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May 24, 2011

Wonderfully puzzling violent crime rate continue to decline (despite NFL lockout)

As detailed in this New York Times piece, headlined "Steady Decline in Major Crime Baffles Experts," new FBI statistics show that the "number of violent crimes in the United States dropped significantly last year, to what appeared to be the lowest rate in nearly 40 years, a development that was considered puzzling partly because it ran counter to the prevailing expectation that crime would increase during a recession."  Here are more of the basics that justify both celebration and head-scratching:

In all regions, the country appears to be safer. The odds of being murdered or robbed are now less than half of what they were in the early 1990s, when violent crime peaked in the United States.  Small towns, especially, are seeing far fewer murders: In cities with populations under 10,000, the number plunged by more than 25 percent last year....

Criminology experts said they were surprised and impressed by the national numbers, issued on Monday by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and based on data from more than 13,000 law-enforcement agencies.  They said the decline nationally in the number of violent crimes, by 5.5 percent, raised the question, at least in some places, of to what extent crime could continue to fall -- or at least fall at the same pace as the past two years. Violent crimes fell nearly the same amount in 2009.

“Remarkable,” said James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University.  “Given the fact that we have had some healthy declines in recent years, I fully expected that the improvement would slow.  There is only so much air you can squeeze out of a balloon.”

There was no immediate consensus to explain the drop.  But some experts said the figures collided with theories about correlations between crime, unemployment and the number of people in prison.

Take robbery: The nation has endured a devastating economic crisis, but robberies fell 9.5 percent last year, after dropping 8 percent the year before. “Striking,” said Alfred Blumstein, a professor and a criminologist at the Heinz College at Carnegie Mellon University, because it came “at a time when everyone anticipated it could be going up because of the recession.”

Nationally, murder fell 4.4 percent last year.  Forcible rape — which excludes statutory rape and other sex offenses — fell 4.2 percent.  Aggravated assault fell 3.6 percent. Property crimes — including burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft and arson — fell 2.8 percent, after a 4.6 percent drop the year before....

Nationally, the drop in violent crime not only calls into question the theory that crime rates are closely correlated with economic hardship, but another argument as well, said Frank E. Zimring, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

As the percentage of people behind bars has decreased in the past few years, violent crime rates have fallen as well.  For those who believed that higher incarceration rates inevitably led to less crime, “this would also be the last time to expect a crime decline,” he said.

“The last three years have been a contrarian’s delight — just when you expect the bananas to hit the fan,” said Mr. Zimring, a visiting law professor at New York University and the author of a coming book on the decline in the city’s crime rate.  But he said there was no way to know why — at least not yet.  “The only thing that is reassuring being in a room full of crime experts now is that they are as puzzled as I am,” he said.

As I have said before and will say again, academics and researchers of all stripes should be doing whatever they can to try to figure out what is working with respect to crime these days.  As this NY Timespiece highlights, all the usual tropes about the impact and importance of incarceration rates and braoder economic realities seem to fail to explain what is going on these days.  Some new (and perhaps unappealing) theories need to be explored.

For the sake of generating discussion, I will here throw out a bunch of ideas that I have come to wonder might have some role in the great modern crime decline:

  1. modern technology like the internet and HD TV leads a lot more people to spend a lot less time in crime-prone areas (like outside); 
  2. modern pharmacology is enabling the early diagnosis and medication as juveniles of many who would grow into crime-prone adults; 
  3. modern extreme collateral consequences like registration for sex offenders is "working" in various ways to deter or reduce serious criminal activity;
  4. modern availability of "medical" marijuana and prescription opiates are enabling many more crime-prone people to self-medicate making them less crime-prone; 
  5. the election of a self-made African-American President has prompted more people who might otherwise be discouraged by societal realities to seek more law-abiding means of personal improvement; 
  6. the Heller gun rights decision (along with the modern surge in gun sales) has, directly or indirectly, prompted more potential criminals to rethink the risks of criminal behavior; 
  7. this blog has helped Americans fully understand the costs and benefits of crime and punishment, thereby enabling more efficient and effective crime-fighting strategies on both frontiers.

Of course, I am eager to hear reader views concerning crime realities and my various (only slightly silly?) hypotheses for why crime keeps going down. 

May 24, 2011 at 11:48 AM | Permalink

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Comments

8. "Tough on crime" actually works.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | May 24, 2011 12:12:53 PM

The main reason for the long-term (20-25 years) decline in crime rates is perfectly obvious, but one the NYT doesn't like, so to them, it's all a big mystery.

When you put in jail the people who are committing crime, you get less crime. This is not rocket science. (And yes, it's true that, in the last two years, the prison population has very slightly declined, but it's still at 99% of its all-time high. Concomitantly, we are still very much in the thrall of "incarceration nation").

As many on this blog have noted, usually with great dismay, our country has put more and more people in jail. They maintain -- correctly -- than starting in about the mid- to late 1980's, the prison population markedly increased.

It was during exactly that period that crime started its now generation-long decline.

Imprisonment works. The evidence of this truth is now to the point that it's just silly to try to contest it.

What one might reasonably contest is, for example, whether it's worth the price, or whether "incarceration nation" is discriminatory in some invidious way.

But the fact of the matter is that "incarceration nation" is another name for "crime reduction nation." Twenty five years of statistics are not ambiguous.

It should scarcely be surprising, much less "baffling," that there is a relationship between crime and punishment, since the human race has known this for about as long as it's been around. But since it doesn't square with the ideologically-driven campaign for shorter sentences and mass prisoner release, it has to be kept out of sight. Hence the big "mystery" about the source of lower crime rates.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 24, 2011 12:27:49 PM

Clearly #7 is the primary cause. Kent's suggested #8 ignores the fact that crime rates declined more in states with lower incarceration rates.

Actually I think #1 has a lot to do with it, and you could probably add #9: the influx of immigrants, legal and otherwise, who as a class are statistically far less likely to commit crimes than US citizens.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | May 24, 2011 12:28:31 PM

I don't see any contradiction between the ideas that incarceration and crime rates are not tightly locked in an absolute inverse relationship but nevertheless the more offenders you have locked up the lower your general crime rate will be. It could well be a loose rather than tight relationship. And I do see a huge difference between the absolute rates now and at times in the past. Talking about percentages hides the fact that the absolute rates are themselves low, so a 10% move either way is not especially noticeable.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | May 24, 2011 12:36:37 PM

"...ignores the fact that crime rates declined more in states with lower incarceration rates..."

Incarceration rate, defined as number of persons incarcerated as a fraction of the general population, is not a valid indicator of the toughness of sentencing policy, as I have explained numerous times.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | May 24, 2011 12:40:13 PM

Bill - I can cure you of athlete's foot by amputating your legs, but that doesn't mean that it's an ideal solution. Incarceration works per se, but it is costly, ineffective, and destructive to the people put through it.

Posted by: NickS | May 24, 2011 12:59:02 PM

Sayin' it don't make it so, Kent. You and Bill want to have it both ways. Either incarcerating more people reduces crime, or it doesn't.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | May 24, 2011 1:17:48 PM

It's all the commentators figuring things out here on the SLP blog.

Posted by: Sultan Pepper | May 24, 2011 2:39:17 PM

"Either incarcerating more people reduces crime, or it doesn't."

It does.

By any measure, the two biggest stories about crime over the last quarter century are (1) we have put a lot more people in prison and (2) the crime rate has fallen significantly.

The idea that these two things are unrelated is beyond bizarre.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 24, 2011 3:02:07 PM

How can there be any doubt whatsoever that locking up serious criminals until they get to a ripe old age (or die in prison) won't lower the crime rate? Just think of all the murders committed during the 1970s and 1980s by guys who'd been doing "life" and got paroled. Heck, there were even some denizens of death row who got their sentences commuted to life by the US Supreme Court in 1972's Furman decision, who then got paroled and then (cue Gomer Pyle USMC), surprise, surprise, they went out and murdered more people (e.g. a fellow named McDuff from Texas and an inmate from San Francisco who eventually gave up his appeals and was executed during his second stay on California's death row).

Or think of a Rodney Alcala who, in 1968, kidnapped an eight-year-old girl, raped her and bludgeoned her nearly to death. Subsequently, he got a one year-to-life sentence and was paroled after two years! Then, of course, he embarked on a career as a Dating Game contestant and serial killer.

Clearly, letting out murderers, rapists and the like before they're good and old or good and dead is not fair to the vast majority of people out there who have largely behaved themselves and who don't deserve to be needlessly put at risk of life and limb by people who have proven, on at least one occasion if not more, that they cannot be trusted to refrain from inflicting harm on their fellow human beings.

Posted by: alpino | May 24, 2011 3:12:31 PM

NickS --

"I can cure you of athlete's foot by amputating your legs, but that doesn't mean that it's an ideal solution."

I didn't say prison is an "ideal" solution. I have occasionally come up with good solutions for this or that. I don't recall having come up with an "ideal" one.

"Incarceration works per se..."

Thank you. If the NYT would just say so, instead of pretending it's all a mystery, it would help advance the ball.

"...but it is costly..."

True, but one must consider the cost savings from the crimes that are then NOT committed.

"...ineffective..."

Wrongo. As you correctly acknowledged, it "works per se." What you might have meant to say here is that it's inefficient, which is a different debate.

"..and destructive to the people put through it."

Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't. It varies vastly from inmate to inmate. But for those to whom it is destructive, let me recommend an alternative: Avoid the behavior that gets you tossed in prison to begin with.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 24, 2011 3:13:53 PM

Bill says "it does," but that doesn't explain the quite-clear data showing states with lower incarceration rates have lower crime rates. Correlation is not the same as causation, but the pattern undermines Kent and Bill's oft-repeated thesis.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | May 24, 2011 3:15:33 PM

Of course Freakonomics notes that crime rates started to drop about two decades after abortion was legalized and that we have basically aborted those most likely to commit crime, the poor and disadvantaged classes. While not a pretty answer, it perhaps is a better "explainer" than any of the horsepuckerry being pushed above by a pair of certain statists.

Posted by: any no mouse | May 24, 2011 3:20:38 PM

Nick S stated: "I can cure you of athlete's foot by amputating your legs, but that doesn't mean that it's an ideal solution."

You are committing the perfectionist fallacy.

There is no ideal solution. We have to settle for an inefficient and expensive model because it is currently the best there is.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | May 24, 2011 3:47:02 PM

Crime rate trends show large differences by crime type and state with jurisdictions leading or lagging the national average by up to a decade for a particular crime type. Within a single state there are large differences in crime rates and within a single county ii is common for 75% of the crimes to be reported from about 3% of the area in the county.

If you pick a hundred jurisdictions at random and compare their specific crime trends with the corresponding average national trend there will be a large amount of scatter about the mean. Knowing that it is hard to take national trends seriously.

A common implicit assumption is that the criminal justice process is a random process that obeys the central limit theorem. It is not random and many of the empirical distributions have long tails which means they cannot obey the central limit theorem. There is no such thing as a unified crime causation model. Most such models limit themselves to a few factors and they do not do that well in describing past behavior diminishing their predictive credibility.

It would be a good idea for people to read the disclaimer page at the beginning of the FBI Crime Report..

Posted by: John Neff | May 24, 2011 3:51:12 PM

For those interested in a University of Chicago study on what does (and does not) account for the drop in crime that started roughly 20 years ago, I refer you to this paper:

http://pricetheory.uchicago.edu/levitt/Papers/LevittUnderstandingWhyCrime2004.pdf

I'll give a quick summary. Six factors commonly mentioned as possible explanations turned out to have little or no effect: the strong economy of the 1990s, changing demographics, better policing strategies, gun control laws, concealed weapons laws and
increased use of the death penalty.

Instead, the drop was attributable to four factors: increases in the number of police, the rising prison population, the waning crack epidemic and the legalization of abortion.

Of these, the increase in incarceration was by far the most significant. The study states:

"The 1990s was a period of enormous growth in the number of people behind bars, as demonstrated in Figure 3. After many decades of relatively stable imprisonment rates, the prison population began to expand in the mid 1970s. By 2000, more than two million individuals were incarcerated at any point in time, roughly four times the number locked up in 1972. Of that prison population growth, more
than half took place in the 1990s.

"The increase in prisoners can be attributed to a number of factors, the most important of which were the sharp rise in incarceration
for drug-related offenses, increased parole revocation and longer sentences for
those convicted of crimes (Kuziemko and Levitt, 2003).

"The theory linking increased imprisonment to reduced crime works through two channels. First, by locking up offenders, they are removed from the streets and unable to commit further crimes while incarcerated. This reduction in crime is known as the incapacitation effect. The other reason prisons reduce crime is deterrence—the increased threat of punishment induces forward-looking criminals
not to commit crimes they otherwise would Ž find attractive. Empirical estimates of
the impact of incarceration on crime capture both of these effects.

"The evidence linking increased punishment to lower crime rates is very strong."

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 24, 2011 4:09:28 PM

Incapacitation works if you look at nothing but inmate self-report surveys. The number of self-confessed crimes committed per year from these surveys range from 12 to many times that number.

Posted by: mjs | May 24, 2011 4:33:16 PM

alpino --

Thanks for a welcome dose of common sense. Also, thanks for reminding me of the Alcala case.

The let-them-out crowd is perfectly willing to abide the risks they know full well are created with the premature release of prisoners.

The reason for this cheerful view is that they correctly believe that other people, less securely situated than they, are the ones who're actually going to get hit with what those risks inevitably produce.

This is the same crowd that routinely prides itself on its "compassion." I guess letting other people get preyed upon is the new definition of "compassion."

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 24, 2011 4:36:35 PM

"that doesn't explain the quite-clear data showing states with lower incarceration rates have lower crime rates"

Grits, what source did you have in mind for that number?

The 2006 Florida county-level incarceration study by Kovandzic & Vieraitis (which is the first thing I found on Google) includes a review of the existing crime-rate/incarceration-rate literature. Though they don't appear to be proponents of mass incarceration, they describe the state-level studies as showing that high incarceration rates produce lower crime rates.

Causation between crime rates and incarceration rates goes both ways. States with less crime for independent reasons will have a lower incarceration rate just because there'll be fewer criminals to incarcerate. So the fact that, at a given point in time, states with lower crime rates tend to also have lower incarceration rates, wouldn't necessarily tell us much.

Posted by: matth | May 24, 2011 5:00:22 PM

mjs --

No fair citing facts. You must be some kind of a "statist."

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 24, 2011 5:08:36 PM

I have to believe that the drop in murders is helped along by several trends which make it easier to catch murderers. I suspect that these technologies also reduce the rate of false convictions. Hence actual murder clearance rates have likely improved much more than statistics would suggest, as many of the "clearances" from 20+ years ago were likely due to wrongful convictions; but this should be much less true today.

1. Video cameras all over the place. Nowadays, if you kill someone, there is a good chance that a video camera somewhere will catch some relevant evidence, up to and including the act itself.

2. Cell phones all over the place, and the associated electronic trail.

3. DNA and other forensic evidence.

As a result of the above, even criminals are likely to realize that it is very hard to get away with murder. And people who murder anyway are likely to be caught, often within days, and removed from society for a very long time, possibly the rest of their lives.

In addition to all of the above, on the occasions where a murder is not solved quickly, DNA evidence can greatly increase the odds of a conviction years after the fact. This further improves the proportion of murders that are solved -- but does not show up in clearance statistics (which have improved from the low 60s to the high 60s in recent years)

Posted by: William Jockusch | May 24, 2011 5:56:06 PM

Putting dangerous people in prison has a substantial impact on making the streets safer. Nobody really disagrees with that. What's debatable is whether or not the current state of mass incarceration in this country is the primary cause of the reduced crime rate. Scheidegger, Otis et al. seem to believe that it is. I think the issue is a little more complicated than that.

Posted by: The Death Penalty Sucks. | May 24, 2011 6:21:36 PM

TDPS, I have said many times that there are multiple factors involved. I do not believe that anything I have written can be fairly interpreted as claiming that sentencing policy is the sole reason for the decline.

My comment at the top of this thread was in response to Doug's call for factors that have "some role." Keep the context in mind.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | May 24, 2011 6:52:14 PM

Fair enough.

Posted by: The Death Penalty Sucks. | May 24, 2011 6:54:39 PM

"But for those to whom it is destructive, let me recommend an alternative: Avoid the behavior that gets you tossed in prison to begin with."

In its original context, I find this argument frustrating because it seems so obvious that I want to agree with it. But until someone figures out how to successfully travel back in time, the point is moot for those people already being destroyed (in prison).

Posted by: centrist | May 24, 2011 8:56:09 PM

TDPS --

In addition to what Kent has said, I would point out that I cited and summarized a University of Chicago study that discussed not one or two but ten factors that might plausibly be thought to have contributed to the decline in crime rates. Six of them (including some conservatives might like to have seen validated) were found inconseqential. Four others, of which incarceration was found to be the most important (but not of exclusive importance) were found to have contributed. Thus, the study upon which I have relied in part fully agrees with your point that it's "more complicated" than JUST more imprisonment, and I believe I made that clear from the outset.

It remains the case, though, that less imprisonment will almost surely mean more crime. More crime means more crime victims -- a human as well as an economic toll. I do not believe we can in conscience deal with the calls for less imprisonment without forthrightly confronting this fact.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 24, 2011 9:03:47 PM

"It remains the case, though, that less imprisonment will almost surely mean more crime. More crime means more crime victims -- a human as well as an economic toll. I do not believe we can in conscience deal with the calls for less imprisonment without forthrightly confronting this fact."

I agree that the failure to imprison violent and dangerous offenders will result in more crime. That's as basic as the ABCs. Dangerous people should be in prison. That's what prison is for. Our society doesn't just imprison the violent and the dangerous, though. We imprison many people who really don't pose much of a threat to the rest of us. Low-level drug offenders, etc. Is that what our resources should be devoted to? We should be incapacitating those who are beyond hope, and we should be doing everything we can to rehabilitate those who still have a chance.

Posted by: The Death Penalty Sucks. | May 24, 2011 10:35:01 PM

From the SC Blog April, 2010:

Alternative Explanations for the Low Crime Rate
1) Sentencing guidelines adopted by the federal and state governments incapacitated a larger fraction of the male population. The number of downward deviations from guidelines has not grown much. The making of guidelines discretionary for judges took place 5 years ago. It usually takes 10 years for a law to have its full impact. This factor should be assessed in 5 more years.

2) Obesity.

3) Video Addiction.

4) Marijuana consumption.

5) More sex, at a younger age.

My personal favorite is "obesity." Too fat to run the streets.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 24, 2011 10:37:08 PM

loved this SC

"It usually takes 10 years for a law to have its full impact."

if that is true would seem to make it criminal for govt officials to rewrite a law ANY law every 6-8 months!

sould seem to indicate they have no clue what they are doing!

Posted by: rodsmith | May 25, 2011 1:20:20 AM

The shocking truth of the US prison system as seen by the world (but hidden from the US public??) - which warehouses prisoners in conditions that would have a zoo shut down. Treat a man like an animal, and eventually will behave like one just to survive.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b011k0xx/Louis_Theroux_Louis_Theroux_Miami_Mega_Jail_Part_1/
linked through my name

Posted by: peter | May 25, 2011 4:44:27 AM

Peter stated: "The shocking truth of the US prison system as seen by the world (but hidden from the US public??) - which warehouses prisoners in conditions that would have a zoo shut down. Treat a man like an animal, and eventually will behave like one just to survive."

This is the left's classic "Damned if you do" scenario. Wail, complain, and protest about the money being spent on "incarceration nation" and do everything in their power to resist building new prisons. Then, protest the living conditions caused by the resultant overcrowding, using words and phrases like "warehouse" and "like an animal." Meanwhile, the only actual "knowledge" they have regarding what happens in prison comes from Oz, Prison Break, or Lock-Up.

Now, some are obviously better than others, with some being downright awful. However, spend time in your average prison and you would be shocked at the opportunities provided to inmates. Whether or not they take advantage of them is a completely different question. You cannot "make" someone rehabilitate.

The ones that are treated "like an animal" came in as one and give few other options but to do so. On a good day, some of these will spit, throw urine or feces, or physically attack anyone attempting to treat them like a human. I'd love to hear your ideas on how to treat such people in a manner you see as more "humane."

Posted by: TarlsQtr | May 25, 2011 9:01:49 AM

Tarlsqtr,

In your post you are very harshly critical of those who comment but who have not done time, and who have different opinions than your own. It follows then that you feel you can righteously opine as you do because you actually been sentenced to, and have done time in, prison. Is that so?

Also, you speak of an average prison. What specifically do you refer to when you say an average prison?

Posted by: CDCRsurvivor | May 25, 2011 9:39:43 AM

CDCR stated: "In your post you are very harshly critical of those who comment but who have not done time, and who have different opinions than your own."

LOL I love it how people on one side of an issue can say virtually anything but those on the other are "harshly critical" or worse. My comment was tame compared to most. I brought up a point. The commenter is ill-informed.

And I notice, you do not attack the thrust of my post, that most of those who wail and gnash their teeth about "warehousing" or treating inmates "like animals" have no idea about what happens inside a prison.

You stated: "It follows then that you feel you can righteously opine..."

"Righteously opine." Is that "harshly critical?" Just wondering.

You stated: "...as you do because you actually been sentenced to, and have done time in, prison. Is that so?"

No, it is not so.

You stated: "Also, you speak of an average prison. What specifically do you refer to when you say an average prison?"

I am not sure how to answer. Are you confused because you do not understand the concept of "average" or is it that you do not know what a "prison" is?

A prison is a facility designed to incarcerate individuals, usually because they commited a crime. Average, in this case, means "norm." It is likely best to use the "norm" as an example, because the best and worst are not really indicative of prison conditions throughout the country.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | May 25, 2011 12:08:01 PM

Centrist stated: "In its original context, I find this argument frustrating because it seems so obvious that I want to agree with it. But until someone figures out how to successfully travel back in time, the point is moot for those people already being destroyed (in prison)."

The last part of your sentence is where I believe you go wrong.

I think a pretty strong argument can be made that by the time one entered a prison, his life was pretty far along that path of destruction.

The prison system may not be fixing these people (for various reasons) but it is not destroying them. There is a reason why people from dysfunctional families (e.g. unwed parents, absent parents, criminal parents) are grossly overrepresented in prison. The destruction occurred much earlier than the day they went "upstate."

Posted by: TarlsQtr | May 25, 2011 12:51:22 PM

TarlsQtr -
Part of our different approach to this issue is our perception of what is an acceptable minimum standard. I have no time for the argument of average or norm. There needs to be a vast lifting of standards of incarceration in the US. We can talk of those prisons which are meeting acceptable standards, and we can talk about exceptionally progressive institutions that lead the way to better. But the reality is that large numbers of prisons are no more than warehouses because that is the limit imposed by poor funding and obsessive incarceration by the courts in response to political pressures in recent decades. They do not begin to measure up to what is acceptable. I wonder if you have actually seen through the program I highlighted. It isn't the first of its kind for sure. The example investigated by the program isn't, apparently, even home to the convicted, but to those who await trial ...... often for years! As with many other things discussed on this board, until you admit to the scale of the problem, US incareration policy is both blind and dumb.

Posted by: peter | May 25, 2011 1:19:14 PM

Peter stated: "Part of our different approach to this issue is our perception of what is an acceptable minimum standard. I have no time for the argument of average or norm. There needs to be a vast lifting of standards of incarceration in the US."

Your previous comments were targeted toward the "prison system," which makes talking about the norm necessary. One cannot take the worst (or best) hospital in France and place it as the example of French healthcare any more than you can take the worst (or best)US prison and do the same.

What I fear you are attempting to do is take the worst examples and do just that. With all due respect, the comment, "...warehouses prisoners in conditions that would have a zoo shut down" is a grossly innaccurate assessment of the US prison system as a whole. Are there some individual prisons that would be correctly described in that manner? Perhaps, but the same can be said in France, England, etc. as well.

If you look up the American Correctional Association standards, they are very strong.

You stated: "But the reality is that large numbers of prisons are no more than warehouses because that is the limit imposed by poor funding and obsessive incarceration by the courts in response to political pressures in recent decades. They do not begin to measure up to what is acceptable."

You are doing nothing but putting forth opinion as fact, without substantiation.

You stated: "I wonder if you have actually seen through the program I highlighted. It isn't the first of its kind for sure. The example investigated by the program isn't, apparently, even home to the convicted, but to those who await trial ...... often for years!"

The first thing you need to research is the difference between a jail and a prison. You cannot talk about prisons and use a jail as an example. They are NOT the same, just as your local MD's office is not the Cleveland Clinic.

You stated: "As with many other things discussed on this board, until you admit to the scale of the problem, US incareration policy is both blind and dumb."

It's a nice statement of opinion, but you have provided little to back it up. And another important point is that you are full of criticism, which is fine. However, that is the easy part. What are your solutions? How are they better than the system in place?

Posted by: TarlsQtr | May 25, 2011 1:48:32 PM

I have worked nearly 10 years in a county pen with feds, parolees, locals, et al, & did a tour in Afghan-land booking Taliban; I tangentially was involved another tour with Abu Ghraib in Iraq to boot.

My father worked for 25 years in a state maximum security and 10 in a maxi-max (aka supermax) prison. My mom is a defense attorney who has done some time (pun) working with cons.

One could make the "experience" rationalization that unless a man has been housed as a convict…just like 'until one' has committed suicide'…nuff said. [We don't need to be hit by a bus to know it would hurt us!! (excepting those of us who follow philos David Hume)].

The state facility was more dangerous but held more opportunities than the local one. A HS football teammate of mine was fatally knifed (shank from his buildings & trade class) at the state house where my Dad worked. The maxi-max I'd have to check with him. Regardless of venue, Morality & Mindset (attitude) lead to behavior and consequences .

Many such as the indomitable T.Roosevelt rightly realized that providing education without moral instruction is to produce a potential menace to society (modern public schools since Engel v Vitale). Affluence, immigration w/o assimilation, and materialism surely hurt our lawfulness and ethics somewhat, but:

"Because (strict) SENTENCE against an evil work is not EXECUTED speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil" is perhaps our weightiest millstone and causal factor, IMHO.

This is perhaps why I find myself frequently concurring with the 'law-and-order', punish them harder, crowd.

Posted by: adamakis | May 25, 2011 2:57:03 PM

By 1938, the crime rate was at an all-time low because repeat offenders were being sent to a concentration camp after they had completed their second sentence.

Posted by: George | May 25, 2011 6:54:34 PM

That's it, George, the USA is just like Nazi Germany.

Often the Left is merely mistaken.....and then there are the times it's totally unhinged.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 25, 2011 7:29:42 PM

Bill wrote, "That's it, George, the USA is just like Nazi Germany."

Really? How can you say that when it only takes one offense to get sent to civil commitment? That is not just like Nazi Germany because 2 does not equal 1.

"Often the Left is merely mistaken.....and then there are the times it's totally unhinged."

That's why Hitler kicked the Left out of the country and sent those who remained to concentration camps.

Posted by: George | May 25, 2011 9:07:58 PM

Tarlsqtr,

You seem to embody what you complain against, in your words that"the only actual "knowledge" they have regarding what happens in prison comes from Oz, Prison Break, or Lock-Up." By your own statements, you apparently embody your complaint here.

I have been in numerous , varied prisons, and what you describe in your post about prisons and prisoners is not in the least consistent with the reality in many of them, nor is it consistent with who many prisoners are.

I suggest you not blast other commenters for commenting about what they have not experienced, - precisely -because you yourself fall into that category. Hypocrisy does not help your position, your arguments, or your posts, no matter what you perceive the different positions may be on any given subject, including incarceration.

Posted by: CDCRsurvivor | May 25, 2011 9:44:54 PM

From the NYT article quoted above:

"In all regions, the country appears to be safer. The odds of being murdered or robbed are now less than half of what they were in the early 1990s, when violent crime peaked in the United States."

I agree with this assertion, but the FBI report does not explicitly demonstrate this. It is necessary to download and review the spreadsheets of the raw data to reach this conclusion and doing so is not easy. It's complicated further when reports from prior years are reviewed for comparision purposes. The data is presented differently and a fair amount of time is needed to be sure that apples are being compared to apples.

So as the 2010 report is preliminary, I compared "murders and non-negligent manslaughters" from 2009 and 1995. In 2009 13,636 murders and non-negligent manslaughters were reported. In 1995 21,597 murders and non-negligent manslaughters were reported.

At least as far as murders and non-negligent manslsughters are concerned, are we safer in 2009 than we were in 1995? Or put another way, how much less is the risk of being a victim of a murder or non-negligent manslaughter in 2009 than in 1995?

The answer is we are safer, both in absolute terms (7,961 fewer victims in 2009) and as a percentage. In 1995 the chance of being a victim of a murder or a non-negligent manslaughter was 00.00821%. In 2009 the chance was 00.00446%. These percentages were obtained by dividing the number of murders and non-negligent manslaughters for each year by the estimated US population for each year.

Yes, this is a crude analysis, but I am not an insurance underwriter (and neither apparently were the FBI analysists).

But that is my point. An analysis explicitly performed to determine risk (as in an insurance context) would be far more useful to the arguments pro and con upthread and elsewhere on this blog as to whether or not increased incarceration makes society safer.

Posted by: Fred | May 25, 2011 11:59:21 PM

CDRCSurvivor stated: "You seem to embody what you complain against, in your words that"the only actual "knowledge" they have regarding what happens in prison comes from Oz, Prison Break, or Lock-Up." By your own statements, you apparently embody your complaint here."

Seriously? You cannot think of ANY other possible reasons for someone to have experience in a prison other than LIVING there? You do not need to be a Rhodes Scholar to figure this stuff out.

You stated: "I have been in numerous , varied prisons, and what you describe in your post about prisons and prisoners is not in the least consistent with the reality in many of them, nor is it consistent with who many prisoners are."

Unbelievable. OK, I have said multiple times that prisons vary greatly. Some are great, some are terrible, and like most statsitical endeavors, most are in the average range. I hope I do not have to say this again. And OF COURSE there are "many" prisoners who do not throw urine, feces, and attack other inmates and staff. Guess what? There are "many" that do as well. I cannot believe that I have to explain it to you.

You stated: "I suggest you not blast other commenters for commenting about what they have not experienced, - precisely -because you yourself fall into that category. Hypocrisy does not help your position, your arguments, or your posts, no matter what you perceive the different positions may be on any given subject, including incarceration."

Again, you need to put on your monocle and see what was actually written. I was never an inmate. However, there are other people that go in and out of a prison pretty regularly and can be said to have some experience with the prison system. I am confident that you will figure it out eventually.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | May 26, 2011 1:59:28 PM

George wrote: "Really? How can you say that when it only takes one offense to get sent to civil commitment? That is not just like Nazi Germany because 2 does not equal 1."

LOL Too funny. Sure, it's a great analogy if you ignore A) civil commitment is a little different than Dachau and B) "crimes" in Germany included not having a registed address, not having a job, or being a homosexual.

Those of us in the real world may see them as important distinctions.

Then again, the Nazi platform did have universal healthcare in it. By golly, we ARE controlled by Nazis!

Posted by: TarlsQtr | May 26, 2011 2:12:20 PM

#10 We did something right a couple of decades ago that prevented kids from being screwed up and are seeing the fruit of that now. For example, this coincides roughly with the start of a sustained period of only briefly interrupted economic growth that reduced intense child poverty, and a reduction in drug use by women of childbearing age relative to the 1970s.

Posted by: ohwilleke | May 26, 2011 3:26:01 PM

shame on you tarls!

"LOL Too funny. Sure, it's a great analogy if you ignore A) civil commitment is a little different than Dachau and B) "crimes" in Germany included not having a registed address, not having a job, or being a homosexual."


not even dachau was open the first day. it took them years to get from roundup's leading to PRISON to death camps.

"Those of us in the real world may see them as important distinctions."

True of couse "those of us in the real world" seem to keep re-electing those retarded crooked politicians YEAR after YEAR after YEAR after YEAR in some cases 30-40 YEARS over and over again.

when you start talking about people in the "real world" your not helping your case!

Posted by: rodsmith | May 28, 2011 2:02:48 AM

Rodsmith: "not even dachau was open the first day. it took them years to get from roundup's leading to PRISON to death camps."

LOL, yeah, and some of our prisons have been open for close to 200 years (e.g. Auburn Correctional, Sing Sing) and I know from experience that they are not yet "death camps." When is the magical transformation supposed to take place in this country to finally complete the ridiculous Hitler analogy?

Seriously. Everyone needs to stop finding one or two ridiculous similarities between a Nazi prison and ours and using them as an example to say that we are essentially the same as Nazis. It is the logic of a child, not an adult.

You stated: "True of couse "those of us in the real world" seem to keep re-electing those retarded crooked politicians YEAR after YEAR after YEAR after YEAR in some cases 30-40 YEARS over and over again."

Hey, you want to talk about "crooked" and I'm with you. Comparing them directly to Nazis is a different story.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | May 28, 2011 11:15:11 AM

Again, you need to put on your monocle and see what was actually written. I was never an inmate. However, there are other people that go in and out of a prison pretty regularly and can be said to have some experience with the prison system. I am confident that you will figure it out eventually.

Posted by: deal of the day | Jan 8, 2012 7:21:58 AM

all the usual tropes about the impact and importance of incarceration rates and braoder economic realities seem to fail to explain what is going on these days.

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