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January 18, 2013

"African Americans suffer from high rates of incarceration and crime. Here’s how to drastically reduce both."

1301-coverThe title of this post is the provocative subheading of this lengthy new feature article in the latest issue of Washington Monthy. Authored by Professor Mark Kleiman, the article's main headline is "A New Role for Parole," and here is how the must-read piece starts and ends:

American crime rates, especially violent crime rates, and American incarceration rates are twin national disgraces.  We have five times the homicide rate and five times the incarceration rate of other economically advanced countries.  Both crime and incarceration are appallingly concentrated among poor African Americans; in the same neighborhoods where homicide is the leading cause of death for young men, more than half of those men will do prison time before they turn thirty.

The concentration of incarceration by race is by now a well-worn topic.  Some activists and scholars allege a concerted effort to replace older forms of racial oppression with the penitentiary.  The concentration of incarceration by social class is less well known, but no less worrisome.

What that critique leaves out is the concentration of crime.  Violent crime has fallen 67 percent from its peak in the early 1980s and early ’90s, but remains more than twice as common as it was before the great crime wave of the ’60s.  And crime is just as concentrated as incarceration: blacks are about six times as likely as whites to be imprisoned, and also about six times as likely to be murdered.  Almost all of those homicides are intraracial.  The Crips and the Bloods killed more African Americans in the last quarter of the twentieth century than the Ku Klux Klan killed in its entire history. Homicide rates have fallen sharply over the past two decades, but that may have more to do with improved shock-trauma medicine than with reduced criminality; the rate of gunshot wounds has not fallen.

The actual bloodshed may not be the worst of it.  The costs of crime are both enormous and underappreciated, because they consist primarily not of the direct losses to victims of crimes but of the costs people and businesses incur, and inflict on one another, in attempting to avoid victimization.  Every store that moves away from a poor neighborhood for fear of robbery takes with it both services and jobs, leaving the neighborhood that much poorer and more socially isolated....

A sensible crime-control agenda would satisfy neither the conservative impulse to punish as many people as possible as severely as possible nor the liberal impulse to substitute services for coercion and social reform for law enforcement.  Liberals will have to swallow the idea that improved coercion is as necessary as improved conditions. Conservatives will have to swallow the ideas that punishment is a cost and not a benefit and that the measure of the efficacy of a threat is how often it does not need to be carried out....

Criminal justice institutions need to give crime control priority over institutional comfort and habit. Public and nonprofit agencies that do not have crime control in their mission statements need to acknowledge that they are nonetheless in the crime-control business, whenever their actions and omissions can make the crime problem better or worse.

The bad news is that current policies leave us with unnecessarily and unforgivably high levels of both crime and incarceration. The good news is that we now know how to do better.

This same issue also has this lengthy piece by Professor Glenn Loury with this headline and subheading: "Prison’s Dilemma: Even if every convict were rightly sentenced, America’s vast, racially skewed incarceration system would still be morally indefensible."

January 18, 2013 at 10:33 AM | Permalink


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"suffer from" -- I had no idea committing crimes was like the cold or cancer.

Posted by: justme | Jan 18, 2013 2:05:12 PM

Stunning idiocy, like special ed student projects. Nor are victims mentioned, just criminals, the constituents of the left wing rent seeking partisan.

They forgot one word. It explains all racial disparities.


Brought to you courtesy of the vile feminist lawyer, and its all out campaign to destroy the black family. It survived slavery, war, discrimination, poverty, isolation. It could not survive the perfidy and betrayal of the feminist lawyer.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jan 18, 2013 9:05:33 PM

As to the first comment, it's just like cancer, but society, particularly some groups in society, do "suffer from" that results of the current criminal justice policy we have in place, that is "sustain injury, disadvantage, or loss."

The article also mentions victims. Take this from the excerpt -- "six times as likely to be murdered" ... the author of the piece btw was on Lawrence O'Donnell last night (Friday 12/18, video on his show's web page) to talk gun policy.

Posted by: Joe | Jan 19, 2013 10:18:34 AM

[erratum: (sigh) NOT just like cancer]

Posted by: Joe | Jan 19, 2013 10:19:03 AM

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