Research and Publications - Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice

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    Book Review: The fear of too much justice: Race, poverty, and the persistence of inequality in the criminal courts by Bright, S. B., & Kwak, J.
    (Sage Journals, 2024-02-28) Babalola, Abiodun; Salman, Abdulmalik
    This review is based on the work of Stephen Bright and James Kwak titled The Fear of Too Much Justice: Race, Poverty, and the Persistence of Inequality in the Criminal Courts which was published by the New Press in 2023. The book contains 368 pages with nine chapters, each of which focuses on a different aspect of the criminal justice system in the United States, acknowledgements, notes, an index, and a foreword written by Bryan Stevenson, a renowned civil rights lawyer and activist in the United States. It aims to shed light on the flaws and injustices within the American criminal justice system, especially concerning issues such as unfair trials, racial discrimination, inadequate legal representation, intense legal proceedings, lengthy working hours, and the profit motive in the judicial system. It also addresses the paucity of funds in defense representation, and the failure of state and local governments to make adequate provisions for funding the legal defense of poor individuals.
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    Factors to consider in evaluating the appropriateness of restraints during forensic evaluations
    (Routledge, 2018) Rock, Rachel C.; Shealy, Clayton; Sellbom, Martin; University of Alabama Tuscaloosa; University of Otago
    Forensic examiners frequently conduct evaluations with individuals who may be regarded as dangerous. To manage this situation, forensic examiners may prefer examinees to wear restraints. Available literature indicates that the use of restraints may be both physically and psychologically detrimental and thus possibly both reduces the yield and limits the utility of psychological test data. Although there is a lack of research addressing this concern, one must use the available information to inform the decision on utilization of restraints during forensic evaluations. In addition, professional ethics, test standards and norms, the reported adverse effects of restraints on both psychiatric patients and inmates, and the concept of forced medication are reviewed to help assess the appropriateness of restraints during forensic evaluations. This analysis provides forensic examiners with insight and recommendations to determine if the use of restraints is best practice during forensic evaluations, particularly within the United States.
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    Assessing findings from the fast track study Conduct Problems Prevention Research Group
    (Springer, 2013) Conduct Problems Prevention Res; Bierman, Karen L.; Coie, John D.; Dodge, Kenneth A.; Greenberg, Mark T.; Lochman, John E.; McMahon, Robert J.; Pinderhughes, Ellen E.; Pennsylvania State University; Pennsylvania State University - University Park; Duke University; University of Alabama Tuscaloosa; University of Washington; University of Washington Seattle
    The aim of this paper is to respond to the Commentary, "Reassessing Findings from the Fast Track Study: Problems of Methods and Analysis" provided by E. Michael Foster (Foster, this issue) to our article "Fast Track Intervention Effects on Youth Arrests and Delinquency" (Conduct Problems Prevention Research Group 2010, Journal of Experimental Criminology, 6, 131-157). Our response begins with a description of the mission and goals of the Fast Track project, and how they guided the original design of the study and continue to inform outcome analyses. Then, we respond to the Commentary's five points in the order they were raised. We agree with the Commentary that efforts to prevent crime and delinquency are of high public health significance because the costs of crime and delinquency to society are indeed enormous. We believe that rigorous, careful intervention research is needed to accumulate evidence that informs prevention programs and activities. We have appreciated the opportunity to respond to the Commentary and to clarify the procedures and results that we presented in our paper on Fast Track effects on youth arrests and delinquency. Our response has clarified the framework for the number of statistical tests made, has reiterated the randomization process, has supported our tests for site-by-intervention effects, has provided our rationale for assuming missing at random, and has clarified that the incarceration variable was not included as a covariate in the hazard analyses. We stand by our conclusion that random assignment to Fast Track had a positive impact in preventing juvenile arrests, and we echo our additional caveat that it will be essential to determine whether intervention produces any longer-term effects on adult arrests as the sample transitions into young adulthood. We also appreciate the opportunity for open scientific debate on the values and risks associated with multiple analyses in long-term prevention program designs such as Fast Track. We believe that, once collected, completed longitudinal intervention datasets should be fully used to understand the impact, process, strengths, and weaknesses of the intervention approach. We agree with the Commentary that efforts to prevent crime and delinquency are of high public health significance because the costs of crime and delinquency to society are indeed enormous. As a result, we argue that it is important to balance the need to maintain awareness and caution regarding potential risks in the design or approach that may confound interpretation of findings, in the manner raised by the Commentator, with the need for extended analyses of the available data so we can better understand over time how antisocial behavior and violence can be effectively reduced.
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    In-your-face Watergate: neutralizing government lawbreaking and the war against white-collar crime
    (Springer, 2021) Pontell, Henry N.; Tillman, Robert; Ghazi-Tehrani, Adam Kavon; John Jay College of Criminal Justice (CUNY); University of Alabama Tuscaloosa
    Ample official evidence exists that the Trump administration was the most corrupt in modern American history. Donald Trump's overall pattern of behavior not only resembled, but amplified that of major white-collar criminals. This paper has two main foci. First, it argues that government criminality and corruption were facilitated by rationales and excuses that denied effective social condemnation of such acts. Second, it considers how these defenses were weaponized by the Trump administration as part of a much larger and more deliberate "war on white-collar crime" more generally. As a result, enormous efforts are necessary to restore and strengthen regulatory and enforcement regimes, and transcend deepened political cleavages on such matters. Through a new hybrid neutralization technique, normalization of condemning the condemners, Trump exacerbated existing political differences and influenced supporters to at once ignore government crime and corruption, and accept new moral narratives that flew in the face of substantial evidence of criminality.
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    Saving damsels, sentencing deviants and selective chivalry decisions: juror decision-making in an ambiguous assault case
    (Routledge, 2018) Meaux, Lauren T.; Cox, Jennifer; Kopkin, Megan R.; University of Alabama Tuscaloosa
    In sexually motivated crimes, female defendants are treated more leniently and female jurors are more punitive, relative to their male counterparts. However, few studies have examined the impact and interactions of juror, defendant and victim sex in non-sexually motivated crimes. In this study, mock jurors responded to an assault case in which the sex of both the defendant and the victim was manipulated, creating four conditions. The female jurors reported higher confidence in a guilty verdict, regardless of the defendant's and victim's sex. Additionally, the mock jurors - particularly the females - were more confident in a guilty verdict when the victim was female, regardless of the defendant's sex. Finally, the mock jurors recommended a harsher sentence for the female defendant - but only when the victim was male. These results are discussed in the context of understanding sex and gender within the criminal justice system and potential implications for juror decision-making.
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    The link between bond forfeiture and pretrial release mechanism: The case of Dallas County, Texas
    (PLOS, 2017) Clipper, Stephen J.; Morris, Robert G.; Russell-Kaplan, Amanda; University of Alabama Tuscaloosa; University of Texas Dallas
    Purpose The goal of this study was to evaluate the efficacy of four pretrial jail release mechanisms (i.e., bond types) commonly used during the pretrial phase of the criminal justice process in terms of their ability to discriminate between defendants failing to appear in court (i.e., bond forfeiture). These include attorney bonds, cash bonds, commercial bail bonds, and release via a pretrial services agency. Methods A multi-treatment propensity score matching protocol was employed to assess between-release-mechanism differences in the conditional probability of failure to appear/bond forfeiture. Data were culled from archival state justice records comprising all defendants booked into the Dallas County, Texas jail during 2008 (n = 29,416). Results The results suggest that defendants released via commercial bail bonds were less likely to experience failure to appear leading to the bond forfeiture process compared to equivalent defendants released via cash, attorney, and pretrial services bonds. This finding held across different offense categories. The study frames these differences within a discussion encompassing procedural variation within and between each release mechanism, thereby setting the stage for further research and dialog regarding potential justice reform.
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    Identifying Potential Mass Shooters and Suicide Terrorists With Warning Signs of Suicide, Perceived Victimization, and Desires for Attention or Fame
    (Routledge, 2018) Lankford, Adam; University of Alabama Tuscaloosa
    In the United States and Europe, the distinction between public mass shooters and suicide terrorists no longer seems particularly meaningful. A number of public mass shooters have considered using bombs and claimed to be sacrificing themselves for an ideological cause, and many suicide terrorists have attacked without organizational support, using firearms, for what appear to be largely personal reasons. Previous research has also documented several common factors in these offenders' lives, including (a) suicidal motives and life indifference, (b) perceived victimization, and (c) desires for attention or fame. These factors are not always easy for observers to recognize in advance, so mental health professionals, the public, and law enforcement officials might need help from experts to more successfully identify at-risk individuals. This article reviews the evidence of each factor, provides a list of specific warning signs, and offers recommendations for future research. Ultimately, an evidence-based approach to prevention could help save both the lives of many potential victims and the lives of the would-be attackers themselves.
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    From Columbine to Palestine: A comparative analysis of rampage shooters in the United States and volunteer suicide bombers in the Middle East
    (Pergamon, 2011) Lankford, Adam; Hakim, Nayab; University of Alabama Tuscaloosa; Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE); Indiana University of Pennsylvania
    Previous research comparing rampage shooters in the U.S. and volunteer suicide bombers in the Middle East appears to be virtually non-existent. When these two types of suicidal killers have been mentioned in the same context, it has primarily been to dismiss any possible connections. Rampage shooters are generally assumed to be mentally unbalanced, while suicide bombers are seen as extreme, but rational, political actors. However, this review explores the possibility that the primary differences between the two types of killers are cultural, not individual, and that in terms of their underlying psychology and motivation, they are actually quite similar. In both cases, substantial evidence indicates that these perpetrators of murder-suicide share many of the following characteristics: (1) they had troubled childhoods, (2) they lived in oppressive social environments, (3) they suffered from low self-esteem, (4) they were triggered by a personal crisis, (5) they were seeking revenge, and (6) they were seeking fame and glory. (c) 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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    Fame-seeking rampage shooters: Initial findings and empirical predictions
    (Pergamon, 2016) Lankford, Adam; University of Alabama Tuscaloosa
    Increasingly in America, fame is revered as the ultimate form of prestige-bearing success, and the distinction between fame and infamy seems to be disappearing. In this context, some rampage shooters succumb to "delusions of grandeur" and seek fame and glory through killing. The present study offers initial findings on the behavior of fame-seeking rampage shooters, and then tests for differences between offenders who explicitly sought fame and other offenders. The results suggest that fame-seeking rampage shooters have existed for more than 40 years, but they are more common in recent decades and in the United States than in other countries. On average, fame seeking offenders appear younger than other rampage shooters, and they kill and wound significantly more victims. Several empirical predictions are made about the expected frequency and characteristics of future rampage shootings. (C) 2016 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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    An Epidemiological Analysis of Public Mass Shooters and Active Shooters: Quantifying Key Differences Between Perpetrators and the General Population, Homicide Offenders, and People who Die by Suicide
    (2021) Lankford, Adam; Silver, J.; Sox, J.; University of Alabama Tuscaloosa
    This study compared public mass shooters (n = 171) and active shooters (n = 63) in the United States to the general population, homicide offenders, and people who die by suicide. Comparisons with the general population are the foundation of epidemiological research, and comparisons with homicide offenders and people who die by suicide are helpful because public mass shooters and active shooters always intend to kill and often take their own lives. Findings indicate that public mass shooters were more often male, unmarried, and unemployed than the average American. Active shooters were not significantly different from the general population based on prior felony convictions or pre-existing firearm ownership. Public mass shooters and active shooters appeared more like people who die by suicide than homicide offenders, given their high frequency of premeditation, acting alone, suicidal ideation, and unnatural death. Overall, this suggests that felony histories and firearm ownership may have limited utility for threat assessment, but several suicide prevention strategies might help reduce the prevalence of these attacks.
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    Why Have Public Mass Shootings Become More Deadly? Assessing How Perpetrators’ Motives and Methods Have Changed Over Time
    (2020) Lankford, Adam; Silver, James; University of Alabama Tuscaloosa
    Research Summary: Public mass shootings in the United States have become substantially more deadly over time. We document this increase, offer a model to explain it, review supporting evidence for the model, and present new findings on offenders from 1966‐2019. It appears that societal changes have led to more public mass shooters who are motivated to kill large numbers of victims for fame or attention, and more shooters who have been directly influenced by previous attackers. They often spend extended time planning their attacks and appear increasingly likely to acquire powerful weapons and develop specific strategies to enhance their lethality. Policy Implications: New policies should address the aforementioned factors. For instance, the deadliest public mass shooters’ desires for fame and attention might be countered by a change in media coverage policies. Additionally, the deadliest perpetrators’ lengthy planning periods are associated with more warning signs being reported to police, so that information could justify denying many potential attackers access to firearms through extreme risk protection orders and red flag laws.
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    The timing of opportunities to prevent mass shootings: a study of mental health contacts, work and school problems, and firearms acquisition
    (Taylor & Francis, 2021) Lankford, Adam; Silva, Jason R.; University of Alabama Tuscaloosa
    Although it is important to know what public mass shooters have in common, it is also helpful to understand when different variables were present on their pathways to violence. This study explored the timing of key life events for the deadliest public mass shooters in the United States since Columbine (N = 14). Using data from official reports and supplementary sources, we found perpetrators' mental health contacts often began more than a decade before their mass shootings, and often ended more than a year before their attacks. Mental illness was typically a constant in their lives, not something that automatically caused them to attack. While treatment may help prevent some mass shootings, mental health professionals have limited influence over patients they have not recently seen. In turn, perpetrators' work and school problems also typically began long before their mass shootings, but these issues continued closer to their attacks. Employers and educators may therefore have an opportunity to intervene later in the process. Firearms acquisition often occurred in the final stages, after perpetrators were already interested in mass murder. Red flag laws and ERPOs which prohibit sales to explicitly dangerous individuals may therefore help reduce the prevalence of these attacks.
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    Has the Role of Mental Health Problems in Mass Shootings Been Significantly Underestimated?
    (2020) Lankford, Adam; Cowan, Rebecca G.; University of Alabama Tuscaloosa
    Objective: Prior research suggests that approximately two‐thirds of public mass shooters exhibit signs of mental illness. This study analyzed whether that means there are two psychological types of perpetrators (some mentally ill, some mentally healthy), or whether almost all perpetrators are likely to have mental health problems. Method: Using a database of 171 public mass shooters who attacked in the United States from 1966‐2019, we tested for statistically significant differences between perpetrators with and without diagnoses or signs of mental illness. We also closely examined the most lethal perpetrators since 2012, and the most “mentally healthy” perpetrators according to prior coding. Results: Correlates of mental illness were approximately equally common among perpetrators, whether they were believed to be mentally ill or not. Of the variables we examined, data availability provided the best explanation for coding of mental illness, not any trait or life experience. Further evidence suggested that even the most “mentally healthy” perpetrators could be recoded as having signs of mental illness or suicidality, or were clear outliers, or may not qualify as public mass shooters. The most lethal perpetrators exhibited signs of mental illness or suicidal intent (or both) in all cases. Conclusion: When people engage in concerning behaviors that suggest a mass shooting risk, their mental health should be carefully assessed alongside other warning signs. However, it is important to avoid treating people with mental illness like criminals, because social stigma reduces the likelihood that they will ask for, and receive, the psychological help they need.
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    Do the media unintentionally make mass killers into celebrities? An assessment of free advertising and earned media value
    (Routledge, 2018) Lankford, Adam; University of Alabama Tuscaloosa
    In recent years, some critics have suggested that the media make mass killers into celebrities by giving them too much attention. However, whether the media coverage these offenders receive actually approaches the amounts given to celebrities has never been tested. This study compared perpetrators of seven mass killings during 2013-2017 with more than 600 celebrities over the same time period. Findings indicate that the mass killers received approximately $75 million in media coverage value, and that for extended periods following their attacks they received more coverage than professional athletes and only slightly less than television and film stars. In addition, during their attack months, some mass killers received more highly valued coverage than some of the most famous American celebrities, including Kim Kardashian, Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp, and Jennifer Aniston. Finally, most mass killers received more coverage from newspapers and broadcast/cable news than the public interest they generated through online searches and Twitter seems to warrant. Unfortunately, this media attention constitutes free advertising for mass killers that may increase the likelihood of copycats.
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    Are the Deadliest Mass Shootings Preventable? An Assessment of Leakage, Information Reported to Law Enforcement, and Firearms Acquisition Prior to Attacks in the United States
    (Sage, 2019) Lankford, Adam; Adkins, Krista Grace; Madfis, Eric; University of Alabama Tuscaloosa; University of Washington; University of Washington Tacoma
    This study examined the 15 deadliest public mass shootings in the United States from March 1998 to February 2018 to assess (a) leakage of violent thoughts/intent, (b) leakage of specific interest in mass killing, (c) concerning behaviors reported to law enforcement, (d) concerning interest in homicide reported to law enforcement, and (e) firearms acquisition. We then compared our findings on the deadliest public mass shooters with the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) findings on active shooters in general. Overall, the results suggest that most incidents were indeed preventable based on information known about offenders in advance, and that the deadliest mass shooters exhibited more warning signs and were more often reported to law enforcement than other active shooters. Future prevention efforts should aim to educate, encourage, and pressure the public to report warning signs to law enforcement, educate and train law enforcement so that they can more effectively investigate potential threats, and limit firearms access for people who have admitted having homicidal or suicidal thoughts or being interested in committing a mass shooting. These relatively straightforward steps could significantly reduce the prevalence of future attacks.
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    A Psychological Re-Examination of Mental Health Problems among the 9/11 Terrorists
    (Taylor & Francis, 2018) Lankford, Adam; University of Alabama Tuscaloosa
    More than 15 years have passed since the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, and a comprehensive re-examination of the 9/11 attackers is now warranted. Research on the psychology of terrorists has evolved dramatically, and there is also new information on some offenders. The present study provides the available psychological and psychiatric evidence on each of the 9/11 pilots, muscle hijackers, and thwarted hijackers who intended to participate in the "planes operation." Overall, findings suggest that the 9/11 terrorists may have had significantly more mental health problems than previously assumed, and the leaders who planned 9/11 personally approved suicide attackers with prior histories of mental illness. By widely publicizing this information, security officials may be able to more effectively delegitimize suicide terrorism and reduce the number of individuals who would consider funding, supporting, or committing these deadly attacks.
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    A Comparative Analysis of Suicide Terrorists and Rampage, Workplace, and School Shooters in the United States From 1990 to 2010
    (Sage, 2013) Lankford, Adam; University of Alabama Tuscaloosa
    This study presents results from the first combined quantitative assessment and comparative analysis of suicide terrorists and rampage, workplace, and school shooters who attempt suicide. Findings suggest that in the United States from 1990 to 2010, the differences between these offenders (N = 81) were largely superficial. Prior to their attacks, they struggled with many of the same personal problems, including social marginalization, family problems, work or school problems, and precipitating crisis events. Ultimately, patterns among all four types of offenders can assist those developing security policy, conducting threat assessments, and attempting to intervene in the lives of at-risk individuals.
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    Public Mass Shooters and Firearms: A Cross-National Study of 171 Countries
    (2016) Lankford, Adam; University of Alabama Tuscaloosa
    Objective: Model the global distribution of public mass shooters around the world. Method: Negative binomial regression is used to test the effects of homicide rates, suicide rates, firearm ownership rates, and several control variables on public mass shooters per country from 1966 to 2012. Results: The global distribution of public mass shooters appears partially attributable to cross-national differences in firearms availability but not associated with cross-national homicide or suicide rates. Conclusion: The United States and other nations with high firearm ownership rates may be particularly susceptible to future public mass shootings, even if they are relatively peaceful or mentally healthy according to other national indicators.
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    A sexual frustration theory of aggression, violence, and crime
    (Elsevier, 2021) Lankford, Adam; University of Alabama Tuscaloosa
    Background: Sexual frustration is a common experience for many people; it is one of the biggest frustrations in some individuals' lives; and it has been cited as a cause of immoral behavior for centuries. However, it does not feature prominently in any leading criminological theories. Methods: This review builds on findings from frustration-aggression, strain, self-control, and sexual selection theories-along with research on a wide range of sexual and non-sexual behaviors-to propose an overarching sexual frustration theory of aggression, violence, and crime. Findings: Sexual frustration is not only a problem for those who are "involuntarily celibate"; it also affects many people who are sexually active. Frustration arising from unfulfilled desires to have sex, unavailable partners, and unsatisfying sexual activities appears to increase the risks of aggression, violence, and crime associated with relief-seeking, power-seeking, revenge-seeking, and displaced frustration. Conclusion: Although sexual frustration does not provide a sufficient explanation for aggression, violence, or crime on its own, understanding its influence on behavior is important. Specific recommendations are offered to facilitate theory-testing and future research.
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    Criminogenic Assymetries in Cyberspace: A Comparative Analysis of Two Tor Marketplaces
    (2015-11) Dolliver, Diana S.; Love, Katherine L.; University of Alabama Tuscaloosa
    Cyberspace presents a unique medium in which criminogenic asymmetries propagate, fueled by globalization processes that contribute to various forms of transnational criminality. The cyber domain challenges traditional criminological concepts related to the connection of ‘space’ and ‘time’, allowing offenders and victims to virtually interact despite their geographical locales. Further, structural discrepancies differentially impact cybercrime rates, as connectivity to the Internet remains restricted or inaccessible in many countries. This study conducted a descriptive assessment of criminality on two marketplaces housed on the Tor Network within the broader context of these cyber-structural discrepancies and asymmetries. Data were collected from Evolution and Silk Road 2 during August and September 2014 using webcrawling software. This study found illegal or criminally concerning items to be abundant on Evolution and modest on Silk Road 2, largely sold from a core group of culturally Western countries. Yet, an abundance of other countries were found to engage differentially in specific markets, though in smaller percentages.