Saturday, January 18, 2014

Why the Wealthy Favor Harsh Punishment — for Criminals and Errant Schoolchildren--but not for themselves

Why the Wealthy Favor Harsh Punishment — for Criminals and Errant Schoolchildren
January 13, 2014
by Joshua Holland
Moyers and Company

A growing body of academic research suggests that the wealthy see the world differently than the rest of us.

These studies are more than a matter of passing interest. Last week, the Center for Responsive Politics released a report that for the first time ever, a majority of those representing us in Congress are millionaires. And studies by political scientists Larry Bartels at Princeton and Trinity University’s Thomas Hayes have demonstrated that lawmakers vote to advance the interests of the wealthiest Americans. So in an effective plutocracy, the worldviews of ‘high-status’ individuals translate directly into public policies that affect us all.

Building on earlier research that found that those at the top tend to see themselves as being inherently more deserving than average working people, UC Berkeley psychology professor Dacher Keltner and Michael Kraus, a colleague at the University of Illinois, looked at how those views might influence the way they view our criminal justice system in a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology...

Joshua Holland: When I hear the word ‘essentialism,’ I think of debunked ideas that certain ethnic groups have innate talents or innate shortcomings. The idea that, say, Hispanics are inherently lazy, or Asians are genetically predisposed to be good at math. What is ‘class essentialism’?

Dacher Keltner: The concept of essentialism that you describe has long been with us. It really has no scientific grounding whatsoever, but the belief persists.

Michael Kraus and I got interested in thinking about the social class essentialism that appeared in some of our findings, and it reduces to a simple belief that people who are wealthy or poor are really different biological types. They have different genes; they are categorically almost different kinds of people.

Holland: So it’s the idea that those who have attained a high degree of social status are simply better people, is that fair to say?

Keltner: Yes. I mean, we didn’t necessarily anticipate that in our work, but we keep finding this notion that people from the upper strata of society, as they contemplate their own success and think about why others have less, they arrive at essentialist explanations of their affluence — that it’s due to their better genes, that they have a temperament that’s built for success, that they’re just the kind of people — independent of the neighborhood or society they’re born into — who rise to the top.

... We asked people from different class backgrounds — people in the upper strata making $150–200,000 a year and then those from the lower strata – to explain why some people are doing well and why wealth is expanding for certain individuals. And in that early study, we found this tendency for upper-class individuals to attribute success to superior traits and special talents — and genius, if you will — and for people from lower economic backgrounds to attribute it to cultural or historical or contextual factors, such as having a good chance to get a solid education.

Molly Ivins

Holland: It makes me think of the late, great Molly Ivins. She used to say that George W. Bush was “born on third base and thought he hit a triple.

Keltner: That very notion motivated some of this work. When you are born into a life of great opportunity and privilege in American society, where your schools are good and your neighborhood has great parks and there’s good food around, and quality afterschool programs, and all the things that wealthy individuals have preferential access to, you would hope that would factor into their theories of why they succeed — and we’re finding that it’s not so salient in how they view their lives.

See San Diego Education Report posts on zero tolerance.

Holland:... Your colleague, Paul Piff, found that the wealthy tend to be more likely to have a sense of entitlement than average people. He also found that they were more likely to exhibit narcissistic traits. These all seem to be perfectly complementary.

Keltner: Yeah, Paul Piff’s findings and Michael Kraus’s earlier findings — and studies by Hazel Markus, and Nicole Stephens at Stanford — are all consistent....there’s something about wealth and privilege that makes people perhaps a little too self-focused. And they lose sight of the great breaks they get in life...

And also, importantly, we find that when you are born and live in the lower socioeconomic strata, you tend to be a little bit more sophisticated in how you perceive the contextual factors that influence life...

Keltner: ...In psychological approaches to punishment, you can think about many different kinds of punishment or motives for punishment. And one way to parse that is to think about punishment being retributive — that is kind of an ‘eye for an eye’ form of justice, where the punishment matches the severity of the crime and is really about giving people their just desserts — versus a restorative form of punishment, where the idea is to have a punishment that allows people to regain their dignity and, for people who’ve perpetrated crimes, to improve and to get back in touch with their conscience and their standing in society.

What we’ve learned in this study is that if you think that there are just bad people out there, because of their genes, because of their temperament, because of their biological makeup, you won’t have much hope in restorative justice or restorative punishment. You won’t think there’s really any opportunity for them to change.

And what we’ve found is that because they have this belief that the people who aren’t doing well aren’t doing well because of their genes, upper-class individuals — or people put into this upper-class mindset — are more likely to endorse harsher, more retributive forms of punishment. That’s true when thinking about crimes and also kids cheating in schools — all manner of transgressions. I think that’s really worrisome.

And I’m not only worried about our punitive tendencies. I’d also extend this analysis to other policy areas. For example, the idea of devoting resources to those in need, people who are struggling, is a foundational element of a strong state. And our data would suggest that the well-to-do, who are more likely to be in office, won’t have that intuition about directing resources to those in need...

Joshua Holland is a senior digital producer for He’s the author of The Fifteen Biggest Lies About the Economy (and Everything Else the Right Doesn’t Want You to Know about Taxes, Jobs and Corporate America) (Wiley: 2010), and host of Politics and Reality Radio.

The wealthy favor harsh punishment--but not for themselves:

VIDEO: Drivers of luxury cars 4 to 5 times more likely to break law while driving
Take Two 'Normal' People, Add Money To Just One Of Them, and Watch

Severe and unequal school discipline preceded the killing of innocent bystander Christopher Lane
Rich People Are More Likely To Lie, Cheat, And Steal Candy From Children

Higher social class predicts increased unethical behavior

Basketball players suspended from game for hand signals popularized by Boehner, Dekker: why are school administrators so dumb?

Perhaps poor people with substance abuse problems could turn themselves around if they got the treatment received by George W. Bush instead of harsh prison sentences. Mr. Bush was able to clean up his act after two decades of substance abuse.



Book: Bush was arrested for cocaine in 1972
Texas author J.H. Hatfield claims the Republican front-runner did community service at a Houston center.
Salon Staff
Oct. 18, 1999

A new book by Texas author J.H. Hatfield claims that George W. Bush was arrested for cocaine possession in 1972, but had his record expunged with help from his family’s political connections. In an afterword to his book “Fortunate Son: George W. Bush and the Making of an American President” (St. Martin’s), Hatfield says he took a second look at the Bush cocaine allegations after a story in Salon reporting allegations that Bush did community service for the crime at the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center in Houston’s Third Ward.

The center’s executive director, Madgelean Bush (no relation to George W. Bush), had told Salon News and others that Bush did not do community service there, and the Bush campaign likewise denied the allegation. But the Texas governor had admitted to working at Houston’s Project P.U.L.L. in 1972, and Hatfield says he began to wonder if that was actually the community service sentence. Hatfield says he confirmed those suspicions with three sources close to the Bush family he had cultivated while writing his biography, which publishes Wednesday.

Bush’s campaign denied Hatfield’s allegation Monday.

By contrast, “First Son: George W. Bush and the Family Dynasty,” by Dallas Morning News reporter Bill Minutaglio, says George Bush Sr. referred his son to Project P.U.L.L. after an incident in which George W. drove drunk with his younger brother Marvin in the car.

But Hatfield quotes “a high-ranking advisor to Bush” who confirmed that Bush was arrested for cocaine possession in Houston in 1972, and had the record expunged by a judge who was “a fellow Republican and elected official” who helped Bush get off “with a little community service at a minority youth center instead of having to pick cotton on a Texas prison farm.”

Hatfield quotes a former Yale classmate who told him: “George W. was arrested for possession of cocaine in 1972, but due to his father’s connections, the entire record was expunged by a state judge whom the older Bush helped get elected. It was one of those ‘behind closed doors in the judges’ chambers’ kind of thing between the old man and one of his Texas cronies who owed him a favor … There’s only a handful of us that know the truth.”...

“Middle-class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do” -President Obama

President Obama Says Pot Is Less Dangerous Than Alcohol For The Individual Consumer
Think Progress
By Jeff Spross
January 19, 2014

...Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union issued a report that found African Americans are four times as likely as whites to be arrested for marijuana, even though both groups use the drug at similar rates. (In Washington, D.C. specifically, African Americans are eight times more likely to be arrested.) This is not an abstraction. Under federal law and in most states, marijuana offenses go on a person’s criminal record and carry jail time. That can make it harder if not impossible to find a job or to vote and often results in the revocation of professional licenses, the loss of education, financial aid or public benefits, and can event prevent a person from adopting a child. More people are arrested for marijuana-related offenses than for violent crime, meaning police resources are sucked away from addressing the latter.

The disproportionate effect of marijuana arrests and prosecutions on minorities is also part and parcel of the disproportionate damage the criminal justice system as a whole inflicts on these communities. Imprisoning massive portions of the country’s black and latino populations breaks up families, frays communities, destroys economic opportunity, and undermines those communities’ faith in the democratic process — leading to falling levels of political and voter participation...

What If Your Classroom Misbehavior Had Led To An Arrest?
by Grizzard
Daily Kos
Feb 28, 2013

Before I was a Houston-area karaoke legend, I was a fourth grader who consistently received progress reports with something similar to the following:

Very bright student, but lacks focus sometimes. Is more interested in singing in class than listening.

I still sing. In the car, in the shower, and when things get unbearable in the third year of law school, in class. It's just that no one's there to write those progress reports anymore. My school room indiscretions weren't limited to testing the building's acoustics, either. With my friends, we disrupted class regularly. In Spanish, we made Senora Lockyer's life some variant of hell by answering legitimate questions with nonsensical answers like "Muy tengo." I was fond, for either lack of creativity or lack of linguistic knowledge, of responding to her inquiries with the bold claim that I did, in fact, have blue shoes.

On other occasions, we would fight. We'd bully each other in the locker room, and some kids got it worse than others. Just about everyone had their turn, though, and the sharp end of a wet towel eluded no man. In tenth grade, one kid mooned a car out of the back of the tennis bus. And on our junior year state championship golf trip, we stupidly pelted a home with eggs. At night, on occasion, we would turn up at school to spend time alone on the football field.

All of us have been juveniles at one point or another, and if we are honest with ourselves, we can think of head-scratching moments from those years. But if you are like me, your indiscretions were dealt with in detention, suspension, or maybe a good parent-teacher conference. You grew up, and the stupid things you did as a 12-year old only follow you if you're stupid enough to diary about them on this or another site.

For many of today's elementary and high school kids, though, things are changing. They're no longer afforded the room to grow. Instead, we are more and more treating in-school misbehavior as a criminal issue. Children are either ticketed or arrested for mistakes that have no business being adjudicated in the courts.

Don't believe me? Fine - just ask the 13-year old New Mexico boy who was arrested for burping in P.E.

Or the Texas couple, so enraged by the throws of a high-school relationship gone bad that they became the lactose lovers, tossing milk on one another. For that crime, they were hauled off to jail.

Or any number of bored doodlers, who are being hauled in under gang-intended graffiti statutes for transcribing such dangerous messages as:

"I love my friends Abby and Faith. Lex was here 2/1/2010."

There's no word at this point whether police took Lex's directive as a written confession. These stories might be humorous if they didn't end with children herded through the court system, their identities shaken. And the stories here are just highlights. A simple Internet search will uncover dozens of other cases that might just cause pause.

There are bigger issues at play here. Our inability to deal appropriately with our kids is not only a symptom of a broken justice system; it's also a contributing cause.

When the gun debate picked up fire last month, one of the most popular proposals centered on putting more police officers in school. Those officers would presumably be in a school to play the role of movie-like defender in the rare instance that some deranged gunman targets kids. But what does that officer do on those days when his job as a sentry doesn't turn up a killer?

In most schools, he's deployed as a de-facto enforcer. Without specific training on dealing with juveniles, he's left to employ the only kind of justice he knows - putting people in handcuffs for causing trouble. The consequence of placing more police officers in schools is that those officers are put to use. They're called in to deal with situations that might have been better left to the athletic director, the vice principal, or even the teacher. Studies have shown a positive correlation between police officer presence and arrest numbers in schools. Simply put - when put there, police officers are going to do what police officers do.

Literally thousands of students are arrested in our high schools and elementary schools each year. In places like Texas, it's much more likely that these kids will receive tickets. Texas treats many things - including traffic tickets - as class C misdemeanors. These are non-arrestable offenses still handled by the criminal courts. Since they carry no possibility of jail time, people accused of these crimes do not receive court-appointed counsel, nor do they receive the sort of due process that follows a normal criminal proceeding.

For poor families, tickets can carry many additional expenses. First comes the cost of the ticket, which can be as much as $500. In addition, the parent will have to take time off of work to make a cumbersome trip to a local court. Because the matter's processed in the criminal system, all of the usual risks apply for students. If they're late for court or they happen to miss a court date, they can be arrested on bench warrants. Likewise, these courts do not offer the anonymity protections afforded to students in juvenile courts. Where records are sealed in juvenile courts, they become a part of the public record in misdemeanor court. It's an ugly practice that has the potential to scar a student's record permanently over something that might have been better dealt with at the school level.

It's difficult to discuss criminal justice matters without touching on race, and this issue is no different. Would it surprise you to learn that minorities are ticketed and arrested at higher rates than their white counterparts? The Washington Post reported on this issue:

Overall, the data showed that 96,000 students were arrested and 242,000 were “referred” to law enforcement by school leaders, meaning the students were not necessarily arrested or cited.

In a more focused analysis of school systems with more than 50,000 students enrolled, the data showed that African American students represented 24 percent of enrollment but 35 percent of arrests. White students accounted for 31 percent of enrollment and 21 percent of arrests. For Hispanic students, there was less of a disparity in arrests. They accounted for 34 percent of enrollment and 37 percent of arrests.

That's right - nearly 100,000 children arrested, right in their school. And non-white kids seem to miss out on the benefit of the doubt that a white student might get for throwing his or her airplane in class.

But the real question has to do with the consequences of these policies. Just what sort of society are we creating? Juvenile justice advocate Bryan Stevenson has spoken and written at length about the life-altering effect of identity. His point is well-measured and well-taken: when you tell and show a kid over and over that he's supposed to be something or another, he'll end up being that something.

When I was 17, I received a pre-season football honor. It was somewhat unexpected, but set the stage for what was a good season on my part. After the first game of that season, when I'd made a big play late in a win, one of my teammates' dads approached me. He said something that's stuck with me, and it's applicable here:

"If you give a dog a good name, he'll answer to it."

This is also true for our juvenile offenders. When we call them criminals, expose them to the system, and administer harsh punishments for mundane acts, we transform them into something that no one wants to see. Even in places like Georgia, they can recognize the cause and effect that occurs when you make a wider criminal net your juvenile policy:

"We know from the research that if you arrest a kid on campus, he’s twice as likely not to graduate," Clayton County Juvenile Court Judge Steven Teske said. "If they appear in court, they’re four times as likely not to graduate."

There's certainly something to the idea that kids less likely to graduate in the first place will be more likely to commit offenses, so the arrest itself may not be the tipping point for all kids. But it'd be unwise to ignore the flip side of that correlation, where shipping a child into the juvenile justice system produces as many problems as it solves.

A Princeton study supports the idea that interaction with the juvenile justice system is linked to negative education outcomes, even when other relevant factors are controlled for. That study notes some of the important practical concerns for students in the pipeline. Their court settings cause them to miss school and fall behind on assignments. They can experience some form of social anxiety and mistreatment from their peers. The factors are many, even without considering the psychological effect on a child.

It doesn't take a brain scientist to know that education is correlated to economic outcomes, with high school dropouts making up a large portion of the poverty-level citizenry. In essence, our willingness and desire to deploy police officers to situations where very little harm is caused will contribute to poverty. It will contribute to the sort of disenfranchisement that leads to real, adult crime. When kids are stripped of opportunity, told they're criminals, and ushered out of the mainstream, their limited options often foretells a future of criminal activity.

We have ourselves to blame for this problem. Our laziness and apathy has manifested itself in a juvenile justice apparatus that is anything but prepared to administer justice. It's out of sight, out of mind, and many don't care. While in our schools, 12-year olds are getting their first taste of the criminal life by throwing well-aimed airplanes.

Maura Larkins comment: Here's what happened when poor people were given a stipend. The frequency of behavioral problems declined by 40 percent, nearly reaching the risk of children who had never been poor. Can we save middle class kids by saving poor kids?

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