communicative shock of being detained in jail

Smart phones now continually and richly connect persons to their social networks.  Imagine having your smart phone taken away from you in a new, threatening environment.  That would happen to you if you were arrested, booked, and held in a police lockup in suspicion of having committed some crime.

jail wall creates communicative shock

You lack important communicative rights upon arrest.  The Miranda warning is a well-known U.S. constitutional requirement.  You have the right to remain silent.  But you don’t have the right to use your smart phone to tell your loved ones where you are.  You have the right to speak to an attorney.  But you don’t have the right to consult your social network using now ordinary communication tools to find the best attorney with whom to speak.  New technologies have increased incredibly personal communication capabilities.  If you’re arrested, you surely will desperately want to contact someone.  You won’t be able to use now normal communication technologies to seek help.

Being arrested and held overnight in a police lockup is a relatively frequent event.  Detaining a person overnight or longer occurs in the U.S. about 21 million times per year.[1]  The number of person held in jail a week or longer is only about two-thirds that figure.  On any given day, about 2.2 million persons are in jails or prisons.  U.S. incarceration is extraordinarily high by international standards.  But incarceration’s reach is much broader than just the number of persons in jail or in prison on any given day.  During a year, many more persons experience criminal justice detention overnight, but for less than a week.

The communicative shock of criminal justice detention increases suicide risk.  The age-adjusted suicide rate for U.S. jail inmates is 4.4 times higher than that for the U.S. resident population.  About 14% of jail suicides occur within the first day of confinement, 23% within the first two days, 48% within the first week, and 65% within the first 30 days.  About 35% of inmate deaths in jails are suicides, compared to only about 6% suicides among deaths in prisons.  Persons sent to prison typically have already spent considerable time incarcerated.  By far the greatest risk for suicide is the very first day a person spends in criminal justice detention.

Suicide rates increase greatly with decreasing jail population size.  Jails holding less than 50 inmates have about six times as high suicide rates as the 50 largest jails in the U.S.  Smaller jails have higher inmate turnover, less staff training in suicide prevention, and less psychiatric services for inmates.  These circumstances increase effects of communicative shock from criminal justice detention.

The demographics of jail suicides are consistent with communicative shock.  The suicide rate for women inmates relative to the suicide rate among the U.S. women population is nearly twice that for men.[2]  Women typically engage more in social communication than do men.  Because many more men are incarcerated than are women and the criminal justice system’s front-line personnel are predominately men, women inmates have worse opportunities for same-sex communication within the criminal justice system than do men.  Suicide rates for black male inmates relative to the U.S. resident population of black men are much lower than the corresponding ratio for other demographic groups.  Incarceration has sadly become well-integrated into black men’s life experience and culture.[3]  Incarceration is thus less of a shock to black men.

New communication technologies could lessen jail suicides and support justice under law.  With appropriate provisions for public safety, persons taken into criminal justice detention should be able to use communication technology equivalent to the smart phones that persons now regularly carry with themselves at all times.  Lessening the communicative shock of having one’s smart phone taken away in unexpected criminal justice detention surely would lessen jail suicides.  Persons taken into criminal justice detention should be able to use modern communications technology to seek legal counsel and help making bail.  The right to legal counsel and the right to reasonable bail depends on detained persons having reasonable means for seeking and communicating with lawyers, family, and friends.  Communicative shock upon criminal justice detention punishes persons before they have been legally established as guilty of any crime.

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Data: suicide among inmates in U.S. jails and prisons (Excel version)


[1] Because some persons are detained multiple times by the criminal justice system in the course of a year, the number of unique persons detained for a night or longer per year is much smaller than the number of corresponding events per year.  A good national estimate for the ratio of criminal justice detentions in the course of a year to unique persons detained over the year is not available.  The distribution over a year of detentions per unique person is highly skewed.  Analysis of some jail records suggests that the ratio of jail admissions to unique detained persons averages roughly three or four.  Hence roughly six million unique persons are detained overnight or longer in the U.S. per year.  The total U.S. adult population is about 240 million.

[2] These statistics don’t imply that more resources should be directed toward preventing women’s suicides than preventing men’s suicide.  Jail inmates are predominately men.  Suicide rates for men are much higher than suicide rates for women.  From 2000 to 2011, thirteen times as many male inmates died from suicide as did female inmates.

[3] On racial disproportion in U.S. incarceration, see Western (2006).


Western, Bruce. 2006. Punishment and Inequality in America. New York, Russell Sage Foundation.

dream of Gender in The Romance of the Rose

One day I was in my bedroom sitting at my desk reading documents from the debate about The Romance of the Rose.  I might have fallen asleep, or maybe my mind was just wandering. I thought of that time that Guy found his wife in their bedroom underneath Simon, pumping away.  Gender, who assiduously monitors my thoughts, suddenly appears.  She says authoritatively:

If he finds her even in the act, he should take care not to open his eyes in that direction.  He should pretend to be blind, or more stupid than a buffalo, so that she may think it entirely true that he could detect nothing.

Gender, I honor the astonishing and magnificent height of your social construction.  My power of communication is far inferior to yours.  But please, I humbly beg, do me the favor of explaining, out of compassion for my male ignorance, why you insist on teaching men and women to be blind to sex and more stupid than brood parasites like brown-headed cowbirds?  Silence, she commands.

Jean de Meun writing the Romance of the Rose

I say, with due respect to you, that you are committing a great wrong against freedom of thought and speech.  Men in the Dark Ages wrote all kinds of outrageously funny texts by candlelight.  I have a bright light humming with the power of electricity right above my desk.  Why can’t I write like men did in the Dark Ages?  Silence, Gender commands.  Anything you write rapes women, she says.

That’s a most unfair, unreasonable, and prejudicial claim that does dishonor to your august academic high chair.  To prevent what you falsely call the violence of my words, will you have me shackled and starved like that poor farmer who found fish in his field?  At least in pre-Islamic Arabia, women’s calls to men to kill other men were poetic.  Your words are uncivil and ugly.  You describe as the criminal act of rape the natural and virtuous work of styluses writing on tablets.

You vile antifeminist!  You vicious misogynist! snarls Gender.  No women will ever sleep with you.  Your mother hates you.  I look around for a crowd coming to attack me, but only Gender is with me in my bedroom.  I remember reading:

If the woman beats the man or vilifies him, he should take care that his heart does not change.  If he sees himself beaten or reviled, even if she should pull out his nails alive, he must not take revenge, but rather thank her and say that he would like to live in such martyrdom all the time, as long as he knew that this service was pleasing to her, indeed that he would rather even quite freely die at that moment than live without her.

Gender, most cherished lord and master, wise in behavior, a lover of knowledge, immersed in academic learning and expert in rhetoric, I’m just a man of untrained intellect and uncomplicated sensibility.  I wish to state, proclaim, and maintain publicly that you have wrongly and without justification criminalized men.

Gender orders me to check my male privilege.  Men die on average five years younger than women.  Men die from violence-related injuries four times as frequently as do women.  Men die on sinking ships because men’s lives are categorically valued less than women’s lives.  Men have no reproductive rights and are imprisoned for doing nothing more than having consensual sex and being poor.  Upon divorce, men are deprived of physical custody of their children fourteen times as frequently as women are. Men are forced to make financial payments to the child’s mother eight times as often as the mother pays them. I had gone only a short way down my checklist when Gender ungraciously interrupts me:

All men betray and deceive women; all are sensualists, taking their pleasure everywhere. …  All men are very expert liars.

She accuses all men without exception.  If she, venturing so far beyond the bounds of reason, took it upon herself to accuse men or judge them erroneously, blame should be imputed not to them but rather to the person who tells lies at such a distance from the truth and so lacking in credibility, inasmuch as the opposite is patently evident.  I declare that there already have been, are, and will be many men more worthy, more honorable, better trained, and even more learned and from whom greater good has resulted in the world than Gender ever accomplished.  One finds ample proof of this in the work of al-Harizi, Judah ibn Shabbetai, Jaume Roig, Giovanni Boccaccio, the Archpriest of Talavera, the Archpriest of Hita, and Budasf himself, not even to mention the illustrious teacher of love Ovid and the insightful and influential Matheolus.  Gender, do you even deny the existence of the One Good Man?

Gender is glaring at me with that womanly look that makes strong men wither in shame.  I remember:

If, without entreaty, she were to command him, “Jump, lover,” or “Give me that thing,” he would immediately give it and jump when she ordered him to.  In fact, whatever she might say, he would jump so that she might see him, for he had placed his whole desire in doing all her pleasure.

Must I jump to please Gender?  No I won’t.  Gender, you have no right to be offended that my voice is other than yours.  I will not let you dress me in women’s clothes, whether I am sleeping or awake.  I have certain knowledge of my own being.

You, Gender, look only from your woman’s perspective.  I have read enough recent scholarly studies to understand that Gender has become essential and cannot be changed.  Men are doomed to being socially dominated.  But until you burn my books, I will laugh uproariously with the jolly clerk Jankyn.

A man may now speak so boldly to a woman only in a dream.  Shaking uncontrollably and wet with tears, I awoke.

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The quotes above are from the mid-thirteenth-century popular masterpiece,  The Romance of the Rose, by Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun.  Here’s the Old French source text.  The four quotes are from about ll.  9700,  9743, (13283, 13790), 9456, from French trans. Dahlberg (1995) pp. 173, 174, (229, 237), 170.  Some of the highly rhetorical and flaccid sentences above I adapted from texts of Christine de Pizan.  See Hult (2010).  The allusion to being dressed in women’s clothes is from Christine de Pizan, Book of the City of Ladies, I.2:

You resemble the fool who, as the joke tells, was dressed in women’s clothes while sleeping in the mill, and when he woke up, because men who were making fun of him assured him that he was a woman, he believed their deceptive words rather than the certain knowledge of his own being.

Trans. Hult (2010) p. 238.  For an insightful analysis of the debate on The Romance of the Rose in relation to censorship, see Hult (1997).  Here’s a recent, interesting unorthodox perspective on Christine de Pizan’s work.  It provides a refreshing contrast to the dominant presentist pieties on display in the series editors’ introduction to Hult (2010).

The image is Jean de Meun at his desk, from illuminated manuscript of The Romance of the Rose, N. France, c. 1340.  Royal 20 A XVII f. 35v.  Thanks to the British Library.


Dahlberg, Charles, trans. 1995.  Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun. The Romance of the Rose. 3rd ed. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Hult, David F. 1997. “Words and Deeds: Jean de Meun’s Romance of the Rose and the Hermeneutics of Censorship.” New Literary History. 28 (2): 345-366.

Hult, David F., ed. and trans. 2010. Debate of the Romance of the Rose. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

sex differences in communication among razorbills

Sex differences in parental care for offspring are common among socially monogamous, monomorphic seabirds.  Even among such animals, bodily sex differences remain significant.  Seabird females bear the energetic cost of laying eggs.  Among Little Auk, the female produces one egg that weighs about  20% of the mother’s body mass.[1]  Another important, related bodily sex difference is that females know who their offspring are, while males have varying degrees of paternity confidenceExtra-pair paternity shares are often above 10% in socially monogamous animals.  Among razorbills, a socially monogamous species of auk closely related to Little Auk, about 50% of females engage in extra-pair copulation.[2]  Various theories relate these two fundamental sex differences — female egg-laying cost and male paternity uncertainty — to various sex differences in parental care.[3]  The scholarly literature thus far seems to show mainly that sex differences are pervasive and difficult to explain generally.

razorbill communicating

Sex differences in offspring relations are associated with sex differences in communication.  Male and female razorbill parents share duties of incubating the (one) egg and share duties of feeding the chick.  The chick leaves the nest when it has a body size about 30% of an adult.  The male razorbill parent then alone cares for the young bird at sea, feeding and protecting it.  Despite razorbills’ equal parental care at the nest, males are more closely connected to chicks communicatively:

males responded preferentially to their own chick’s calls and chicks responded preferentially to the calls of their male parent. In contrast, the playback experiments were not able to show any evidence of recognition between razorbill female parents and their offspring. Females responded infrequently to their chick’s calls and indifferently to the calls of strange chicks. Finally, we found that females only rarely vocalized to their chicks…. Male parents gave their strongest response to playbacks close to the time of fledging, when they were off the nest attempting to counter-call with their chicks. In contrast, females were never observed counter-calling with their chicks either on or off the nest. [4]

Why male razorbills, but not female razorbills, care for offspring at sea isn’t easy to explain.  Relatively good communication capabilities surely facilitates male parental care for offspring at sea.  To identify sex differences in communication, look for sex differences in relation to offspring.

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[1] Welcher et a. (2009) p. 510.  A human newborn typically weighs about 8 pounds.  That’s usually under 5% of the mother’s body weight.

[2] Wagner (1992) p. 556.  The razorbill is the closest relative to the Great Auk.  Humans sadly made the Great Auk extinct in 1844.

[3] For a summary of sex differences in chick-provisioning among monomorphic birds and scholarly explanations, see Table 1 in Elliott et al. (2010).

[4] Insley et al. (2003) p. 30.

[image] Razorbill on the Isle of May, Firth of Forth, Fife, Scotland, 2010.  Thanks to Steve Garvie and Wikipedia.


Elliott, Kyle Hamish, Anthony J. Gaston, and Douglas Crump. 2010. “Sex-specific behavior by a monomorphic seabird represents risk partitioning.” Behavioral Ecology. 21 (5): 1024-1032.

Insley, Stephen J., Rosana Paredes Vela, and Ian L. Jones. 2003. “Sex differences in razorbill Alca torda parent-offspring vocal recognition.” The Journal of Experimental Biology. 206: 25-31.

Wagner, Richard H. 1992. “Confidence of Paternity and Parental Effort in Razorbills.” The Auk. 109 (3): 556-562.

Welcher, Jorg, Harald Steen, Ann M.A. Harding, and Geir W. Gabrielsen. 2009. “Sex-specific provisioning behaviour in a monomorphic seabird with a bimodal foraging strategy.” Ibis. 151 (3): 502-513.

Barbara the chimpanzee learns to mother from youngster

chimpanzee mother with child

Particular social circumstances and communication can help bad mothers become good mothers.  Consider the case of a chimpanzee named Barbara.  Barbara came from a good, caring family:

She was born at the Yerkes Research Center of Emory University and raised by her mother, Sonia, who was born in Africa. Sonia, a gentle and extremely competent adult female, had been a good mother to Barbara.[1]

Nonetheless, Barbara herself was initially a complete failure as a mother:

when Barbara gave birth to her first infant, everyone expected that she would exhibit competent maternal skills, because Barbara was mother-reared, housed with other adult chimpanzees (an indication that she has good social skills), and she exhibited sufficiently sophisticated sexual behavior to become pregnant through natural means.  When Winston was born, however, Barbara attentively leaned over him but did not pick him up.  Barbara gave every indication of the best intentions toward her baby: She was disturbed by his crying and made herself available to him; she hovered close to him, and leaned more solicitously whenever he cried.  Barbara, however, had no maternal behaviors; she did not pick him up and did not cradle him.  After a few hours, Winston was placed in the nursery because he would not have survived if his mother did not pick him up.  Because Barbara was so solicitous but lacking in behavior, it was concluded that she did not know what to do with a baby.[2]

Communication with an older infant, however, stimulated Barbara to develop fully competent species-typical maternal behavior:

Conan, a 1-year-old chimpanzee infant, was temporarily moved to the great ape nursery at this time so that his mother would resume her menstrual cycle.  The veterinary staff at the Yerkes Center decided to introduce Conan to Barbara.  Barbara was as solicitous as she had been toward Winston, her biological offspring, but Conan, a more capable 1-year-old, initially avoided Barbara.  Finally after 2 to 3 days, Conan rushed into Barbara’s arms and accepted her as a mother substitute.  In the next 3 to 5 months, Barbara was observed cradling Conan, allowing him to nurse, and gathering him up before she moved. Because the experience was good for Barbara and Conan was receiving good care, Conan was allowed to remain with Barbara, his adopted mother, rather than disrupt him again with a return to his biological mother.  Three years later, Barbara gave birth to her second baby, Kevin, and exhibited the full range of appropriate species-typical maternal behaviors.[3]

Conan apparently recognized that Barbara was a female and behaved in a way dependent upon this recognition.  Barbara undoubtedly had hormonal mechanisms of mother-infant communication typical for female mammals.  At the same time, multi-sensory boot-strapped communication with Conan controlled Barbara’s maternal behavior in developmental time.

The unconditionally, naturally nurturing primate mother is a myth.  Maternal abuse of infants occurs among primates in the wild.[4]  It also occurs among primates in controlled environments.  Among the thirty female chimpanzees who gave birth at a primate research center from 1987 to 1992, eighteen did not provide sufficiently good maternal care to assure their infants well-being past three months of age.  Some of the chimpanzee mothers appeared to be frightened of their infants and never held them.[5]  Maternal competence in chimpanzees seems to depend on female chimpanzees having, as juveniles or adolescents, direct, hands-on experience with infants.[6]  Perhaps playing with dolls has some of the same effects.

Don’t forbid your daughters from playing with dolls.  That’s totalitarian and stupid.

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[1] Bard (1995) p. 28.

[2] Id. pp. 28-9.

[3] Id. p. 29.

[4] Maestripieri (2000), p. 895, credits Hrdy (1999) with “the creation of a new myth, that of the unconditionally nurturing primate mother.”  Id. has also contributed to the social construction of belief in male dominance.  For a discussion of a case of a chimpanzee mother who in the wild abandoned her 5-year-old son, see Hiraiwa-Hasegawa & Hasegawa (1988).

[5] Bard (1995) p. 47.

[6] Id. pp. 48-50.  For recent related findings, Bard et al. (2014).

[image] Chimpanzee mother with baby.  Thanks to Derek Keats for sharing his photo.


Bard, Kim A. 1995. “Parenting in Primates.” Pp. 27-58 in Bornstein, Marc H., ed. Handbook of parenting, Vol. 2: Biology and ecology of parenting. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Bard, Kim, Bakeman, Roger, Boysen, Sarah T. and Leavens, David A.  2014. “Emotional engagements predict and enhance social cognition in young chimpanzees.” Developmental Science. ISSN 1363-755X 10.1111/desc.12145

Hiraiwa-Hasegawa, Mariko and Toskikazu Hasegawa. 1988. “A case of offspring desertion by a female chimpanzee and the behavioral changes of the abandoned offspring.” Primates 29(3): 319-330.

Hrdy, Sarah Blaffer. 1999. Mother nature: a history of mothers, infants, and natural selection. New York, Pantheon Books.

Maestripieri, Dario. 2005. “Gestural communication in three species of macaques (Macaca mulatta, M. nemestrina, M. arctoides).” Gesture 5(1/2): 57-73.