Monday, August 29, 2016

As Donald Trump falsely claims inner-city crime "is reaching record levels," will those truly concerned about public safety address new spike in roadway deaths?

GOP Prez candidate Donald Trump took to twitter this morning to propagate false information about modern crime rates by saying in this tweet that "Inner-city crime is reaching record levels."   This Wall Street Journal article, headlined "Trump Says Crime Near Records, but Data Show Murders Well Below ’90s Highs," details why this statement is patently false:

As part of Donald Trump’s declared outreach to black voters, the Republican presidential nominee has painted a dire picture of American “inner cities” rife with crime, and stated he can make them safe. While crime has indeed ticked up recently, it remains near historic lows, especially as compared to, say, the 1980s and 1990s when the streets of Mr. Trump’s hometown of New York City were far more dangerous than today.

Homicides for the first six months of the year hit 2,801 in 61 major cities surveyed by the Major Cities Chiefs Association, up 15% from the year previous. Thirty-six of the 61 departments reported increases in homicides so far this year with Chicago showing the largest jump. As of Sunday, there have been 455 murders in Chicago, up 47% from the same period last year, according to the police. There were 472 murders in all of 2015, about half the all-time high set 25 years ago....

It is hard to remember how violent the country was back then. One example is New York City. The nation’s largest city annually had 2,000 homicides during the violence-prone early 1990s.  This year, the city will likely have about one-sixth of that total.  The nation’s homicide record setting year was 1991, with 24,703 homicides, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The nation’s larger cities had numbers considerably higher than those recorded recently.

I highlight this data not only to provide, yet again, some needed context for concerns expressed about recent the uptick in homicide in a number of notable cities, but also to highlight that even the most violent year in modern American history --- 1991, with 24,703 homicides --- still experienced 10,000+ fewer death than accidents just last year on American roads. The latest data on US traffic deaths comes from this official press release which came out just today, titled "Traffic Fatalities Up Sharply in 2015," from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  Here are some of these details:

The nation lost 35,092 people in traffic crashes in 2015, ending a 5-decade trend of declining fatalities with a 7.2% increase in deaths from 2014. The final data released today by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showed traffic deaths rising across nearly every segment of the population. The last single-year increase of this magnitude was in 1966, when fatalities rose 8.1% from the previous year.

"Despite decades of safety improvements, far too many people are killed on our nation’s roads every year," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. "Solving this problem will take teamwork, so we're issuing a call to action and asking researchers, safety experts, data scientists, and the public to analyze the fatality data and help find ways to prevent these tragedies.”

Ten years ago, the number of traffic deaths was nearly 25% higher, with 42,708 fatalities reported nationwide in 2005. Since then, safety programs have helped lower the number of deaths by increasing seat belt use and reducing impaired driving. Vehicle improvements, including air bags and electronic stability control, have also contributed to reducing traffic fatalities.  After a decade-long downward trend, traffic deaths in 2015 increased by nearly one-third compared to 2014....

Pedestrian and pedalcyclist fatalities increased to a level not seen in 20 years. Motorcyclist deaths increased over 8%. NHTSA also noted human factors continued to contribute to the majority of crashes. Almost half of passenger vehicle occupants killed were not wearing seat belts. Research shows almost one in three fatalities involved drunk drivers or speeding. One in 10 fatalities involved distraction. "The data tell us that people die when they drive drunk, distracted, or drowsy, or if they are speeding or unbuckled," said NHTSA Administrator, Dr. Mark Rosekind. "While there have been enormous improvements in many of these areas, we need to find new solutions to end traffic fatalities."

August 29, 2016 in Campaign 2016 and sentencing issues, Data on sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 25, 2016

You be the state legislator: how should Ohio respond to new data showing drug overdose deaths reaching another record high in 2015?

Png;base6493e59080e74e719cThe question in the title of this post is the question I plan to be asking in coming days to students in both my first-year Criminal Law class and in my upper-level Sentencing Law & Policy class.  It comes to mind in response to the "breaking news" alert I received from my local Columbus Dispatch linking to this new article reporting on new data under the headline "Drug overdose deaths pushed to another record high in Ohio." Here are some data details:

Drug overdoses took the lives of a record 3,050 Ohioans last year, more than one-third from fentanyl, a super-potent opiate often mixed with heroin. Across Ohio, someone died from a drug overdose every two hours and 52 minutes on average all year long in 2015.

The annual report on unintentional drug overdose deaths released today by the Ohio Department of Health showed the toll from all drugs was 20.5 percent higher than 2014, a disappointment to state officials who have been working for years on many fronts to curb the drug-related carnage.

While heroin deaths rose, fatalities from fentanyl, a synthetic narcotic 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin and up to 100 times stronger than morphine, soared to 1,155 last year, more than double the 503 deaths in 2014. The vast majority involved illegally produced fentanyl, not the prescription drug commonly given to end-stage cancer patients.

The 2015 deaths bring the total to nearly 13,000 overdose victims in the state since 2003. The report was compiled from Ohio's 88 county coroners....

"These are 3,050 tragedies that could have been avoided," said Tracy Plouck, director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. "It's very disappointing, but we have a responsibility as leaders in the state to continue to press forward ... This absolutely does not mean we have given up."

Gov. John Kasich, who often spoke passionately about the drug epidemic during his Republican presidential campaign, said in an interview that the state continues "playing a rear guard action ... But I believe we’re making progress. I feel we’re doing every thing we possibly can. We're not looking the other way. We're not putting our heads in the sand. "This is not about politics. This is about life."

Kasich said the drop in opiate pain pills prescriptions is a good sign because people usually become addicted to painkillers before moving to heroin. “We knew when we started this battle five years ago that progress wouldn’t be easy, but we are well prepared to stay on the leading edge of fighting this epidemic thanks to the multi-faceted strategies we have put into place," said Dr. Mark Hurst, medical director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.

Public Safety Director John Born said the higher numbers "are motivating because we see the impact of drugs on the quality of life and life itself." Born said troopers already have seized 118 pounds of heroin this year, compared to a total of 304 pounds seized from 2010 to 2015. The report showed Franklin County overdose deaths soared to 279 last year, a 42 percent jump from 196 in 2014. The county leads the state in heroin seizures by the Highway Patrol, 76 pounds from 2010 through 2015.

People 25 to 34 years old were the most common fentanyl victims, with men twice as likely to die from an overdose. Every drug category except prescription pills, alcohol and "unspecified" rose in 2015 compared to 2014. Heroin deaths rose to 1,424 from 1,196 (up 19 percent); prescription opioids (667 from 672, down 1 percent); benzodiazepines (504 from 420, up 20 percent); cocaine (685 from 517 (up 32 percent); alcohol (380 from 383, down less than 1 percent); methadone (108 from 103, up less than 1 percent); hallucinogens (61 from 49, up 24 percent); barbiturates (19 from 6, up 200 percent); and other unspecified (194 from 274, down 29 percent).

Hamilton County reported the most fentanyl-related deaths with 195, followed by Summit, 111; Butler, 104; Montgomery, 102; Cuyahoga, 83; Clermont, 54; Clark, 48; Lucas, 41; Franklin, 40; Stark, 26; Trumbull, 25; Lorain, 21, and Greene, 20.

Dr. Mary DiOrio, medical director of the Department of Health, said the state has taken several steps in the drug fight, including establishing the Start Talking education program aimed at young people, increasing law enforcement efforts, encouraging physicians and pharmacists to use the online drug monitoring system, and creating opioid prescribing guidelines.

The state last year asked the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to step in to study the fentanyl problem. Officials said they will take further action this year, asking state lawmakers to pass tougher laws for selling fentanyl, increasing money for naloxone, expanding treatment options, and adding drug courts.

As regular readers of my blog Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform know, one possible (and surely controversial) legislative response to this problem would be to explore more rigorously and expeditiously whether legalization of marijuana might be a port to consider in this deadly drug overdose Ohio storm.  As noted in this post, well over six month ago, US Senator Elizabeth Warren wrote to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to request more research on wether marijuana reform might help address the national opiate abuse problem.  I would be very eager to see Ohio official following-up on this front so as to more fully explore the prospect that has been shown in some existing research that making marijuana more readily and legally accessible can contribute usefully to the needed "multi-faceted strategies" for dealing with this pressing public health problem 

Some recent recent related posts from my blogs:

August 25, 2016 in Drug Offense Sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Offense Characteristics, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Important "Real Clear" debate explores whether Texas "smart on crime" reforms have really been successful

A series of dueling posts over at the Real Clear Policy blog has been engaging with crime and punishment data from Texas to provide different views on whether so-called "smart on crime" reforms in the Lone Star State have proven truly effective at reducing both crime and imprisonment.  The discussion is too intricate to summarize here, so I encourage readers interested in this important debate to check out these post in order:

August 24, 2016 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, National and State Crime Data, Prisons and prisoners, State Sentencing Guidelines | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 19, 2016

A noble and important effort to unpack and contextualize recent crime data

P025_1_00Regular readers surely know about all the original important work done at The Marshall Project, and today they earn my admiration and praise for this lengthy feature piece attempting to bring needed clarity to the latest discussions and debates over crimes rates.  The piece, which is headlined "Crime in Context: Violent crime is up in some places, but is it really a trend?," really demands a full-read (in part because it has a lot of charts and images); the start of the piece provides a flavor of the analysis:

Is crime in America rising or falling? The answer is not nearly as simple as politicians sometimes make it out to be, because of how the FBI collects and handles crime data from the country’s more than 18,000 police agencies. Those local reports are voluntary and sometimes inconsistent.  And the bureau takes months or years to crunch the numbers, so the national data lags behind the current state of crime.

To present a fuller picture of crime in America, The Marshall Project collected and analyzed 40 years of FBI data — through 2014 — on the most serious violent crimes in 68 police jurisdictions. We also obtained data directly from 61 local agencies for 2015 — a period for which the FBI has not yet released its numbers.  (Our analysis found that violent crime in these jurisdictions rose 4 percent last year. But crime experts caution against making too much of year-over-year statistics.)

In the process, we were struck by the wide variation from community to community.  To paraphrase an aphorism about politics, all crime is local.  Each city has its own trends that depend on the characteristics of the city itself, the time frame, and the type of crime.  In fact, the trends vary from neighborhood to neighborhood within cities; a recent study posited that 5 percent of city blocks account for 50 percent of the crime.  That is why most Americans believe crime is worse, while significantly fewer believe it is worse where they live.

We’re making the data we collected available to download, for anyone who might be interested in examining the historic trends.

And here is some more of the crime accounting in this piece:

Are we in the throes of a crime wave sweeping across the nation, or is this a period of stability and safety unlike any we’ve seen in a generation?

The Marshall Project used a widely accepted statistical calculation to get a weighted average of recent years -- essentially smoothing out the year-to-year fluctuations that are common to crime data.  We found that the reported violent crimes rose in our cities last year to its highest point since 2010.  But viewed in the broader context of the past five decades, crime remains near record lows.  Note that we focused on cities, where crime is most prevalent, excluding more affluent suburbs or the sparsely developed rural areas that make up the rest of the country.

President Obama is correct when he says violent crime is near an all-time low. Since 2008, the national rate of violent crime has been lower than at any point since 1976. Although recent data, such as a report compiled by the Major Cities Chiefs Association a professional organization of the leaders of the country’s largest police departments, show crime in several major cities has risen in the past year, the uptick is still dramatically lower than the highs reached in the early 1990s.  That is not expected to change once the FBI releases national numbers for 2015.

Donald Trump’s assertion that the nation has become more dangerous than he (or anybody) has ever seen is clearly inaccurate.  Since Obama was sworn into office, violent crime in the major cities and across the nation has dropped, albeit not as dramatically as in recent history.  New studies such as one published this summer by the National Institute of Justice show homicides rose in dozens of cities last year, though much of that increase was concentrated in just 10: Baltimore, Chicago, Houston, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Washington, D.C., Nashville, Tenn., Philadelphia, Kansas City, Mo., and St. Louis.

August 19, 2016 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

"Want to Stop Gun Violence? End The War On Drugs"

The title of this post is the title of this notable commentary by Jay Stooksberry that backs up an effective argument with lots of helpful links to support his claims.  Here are excerpts (with links from the original):

Every December 5th, American beer, wine, and spirit enthusiasts celebrate Repeal Day.  It was on this day in 1933 that the United States officially passed the 21st Amendment, effectively ending the failed “noble experiment” known as Prohibition.  This was not only a good day for liberty and libations; it also marked the end of a violent era in American history.

The transport and sale of illicit booze became a prolific criminal enterprise backed by well-armed, violent gangs. The result: a homicide rate in the United States that steadily climbed between 1920 and 1933.  In addition, the rise of “victimless crimes” — namely, consumption or possession of alcohol — added to the already overburdened judicial system.  Furthermore, alcohol consumption — what Prohibition laws sought to minimize — actually increased nearly 70 percent.

To call Prohibition a failure would be an understatement.   Repealing Prohibition destroyed the monopoly on alcohol maintained by organized crime. Disempowering the black market produced a noticeable decline in the homicide rate. In fact, homicides continued to diminish each year for eleven years straight.

Fast forward 82 years, and we are in the midst of Prohibition 2.0. This time we call it the “War on Drugs,” and its impact is even more deadly. If concerned citizens want to get serious about reducing gun violence, then they should be encouraged to focus less on policies that are ineffective — “assault weapons” bansgun buyback programs, and outright confiscation — and focus more on ending our failed, four-decade long, overly-militarized, trillion-dollar battle against narcotics.

Let’s put gun violence into perspective. There is no doubt that gun violence is a problem. Guns are used in nearly three-fourths of all American homicides.  What typically brings gun control to the forefront of our political dialogue is the recurring tragedy of a mass shooting.  However, mass shootings receive a disproportionate amount of media attention considering how much they actually contribute to our national homicide rate.

According to Mass Shooting Tracker, in 2014, mass shooting incidents resulted in the deaths of 383 people—about 3% of total gun homicides for the year. In comparison, the violence caused by the Drug War overshadows the bloodshed of mass shootings. Though difficult to quantify due to inconsistent reporting, estimates of drug-related homicides reach as high as 50 percent of the total homicides in the United States....

Without legal mechanisms in place, the only option for arbitration in the black market is violence.  This violence takes many forms: turf wars between drug suppliers where civilians are also caught in the crossfire; no-knock police raids (sometimes occurring at the wrong house) where suspects are gunned down; drug addicts assaulting others to secure money for their addiction. The multi-faceted nature of the violence makes the task of fully grasping the available data difficult.

The violence of the American Drug War has even spilled over internationally — primarily in Latin America.  Between 2007 and 2014, Mexican authorities estimates that 164,000 homicides were the result of cartel violence.  For perspective, during the same time period, civilian deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq totaled 103,000 combined....

Despite our backwardness regarding most drug policies, the United States is ahead of most of the international community when it comes to the legalization of cannabis—and we are witnessing some of the positive effects of those efforts.  Colorado legalized recreational marijuana with Amendment 64 in 2013, resulting in a “green rush” of population growth. Despite the increase in population, Denver police reports indicate a drop in overall crime, including a 24 percent drop in reported homicides.

Granted, the Colorado experiment with legalized marijuana and its benefits is still new. Plus, it is difficult to demonstrate correlation with such a small sample of data. However, there is a distinct correlation between increased policing of controlled substances and the escalating violence of the black market in those substances. The Independence Institute examined arrest and homicide rates throughout the 20th century and concluded that the greatest contributor to violence is “a violent black market caused by the War on Drugs today, and Prohibition in the 1920’s.”

August 16, 2016 in Drug Offense Sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Offense Characteristics, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, August 14, 2016

"A reality check on crime: Rhetoric aside, new murder numbers are troubling"

The title of this post is the headline of this effective and important new piece from The Center for Public Integrity.  Here are excerpts:

There’s been a lot of rhetorical heat of late regarding crime in America — but not a lot of light.  Take Donald Trump.  He stirred the Republican convention with an apocalyptic vision of inner-city America as a Mad Max movie.  His first task, Trump said, “would be to liberate our citizens from the crime and terrorism and lawlessness that threatens their communities.” But wait. President Obama and others quickly countered that the imagery was nonsense — that violent crime today is dramatically lower than it was 30 years ago, 20 years ago, even 10 years ago.

There are multiple explanations for this confusion, and politics is only one of them. Reliance on the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports is another; criminologists believe that many of the offenses tracked by the so-called UCR’s are terribly under-reported, and so are of limited utility.  And the reporting suffers from a serious time lag; the FBI’s full year report for 2015 won’t be released for another month or so.

Many criminologists believe that murder is the only truly reliable crime statistic because it is the only crime that’s virtually always reported.  Thus more recent reports on murder numbers are potentially illuminating, but have included a grab bag of cities, some of which showed murder increases while others showed decreases.

The Center for Public Integrity has gathered murder statistics for the first half of 2016 and compared them with totals for the first half of 2015, for America’s 10 most populous cities.... [which] contain some disturbing news. The 10-city total for January-June 2016 is up 20 percent over the previous year, and fully nine of the 10 municipalities showed increases, with big-percentage spikes in Phoenix, San Antonio, San Jose and especially Chicago. This seems to extend a jump in murders that showed killings up in early 2015 from 2014. The exception to the trend is the nation’s biggest city, New York, which so far in 2016 has sustained a drop in murders, continuing a trend there that stretches back to the early 1990s.

Is there an explanation for the broader uptick in America’s biggest cities? That’s harder to say. There’s talk of a “Ferguson effect,” in which cops are pulling back from aggressive enforcement — but little hard evidence. Some blame a rise in gang activity, while others point to a relentless proliferation of guns in the hands of young people. A less-explored, if admittedly imperfect explanation: more young people. Criminologists have traditionally argued that ages 15-24 are the crime-prone years, and the number of people in that age cohort has fluctuated over recent history. There were 42 million of them in 1980, when violent crime was rising, but the total was down to 38 million by 1990; crime started to ebb just a few years later, aided by the end of the crack epidemic. However, the number of 15-24-year-olds jumped to 44 million by 2012, and has stayed relatively close to that number since.

I consider this piece of reporting effective because it highlights that homicide numbers are generally the most reliable of crime statistics, and I consider it important because it highlights that homicide number tell a "disturbing" tale in 9 of the 10 largest US cities. (I also respect the piece's sensible statement that it is hard to say right now what accounts for the recent uptick in murders in America’s biggest cities.)

I have been especially troubled lately by demonstraby false assertions that crime is, right now, "actually at historic lows" (which is what former AG Holder claims in today's New York Times), when in fact it seems we hit modern recent historic homicide/crime lows in 2014.   Those eager to contest Trump's expressed concern for law and order are on solid ground when saying that homicide/crime is now still much, much lower than when Barack H. Obama (or George W. Bush or William J. Clinton) first took office.  But the hard cold facts, which ought no be avoided or fudged by any serious academic or policy advocate, indicate that homicide/crime started to increase in calendar year 2015 and may been in the midst of increasing further in 2016.

August 14, 2016 in Data on sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (8)

Monday, July 25, 2016

Increases in murders reported in many major cities from police chiefs

This new Wall Street Journal article, headlined "Murders Rise in 29 of Largest U.S. Cities in First Half of 2016: Homicides in Chicago and Orlando, Fla., contribute to much of the increase," reports on the latest bad news about homicide totals for the start of 2016. Here are the details:

The number of murders in 29 of the nation’s largest cities rose during the first six months of the year, according to the results of a survey released by the Major Cities Chiefs Association on Monday.

Overall, homicides jumped 15% in the 51 large cities that submitted crime data, compared with the same year-ago period. But over half that increase was driven by spikes in two cities: Chicago, which has struggled with rising gang violence, and Orlando, where Omar Mateen fatally shot 49 people at a nightclub in June.

A continuing increase in some cities worries city officials who had been hoping last year’s surge was an aberration in the decades-long decline in the country’s murder rate. After peaking in the 1990s, violent crime rates in the U.S. have in recent years been at their lowest levels in four decades, according to FBI data.

Donald Trump seized on the murder rise in his speech at last week’s Republican National Convention, saying that “decades of progress made in bringing down crime are now being reversed by this administration’s rollback of criminal enforcement.”

But Darrel Stephens, executive director of Major Cities Chiefs Association, said it’s still too early to say if the numbers signal real change. “It’s going to take a bit more to say this trend of 20 years is being reversed,” said Mr. Stephens, adding that there may be a rise in a few cities, “but not on a national basis.”

Homicides in the first six months also declined in 22 cities, including some that saw big jumps in 2015, such as Milwaukee, where killings dropped 26%, according to the survey. In addition, New York City, which has seen a decline in homicides this year, and some other large cities weren’t included because they hadn’t yet submitted their data, Mr. Stephens said.

Increased gang violence is playing a role in places like Chicago, which saw 316 homicides in the first half of 2016, compared with 211 in the first half of 2015....

The rise in homicides in some large cities last year set off considerable debate between police officials and criminologists over what was behind the increase. Some have attributed increases to the “Ferguson effect,” a theory that increases in crime can be attributed to the reluctance of police to engage in confrontation in the face of protests around the U.S. since the 2014 killing of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Mo., by a white police officer....

Richard Rosenfeld, a criminologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, wrote in a Justice Department-funded study released in June that the Ferguson effect was a “plausible” explanation for the sudden jump in killings in 2015.

Mr. Rosenfeld also put forth a second version of the Ferguson effect, writing that the police killings in Ferguson and elsewhere “activated longstanding grievances” in minority communities about police and the criminal-justice system that led to a “legitimacy crisis” and a rise in crime. “Both may have contributed,” said Mr. Rosenfeld, who cautioned that more research and data is needed.

July 25, 2016 in National and State Crime Data, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday, June 16, 2016

New NIJ research report explores particulars and reasons for unprecedented 2015 increase in US homicides

The National Institute of Justice this week released this important and interesting new report authored by criminologist Richard Rosenfeld titled "Documenting and Explaining the 2015 Homicide Rise: Research Directions." Here is the report's executive summary:

The debate over the size, scope and causes of the homicide increase in 2015 has been largely free of systematic evidence. This paper documents the scale of the homicide increase for a sample of 56 large U.S. cities. It then examines three plausible explanations of the homicide rise: an expansion of urban drug markets fueled by the heroin epidemic, reductions in incarceration resulting in a growing number of released prisoners in the nation’s cities, and a “Ferguson effect” resulting from widely publicized incidents of police use of deadly force against minority citizens. The paper concludes with a call for the more frequent and timely release of crime information to address crime problems as they arise.

The homicide increase in the nation’s large cities was real and nearly unprecedented.  It was also heavily concentrated in a few cities with large African-American populations. Empirical explanations of the homicide increase must await future research based on year-end crime data for 2015.  Several empirical indicators for assessing the explanations under consideration here are discussed.  For example, if the homicide increase resulted from an expansion in urban drug markets, we should observe larger increases in drug-related homicides than those committed under other circumstances.  If returning prisoners fueled the homicide increase, that should be reflected in growing numbers of homicides committed by parolees.

It will be more difficult to empirically evaluate the so-called Ferguson effect on crime increases, depending on the version of this phenomenon under consideration.  The dominant interpretation of the Ferguson effect is that criticism of the police stemming from widely publicized and controversial incidents of the use of force against minority citizens caused the police to disengage from vigorous enforcement activities. Another version of the Ferguson effect, however, switches the focus from changes in police behavior to the longstanding grievances and discontent with policing in AfricanAmerican communities.  In this interpretation, when activated by controversial incidents of police use of force, chronic discontent erupts into violence.

The de-policing interpretation of the Ferguson effect can be evaluated with data on arrests and other forms of self-initiated activity by the police.  De-policing should be reflected in declining arrest rates in cities experiencing homicide increases.  Tracing the pathways from chronic levels of discontent to an escalation in homicide will ultimately require ethnographic studies in minority communities that reveal, for example, whether offenders believe they can engage in crime without fear that residents will contact the police or cooperate in police investigations.  Such studies could also disclose other linkages between discontent, police use of force and criminal violence.

In summary, the following research questions for documenting and explaining the 2015 homicide rise, at a minimum, should be pursued when the requisite data become available:

• How large and widespread was the homicide increase in 2015? Did other crimes also increase?

• What conditions drove the homicide increase? Candidate explanations must account for the timing as well as the magnitude and scope of the increase.

• What role, if any, did the expansion of drug markets play in the 2015 homicide increase? Was there a relative increase in drug arrests and drug-related homicides?

• Did declining imprisonment rates contribute to the 2015 homicide rise? Was the increase greater in cities with more returning prisoners and among parolees?

• What role did the Ferguson effect play in the homicide rise? If de-policing contributed to the increase, arrest rates should have declined in cities experiencing the largest homicide increases. An open question is how to evaluate the role, if any, of community discontent with the police. Ethnographic studies, among other methods, should be high on the list of research approaches to identify the mechanisms linking police legitimacy and escalating levels of violence.

Researchers would have been in a better position to begin addressing the 2015 homicide rise, with evidence rather than speculation, if timely crime data had been available as the increase was occurring. We would have known whether the homicide rise was confined to large cities, whether other crimes were also increasing, and whether arrest rates were falling. The debate over the homicide increase would have been better informed. Technical impediments to the monthly release of crime data no longer exist. A large and worrisome increase in homicide should be the catalyst to finally bring the nation’s crime monitoring system into the 21st century.

June 16, 2016 in National and State Crime Data, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (8)

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Unpacking the (never-simplistic and never-certain) stories of state crimes and incarceration levels

This new Atlantic story, headlined "Crime Is Down, Sort Of: New stats on U.S. imprisonment rates suggest a complicated future for criminal-justice reform," provides a usefully nuanced account of this new Brennen Center report titled simply "Update: Changes in State Imprisonment Rates." Here first is what the Brennan Center sets up its report: 

Today, there are 2.3 million people in the nation’s prisons and jails — a 500 percent increase over the last forty years. With almost one in 100 American adults behind bars, our incarceration rate is the world’s highest. This fact sheet provides an update to findings on state imprisonment trends originally outlined in The Reverse Mass Incarceration Act. It analyzes data from all 50 states on imprisonment and crime from 2006 (as bipartisan criminal justice reforms generally began around 2007) through 2014 (the most recent year of data).

Two overarching findings:

1. Many argue that increased incarceration is necessary to reduce crime.  Yet the data shows the opposite.  Over the last ten years, 27 states have decreased both crime and imprisonment.  Not only is this trend possible, it’s played out in the majority of states. Nationally, imprisonment and crime have fallen together, 7 percent and 23 percent respectively since 2006.  Crime continued its downward trend while incarceration also decreased.

2. In recent years, states in the South have seen some of the largest decreases in imprisonment.  Yet, they also remain the largest incarcerators in the country.  Mississippi reduced imprisonment by 10 percent but still has the nation’s 5th highest incarceration rate.  Texas has reduced imprisonment by 15 percent yet still has the 7th highest imprisonment rate in the country.

And here is a snippet from the Atlantic's discussion of the report:

Many Americans might make a basic mathematical error in looking at the country’s criminal-justice system: They assume more people in jail or prison always equals less crime, and more crime necessarily calls for putting more people behind bars. Both conclusions are wrong. A new report from the Brennan Center for Justice provides some illuminating data on this point.

The report’s most fascinating finding is that imprisonment and overall crime rates were down 7 percent and 23 percent, respectively, from 2006 to 2014. “States will continue to decrease imprisonment slowly; we might perhaps see crime leveling out,” Chettiar said. “Criminologists say we have reached an all-time low in crime. I expect we’ll continue to see low crime and lowered imprisonment rates.”...

In the analysis, high achievers included Rhode Island, New Jersey, Hawaii, Nebraska, Connecticut, California, Colorado, and South Carolina. All saw double-digit drops in their rates of imprisonment per 100,000 residents. That does not necessarily indicate a dramatic drop in the actual number of people behind bars—an overall decrease in the rate at which a state imprisons people can result from many factors, including the release of current inmates, diversion efforts to keep those arrested out of jail, and the reclassification of low-level crimes that may let some offenders bypass custody....

In terms of overall crime, Vermont, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Illinois, Maryland, and Louisiana reduced their rates most. Each saw a decrease of 30 percent or more in their crime rates per 100,000 residents. States such as New Hampshire, North Dakota, and South Dakota each saw big increases in their in crime rates, all 30 percent or higher.

As policymakers are paying increased attention to the shortcomings of the criminal-justice system and more citizens seem to accept the need for policy changes, these facts suggest reform will look very different in different states—and above all, it will be complicated.

June 9, 2016 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, National and State Crime Data, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

New study suggests California's prison population reduction via realignment has been generally successful

This new entry at The Crime Report, headlined "California's Prison Downsizing Offers a Model for Other States, Study Says," reports on notable new research suggesting that crime has not increased dramatically after California was force in the wake of the Plata ruling to reduce its prison population.  Here is the start of the entry describing the research:

The success of California's Public Safety Realignment Act in reducing state prison populations without a corresponding increase in crime suggests that other jurisdictions around the country can enact similar reforms without endangering public safety, according to a study published in the latest issue of Criminology & Public Policy, an American Society of Criminology journal.

The study, entitled “Is Downsizing Prisons Dangerous? The Effect of California’s Realignment Act on Public Safety” [available here], cites already published data showing that the 17 percent reduction in the size of California’s prison population over a 15-month period, beginning with the Act's implementation in 2011, did not have an effect on aggregate rates of violent crime or property crime.

"Moreover, 3 years after the passage of Realignment, California crime rates remain at levels comparable to what we would predict if the prison population had remained at 2010 levels," write authors Jody Sundt of Indiana University, Emily J. Salisbury of University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and Mark G. Harmon of Portland State University.

The California results demonstrate that "we make a mistake...when we assume that prisons are the only meaningful or viable response to crime,” the authors add.

According to the data referenced in the study, the California Realignment Act reduced the size of the state’s prison population by 27, 527 inmates within 15 months. Many of the inmates were transferred to local jails or released into the community. Critics of the Act linked the policy to recorded increases in offenses such as auto theft. But the authors argued that the slight uptick in such offenses leveled off over time--and was not necessarily linked to realignment.

These results should serve as an object lesson for other jurisdictions, said the authors. "For the first time in decades it appears that a 'window of opportunity' for justice reform is opening to allow for a reevaluation of the effectiveness and wisdom of policies that have created the largest prison population in the world," they wrote, citing a phrase used by criminologist Michael Tonry.

May 10, 2016 in Data on sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (7)

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Brennan Center provides a (suspect?) "final analysis" of crime in 2015

The folks at the Brennan Center have this new report titled "Crime in 2015: A Final Analysis" authored by Ames Grawert and James Cullen Here is its first page with its summary findings:

This analysis provides final crime data to update the report, Crime in 2015: A Preliminary Analysis. It finds the same conclusions as that report (and its December 2015 update), with slightly different percentages.

The analysis examines crime in the 30 largest cities from 2014 to 2015, with 25 cities reporting data on murder through the end of 2015 and 22 reporting data on crime.  Its findings:

• As shown in Table 1A, crime overall in the 30 largest cities in 2015 remained the same as in 2014, decreasing by 0.1 percent across cities.  Two-thirds of cities saw drops in crime, which were offset mostly by an increase in Los Angeles (12.7 percent). Nationally, crime remains at all-time lows. The data show no evidence of a deviation from that trend.

• Violent crime rose slightly, by 3.1 percent.  This result was primarily caused by increasing violence in Los Angeles (25.2 percent), Baltimore (19.2 percent), and Charlotte (15.9 percent). Notably, aggravated assaults in Los Angeles account for more than half of the rise in violent crime in these cities. There is no evidence of a deviation from the historically low levels of violence the country has been experiencing.

• As shown in Table 1B, the 2015 murder rate rose by 13.3 percent in the 30 largest cities, with 19 cities seeing increases and six decreases. However, in absolute terms, murder rates are so low that a small numerical increase can lead to a large percentage change. Murder rates today are roughly the same as they were in 2012 — in fact, they are slightly lower.

• Final data confirm that three cities (Baltimore, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.) account for more than half (244) of the national increase in murders (Table 1B).  While this suggests cause for concern in some cities, murder rates vary widely from year to year, and there is little evidence of a national coming wave in violent crime. These serious increases seem to be localized, rather than part of a national pandemic, suggesting that community conditions remain the major factor. Notably, these three cities all seem to have falling populations, higher poverty rates, and higher unemployment than the national average (Table 2).  This suggests that economic deterioration of these cities could be a contributor to murder increases there.

These findings are consistent with the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report data from the first six months of 2015. Notably, the Brennan Center’s analysis focuses on major cities, where increases in crime and murder were highest, so this report likely systematically overestimates any rise in crime nationally.

I have in my title primed the question of whether we should look at this data as suspect largely because Bill Otis and others at Crime & Consequences have done a number of posts questioning how the Brennan Center has been analyzing and characterizing 2015 crime data.  Here are some of these C&C posts:

Readers know I am a proponent of "evidence-based" sentencing reform, but they should also know that I fully recognize (and am often eager to highlight) how evidence about both crime and punishment will often be used by advocates in very different ways.

April 21, 2016 in National and State Crime Data, Offense Characteristics, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The many challenges of a fully nuanced understanding of the Clintons, crime, punishment and the 1994 Crime Bill

Blog_prison_population_crime_bill_0The notable interchange a few days ago between former Prez Bill Clinton and protestors (noted here) has brought renewed attention to the contributions of the 1994 "Clinton" Crime Bill to mass incarceration and the massive reduction in modern crime rates.  Like every other important criminal justice story, there is considerable nuance to fully understanding (1) just what the 1994 Crime Bill did (and did not do), and (2) just what this single piece of federal legislation has produced with respect to crime and punishment two decades later.  Also full of considerable nuance is the role and record of Prez Bill Clinton (and now Prez candidate Hillary Clinton) on criminal justice reforms past and present.

All the political, policy and practical dynamics of the Clintons' record and the 1994 Crime Bill justifies considerable scholarly commentary, and lots of important nuances cannot be fully captured by soundbites or brief blog postings. Nevertheless, I thought it might be useful here, in service to encouraging a richer understanding of all these matters, to collect below a number of notable commentaries I have seen that help highlight why any simple account of the Clintons, crime, punishment and the 1994 Crime Bill is likely to be simply wrong:

UPDATE:  Here is another recent addition to this list via the New York Times: "Prison Rate Was Rising Years Before 1994 Law"

April 10, 2016 in Campaign 2016 and sentencing issues, National and State Crime Data, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Death penalty abolition, broadened gun rights, heroin surge, police (mis)conduct, reduced sentences ... so many suspects in Chicago murder spike and NYC murder decline

The headline of this post is my effort to make some sense of this past week's dueling crime news headlines coming from two of America's largest cities:

As the title of my post is meant to suggest, I think there are so many notable legal and social developments that could be referenced in an effort to account for the increased mayhem in Chicago and the increased mildness in New York City.  Indeed, what is so remarkable is the reality that all of the high-profile developments referenced in the title of this post have occurred nearly in parallel in both jurisdictions over the last decade, and yet the potential impact of all these developments seems to be playing out so very differently.

In a number of prior posts in recent years (some of which I have linked below), I have tried to figure out what seems to be working and not working in these two big US cites and various others to reduce or increase violent crime. But, as some of the posts below suggest, it often seems that the only simple explanation for dynamic crime rate data is that they seem to defy simple explanations:

April 9, 2016 in Death Penalty Reforms, Gun policy and sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, April 08, 2016

New draft article, "De-Policing," seems to provide empirical support for "Ferguson effect" claims

I just came across this notable new article on SSRN titled simply "De-Policing," which seems to provide some general empirical support for what is now being called the Ferguson Effect. The piece, authored by Stephen Rushin and Griffin Sims Edwards, seems empirically sophisticated (though I lack the talents to check the empiricism), and here is the abstract:

Critics have long claimed that when the law regulates police behavior it inadvertently reduces officer aggressiveness, thereby increasing crime.  This hypothesis has taken on new significance in recent years as prominent politicians and law enforcement leaders have argued that increased oversight of police officers in the wake of the events in Ferguson, Missouri has led to an increase in national crime rates.  Using a panel of American law enforcement agencies and difference-in-difference regression analyses, this Article tests whether the introduction of public scrutiny or external regulation is associated with changes in crime rates.

To do this, this Article relies on an original dataset of all police departments that have been subject to federally mandated reform under 42 U.S.C. § 14141 — the most invasive form of modern American police regulation.  This Article finds that the introduction of § 14141 regulation was associated with a statistically significant uptick in crime rates in affected jurisdictions. This uptick in crime was concentrated in the years immediately after federal intervention and diminished over time. This finding suggests that police departments may experience growing pains when faced with external regulation.

April 8, 2016 in National and State Crime Data, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (8)

Should we be linking nationwide crime spikes to heroin addiction and the black market it is driving?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by these two recent New York Times article:

As with all short-term and long-term changes in crime rates and patterns, I am strongly disinclined to assert or even suggest that a single causal factor provides a simple account for what is transpiring.  That said, I do not think it is a mere coincidence that opioid problems and broader crime problems have been increasing together.

April 8, 2016 in Drug Offense Sentencing, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (4)

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Public concerns about crime and violence increases, justifiably, along with increasing crime rates

Fgroul1z306minwfhuphkwThis new report from Gallup, headlined "Americans' Concern About Crime Climbs to 15-Year High," details that it is not only politicians and researchers who have noticed that crime rates are up in recent years.  Here are the basic details:

Americans' level of concern about crime and violence is at its highest point in 15 years. Fifty-three percent of U.S. adults say they personally worry "a great deal" about crime and violence, an increase of 14 percentage points since 2014.  This figure is the highest Gallup has measured since March 2001.

Twenty-six percent of U.S. adults currently worry "a fair amount" about crime and violence, while 22% worry "only a little" or "not at all."

When Gallup first asked Americans about their level of concern regarding crime and violence in March 2001, 62% said they worried a great deal.  That figure remains the highest level of worry in Gallup's 15-year trend on this question. In the months leading up to 9/11, Americans consistently mentioned crime and violence as one of the most important problems facing the country in response to a separate Gallup question.  But after 9/11, crime and violence no longer appeared among the list of problems Americans identified as most important, with terrorism rising to the top.

In turn, the percentage saying they personally worry about crime and violence plunged to 49% by March 2002.  Crime worry remained at a lower level over the next decade, as Americans named other issues such as the situation in Iraq, terrorism, the economy, dissatisfaction with government and healthcare as the most important problems facing the country.  After falling to a record-low 39% in 2014, worry about crime and violence increased in 2015 and 2016.

The rise in Americans' level of concern about crime could reflect actual, albeit modest, increases in crime, as well as increasing media coverage of it.  The number of violent crimes reported to police across the country in the first half of 2015 was up by 1.7% compared with the same period in 2014, according to the FBI's 2015 Uniform Crime Report.  Many large U.S. cities reported spikes in their homicide rates in 2015, including Milwaukee, St. Louis, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. From a long-term perspective, though, violent crime is down significantly since the 1990s.

April 7, 2016 in Campaign 2016 and sentencing issues, National and State Crime Data, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4)

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Making an empirical case for the relative efficacy of post-Plata realignment in California

A trio of criminologists make a data-driven case for some positive aspects of California's experiences with realignment in this Washington Post opinion piece headlined "Releasing low-level offenders did not unleash a crime wave in California."  Here are excerpts (with a link to the report that provides the empirical basis for its claims):

Some fear that reducing sentences for nonviolent crimes and letting low-level offenders back on the streets — key components of prison reform — could produce a new and devastating crime wave.  Such dire predictions were common in 2011 when California embarked on a massive experiment in prison downsizing.  But five years later, California’s experience offers powerful evidence that no such crime wave is likely to occur.

In 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that California’s wildly overcrowded prisons were tantamount to cruel and unusual punishment and ordered the state to reduce its prison population by some 33,000 people in two years.  In response, the state enacted the controversial California Public Safety Realignment law, known in legislative shorthand as AB 109.

With a budget of more than $1 billion annually, “realignment” gave each of the state’s 58 counties responsibility for supervising a sizable class of offenders — the “triple nons,” or non-serious, nonviolent, non-sex offenders — formerly housed in state prisons. Each county received unprecedented flexibility and authority to manage this population as it saw fit.

Recently, we brought together a group of distinguished social scientists to do a systematic, comprehensive assessment of California’s prison downsizing experiment.  The results, published this month in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, show that California’s decision to cede authority over low-level offenders to its counties has been, for the most part, remarkably effective public policy and an extraordinarily rich case study in governance....

To answer questions about the relationship between prison reform and crime rates, we not only compared statewide crime rates before and after the downsizing but also examined what happened in counties that favored innovative approaches vs. those that emphasized old-fashioned enforcement.

Clearly, our most important finding is that realignment has had only a very small effect on crime in California. Violent crime rates in the state have barely budged.  We’ve seen no appreciable uptick in assaults, rapes and murders that can be connected to the prisoners who were released under realignment.  This makes a lot of sense when you think about it; by and large, these offenders were eligible for release because of the nonviolent nature of their crimes.

On the other hand, a small uptick in property crime can be attributed to downsizing, with the largest increase occurring for auto theft.  So is this an argument against realignment and against prison reform more broadly?  We think not. The cost to society of a slight increase in property crime must be weighed against the cost of incarceration.

Take the example of auto theft. Our data suggest that one year served in prison instead of at large as a result of realignment prevents 1.2 auto thefts per year and saves $11,783 in crime-related costs plus harm to the victims and their families. On the other hand, keeping someone behind bars for a year costs California $51,889. In purely monetary terms — without considering, say, the substantial economic and social hardship that imprisonment can create for prisoners’ children and other relatives — incarcerating someone for a year in the hope of preventing an auto theft is like spending $450 to repair a $100 vacuum cleaner.

Turning to the question of which counties’ strategies were most successful, we have another important early finding: Counties that invested in offender reentry in the aftermath of realignment had better performance in terms of recidivism than counties that focused resources on enforcement.  As other states and the federal government contemplate their own proposals for prison downsizing, they should take a close look at what these California counties are doing right.

I have long been saying that California is a critical state to watch in the sentencing reform discussion, and I am pleased to see that a "group of distinguished social scientists" have so far concluded that the state's realignment experiences in the wake of the Supreme Court's Plata "has been, for the most part, remarkably effective public policy." But, critically, thanks to voter initiatives, California's recent sentencing reform efforts have not been confined to realignment: in 2012, California voters passed reforms to the state's three strikes laws via Prop 36, and in 2014 California voters passed reforms to what crimes are treated as felonies via Prop 47. And, notably, though some in law enforcement were quick to complain after AB 109 that realignment was responsible for a uptick in property crimes in the state, of late the focus of crime concerns and criticism has been Prop 47.

As I have repeatedly said in this space and others, I think it is especially problematic that California does not have the help of a independent sentencing commission that could and should seek to track and assess all these moving sentencing reform parts in the state.  In the absence of such a body, we all will have to rely on empirical and advocacy work done by outside researchers and policy groups concerning the effects of sentencing reform on the west coast.

March 20, 2016 in National and State Crime Data, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Thoughtful nuanced comments from George Will on modern crime and punishment

The Washington Post has published this astute new commentary by Geoge Will under the headline "Sentencing reform alone won’t fix crime and punishment in America." I recommend the full piece, and here is how it starts and ends:

Sen. John Cornyn recalls visiting a Texas prison where some inmates taking shop classes could not read tape measures. Cornyn, who was previously a district court judge and Texas Supreme Court justice, knows that prisons are trying to teach literacy and vocations, trying to cope with the mental illnesses of many inmates and trying to take prophylactic measures to prevent drug-related recidivism by people imprisoned for drug offenses.  “The criminal-justice system,” he says, “has become by default a social services provider.”

It is not, however, equipped to perform so many functions.  Cornyn, a Republican, is part of a bipartisan congressional group negotiating sentencing reform, one of many needed repairs of the criminal-justice system.  What justice requires, frugality encourages: Too many people are in prison for too long, and too often, at a financial cost disproportionate to the enhancement of public safety....

Old theories about the causes of crime need to be rethought.  During the Great Depression, unemployment soared to 25 percent, yet in many cities crime fell.  Demographic factors?  Crime rates often vary with the size of society’s cohort of young males: Crime declined considerably during World War II not just, or even primarily, because unemployment was negligible but also because so many young males were in military discipline.

In 2010, one year after the Great Recession’s jobs destruction doubled the unemployment rate, the property crime rate fell and violent crime reached a 40-year low.  Current high incarceration rates had something to do with that.  But how much?  James Q. Wilson, the most accomplished social scientist since World War II, accepted the estimate that increased incarceration explains “one-quarter or more of the crime decline.”  Wilson also suggested an environmental factor: “For decades, doctors have known that children with lots of lead in their blood are much more likely to be aggressive, violent and delinquent.”  Since the 1970s, lead has been removed from gasoline and paint for new homes, and “the amount of lead in Americans’ blood fell by four-fifths between 1975 and 1991.”  Wilson cited a study that ascribed more than half the 1990s’ decline in crime to the reduction of gasoline lead.  Clearly, sentencing reform is just one piece of a complex policy puzzle.

March 17, 2016 in National and State Crime Data, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

"Is Proposition 47 to Blame for California's 2015 Increase in Urban Crime?"

The question in the title of this post is a question a lot of persons who are following the broader national debate over sentencing reform are asking (as highlighted via this post by Bill Otis over at Crime & Consequences). It is also the title of this new research report authored by a researcher at the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice. Here is the full textual of the introduction to the eight-page CJCJ report:

In November 2014, nearly 60 percent of California’s electorate voted to pass Proposition 47. This proposition made substantial sentencing reforms by reducing certain nonviolent, non-serious offenses, such as minor drug possession and shoplifting, from felonies to misdemeanors (CJCJ, 2014). Because the changes made by the new law applied retroactively, incarcerated people serving felony sentences for offenses affected by Proposition 47 were eligible to apply for resentencing to shorten their sentences or to be released outright.  Those who already completed felony sentences for Proposition 47 offenses could also apply to change their criminal records to reflect the reforms.

Critics of Proposition 47 contended it would increase crime by releasing those convicted of dangerous or violent felonies early (see “Arguments Against Proposition 47,” 2014). Opponents also suggested that reducing the severity of sentences for certain felonies would fail to deter people from committing crimes or completing court-ordered probation requirements.

In the initial months following the passage of Proposition 47, California’s jail population dropped by about 9,000 between November 2014 and March 2015 (the most recent date for which county jail figures are available at this time) (BSCC, 2016).  State prisons reported over 4,500 releases attributed to Proposition 47 (CDCR, 2016), for a total incarcerated population decline of more than 6 percent — a substantial decrease. Similar to the initial year after Public Safety Realignment took effect, January-June 2015 saw general increases in both violent and property crime in California’s cities with populations of 100,000 or more (Table 1).  During this period, homicide and burglary showed slight declines, while other Part I violent and property offenses experienced increases.

Is Proposition 47 to blame for the increases in reported urban crimes?  This report tests this question by comparing changes in crime rates, from January–June 2014 and January–June 2015, in California’s 68 largest cities to changes in: (a) county jail populations and (b) Proposition 47-related discharges and releases from prison to resentencing counties.

March 15, 2016 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Drug Offense Sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Reentry and community supervision, State Sentencing Guidelines | Permalink | Comments (4)

Monday, March 14, 2016

Could three seemingly simple laws really reduce US gun deaths by more than 90 percent?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this CNN report from late last week about some recent notable empirical research.  The CNN piece is headlined "Study: 3 federal laws could reduce gun deaths by more than 90%,"  and here are excerpts (with a few links from the original):

Passing federal laws that require universal background checks for firearm purchases, background checks on ammunition purchases and firearm identification could reduce the rate of U.S. gun deaths by more than 90%, according to a new study.  "We wanted to see which restrictive gun laws really work, as opposed to saying 'restrictive laws work,' and figure out if we are pushing for a law which might not work," said Bindu Kalesan, assistant professor of medicine at Boston University and lead author of the study, which was published on Thursday in The Lancet.

Researchers arrived at the projection by looking at the number of gun-related deaths in every state in 2010 and the types of laws that existed in those states in 2009, including restrictive laws, such as background checks and child access prevention laws, and permissive laws, such as stand-your-ground laws.  They took into account differences in rates of gun ownership, unemployment and homicides that did not involve guns deaths.  Out of the 25 existing state laws that Kalesan and her colleagues studied, nine were associated with lower rates of gun-related deaths.
 
The researchers found the largest effects for universal background checks, which were associated with a 39% reduction in death, and ammunition background checks, which were associated with an 18% reduction in death. Laws around firearm identification, which make it possible to determine the gun that fired a bullet, were associated with a 16% reductions in deaths.

Researchers projected that federal laws expanding background checks for firearms purchases would reduce the U.S. gun death rate by 57%, while background checks for ammunition purchases would cut gun death rates by 81% and firearm identification would reduce the rate by 83%. The researchers said it would take many years to lower the rates so far.  Although a federal policy known as the Brady Law requires background checks on individuals who want to buy a firearm from a licensed dealer, it leaves a large gap, as an estimated 40% of firearms are acquired through unlicensed sellers, such as some online and at gun shows....

The researchers found that nine of the 25 laws they analyzed were linked to higher rates of gun-related deaths. Another seven laws did not seem to have an impact one way or the other on gun-related deaths.  Some of the laws that were linked with greater numbers of gun related deaths came as a surprise to the researchers. For example, bans on assault weapons, such as semi-automatic guns, were associated with a 15% increase in mortality....

In an editorial published with the study, Harvard School of Public Health Professor David Hemenway said the study was "a step in the right direction" to understand the scientific evidence about policies to reduce gun violence. But, he said, cutting mortality rates so dramatically is more complicated than simply implementing background checks for firearms and ammunition. "That result is too large -- if only firearm suicide and firearm homicide could be reduced so easily," Hemenway wrote.

Although there is good evidence that state laws requiring universal background checks, as well as handgun-purchaser licensing or permit requirements, reduce homicides and suicides, the current study does not add to the evidence base, said Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, who was not involved in the current study. Webster recently carried out a study in which they found a 1995 Connecticut law requiring firearm purchasers to have a license was linked to a sharp drop in gun-related murders in the state. For that study, he and his colleagues compared murder rates in Connecticut with similar states.

The problem with the current study, Webster said, is that it compared the number of deaths between all states, which could vary in many more ways than the authors accounted for, such as differences in culture, race and ethnic makeup, poverty rates and access to mental health care.  "Not surprisingly, the findings don't make much logical sense when it comes to gun policies other than the finding that universal background checks are protective," Webster said. For example, it is not clear why there would be such a large association, as the study found, between firearm identification laws and reductions in gun-related deaths, he added.

March 14, 2016 in Gun policy and sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Offense Characteristics, Second Amendment issues | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, March 06, 2016

In praise of (impossible?) request tasking Government Accountability Office with accounting for "the cost of crime in the United States"

Crime-2010I was quite pleased to discover this notable press release from the House Judiciary Committee reporting on a notable letter sent by two Representatives to the Comptroller General.  Here is the substantive heart of both the press release and the letter:

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Congressman Steve King (R-Iowa) have requested that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) study the cost of crime in the United States to better inform members of the House Judiciary Committee as it continues its bipartisan criminal justice reform initiative.  In 2014, there were nearly 1.2 million violent crimes and 8.3 million property crimes in the United States, generating substantial costs for Americans, communities, and the country. In a letter to Comptroller General Gene Dodaro, Goodlatte and King request that the GAO study this issue and breakdown the cost of crime for federal, state, and local governments.

Below is the text of the letter....  

Dear Comptroller General Dodaro:

In June of last year, the House Judiciary Committee launched a criminal justice reform initiative.  Over the ensuing months, the Committee has addressed a variety of criminal justice issues through legislation. In order to assist our efforts in this endeavor, we are writing to you regarding our concerns about the cost of crime in the United States.  According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, there were an estimated 1,165,383 violent crimes and an estimated 8,277,829 property crimes in 2014.  Undoubtedly, these and other crimes generate substantial costs to society at individual, community, and national levels. 

Accordingly, we seek the assistance of the Government Accountability Office in fully investigating the cost of crime in the United States.  Specifically, we are interested in:

  1. The cost of Federal and State crimes to victims of crime:
    1. Total cost
    2. Cost by state
  2. The cost of crime to the United States economy and to state economies
  3. The cost of crime to Federal, State, and local governments
  4. The cost of crime, per year:
    1. Per type of criminal offense
    2. Average cost per criminal  
    3. Average cost per victim
  5. The rate of recidivism of offenders who are released from terms of imprisonment, and the costs described under #1 through #3 for crimes committed by such offenders subsequent to their release  

We look forward to working with you so that GAO can expeditiously complete this important task. 

I am already very excited to see what the GAO comes up with as it takes up this request to "study the cost of crime in the United States." Indeed, upon seeing this press release, I started thinking it was quite notable and somewhat curious that there apparently has not been any prior requests for the GAO to engaging in what I agree is an "important task."

That said, I think this task has to start with important and challenging questions that are integral to defining what kinds of "Crimes" and what kinds of "costs" are to be included in this study and its efforts at accounting. Notably, this letter references the "nearly 1.2 million violent crimes and 8.3 million property crimes in the United States" as reported by the FBI, but this accounting leaves out what would seem to be some of the most wide-spread significant crimes in America according to various measures of nationwide illegal behaviors each year, namely drunk driving (with over 100 million estimated yearly incidents) and marijuana trafficking (over 50 million estimated incidents). Should the GAO leave out drunk driving incidents unless one includes a physical harm to persons or property? Should the GAO leave out marijuana offenses altogether in its accounting even though roughly half of all drug arrests nationwide are for these offenses and those arrests have various obvious economic costs to governments?

Ultimately, though, the challenge of defining what "crimes" to consider pales in comparison to defining what "costs" to consider in this kind of study. The majority of violent crimes recorded by the FBI are aggravated assaults, which are "an unlawful attack by one person upon another for the purpose of inflicting severe or aggravated bodily injury." And these kinds of assaults seem to come in all shapes and sizes in 2014 according to FBI data: Of those reported to law enforcement, "26.9 percent were committed with personal weapons, such as hands, fists, or feet. Firearms were used in 22.5 percent of aggravated assaults, and knives or cutting instruments were used in 18.8 percent. Other weapons were used in 31.9 percent of aggravated assaults." Can GAO reasonably guess that the "costs" to a victim of being severely beaten by fists are less (or perhaps more) than the costs of being shot? Do these costs turn significantly on the nature of the victim based on their age, health, gender or professional activities? If such an assault requires a person to say in bed for a week to recover, should we say the "costs" of missed acitivities are the same or are different for, say, a sales clerk or a student or an unemployed person?

Critically, as the image reprinted here highlights, doing these calculations is possible if you make a lot of assumptions.  Indeed, the Rand Corporation has run these numbers in the past, although many questions and concerns could obviously be raised about its accounting decisions.

March 6, 2016 in Data on sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4)

Saturday, February 06, 2016

"Was there a Ferguson Effect on crime rates in large U.S. cities?"

The question in the title of this post is the title of this notable new research paper authored by a quartet of sociologists and criminologists and available now via ResearchGate. Here is the abstract:

Purpose There has been widespread speculation that the events surrounding the shooting death of an unarmed young black man by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri — and a string of similar incidents across the country — have led to increases in crime in the United States.  This study tested for the “Ferguson Effect” on crime rates in large U.S. cities.

Methods:  Aggregate and disaggregate monthly Part I criminal offense data were gathered 12 months before and after August 2014 from police department data requests and websites in 81 large U.S. cities.  The exogenous shock of Ferguson was examined using a discontinuous growth model to determine if there was a redirection in seasonality-adjusted crime trends in the months following the Ferguson shooting.

Results:  No evidence was found to support a systematic post-Ferguson change in overall, violent, and property crime trends; however, the disaggregated analyses revealed that robbery rates, declining before Ferguson, increased in the months after Ferguson.  Also, there was much greater variation in crime trends in the post-Ferguson era, and select cities did experience increases in homicide.  Overall, any Ferguson Effect is constrained largely to cities with historically high levels of violence, a large composition of black residents, and socioeconomic disadvantages.

Conclusions:  The national discourse surrounding the “Ferguson Effect” is long on anecdotes and short on data, leaving criminologists largely on the sidelines of a conversation concerning one of the most prominent contemporary issues in criminal justice.  Our findings are largely consistent with longstanding criminological knowledge that changes in crime trends are slow and rarely a product of random shocks.

February 6, 2016 in Data on sentencing, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (5)

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Do latest ugly gun crime numbers in Chicago disprove the "more guns, less crime" hypothesis?

The question in the title of this post is what first jumped to my mind as I reviewed this USA Today report on the ugly crime spike in the Windy City recorded in January.  Here are the basics:

The nation's third largest city recorded 51 homicides in January, the highest toll for the month since at least 2000. Gang conflicts and retaliatory violence drove the "unacceptable" increase in homicides, the police department said in a statement. But the rise in violence also notably comes as the Chicago Police Department faces increased scrutiny following the court-ordered release of a police video showing a white police officer fatally shooting a black teenager 16 times, and as the department implements changes in how it monitors street stops by officers.

Chicago routinely records more homicides annually than any other American city, but the grim January violence toll marks a shocking spike in violence in a city that recorded 29 murders for the month of January last year and 20 murders for the month in 2014. In addition to the jump in killings, police department said that it recorded 241 shooting incidents for the month, more than double the 119 incidents recorded last January.

The rise in violence comes after the Chicago Police Department reported 468 murders in 2015, a 12.5% increase from the year before. There were also 2,900 shootings, 13% more than the year prior, according to police department records.

In recent weeks, the police department pushed back against the notion that the rise in homicides could be due to cops becoming less aggressive due to the negative attention the department has received in the aftermath of the release of the police video showing the shooting of Laquan McDonald. The city saw several weeks of largely peaceful protests after the release of the video. The U.S. Justice Department has launched a civil rights investigation of the city.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who faced fierce backlash in the city's African-American community over his handling of the McDonald case, fired his police superintendent, Garry McCarthy, after the video's release. Interim Superintendent John Escalante expressed frustration earlier this month as the homicide toll climbed, but said it was due mainly to gang activity. He also said he was concerned about social media fueling gang disputes, with fatal incidents starting as a war of words on the Internet....

St. Louis saw a dramatic increase in the number homicides following the August 2014 police shooting death of Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson, which spurred months of angry protests. And Baltimore saw a spike in homicides following the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore in April, an incident that sparked unrest in the Charm City. In both Baltimore and St. Louis, the rise in violent crime began to increase prior to the high-profile incidents and accelerated afterward.

The department says it has seen a decrease in investigative stops by cops on the streets after new rules went into effect Jan. 1 requiring the police department to bolster the monitoring of stops and protective pat downs known as "stop-and-frisk." The police department entered an agreement with the American Civil Liberties Union to record contact cards for all street stops after the organization criticized the the city's police for disproportionately targeting minorities for questioning and searches. In the past, police officers were required only to fill out cards for stops that didn't result in an arrest. The new contact cards also require police officers to offer greater detail about the stops than they have in the past.

This Chicago Sun-Times article, headlined "Street cops say 'ACLU effect' drives spike in gun violence," provides one account of what might be an importance cause of these latest ugly crime developments.  But the title of this post is intended to flag the possibility that an increase in gun violence might also be attributed in part to an increase of gun availability, both legal and illegal, that seems to necessarily flow from the Supreme Court's recent Second Amendment work and continued controversies over gun control.  For a host of reasons, I have long wished that there was a sound basis to believe (or at least hope) that increased gun availability could actually reduce crime.  This Chicago news would seem to undermine such a hypothesis.

February 2, 2016 in Gun policy and sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Second Amendment issues | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Diving deep into latest data showing significant uptick in homicides in 2015

The folks at Wonkblog have this effective new posting, headlined "More people were murdered last year than in 2014, and no one’s sure why," which provides lots of interesting data on the significant increase in homicides in major cities in 2015.  It also highlights why simple explanations for this recent homicide increase (or prior decreases) are hard to come by.  I recommend the full piece, and here are excerpts:

Wonkblog analysis of preliminary crime data found that about 770 more people were killed in major cities last year than the year before, the worst annual change since 1990.

The killings increased as some law enforcement officials and conservative commentators were warning that violent crime was on the rise amid a climate of hostility toward police. They said protests and intense scrutiny of officers who used lethal force had caused officers to become disengaged from their jobs, making streets more dangerous. Some have called it the "Ferguson effect," after the St. Louis suburb in which Michael Brown Jr. was shot and killed by a police officer in 2014.

A closer look at the figures, however, suggests no single explanation for the increases and reveals no clear pattern among those cities that experienced the most horrific violence. Several cities that recorded the largest increases in homicides -- Nashville and Washington, D.C., for instance -- had no widely publicized, racially charged killings by police. Many other big cities recorded modest increases or even declines in the number of homicides, with no deviation from the pattern of recent years....

Public safety has been improving for two decades, and lethal violence in large cities is still rare by historical standards. Twice as many people were killed in those 50 cities in 1991 as in 2015. "You certainly wouldn't want to say the sky is falling," said Darrel Stephens, executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association.

Nonetheless, last year's interruption in the decline in homicides has experts concerned. They say it's too early to know what caused the change, or whether it will endure. It's not clear if there is a Ferguson effect, or if the homicides are a result of the heroin epidemic, reduced police department budgets, a decline in the number of convicts behind bars or other factors entirely. "There's no national pattern," said Franklin Zimring, a criminologist at the University of California at Berkeley....

Stephens, of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, ticked off a list of other theories for the increase in violence. Perhaps relaxed gun laws in some states are making firearms more widely available, and more arguments are being settled with lethal weapons as a result. Stephens also noted that authorities are locking up fewer people in prison, and perhaps more dangerous criminals were on the street last year.

Federal data, however, suggest that the reduction in the incarcerated population over the past several years is mainly a consequence of decreasing admissions, rather than a change in the number of prisoners released annually, which has also declined. In 2014, just 582,000 prisoners were let go from state and federal prisons, compared with 683,000 in 2008....

Additionally, both those explanations are complicated by the absence of any regional pattern in the data. There were more killings in Nashville, but the total in Memphis declined by 1 percent. The number of homicides increased 25 percent in Houston, but decreased 9 percent in San Antonio. There were seven fewer homicides last year than in 2014 in Fresno, Calif., a decline of 15 percent. Meanwhile, up Highway 99 in Sacramento, there were 43 killings last year, an increase of 54 percent. "Everything is basically anecdotal," Stephens said. "There's not a clear national picture that I've been able to discern of what might be contributing to the changes that we’ve seen in so many cities."

Bill Otis has some sharp commentary about these data and how Wonkblog reports it in this post at Crime & Consequences titled "The National Murder Crisis, Worse Than We Thought."  In that post, Bill quickly mentions "that the increase in murder in 2015 was more than 25 times the total number of killers executed that year," but he disappointingly does not follow-up by noting that the one major city with the biggest decline in homicides in 2015 was also the city with the most headline-grabbing 2015 capital punishment trial: Boston.  (I am generally disinclined to suggest there is a close relationship between the administration of the death penalty and homicide rates, but I still find notable that the dozen cities with the largest homicide increases in 2015 are all in states without the death penalty or with a capital punishment system not functioning properly.) 

January 28, 2016 in National and State Crime Data, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (18)

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

New FBI data indicates violent crime up, property crime down in first half of 2015

This new official FBI press release reports on preliminary crime data for the first six months on 2015, and the basic story is not encouraging.  Here are the details via the parts of the release:

Statistics released today in the FBI’s Preliminary Semiannual Uniform Crime Report revealed overall declines in the number of property crimes reported and overall increases in the number of violent crimes reported for the first six months of 2015 when compared with figures for the first six months of 2014. The report is based on information from 12,879 law enforcement agencies that submitted three to six months of comparable data to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program for the first six months of 2014 and 2015.

Violent Crime

  • All of the offenses in the violent crime category — murder and non-negligent manslaughter, rape (revised definition), rape (legacy definition), aggravated assault, and robbery — showed increases when data from the first six months of 2015 were compared with data from the first six months of 2014.  The number of rapes (legacy definition) increased 9.6 percent, the number of murders increased 6.2 percent, aggravated assaults increased 2.3 percent, the number of rapes (revised definition) rose 1.1 percent, and robbery offenses were up 0.3 percent.

  • Violent crime increased in all but two city groupings.  In cities with populations from 50,000 to 99,999 inhabitants, violent crime was down 0.3 percent, and in cities with 500,000 to 999,999 in population, violent crime decreased 0.1 percent.  The largest increase in violent crime, 5.3 percent, was noted in cities with 250,000 to 499,999 in population.

  • Violent crime decreased 3.3 percent in non-metropolitan counties but rose slightly, 0.1 percent, in metropolitan counties.

  • Violent crime increased in all but one of the nation’s four regions.  These crimes were down 3.2 percent in the Northeast but increased 5.6 percent in the West, followed by rises of 1.6 percent in the South and 1.4 percent in the Midwest.

Property Crime

  • In the property crime category, burglary offenses dropped 9.8 percent, and larceny-theft offenses decreased 3.2 percent in the first six months of 2015 compared with the same months from 2014.  Only motor vehicle theft showed an increase (1.0 percent).

  • Each of the city population groups had decreases in the overall number of property crimes.  Law enforcement agencies in cities with populations under 10,000 inhabitants reported the largest decrease, 7.1 percent.

  • Property crime decreased 12.3 percent in non-metropolitan counties and 6.0 percent in metropolitan counties.

  • The West was the only region to show an increase (2.4 percent) in property crime.  Reports of these offenses declined 8.0 percent in the Northeast, 7.0 percent in the Midwest, and 6.4 percent in the South.

January 19, 2016 in Data on sentencing, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, January 11, 2016

"A Most Violent Year: What left and right got wrong about crime in 2015"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new commentary by Thomas Abt via The Marshall Project.  Here are excerpts:

Was 2015 the year of the Ferguson Effect? Conservatives scream yes, progressives shout back no.  Let’s step away from the din to examine whether all this yelling is getting us anywhere, and whether we’ve missed some useful explanations and effective policies that have been under our noses this whole time.

Last May, Heather Mac Donald of the conservative Manhattan Institute penned a controversial piece arguing that recent upticks in violence might signal a new national crime wave....  Mac Donald was wrong on several counts.  First, she initially linked gun violence and homicide to crime overall, without offering evidence for doing so.  Second, any criminologist will tell you that policing is only one factor of many in determining rates of violence.  And third, the best and most thorough examination of “broken windows” policing recently revealed that when narrowly focused on solving problems in partnership with the community, broken windows is successful — when it isn’t, then not so much.

Progressives did not take these charges lying down.  Many pushed back, asserting there was simply no evidence of a spike in violent crime.  One widely cited report by the progressive Brennan Center for Justice admitted that homicide in 25 of the nation’s largest cities jumped 14.6% in 2015, but argued that the current rate is near historic lows, that rates vary widely and that any increases are localized and not part of a national trend.  Moreover, they asserted that any increase was due to “root causes,” i.e. poverty, unemployment, and other structural factors, not policing.

The Brennan Center was also mistaken in a number of ways.  First, while it is true that violence remains historically low (and that crime overall continues to fall), a 14.6% national spike in murder would be the largest single-year increase since at least 1960.  Furthermore, while local rates of violence often fluctuate, national rates are more stable, and the Brennan Center’s own data shows that murder is up in 18 of 25 of the nation’s largest cities.  As for “root causes,” there is little evidence of a direct connection between violence and structural factors like poverty and unemployment.  And none of those factors changed significantly last year, so they can hardly explain the surge of violence.

To summarize, the increase in homicides appears real, but there is no broader national crime wave.  It is unclear what is driving the problem, but my own hunch — and it is still just a hunch at this point — involves a criminological phenomenon called legal cynicism.  Multiple studies have demonstrated that, controlling for other factors, when communities view the police and criminal justice system as illegitimate, they become more violent.  When people believe the system is unwilling or unable to help them, they are more likely to take the law into their own hands, creating the cycles of violent retribution...

Cynicism about the law might also explain why the biggest homicide spikes in 2015 occurred in places like St. Louis, Baltimore, and Milwaukee, where there was unrest after controversial uses of police force, and why Boston, with its recent history of positive police and community collaboration, had the largest single decrease in homicide of any large city.  In order to address cynicism in the streets, we have to address cynicism in our public conversation about guns, crime, and punishment.  Violence can fracture a community, but so can violent, partisan, absolutist rhetoric on television, in print, and on social media.

Prior related post:

January 11, 2016 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (15)

Monday, December 28, 2015

Notable (lack of) big crime news emerging from the Big Apple

Sentencing and police reform opponents on the right and gun control advocates on the left have been making much of what appears to be a notable uptick in violent crimes using firearms in many cities.  But even if there was strong and consistent data showing widespread increases in violent gun crimes throughout the US throughout 2015, I would be somewhat chary about using short-term crime data alone as the basis for drawing long-term conclusions about the pros and cons of various criminal justice reforms.  

Ever the consequentialist, I do view serious violent crime rates as the single most important criminal justice metric for would-be criminal justice analysts and reformers.  But I also believe lots of (hard-to-assess in real-time) social and practical factors can have a major short-term impact on how much crime is committed and reported.  Consequently, I think it can be problematic and even dangerous for political and legal actors to over-react (positively or negatively) to any seemingly major short-term crime data changes.

That all said, this new New York Times article suggests that, at least in one major city, there may not be any major short-term crime data changes for political and legal actors to over-react to.  The article, headlined  "Anxiety Aside, New York Sees Drop in Crime," gets started this way:

Homeless encampments proliferated. Two officers, confronting armed men, were shot and killed. And many New Yorkers said they felt less safe. But fears that New York City was slipping back to a more dangerous time contrasted with reality.

As reflected in the reported levels of the most serious types of crime, the city in 2015 was as safe as it had been in its modern history. A modest decrease in reported crime is expected by year’s end.

The Police Department is reporting a 2 percent decline, as measured by seven major felonies that are tracked by the Federal Bureau of Investigation: murder, rape, robbery, serious assault, burglary, grand larceny and car theft.  At the same time, arrests recorded by officers fell steeply, to 333,115 through Dec. 20, down 13 percent from 384,770 over the same period the year before.  The number of criminal summonses dropped to 292,372 from 358,948.

There was a small rise in murders, to 339 as of Dec. 25, already more than last year’s historic low of 333.  Still, the number is well below the 536 murders recorded five years ago.  And despite an early increase in gun violence, the final tally of shootings for the year is set to come in slightly lower than last year’s figure.

“As we end this year, the City of New York will record the safest year in its history, its modern history, as it relates to crime,” said Commissioner William J. Bratton, summing up 2015 in an address to officers at a Dec. 17 promotion ceremony.  But, he added, the past 12 months had also been “terrible” for the department because of the loss of four officers in the line of duty since late last December.  “It has been a year of great contradictions,” he said, struggling for words.

The overall crime statistics, of course, do not capture the increasing presence of homeless people on the streets and in shelters that has bedeviled the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio, while contributing to a creeping unease among New Yorkers.

But the disconnect may run deeper.  Since summer 2014, the country has seen one protest after another over fairness in the criminal justice system, prompted by the deaths of Eric Garner, Freddie Gray and other black people in confrontations with the police.  The outcry, and the occasional outbreaks of protest­related violence, have led some to argue that criticism of the police has undermined law enforcement, empowering criminals and sowing urban disorder.

December 28, 2015 in Data on sentencing, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (11)

Friday, November 20, 2015

Brennan Center produces "preliminary analysis" of crime trends in 2015

The Brennan Center for Justice this week has produced this notable report titled "Crime in 2015: A Preliminary Analysis."  Here is its introduction:

Major media outlets have reported that murder has surged in some of the nation’s largest cities.  These stories have been based on a patchwork of data, typically from a very small sample of cities. Without geographically complete and historically comparable data, it is difficult to discern whether the increases these articles report are purely local anomalies, or are instead part of a larger national trend.

This report provides a preliminary in-depth look at current national crime rates.  It provides data on crime and murder for the 30 largest U.S. cities by population in 2015 and compares that to historical data.  This analysis relies on data collected from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and local police departments.  The authors were able to obtain preliminary 2015 murder statistics from 25 police departments in the nation’s 30 largest cities and broader crime data from 19 of the 30.  The data covers the period from January 1 to October 1, 2015.  As this report relies on initial data and projects crime data for the reminder of the year, its findings should be treated as preliminary as they may change when final figures are available.

This report’s principal findings, based on the data presented in Table 1, are:

  • Murder in 2015: The 2015 murder rate is projected to be 11 percent higher than last year in the majority of cities studied.  Overall, 11 cities experienced decreases in murder, while 14 experienced increases.  Yet, this increase is not as startling as it may first seem. Because the underlying rate of murders is already so low, a relatively small increase in the numbers can result in a large percentage increase.  Even with the 2015 increase, murder rates are roughly the same as they were in 2012, and 11 percent higher than they were in 2013.  It should also be noted that murder rates vary widely from year to year.  One year’s increase does not necessarily portend a coming wave of violent crime.

  • Crime Overall in 2015: Crime overall in 2015 is expected to be largely unchanged from last year, decreasing 1.5 percent.  This report defines overall crime as murder and non-negligent manslaughter, aggravated assault, robbery, burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft. The increase in the murder rate is insufficient to drive up the crime rate, and using murder as a proxy for crime overall is mistaken.  It is important to remember just how much crime has fallen in the last 25 years.  The crime rate is now half of what it was in 1990, and almost a quarter (22 percent) less than it was at the turn of the century.

November 20, 2015 in National and State Crime Data, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Keeping in mind the research that may suggest crime increases resulting from a different kind of "Ferguson Effect"

As reported in this Washington Post piece, in the course of testifying before Congress yesterday, Attorney General Loretta Lynch indicated there was no data to support the notion that an increase in crime can and should be attributed to police officers pulling back from their duties in the wake of conversies over excessive use of police force.  Here are the details:

Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Tuesday that there is “no data” to support the idea that the police are not aggressively protecting communities since the increased use of videos and the focus on police tactics after the death of Michael Brown, something referred to as “the Ferguson effect.”

In testimony during her first appearance before the House Judiciary Committee since her confirmation, Lynch agreed with President Obama and her predecessor Eric H. Holder Jr. and pushed back against comments made by FBI Director James B. Comey and Chuck Rosenberg, the acting administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, both of whom report to her.

“While certainly there might be anecdotal evidence there, as all have noted, there’s no data to support it, and what I have seen in my travels across this country is the dedication, the commitment and the resolve of our brave men and women in law enforcement to improving policing, to embracing the 21st Century Task Force recommendations, and to continuing to have a dialogue that makes our country safer for all,” Lynch said.

In two recent speeches, at the University of Chicago Law School on Oct. 23 and at a speech to the International Association of Chiefs of Police three days later, Comey said that “viral videos” of police activity had sent a “chill wind” through law enforcement and he suggested a link between this year’s spike in crime in some major U.S. cities and the growing protests alleging excessive use of force by police. Rosenberg said he agreed with Comey and that he had “heard the same thing” from law enforcement officials....

Lynch’s comments on the “Ferguson effect” came after Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) alluded to Comey and Rosenberg by saying that “some from within your department” have suggested that dialogue on police and community relations “have somehow reduced the willingness of some police officers to perform their duties.”

“Does our conversations about civil rights and the appropriate use of force by police somehow make us less safe?” Conyers asked Lynch. “Our discussion about civil rights, and the appropriate use of force and all police tactics can only serve to make all of us, community members and police officers, safer,” Lynch replied. “In my discussions with police officers around the country, I have found a positive engagement on these issues.”

In addition to being pleased to hear AG Lynch suggest hard data rather than anecdote should inform discussions about a "Ferguson Effect" impact police activities, the focus on data in this context got me thinking about the important research done by Tom Tyler and Jeffrey Fagan and others about the connections between the perceived legitimacy and fairness of the law and its enforcers and the willingness of persons to comply with the law. This short piece from DOJ's Office of Justice Programs, titled "Procedural Justice: Increasing Trust to Decrease Crime," spotlights and summarizes some of this research:

A wealth of empirical evidence shows that when police are at their best — when they are neutral and unbiased; treat those with whom they interact with respect and dignity; and give folks a chance to explain their side of the story — they can actually bring out the qualities they want to see in their communities. People who are policed in this way are more likely to view the police as legitimate. And people who view the police as legitimate are more likely to obey the law, cooperate with authorities and engage positively in their communities.... [N]umerous empirical studies persuasively demonstrate that perceptions of legitimacy have a greater impact on people’s compliance with the law than their fear of formal sanctions.

The bad news is, if people experience an interaction with a police officer that suggests to them the police are untrustworthy, their ties with law and their sense of its legitimacy weaken, which may lead to a lack of cooperation with the police and more law breaking in the future. Put another way, unnecessarily aggressive policing brings out the worst in the people toward whom it is directed.

The factors that contribute most to people viewing a police stop as negative are whether the police threaten or use force arbitrarily, inconsistently or in ways that suggest a lack of professionalism or the existence of prejudice, or if police are humiliating or disrespectful. Notably, whether the stop results in an arrest is less important for purposes of perceived legitimacy than how that stop is carried out....

And it’s not just the stops of particular individuals that matter. People also develop their sense of police legitimacy from what they hear and see from their neighbors, family members and friends. Picking out some individuals and treating them fairly won’t be sufficient, if those same people witness and hear about unfairness directed toward others in their community. Every interaction the police have communicates information about the legal system. Moreover, this message resonates beyond the person who is dealing with the police, because others in the neighborhood hear about it, as do that person’s friends and family.

Notably, right around the time of all the unrest in Feguson, Tom Tyler authored this Huffington Post piece discussing his research which ends this way (with link from source and my emphsasis added):

Jeffrey Fagan and I recently studied young men in New York City and found that those who mistrusted the police were twice as likely to be engaged in criminal activity. Second they increase hostility and lead to a greater likelihood of conflict when the police deal with community members on the street and when the community reacts to police actions such as the Brown shooting. Such anger produces precisely the type of unrest so visible in Ferguson. As so many of the marchers in that community have suggested, if people do not experience justice when they deal with the police, there will be no peace.

This research has me thinking and fearing that the increase in crime being experienced in many American cities in 2015 may be a result not of decreased police activity as a result of Feguson, but of increased mistrust of police among those already likely to have deep concerns about the legitimacy of our criminal laws.

November 18, 2015 in National and State Crime Data, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4)

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Can and will "big data" enable astute (and/or scary) recidivism risk assessment?

Download (3)The question in the title of this post is prompted by this interesting Christian Science Monitor article, headlined "Microsoft says its software can tell if you're going back to prison." Here are excepts:

In a scenario that seems ripped straight from science fiction, Microsoft says its machine learning software can help law enforcement agencies predict whether an inmate is likely to commit another crime by analyzing his or her prison record.

In a series of videos and events at policing conferences, such as one on Oct. 6 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Microsoft has been quietly marketing its software and cloud computing storage to law enforcement agencies.

It says the software could have several uses, such as allowing departments across the country to analyze social media postings and map them in order to develop a profile for a crime suspect. The push also includes partnerships with law enforcement technology companies, including Taser – the stun gun maker – to provide police with cloud storage for body camera footage that is compliant with federal standards for law enforcement data.

But in a more visionary – or possibly dystopian – approach, the company is also expanding into a growing market for what is often called predictive policing, using data to pinpoint people most likely to be at risk of being involved in future crimes.

These techniques aren’t really new. A predictive approach — preventing crime by understanding who is involved and recognizing patterns in how crimes are committed — builds on efforts dating back to the early 1990s, when the New York City police began using maps and statistics to track areas where crimes occurred most frequently.

“Predictive policing, I think, is kind of a catch-all for using data analysis to estimate what will happen in the future with regard to crime and policing,” says Carter Price, a mathematician at the RAND Corporation in Washington who has studied the technology. “There are some people who think it’s like the movie ‘Minority Report’ ” — in which an elite police unit can predict crimes and make arrests before they occur — “but it’s not. No amount of data is able to give us that type of detail.”

Scholars caution that while data analysis can provide patterns and details about some types of crimes – such as burglary or theft – when it comes to violent crime, such approaches can yield information for police about who is at high risk of violent victimization, not a list of potential offenders.

“Thinking that you do prediction around serious violent crime is empirically inaccurate, and leads to very serious justice issues. But saying, ‘This is a high risk place,’ lets you focus on offering social services,” says David Kennedy, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. In the 1990s, he pioneered an observation-driven approach that worked with local police in Boston to target violent crime. After identifying small groups of people in particular neighborhoods at high risk of either committing a crime or becoming a victim of violence, the program, Operation Ceasefire, engaged them in meetings with police and community members and presented them with a choice – either accept social services that were offered or face a harsh police response if they committed further crimes. It eventually resulted in a widespread drop in violent crime often referred to as the “Boston Miracle.”...

In one video tutorial for law enforcement agencies, Microsoft makes a sweeping claim. Using records pulled from a database of prison inmates and looking at factors such as whether an inmate is in a gang, his or her participation in prison rehabilitation programs, and how long such programs lasted, its software predicts whether an inmate is likely to commit another crime that ends in a prison sentence. Microsoft says its software is accurate 90 percent of the time.

“The software is not explicitly programmed but patterned after nature,” Jeff King, Microsoft’s principal solutions architect, who focuses on products for state and local governments, says in the video. “The desired outcome is that we’re able to predict the future based on that past experience, and if we don’t have that past experience, we’re able to take those variables and then classify them based on dissimilar attributes."...

While predictive policing is still in the early stages, some say the data it generates could have a mixed impact. While the information could improve police transparency, it could also lead to other problems. “If police departments had access to social media accounts, and it turned out that crimes were being committed by people who liked a certain kind of music and a certain sports team, it could lead to certain kinds of racial discrepancies,” says Dr. Price, the RAND researcher. “It’s a useful tool, but it should always be done with [the idea of] keeping in mind how this will impact populations differently, and just sort of being cognizant of that when policies are put in place."

But Kennedy, the criminology professor, says that for violent crimes, using data that shows crime risks to influence policing actions could have devastating consequences. “People have been trying to predict violent crimes using risk factors for generations, and it’s never worked,” he says. “I think the inescapable truth is that, as good as the prediction about people may get, the false positives are going to swamp the actual positives ... and if we’re taking criminal action on a overwhelming pool of false positives, we’re going to be doing real injustice and real harm to real people.”

November 15, 2015 in Data on sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, November 06, 2015

Reflecting on 2015's historically low number of executions (and on death penalty dogs not barking)

Exo_yearThis DPIC yearly execution page highlights that we have had only 25 executions so far throughout the United States in 2015, and this page listing scheduled executions suggests it is very unlikely we will have more than a couple more executions before the end of the year.  Statistically and historically speaking, then, 2015 will be a year with a remarkably low number of executions in the US: in every single year since 1992,there have been 30 or more executions and there were 98 executions nationwide in 1999; throughout both the 1990s and 2000s, the US averaged nearly 60 executions per year.

Lots of factors have contributed to the significant recent decline in yearly executions now resulting in 2015 becoming a record-low execution year: abolition of the death penalty in a few states, moratoria on executions in a few others, persistently effective litigation challenging state lethal injection protocols, persistently ineffective efforts by states to improve lethal injection protocols and obtain needed execution drugs, and continued judicial and public scrutiny long-ago-imposed death sentences even after standard appeals have concluded.  For what it is worth, I am highly disinclined to attribute a decline in US executions to diminished public support for the death penalty: both national polls and surveys in the states that have historically carried out the most death sentences indicate that, at least among the general public, support for a functioning death penalty system remains strong and deep. 

Though I encourage comments about what most accounts for 2015's historically low number of executions, I was moved to write this post by the realization that I have not seen or heard a single traditional death penalty advocate or "tough-and-tougher-on-crime" proponent claim that the widely-discussed uptick in homicides in some US cities might be attributable to the US now being softer on murderers.  Not long ago, when the US was averaging five or six executions every month and murder rates were in decline, there was considerable complex empirical research contending that every execution might save a dozen or more innocent lives.  But I noticed less and less of this kind research in the years before 2015, perhaps because we were still generally exeperiencing declining murder rates even as the number of yearly executions have started to decline.

Given how much talk and concern there is concerning an uptick in homicides in a number of cities, and especially given that there is much discussion and debate over whether and how criticisms of the police or recent drug epidemics or recent sentencing reforms might be playing a role, I am now struck and intrigued by the realization that traditional death penalty advocates and "tough-and-tougher-on-crime" proponents have not yet suggested there could be a link between fewer executions and more homicides in 2015.  Critically, I am not trying to make any accusations about research agendas nor to suggest that there readily could or should be significant research efforts seeking to link modern execution trends and homicide rates.  I am just observing that, despite what seems like a tendency for the "tough-and-tougher" crowd to attribute any crime spike to the nation "going soft" in some way, I have seen no effort to link the remarkably low number of executions in the US in 2015 to any crime patterns. 

November 6, 2015 in Data on sentencing, Death Penalty Reforms, National and State Crime Data, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (6)

Saturday, October 31, 2015

"Is Halloween Really More Dangerous for Kids?: A lack of evidence doesn’t stop cities from rounding up sexual offenders on the holiday."

Halloween-MGNThe title of this post is the headline of this recent Marshall Project piece that seems fitting to spotlight on October 31.  Here is an excerpt (with links from the original):

Despite research showing no evidence that children are at greater risk of experiencing sex abuse on Halloween than on any other day, states and localities around the country impose severe restrictions on registered sex offenders during the holiday.

Some, including parts of Virginia, Georgia, Delaware and Texas, require sex offenders on probation or parole report to designated locations. O thers, such as Missouri, Florida and Nevada, direct some offenders to post signs on their doors that say, “No candy or treats at this residence.”  Broader restrictions in most states direct people on the registry to keep their lights off to deter trick-or-treaters and stay away from children in costumes in their neighborhood or at the local mall.

Before a 2014 ACLU complaint, the Plaquemines Parish Sheriffs Office in Louisiana required all registered sex offenders post this sign on their front lawn on Halloween.

For more than six years, the Gaston County Sheriff’s Department in North Carolina has ordered sex offenders who are still on parole to report to the courthouse on Halloween, said Capt. Mike Radford, who helps to oversee the program.  “We keep them in one big courtroom and call people in and out to do random drug testing and vehicle searches, and we have guest speakers,” he said.  “If they don’t show up, we pick them up and arrest them.”  Radford said he doesn’t know why the program began but believes it is because Halloween presents “easy accessibility to a minor.”

The laws began to proliferate nationwide in the 1990s, when the fear of a predator who lures young children into his home with candy arose amid other concerns, such as poisoned treats and razor blades in apples.  “Going back decades, there is this sense that there are these dangers to children on Halloween,” said Jill Levenson, a clinical social worker and associate professor at Barry University in Florida.

But studies have shown that more than 90 percent of children who are sexually abused know their abuser, who is often a family member or close acquaintance. A Bureau of Justice Statistics report showed that only 7 percent of those who sexually abused juveniles were strangers to their victims.

Levenson co-authored a study that examined the Halloween effect by looking at sex crimes against children between 1997 to 2005.  The researchers analyzed more than 67,000 crimes in which the perpetrators were strangers, acquaintances, and neighbors.

In a year-by-year comparison that zeroed in on Halloween, the researchers found no variation in number or types of crimes committed, even as more laws were added.  But that’s not the message families hear in the weeks before Oct. 31, when articles with headlines such as “Homes to Watch Out for This Halloween,”which run the addresses of local registered sex offenders, are common.

October 31, 2015 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, National and State Crime Data, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (9)

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Strong crime and punishment coverage of drugs, guns and more via Vox

I remain a bit unsure of what Vox is and who is behind all of Vox Media, but I am sure that Vox has recently done a lot of good and important work on a lot of topics that should be of great interest to criminal justice fans.  Here are headlines and links:

October 4, 2015 in Drug Offense Sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Second Amendment issues | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, September 28, 2015

FBI releases national crime data reporting 2014 continued historic crime declines

If there was a close causal inverse relationship between crime and nationwide sentencing and prison reforms, one might have reasonably expected crime rates to have started moving up in recent years.  After all, at the federal level there have been dramatic reforms over the last decade ranging from (1) the Supreme Court's Booker ruling making the guidelines advisory and various other rulings restricting in the reach of other mandatory sentencing provisions, (2) the US Sentencing Commission repeatedly reducing the severity of the sentencing guidelines for crack offenses and other drugs and other offenses, and (3) Congress enacting the Fair Sentencing Act.  During the same period, many states north and south, east and west (including California and Texas, the two states with the largest prison populations), have reformed sentencing laws and prison policies in various ways.  

But, as this new press release from the FBI reports, the "estimated number of violent crimes in the nation decreased 0.2 percent in 2014 when compared with 2013 data, according to FBI figures released today. Property crimes decreased by 4.3 percent, marking the 12th straight year the collective estimates for these offenses declined."  Here is more of the good crime news via the FBI:

The 2014 statistics show the estimated rate of violent crime was 365.5 offenses per 100,000 inhabitants, and the property crime rate was 2,596.1 offenses per 100,000 inhabitants. The violent crime rate declined 1.0 percent compared to the 2013 rate, and the property crime rate declined 5.0 percent. These and additional data are presented in the 2014 edition of the FBI’s annual report Crime in the United States. This publication, which is a statistical compilation of offense, arrest, and police employee data reported by law enforcement agencies voluntarily participating in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, also includes limited federal crime reporting and human trafficking data.

The UCR Program collects information on crimes reported by law enforcement agencies regarding the violent crimes of murder and non-negligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault as well as the property crimes of burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson.... The program also collects arrest data for the offenses listed above plus 20 offenses that include all other crimes except traffic violations....

A total of 18,498 city, county, state, university and college, tribal, and federal agencies participated in the UCR Program in 2014. A high-level summary of the statistics reported by these agencies, which are included in Crime in the United States, 2014, follows:

  • In 2014, there were an estimated 1,165,383 violent crimes. Murder and non-negligent manslaughter decreased 0.5 percent and robbery decreased 5.6 percent when compared with estimates from 2013. Rape (legacy definition) and aggravated assault, however, increased 2.4 percent and 2.0 percent, respectively.

  • Nationwide, there were an estimated 8,277,829 property crimes. The estimated numbers of each of the property crimes show declines when compared with the previous year’s estimates. Burglaries dropped 10.5 percent, larceny-thefts declined 2.7 percent, and motor vehicle thefts were down 1.5 percent.

September 28, 2015 in National and State Crime Data, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (4)

Friday, September 25, 2015

Depressing new 2005 released-prisoner recidivism data from BJS (with lots of spin possibiities)

I just received notice of this notable new Bureau of Justice Statistics report titled "Multistate Criminal History Patterns of Prisoners Released in 30 States."  Though the BJS report and this BJS press release and this BJS summary are primarily focused on state prisoners released in 2005 who were thereafter arrested in another state, the biggest big-picture message is that for the BJS cohort of roughly 400,000 studied state prisoners released in 2005, nearly 80% were rearrested within the next five years. I cannot help but be depressed and saddened that only about one in five persons released from state prisons in 2005 was able to avoid significant contact with the criminal justice system over the subsequent five years.

Unsurprisingly, Bill Otis and other supporters and advocates of modern American incarceration levels have generally stressed these disconcerting recidivism data to assert crime is certain to increase if we enact reforms to significantly reduce our prison populations and let more folks out of prison sooner. But it bears remembering that these 2005 released prisoners served their time in state prisons and were released when the national prison population was continuing to grow and limited state resources were generally being devoted toward sending more people to prison and spending less money trying to keep people out of prison (or to aid reentry when prisoners were being released). These data thus also suggest what many reform-advocating criminologists have long said: the life disruptions and other impact of a prison term (especially when followed by poor reentry efforts) is itself criminogenic and thus serves to increase the likelihood an offender will commit crimes once released.

However one thinks about these new BJS data, it is depressingly obvious that the experience of prison for those prisoners released in 2005 seems to have done a very poor job of encouraging past offenders from becoming repeat offenders. I am cautiously hopeful that an array of prison and reentry reforms enacted by many states over the last decade will result in a much lower recidivism rate for state prisoners now being released in 2015. But only time (and lots of careful data analysis) will tell.

September 25, 2015 in National and State Crime Data, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (8)

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Julie Stewart of FAMM goes hard after Bill Otis for being "proven wrong time and time again"

Regular readers know I often note and express respect for the work and writings of both former federal prosecutor Bill Otis, who now writes most regularly at Crime & Consequences, and Julie Stewart, who is the President and Founder of Families Against Mandatory Minimums.   Today I must note and express amazement at the concerted efforts of one of these two taking on the other: Julie Stewart has this notable new Reason commentary headlined "The Former Prosecutor Who Consistently Gets Criminal Justice Reform Wrong: Former prosecutor Bill Otis has been mistaken over and over again when advising legislators against reducing drug sentences."  Here are excerpts mostly from the start and end of the piece:

No one expects our elected representatives to be experts in every area of public policy. At the same time, we have every right to expect that our representatives will consult policy analysts and experts who know what they're talking about, not someone who has been proven wrong time and time again. In the world of criminal justice, that someone is former federal prosecutor and Georgetown Law adjunct William Otis.

Over the past two decades, Bill Otis has become the Paul Ehrlich of criminal sentencing reform.  He is always certain in his convictions and nearly always wrong.  Moreover, like Ehrlich, Otis likes to scare the public with predictions of certain and impending doom, and he is immune to feelings of embarrassment or humiliation despite being proven spectacularly wrong over and over again....

[W]hereas Ehrlich saw overpopulation as the culprit, Otis thinks shortening sentences for nonviolent drug offenders will be America's undoing.  Indeed, every time Congress or the U.S. Sentencing Commission has considered even mild sentence reductions over the past two decades, Otis has gone full Chicken Little.  He has been wrong every time....

The nationwide drop in crime and prison crowding should be celebrated.  Less violent crime means fewer murder victims, fewer robbery victims, and fewer assault victims. Smaller prison populations means savings for taxpayers and more money to spend on what actually does reduce crime — community policing and supervision practices like "short, swift, and certain."  None of these gratifying results would have been possible if Otis's theory were correct — or if any lawmakers outside the Beltway had heard of Otis and took his views seriously.  While Otis has been consistently wrong, thankfully lawmakers have ignored him....

Committed to his prison-is-always-the-answer ideology, Otis derided the [Fair Sentencing Act], saying it should be called the "Crack Dealers Relief Act."  When the U.S. Sentencing Commission lowered the crack guideline and made it retroactive in accord with the FSA, Otis predicted it would lead to an increase in crime....  On his blog, Otis cranked up the fear machine. He predicted "misery" when "thousands of crack dealers" would be "put back on the street prematurely" to terrorize their communities.

Fortunately for those of us concerned about public safety, Otis was wrong again — amazingly wrong.  Since passage of the FSA, the crime rate, the prison population, and crack usage are all down!  It bears repeating.  Otis said the changes would cause "misery" and "inevitably lead to more crime."  Instead, while thousands of offenders have received fairer sentences, the crime rate has fallen, crack use is down, and taxpayers have saved millions from being wasted on unnecessary prison costs....

Otis is impervious to facts and evidence.  He will quote Professor Steven Levitt's finding that greater reliance on incarceration helped reduce crime in the 1990s and then ignore Levitt's later conclusion that the country has gone too far and that prisons should reduce their populations by one-third.  Otis will say, as he does in National Review, that the movement for sentencing reform "is strictly interest-group — and billionaire — driven, inside-the-Beltway," which would be fine if you did not already know that the reform movement began in the states and is being promoted in Washington, DC by insiders like Senators Ted Cruz (R-Tx.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and Mike Lee (R-Utah).

Otis's amazing record of wrongness would be interesting and perhaps even funny if he, like fellow fear-peddler Paul Ehrlich, were exiled from the world of rational public policy making.  But media reports have suggested that some members of Congress actually listen to Otis.  If that's true, then we really do have a good reason to be scared.

Yowsa.   Because I consider both Julie Stewart and Bill Otis to be personal friends, I am going to be trying hard to stay out of this sentencing sparring.  But I am also going to try to report fairly on any rounds of this fight, and thus will be quick to post any response that Bill Otis provides in his own defense in the days ahead. 

UPDATE:  Bill Otis has a response up at Crime & Consequences: Are Sentencing "Reformers" Getting Worried?.  Here is a snippet from Bill's introduction to his brief substantive refutation of points made by Julie Stewart:

I think it unbecoming and unwise to get caught up in this sort of thing.  If you hold a controversial position, you can expect some heat.  And if you spend all your time answering your critics, you'll never do anything else.  You'll certainly abandon any hope of making your own points. Accordingly, with the exceptions noted below, I am not going to engage with Ms. Stewart. (If she seeks a live debate with me, that would be another matter).

I'm quite sure she is sincere. But, for reasons stated in hundreds of things I have said on this blog and elsewhere, I believe she is in error.

September 3, 2015 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, National and State Crime Data, New crack statute and the FSA's impact, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (22)

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Guns, gangs, ganja, going after police ... are there obvious lessons from 2015 homicide spikes?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this lengthy front-page New York Times article spotlighting the notable spike in homicides in many US cities so far in 2015.  The article is headlined "Murder Rates Rising Sharply in Many U.S. Cities," and here are excerpts:

Cities across the nation are seeing a startling rise in murders after years of declines, and few places have witnessed a shift as precipitous as this city.  With the summer not yet over, 104 people have been killed this year — after 86 homicides in all of 2014.

More than 30 other cities have also reported increases in violence from a year ago. In New Orleans, 120 people had been killed by late August, compared with 98 during the same period a year earlier.  In Baltimore, homicides had hit 215, up from 138 at the same point in 2014. In Washington, the toll was 105, compared with 73 people a year ago. And in St. Louis, 136 people had been killed this year, a 60 percent rise from the 85 murders the city had by the same time last year.

Law enforcement experts say disparate factors are at play in different cities, though no one is claiming to know for sure why murder rates are climbing.  Some officials say intense national scrutiny of the use of force by the police has made officers less aggressive and emboldened criminals, though many experts dispute that theory.

Rivalries among organized street gangs, often over drug turf, and the availability of guns are cited as major factors in some cities, including Chicago.  But more commonly, many top police officials say they are seeing a growing willingness among disenchanted young men in poor neighborhoods to use violence to settle ordinary disputes....

Urban bloodshed — as well as the overall violent crime rate — remains far below the peaks of the late 1980s and early ’90s, and criminologists say it is too early to draw broad conclusions from the recent numbers.  In some cities, including Cincinnati, Los Angeles and Newark, homicides remain at a relatively steady rate this year.

Yet with at least 35 of the nation’s cities reporting increases in murders, violent crimes or both, according to a recent survey, the spikes are raising alarm among urban police chiefs. The uptick prompted an urgent summit meeting in August of more than 70 officials from some of the nation’s largest cities.  A Justice Department initiative is scheduled to address the rising homicide rates as part of a conference in September....

The police superintendent in Chicago, Garry McCarthy, said he thought an abundance of guns was a major factor in his city’s homicide spike.  Even as officials in both parties are calling for reducing the prison population, he insisted that gun offenders should face stiffer penalties.  “Across the country, we’ve all found it’s not the individual who never committed a crime before suddenly killing somebody,” Mr. McCarthy said on Monday. “It’s the repeat offenders. It’s the same people over and over again.”

Among some experts and rank­and­file officers, the notion that less aggressive policing has emboldened criminals — known as the “Ferguson effect” in some circles — is a popular theory for the uptick in violence.  “The equilibrium has changed between police and offenders,” said Alfred Blumstein, a professor and a criminologist at Heinz College, Carnegie Mellon University.

Others doubt the theory or say data has not emerged to prove it.  Richard Rosenfeld, a criminologist from the University of Missouri­-St. Louis, said homicides in St. Louis, for instance, had already begun an arc upward in 2014 before a white police officer killed an unarmed teenager, Michael Brown, in nearby Ferguson.  That data, he said, suggests that other factors may be in play.

Less debated is the sense among police officials that more young people are settling their disputes, including one started on Facebook, with guns....

In New Orleans, Michael S. Harrison, the police superintendent, said the city’s rise in homicides did not appear to reflect any increase in gang violence or robberies of strangers, but rather involved killings inside homes and cars by people who know their victims — particularly difficult crimes to predict or prevent....

In New York, there have been a larger number of gang­-related killings, Stephen Davis, the department’s top spokesman, said.  But he also said many homicides remained unexplained, the result of disputes with murky origins.  “There are a lot of murders that happen in the spur of the moment,” Mr. Davis said.

Especially because 2014 was a year with record-low homicide rates in many jurisdictions, I am not too surprised (though I am much troubled) by these new homicide data. I share the view that it is too early to draw any firm conclusions as to what is causing or what should be done about this uptick in deadly urban violence.  But I also think it is not too early for researchers to be asking a lot of hard questions about what sets of legal and social factors which were previously successful in reducing homicide rates are now proving less effective.

Astute readers should see that I threw ganja into the alliterative mix of factors in the title of this post because changes in national marijuana policies and practices are among the legal and social factors that I have been watching closely lately in relation to crime rates.  This New York Times article does not discuss this factor — or many others crime and punishment factors like increases in opioid addiction, or reduced use of the death penalty — surely because there are so many different and hard-to-track factors which might play some role in any changing nationwide  crimes patterns.

September 1, 2015 in Data on sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (4)

Thursday, August 27, 2015

BJS releases latest data on crime victimization throughout United States

This new press release from the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports on encouraging crime news for 2014 based on one notable metric. Here are the basic data from the press release:

The violent crime rate did not change significantly in 2014 compared to 2013, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced today. Violent crimes include rape or sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault and simple assault.  In 2014, the violent crime rate was 20.1 victimizations per 1,000 U.S. residents age 12 or older.

The rate of domestic violence, which includes crime committed by intimate partners (current or former spouses, boyfriends or girlfriends) and family members was also unchanged from 2013 to 2014 (4.2 per 1,000). Likewise, in 2014 the rates of intimate partner violence (2.4 per 1,000), violence resulting in an injury (5.2 per 1,000) and violence involving a firearm (1.7 per 1,000) did not change significantly.

In comparison, the property crime rate, which includes burglary, theft and motor vehicle theft, fell from 131.4 victimizations per 1,000 households in 2013 to 118.1 per 1,000 in 2014.  The overall decline was largely the result of a decline in theft....

From 2013 to 2014, crime rates varied slightly by region. There was no significant difference in the rate of violent crime in the Midwest and South, while the Northeast and West had slight decreases.  Property crime rates decreased in the Midwest, South and Western regions of the country, but there was no significant change in the rate of property crime in the Northeast....

From 2013 to 2014, there were no significant changes in rates of violent crime across urban, suburban and rural areas.

The full new BJS report, excitingly titled "Criminal Victimization, 2014," is available here and the findings are based on data from the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS). Interestingly, while the press release quoted above emphasizes there has been no change in violent crime rate, the first few paragraphs of the full report provides a slightly more encouraging story based on the detailed numbers (and the broader multi-year trends) and highlighted by my emphasis below:

In 2014, U.S. residents age 12 or older experienced an estimated 5.4 million violent victimizations and 15.3 million property victimizations, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ (BJS) National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS).  There was no significant change in the overall rate of violent crime, defined as rape or sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault, and simple assault, from 2013 (23.2 victimizations per 1,000 persons age 12 or older) to 2014 (20.1 per 1,000) (figure 1).  However, the rate of violent crime in 2014 was lower than the rate in 2012 (26.1 per 1,000).  From 1993 to 2014, the rate of violent crime declined from 79.8 to 20.1 per 1,000.

The overall property crime rate (which includes household burglary, theft, and motor vehicle theft) decreased from 131.4 victimizations per 1,000 households in 2013 to 118.1 victimizations per 1,000 in 2014.  The decline in theft accounted for the majority of the decrease in property crime.  Since 1993, the rate of property crime declined from 351.8 to 118.1 victimizations per 1,000 households.

This particular BJS data source had shown an uptick in overall crime in the period from 2010 to 2012. It is encouraging news that this data source is now showing that crime seemed to be going back down again in the period from 2012 to 2014.

August 27, 2015 in Data on sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (4)

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

New research report examines impact of "Realignment" on crime in California in 2014

Via an email from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ), I received news about this notable new research report titled "Realignment and Crime in 2014: California’s Violent Crime in Decline." Here is how the CJCJ report was summarized in the email I received:

A new report from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice examines the impact of Public Safety Realignment on county crime given newly produced 2014 data. CJCJ finds no causal relationship between Realignment and changes in rates of reported Part I offenses.

• Since Realignment was implemented in 2011, statewide violent crime and property crime have generally decreased. This decline seems to be a continuation of the downward crime trend of the past two decades that has not demonstrably been affected by Realignment.

• Almost all counties experienced a decrease in their rates of state prison commitments for non-violent offenses in 2013 versus 2010. However, these declines showed no correlation with changes in crime rates in individual counties in 2014 versus 2010. For example, Orange County’s rate of non-violent prison admissions decreased by 53 percent along with substantial reductions in crime, while adjacent Riverside County saw a 30 percent decrease in non-violent prison admission rates along with less favorable crime trends.

• Trends in motor vehicle theft, which some researchers have connected to Realignment, were highly erratic among individual counties (for example, down 35 percent in Fresno County; up 102 percent in Shasta County). No correlations between Realignment and motor vehicle theft were apparent.

This report builds on CJCJ's previous county-level analyses finding that no definitive conclusions can be drawn about the impact, if any, of Realignment on crime at this time. Instead, this report highlights nine “model counties” that have shown uniquely large decreases in reliance on state prisons alongside uniquely large reductions in property, violent, and total crime. Policymakers should study the measures taken in these nine counties to better implement effective and safe statewide decarceration strategies.

August 26, 2015 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, National and State Crime Data, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment, State Sentencing Guidelines | Permalink | Comments (2)

"Why the U.S. is No. 1 -- in mass shootings"

In light of sad and tragic news of yet another multiple-murder shooting in Virginia (CNN report here), I found especially notable this Los Angeles Times article about some sociology research on high-profile crimes in the United States.  The piece has the headline given to this post, and it gets started this way:

The United States is, by a long shot, the global leader in mass shootings, claiming just 5% of the global population but an outsized share -- 31% -- of the world's mass shooters since 1966, a new study finds.

The Philippines, Russia, Yemen and France -- all countries that can claim a substantial share of the 291 documented mass shootings between 1966 and 2012 -- collectively didn't even come close to the United States.

And what makes the United States such a fertile incubator for mass shooters? A comprehensive analysis of the perpetrators, their motives and the national contexts for their actions suggests that several factors have conspired to create in the United States a potent medium for fostering large-scale murder.

Those factors include a chronic and widespread gap between Americans' expectations for themselves and their actual achievement, Americans' adulation of fame, and the extent of gun ownership in the United States.

Set those features against a circumstance the United States shares with many other countries -- a backdrop of poorly managed mental illness -- and you have a uniquely volatile brew, the new study says.

With those conclusions, University of Alabama criminologist Adam Lankford set out to illuminate the darker side of American "exceptionalism" -- the notion that the United States' size, diversity, political and economic institutions and traditions set us apart in the world. Lankford's paper is among those being presented this week at the American Sociological Assn.'s annual meeting, in Chicago.

Perhaps no single factor sets the United States apart as sharply as does gun ownership, wrote Lankford. Of 178 countries included in Lankford's analysis, the United States ranked first in per-capita gun ownership. A 2007 survey found 270 million firearms in U.S. civilian households -- an ownership rate of 88.8 firearms per 100 people. Yemen followed, with 54.8 firearms per 100 people.

August 26, 2015 in Gun policy and sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Second Amendment issues | Permalink | Comments (9)

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Could marijuana reform be making Washington roadways safer even if more drivers test positive for THC?

08-23_DUI_violations_t410The question in the title of this post is prompted by a chart reprinted here that accompanies this extended article concerning the variety of possible impacts of marijuana reform in Washington state.  The article is headlined "Is marijuana dragging us down?: Here's a look at marijuana's role in traffic fatalities, quality-of-life issues, crime," and here are criminal justice excerpts (with key line emphasized):

When recreational marijuana was legalized, Washington entered the unknown, triggering questions — and predictions — about what might happen. Would drug dealers hang around the pot shops? Would it bring riffraff into the neighborhood and make shops easy crime targets? Would people abuse the drug? Or smoke and drive, putting others in harm's way?...

The Washington Traffic Safety Commission found that marijuana has increasingly become a factor in fatal crashes. Most drivers in fatal collisions are tested for drugs. In 2014, among 619 drivers involved in fatal crashes, 89 tested positive for cannabis, according to the Washington Traffic Safety Commission. Of those marijuana-positive drivers, 75 had active THC (the psychoactive compound in cannabis) in their blood, meaning they had recently used the drug. That's twice as many drivers with active THC in their blood than there were in 2010. About half of those 75 drivers were above the legal limit of 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood, the traffic safety commission said. The driver with the highest THC level tested at 70 nanograms of marijuana per milliliter of blood — 14 times the legal limit.

Half of last year's THC-positive drivers were also under the influence of alcohol, and most were above the 0.08 blood alcohol concentration limit, the traffic safety commission said. Marijuana and alcohol used together has a compounding effect.

Shelly Baldwin, spokeswoman for the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, said drugs have surpassed alcohol as factors in fatal crashes. "Marijuana ends up being the most frequent drug, but certainly we see methamphetamine and opiates and cocaine, prescription drugs. There's a long list," Baldwin said....

In 2014, 703 Washington drivers tested positive for being above the legal marijuana limit of 5 ng/mL. That's a fraction of the total DUI violations, which were 25,795 statewide last year. In general, though, driving under the influence violations have gone down in Washington. That means the increase in marijuana detection among drivers is a new, unnerving trend for traffic officials....

The who, what, when, where, why and how of crime is always changing.  Officials are hesitant to say what leads to crime, given its ebb and flow, making it difficult to discern whether legalizing pot affected public safety.

Marijuana-related crimes, such as possession and selling of drug paraphernalia, have dropped off, which makes sense given it's now legal to have pot and a pipe.  In general, crime has gone down around Clark County, though it increased about 1 percent for the whole state last year, according to the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.  Drug violations accounted for nearly 13,700 crimes reported statewide last year — an uptick from 2013's almost 13,000 violations.

The question in the title of this post is generated by what strikes me as a remarkable — and remarkably significant? — 35% decline in the total number of DUI offenses in Washington state since marijuana was legalized by voter initiative in 2012.  Many public health experts have led me to conclude that if a significant segment of the population substitutes marijuana use for alcohol use — instead of supplementing alcohol with marijuana — there will be net public-health benefits because of reduced alcohol-related harms that should surpass any increased marijuana-related harms.  These data from Washington state, which do seem to show a small increase in marijuana-related roadway harms, suggest there has been a major overall reduction in dangerous driving and thus net public safety benefits in the Evergreen State since marijuana was legalized.

As I say repeatedly in a variety of settings, it is way too early to reach any firm conclusions about what basic crime and public safety data in marijuana reform jurisdictions really mean for the short- or long-term consequences of legalizations.  Nevertheless, even the basic numbers reported here highlight the importance of considering all marijuana-specific data in the context of the broader public safety issues with which they interact.

August 23, 2015 in Data on sentencing, Marijuana Legalization in the States, National and State Crime Data, Pot Prohibition Issues | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, August 10, 2015

"Just Facts: America’s Non-Existent 'Spike in Crime'"

The title of this post is the headline of this interesting discussion and analysis by Matthew Friedman over at The Brennan Center for Justice. I recommend a full read of the post to get all the important details (and to see how LeBron James' free-throw shooting record is incorporated into the discussion). Here is how the post starts and ends to whet appetites:

Newspapers lately have been filled with disturbing headlines about “spikes in crime.”  In March, the New York Daily News wrote, “The murder rate in New York City has spiked an alarming 20% in the first two months of the year, prompting NYPD brass to rethink strategy to curb the deadly trend.”  The Los Angeles Times reported “LAPD struggles with spike in violent crime, shootings.”  Even the BBC asked “Why has the murder rate in some US cities suddenly spiked?”

These headlines, however, conflict with statistical data showing that we are actually enjoying some of the lowest crime rates in more than half a century.  Why then do we continue to see headlines that seem to say the exact opposite?  Moreover, how is it that most Americans inaccurately believe that crime is on the rise?

Well, when we don’t read past the headlines, it is hard to see the forest for the trees.  A closer analysis of crime over time provides a less alarming and more accurate picture of crime trends than the short-term analysis headline writers often rely on....

Data shows that there is no nationwide crime wave washing over our cities. And there is no compelling evidence that one is imminent either.  New York, like many other cities around the country, is experiencing an historic ebb in most types of crime.  So readers beware, don’t take headlines at face value.  Startling headlines need not lead to dire conclusions.

August 10, 2015 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, July 12, 2015

What should be made of (and should we respond to) recent urban murder surge?

MurdersThe question in the title of this post is prompted by this lengthy USA Today article headlined "Several big U.S. cities see homicide rates surge." Here are excerpts:

After years of declining violent crime, several major American cities experienced a dramatic surge in homicides during the first half of this year.

Milwaukee, which last year had one of its lowest annual homicide totals in city history, recorded 84 murders so far this year, more than double the 41 it tallied at the same point last year.

Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn said the mounting homicide toll in his city of 600,000 is driven by Wisconsin's "absurdly weak" gun laws – carrying a concealed weapon without a state-issued concealed carry is a misdemeanor in the Badger State — as well a subculture within the city that affirms the use of deadly violence to achieve status and growing distrust of police in some parts of the city.

Milwaukee is not alone.  The number of murders in 2015 jumped by 33% or more in Baltimore, New Orleans and St. Louis. Meanwhile, in Chicago, the nation's third-largest city, the homicide toll climbed 19% and the number of shooting incidents increased by 21% during the first half of the year.

In all the cities, the increased violence is disproportionately impacting poor and predominantly African-American and Latino neighborhoods. In parts of Milwaukee, the sound of gunfire is so commonplace that about 80% of gunshots detected by ShotSpotter sensors aren't even called into police by residents, Flynn said. "We've got folks out there living in neighborhoods, where . . . it's just part of the background noise," Flynn told USA TODAY.  "That's what we're up against."

Criminologists note that the surge in murders in many big American cities came after years of declines in violent crime in major metros throughout the United States.  Big cities saw homicides peak in the late 1980s and early 1990s as crack-cocaine wreaked havoc on many urban areas.

The homicide toll across the country — which reached a grim nadir in 1993 when more than 2,200 murders were counted in New York City — has declined in ebbs and flows for much of the last 20 years, noted Alfred Blumstein, a professor of urban systems and operations research at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.  Several U.S. cities —  including Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Diego and Indianapolis — have experienced a decrease in the number of murders so far this year.

Blumstein said the current surge in murders in some big cities could amount to no more than a blip.  "It could be 2015 represents us hitting a plateau, and by the end of the year, nationally, we'll see that murder rates are flat or there is a slight bump up," Blumstein said.

But other experts say the surge in killings suggests that the United States may be nearing a floor in reducing its murder rate as the federal, state and local governments increasingly grapple with tighter budgets.  "Why is there a synchronicity among these cities?" said Peter Scharf, an assistant professor at the LSU School of Public Health whose research focuses on crime. "One reason may be President Obama is broke. Governors like Bobby Jindal are broke, and mayors like (New Orleans' Mitch) Landrieu are broke. You don't have the resources at any level of government to fund a proactive law enforcement."...

In New York City, there were 161 homicides in the city for the first half of 2015 vs. 145 during the first half of 2014.  Shootings in the city rose to 542, from 511 in the same period last year. New York recorded 328 homicides last year, the lowest annual murder toll for the city in more than 50 years. "It's so phenomenally low that it can hardly go in any direction but up," said Blumstein, the Carnegie Mellon analyst....

The homicide toll has risen several other major U.S. cities in the first half of the year, albeit at less dramatic pace. In Philadelphia, murders are up slightly, with the city recording 123 thus far this year compared with 117 at the same point last year. The murder rate, however, is far lower than it was in 2012, when the city had recorded a whopping 187 murders by July 7 of that year.

Dallas has tallied 68 murders so far this, up from 53 in 2014, according to police department statistics. San Antonio counted 53 homicides through June, compared with 43 last year. Minneapolis had 22 murders in the first half of 2015, compared with 15 during the same period last year.

It has often proven remarkably difficult to establish, either historically or in modern times, a strong and dependable causal connection between specific sentencing laws and practices and homicide rates. Consequently, I am not inclined to jump to any quick conclusions concerning what this murder surge might reflect or how policy makers ought to respond is sentencing term.  Indeed, for sentencing fans, the most notable part of this story may be that 2015 murders are down in the two most southern cities in California, the state that has had the most sentencing changes in recent years.

July 12, 2015 in National and State Crime Data, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (9)

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

What drug war lessons should we draw from modern deadly heroin surge?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this Los Angeles Times report on new data from the Center for Disease Control. The press article is headlined "Heroin use and addiction are surging in the U.S., CDC report says," and here are excerpts:

Heroin use surged over the past decade, and the wave of addiction and overdose is closely related to the nation’s ongoing prescription drug epidemic, federal health officials said Tuesday. A new report says that 2.6 out of every 1,000 U.S. residents 12 and older used heroin in the years 2011 to 2013. That’s a 63% increase in the rate of heroin use since the years 2002 to 2004.

The rate of heroin abuse or dependence climbed 90% over the same period, according to the study by researchers from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Deaths caused by heroin overdoses nearly quadrupled between 2002 and 2013, claiming 8,257 lives in 2013.

In all, more than half a million people used heroin in 2013, up nearly 150% since 2007, the report said.

Heroin use remained highest for the historically hardest-hit group: poor young men living in cities. But increases were spread across all demographic groups, including women and people with private insurance and high incomes — groups associated with the parallel rise in prescription drug use over the past decade.

The findings appear in a Vital Signs report published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. "As a doctor who started my career taking care of patients with HIV and other complications from injection drugs, it's heartbreaking to see injection drug use making a comeback in the U.S.," said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC.

All but 4% of the people who used heroin in the past year also used another drug, such as cocaine, marijuana or alcohol, according to the report. Indeed, 61% of heroin users used at least three different drugs. The authors of the new study highlighted a “particularly strong” relationship between the use of prescription painkillers and heroin. People who are addicted to narcotic painkillers are 40 times more likely to misuse heroin, according to the study....

Frieden said the increase in heroin use was contributing to other health problems, including rising rates of new HIV infections, cases of newborns addicted to opiates and car accidents.  He called for reforms in the way opioid painkillers are prescribed, a crackdown on the flow of cheap heroin and more treatment for those who are addicted.

Some prior related posts:

July 8, 2015 in Drug Offense Sentencing, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, March 23, 2015

Why passage of Prop 47 ensures California remains a hot topic in sentencing and corrections reform

This terrific new bit of reporting at The Crime Report, headlined "Prop 47: The Stormy Aftermath," details why California remains a kind perfect storm for those interesting in studying hot topics in the debates over modern sentencing reforms and the relationship between incarceration and crime. Here are excerpts from the piece:

California’s Proposition 47, passed in a referendum last November, set in motion a dramatic reversal of the state’s approach to mass incarceration. The law changed six of California’s low-level offenses from felonies to misdemeanors, and made eligible for resentencing hundreds of thousands of individuals convicted of those crimes.

Not surprisingly, it has drawn the attention of policymakers and law enforcement authorities from across the country — some of it controversial.

“This was such a big fix — being able to go from felony to misdemeanor,” said Lenore Anderson, executive director of Californians for Safety and Justice — an advocacy group that spearheaded the referendum campaign. “We’re engaging in a lot of dialogue about how to change practices, how to put a priority on public safety without relying on over-incarceration.”

But how will success or failure be measured? Four months later, the answer is still not clear — but criminal justice practitioners and advocates contacted by The Crime Report suggest that the passionate debate it fueled is only just beginning.

At a session last month at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, Anderson told criminal justice practitioners and advocates that thousands of prisoners have been resentenced and released since Proposition 47 passed with nearly 60 percent of California voters approving the measure. The move should ultimately free up police, court and prison resources to focus on more serious violent crimes, she said....

Critics of the measure, however, warned that letting people out of jail, and removing the threat of felony charges, would lead to an increase in crime and compromise public safety. Their argument appeared to receive some support when the Los Angeles Times reported on February 21 that narcotic arrests in the city declined significantly after voters approved the bill — while property crimes increased. The story also noted: “some criminal justice experts caution against drawing conclusions.”...

One criminologist who isn’t a fan of the early assessments of Proposition 47’s impact on crime is Barry Krisberg, a Senior Fellow of the Earl Warren Institute at the University of California Berkeley Law School — and an occasional contributor to The Crime Report. “This alleged increase in property crimes, I’m not believing it,” he said in an interview. “That information isn’t even officially produced yet; it’s based on police counts, which are often inaccurate.”...

Former San Diego Police Chief Bill Landsowne, who retired in March 2014, says law enforcement organizations — in particular the state’s Police Chiefs, Sheriffs' and District Attorneys associations — are responsible for orchestrating a media push to discredit Proposition 47. “As a sitting chief it would have been very difficult for me to advocate for Prop 47,” Landsowne, a proponent of the referendum, told The Crime Report. “You don’t want to be an outlier in the process, you want to be tough. But police know we need more treatment options in the system."...

To criminologist Eugene O’Donnell a former New York City police officer, the mixed early statistical returns — and the debate surrounding them — is not surprising. “It’s absolutely premature, you can’t just snap your fingers and fix a complicated problem,” O’Donnell, a professor at John Jay College, said. “This is going to be something that has a long-term impact; trying to make a 60-day assessment is impossible.”

March 23, 2015 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, National and State Crime Data, Offense Characteristics, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Friday, February 13, 2015

"Pick a stat, any stat. They all tell you the same thing: America is really good at putting people behind bars."

The title of this post is a line from the start of this detailed analysis of incarceration rates and crime by Oliver Roeder, a senior writer for FiveThirtyEight. The piece merits a full read, and here are excerpts from the start and end of the piece: 

There are 2.3 million Americans in prison or jail. The U.S. has 5 percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of its prisoners. One in three black men can expect to spend time in prison. There are 2.7 million minors with an incarcerated parent. The imprisonment rate has grown by more than 400 percent since 1970.

It’s supposed to help the country reduce crime in two ways: incapacitation — it’s hard to be a habitual offender while in prison — or deterrence — people scared of prison may do their best to not end up there. But recent research suggests that incarceration has lost its potency. A report released this week from the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law finds that increased incarceration has had a very limited effect on crime over the past two and a half decades. At incarceration’s current elevated levels, the effect of more incarceration on crime is not statistically different than zero. It’s no longer working....

[C]rime trends are complicated. Surely no one is complaining about the recent decline, but no one fully understands it either. One thing is becoming clear: Increased incarceration’s role was minimal.

Recent related post:

February 13, 2015 in Data on sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Thursday, February 12, 2015

New Brennan Center report asks "What Caused the Crime Decline?"

What_Caused_the_Crime_Decline_CoverThis press release highlights the publication of this important new report by the Brennan Center for Justice titled "What Caused the Crime Decline?".  This report looks like a must-read for all advocates (and opponents) of modern sentencing reform, and here are excerpts of the summary appearing in the press release:

Since 1990, increased incarceration had a limited impact on reducing crime nationwide, concludes a new report from the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law.  In What Caused the Crime Decline?, a team of economic and criminal justice researchers examine over 40 years of data, gathered from 50 states and the 50 largest cities. Among the report’s new findings:

Incarceration: Increased incarceration had some effect, likely in the range of 0 to 10 percent, on reducing crime in the 1990s. Since 2000, however, increased incarceration had a negligible effect on crime.

State Success: A number of states, including California, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, and Texas, have successfully reduced their prison populations while crime continues to fall.

Other Factors: Increased numbers of police officers, some data-driven policing techniques, changes in income, decreased alcohol consumption, and an aging population played a role in the crime decline. In particular, the report finds CompStat is associated with a 5 to 15 percent decrease in crime. The report also includes new information on the effects of unemployment, the death penalty, and other theories on crime.

During the 25 years since 1990, incarceration rates have exploded — almost doubling in size — and added about 1.1 million additional people behind bars.  During that same time, crime rates have been cut almost in half. Using an economic model that accounts for the diminishing returns of extremely high levels of incarceration and includes the latest 13 years of data, the report bolsters past research suggesting increased incarceration had little impact on crime rates, but finds an even smaller impact on crime.

“Some have argued that despite the immense social and economic costs of America’s mass incarceration system, it has succeeded at reducing crime,” said report co-author Dr. Oliver Roeder.  “The data tells a different story: if reducing crime is the end goal of our criminal justice system, increased incarceration is a poor investment.”

“This report amplifies what many on the left and the right have come to realize in recent years: mass incarceration is not working. It simply isn’t necessary to reduce crime,” said Inimai Chettiar, director of the Brennan Center’s Justice Program and author of the executive summary.  “The prison explosion has been very expensive.  A better use of public resources would be improving economic opportunities, supporting 21st century policing practices, and expanding treatment and rehabilitation programs, all of which have proven records of reducing crime without incarceration’s high costs.”

“This groundbreaking empirical analysis from the Brennan Center shows that, on examination, the easy answers do not explain incarceration’s effect on crime,” wrote Dr. Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate in economics and University Professor at Columbia University, in the foreword.  “This report presents a rigorous and sophisticated empirical analysis performed on the most recent, comprehensive dataset to date.”

February 12, 2015 in Data on sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

More good crime news for first part of 2014 according to FBI data

As reported in this official press release, the "the FBI’s Preliminary Semiannual Uniform Crime Report reveal overall declines in both the number of violent crimes and the number of property crimes reported for the first six months of 2014 when compared with figures for the first six months of 2013."  Here are some highlights detailing this great news via the FBI: 

All the offenses in the violent crime category — murder and non-negligent manslaughter, rape (revised definition), aggravated assault, and robbery — showed decreases when data from the first six months of 2014 were compared with data from the first six months of 2013.  The number of murders declined 6.0 percent, the number of rapes (revised definition) declined 10.1 percent, aggravated assaults decreased 1.6 percent, and robbery offenses decreased 10.3 percent.

Violent crime decreased in all city groupings. The largest decrease, 6.7 percent, was noted in cities with fewer than 10,000 in population.

Violent crime declined in each of the nation’s four regions. The largest decrease, 7.6 percent, was noted in the Midwest, followed by 6.6 percent in the Northeast, 3.0 percent in the South, and 2.7 percent in the West.

All three offenses in the property crime category — burglary, larceny-theft, and motor vehicle theft — showed decreases in the number of offenses for January to June 2014 when compared with data for the same months of 2013. Burglary offenses dropped 14.0 percent. There was a 5.7 percent decrease in the number of motor vehicle thefts, and a 5.6 percent decrease in larceny-theft offenses.

Each of the city population groups had decreases in the overall number of property crimes. Law enforcement agencies in cities with populations under 10,000 inhabitants reported the largest decrease, 8.9 percent.

All four of the nation’s regions showed declines in the number of property crime: 12.5 percent in the Midwest, 7.6 percent in the Northeast, 5.9 percent in the South, and 5.8 percent in the West.

As I have said before, this great news on crime rates is also great news for those eager to encourage continued reform of state and federal criminal justice policies and practices. In recent years, the federal system and many state systems have experienced consequential reductions in some sentencing levels and in incarceration rates, and drug-offense reforms have been especially pronounced. That crime rates continue to fall throughout this period suggests — though, importantly, does not conclusively prove — that these sorts of reforms are not have an adverse impact on public safety.

January 27, 2015 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

"In a Safer Age, U.S. Rethinks Its ‘Tough on Crime’ System"

The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy front-page New York Times article discussing modern criminal justice realities that should already be known by regular readers of this blog.  Here are a couple snippets from the effective piece:

Democrats and Republicans alike are rethinking the vast, costly infrastructure of crime control and incarceration that was born of the earlier crime wave. “The judicial system has been a critical element in keeping violent criminals off the street,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, who is co­sponsor of a bill to reduce some federal drug sentences. “But now we’re stepping back, and I think it’s about time, to ask whether the dramatic increase in incarceration was warranted.”

Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa and the new chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has opposed broad reductions in sentences. But he still agreed, in an interview, that “there are a lot of ideas — prison reform, policing, sentencing — being discussed now that wouldn’t be if we hadn’t had this drop in the crime statistics.”...

Along with uncertainty about the sources of lower crime are contentious debates about what should come next.  How far can incarceration be reduced without endangering safety? Where is the proper line between aggressive, preventive policing and intrusive measures that alienate the law­abiding?

The rise in incarceration has been even more striking than the decline in crime, leading to growing agreement on both the right and the left that it has gone too far.  From the early 1970s to 2009, mainly because of changes in sentencing, the share of American residents in state or federal prison multiplied fourfold, reaching 1.5 million on any given day, with hundreds of thousands more held in local jails, although the rate has tapered off somewhat since 2009.

The social and economic costs are now the subject of intense study.  Some conservatives such as William G. Otis, a former federal prosecutor and adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University, argue that while many factors account for falling crime, harsher justice surely played a significant role. “When people are incarcerated they are not out on the street to ransack your home or sell drugs to your high school kid,” he said.

But many criminologists say the impact has been limited.  “The policy decisions to make long sentences longer and to impose mandatory minimums have had minimal effect on crime,” said Mr. Travis, of John Jay College. “The research on this is quite clear.”

Higher imprisonment might explain from 10 percent to, at most, 25 percent of the crime drop since the early 1990s, said Richard Rosenfeld, a criminologist at the University of Missouri ­St. Louis.  But it brought diminishing returns, he said, as those committing less severe crimes also received lengthy sentences.  

Many states, led by Republicans as well as by Democrats, have acted to reduce sentences for low­level and nonviolent crimes and to improve drug and other treatment services, while still bringing down crime rates.

January 14, 2015 in National and State Crime Data, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Saturday, January 03, 2015

More great news about declining homicide rates as we close book on 2014

As reported in this Washington Post piece, headlined "In major cities, murder rates drop precipitously," the end of 2014 has apparently brought a continuation of wonderful news about modern homicide trends.  Here are the basics:

In 1990, at the height of a decade-long crime wave that swept the nation, 2,245 people were murdered in New York City.  In 2014, police investigated just 328 homicides in the five boroughs — a precipitous drop of 85 percent that’s being duplicated in major cities across the country.  Preliminary figures suggest 2014 will continue a decade-long trend of falling crime rates, especially in major cities once plagued by violent crime.

Criminologists say the decrease is linked to several factors, some of which are the product of smart policing, others completely out of authorities’ control.  But they also say the lack of a consensus on what’s gone right has them convinced that crime rates could spike once again.   “I don’t think anyone has a perfect handle on why violence has declined,” said Harold Pollack, the co-director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab. “So everyone is a bit nervous that things could turn around.”

But the numbers are encouraging: Chicago recorded an all-time high of 504 killings in 2012, but just two years later homicides were down to 392, and the overall crime rate has declined to its lowest rate since 1972.  Charlotte, N.C., recorded 42 killings last year, the lowest number since Mecklenburg County began keeping records in 1977.

Philadelphia’s murder rate has declined from 322 in 2012 to 245 this year. Just 19 slayings were recorded in San Jose, the nation’s 11th-largest city, down from 24 the year before. Even crime-plagued Detroit, which has one of the highest murder rates in the country, is improving: The 304 homicides recorded this year are down from 333 in 2013, the lowest rate since 2010 and the second-lowest number since 1967....

Mid-year statistics in Dallas showed the city on pace to record just half the murders of its peak in 2004. Camden, N.J., has seen the number drop by more than 50 percent since 2012.  Murders in Columbus, Ohio, hit a six-year low....

[T]he trend lines are clear: The number of violent crimes has declined since 2006, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program.  The number of violent crimes committed per 100,000 people has been dropping even longer, from a high of 758 in 1991 to 367.9 in 2013.  The rate hasn’t topped 500 per 100,000 people since 2001....

Not every major city is basking in the glow of lower crime rates. A rash of shootings between Dec. 23 and the end of the year brought the number of murders in Washington, D.C., to 105 in 2014, the second consecutive year of triple-digit murders, after the nation’s capital hit a half-century low in 2012.

The number of homicides in Los Angeles reached 254 last year, up four from 2013 and the first increase in 12 years.... Indianapolis, Austin, Pittsburgh, El Paso and Memphis all saw rates rise.

I have removed from this article a brief discussion of explanations that some folks give for these encouraging homicide numbers, in part because none of the standard (or not-so-standard) accounts for the factors impacting violent crime rates seem to be especially effective in explaining recent trends (save, maybe, the lead-crime-link data).  For example, these data would seem to undercut some empirical claims that executions are critical for deterring murders given that homicide rates keep falling in states and regions that have recently abolished the death penalty de jure or de facto.  Also, all this good 2014 homicide news could be a joyful by-product of the especially cold winters and/or not-so-hot summer experienced in many locales in 2014.

Whatever help causally account for all this good news, I hope we can  and will (by design or by accident) continue doing whatever seem to be working.  But I fear there are too many diverse and intersecting variables in play to have too much confidence in any specific public policies accounting for all the modern criminal justice good data news.

Some recent and older related posts:

January 3, 2015 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack