased lead in the air caused by leaded gasoline between the 1950s and 1991 when it was banned, and the dramatic increase in crime statistics during that same period. Obviously other factors were likely contributors, but the elimination of lead from fuel and paint seems to have been a significant potential factor in the greatly reduced crime statistics of the last two decades.

The question is to what extent will the lead exposure to Flint children affect their future health and development? Moreover, will any such effect result in the emotional and mental problems which will increase their propensity to commit crimes?

The Flint water contamination was a debacle by governments and a tragedy for its people. One potential result, one which should be added to the decision making by policymakers who thus far have been unwilling to spend the money to replace and repair Flint’s lead corroded infrastructure, is the cost to future crime victims.

Flint is not the only city to face these questions. An investigation is already underway in Sebring, Ohio for the same problem. Likely we will learn of other cities in the near future that will face a similar issue. The only silver lining to this tragedy may well be to influence other cities in the United States and around the world to examine their own water systems and the lead in the blood levels of their children and to take corrective action if needed.

As Nontombi Naomi Tutu, daughter of Desmond Tutu, said in a recent speech at the University of Michigan-Flint, “We actually needed the people of Flint to remind the people in this country what happens when political expediency, when financial concerns, overshadow justice and humanity.”

Perhaps a small consolation to the sacrifices by the people of Flint.

 

Parker: Supreme Court to Decide Who Gets to Define “Mentally Retarded” for Purposes of the Death Penalty


Ross Parker

 Ross Parker was chief of the criminal division in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit for 8 years and worked as an AUSA for 28 in that office.
  
By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com
The cut-off IQ for the death penalty in Florida is 70 or less. Freddie Lee Hall scored a 71. He has been on death row for 35 years.

Hall was convicted of killing a pregnant woman and a deputy sheriff and, following the jury’s recommendation, the trial judge sentenced him to death. For 25 years he sat in his death row cell while his lawyers filed various appeals, all without success. Then the U. S. Supreme Court handed down Atkins v. Virginia in 2002, a 6-3 decision which held that the evolving standards of decency under the 8th Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment barred the execution of mentally retarded defendants. The case, however, left to the states the details of determining who was mentally retarded.

(Medical professionals rarely use the “retarded” term any more, preferring “intellectually disabled.” Since the cases and statutes continue to use the former term, I will too for the sake of clarity.)

The reasoning of Atkins was that the mentally retarded do not act with the same level of moral culpability because they lack the reasoning, judgment, and impulse control of normal adults. Although they still deserve sanctions for their crimes, executing them would not further the retribution and deterrence rationales which justify the ultimate penalty.

There were, perhaps, two subtexts in Atkins. First, the case was one more step in the growing public consensus in America that the application of the death penalty should either be eliminated or severely limited. It was one more chip in the capital punishment edifice that is incrementally crumbling.

Atkins was an important case in this evolution. Not only did it exempt another class of persons from the death penalty, but it recognized the development of a public consensus as a basis for doing so. The Court surveyed state legislatures and found 18 which had banned the practice. Add that number to the 13 which had at that time abolished the death penalty altogether, plus several others that had done so de facto and a trend became a consensus. Additionally the opinion included a provocative footnote suggesting a growing broader consensus against capital punishment. This the dissent vehemently decried, with Justice Scalia remarking that “seldom has an opinion of this Court rested so obviously on the personal views of its members.”

I wrote two columns earlier this year that in my view the death penalty was slowly dying and that outside of a small handful of states it has already become an anachronism. Full disclosure then and now, my personal view is that the death penalty in the 21st Century is morally wrong in a civilized society; that it can be freakishly wanton in its selection of people to execute; that its no-recourse finality strains the entire criminal justice system; that it provides precious little or no deterrence to craven impulsive murderers; and that there continues to be a possibility of a botched and inhumane administration of the instrument of death.

Most Americans, however, are increasingly concluding for entirely practical reasons that the application of the death penalty is simply too expensive, the appellate delays too laborious and uncertain, and the ultimate result too fraught with the intrusion of outside factors like race, poverty, unavailability of lethal drugs and the like.

More than any subjective factor of morality, the future of the death penalty is being determined by the growing sentiment that we simply cannot afford it. Even though a majority of Americans probably continue to believe that capital punishment is justified for the mass murderers we hear about on the news with disturbing regularity, they are no longer willing to pay the increasing price. Just as likely, pragmatic considerations in an era of economic insecurity affect those moral and practical decisions on whether as a society we need capital punishment.

The other point implied in Atkins is that the criminal justice system cannot guarantee a fair, reliable, and consistent result in capital cases involving an accused whose mental abilities are seriously subpar. Their limited ability to communicate and contribute to their own defense compromises even an effective defense counsel’s job. The result is that, either they plead to a non-capital sentence without a full consideration of their defenses, or they disproportionately face the one penalty which, if wrong, is unforgiving. Death.

Atkins seems to assume in its dictum that states will use the diagnostic criteria of the American Psychiatric Association. Most of the ones which at least nominally still have capital punishment do so. Juries, legislatures, judges, and governors have on quite a few occasions either rejected or overruled the death penalty for mentally retarded defendants.

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