Friday, October 19, 2018
"Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs, Opioid Abuse, and Crime"
A helpful colleague made sure I did not miss this interesting working paper with the same title as this post and authored by Dhaval Dave, Monica Deza and Brady Horn. Here is its abstract:
The past two decades have witnessed a substantial increase in opioid use and abuse in the United States. In response to this opioid epidemic, prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) have been implemented in virtually all states. These programs collect, monitor, and analyze prescription opioid data with the goal of preventing the abuse and diversion of controlled substances. A growing literature has found that voluntary PDMPs, which do not require doctors to access PDMPs before prescribing controlled substances, have had little effect on opioid use and misuse. However, PDMPs that do mandate access have been found to be effective in reducing opioid misuse and other related health outcomes.
In this paper we study the broader impact of voluntary and mandatory-access PDMPs on crime, and in the process inform the causal link between prescription opioid abuse and crime. Using information on offenses known to law enforcement and arrests from the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR), combined with a difference-in-differences empirical strategy, we find that voluntary PDMPs did not significantly affect crime whereas mandatory-access PDMPs have reduced crime by approximately 3.5%. Reductions in crime are largely associated with violent crimes, particularly homicide and assault. Also, we find evidence that young adults experienced the largest decrease in crime, which is consistent with prior work that also finds relatively larger declines in prescription opioid abuse for this group. Overall, these results provide additional evidence that prescription drug monitoring programs are an effective social policy tool to mitigate the negative consequences of opioid misuse, and more broadly indicate that opioid policies can have important spillover effects into other non-health related domains such as crime.
Wednesday, October 03, 2018
Attorney General Jeff Sessions boasts about federal prosecutors now "running up the score against the criminals"
As of September 27, 2018, the federal prison population was reported at 181,726, the lowest level in more than a dozen years. But this new speech that Attorney General Jeff Sessions delivered today in Utah suggests it may be only a matter of time before this population is heading up again. Here is an excerpt that leads me to this view:
Forging new relationships with local prosecutors and building on existing relationships will ensure that the most violent offenders are prosecuted in the most appropriate jurisdiction. Our goal is not to fill up the courts or fill up the prisons. Our goal is to reduce crime, just as President Trump directed us to do. Our goal is to make every community safer — especially the most vulnerable....
Our prosecutors in Utah are running up the score against the criminals. They charged 29 percent more defendants in 2017 than they did in 2014. That includes 64 percent more drug trafficking defendants, 44 percent more violent crime defendants, and 40 percent more illegal re-entries....
In 2018, the Department of Justice prosecuted more violent criminals than in any year on record. At the same time, we charged the highest number of federal firearm defendants in history. Fully 41 percent more gun defendants were prosecuted in fiscal year 2017 than they were just five years before.
This past year we broke our own record — and it wasn’t even close. Over the last fiscal year — October 1 of 2017 up to September 30, 2018 — the Department of Justice brought charges against 15 percent more violent crime defendants than we did in the previous, record-breaking year. That’s 20 percent more violent crime defendants than we charged in fiscal 2016.
We also charged nearly 20 percent more firearm defendants than we did in 2017 and 30 percent more than we charged in 2016. We’ve been so tough on illegal guns that we’re actually getting attacked in the press for it — if you can believe that.
Here’s what the critics don’t understand: we are going after violent felons. We are targeting the most dangerous people in the most violent areas who have guns....
Law enforcement pays dividends — because when we have safer streets, businesses are more likely to invest and create jobs, property values go up, and the people we serve are more likely to flourish. And so we are going to keep up this pace. We are going to keep supporting Utah’s state and local police. We’re going to keep arming them with the tools, resources, and expertise that they need to protect the people of this city and this state.
Sunday, September 30, 2018
Noting some worrisome trends in latest official FBI crime data
The folks at Crime & Consequences have two recent posts spotlighting some notable state-specific trends in the latest FBI crime data. As noted in this post from last week, the FBI reported that violent crimes in the US appeared to "decrease 0.2 percent in 2017 when compared with 2016 data" and that property crimes also "dropped 3.0 percent" in 2017. But, for fans of sentencing reforms and/or marijuana reform, these two posts at C&C suggest a different tale:
Crime in the United States and California, 2008-2017 by Kent Scheidegger
Excerpt: California and United States [had] violent crimes rates falling in tandem prior to Realignment. That bill took effect in October 2011, so 2011 is mostly a pre-Realignment year. We would expect effects to show up in later years. There is a bump in 2012, while the national number is flat, followed by a drop the year after that. Beginning in 2015, California's violent crime rates have been above the national rate to a larger extent than previously. Overall, the California rate averaged 9% above the national rate before Realignment and 12% above since Proposition 47....
So what degree of proof would we say the simple comparison above establishes that California's soft-on-crime legislation has increased crime? In terms familiar to lawyers, is it "proof beyond a reasonable doubt"? Certainly not. "Preponderance of the evidence." No, I wouldn't claim that. "Probable cause"? Arguably. "Reasonable suspicion"? Certainly.
UCR Data Raises Concerns by Michael Rushford
Excerpt: Looking at significant recent changes in state criminal justice policy, states which have legalized recreational marijuana and states which have engaged in major sentencing reform to reduce sentences were more likely to have suffered increases in violent crime that those who have not.
Of the nine states and the District of Columbia which have legalized recreational marijuana six had increases in violent crime. The increase in Vermont, which legalized recreational marijuana in July, was the highest at 21.4%, with Colorado coming in second at 7%. Of the legalized marijuana states and DC, six had significant increases in homicide, with Vermont not reporting. Massachusetts' increase was 27.5%, with Alaska's was 19.5%, followed by Nevada (17.8%), Washington (16%), Colorado (15.3%), and Maine ((14.5%). All nine legalized marijuana states had increases in rape, with Vermont (28.2%), Maine, (14%), and Nevada (10.5%) in double digits.
Of the eight states which have enacted the most significant reforms to reduce sentences, seven had increased violent crime, and five had increases in homicide. Three of these states had double digit increases in homicide lead by Arkansas (18.3%), and followed by Washington (16%) and Hawaii (11.5%).
One of these posts stresses the important point that "correlation does not prove causation." But it is at least worth nothing that some are eager to note certain correlations.
Monday, September 24, 2018
Official FBI crime data for 2017 reports violent and property crime in decline in United States
Early markers hinted that crime was back to declining in 2017, after violent crime had increases in 2015 and 2016 in the United States. This official FBI press release provides these basics on the latest official FBI data:
After two consecutive years of increases, the estimated number of violent crimes in the nation decreased 0.2 percent in 2017 when compared with 2016 data, according to FBI figures released today. Property crimes dropped 3.0 percent, marking the 15th consecutive year the collective estimates for these offenses declined.
The 2017 statistics show the estimated rate of violent crime was 382.9 offenses per 100,000 inhabitants, and the estimated rate of property crime was 2,362.2 offenses per 100,000 inhabitants. The violent crime rate fell 0.9 percent when compared with the 2016 rate; the property crime rate declined 3.6 percent.
These and additional data are presented in the 2017 edition of the FBI’s annual report Crime in the United States. This publication 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....
Of the 18,547 city, county, university and college, state, tribal, and federal agencies eligible to participate in the UCR Program, 16,655 agencies submitted data in 2017. A high-level summary of the statistics submitted, as well as estimates for those agencies that did not report, follows:
- In 2017, there were an estimated 1,247,321 violent crimes. The estimated number of robbery offenses decreased 4.0 percent, and the estimated number of murder and nonnegligent manslaughter offenses decreased 0.7 percent when compared with estimates from 2016. The estimated volume of aggravated assault and rape (revised definition) offenses increased 1.0 percent and 2.5 percent, respectively.
- Nationwide, there were an estimated 7,694,086 property crimes. The estimated numbers for two of the three property crimes showed declines when compared with the previous year’s estimates. Burglaries dropped 7.6 percent, larceny-thefts decreased 2.2 percent, but motor vehicle thefts rose 0.8 percent.
- Collectively, victims of property crimes (excluding arson) suffered losses estimated at $15.3 billion in 2017.
- The FBI estimated law enforcement agencies nationwide made 10.6 million arrests, (excluding those for traffic violations) in 2017.
- The arrest rate for violent crime was 160.7 per 100,000 inhabitants; the arrest rate for property crime was 388.7 per 100,000 inhabitants.
- By violent crime offense, the arrest rate for murder and nonnegligent manslaughter was 3.8 per 100,000 inhabitants; rape (aggregate total using the revised and legacy definition), 7.2; robbery, 29.3; and aggravated assault, 120.4 per 100,000 inhabitants.
- Of the property crime offenses, the arrest rate for burglary was 61.7 per 100,000 inhabitants; larceny-theft, 296.0; and motor vehicle theft, 28.2. The arrest rate for arson was 2.8 per 100,000 inhabitants.
As I have said in the past and will say in the future, reports of declining crime rates is something that everyone should celebrate while continuing to consider how we can continue to do better both with crime and punishment. As reported here last week, data from the Brennan Center suggests we are continuing to do better on crime issues in 2018. Given that the latest prisoner statistics suggesting continued declining prison populations through 2017 and 2018 — e.g., as of September 20, 2018, the federal prison population was reported at 181,800, down more than 5% from the reported population of 192,170 in 2016 and down almost 20% from the 219,298 federal prisoners reported in 2013 — it seems we may be finding ways to have less reported crimes and less prison punishment.
Friday, September 21, 2018
Spotlighting ever-increasing overdose casualties amidst the last four decades of the war on drugs
A new article in Science presents some notable data and observations about drug overdoses over the last 40 years in the US. This article by six public health researchers is titled "Changing dynamics of the drug overdose epidemic in the United States from 1979 through 2016." Here is its full abstract:
The epidemic of substance use disorders and drug overdose deaths is a growing public health crisis in the United States. Every day, 174 people die from drug overdoses. Currently, opioids (including prescription opioids, heroin, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and its chemical analogs) are the leading cause of overdose deaths. The overdose mortality data can reveal the complex and evolving dynamics of drug use in the United States.
Reports on the U.S. drug overdose epidemic tend to focus on changes in yearly statistics. Improved understanding of the long-term dynamics of the overdose epidemic may aid in the development of more effective epidemic prevention and control strategies. At present, there are no reliable methods to forecast the likely future course of the epidemic. We focused on deaths from overdoses as a relatively reliable metric of the epidemic because all deaths are required to be reported in all U.S. states and territories using the standardized International Classification of Diseases. In an effort to understand the epidemic dynamics and perhaps predict its future course, we analyzed records of 599,255 deaths from 1979 through 2016 from the National Vital Statistics System where unintentional drug poisoning was identified as the main cause of death. We examined the time course of the overall number of deaths; the contributions of individual drugs (prescription opioids, heroin, synthetic opioids like fentanyl, methadone, cocaine, methamphetamine) to the overall curve; changes in the populations most affected by each drug as measured by demographic factors of age, sex, race, and urbanicity; and changes in the geographic distribution of deaths due to each drug as measured by the county of residence of each decedent.
The overall mortality rate for unintentional drug poisonings in the United States grew exponentially from 1979 through 2016. This exponentially increasing mortality rate has tracked along a remarkably smooth trajectory (log linear R2 = 0.99) for at least 38 years (left panel). By contrast, the trajectories of mortality rates from individual drugs have not tracked along exponential trajectories. Cocaine was a leading cause in 2005–2006, which was overtaken successively by prescription opioids, then heroin, and then synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. The demographic patterns of deaths due to each drug have also shown substantial variability over time. Until 2010, most deaths were in 40- to 50-year-old persons, from cocaine and increasingly from prescription drugs. Deaths from heroin and then fentanyl have subsequently predominated, affecting younger persons, ages 20 to 40 (middle panel). Mortality rates for males have exceeded those for females for all drugs. Rates for whites exceeded those for blacks for all opioids, but rates were much greater among blacks for cocaine. Death rates for prescription drugs were greater for rural than urban populations. The geographic patterns of deaths also vary by drug. Prescription opioid deaths are widespread across the United States (right panel), whereas heroin and fentanyl deaths are predominantly located in the northeastern United States and methamphetamine deaths in the southwestern United States. Cocaine deaths tend to be associated with urban centers. The online manuscript provides many details of the patterns of mortality in these data.
The U.S. drug overdose epidemic has been inexorably tracking along an exponential growth curve since at least 1979. Although there have been transient periods of minor acceleration or deceleration, the overall drug overdose mortality rate has regularly returned to the exponential growth curve. This historical pattern of predictable growth for at least 38 years suggests that the current opioid epidemic may be a more recent manifestation of an ongoing longer-term process. This process may continue along this path for several more years into the future. Paradoxically, there has been substantial variability with which specific drugs have become dominant in varying populations and geographic locales. This variability all but negates the possibility of confident predictions about the future role of specific drugs. Indeed, it is possible that a future overdose epidemic may be driven by a new or obscure drug that is not among the leading causes of drug overdose death today. Understanding the forces that are holding multiple subepidemics together onto a smooth exponential trajectory may be important in revealing, and effectively dealing with, the root causes of the epidemic.
Critically, this article makes no effort to suggest any link between overdose data and modern criminal law enforcement efforts described as the "war on drugs." But I still find remarkable that these data in the article start with a relatively low overdose rate right before the Reagan Administration kicked the war on drugs into high gear. If preventing or reducing deaths from drug overdoses is one goal of the the drug war, this article spotlights just how poorly we have been doing on this particular front of the war over the last four decades.
Recent prior related post:
Thursday, September 20, 2018
Brennan Center reports on encouraging 2018 crime data based on preliminary data from largest 30 US cities
The folks at the Brennan Center for Justice have this notable new report, titled "Crime and Murder in 2018: A Preliminary Analysis," which finds that "across the cities where data is available, the overall murder and crime rates are projected to decline in 2018." Here is more from the start of the short and heartening report:
This report analyzes available crime data from police departments in the 30 largest U.S. cities. It finds that across the cities where data is available, the overall murder and crime rates are projected to decline in 2018, continuing similar decreases from the previous year. This report is based on preliminary data and is intended to provide an early snapshot of crime in 2018 in the 30 largest cities. This data will be updated in later reports.
Declines in homicide rates appear especially pronounced in cities that saw the most significant spikes during 2015 and 2016. These findings directly undercut claims that American cities are experiencing a crime wave. Instead, they suggest that increases in the murder rate in 2015 and 2016 were temporary, rather than signaling a reversal in the long-term downward trend....
Murder: The 2018 murder rate in these cities is projected to be 7.6 percent lower than last year. This estimate is based on data from 29 of the nation’s 30 largest cities. This murder rate is expected to be approximately equal to 2015’s rate, near the bottom of the historic post-1990 decline....
Overall Crime: At the time of publication, full crime data — covering all Part I index crimes tracked by the FBI — were only available from 19 of the 30 largest cities. (Past Brennan Center reports included, on average, 21 cities.) In these cities, the overall crime rate for 2018 is projected to decrease by 2.9 percent, essentially holding stable. If this estimate holds, this group of cities will experience the lowest crime rate this year since at least 1990. These findings will be updated with new data when available.
This report does not present violent crime data because the authors could not collect sufficient data by the time of publication.
Thursday, September 13, 2018
"Can We Downsize Our Prisons and Jails Without Compromising Public Safety? Findings from California's Prop 47"
The title of this post is the title of this new article in Criminology & Public Policy authored by Bradley Bartos and Charis Kubrin. Here is its abstract:
Our study represents the first effort to evaluate systematically Proposition 47's (Prop 47's) impact on California's crime rates. With a state‐level panel containing violent and property offenses from 1970 through 2015, we employ a synthetic control group design to approximate California's crime rates had Prop 47 not been enacted. Our findings suggest that Prop 47 had no effect on homicide, rape, aggravated assault, robbery, or burglary. Larceny and motor vehicle thefts, however, seem to have increased moderately after Prop 47, but these results were both sensitive to alternative specifications of our synthetic control group and small enough that placebo testing cannot rule out spuriousness.
As the United States engages in renewed debates regarding the scale and cost of its incarcerated population, California stands at the forefront of criminal justice reform. Although California reduced its prison population by 13,000 through Prop 47, critics argue anecdotally that the measure is responsible for recent crime upticks across the state. We find little empirical support for these claims. Thus, our findings suggest that California can downsize its prisons and jails without compromising public safety.
The authored of this research also have this new commentary in Governing headlined "The Myth That Crime Rises as Prisons Shrink: California's dramatic reduction in its prison populations hasn't compromised public safety." Here is an excerpt:
Approved by the voters in 2014, Prop 47 was controversial from the start. It downgraded the lowest-level non-violent drug and petty-theft crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. Critics warned that the measure would embolden would-be criminals as felony arrests throughout the state plummeted. After Prop 47 went into effect in 2014, lowering prison populations by 13,000, that controversy only escalated. Soon law-enforcement officials were calling for the measure to be repealed. They blamed rising crime rates on Prop 47.
But the science doesn't support the assertion that Prop 47 is to blame. We recently published a study that was the first effort to systematically evaluate Prop 47's impact on crime in California. Our research found that the proposition had no appreciable impact on crime in the year following its enactment.
Saturday, August 25, 2018
"Explaining Misperceptions of Crime"
The title of this post is the title of this paper I saw earlier this summer via SSRN which I have been meaning to post. The paper is authored by Jane Esberg and Jonathan Mummolo and here is its abstract:
Promoting public safety is a central mandate of government. But despite decades of dramatic improvements, most Americans believe crime is rising — a mysterious pattern that may pervert the criminal justice policymaking process. What explains this disconnect? We test five plausible explanations: survey mismeasurement, extrapolation from local crime conditions, lack of exposure to facts, partisan cues and the racialization of crime.
Cross-referencing over a decade of crime records with geolocated polling data and original survey experiments, we show individuals readily update beliefs when presented with accurate crime statistics, but this effect is attenuated when statistics are embedded in a typical crime news article, and confidence in perceptions is diminished when a copartisan elite undermines official statistics. We conclude Americans misperceive crime because of the frequency and manner of encounters with relevant statistics. Our results suggest widespread misperceptions are likely to persist barring foundational changes in Americans’ information consumption habits, or elite assistance.
Friday, August 03, 2018
Interesting new data suggesting important recent recidivism reduction
The folks at Pew have this interesting and important new data analysis under the title "The Changing State of Recidivism: Fewer People Going Back to Prison: Data show the number returning 3 years later is down by nearly a quarter." Here is the heart of the data:
The share of people who return to state prison three years after being released — the most common measure of recidivism — dropped by nearly a quarter over a recent seven-year period, according to an analysis by The Pew Charitable Trusts of federal Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) data on prisoners released in 2005 and 2012.
Pew analyzed publicly accessible data from the 23 states that reported reliable prison admissions and release data to BJS from 2005 through 2015. Among prisoners released in 2005, 48 percent returned to prison by the end of 2008. By comparison, among those released in those states in 2012, 37 percent had at least one new prison admission by the end of 2015. That translates into a drop of 23 percent. The states included in the analysis accounted for about two-thirds of those released from state prisons nationwide each year.
Longer-term recidivism also fell. Prisoners released in these states in 2010 were 13 percent less likely than the 2005 cohort to return to prison at least once by the end of the fifth year after release. Included in these numbers are people sent back to prison for a new crime or for violating the terms of their post-prison supervision....
Pew undertook this research to compile and make public the most current multistate data on recidivism trends. The BJS national report on state prison recidivism released in May 2018 presents nine years of data on people released from 30 states in 2005, but it includes no information on prisoners released since then.
To obtain more recent data, Pew researchers used publicly available administrative numbers that BJS collected from states for the National Corrections Reporting Program. State prisoners are assigned unique identifiers, enabling researchers to track when they are released and whether they return to prison — except in cases in which a prisoner is released in one state and readmitted to prison in another. Pew analyzed data from the 23 states that consistently reported prison admissions and releases every year from 2005 to 2015. The cohorts ranged from 392,000 to 458,000 released prisoners....
Reducing recidivism improves public safety, reduces taxpayer spending on prisons, and helps formerly incarcerated people successfully resume family and community responsibilities. But a lack of data has complicated efforts to understand the aggregate effects of myriad federal, state, and local efforts to reduce reoffending. This analysis shows that meaningful improvements in recidivism are occurring.
Sunday, July 22, 2018
More old-school, tough-on-crime talk and thinking from Attorney General Jeff Sessions
Attorney General Jeff Sessions delivered these remarks today at the 2018 Summer Conference for the Prosecuting Attorneys' Council of Georgia. Much of what he said will sound familiar to those who have followed his public speeches, but today I was really struck by a certain logical disconnect in some of his standard rhetoric. Here are excerpts, with bold added to highlight key passages for follow-up comments:
From the early 1990s until 2014, the crime rate steadily came down across the country. But from 2014 to 2016, the trends reversed. The violent crime rate went up by nearly seven percent. Robberies went up. Assaults went up nearly 10 percent. Rape went up by nearly 11 percent. Murder shot up by more than 20 percent!...
We’ve got to get back on track. We must take these recent developments seriously and consider carefully what can be done about them. Yielding to these trends is not an option for America and certainly not to us in law enforcement. We have clear goals. From day one — I plainly stated our goal at DOJ — reduce crime, reduce homicides, reduce prescriptions, and reduce overdose deaths!...
We’ve got to be smart and fair about who we put behind bars and for how long. This is not mindless “mass incarceration”. But prison does play a role. Two months ago, the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics released a report on the recidivism rate of inmates released from state prisons in 30 states.
This is the longest-term study that BJS has ever done on recidivism and perhaps the largest. It was designed and started by the previous administration. The results are clear and very important — historic importance. The reality is confirms what experienced professionals like yourselves have seen.
The study found that 83 percent of 60,000 state prisoners released in 2005 were arrested again within nine years. That’s five out of every six.
The study shows that two-thirds of those — a full 68 percent — were arrested within the first three years. Almost half were arrested within a year — one year – of being released. The study estimates that the 400,000 state prisoners released in 2005 were arrested nearly 2 million times during the nine-year period — an average of five arrests each.
Virtually none of these released prisoners were arrested merely for probation or parole violations: 99 percent of those arrested during the 9-year follow-up period were arrested for something other than a probation or parole violation.
In many cases, former inmates were arrested for an offense at least as serious — if not more so — as the crime that got them in jail in the first place. It will not surprise you that this is often true for drug offenders. Many have thought that most drug offenders are young experimenters or persons who just made a mistake. But the study shows a deeper concern.
Seventy-seven percent of all released drug offenders were arrested for a non-drug crime within nine years. Presumably, many were arrested for drug crimes also. Importantly, nearly half of those arrests were for a violent crime. Sometimes arrests lead to treatment, drug courts — often the problem is more serious.
Recidivism is no little matter. It is a fact of life that must be understood. But overall, the good news is that the professionals in law enforcement know what works in crime. We’ve been studying this and working on this for 40 years.
As any prosecutor in this room can tell you, when a criminal knows with certainty that he is facing real time, he is a lot more willing to confess and cooperate with prosecutors. On the other hand, when the sentence is uncertain and up to the whims of the judge, criminals are a lot more willing to take a chance.
Our goal as prosecutors is not to fill up the courts or fill up the prisons. Our goal is not to manage crime or merely to punish crime. Our goal is to reduce crime in America....
Law enforcement is crime prevention. When we enforce our laws, we prevent new crimes from happening. As prosecutors, we have a difficult job, but our efforts at the federal, state, and local levels have a real impact. With every conviction we secure, we make our communities safer.
A blog post is an imperfect forum to work through all the particulars of AG Sessions' speech. But his extended discussion of the BJS recidivism data (which concerns only state prisoners) suggests that modern prisons — at least in the late 1990s and early 2000s — functionally operated to make a lot of criminals worse, which in turn suggests that sending more people to prison would be a recipe for making ever more aggravated criminals. Of course, this is what "professionals" generally know: time in prison tends to be criminogenic. As Professor Mark Kleiman puts it, brute force often fails and we ought to seek to (and likely can) achieve less crime with less punishment.
Put another way, the BJS recidivism data suggest we were doing something quite wrong with our prison policies even as crime was dropping from the early 1990s until 2014. And yet the tenor of this speech, and what seems to be AG Sessions' general disaffinity for any federal criminal justice reforms, suggest AG Sessions is ever eager to embrace and champion all the policies and practices that contributed to modern mass incarceration despite evidence that those "old-school" policies and practices produce startling recidivism rates.
The significant crime spike that preceded AG Sessions coming in to office will seemingly always serves as a foundation and justification for him to promote and justify ever more federal prosecutors bringing ever more federal prosecutions. But, as the title of this post hints, his old-school talk and thinking is tired and tiring, and likely disserves his presumably genuine commitment "to reduce crime in America."
Wednesday, July 11, 2018
Isn't it about time AG Jeff Sessions stops talking about "surging violent crime"?
The question in the title of this post is prompted by a comment appearing in this new Justice Department press release headlined "Attorney General Jeff Sessions Welcomes Brian A. Benczkowski as Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division." Here is the start of this release with a key phrase highlighted:
Attorney General Jeff Sessions today welcomed the confirmation of Brian Allen Benczkowski as the Department of Justice’s Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division. “Brian is an outstanding lawyer with a diverse public service and criminal law background spanning over 20 years,” said Attorney General Sessions. “This will be the sixth senior position Brian has held at the Department, and we are fortunate to have someone with his breadth of experience and strong leadership skills willing to serve again. At a time like this — with surging violent crime and an unprecedented drug epidemic — this position is especially important.”
Had AG Sessions been speaking in January 2017, I could see a plausible basis for him to talk about it being "a time ... with surging violent crime." But circa July 2018, all indications seem to be that violent crime is back to declining at least slightly: (1) the latest official FBI release reported that "overall violent crime decreased 0.8 percent in the first six months of 2017 compared with the same time frame in 2016," (2) the violent crime survey from the Major Cities Chiefs association for year-end 2017 and for the first part of 2018 show violent crime decreasing, and (3) the Brennan Center recently found, in a "final analysis of crime rates in 2017, ... an overall decline in rates of violent crime, murder, and overall crime in the 30 largest American cities."
I understand why and how politicians end up being sloppy with crime and punishment rhetoric, and I am not troubled when AG Sessions says violent crime is too high or employs similar terminology when espousing his tough-on-crime philosophy and policies. But facts matter and should matter to the Attorney General. And, according to all the data of which I am now aware, the simple fact is that the United States is not right now experiencing "surging violent crime."
So, in addition to wanting also to welcome Brian Benczkowski as Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, I want to request that he be a bit more conscientious with his crime rhetoric than his boss (and especially his boss's boss).
Tuesday, June 19, 2018
"Does Watching TV Sports Lower Crime Rates?"
I love the notion that I am doing my part for public safety by sitting on my arse watching sports on the telly. Consequently, I was excited to see this piece at The Crime Report which has as its headline the title of this post. Of course, the research does not suggest my TV viewership prevents others from committing crimes, but the research is still interesting all the sane. Here is an excerpts (and with a link to the underlying research):
If Americans spent more time watching televised sports, there might be a decrease in crime, according to a study by the UC Davis Violence Prevention Research Program. In “Entertainment as Crime Prevention: Evidence from Chicago Sports Games,” published in the Journal of Sports Economics last month, researchers Ryan Copus and Hannah Laqueur observed consistent decreases in crime during the times that games aired in Chicago.
Copus and Laqueur found that overall crime during the Bears “Monday Night Football” is roughly 15 percent lower than the same time on Monday nights when the Bears are not playing, and noted similar but smaller effects for Chicago’s basketball and baseball teams. More popular games showed a stronger effect, with the Super Bowl producing the most dramatic reduction: a decrease of approximately 25 percent during game coverage, amounting to roughly 60 fewer crimes.
While violence in the media has provoked concerns about increasing aggressive behavior among viewers, little exploration has been made of television’s power to divert people from criminal activity. The study’s results bear out the “incapacitation hypothesis”: If people are entertained, they are not committing crimes. The authors believe that the diversionary power of movies, television, and video games may compensate for their potential short-term aggression-inducing effects....
The study’s results do not exclude the possibility that those who forgo criminal activity while watching a game will commit crime in the days or weeks before or after the game takes place instead. Still, Copus and Laqueur’s analysis could be significant to the study of crime control given what it suggests about criminal behavior — namely, that “some share of crime may be best understood not as a predetermined and calculated activity but rather as itself recreation.”
“There is not a set ‘demand’ for criminal activity,” the study’s authors write. “Rather, some amount of crime is opportunistic and situational — if prevented today, it does not inevitably occur tomorrow.”
Wednesday, June 13, 2018
"The Impact of Proposition 47 on Crime and Recidivism"
Proposition 47 continues to be the subject of much debate. The reform — which reduced penalties for certain lower-level drug and property offenses — has undoubtedly played a significant role in California’s recent efforts to prioritize the state’s prison and jail space for higher-level offenders. Prison and jail incarceration levels declined substantially under Prop 47. We also observe sudden drops in arrests and jail bookings.
The reduced reliance on incarceration raised concerns among some observers about Prop 47’s impact on public safety. We find no convincing evidence that violent crime increased as a result of Prop 47. Though there has been a recent uptick in violent crime, this trend appears to have started prior to the reform. Additional factors unrelated to criminal activity — a change by the FBI in 2014 that expanded the definition of rape, and significant under-reporting of violent crimes from 2008 to 2014 by the LAPD — contributed to the observed increase. Excluding violent crime data from the LAPD shows that recent increases in violent crime rates in California were comparable to those of similar states.
Our analysis does find some evidence of Prop 47’s impact on property crime rates, which went up immediately after the law was implemented. This increase has been primarily driven by larceny thefts, particularly thefts from motor vehicles and shoplifting. We find the increase in the larceny theft rate in California to be nearly 9 percent higher than that of similar states. In 2016, reported shoplifting decreased notably, but we do not see signs of a reduction in thefts from motor vehicles. Considering the high costs of incarceration in California, this highlights the need for alternative crime-reducing strategies, consistent with our earlier research assessing the impact of realignment on crime (see Lofstrom and Raphael 2013).
The policy goals of Prop 47 are to reduce contact with the criminal justice system and to reduce recidivism for lower-level drug and property offenders. Our analysis, using detailed data from 12 California counties, shows declines in jail bookings as well as rearrest and reconviction rates under Prop 47. We find the policy change reduced jail bookings for Prop 47 offenses by more than one-third. Prop 47 also lowered the number of people booked into jail by nearly 50,000 in these counties during the year following its passage.
Lower rearrest rates for individuals released after serving sentences for Prop 47 offenses were driven by a reduction in rearrests for drug possession, while lower reconviction rates were driven by a drop in reconvictions for both Prop 47 property and drug offenses. We find evidence that Prop 47 reduced both arrests by law enforcement and convictions resulting from prosecutions by district attorneys. Reduced levels of correctional contact — which may allow for better continuity of employment and improved family and community stability — could be a factor in these lower recidivism rates. However, given the sudden and noticeable decline in arrests after the reform, we are not able to separate the effects of Prop 47 on individual reoffending behavior from its effects on the practices of criminal justice agencies.
Prop 47 aimed to reduce recidivism rates by shifting resources from incarceration to mental health and substance-use treatment for lower-level drug and property offenders. This redirection of state correctional savings to treatment interventions has only recently been allocated, and thus our recidivism analysis does not capture individuals released after the implementation of these programs. A complete assessment of the impacts of Prop 47 will need to account for how increased interventions may affect crime, criminal justice contact, and recidivism, as well as responses by law enforcement to the reform.
Substantial reductions in reoffending as a result of the treatment programs funded by Prop 47 savings seem unlikely as this funding represents a very small share of corrections spending in California. However, the initiative offers opportunities for local agencies to create or expand promising programs. It also requires that these programs be objectively evaluated, in hopes of identifying and scaling up successful interventions. As local agencies and the state learn more about which programs are effective in reducing recidivism, Prop 47 could provide a path toward the use of more cost-effective, evidence-based strategies within the criminal justice system.
One of several far-reaching corrections reforms, Prop 47 further decreased California’s reliance on incarceration: the state’s incarceration rate is now at levels not seen since the early 1990s. Importantly, crime rates remain historically low, comparable to those in the 1960s. While research so far has not revealed convincing evidence that violent crime has risen as a result of reforms, some property crimes have increased. And though Prop 47 reduced recidivism rates for lower-level drug and property offenses, it is not clear to what extent this is driven by reduced reoffending, as law enforcement and prosecutorial changes likely contributed to the declines. To counteract the increases in property crimes like shoplifting and thefts from motor vehicles — and to improve reentry outcomes of released offenders — policymakers and practitioners will need to work together to identify effective programs and policies that will reduce recidivism and maintain public safety
Brennan Center provides a "Final Analysis" of crime in big cities in 2017
The Brennan Center for Justice has released this short document titled "Crime in 2017: Final Analysis" reporting on the rates of violent crime, murder, and overall crime in the 30 largest American cities. Here is the start of the document:
In this final analysis of crime rates in 2017, the Brennan Center finds an overall decline in rates of violent crime, murder, and overall crime in the 30 largest American cities, though homicide rates in some cities remain above 2015 levels.
The data reported here refine an initial report released in September, Crime in 2017: A Preliminary Analysis, which concluded by noting that “these findings directly undercut any claim that the nation is experiencing a crime wave.” A December update reached the same conclusion, showing rates of crime, violent crime, and homicide all declining.
Updated Tables 1 and 2 show conclusions similar to the Brennan Center’s September and December reports, with slightly different percentages:
• The overall crime rate in the 30 largest cities in 2017 declined slightly from the previous year, falling by 2.1 percent to remain at historic lows.
• The violent crime rate declined as well, falling by 1 percent from 2016, essentially remaining stable. Violent crime remains near the bottom of the nation’s 30-year downward trend.
• The 2017 murder rate in the 30 largest cities declined by 3.4 percent year-over-year. Large decreases in Chicago and Houston, as well as small decreases in other cities, contributed to this decline. The murder rate in Chicago, which increased significantly in 2015 and 2016, declined by 12.3 percent in 2017, but remains more than 60 percent above 2014 levels. The murder rate in Houston fell by nearly 17 percent. New York City’s murder rate also declined again, to 3.4 killings per 100,000 people.
• Some cities saw their murder rates rise in 2017, such as Baltimore (7.8 percent) and Philadelphia (13.1 percent). These increases suggest a need to better understand how and why murder is increasing in some cities. While Las Vegas saw its murder rate rise significantly, by 23.5 percent, this was due to the mass shooting at Mandalay Bay on Oct. 1, 2017.
Saturday, June 09, 2018
Latest notable statements by AG Jeff Sessions about crime rates and overdose deaths
Just like US Presidents gets to see official jobs numbers before they are officially made public, I suspect US Attorneys General get to see crime data before they are officially made public. I am thus always eager to see what AG Jeff Sessions has to say about crime trends, and so these comments made Friday as part of these extended remarks to the Western Conservative Summit caught my eye:
In the Trump administration, we know whose side we’re on. We’re on the side of law and order — and we back the blue, not the criminals. We want every American to live in peace.
In recent weeks I sent in reinforcements: more than 300 additional federal prosecutors to high-crime parts of this country. This is the biggest surge in prosecutors in decades.
These efforts are especially important because, when President Trump took office, the country had been reeling from a sudden increase in crime. Crime had been declining for two decades. The violent crime rate had been cut in half. The murder rate was cut in half. Aggravated assault was cut almost in half. Robbery fell by 62 percent.
But from 2014 to 2016, those trends reversed. In the last two years of the Obama administration, the violent crime rate went up by nearly seven percent. Robberies went up. Assaults went up nearly 10 percent. Rape went up by nearly 11 percent. Murder increased by more than 20 percent.
But under President Donald Trump, we are stopping these trends. He is a strong supporter of our law enforcement efforts. As he said during Police Week, “If we want to bring violent crime down, then we must stand up for our police.” And make no mistake, our goal is to bring crime down.
In the Trump era, the ACLU isn’t making our law enforcement policies. The professionals are. And we’re seeing results. In the first six months of last year, the increases in the murder rate slowed and violent crime actually went down. Publicly available data for the rest of the year suggest further progress.
Preliminary data for 2018 look even better. The Major City Police Chiefs Association has reported a 3.8 percent decline in violent crime and 4.7 percent decline in murders, based on 65 reporting agencies.
New CDC preliminary data show that last fall, drug overdoses finally started to decline. Heroin overdose deaths declined steadily from June to October, as did overdose deaths from prescription opioids.
We need this progress right now — because not only was crime increasing at the end of the Obama administration, but drug overdose deaths in this country increased by more than a third in just two years.
Tuesday, May 08, 2018
In latest speech, AG Jeff Sessions calls "war on crime and drugs ... a roaring success"
Today, Attorney General Jefferson Sessions delivered this speech at the Gatlinburg Law Enforcement Training Conference. The use of the phrase "roaring success" to describe the "war on crime and drugs" caught my attention, and here is some context and some more notable passages from what AG Sessions had to say today:
My best judgement is that working together we have an historic opportunity to make our country better, safer, and more prosperous. We don’t come to this conference with a blank slate. We are experienced. We are professional. We are trained to do that which the times demand.
The problem is that we got away from the proven policies that reduced crime all over this country: community-based policing, incarcerating serious repeat criminals, new technologies, more officers, and more prosecutors. The war on crime and drugs did not fail. It was a roaring success. The success came as a direct result of rejecting the criticism and policies of the progressive left. The country gave its attention to the American people and crime victims for a change. High school drug use rates and homicide rates fell by half after the dreamland policies of the fuzzy-headed left were rejected, and sound professional policies were adopted....
Of course we don’t need anyone in jail that doesn’t need to be there. But revolving prison doors that allow dangerous criminals to prey on the innocent will not produce safety. Indeed homicide increased by 12 percent in 2015 and 8 percent in 2016 after 22 years of decline. Drug use, addiction and overdoes deaths have surged. We must work resolutely to stop those trends and to reverse them. We know how. We have proven what works. Science proves what works. We share good practices at conferences like this all the time.
My goal is to support you, to empower you, and to unleash you and your law enforcement partners to apply the good and lawful policies that are proven to make our communities safer.
This point was given a powerful support just a few weeks ago when Paul Cassel and Richard Fowles of the University of Utah analyzed the dramatic surge in Chicago homicides in 2016. Homicides went from 480 in 2015 to 754 in 2016 — a stunning event. They asked why. They considered numerous possible causes. They concluded the 58 percent increase was caused by the abrupt decline in “stop and frisks” in 2015. There had been a horrific police shooting, protests, and an ACLU lawsuit. The settlement of that lawsuit resulted in a decline in stops from 40,000 per month to 10,000 per month. Arrests fell also. In sum, they conclude that these actions in late 2016, conservatively calculated, resulted in approximately 236 additional victims killed and over 1,100 additional shootings in 2016 alone. The scholars call it the “ACLU effect”.
Look, this does not surprise you experienced professionals. If you want crime to go up, let the ACLU run the police department. If you want public safety, call the professionals. That is what President Trump believes and that is what I believe. Let’s put our focus on what works.
These are our explicit goals for 2018: to bring down violent crime, homicides, opioid prescriptions, and overdose deaths....
We have tolerated and winked at the illegality in our immigration system for far too long. It’s time that we put ourselves on the path to end illegal immigration once and for all. And, that will be one step towards reducing crime. And it will build on the centerpiece of our crime reduction strategy: Project Safe Neighborhoods, or PSN.
Here’s how it works. I want our U.S. Attorneys to target and prioritize prosecutions of the most violent people in the most violent areas. And I’ve directed that they engage with a wide variety of stakeholders – our state and local law enforcement partners, as well as others like community groups and victims’ advocates – in order to identify the needs specific to their communities and develop a customized violent crime reduction plan.
This approach has been proven to work. One study showed that, in its first seven years, PSN reduced violent crime overall by 4.1 percent, with case studies showing reductions in certain areas of up to 42 percent. PSN has the flexibility necessary for it to work in every district. PSN is going to build on the results we have achieved across America over the past year.
In 2017, the Department of Justice brought cases against the greatest number of violent criminals in a quarter of a century. We charged the most federal firearm prosecutions in a decade. We convicted more than 1,200 gang members. We have already charged hundreds of people suspected of contributing to the ongoing opioid crisis — including more than 150 doctors for opioid-related crimes. Sixteen of these doctors prescribed more than 20.3 million pills illegally. Our Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Forces have also indicted more than 6,500 defendants in opioid-related investigations and forfeited more than $150 million in the past year.
From 2016 to 2017 our fentanyl prosecutions more than tripled. And in the past month and a half, the DEA has seized nearly 200 pounds of suspected fentanyl in cases from Detroit to New York to Boston. Fentanyl is 50 times as powerful as heroin, and it’s the killer drug. It’s got to be a priority for all of us. All of this hard work is paying off. There are some good signs in the preliminary data that the increases in murder and violent crime appear to have slowed and violent crime may have actually begun to decrease. Publicly available data for the rest of the year suggest further progress.
Sunday, March 25, 2018
"Prison Crime and the Economics of Incarceration"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper authored by Ben Gifford now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:
As America’s prison and jail populations have skyrocketed, a wealth of empirical scholarship has emerged to measure the benefits and costs of incarceration. The benefits, from an empirical perspective, consist of the amount of crime prevented by locking people up, as well as the value of that prevented crime to society. The costs consist of direct state expenditures, lost inmate productivity, and a host of other collateral harms. Once these benefits and costs are quantified, empirical scholars are able to assess whether it “pays,” from an economic perspective, to incarcerate more or fewer criminals than we currently do.
Drawing on this academic literature, policymakers at all levels of government have begun using cost-benefit analysis to address a wide range of criminal justice issues. In addition to evaluating broader proposals to increase or decrease incarceration rates, policymakers are assessing the costs and benefits of myriad narrower reforms that implicate the economics of incarceration. In each of these areas, policymakers rely heavily on empirical scholars’ work, whether by adopting their general methods or incorporating their specific results.
While these economic analyses of incarceration offer important insights, they suffer from a near-universal flaw: they fail to account for crime that occurs within prisons and jails. Instead, when scholars and policymakers measure the benefits of incarceration, they look only to crime prevented “in society.” Similarly, when they measure the costs, they ignore the pains of victimization suffered by inmates and prison staff. This exclusion is significant, as prison crime is rampant, both in relative and absolute terms.
To address this oversight, this Article makes several contributions: First, it provides a comprehensive review of the literature on the benefits and costs of incarceration, and it explores a range of ways in which policymakers are applying this economic framework. Second, it makes a sustained normative argument for the inclusion of prison crime in our economic calculus. Third, it draws on the scarce available data to estimate the impact that the inclusion of prison crime has on our cost-benefit analyses. As might be expected, once prison crime is accounted for, the economics of incarceration become significantly less favorable.
Wednesday, March 21, 2018
"Measuring Change: From Rates of Recidivism to Markers of Desistance"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper authored by Cecelia Klingele now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Reducing the incidence of crime is a primary task of the criminal justice system, and one for which it rightly should be held accountable. The system’s success is frequently judged by the recidivism rates of those who are subject to various criminal justice interventions, from treatment programs to imprisonment. This Article suggests that, however popular, recidivism alone is a poor metric for gauging the success of the criminal justice interventions, or of those who participate in them. This is true primarily because recidivism is a binary measure, and behavioral change is a multi-faceted process. Accepting recidivism as a valid stand-alone metric imposes on the criminal justice system a responsibility outside its capacity, demanding that its success turn on transforming even the most serious and intractable of offenders into fully law-abiding citizens. Instead of measuring success by simple rates of recidivism, policymakers should seek more nuanced metrics.
One such alternative is readily-available: markers of desistance. Desistance, which in this context means the process by which individuals move from a life that is crime-involved to one that is not, is evidenced not just by whether a person re-offends at all, but also by increasing intervals between offenses and patterns of de-escalating behavior. These easily-obtainable metrics, which are already widely relied on by criminologists, can yield more nuanced information about the degree to which criminal justice interventions correlate to positive (or negative) life change. They also resemble more closely the ways in which other fields that address behavioral change, such as education, attempt to measure change over time.
Measuring the success of criminal justice interventions by reference to their effects on desistance would mean seeking evidence of progress, not perfection. Such an approach would allow criminal justice agencies to be held accountable for promoting positive change without asking them to do the impossible, thereby creating new pathways by which the criminal justice system could be recognized for achieving real and measurable progress in crime reduction.
Sunday, March 11, 2018
"More Imprisonment Does Not Reduce State Drug Problems"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new Issue Brief from Pew with a message summarized by the document's subtitle: "Data show no relationship between prison terms and drug misuse." Here is the document's overview:
Nearly 300,000 people are held in state and federal prisons in the United States for drug-law violations, up from less than 25,000 in 1980. These offenders served more time than in the past: Those who left state prisons in 2009 had been behind bars an average of 2.2 years, a 36 percent increase over 1990, while prison terms for federal drug offenders jumped 153 percent between 1988 and 2012, from about two to roughly five years.
As the U.S. confronts a growing epidemic of opioid misuse, policymakers and public health officials need a clear understanding of whether, how, and to what degree imprisonment for drug offenses affects the nature and extent of the nation’s drug problems. To explore this question, The Pew Charitable Trusts examined publicly available 2014 data from federal and state law enforcement, corrections, and health agencies. The analysis found no statistically significant relationship between state drug imprisonment rates and three indicators of state drug problems: self-reported drug use, drug overdose deaths, and drug arrests.
The findings — which Pew sent to the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis in a letter dated June 19, 2017 — reinforce a large body of prior research that cast doubt on the theory that stiffer prison terms deter drug misuse, distribution, and other drug-law violations. The evidence strongly suggests that policymakers should pursue alternative strategies that research shows work better and cost less.
Tuesday, February 06, 2018
"The Fatal Flaw in John R. Lott Jr.’s Study on Illegal Immigrant Crime in Arizona"
A few weeks ago, I posted here a link to an empirical study authored by John Lott titled "Undocumented Immigrants, U.S. Citizens, and Convicted Criminals in Arizona." Today I saw this posting at Cato responding to Lott's study authored by Alex Nowrasteh under the title that is the title of this post. The response claims that Lott misinterpreted the most important variable in his study, and it starts and ends this way (with links from the original):
Economist John R. Lott Jr. of the Crime Prevention Research Center released a working paper in which he purports to find that illegal immigrants in Arizona from 1985 through 2017 have a far higher prison admissions rate than U.S. citizens. Media from Fox News to the Washington Times and the Arizona Republic have reported on Lott’s claims while Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Representative Paul Gosar (R-AZ) have echoed them from their positions of authority. However, Lott made a small but fatal error that undermines his finding.
Lott wrote his paper based on a dataset he obtained from the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) that lists all admitted prisoners in the state of Arizona from 1985 to 2017. According to Lott, the data allowed him to identify “whether they [the prisoners] are illegal or legal residents.” This is where Lott made his small error: The dataset does not allow him or anybody else to identify illegal immigrants.
The variable that Lott focused on is “CITIZEN.” That variable is broken down into seven categories. Lott erroneously assumed that the third category, called “non-US citizen and deportable,” only counted illegal immigrants. That is not true, non-US citizen and deportable immigrants are not all illegal immigrants. A significant proportion of non-U.S. citizens who are deported every year are legal immigrants who violate the terms of their visas in one way or the other, frequently by committing crimes. According to the American Immigration Council, about 10 percent of people deported annually are Lawful Permanent Residents or green card holders — and that doesn’t include the non-immigrants on other visas who were lawfully present in the United States and then deported. I will write more about this below.
Lott mistakenly chose a variable that combines an unknown number of legal immigrants with an unknown number of illegal immigrants. Lott correctly observed that “[l]umping together documented and undocumented immigrants (and often naturalized citizens) may mean combining very different groups of people.” Unfortunately, the variable he chose also lumped together legal immigrants and illegal immigrants.
The criminologist who sent me the ADC data also sent along a more detailed dataset for the stock of prisoners in Arizona for June 2017. This newer dataset’s CITIZEN variable is just as unusable as the same variable in the 1985 to 2017 dataset but it has an additional variable that allowed us to somewhat better identify incarcerated illegal immigrants: whether the prisoner has an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainer....
The equivalent of the “non-U.S. citizens and deportable” variable in the June 2017 ADC database is called “criminal aliens,” another category that is not synonymous with illegal immigrants. In Arizona’s ADC regulations, the government first determines whether a prisoner is a criminal alien and then investigates whether he or she is an illegal immigrant. In June 2017, only 38.3 percent of criminal aliens had ICE detainers on them and, thus, were more likely to be illegal immigrants. As a back-of-the-envelope estimation, I assumed that 38.3 percent of “non-U.S citizens and deportable” are actually illegal immigrants in the ADC’s larger 1985-2017 dataset. This back-of-the-envelope calculation turns Lott’s finding on its head. Whereas he found that 11.1 percent of the admissions to Arizona prisons in 2014 were illegal immigrants, the real percentage is a maximum of 4.3 percent, below the 4.9 percent estimated illegal immigrant share of the state’s population.
Lott’s controversial empirical findings regarding the high admission rate of illegal immigrants to Arizona prisons, a finding that contradicts virtually the entire body of research on the topic, stems from his simple misreading of a variable in the 1985-2017 ADC dataset. Lott thought that “non-U.S. citizens and deportable” describes only illegal immigrants but it does not. There is no way to identify illegal immigrants with precision in the 1985-2017 ADC dataset and their population can only be estimated through the residual statistical methods that Lott derides as “primitive.” Using another variable in the June 2017 ADC dataset that Lott did not analyze reveals that, at worst, illegal immigrants in Arizona likely have an incarceration rate lower than their percentage of that state’s population.
Prior related post:
Tuesday, January 23, 2018
New FBI crime data on first half of 2017 show encouraging declines in all areas except murder and car thefts
This new news release from the FBI, headlined "2017 Preliminary Semiannual Crime Statistics Released: Stats Show Slight Crime Decline in First Half of 2017," reveals some generally positive crime news for the start of 2017. Here are the basics:
Preliminary statistics show declines in the number of both violent crimes and property crimes reported for the first half of 2017 when compared with the first half of 2016, according to the FBI’s Preliminary Semiannual Uniform Crime Report, January - June 2017, released today. The report includes data from more than 13,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide that submitted crime data to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program.
According to the report, overall violent crime decreased 0.8 percent in the first six months of 2017 compared with the same time frame in 2016, though the number of murders and non-negligent manslaughters reported increased by 1.5 percent. Additionally, the number of rapes (revised definition) decreased 2.4 percent, robberies decreased 2.2 percent, and aggravated assaults were down 0.1 percent.
Overall reported property crime offenses dropped 2.9 percent in the first half of 2017 compared with the first half of 2016. Burglaries decreased 6.1 percent, and larceny-thefts decreased 3 percent. One area of property crime that did rise was motor vehicle thefts, with a 4.1 percent increase.
This FBI table providing year-to-year trends of the last four years provides a little more context for this latest data. It is especially encouraging to see violent crime start to tick down after two years of increases, but the continued increase in murders remains disconcerting coming on the heels of two prior years of increases. As has been the case in recent years, I suspect the homicide story is a dynamic region-specific tale with divergent numbers and stories in different cities. Indeed, this FBI chart with population breakdowns and this FBI chart with regional breakdowns seem to indicate that mid/large-sized cities in the Midwest and South account for much of the increases in murders in the first part of 2017.
UPDATE: Attorney General Jeff Sessions already has penned this commentary published by USA Today touting the good news in this new FBI crime data. Here are parts of the piece:
When President Trump was inaugurated, he made the American people a promise: “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.” It is a promise that he has kept....
Trump ran for office on a message of law and order, and he won. When he took office, he ordered the Department of Justice to stop and reverse these trends — and that is what we have been doing every day for the past year.
We have placed trust in our prosecutors again, and we’re restoring respect for law enforcement. We have invested in new resources and put in place smarter policies based on sound research.
Ensuring every neighborhood in America is safe again will take time, but we are already starting to see results.
In 2017, we brought cases against more violent criminals than in any year in decades. We charged the most federal firearm prosecutions in a decade. We convicted nearly 500 human traffickers and 1,200 gang members, and helped our international allies arrest about 4,000 MS-13 members. We also arrested and charged hundreds of people suspected with contributing to the ongoing opioid crisis.
Morale is up among our law enforcement community. Any loss of life is one too many, but it is encouraging that the number of officers killed in the line of duty declined for the first time since 2013, reaching its second lowest level in more than half a century. And we are empowering and supporting our critically important state, local and tribal law enforcement partners as we work together to protect communities from crime.
In the first six months of last year, the increase in the murder rate slowed and violent crime actually went down. Publicly available data for the rest of the year suggest further progress. For the first time in the past few years, the American people can have hope for a safer future.
Our strategy at this department of concentrating on the most violent criminals, taking down violent gang networks, prioritizing gun prosecutions, and supporting our state, local and tribal law enforcement partners has proven to work. Of course, our work is not done. Crime is still far too high — especially in the most vulnerable neighborhoods.
This first year of the Trump era shows once again that the difficult work we do alongside our state, local and tribal law enforcement partners makes a difference. Crime rates are not like the tides — we can help change them. And under Trump’s strong leadership, we will.
I fear that AG Sessions may be taking a victory lap a bit too early based on just a small bit of data from the first half of 2017. But this commentary references positive "data for the rest of the year," and that lead me to think he has a reasonable basis to expect subsequent crime data reports for 2018 to also be positive. Given that crime rates are already pretty low by historical standards, I rather like that AG Sessions is already prepared to "take ownership" of crime data. Consequently, if crime continues to trend down, he certainly can and will be in a position to take credit. And if crime does not continue to trend down, he will have some explaining to do.
Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Effective state-by-state review of recent crime rate and imprisonment rate declines
The folks at The Pew Charitable Trusts' public safety performance project have this terrific new state-by-state accounting of recent crime and incarceration rates under the heading "National Prison Rate Continues to Decline Amid Sentencing, Re-Entry Reforms: More than two-thirds of states cut crime and imprisonment from 2008-16." The infographic alone merits a click-through, and her is the accompanying text:
After peaking in 2008, the nation’s imprisonment rate fell 11 percent over eight years, reaching its lowest level since 1997, according to an analysis of new federal statistics by The Pew Charitable Trusts. The decline from 2015-16 was 2 percent, much of which was due to a drop in the number of federal prisoners. The rate at which black adults are imprisoned fell 4 percent from 2015-16 and has declined 29 percent over the past decade. The ongoing decrease in imprisonment has occurred alongside long-term reductions in crime. Since 2008, the combined national violent and property crime rate dropped 23 percent, Pew’s analysis shows.
Also since that 2008 peak, 36 states reduced their imprisonment rates, including declines of 15 percent or more in 20 states from diverse regions of the country, such as Alaska, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Connecticut. During the same period, almost every state recorded a decrease in crime with no apparent correlation to imprisonment (see Figure 1). The latest data, released Jan. 9 by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, show that trends in crime and imprisonment continue to be unrelated:
• Across the 45 states with crime declines from 2008-16, imprisonment rate changes ranged from a 35 percent decrease to a 14 percent increase.
• 35 states cut crime and imprisonment rates simultaneously.
• 21 states posted double-digit declines in both rates.
• The average crime decline across the 10 states with the greatest declines in imprisonment was 19 percent, and across the 10 states with the largest imprisonment growth it was 11 percent.
The annual national violent crime rate increased in 2015 and 2016, but many cities are reporting reductions for 2017, and both violent and total crime rates remain near record lows. National, state, and local crime rates shift for complex and poorly understood reasons, and experts offer a wide range of possible explanations; overall, however, the rates of reported violent and property crime have declined by more than half since their 1991 peaks, falling to levels not seen since the late 1960s.
Starting with Texas in 2007, more than 30 states have adopted sentencing and corrections reforms designed to improve public safety and control taxpayer costs. The reforms vary from state to state, but typically they prioritize prison space for people who have committed serious offenses and invest some of the savings in effective alternatives to incarceration. Research shows that investment in evidence-based re-entry programs reduces recidivism, contributing to declines in crime and imprisonment. Several states have cut return-to-prison rates significantly, including Georgia (35 percent) and Michigan (43 percent) over the past decade.
The lack of a consistent relationship between the crime and imprisonment trends reinforces a growing body of research and expert consensus that imprisonment in many states and the nation as a whole has long since passed the point of diminishing returns. This indicates that local, state, and federal policymakers can adopt additional reforms to reduce imprisonment without jeopardizing public safety.
Saturday, January 06, 2018
Some notable recent empirical research on crime
I recently tripped across some recent empirical crime research that seemed worth noting:
From the Journal of Public Economics, "The effect of Medicaid expansion on crime reduction: Evidence from HIFA-waiver expansions," authored by Hefei Wen, Jason Hockenberry and Janet Cummings:
Abstract: Substance use figures prominently in criminal behavior. As such expanding public insurance and improving access to substance use disorder (SUD) treatment can potentially reduce substance use and reduce crime. We examine the crime-reduction effect of Medicaid expansions through the Health Insurance Flexibility and Accountability (HIFA) waivers. We find that HIFA-waiver expansion led to a sizeable reduction in the rates of robbery, aggravated assault and larceny theft. We also show that much of the crime-reduction effect likely occurred through increasing SUD treatment rate and reducing substance use prevalence. The implied benefit-cost ratio estimate of increased treatment on reducing crime ranges from 1.8 to 3.2.
From the American Journal of Public Health, "Easiness of Legal Access to Concealed Firearm Permits and Homicide Rates in the United States," authored by Michael Siegel, Ziming Xuan, Craig Ross, Sandro Galea, Bindu Kalesan, Eric Fleegler and Kristin Goss:
Objectives. To examine the relation of “shall-issue” laws, in which permits must be issued if requisite criteria are met; “may-issue” laws, which give law enforcement officials wide discretion over whether to issue concealed firearm carry permits or not; and homicide rates.
Methods. We compared homicide rates in shall-issue and may-issue states and total, firearm, nonfirearm, handgun, and long-gun homicide rates in all 50 states during the 25-year period of 1991 to 2015. We included year and state fixed effects and numerous state-level factors in the analysis.
Results. Shall-issue laws were significantly associated with 6.5% higher total homicide rates, 8.6% higher firearm homicide rates, and 10.6% higher handgun homicide rates, but were not significantly associated with long-gun or nonfirearm homicide.
Conclusions. Shall-issue laws are associated with significantly higher rates of total, firearm-related, and handgun-related homicide.
Thursday, December 28, 2017
Wall Street Journal taking a close look at "Murder in America" while NYC hits a record low
Over the last few days, the Wall Street Journal has run these two extended articles under the label "Murder in America":
"What Makes Cities More Dangerous: Neighborhoods where killings have gone up share deepening poverty, lots of vacant properties and police pullbacks following officers’ shootings of young black men"
"What Makes Cities Safer: Killings fell in Los Angeles and Washington when police established closer ties with people living in the most violent neighborhoods; gentrification also played a role in Washington"
Meanwhile, the largest city in the US is making the largest headlines with its smallest body count ever. Via Slate here, "New York City Set to Have Fewer Murders This Year Than Any Year Since the City Began Keeping Track":
Just days from the end of 2017, New York City is set to tally a record low number of murders for the year and serious crime, more generally, will have declined for the 27th straight year. As of Wednesday, 286 murders had been committed in the city, putting New York on pace to dip below its previous homicide low of 333 in 2014. To give some perspective to how far the murder rate has dropped in the city over the past several decades, the New York Times notes this year’s murder rate is on the verge of being “the lowest since reliable records have been kept,” an unthinkable turnaround from 1990 when there were 2,245 killings in New York City.
Other types of major felony crimes — manslaughter, rape, assault, robbery, burglary, grand larceny, and car thefts — have fallen since last year and, put together, are also likely to close out the year at historic lows. The nearly 95,000 major felony crimes committed so far this year is on pace to best last year’s record low of 101,716. In 1990, by contrast, there were 527,000 major felony crimes recorded in New York City.
Tuesday, December 26, 2017
"Association of Childhood Blood Lead Levels With Criminal Offending"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new research from JAMA Pediatrics published online today. The research examines what has been for some a popular theory to try to explain when violent crime increased and decreased considerable over the last half-century. As these "Key Points" reveal, the research does not support a lead-crime connection:
Question Is childhood lead exposure associated with criminal offending in a setting where the degree of lead exposure was not confounded by socioeconomic status?
Findings In this cohort study of 553 New Zealanders observed for 38 years, lead exposure in childhood was weakly associated with official criminal conviction and self-reported offending from ages 15 to 38 years. Lead exposure was not associated with the consequential offending outcomes of a greater variety of offenses, conviction, recidivism, or violence.
Meaning Responses toward lead exposure should focus on consequences for health, not potential consequences for crime.
The notable uptick in violent crime in the US over the last two years had seemed to significantly mute a number of earlier discussions of the prospect that reduced led exposure largely explained the major modern crime declines from 1991 through 2014. Of course, neither recent crime data in the US nor this study from New Zealand can itself conclusively prove or disprove any contestable proposition. But I am always inclined in these setting to assert that human behaviors of all sorts often defy any simple explanation.
Some prior related posts talking up lead-crime links:
- Should we thank unleaded gas and the EPA for the great modern crime decline?
- Do lead exposure realities continue to best explain modern crime-rate realities?
- Fascinating lead-crime-rate forecast that incarceration levels will decline significantly in coming years
- "Research on [lead]’s effects on the brain bolsters the hypothesis that childhood exposure is linked to criminal acts"
- More useful discussion of the (under-discussed) lead-crime-rate connections
- Does latest FBI report of crime's decline provide still more support for lead-exposure-crime link?
Wednesday, December 20, 2017
Brennan Center provides its latest encouraging accounting of crime in 2017
Ames Grawert and James Cullen at The Brennan Center has authored this new report titled "Crime in 2017: Updated Analysis." Here is how it gets started:
In September, the Brennan Center analyzed available crime data from the nation’s 30 largest cities, estimating that these cities would see a slight decline in all measures of crime in 2017. The report, Crime in 2017: A Preliminary Analysis, concluded by noting that “these findings directly undercut any claim that the nation is experiencing a crime wave.”
That statement holds true in this analysis, which updates the September report with more recent data and finds that murder rates in major American cities are estimated to decline slightly through the end of 2017. Murder rates in some cities remain above 2015 levels, however, demonstrating a need for evidence-based solutions to violent crime in these areas.
Updated Tables 1 and 2 show conclusions similar to the initial report, with slightly different percentages:
• The overall crime rate in the 30 largest cities in 2017 is estimated to decline slightly from the previous year, falling by 2.7 percent. If this trend holds, crime rates will remain near historic lows.
• The violent crime rate will also decrease slightly, by 1.1 percent, essentially remaining stable. Violent crime remains near the bottom of the nation’s 30-year downward trend.
• The 2017 murder rate in the 30 largest cities is estimated to decline by 5.6 percent. Large decreases this year in Chicago and Detroit, as well as small decreases in other cities, contributed to this decline. The murder rate in Chicago — which increased significantly in 2015 and 2016 — is projected to decline by 11.9 percent in 2017. It remains 62.4 percent above 2014 levels. The murder rate in Detroit is estimated to fall by 9.8 percent. New York City’s murder rate will also decline again, to 3.3 killings per 100,000 people.
• Some cities are projected to see their murder rates rise, including Charlotte (54.6 percent) and Baltimore (11.3 percent). These increases suggest a need to better understand how and why murder is increasing in some cities.
Like all data, especially crime data, these numbers can and likely will get spun in any number of ways. The start of this report reveals that some will point to these data to accuse AG Jeff Sessions and others of being fear-mongers when talking about a scary new crime trend. But AG Sessions can (and I suspect will) say that any significant 2017 crime declines should be credited to criminal justice policy shifts he and others in the Trump Administration have made this year. AG Sessions and others also can (and I suspect will) assert that 2017 crime rates are still significantly higher than the historic lows reached a few years ago and that we should aspire to have them be lower still.
These dynamics help account for why tough-on-crime thinking and messaging persist: when crime starts going up, claiming we need to get tougher resonates; when crime starts going down, claims about the benefits of toughness resonate. Though many in both political parties and many members of the public are coming to embrace "smart on crime" ideas, nobody should lose sight of the (inevitable?) appeal of tough-on-crime mantras.
Thursday, December 07, 2017
Latest data from National Crime Victimization Survey adds a bit of uncertainty to 2016 crime story
As explained in this press release, the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics today released estimates of crime from the 2016 National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS). These passages from the release provide the basic numbers and then explains why it is difficult to use the 2016 NCVS data to compare to previous data:
In 2016, U.S. residents age 12 or older experienced 5.7 million violent victimizations, including rape or sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated and simple assault. This was a rate of 21.1 violent victimizations per 1,000 persons. An estimated 1.3 percent of U.S. residents experienced one or more violent victimizations in 2016....
These estimates of crime are presented in BJS's annual report on criminal victimization, which focused primarily on the level and nature of violent and property crimes in 2016. The ability to compare 2016 estimates of crime to 2015 or other years was limited due to a redesign of the NCVS sample. In 2016, BJS introduced new areas to the NCVS sample to reflect population changes based on the 2010 Decennial Census and to produce state- and local-level victimization estimates, which will be released in early 2018. Among sampled areas that did not change, there was no measurable difference in rates of violent or property crime from 2015 to 2016.
For a better understanding of what this latest data tells us and does not tell us, here are some thoughtful short commentaries emerging in the wake of this new data:
From FiveThirtyEight here, "Why We Can’t Be Sure If Violent Crime Is On The Rise"
From Vox here, "Federal report: violent crime rose in 2016. Other federal report: eh, maybe not."
From Wonkblog here, "We were told violent crime rose in 2016. That may not be true."
Wednesday, November 29, 2017
Might we soon see Top 10 rankings of state criminal justice systems emerging from the Bureau of Justice Statistics?
The question in the title of this post is my slightly tongue-in-cheek reaction to the news reported here by The Crime Report:
President Trump has announced his intention to appoint a director of the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) who has no apparent experience in the field. He’s Jeffrey H. Anderson, a former senior fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute who is described by the White House as a “constitutional scholar” and a “leader in formulating domestic policy proposals.”...
This year, the Trump administration named him to direct the Office of Health Reform at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, where the White House said he led efforts “to reduce insurance premiums, regulatory burdens, and opioid abuse.”
The only statistical experience cited by the White House in Anderson’s background was co-creating the Anderson and Hester Computer Rankings, which boast of computing college football’s “most accurate strength of schedule ratings,” taking into account the quality of teams’ opponents.
The Crime Report article goes on to explain why this really is not a laughing matter:
BJS directors under President Obama, James Lynch of the University of Maryland and William Sabol, now of Georgia State University, both were long-time criminologists and recognized experts in crime and justice statistics.
In May, under the auspices of the American Statistical Association, four former BJS directors wrote to Attorney General Jeff Sessions urging that “serious consideration” to head BJS, which operates in Sessions’ Department of Justice, [be given] “to individuals who have strong leadership, management, and scientific skills; experience with federal statistical agencies; familiarity with BJS and its products; visibility in the nation’s statistical community; ability to interact productively with Congress and senior DOJ staff; and acceptance of the National Academies’ Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency.”
The letter was signed by Lynch, Sabol, Jeffrey Sedgwick, who served as BJS director in the last three years of the George W. Bush administration and now directs the Justice Research and Statistics Association, and Lawrence Greenfeld, who headed BJS in the first five years of the Bush administration.
Anderson does not appear to have any of those qualifications.
The same four recent BJS directors wrote in May to leaders of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees arguing that the requirement for Senate confirmation for the BJS director should “be restored and that the director’s status be changed from serving at the will of the president to serving a fixed term of at least four years, staggered from the presidential election.” The ex-directors said in their letter: “It is imperative that policy discussions about the often-contentious issues regarding crime and justice be informed by statistical data trusted by the public to be objective, valid, and reliable…”
“To ensure BJS data are viewed as objective and of highest quality, BJS must be seen as an independent statistical agency wherein data collection, analysis, and dissemination are under the sole control of the BJS.”
As of this writing, the current Anderson and Hester Computer Rankings has Wisconsin ranked #1, University of Central Florida #2, Clemson #3, Georgia #4 and Alabama #5. What this might portend fore the future of the Bureau of Justice Statistics is anyone's guess?
Tuesday, November 21, 2017
"Assessing and Responding to the Recent Homicide Rise in the United States"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new report coming from the National Institute of Justice and authored by Richard Rosenfeld, Shytierra Gaston, Howard Spivak and Seri Irazola. Here is the full executive summary:
Big-city homicides rose in 2015 and again in 2016, although not all cities experienced a large increase, and homicides fell in some cities. We consider two explanations of the homicide rise as guides for future research: (1) expansion in illicit drug markets brought about by the heroin and synthetic opioid epidemic and (2) widely referenced “Ferguson effects” resulting in de-policing, compromised police legitimacy, or both.
Larger increases in drug-related homicides than in other types of homicide provide preliminary evidence that expansions in illicit drug markets contributed to the overall homicide rise. The current drug epidemic is disproportionately concentrated in the white population, and homicides have increased among whites as well as among African-Americans and Hispanics. We surmise, therefore, that the drug epidemic may have had an especially strong influence on the rise in homicide rates among whites.
Current evidence that links de-policing to the homicide rise is mixed at best. Surveys of police reveal widespread concerns about increased police-community tensions and reductions in proactive policing in the aftermath of widely publicized deadly encounters between the police and African-Americans. Increases in homicide followed decreases in arrests in Baltimore and Chicago, although it is not known whether the same was true in other cities. Nationwide, arrest-offense ratios and arrest clearance rates decreased in 2015, but they had been declining for several years when homicide rates were falling. The extent of de-policing and its possible connection to the recent homicide rise remain open research questions.
Survey evidence reveals greater discontent with the police among African-Americans than among whites. Alienation from the police can result in a decreased willingness to contact them when a crime occurs or to cooperate in police investigations and, some studies suggest, an increase in criminal behavior. One study has shown that calls for police service fell after a controversial violent encounter between the police and an unarmed African-American in Milwaukee. The reduction in calls for service was greater in African-American neighborhoods than in other neighborhoods. The rate at which the police are contacted is only one of several indicators needed to measure any connection between diminished police legitimacy and the recent rise in homicides.
We emphasize the provisional nature of these hypotheses regarding the recent homicide rise. We recommend using city- and neighborhood-level case studies to further refine the hypotheses and develop new ones, and quantitative studies of larger samples of cases should follow. We discuss several key empirical indicators to measure changes in drug markets, policing, and police legitimacy and offer several suggestions for future research. The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) will play an important role in facilitating the necessary research.
U.S. homicide rates rose substantially in 2015 and 2016. These increases were much larger than was typical of yearly homicide fluctuations over the past several decades, so they merit close attention. This paper extends a previous analysis (Rosenfeld 2016) by documenting the homicide rise in 2015 with more complete data and presenting data for large cities in 2016. The paper then considers two explanations for the recent homicide increase. The first explanation ties the increase to the expansion of illicit drug markets resulting from the heroin and synthetic opioid epidemic in the United States. The second explanation is the widely referenced Ferguson effect on crime rates, which attributes the homicide increase to reduced proactive policing, community alienation from the police, or both (Mac Donald 2016; Rosenfeld 2016). The paper concludes with recommendations for future research on the recent homicide rise.
Monday, November 20, 2017
"Gun theft from legal owners is on the rise, quietly fueling violent crime across America"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new article from The Trace. I recommend the piece in full, and here is how it gets started, along with some of the reported data:
American gun owners, preoccupied with self-defense, are inadvertently arming the very criminals they fear.
Hundreds of thousands of firearms stolen from the homes and vehicles of legal owners are flowing each year into underground markets, and the numbers are rising. Those weapons often end up in the hands of people prohibited from possessing guns. Many are later used to injure and kill.
A yearlong investigation by The Trace and more than a dozen NBC TV stations identified more than 23,000 stolen firearms recovered by police between 2010 and 2016 — the vast majority connected with crimes. That tally, based on an analysis of police records from hundreds of jurisdictions, includes more than 1,500 carjackings and kidnappings, armed robberies at stores and banks, sexual assaults and murders, and other violent acts committed in cities from coast to coast.
“The impact of gun theft is quite clear,” said Frank Occhipinti, deputy chief of the firearms operations division for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. “It is devastating our communities.”
Thefts from gun stores have commanded much of the media and legislative attention in recent years, spurred by stories about burglars ramming cars through storefronts and carting away duffel bags full of rifles and handguns. But the great majority of guns stolen each year in the United States are taken from everyday owners. Thieves stole guns from people’s closets and off their coffee tables, police records show. They crawled into unlocked cars and lifted them off seats and out of center consoles. They snatched some right out of the hands of their owners....
In most cases reviewed in detail by the Trace and NBC, the person caught with the weapon was a felon, a juvenile, or was otherwise prohibited under federal or state laws from possessing firearms.
More than 237,000 guns were reported stolen in the United States in 2016, according to previously unreported numbers supplied by the National Crime Information Center, a database maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation that helps law enforcement track stolen property. That represents a 68 percent increase from 2005. (When asked if the increase could be partially attributed to a growing number of law enforcement agencies reporting stolen guns, an NCIC spokesperson said only that “participation varies.”)
All told, NCIC records show that nearly two million weapons have been reported stolen over the last decade.
The government’s tally, however, likely represents a significant undercount. A report by the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning public policy group, found that a significant percentage of gun thefts are never reported to police. In addition, many gun owners who report thefts do not know the serial numbers on their firearms, data required to input weapons into the NCIC. Studies based on surveys of gun owners estimate that the actual number of firearms stolen each year surpasses 350,000, or more than 3.5 million over a 10-year period.
“There are more guns stolen every year than there are violent crimes committed with firearms,” said Larry Keane, senior vice president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade group that represents firearms manufacturers. “Gun owners should be aware of the issue.”
Thursday, November 16, 2017
"Violent Crime: A Conversation; Is it rising or declining? Does it matter?"
The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Marshall Project piece that captures highlights of a conversation last month that included a number of leading criminal justice researchers and advocates. I recommend the full piece, and here is the introduction and parts of the first few reprinted comments:
Over the last two years, there has been a great deal of arguing about the prevalence of violent crime in America and how the national crime rate is changing. The president and attorney general say it’s soaring. Criminal justice reformers aren’t so certain. A Who’s Who of crime researchers and experts gathered to tackle the question at the Smart on Crime Innovations conference at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City last month.... These excerpts have been edited for length and clarity. You can watch the conversation in its entirety here.
Thomas Abt: Just to start us off, in 2016, the last year for which we have the official UCR [FBI Uniform Crime Reporting] data, there were 17,250 homicides. That's up 8.6 percent from 2015 and that comes on the heels of a 12.1 percent increase in 2014-2015. That adds up to about a 21 or 22 percent increase in homicide over two years, which is the largest two-year increase in 25 years. At the same time, we have to acknowledge that the rates of violent crime here in the United States right now are about half of what they were at their peak in the early 90's....
In some ways this question of, “Is this a trend?” is somewhat besides the point because in some ways it doesn't matter. The rates were already far too high, much higher than in other developed nations and especially too high for poor communities of color. One thing I want to get across is that this issue of violent crime, of homicide, is an important issue, literally a matter of life or death, whether or not there is a trend going on. And too often this issue is considered a political football that's carried back and forth.
Criminal justice reformers sometimes want to downplay the issue because they worry that this is going to impact the momentum for other criminal justice reforms. Other people want to exaggerate the issue, and so fear and division link this to other issues like a broader cultural war, or tough on crime, or law and order agenda about crime and immigration. It's very important that there is a progressive criminal justice response to the issue of violent crime. It disproportionately impacts the constituencies that we reformers claim we care about, which is poor communities of color. The violence in these communities causes intense suffering and if we fail to address that suffering, it's a real disservice to them.
Adam Gelb: Put yourself back 10, 12 years. 2005, 2006 we had two consecutive years of increase in violent crime. And at the time there were dire warnings that we were headed back to the peaks of the early '90s. That did not come to pass, which was terrific and I'm not going to try to prognosticate here. But there are a number of reasons to think that we might be seeing a leveling off, maybe even a decrease.
But in 2007, so exactly 10 years ago, after these two consecutive increases, the attorney general at the time, Alberto Gonzales, issued a statement that I think captures pretty darn well exactly where we are today after two years of consecutive increases. I'm going to read it to you so I get it right. In a speech, he said, "In general it doesn't appear that the current data reveal nationwide trends. Rather they show local increases in certain communities. Each community is facing different circumstances and in many places violent crime continues to decrease."...
Jim Parsons: Yes, there's been this average aggregate increase, but in 68 percent of places, either the crime rate stayed the same or it went down. So if you're thinking about making national policy, about making national policy decisions based on these crime rates, and if you have the theory that being more punitive or reacting to increasing crime is going to improve the situation, then that would not apply in two-thirds of places. You'll be making a decision and trying to fix something that was not broken — or at least the trend suggests that things are not getting more dangerous — in two-thirds of places....
David Kennedy: ...[I]n all big cities ... and in lots and lots and lots of other cities there are particular communities that have — while they've come down usually from the worst years of the 1990s — people who are living in unconscionable conditions of persistent violence, trauma, and fear. We as a nation have taken that as normal and so when things change, we focus on the change. The scandal is what's normal. And in this moment where we're debating these small changes and the national homicide rate had come down to between four and five per 100,000 and is now edging back up toward five. There are communities all over the country where especially young men of color are experiencing persistent homicide rates of over 500 per 100,000 year after year after year after year. That's the story, and everything we know about the increases are that they are in those same places, those same communities, those same people. This is not reaching out into different demographics. It's not reaching out into different communities. It's not reaching out into places that have not experienced this problem. It’s worsening among the people and places that have been enduring this forever.
Thursday, November 09, 2017
"The Unsung Role That Ordinary Citizens Played in the Great Crime Decline"
The title of this post is the headline of this notable new New York Times piece, which gets started and ends this way (with inks from the original):
Most theories for the great crime decline that swept across nearly every major American city over the last 25 years have focused on the would-be criminals.
Their lives changed in many ways starting in the 1990s: Strict new policing tactics kept closer watch on them. Mass incarceration locked them up in growing numbers. The crack epidemic that ensnared many began to recede. Even the more unorthodox theories — around the rise of abortion, the reduction in lead or the spread of A.D.H.D. medication — have argued that larger shifts in society altered the behavior (and existence) of potential criminals.
But none of these explanations have paid much attention to the communities where violence plummeted the most. New research suggests that people there were working hard, with little credit, to address the problem themselves.
Local nonprofit groups that responded to the violence by cleaning streets, building playgrounds, mentoring children and employing young men had a real effect on the crime rate. That’s what Patrick Sharkey, a sociologist at New York University, argues in a new study and a forthcoming book. Mr. Sharkey doesn’t contend that community groups alone drove the national decline in crime, but rather that their impact is a major missing piece. “This was a part that has been completely overlooked and ignored in national debates over the crime drop,” he said. “But I think it’s fundamental to what happened.”...
As Mr. Sharkey publishes his findings, crime rates are now diverging after a generation in which violence fell reliably year after year nearly everywhere. It’s not clear yet whether the great crime decline he writes about will continue. But he argues that it’s time for a new model of violence prevention, one that relies more heavily on the kind of work that these community groups have been quietly doing than on the aggressive police tactics and tough sentencing that the Trump administration now advocates.
“The model that we’ve relied on to control violence for a long time has broken down,” Mr. Sharkey said. If communities want police to step back, he is pointing to some of the people who can step in. “This gives us a model. It gives us another set of actors who can play a larger role.”
Monday, October 30, 2017
Interesting and encouraging new Gallup numbers on reports of crime victimization
As reported in this new posting from Gallup, "Twenty-two percent of Americans say a conventional crime was committed against their household in the previous 12 months, the lowest proportion since 2001." Here is more:
Over the past decade, the percentage reporting their household was victimized by any of seven different crimes averaged 26% and never dropped below 24%.
Gallup began computing its annual index of self-reported crime victimization in 2000. The index is based on the "yes" responses from U.S. adults as to whether they or anyone in their household was the victim of any of seven common crimes -- ranging from vandalism to violent crimes -- in the past 12 months.
This year's drop in crime was not reported across all groups equally. Nonwhites and those with annual household incomes under $40,000 are about as likely this year as they were in 2016 to say their household had experienced a crime. Some crimes were also much more likely to occur than others:
- 12% said someone in their household had money or property stolen, down from 17% in 2016.
- 10% were the victims of vandalism, down from 14% last year.
- 3% had their house or apartment broken into, down from 5%.
- 3% had an automobile stolen, compared with 4% in 2016.
- 2% said someone in their household was mugged or physically assaulted, compared with 3% last year.
- 2% said someone in their household was sexually assaulted, compared with 1% in 2016.
- 1% had money or property taken by force with a gun, a knife, another weapon or physical attack, compared with 2% in 2016....
In all cases, the crime may or may not have been reported to the police. Some official statistics on crime rely only on counts of crimes reported to police, so they may underestimate crime incidence. Not included in the list are digital crimes such as identity theft or computer hacking, which will be the subject of a future Gallup report....
Americans ranked crime as one of the nation's most important problems two decades ago, but the combination of dramatically falling crime rates through most of the 1990s and the rise of other issues in the new century pushed it down the priority list of national problems.
With at least one in four American households victimized by crime every year from 2008 through last year, however, the threat of crime has continued to be a concern for many Americans.
Theories abound for why crime rates rise and fall, and it is too early to know whether this year's drop in reported crime will be sustained. But at worst, it ends the increase of recent years and, at best, it holds the potential to signal further reductions in crime in the future.
"Most California Jurisdictions Show Declines In Property Crime During Justice Reform Era, 2010-2016"
The title of this post is the title of this short research report that I learned about via email from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice. Here I how the email describe the report:
A new research report released today from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice examines local trends in California’s property crime from 2010 through 2016, a period marked by major justice system reform, including Public Safety Realignment, Prop 47, and Prop 57. Despite the relative stability of recent property crime trends, the report finds substantial variation in crime at the local level, which suggests that recent crime patterns may result from local policies rather than state policy reform.
The report finds:
• From 2010 to 2016, property crime rates fell more than 3 percent statewide despite the implementation of large-scale criminal justice reforms.
• For every major crime except vehicle theft, more California jurisdictions reported decreases than increases in their crime rates from 2010 to 2016. For example, just 141 jurisdictions reported increased rates of burglary, while 367 jurisdictions showed decreases.
• Across California, crime trends have been highly localized. Of the 511 cities and local areas included in this analysis, 42 percent showed rising rates of property crime from 2010 to 2016, with an average increase of 12.8 percent, and 58 percent showed decreases, with an average decline of 18.1 percent.
• Many jurisdictions, especially those that began with higher rates of property crime, have devised successful policies and practices that are improving local safety. Jurisdictions that showed decreasing rates of property crime between 2010 and 2016 had higher rates at the start of the reform era than those showing increases.
"The divergence between the 213 cities that have shown property crime increases since 2010 versus the 298 cities with property crime decreases was so large — a 31 percentage point difference — that the two categories of cities actually swapped places. This striking result suggests that reform measures such as Proposition 47 are not the reason a minority of cities experienced crime increases." — Mike Males, Ph.D., Senior Research Fellow
Friday, October 06, 2017
"Access to Health Care and Criminal Behavior: Short-Run Evidence from the ACA Medicaid Expansions"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new empirical paper available via SSRN authored by Jacob Vogler. Here is the abstract:
I investigate the causal relationship between access to health care and criminal behavior following state decisions to expand Medicaid coverage after the Affordable Care Act. Many of the newly eligible individuals for Medicaid-provided health insurance are adults at high risk for crime. I leverage variation in both insurance eligibility generated by state decisions to expand Medicaid and county-level treatment intensity measured by changes in insurance rates.
My findings indicate that the Medicaid expansions have resulted in significant decreases in annual rates of reported crime, including both property and violent crime, by between 3 to 5 percent per 100,000 people. A within-state heterogeneity analysis suggests that crime impacts are more pronounced in counties that experienced larger gains in insurance rates among individuals newly eligible for Medicaid coverage. The estimated decrease in reported crime amounts to an annual cost savings of nearly $400 million.
Wednesday, September 27, 2017
Should New Jersey be more regularly championed for its profound success in reducing prison populations and crime rates?
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this local article, headlined "Why is the N.J. prison population shrinking? (It's not just about less crime...)," which highlights how and how successful the Garden State has been in reducing its prison population. Here are excerpts from the article:
The big house is getting smaller. Fewer people are going to prison in New Jersey these days and the numbers continue to drop, according to an analysis of state Department of Corrections data over the past five years.
Those incarcerated in New Jersey — including men and women in prison, juveniles in detention, and detainees still in halfway houses — dropped this year to 19,619, from 21,123 in 2013. That marked a decline of more than 15 percent.
In fact, the state's inmate population has fallen more from its peak in the 1990s than any other state in the country, according to The Sentencing Project, a Washington-based criminal justice reform group. Since 1999 — when more than 31,000 people were behind bars in New Jersey — the number of inmates has plunged by more than a third. "New Jersey leads the nation in prison population reduction," said Todd Clear, a prison policy expert at the Rutgers School of Criminal Justice.
Crime has been going down in New Jersey in recent years. But that doesn’t really tell the story of what's happening in the state's prisons, according to Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project. "It's not necessarily one shift that can produce a shift of this magnitude," he said, attributing much of it to the creation of the state's drug courts that focus on diverting people from prison, as well as changes in the parole system that make it less likely someone will be put back behind bars for minor technical violations of their parole.
The corrections department data underscores the impact on how the state treats drug crime. The percentage of those serving time for drug crime is down more significantly than for inmates convicted of any other offense.... According to corrections department officials, a five-year phase-in under Gov. Chris Christie of mandatory drug courts for non-violent offenders, which was expanded to all 21 counties across the state, redirected thousands from state prison and into drug treatment programs.
At the same time, they credited the so-called "ban the box" legislation prohibiting employers from discriminating against people with expunged criminal records, as well as accelerating some expungements, increasing the type of convictions that can be expunged and reducing the waiting period to expunge an entire juvenile record, have given some inmates a better opportunity of finding a job and staying out of prison....
Department of Corrections officials said with the decline in inmate population, they have consolidated facilities and closed some units, reducing overtime costs. "This practice allowed us to undertake much-needed renovations in our facilities," said spokesman Matthew Schuman. "In fact, as part of our consolidation program, we closed Mid-State Correctional Facility in June 2014."
Mid-State reopened in April 2017 as the first licensed, clinically driven drug treatment program provided by the NJDOC. At the same time, a similar substance use disorder program for female offenders became operational at Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women.
Unfortunately, this new article does not address what has become of crime rates and recidivism rates during this period in which New Jersey has been shrinking its prison population, but I think the data is also encouraging. Specifically, crime data for New Jersey here and here suggests crime has gone down as much if not more in NJ than elsewhere in the country and the state even seems to be largely avoiding the crime spikes that a number of other regions have seen in the last two years. And this local article from last years reports that the state's corrections "Chief of Staff Judith Lang ... said New Jersey’s recidivism rate has lowered from 48 percent to 32 percent" thanks in part to state investment in reentry services.
Though outgoing New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will be leaving office with very low approval ratings, the citizens of New Jersey and all those interested in criminal justice reform should praise his efforts in this arena and the broader achievements of all New Jersey policymakers and officials in recent years. Especially if New Jersey continues to keep crime rates and prison populations low, the state will continue to be an important success story for modern criminal justice reforms that other jurisdictions should aspire to emulate.
Monday, September 25, 2017
Official FBI crime data confirms that 2016 saw another notable increase in violent crime and further reductions in property crime
Early markers suggested that violent crime was increasing in 2016 in the United States, after having increased in 2015 following record low violent crime rates in 2014. This official FBI press release provides these basics:
As readers surely know, rising crime rates always provide fodder for politicians and others to championing tougher sentencing regimes, and we have heard both Prez Trump and Attorney General Sessions stress rising violent crime as a justification for certain policies. I suspect we may soon see these new FBI data appearing in speeches by DOJ officials and others, though folks eager to push back on concerns about a modern new crime wave have already been talking up the recent Brennan Center analysis discussed here suggesting crime rates may be stabilizing or declining in 2017.
The estimated number of violent crimes in the nation increased for the second straight year, rising 4.1 percent in 2016 when compared with 2015 data, according to FBI figures released today. Property crimes dropped 1.3 percent, marking the 14th consecutive year the collective estimates for these offenses declined.
The 2016 statistics show the estimated rate of violent crime was 386.3 offenses per 100,000 inhabitants, and the estimated rate of property crime was 2,450.7 offenses per 100,000 inhabitants. The violent crime rate rose 3.4 percent compared with the 2015 rate, and the property crime rate declined 2.0 percent.
These and additional data are presented in the 2016 edition of the FBI’s annual report Crime in the United States. This publication 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. The UCR Program streamlined the 2016 edition by reducing the number of tables from 81 to 29, but still presented the major topics, such as offenses known, clearances, and persons arrested. Limited federal crime, human trafficking, and cargo theft data are also included....
Of the 18,481 city, county, university and college, state, tribal, and federal agencies eligible to participate in the UCR Program, 16,782 submitted
- In 2016, there were an estimated 1,248,185 violent crimes. Murder and nonnegligent manslaughter offenses increased 8.6 percent when compared with estimates from 2015. Aggravated assault and rape (legacy definition) offenses increased 5.1 percent and 4.9 percent, respectively, and robbery increased 1.2 percent.
- Nationwide, there were an estimated 7,919,035 property crimes. The estimated numbers for two of the three property crimes show declines when compared with the previous year’s estimates. Burglaries dropped 4.6 percent, larceny-thefts declined 1.5 percent, but motor vehicle thefts rose 7.4 percent.
At the risk of seeming a bit too Pollyannaish, I think the FBI report that property crimes in 2016 dropped for the 14th consecutive year is a big piece of the national crime story very much worth celebrating. Though violent crimes rates understandably get the most attention, property crimes impact the most people — there are, roughly speaking, more than five property crimes for every violent crime — so drops property crimes can end up meaning a lot more persons and families experienced a crime-free year even when there are spikes in violent crime.
I expect various policy folks will be mining this latest FBI data for crime-specific and region-specific stories. I will try to cover some of the coming coverage and analysis in coming posts.
Wednesday, September 20, 2017
"Jeff Sessions’s evidence-free crime strategy"
The title of this post is the headline of this new Hill commentary authored by prominent criminologist David Kennedy. Here are excerpts:
The emerging Department of Justice crime-control strategy is a criminologist’s nightmare. Over the last thirty years researchers, law enforcement leaders and communities have pushed for smarter, better violence prevention — spurred in large part by the incredible violence and community destruction of the crack era, and the utter failure of existing approaches to do anything about it.
It’s paid dividends. We now know a lot about what works and what doesn’t. That knowledge begins, as Attorney General Jeff Sessions himself says, with the fact that “the vast majority of people just want to obey the law and live their lives. A disproportionate amount of crime is committed by a small group of criminals.”
That’s exactly right. The most important discovery about violence in the last decades is that it’s what Harvard University researcher Thomas Abt calls “sticky.” Studies in city after city show that very small, active networks of extraordinarily high-risk victims and offenders — about one-half of 1 percent of the population — are associated with 60 percent to 75 percent of all homicide, and that 5 percent or so of blocks and street corners is similarly associated. And while many people use drugs, those involved in meaningful drug distribution — particularly the most active and violent of them — are also relatively few.
So what should we to do about this “small group of criminals?” It’s a critical question. Sessions has called for a return to the “war on drugs” menu — more law enforcement, mandatory minimums and long sentences, even the anti-drug D.A.R.E. program — plus a new focus on heavy immigration enforcement and a withdrawal from DOJ attention to police misconduct. But we now know for a fact that these things don’t work, and can actually make matters worse.
To understand why, and to see what does work, we should look to the groundbreaking front-line police and community actors who have been developing creative solutions that are more effective, less harmful and profoundly more respectful of traumatized and alienated communities than the old and demonstrably ineffective and discredited menu. They’re embracing new ways of focusing community engagement, social services and law enforcement to both protect and ensure accountability amongst Sessions’ “small group of criminals.” Work I’ve been involved in has law enforcement, community leaders and service providers sit down face-to-face with gang members and drug dealers, emphasize that the community hates the violence, offer to help anybody who wants it and explain the legal risks that come with violence. The result can be dramatic reductions in both violence and enforcement....
The best new crime prevention work recognizes the absolute centrality of what scholars call “legitimacy” — the community perception that authorities are respectful, unbiased, well-intentioned and have the standing to expect compliance. Breaking the bond between communities and the law does profound damage. As legitimacy goes down, crime reporting and cooperation with police and prosecutors go down, and violence goes up. Recognizing the absolute centrality of trust, police are backing away from stop-and- frisk and “zero tolerance” and working hard to reduce police violence and enhance accountability.
The opposite is clearly happening now in Hispanic communities, newly terrified of immigration enforcement: Houston police chief Art Acevedo says robbery, assault, and rape reporting by Hispanic communities are all down, the latter by 43 percent. The administration’s new policies may in fact be creating a safety net for predators....
And draconian sentencing — despite its frequent common-sense appeal — simply isn’t that effective. Violent crime is overwhelmingly a young man’s game, and long sentences just keep prisoners locked up well after they would have stopped of their own accord: a Stanford study shows that three-strikes “lifers” released recently under California prison reform had a 1.3 percent recidivism rate, against nearly 45 percent for other California inmates. They don’t deter that well, in part because criminals discount their futures just like middle-class home buyers do: offenders have been found to view a 20-year prison sentence as only about six times as severe as a one-year stint. Offenders frequently don’t know that the massive federal sentences they may be exposed to even exist until they’re charged and it’s much too late.
Enforcement has also proved utterly pointless with respect to drug markets, where locked-up dealers are easily replaced by new ones. The drug war was incapable of keeping drugs out of the country, from being produced domestically or from being sold and bought freely. It’s unlikely to do better in an age of fentanyl mail-ordered over the dark web. And as for D.A.R.E. — words fail. Criminologists are a cranky bunch, but there’s one thing that they all agree on: D.A.R.E. doesn’t work. By peddling misinformation about the dangers of drug use and telling huge numbers of impressionable kids that drugs and drug use are everywhere, the program can even increase abuse.
We need effective crime reduction strategies, just as we did in the '80s: Even before some cities recently started to see recent increases in homicide, violence suffered by poor minority communities — especially, young black men — was at intolerable levels. The opioid epidemic is hitting the country so hard it is reversing historic gains in life expectancy. We know enough to do better this time. We should do so, not willfully repeat the glaring and horrific mistakes of the recent past.
Wednesday, September 06, 2017
Encouraging new Brennan Center data on 2017 crime trends ... let the spinning begin
The Brennan Center for Justice has this notable new report titled simply "Crime in 2017: A Preliminary Analysis," and its first section starts this way:
Based on new data collected from police departments in the 30 largest cities, this report finds that all measures of crime — overall crime, violent crime, and murder — are projected to decline in 2017. Indicators show that 2017 will have the second lowest rates of crime and violent crime since 1990.
These findings directly undercut any claim that the nation is experiencing a crime wave. In 2015 and 2016, overall crime rates remained stable, while murder and violent crime rose slightly. Now, in 2017, crime and murder are projected to decline again. This report’s main findings are explained below, and detailed in Figure 1, and in Tables 1 and 2:
• The overall crime rate in 2017 is projected to decrease slightly, by 1.8 percent. If this estimate holds, as it has in past analyses, 2017 will have the second lowest crime rate since 1990.
• The violent crime rate is projected to decrease slightly, by 0.6 percent, essentially remaining stable. This result is driven primarily by stabilization in Chicago and declines in Washington, D.C., two large cities that experienced increases in violence in recent years. The violent crime rate for this year is projected to be the second lowest since 1990 — about one percent above 2014’s violent crime rate.
• The 2017 murder rate is projected to be 2.5 percent lower than last year. This year’s decline is driven primarily by decreases in Detroit (down 25.6 percent), Houston (down 20.5 percent), and New York (down 19.1 percent). Chicago’s murder rate is also projected to fall, by 2.4 percent. The 2017 murder rate is expected to be on par with that of 2009, well at the bottom of the historic post-1990 decline, yet still higher than the lowest recorded rate in 2013. Notably, more than half the murder increase from 2014 to 2017 (55.6 percent) is attributable to two cities — Chicago and Baltimore. This year’s decrease could indicate that the increases in 2015 and 2016 were short-term fluctuations in a longer-term downward trend.
• While crime is down this year, some cities are projected to experience localized increases. For example, Charlotte’s murder rate doubled in the first six months of 2017 relative to last year.
Before even starting to spin this new data, it bears emphasis that there could be developments in the last four months of 2017 that alter this prediction that crime will decline for the year. But assuming these encouraging new crime numbers hold upon further developments and analysis, it will be interesting to watch different advocates making different claims about what a return to declining crimes means. I would certainly expect Prez Trump and AG Sessions to assert that their reversal of a variety of Obama era policies and practices is already having a positive impact, while advocates for progressive "smart on crime" reforms will surely claim that this data shows we can and should be able to continue to reduce prison populations and reduce crime at the same time.
Critically, whatever gets spun, these data are a cause for celebration and everyone should be rooting for the numbers to continue to trend in a positive direction in the months and years ahead.
Friday, September 01, 2017
Two interesting and critical takes on AG Jeff Sessions' repeated statements about rising crime
These two recent commentaries take apart and generally take down statements by Attorney General Jeff Sessions about rising crime rates in the United States:
From Jonathan Haggerty at The Federalist here, "Sorry, Jeff Sessions, But We’re Just Not Experiencing A Violent Crime Wave: Contrary to the attorney general’s imagination, hordes of bloodthirsty gang members are not suddenly plaguing American neighborhoods. Crime is still at its lowest level in decades."
- From Nicole Lewis at The Washington Post here, "Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s claim that a violent crime wave is sweeping the nation"
Friday, July 14, 2017
"Murder Is Up Again In 2017, But Not As Much As Last Year"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new analysis of big city murder data authored by Jeff Asher over at FiveThirtyEight. Here is how the posting starts and ends (with footnotes/links omitted):
Big U.S. cities1 saw another increase in murders in the first half of 2017, likely putting them on track for a third straight year of rising totals after murder rates reached historic lows in 2014. So far, however, this year’s increase is considerably smaller than it was in each of the past two years; the big-city numbers are consistent with only a modest rise in murders nationwide. Overall, if recent numbers hold, the nation’s murder rate will likely rise but remain low relative to where it was from the late 1960s through the 1990s.
The FBI collects national data on murders and other major crimes, but it releases them after a significant lag. The most recent full year for which official data is available is 2015, when murders rose at their fastest pace in a quarter century. Official 2016 data won’t be available until the fall, but murder almost certainly rose last year too; in January, I found that big cities experienced a roughly 11 percent increase in murders in 2016, which past patterns suggest is consistent with about an 8 percent rise in murder overall.
In order to gauge changes in the prevalence of murder in big cities in 2017, I collected year-to-date murder counts for 2017 and 2016 in 68 of the country’s big cities, using a mixture of data from the cities themselves and from media reports. Data from 63 of the cities included murders committed through at least the end of May, and 50 cities provided data covering the month of June. These big cities have had roughly 4 percent more murders so far in 2017 than they did at the same point in 2016.
Only a handful of cities are seeing large increases or decreases in murder this year, which is what we would expect to see given a small overall rise in the sample....
Big cities tend to exaggerate national murder trends, both up and down — so a large rise in big-city murder usually corresponds with a slightly smaller national increase. If murder rose roughly 8 percent nationally in 2016 (as my January estimate suggests) and is set to rise a few percentage points in 2017, then the nation’s murder rate in 2017 will be roughly the same as it was in 2008. That’s still more than 40 percent lower than the country’s murder rate in the early 1990s (but roughly 27 percent higher than it was in 2014).
Ultimately, this year’s trend is similar to last year’s in that more big cities are seeing a rise in the number of murders than are seeing a decline. There are still six months left in 2017, and while anything could happen, the most likely outcome is that — although this year’s rise will likely be smaller than last year’s — the country will see murders increase for a third straight year.
As regular readers know, Attorney General Sessions has made much of rising crime rates in his criticisms of Obama era criminal justice reforms and in his defense of his recent decision to toughen federal prosecutorial charging and sentencing practices. This kind of data showing still further (though smaller) increases in murders in 2017 on the heels of significant increases in 2015 and 2016 will likely only reinforce the views of AG Sessions and others in the Trump Administration that "tough and tougher" federal sentencing policies and practices are needed to enhance public safety.
Wednesday, July 05, 2017
"How smart was Obama's 'Smart on Crime' initiative? Not very"
The title of this post is the headline of this new Fox News commentary authored by Lawrence Leiser (president of the National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys), Nathan Catura (president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association), Bob Bushman (president of the National Narcotics Officers’ Associations’ Coalition), Al Regnery (chairman of the Law Enforcement Action Network), and Ron Hosko (president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund). The piece largely serves as a defense of the new Sessions charging/sentencing policies, and here is the bulk of what this impressive quintet have to say:
Department of Justice policies since the 1980s directed federal prosecutors to charge the most serious readily provable offense, unless justice required otherwise. It’s undisputed that this charging practice, applied over the course of several Republican and Democratic administrations in recent decades, contributed to the reduction of violent crime by half between 1991 and 2014.
The Obama administration’s “Smart on Crime” initiative — touted by former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates in a recent oped in the Washington Post titled “Making America scared again won’t make us safer” — undermined those hard-fought gains in public safety, and ushered in significant increases in violent crime. In 2015, violent crime rose 5.6 percent — the greatest increase since 1991 — and included a shocking 10.8 percent increase in homicide rates. And, although the final numbers for 2016 have not been published, the preliminary data suggests another substantial increase in the violent crime rate.
Among the policies championed by then Attorney General Eric Holder and Deputy Attorney General Yates was one that reversed long-standing charging policies and directed federal prosecutors to avoid minimum sentences against drug traffickers, as mandated by Congress, and instead pursue lesser charges. Despite the well-known and deadly violence associated with drug cartels, gangs and their networks, the Holder-Yates policies directed federal prosecutors in certain cases to under-charge drug trafficking cases and avoid triggering statutory minimum penalties by not pressing charges on the actual amount of drugs that traffickers distributed, such as heroin, crack cocaine, and methamphetamine.
Changes in federal law enforcement policy can ripple through communities across the country and affect their safety. “Smart on Crime” was part of a larger policy shift within the Obama administration from drug abstinence and accountability to drug acceptance and victimization. Since its inception, correlative increases in drug abuse, overdose deaths and violent crime have had a devastating impact on every community, regardless of sex or demographics. The reduced charging and sentencing of thousands of drug traffickers and their early release from prison — all hallmarks of the Holder-Yates policies of the Obama years — have begun to leave their devastating mark downstream on the safety of communities across the nation. The surge in violent crime should not be surprising. Drug trafficking by its very nature, is a violent crime.
Take the recent account of Michael Bell, a former federally-convicted methamphetamine dealer who, when facing new state charges in Tennessee for kidnapping and domestic assault, shot two sheriff’s deputies during a court proceeding. Bell would have still been in federal prison had he not been released in 2015, three years earlier than scheduled, because of the across-the-board sentencing reductions prior administration leaders pushed the U.S. Sentencing Commission to impose.
Not surprisingly, those former officials continue to use the term “low level, non-violent offender” to promote a sanitized narrative of drug trafficking for profit. Law enforcement professionals know that drug trafficking enterprises are comprised of integrated networks of street corner dealers, mid-level traffickers, distributors, producers and cartel leaders, whose collective efforts inherently rely on violence and have contributed to the deaths of over 50,000 Americans last year in drug overdoses alone.
Despite the evocative “second chance” narrative that stirs support among sentencing reformers, law enforcement professionals also know that the people who end up in federal prison work hard to get there. Few offenders go to prison for their first offense, or even the second or third. Many of the people who end up in federal prison have committed violent crimes, are members of drug trafficking and criminal organizations or simply have chosen to continue to disregard our laws. Because the majority of criminals admit their guilt, plea bargaining involves the dismissal or reduction of related charges, which greatly reduces the criminal histories and sentences of countless criminals. That means the numbers and types of crimes for which many of them are arrested, but never charged or convicted, are incalculable. Criminals are committing thousands of crimes and violent acts against our citizens for which they are never held accountable.
Seeking justice and keeping the peace, it is federal law enforcement agencies and their state and local partners who will strive to enforce the laws that Congress enacted to protect our country and its citizens. The surest way to preserve public safety is to honor the laws the people have passed and to enforce them to the fullest.
July 5, 2017 in Criminal justice in the Obama Administration, Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, Drug Offense Sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (25)
Friday, June 30, 2017
Disconcerting data reminder of why drug use (and thus drug crime) is so hard to track and assess
Though told mostly as a public health data story, this new post at FiveThirtyEight also struck me as a criminal justice data story as well. The lengthy piece by Kathryn Casteel is headlined "Data On Drug Use Is Disappearing Just When We Need It Most," and here is how it starts:
It’s no secret that heroin has become an epidemic in the United States. Heroin overdose deaths have risen more than sixfold in less than a decade and a half. Yet according to one of the most widely cited sources of data on drug use, the number of Americans using heroin has risen far more slowly, roughly doubling during the same time period.
Most major researchers believe that source, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, vastly understates the increase in heroin use. But many rely on the survey anyway for a simple reason: It’s the best data they have. Several other sources that researchers once relied on are no longer being updated or have become more difficult to access. The lack of data means researchers, policymakers and public health workers are facing the worst U.S. drug epidemic in a generation without essential information about the nature of the problem or its scale.
“We’re simply flying blind when it comes to data collection, and it’s costing lives,” said John Carnevale, a drug policy expert who served at the federal Office of National Drug Control Policy under both Republican and Democratic administrations. There is anecdotal evidence of how patterns of drug use are changing, Carnevale said, and special studies conducted in various localities are identifying populations of drug users. “But the national data sets we have in place now really don’t give us the answers that we need,” he said.
Wednesday, June 07, 2017
Brennan Center provides a "final" accounting of rising violent crime in 2016
The folks at the Brennan Center have this new report titled "Crime in 2016: Final Year-End Data" authored by Ames Grawert and James Cullen. This Brennan Center webpage includes a link to the report, other past reports on crime rates, and this accounting of the report's primary findings:
Chicago accounted for more than 55 percent of the murder increase last year, according to a new analysis of crime data by the Brennan Center. The overall national crime rate remained stable.
This analysis finds that Americans are safer today than they have been at almost any time in the past 25 years.
Based on new year-end data collected from police departments in the 30 largest cities, crime in 2016 remained at historic lows across the country. Although there are some troubling increases in murder in specific cities, these trends do not signal the start of a new national crime wave. What’s more startling, this analysis finds that the increase in murders is even more concentrated than initially expected. Chicago now accounts for more than 55.1 percent of the total increase in urban murders — up from an earlier projection of 43.7 percent.
Final Year-End Findings:
The overall crime rate in the 30 largest cities in 2016 remained largely unchanged from last year. Specifically, overall crime rose by 0.9 percent, essentially remaining stable.
The murder rate rose in this group of cities last year by 13.1 percent.
Alarmingly, Chicago accounted for 55.1 percent of the total increase in urban murders — more than preliminary data suggested.
A similar phenomenon occurred in 2015, when three cities — Baltimore, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. — accounted for more than half (53.5 percent) of the increase in murders.
Some cities are experiencing an increase in murder while other forms of crime remain relatively low. Concerns about a national crime wave are premature, but these trends suggest a need to understand how and why murder is increasing in these cities.
Violent crime rates rose slightly. The 4.2 percent increase was driven by Chicago (16.5 percent) and Baltimore (18.6 percent). Violent crime still remains near the bottom of the nation’s 30-year downward trend.
These crime data, however one might view or spin them, help ensure that Justice Department officials like Jeff Sessions Steve Cook have strong talking points whenever they are eager to make the case for tougher federal criminal justice policies and practices. Moreover, they can help support a pitch for sentencing toughness that can be enduring: if crime keep going up in 2017 and beyond, then the case gets made that even great toughness is needed; if crime starts going down in 2017 or later, then the case gets made that toughness works.
Wednesday, May 10, 2017
"Understanding Recent Spikes and Longer Trends in American Murders"
The title of this post is the title of this timely new paper authored Jeffrey Fagan and Daniel Richman and now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Since 2015, homicide rates have increased in several U.S. cities, while remaining stable in many others. Examining both recent and long-term trends in homicides and other violent crime across major cities, we find no reason to believe that these increases presage a new homicide epidemic, or that we will return to the era of elevated homicide rates that persisted in many U.S. cities over three decades through the mid-1990s. The homicide spikes may be momentary upticks in the two-decade long-term decline, and may also signal a new era of unpredictable and random surges or declines during an otherwise stable period.
We note that the spikes are generally occurring in smaller cities, with the important exception of Chicago. We then look at the neighborhood conditions in high crime areas in three large cities and show how the intersection of aggressive policing tactics and social contexts likely contribute to small areas of elevated homicide rates in otherwise safe cities. In each place, harsh police tactics, social isolation and disadvantage, and unsolved murders contribute to the withdrawal of citizens and police from the co-production of security. This Essay argues for a shift in policing tactics from order maintenance and proactive police contacts—with their potential to produce injustices and indignities—to a focus on homicide investigations, with the promise both of bringing offenders to justice, creating safe spaces for everyday social interactions, and restoring trust in the police.
Tuesday, April 18, 2017
Lies, damned lies, and competing crime statistics from AG Sessions and the Brennan Center
My news feed today brought me to two notable pieces that emphasized modern crime realities in two notably different ways:
The scary crime story comes via this USA Today op-ed authored by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, which begins with this sharp sentence: "Violent crime is surging in American cities." AG Sessions goes on to say this about current crime realities with a piece focused mostly on policing practices:
In Chicago, arrests have fallen 36% since 2014 to the lowest level in at least 16 years. Last year, they fell in every major crime category, and they fell in every single district in the city. To put that in perspective, out of more than 500 non-fatal shootings in early 2016, only seven resulted in any sort of arrest. That’s 1%. Not surprisingly, as arrest rates plummeted in those years, the murder rate nearly doubled. Meanwhile in Baltimore, while arrests have fallen 45% in the past two years, homicides have risen 78%, and shootings have more than doubled.
Yet amid this plague of violence, too much focus has been placed on a small number of police who are bad actors rather than on criminals. And too many people believe the solution is to impose consent decrees that discourage the proactive policing that keeps our cities safe.... When proactive policing declines and violent crime rises, minority communities get hit the hardest. We will not sign consent decrees for political expediency that will cost more lives by handcuffing the police instead of the criminals. Every neighborhood needs to be safe and peaceful.
Our first priority must be to save lives, restore public safety, and bring back the community policing that we know works. To help achieve those goals, the department, with the help of our federal, state and local law enforcement partners, will focus our efforts on thwarting violent crime, drug trafficking, and gun crime and gang violence. If combating violent crime and restoring public safety are seen as dramatic reversals, then I fully support such a sea change.
The much more encouraging crime story comes via this new Brennan Center analysis of "Crime Trends: 1990-2016," which is promoted with this reassuring first phrase: "Crime rates have dropped dramatically and remain near historic lows." The Brennan Center analysis goes on to provide these "key findings" of modern crime realities in its executive summary:
Crime has dropped precipitously in the last quarter-century. While crime may fall in some years and rise in others, annual variations are not indicative of long-term trends. While murder rates have increased in some cities, this report finds no evidence that the hard-won public safety gains of the last two and a half decades are being reversed....
The violent crime rate also peaked in 1991 at 716 violent crimes per 100,000, and now stands at 366, about half that rate. However, the violent crime rate, like rates of murder and overall crime, has risen and fallen during this time. For example, violent crime registered small increases in 2005 and 2006, and then resumed its downward trend. In 2015, violent crime increased by 2.9 percent nationally and by 2.0 percent in the nation’s 30 largest cities. Preliminary data for 2016 also show a greater increase in the national violent crime rate, up 6.3 percent, and a smaller jump in the 30 largest cities, 2.4 percent. Crime is often driven by local factors, so rates in cities may differ from national averages.
From 1991 to 2016, the murder rate fell by roughly half, from 9.8 killings per 100,000 to 5.3. The murder rate rose last year by an estimated 7.8 percent. With violence at historic lows, modest increases in the murder rate may appear large in percentage terms. Similarly, murder rates in the 30 largest cities increased by 13.2 percent in 2015 and an estimated 14 percent in 2016. These increases were highly concentrated. More than half of the 2015 urban increase (51.8 percent) was caused by just three cities, Baltimore, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. And Chicago alone was responsible for 43.7 percent of the rise in urban murders in 2016....
The data demonstrate that crime rates and trends vary widely from city to city. In New York, for example, crime remains at all-time lows. Other cities, such as Washington, D.C., have seen murder rise and then fall recently, yet the rate is still lower than it was a decade ago. However, there are a small group of cities, such as Chicago, where murder remains persistently high, even by historical standards.
Sunday, April 02, 2017
Encouraging new crime data from two big US cities
As the first quarter of 2017 comes to a close, it is encouraging to see reports from two major cities about declines in violent crimes. Here are links and the basics of the stories:
With the first quarter of 2017 about to end, New York City is seeing a significant decrease in homicides and is on track to record around 300 by the end of the year, a level not seen in the modern era of police record keeping, according to NYPD officials and the latest department crime data. Through March 29, the city had recorded 60 homicides, compared with 68 in 2016, a drop of almost 12 percent, according to the data. As of late Thursday, the city hadn’t recorded any additional killings.
The drop in homicides comes at a time when the city is experiencing an overall 5-percent drop in all serious crimes, which include rape, robbery, and felony assault among others. It has also led to surprise among Police Commissioner James O’Neill’s staff even as they have become used to Compstat data showing a consistent downward trend in serious crime.
As the first quarter of 2017 draws to a close, Chicago police are encouraged by a slight drop in violence, particularly in recent weeks in the city's traditionally most violent pockets of the South and West sides long plagued by poverty, gang activity and drug-dealing. While the numbers are down from a disastrous 2016 when in excess of 4,300 people were shot, more than 760 of them fatally, the first three months of 2017 still rank as one of the deadliest starts to a year in nearly two decades.
Through Wednesday, with two days still left in the first quarter, 124 people were slain in Chicago, 9.5 percent down from 137 a year earlier, according to the Police Department's official statistics. Over the same period, 685 people were shot, almost 13 percent down from 786 a year earlier, the department said. A spate of shootings Thursday emphasized, however, just how volatile those numbers can be. Within four hours, five people were found fatally shot in the South Shore neighborhood, and four others were injured in shootings across the city by early evening.
Needless to say, the data story out of New York is far more encouraging that the data story in Chicago. But any and every crime decline is one to be celebrated, especially by those advocating for an array of modern criminal justice reforms. As I noted in this post yesterday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and others are often inclined to point to any uptick in crime to resist any calls for reform of what I call "tough and tougher" sentencing policies, and both Prez Trump and AG Sessions have been eager to stress recent increases in homicides in Chicago and elsewhere. Having crime levels stabilize or decline can further fuel the momentum of criminal justice reform advocates.
Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Department of Justice to host National Summit on Crime Reduction and Public Safety at the end of June
Acting Assistant Attorney General Alan Hanson gave this speech today at the Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation Program Symposium. The entire speech makes for an interesting and encouraging read, and here are a few passages that really caught my eye (including the reference to the coming National Summit mentioned in the post title):
As with any new Administration, I know there are lots of questions about priorities. The President just released his budget last week, and you can see that the White House is clearly focused on reducing crime in America’s communities. That’s good news for all us who care about public safety. I think it’s also important for everyone here to know — and this will come as no surprise — that for our Attorney General, the safety of our communities, and of those who protect them, is paramount.
Attorney General Sessions has made it clear that he’s willing to do what it takes to help cities reduce crime and violence. And having worked very closely with Jeff Sessions during his time in the Senate, I can tell you those are not empty words. For anyone who cares about making sure our neighborhoods are places of promise and opportunity — where citizens can live, work and thrive — you can be sure you have an ally in our Attorney General.
In his short time in office, he has already set up a task force on crime reduction and public safety. The goal of this task force is to work with federal, state and local law enforcement and community organizations to identify effective public safety strategies. As part of this effort, the Department plans to host a National Summit on Crime Reduction and Public Safety at the end of June. We hope to learn at that summit about local strategies that work and determine how we at the federal level can support those efforts....
As you know, the BCJI program offers a unique approach to public safety and neighborhood revitalization. It’s place-based, community-oriented, driven by data and research and grounded in partnerships across agencies and across disciplines — all the elements you would expect in a successful public safety program.
The BCJI model builds on programs like Project Safe Neighborhoods that rely on coordination between federal, state and local law enforcement and prosecutors and on collaboration with researchers. It focuses on crime hot spots, and on distressed areas where resources are most urgently needed. Perhaps most importantly, it brings community leaders and law enforcement to the table together, which guarantees that this work isn’t being done in a vacuum.
This approach is not one we see often enough — which is a shame, because we know it works. In Evansville, Indiana, for example, from 2013 to 2015, reported crime dropped 42 percent in the BCJI target neighborhood of Jacobsville. Five hot spots in Milwaukee’s target area saw a 23 percent drop in violent crime over the same period. That’s compared to a 1 percent increase in the city as a whole. And in Austin, Texas, during the 16 months of BCJI operation in the Rundberg neighborhood, violent crime dropped 15 percent.
These are impressive numbers, and they’re especially notable when many other cities are seeing a trend in the opposite direction....
This work — the work that you’re doing — is more important than ever. Crime rates remain near historically low levels, but there’s no question that some cities are seeing troubling recent surges in violence — in some cases, dramatic increases. This is a time for vigilance, not complacency, because, as the Attorney General said, “When crime rates move in the wrong direction, they can move quickly.”
Thursday, March 16, 2017
New Sentencing Project report on "Immigration and Public Safety"
Via email, I got word that the Sentencing Project has released this new report discussing research about the impact of immigration on public safety. Here is the report's executive summary:
Foreign-born residents of the United States commit crime less often than native-born citizens. Policies that further restrict immigration are therefore not effective crime-control strategies. These facts — supported by over 100 years of research — have been misrepresented both historically and in recent political debates.
Starting from his first day as a candidate, President Donald Trump has made demonstrably false claims associating immigrants with criminality. As president, he has sought to justify restrictive immigration policies, such as increasing detentions and deportations and building a southern border wall, as public safety measures. He has also linked immigrants with crime through an Executive Order directing the Attorney General to establish a task force to assist in “developing strategies to reduce crime, including, in particular, illegal immigration, drug trafficking, and violent crime,” and by directing the Department of Homeland Security to create an office to assist and publicize victims of crimes committed by immigrants.
By surveying key research on immigration and crime, this report seeks to enable the public and policymakers to engage in a more meaningful policy debate rooted in facts. Immigrants’ impact on public safety is a well-examined field of study.
A rigorous body of research supports the following conclusions about the recent impact of immigrants in the United States:
1. Immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than native-born citizens.
2. Higher levels of immigration in recent decades may have contributed to the historic drop in crime rates.
3. Police chiefs believe that intensifying immigration law enforcement undermines public safety.
4. Immigrants are under-represented in U.S. prisons.
Thursday, March 09, 2017
US Sentencing Commission releases another big recidivism report on federal offenders
The United States Sentencing Commission is continuing to publish important new data report about the recidivism rates and patterns of federal offenders. This latest 44-page report is titled "The Past Predicts the Future: Criminal History and Recidivism of Federal Offenders." This page on the USSC's website provides this summary and highlights:
The Past Predicts the Future: Criminal History and Recidivism of Federal Offenders examines a group of 25,431 federal offenders who were released from prison or placed on probation in calendar year 2005. Information about the components of Chapter Four of the Guidelines Manual — including total criminal history score, criminal history category, and point assignments for types of past convictions — and their association with recidivism are contained in this report. The findings included in this report build on those in the Commission’s 2016 Recidivism Overview report.
Consistent with its previous work in this area, the Commission found that recidivism rates are closely correlated with total criminal history points and resulting Criminal History Category classification, as offenders with lower criminal history scores have lower recidivism rates than offenders with higher criminal history scores.
The Commission found substantial differences in recidivism rates among Criminal History Category I offenders (which includes offenders with a criminal history score of zero or one point). Less than one-third (30.2%) of Criminal History Category I offenders with zero points were rearrested while nearly half (46.9%) of offenders with one point were rearrested.
The Commission also found differences in recidivism rates among offenders with zero criminal history points. Offenders with zero points and no prior contact with the criminal justice system have a lower recidivism rate (25.7%) than offenders with zero points but some prior contact with the criminal justice system (37.4%).
Offenders who have less serious prior convictions (assigned one point) have a lower recidivism rate (53.4%) than offenders who have prior convictions assigned two or three points (71.3% for offenders with at least one two-point offense and 70.5% for offenders with at least one three-point offense).