Archive of ‘Criminal Justice Articles’ category
I read an article pleasantly entitled “Prisoner work crews save taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars” but in my mind, the article might as well have read “Prison labor keeps Maine unemployment rate at 7.6 %”. The state of Maine has increased its use of inmate labor to perform duties in their department of public works, schools and construction. Maine inmates are performing duties such as painting, road work, maintenance and other jobs that could be performed by qualified people who are actively seeking employment.
According to reports from Maine’s Department of Corrections, inmates performed 39,201 labor hours in 2011, a sharp rise from the 22,890 hours that inmates worked in 2010. Maine’s DOC places a $10.00 per hour value on the labor and admits that some of the jobs are considered to be skilled labor jobs that would normally pay much higher if the jobs were performed by workers in the private sector and “tax payer” savings could actually be in the millions of dollars each year under this system.
I am not opposed to inmates working, however, I am against a system that boasts about exploiting inmate labor when the private sector unemployment is substantial and the jobs could be given to qualified applicants in need of work. The state admits that the value of many of the jobs have been undervalued, meaning that inmates are being paid pennies on the dollar to perform jobs that they would have to pay others well above $10.00 per hour to do.
Corrections Commissioner Joe Ponte said in an interview ““It’s a good service, both for the community and for the inmates and crews that go out, the inmates feel good about giving back to the community.”
“There is a lot of misperception about the work crews,” Ponte said. “Some criticize that they are taking away jobs. I don’t see it that way.”
I think that Ponte needs his eyes checked and that the DOC’s department of public relations needs a raise for making this modernized version of the convict leasing system palatable to those who simply don’t know any better.
Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, the Democratic senator on the Criminal Justice Committee stated “ work crews are beneficial to the inmates and gives them a chance to use their skills and acquire new ones. He said the program is a win-win for the department because it improves morale of inmates while helping communities.”
Again, a polite golf clap for the DOC public relations department, please.
In all fairness, Maine is not the only state that is using inmate labor in an attempt to balance cutbacks and increase inmate morale (which helps the prisons run a bit more smoothly), but I hardly see how the community benefits in the long run when so many people are still unable to earn a living wage as those jobs are basically being done by inmates for next to nothing. Who can compete with that?
What are your thoughts on the program?
Senior deputy King County prosecutor James Konat, who went on leave last summer after having his hands slapped by the Supreme Court for using racially charged language during a murder trial in 2007.
In June, the Supreme Court affirmed that Konat had indeed engaged in “prosecutorial misconducts” during his line of questioning of black witnesses during a 2007 murder trial.
During his line of questioning black witnesses, Konat had often referred to the police as the “PO-lees”. In the course of the trial, Konat questioned the black witnesses about a “code” that existed in predominately black neighborhoods that kept potential witnesses from talking to police during the original investigation of then murder suspect Kevin L. Monday Jr. who was subsequently convicted of first-degree murder and first-degree assault. Monday was subsequently sentenced to 64 years in prison.
During his closing arguments, Konat said that despite the denial of such a code by witnesses, Konat said that “the code is that black folk don’t testify against black folk. You don’t snitch to the police.”
The Supreme Court found Konat’s remarks unacceptable and a complaint has been filed with the bar association. But was Konat truly wrong in his statements?
In 2004, a very public campaign was launched in urban neighborhoods known as the ”Stop Snitchin” campaign. The campaign was complete with t-shirts, bumper stickers and signs with slogas such as “snitches get stitches”, “snitches sleep in ditches”, “snitches are bitches who get stitches and end up in ditches” and “snitches get stiches and end up in ditches”.
The campaign was no secret; it received coverage in such publications as (USA Today) and other mainstream media. So, I am forced to ask, was Konar really so out of line that he deserves to be sanctioned by the Supreme Court and a hearing in front of the bar association or was he simply pointing out something that most people knew anyway?
The state of Massachusetts is preparing to implement legislation to help curb prostitution and online hookers are hopping mad.
The new human trafficking law that goes into effect on February 17th, 2012 is targeted towards reducing the prostitution of juveniles by hitting those who patronize hookers (Johns) with fines up to $5000 and up to 21/2 years in prison.
The new law specifically designed to put the heat on the Johns and the pimps have made online hookers angry, many of whom are self-employed and do not consider themselves victims of human trafficking and believe that the new law will significantly reduce their income.
Attorney General Martha Coakley, a proponent for the law, tells the Boston Herald “The penalties we’ve had have been far too low” and “All we’ve done by the increases make them appropriate for the kinds of offenses we are talking about.”
The law signed in November provides a much stiffer penalty for those who are convicted of trafficking juveniles. Instead of the $5,000 fine that can be assessed to the Johns, those who are convicted of trafficking juveniles can receive 2 ½ years in jail and fines up to $25,000.
The theory behind the new law is that by penalizing those who traffic women or those who patronize prostitutes, reduces the clientele for the prostitutes thereby reducing prostitution as a whole in the state of Massachusetts.
One prostitute that was interviewed by the Boston Herald says that the new law will have a greater impact on those who work at the street level and will not hurt her business as much as it may others because she has a steady clientele. She further goes on to say that many of the men who patronize “high end” prostitutes do not usually do business with those who they don’t know and are often referred to prostitutes by other prostitutes in the industry.
Senator Mark C. Montigny (D-New Bedford), the law’s chief sponsor says that prostitution is not a victimless crime and that once one is trapped into human trafficking or enslavement are not free to leave the industry and are working against their will. Furthermore, minors under the age of 18 who are arrested on a first offense will be protected under a safe-harbor clause, allowing them to avoid penalties.
I think that tougher laws regarding the prostitution of minors are necessary as the human trafficking industry is rapidly growing. I do, however, think that women who choose to voluntarily prostitute themselves as a way to make a living should be allowed to do so under government legislation. I think that if the prostitution industry is regulated, those who participate should be subject to mandatory STD testing and their income subject to the same rate of taxation that is mandated for other contractors that are considered 1099 contractors.
Until that happens, I think that it takes a lot of nerve for prostitutes to complain about the loss of revenue in an industry where their actions are considered illegal in every state but Nevada. I will be outdone the first time a prostitute sues the state for loss of revenue due to the new legislation.
With all of the recent publicity surrounding the current state of public schools in major cities, I have been meaning to write this piece for the last few weeks but just keep getting sidetracked. I am not one to jump on just any old bandwagon that passes my door nor am I a devout conspiracy theorist but recently I have heard and read up on some information that is, without a doubt, food for serious thought.
Some countries used to decide what occupation a person would enter by using a standardized test. What you scored on that test would determine what occupation a person was going to do to earn a living. If a person scored high enough, they would be allowed to receive higher education and enter into a professional arena. If they scores were not high enough then the test taker would be remanded to a life of manual labor. I am beginning to think that we are doing something very similar in the U.S. but using a different method.
28 states have passed legislation to allow for the existence of privatized prisons. Those are prisons that are not state owned or state funded per se however they are allowed to bill the state or federal government for the care of the inmates. Many of these corporations are now planning how many more prisons they will need to build based on 3rd and 4th grade reading scores as there has been a direct link established between lack of education and the crime rate. Most inmates do not possess a high school diploma upon their entry into the penal system.
That said, I think that there is a weeding out process taking place in the public school systems in most cities. Classrooms are overcrowded, students are exhibiting negative and sometimes dangerous behaviors and many public schools have cut funding for advanced placement programs to try and meet the educational need. This weeding out process allows for some children to be voluntarily bussed to suburban schools to receive an education. For those children who are not bussed but show some sign of academic promise, there is the opportunity for them to test and then be placed in a lottery system to attend a magnet or charter school. Some of the magnet and charter schools are funded by the public school systems and some are private. Along with the students that are going to the magnet or charter schools, so are some of the best teachers. They are going to the magnet and charter schools because the class sizes are smaller and they are less dangerous. Many of the teachers who have transferred believe that it gives them a better opportunity to educate. Finally there is the option of attending a parochial school, there are scholarships available for those whose families cannot afford tuition.
Now, lets step back and take a look at this, you start with a school system that has good teachers and educable students, start taking the “best” of the students and the teachers and filter them out, leaving the “rest” in the pubic school system. Many of those who are left eventually drop out and end up where…you guessed it, in prison.
It’s a known fact that slave labor was used in the U.S. because it was inexpensive. When that was no longer legal, many businesses and corporations began using inexpensive immigrant labor or shipping their industrial work to countries where workers get paid pennies on the dollar and the company can still receive tax incentives. Enter the prison systems, public and private. The average inmate makes approximately $15.00 every two weeks working a job at the prison during their incarceration, that’s $30.00 per month to manufacture goods that are then resold by large companies.
Some companies that benefit from the use of prison labor include Chevron, IBM, Victoria’s Secret, Texas Instruments, Honeywell and Motorola. The federal prison system trades under the name Unicor but the private prisons stand to benefit the most from inmate labor because they get first crack at the contracts since they have to raise most of their operating costs on their own.
In my opinion, we have managed to create a new type of “involuntary servitude” or “slavery” if you will. Most of the immigrants and overseas employees are making more than thirty dollars a month so it’s actually less expensive for those companies to contract with prisons to make their goods. I think that the “system” has found a way to isolate those who are the most “at risk”, under-serve them by “educating” them in crowded classes, sub par building conditions with ill equipped teachers with the hopes that the data remains correct, those who do not complete high school are more likely to transition into the prison system.
I completely understand that committing a crime and going to prison is a choice that’s made by a person but face it, many kids are raising themselves, baited by the temptation of “fast money” and in some other cases, trying to help support the family. Those are not always the case with someone who is doing time but the reality still exists big business stands to profit in a big way on the backs of undereducated people, especially minority men.
I can’t say that if was not for inmate labor that those jobs would be available to the American worker because it’s obvious that big business will find cheap labor but I do struggle with the idea that certain groups are singled out to self distruct. It’s almost seems as if a family is not able to get their child into one of the funnels that takes them into an alternative school setting that those children end up in a whole different funnel and that funnel leads to $30.00 per month. Hence all of the lobbying that states and large corporations do to ensure access to privatized prisons.
So, what say you? Do you think that disallowing big business to partake in the benefits of inmate labor further put our “at risk” youth more at risk than they started out or are some of these links sheer coincidence? Second question is, would big businesses be as motivated to USE inmate labor if they had to relinquish a percentage of their profit and donate it to the local public school systems?
If you want to read more about this, I found a really good article on the use of prison labor and the economic impact it has on society. Prison Labor Cheats Society
Originally Posted 9/28/09
I was doing some research for my homework when I ran across this article and I think that it raises a very good question, should the media coverage of criminal cases focus on the defendant? Legal journalist Robin Barton has this to say:
To describe the recent U.S. and international media coverage of the Amanda Knox case in Italy as intense would be an understatement. One of the key criticisms of this coverage was that it primarily focused on the defendants—or at least one of them—with the victim, Meredith Kercher, almost forgotten.
So that raises the question: when covering criminal cases, should the focus be on the defendant or the victim?
To review: Knox, or “Foxy Knoxy” and “Angel Face” as she was dubbed in the press, and her boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito were convicted of killing Kercher, Knox’s roommate, on Nov. 1, 2007, in a drug-fueled sex game gone bad. At the time of the killing, Knox was 20 years old.
But their convictions were overturned on appeal.
During both the original trial and the appeal, Kercher’s family rightfully pointed out that the victim had essentially been “forgotten.” As her sister Stephanie said, “There are no photos of Meredith in the papers or on the TV—it’s all on Amanda and Raffaele.”
However, being the focus of the media cuts both ways. While the press in the U.S. largely sided with Knox, the media in the U.K. and Italy were much harder on her.
British journalists were obviously more sympathetic to Kercher because she was British. As for the Italian press, the media there have a different approach to criminal trials.
As an American journalist writing for the Guardian noted, investigative journalism isn’t practiced in Italy as it is in the U.S. or Great Britain. And, the journalist noted, Italian reporters may have been afraid that if they deviated from the prosecutor’s version of the events, they’d be arrested or harassed by the police—which actually happened.
The Knox case is hardly the first in which the attention has been on the defendant rather than the victim.
The O.J. Simpson case is a good example. Most people probably know that one victim was the former football star’s ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson. But how many can name the male victim? (It was Ron Goldman.)
Frustration with the criminal trial and its outcome eventually led Goldman’s family to set up the Ronald Goldman Foundation to assist people who’ve been victims of crime and their families.
The Phil Spector case is another example. Spector was convicted of shooting actress Lana Clarkson to death in a game of Russian roulette. Articles on the case nearly always mention Spector’s career as a music producer and some of the famous musicians he worked with, such as the Beatles, Tina and Ike Turner and the Ronettes. The victim’s name was included almost as an afterthought.
Of course, the O.J. and Spector cases involved celebrities. And when celebrities are involved in a criminal case, rightfully or wrongly, they become the focus—whether they’re the victim or the defendant.
In fact, such cases likely get a lot of press coverage in the first place because someone famous is involved.
But celebrity wasn’t an issue in the Knox case. Everyone involved was unknown before the crime. So why did Knox become a cause célèbre for the media? Was it simply because she was a young, attractive American in a foreign land?
Or were claims that the crime was the product of a sex game too titillating to ignore?
I think a key factor in the media’s focus on Knox was the fact that her family was a very vocal advocate for her, which in turn drove a lot of the coverage.
While Kercher’s family kept a fairly low profile, Knox’s parents hired a public relations firm, which arranged for them to appear regularly on U.S. morning talk shows and news programs.
I’d also like to think that part of the appeal for journalists was that this case arguably involved innocent defendants wrongfully convicted of a crime they didn’t commit. Certainly, much of the American media coverage of the case during the appeal suggested that an injustice had been done when Knox and Sollecito were initially convicted.
I don’t think there is a right answer as to where the focus should be when covering a criminal trial.
Every case is unique. And although crime victims deserve to be remembered, innocent defendants also have a right to have their stories told. At the end of the day, the focus of the coverage will likely be on the aspects of the case that interest the public the most.
Robin L. Barton, a legal journalist based in Brooklyn, NY, is a former assistant district attorney in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and a regular blogger for The Crime Report.
Although the article discusses the question, I think that the fact that the question even came up tells us that courtroom media has changed the scope of how criminal trials are conducted. The media’s job is to find the most “entertaining” aspect of a trial, whereas the court’s obligation is to make sure that all of the evidence is presented within the manner prescribed by law and to make sure the constitutional rights of the accused are not violated.
I say that to say, the media is not concerned about where the focus should be, they tend to take the side of the person whose story is the most interesting. I am glad that the victim is not forgotten in the media but the media is the outlet that is responsible to disseminate information to the court of public opinion. I think that the trial focus needs to be on the offender and less on the victim, the victim is not on trial and shifting the focus from the suspect and the victim can greatly jeopardize one’s chance to a fair trial under the constitution.
Tell me, what do you think?
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday agreed to decide the constitutionality of sentencing juveniles as young as 14 to life without parole in homicide cases.
The justices granted review of appeals in two cases involving 14-year-olds, one in Alabama and one in Arkansas, who are serving such sentences. Both are represented by the Equal Justice Initiative, a Montgomery, Ala., group that argues such sentences are “cruel and unsual punishments” prohibited by the Eighth Amendment.
The Supreme Court, in a 2005 decision in Roper v. Simmons, prohibited the death penalty for offenders who committed their crimes before age 18. In a 2010 ruling known as Graham v.Florida, the court held that a sentence of life in prison without parole for a juvenile offender in a non-homicide case was unconstitutional.
The recent cases on juvenile sentencing have been watched closely by many educators and child-development experts because they have turned to some degree on advances in knowledge about adolescent brain development.
“Developments in psychology and brain science continue to show fundamental differences between juvenile and adult minds,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the court majority last year in Graham. “Juveniles are more capable of change than are adults, and their actions are less likely to be evidence of irretrievably depraved character than are the actions of adults.”
“Under this court’s reasoning in [Roper] and Graham, the identical analysis which led to the results in those case logically compels the conclusion that consigning a 14-year-old child to die in prison through a life-without-parole sentence categorically violates the Eighth and 14th Amendments,” said Bryan A. Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative in one of the briefs.
Stevenson stressed similar themes in urging the high court to take up the issue of life-without-parole sentences in the juvenile homicide cases, Miller v. Alabama (No. 10-9646) andJackson v. Hobbs (No. 10-9647).
“Relative to the cognition of adults and even older adolescents, young teenage judgment is handicapped in nearly every conceivable way,” Stevenson said. “Young adolescents lack life experience and background knowledge to inform their choices; they struggle to generate options and to imagine consequences; and, perhaps for good reason, they lack the necessary self-confidence to make reasoned judgments and stick by them.”
The Alabama case involves Evan Miller, who was 14 in 2003 when he was convicted with another adolescent of starting a fire that killed a neighbor with whom he had an altercation. Miller was convicted as an adult of capital murder and sentenced to life without parole.The other boy received a lesser sentence in exchange for testifying against Miller.
The Arkansas case involves Kuntrell Jackson, who was 14 in 1999 when he participated with two older boys in the robbery of a video store. Although it was one of the other boys who shot and killed a store clerk with a shotgun, Jackson was convicted of capital murder and aggravated robbery, and the trial judge was legally barred from considering his level of involvement, so Jackson received a life-without-parole sentence.
The appeal on Jackson’s behalf asks the high court to consider whether a state’s mandatory sentencing policy for accomplices to murder violates the Eighth Amendment when it is imposed on a 14-year-old.
Both Alabama and Arkansas urged the court not to take up the cases.
Alabama said in a brief that last year’s Graham ruling was “of sufficiently recent vintage” that no consensus has developed in the states about the imposition of life-without-parole sentences for juvenile homicide offenders.
Stevenson said in his briefs that Miller and Jackson are two of 73 juveniles who are serving such sentences nationwide, and 18 states have imposed such sentences on children 14 or younger.
“Internationally, the United States is the only country in the world where death in prison sentences have been imposed on young adolescents,” he says in the brief.
The cases will likely be argued next spring and decided by the end of June.
I’m not sure how I feel about this yet. I am a huge proponent of the 2nd Amendment and I believe in our right to bare arms, but if students feel as if they need to carry guns, then it seems to me that security is failing miserably.
Liberty University has liberalized its gun policy to allow visitors, students and staff who have concealed weapons permits to carry guns on campus, reports the Lynchburg, Va., News & Advance. The policy, announced to students this week, replaces a complete ban of firearms on university grounds. Visitors are now permitted to store their weapons in locked cars, while students can apply for permission from campus police to carry a gun on the outdoor grounds or in a locked car. Guns in campus buildings are generally prohibited, although the policy permits some faculty and staff to carry weapons inside buildings with permission by campus police.
Liberty now has the most lenient firearms policy among local colleges and universities. Liberty Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. said the new policy will enhance campus safety while increasing convenience for visitors and students who have the proper permits. Richard Hinkley, Liberty’s chief of police, said while he supports the policy, it has raised some concerns among his officers. Lifting Liberty’s firearms ban has been a hot-button issue in recent years, especially after the Virginia Tech massacre in April 2008 that left 33 dead. A small but vocal band of LU students who align with the activist group, Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, raised the issue with the student government association at least two times in the past three years.
Many people are familiar with the “Pink Penitentiaries” of Maricopa County, Arizona and their “Toughest Sheriff in America”, Joe Arpaio. Despite Arpaio’s being under fire many times for making the inmates in his county wear pink and having some of the most hardened criminals sleep in tents in the hot Arizona sun, the crime rate in his county is down again.
Most states would see this as a positive thing but the state of Arizona is now having to reevaluate the prison budget in Arizona. In 2009, the state of Arizona had submitted a call for bids from private prisons to help meet the needs of, what was then, an overpopulation problem in the state. The call for bids was suspended after 3 inmates escaped from Arizona prisons, so the security procedures of the prisons could be reevaluated and addressed. That completed, the bid is again open for contracting with private prisons for beds.
The state legislature is questioning the call for bids since the prison population is at a 40 year low. Should a private prison be awarded the overflow bed space, it will cost Arizona tax payers $585 million over the next 5 years. I can see why questions would be raised, if the prison population is down, why contract bed space to private prisons. Why is the state prison population down? According to the article I read,
“Fewer convicts are coming in through the Maricopa County jails. The number of people awaiting trial in Maricopa County jails on felony charges has dropped 19 percent over the past two years. As Arizona’s most populous county, Maricopa accounts for two-thirds of convicts flowing into the state’s prisons.”
What does that mean?? It means that no matter how much noise people make about prisoners wearing pink and following Arpaio’s corrections model, his model is effective. The model is effective in the sense that people are either offending less or getting the hell out of Arpaio’s county and committing crimes elsewhere. Either way, criminals are leaving Arpaio alone at a steady pace.
About that contract, I say run it through on a contingency, no one gets anything unless the bed space is used. Seems simple enough to me, is it not?
Read The Whole Article Here
I thought that this article was super interesting because it substantiates an argument that I have had with opponents of the death penalty. At one time, it used to cost the state more to execute an inmate than it took to house them for life. However, since offenders are receiving longer sentences, the criminal justice system now has to start making preparations to deal with progressive diseases such as Alzheimer’s, advanced issues pertaining to diabetes, cardiac issues, HIV/AIDS and hepatitis, just to name a few. Some states are even having to create institutions that are very similar to nursing homes. In the prison industry, and elderly inmate is one over the age of 55. Enough of my banter, here is the article:
Yohannes Johnson, 55, serving 75 years to life in an upstate New York prison, heads the Lifer’s and Long-Termer’s Organization, part of a growing club of inmates locked up for life nationwide, reports the Associated Press. Corrections officials are considering different options for older inmates while some research suggests keeping them locked up until they die might be an expensive and unnecessary price for the public to pay. Nationally, nearly 10 percent of more than 2.3 million inmates were serving life sentences in 2008, including 41,095 people doing life without parole, up 22 percent in five years, says The Sentencing Project, which advocates alternatives to prison.
“The theme is we’re protecting society, then the question is: From what?” said Soffiyah Elijah of the Correctional Association of New York, a watchdog group. She said with the cost of keeping a state inmate $55,000 a year – a cost that grows as they age and their medical needs increase – a financial analysis shows that parole and probation are far cheaper punishments that can also satisfy the public need for retribution. Data show new crimes by convicted felons steadily declining from their teens through their dotage. “What kind of treatment programs should we be considering for the offenders who have a sentence of life without parole, or enter the system with sentences of 50 years to life?” New York Corrections Commissioner Brian Fischer asked on the 40th anniversary of the deadly riots at Attica, a maximum-security prison in New York State.
See The Crime Report’s series “The Graying of America’s Prisons” for more information.
One of the people I follow on Twitter sent out a study that claims that there is a correlation between heavy soda drinking and teen violence. I am going to post the findings of the study because I think that it is an interesting read but that’s about it.
The study, conducted in Boston by French researchers, claims that “teen violence IS linked to heavy soda drinking”. The researchers make their claims based on the testing of Boston inner city students ages 14-18. The researchers admit that a bulk of the study was comprised of Black, Latino and bi-racial (black and white) children and contained little to no Asian or White students.
Some of you research and design guru’s out there can correct me, but it seems to me that if Asian and White students are not incorporated into the study, that it would be a bogus to assume that teen violence, as a whole, is linked to heavy soda drinking. Based on how the study was conducted, I would even be hesitant to claim that teen violence in minority youths is linked to heavy soda drinking as there was no control group to support that claim either.
Furthermore, the study was conducted via survey, which, for numerous reasons can be dicy in terms of the results. I think that the study is more of a foundation for more studies to be conducted on the topic.
The study authors concede that sodas are probably not the direct cause of the aggression, which isn’t saying much as this study was not in depth enough to render causation.
Here is the study:
PARIS — Researchers in the United States said on Tuesday they had found a ‘shocking’ association — if only a statistical one — between violence by teenagers and the amount of soda they drank.
High-school students in inner-city Boston who consumed more than five cans of non-diet, fizzy soft drinks every week were between nine and 15-percent likelier to engage in an aggressive act compared with counterparts who drank less.
‘What we found was that there was a strong relationship between how many soft drinks that these inner-city kids consumed and how violent they were, not only in violence against peers but also violence in dating relationships, against siblings,’ said David Hemenway, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health.
‘It was shocking to us when we saw how clear the relationship was,’ he told AFP in an interview.
But he stressed that only further work would confirm — or disprove — the key question whether higher consumption of sweet sodas caused violent behaviour.
The new study was based on answers to questionnaires filled out by 1,878 public-school students aged 14 to 18 in the inner Boston area, where Hemenway said crime rates were much higher than in the wealthier suburbs.
The overwhelming majority of respondents were Hispanic, African-American or mixed; few were Asian or white.
Among the questions were how much carbonated non-diet soft drink, measured in 12-ounce (355-millilitre) cans, the teens had drunk in the previous seven days.
They were also asked whether they drank alcohol or smoked, carried a weapon or showed violence towards peers, family members and partner.
What emerged, said Hemenway, was evidence of ‘dose response,’ in other words, the more soda was consumed, the likelier the tendency towards violence.
Among those who drank one or no cans of soft drink a week, 23 percent carried a gun or a knife; 15 percent perpetrated violence towards a partner; and 35 percent had been violent towards peers.
At the other end of the scale, among those who drank 14 cans a week, 43 percent carried a gun or a knife; 27 percent had been violent towards a partner; and more than 58 percent had been violent towards peers.
Overall, teens who were heavy consumers of sugary fizz were between nine and 15 percentage points likelier to show aggressive behaviour compared with low consumers, even when ethnicity and other confounding factors were taken into account.
This is a magnitude similar to the link found, in previously researched, with alcohol or tobacco.
Hemenway said the study had included a couple of questions aimed at taking a children’s home background into account, including whether the teen had taken a meal with his family in the previous days.
As it was only intended as a preliminary investigation, the questionnaire did not ask what kind of sodas the teens drank, he said.
‘This is one of the very first studies to examine’ the question, said Hemenway.
‘We don’t know why (there is this strong association). There may be some causal effect but it’s also certainly plausible that this is just a marker for other problems — that kids who are violent for whatever reason, they tend to smoke more, they tend to drink more alcohol and they tend to maybe drink more soft drinks. We just don’t know.
‘We want to look at it more carefully in following studies.’
The study, published in a British journal, Injury Prevention, will revive memories of the ‘Twinkie Defence,’ a US legal landmark in which a killer successfully argued that his behaviour had been swayed by eating junk food.
The defendant in this case, Dan White, had been charged with homicide. His lawyer’s successful pleading led to conviction of a lesser charge, of voluntary manslaughter.
Several studies elsewhere have established a link between very high sugar consumption and lack of social bonding or irritable and anti-social behaviour.
Some diet research has also pointed the finger at the lack of micro-nutrients as a source of aggression, but this work is still in its early stages.