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October 29, 2009

Must-read posts from Kleiman on having less crime and less punishment

Focre coverI have been following with great interest a series of guest posts by Mark Kleiman at The Volokh Conspiracy, which are essentially excerpts from his important new book titled "When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment."  This introductory post included this summary of the book:

We have too much crime and vastly too many people behind bars.  Is it possible to have less of both?  Yes, if the criminal justice system can learn what everyone who has ever successfully raised a child or trained a puppy knows: the right amount of punishment is the minimum that gets the message across, and that minimum effective dose is smaller if rules are clearly communicated and if punishments follow violations swiftly and predictably.

There are now working examples of successful strategies based on these principles, but the political and journalistic debate about crime has yet to catch up to progress on the ground.  Doing things we already know how to do, we could have half as much crime and half as many people in prison ten years from now as we have today.

Here are links to the posts by Kleiman so far over:

The comments from readers are almost as interesting as the posts themselves.

October 29, 2009 at 09:57 AM | Permalink


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Doug, look at this quote from Kleiman:

"Strong patterns of residential segregation by race and class plus differential crime rates together mean that the average poor African-American grows up in a higher-crime environment than a white American of comparable income or a more prosperous African-American. And since higher-crime areas are also lower-punishment-per-crime areas, crimes committed against poor black people draw lower-than-average punishments."

That looks suspiciously like the "urban discount" I've mentioned before. It's an interesting contradiction of the "justice system is biased against minority criminals" meme that we hear all the time. Any thoughts, Doug?

Posted by: federalist | Oct 29, 2009 12:59:38 PM

The sole tool of the law is punishment. That has technical aspects that lawyers do not know. For example, there is greater deterrence from certainty of punishment, than from severity of punishment. All legal procedures are physical procedures, as surgery is a physical procedure. For example, detention by the police, questioning, restraint. Those have the impact, even though they are just excuses for lawyer job making. Because the lawyer is so preoccupied with job generation, he misses out on the real effective factors of the law, which are its physical procedures.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 29, 2009 5:09:07 PM

Is the "urban discount" the other side of "rural enhancement"? To study the possibility of a "rural enhancement" you have to control on the residential status of the person sentenced and when you do that the evidence for a "rural enhancement" is weakened to the point where one can doubt that it is real.

OTOH there is a lot of anecdotal evidence of an urban discount but that may be because of the high case loads biasing plea-bargains towards reduced penalties.

Posted by: John Neff | Oct 29, 2009 7:30:51 PM

The key point, federalist, is that there is "lower-punishment-per-crime," but for each urban crime that is punished, the punishment might be more severe than for those in non-urban areas. Crack punishments provide a good example: probably a small percentage of all crack possessors get subject to criminal punishment, but those who do get caught/prosecuted face a longer sentence than others.

Since you have never fully explained, federalist, what you mean by an "urban discount" --- do you mean crimes committed in cities get lesser punishments than crime elsewhere or do you mean crime by urban dwellers are punished less? --- it is hard for me to assess wether you think Klieman is talking about the same thing you like to reference without explanation.

Posted by: Doug B. | Oct 29, 2009 7:58:20 PM

Also, federalist, I would be happy/eager to post in a distinct post your account of the "urban discount" if/when you send me a short description of what you mean by this curious term.

Posted by: Doug B. | Oct 29, 2009 8:00:57 PM

To what extent is black victimization higher due to that community's inane, "No Snitching" mentality.

Posted by: mjs | Oct 29, 2009 8:20:59 PM

Prof. Berman: You are smart. You know exactly what is meant by the urban discount. The lawyer has herded crime into black areas to maintain the higher housing prices in the suburbs, despite the proximity of black areas to downtown work buildings and their greater objective value.

That makes black areas crime lifestyle communities, as you might choose a golf community. The police does not show up. If they do, they do not arrest people. They do not investigate. People do not go to jail for selling drugs, for beating people, nor even for murdering people. If you murder a black person, you get on a waiting list to get into jail.

If a naive police decides to do their job protecting black folks, lawyers crush the police with ruinous litigation.

The black thug has nearly 99% immunity. The black victim is totally devalued. That continues, into lesser charges, lesser punishment for the same charge, and earlier release from jail for the same sentence.

The disparity in the resulting black victimization is an order of magnitude larger than all lynchings by the KKK. The KKK was a lawyer founded and led fraternal organization. Their aims and methods have become more sophisticated and stealthier in the hands of the modern lawyer hierarchy, a racist criminal cult enterprise in insurrection against the Constitution. I cannot believe black Democrats are so easily played and bought off for low welfare payments. The lawyer also destroyed the black family, producing masses of heartless, psychopathic, relentless predators. Not even the KKK could achieve that in its best years.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 29, 2009 8:59:15 PM

Meanwhile, only 5 miles away, where the lawyer lives, there is a suburban surcharge. Pull a gun where the lawyer lives, in contrast to where the lawyer works, three police cruisers arrive in 2 minutes, blasting. The death penalty is at the scene. And there is no excessive force litigation in the lawyer residential area.

This immediate death penalty suburban surcharge results in crime rates lower than those of Japan or Switzerland. In those nations, the criminal knows, the guards will kick your ass every day in prison, whether you need it or not. And in ultra-left wing, hypocrite Germany, the criminal knows, there is a really good chance, he will be found hanging in his cell, and there will be no recourse.

There is the urban discount. There is the suburban surcharge.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 30, 2009 3:40:58 AM

The comments from the readers of Kleinman's post are not self-dealing, rent seeking lawyer bs. His is a more sophisticated version of, let's loose all the criminals to increase government jobs after they bust up the place. All such tricky lawyers should express a willingness to have all loosed vicious predators be assigned to halfway houses on their own street. Or else, shut the eff up.

The comments on his post also confirm that my views are solidly in the mainstream of the public, are widely held, and are totally ordinary. It is the views of the lawyer left wing extremist folks here that are those of loony weirdo freaks.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 30, 2009 7:20:26 AM

Federalist: Has SC captured your exact meaning in his account of the "urban discount"? Do you agree with this suggestion that this urban discount" is functionally a modern manifestation of the aims and methods of the KKK?

Posted by: Doug B. | Oct 30, 2009 9:18:31 AM

First of all, Doug, associating my posts with the aims and methods of the KKK beneath the discourse expected from a law prof, but given your propensity to lead with your chin, it's not surprising. I will say this--one of the bitterest complaints from the apartheid era was that the government was oblivious to the black on black crime in the townships. But I don't think that's what's going on here. Rather, it's a combination of a high volume of crime and curious sympathies for criminals more prevalent in urban areas.

Second of all, Doug, you make a hash of the quote. You posit that his argument is that the lesser amount of punishment per crime is because of the lower clearance rate. Perhaps that's a piece of his argument, but this part makes it clear that he is talking about sentencing outcomes in cleared cases (i.e., cases where a criminal judgment is rendered): "crimes committed against poor black people draw lower-than-average punishments." Additionally, your argument about crack is besides the point. Crack is punished irrespective of race. That it swallows up more black criminals than white is a reflection of increased rates of criminality. Meth laws are harsh too.

In any event, the "urban discount" I refer to is simply the empirical fact that if you commit crime X in an urban area vs. crime X in other areas and are caught, all things being equal, you are likely to get more time in other areas. This is a general statement, obviously, but in many areas, urban criminals know exactly where the county line is.

And for a specific example, see, e.g., Zack Sowers.

Posted by: federalist | Oct 30, 2009 12:04:27 PM

Prof. Berman was not associating your argument with the KKK. He was associating the urban discount with the mentality of the KKK devaluing the suffering of the black crime victim, achieving 10 to 100 times the devastation and genocidal eradication of black males as lynchings (a total of 5000 over 100 years, compared to the 6 fold murder rate resulting in 5000 excess black murders a year over 50 years - there should be 2000 black murders a year, and there are 7000). As with the KKK, the excess murders have a business plan. The KKK seized the property of the wealthy blacks they killed. The lawyer artificially maintains high suburban property prices by making the areas close to downtown unlivable due to crime. The KKK stole $millions. The lawyer hierarchy is stealing $trillions, or three orders of magnitude more than the KKK.

An alternative explanation blames the victim. Black crime victims do not have the political power to demand greater protection. Or, alternatively, they have bought the left wing propaganda that the police is an invading army, rather than their servants, and reject police protection.

These are not important. The lawyer hierarchy controls the government. The first and last aim of government is security. When it allows any area to have Fallujah like atmosphere, it is in failure, and the self-dealing lawyer must be removed from its control, fired for not doing the primary job of government.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 30, 2009 1:47:39 PM

Supremacy, when you talk about someone's argument and the KKK, you are associating it. In any event, I am hopeful that you will try to join in a discussion rather than typing long-winded screeds in intemperate terms. I don't know what you have against lawyers in general. But I think you'd be more persuasive in here (and that is the goal, right) if you would tone those rants down a bit. Yes, there is a lawyers' guild and yes it creates work for itself. But the clownish assumptions about lawyers' power in America simply cause most people to ignore what you have to say.

Posted by: federalist | Oct 30, 2009 3:37:35 PM

federalist -

I think your "urban discount" theory is interesting, but do you have any actual data to back it up? One case does not prove that what you're saying is an "empirical fact."

And I hadn't heard of the Sowers case, but press coverage seems to stop about a year ago. After Sowers died, were the assailants charged with murder, or what happened? It appears that they were initially convicted for assault and the like.

Posted by: AC | Oct 30, 2009 4:12:07 PM

Zach Sowers is hardly proof, I agree, his is just a particularly egregious example.

As for the "urban discount", well, I can cite Kleiman now, can't I? Truth to be told, it's just pretty obvious from being on the planet for a while. Committing crimes in an urban area is smarter than doing so elsewhere, generally speaking.

Posted by: federalist | Oct 30, 2009 4:35:24 PM

Federalist: I love the rule of law. I love the lawyer. I have nothing against him. I want the lawyer to improve from a 1250 AD methodology baseline. The lawyer believes in supernatural doctrines. The goals of every law subject are in failure. The damage to the nation is massive. The lawyer is also twice as oppressed as the public, and the judge is triply oppressed as the public. You will all thank me later, when you are 40% fewer, paid twice as much, held in 10 times the public esteem, and 100 times more successful in meeting the self-stated goals of each law subject. If that is not love, what is?

The lawyer does not want to change because already too old to change. That is the reason to eradicate the current hierarchy. They will never change voluntarily. It depends on how fast change is needed. I am not as bright as the folks here. Everything I argue is from high school, and pretty self-evident to an average person. I hope the students can pick up on modernity and adopt it when they take over the law.

Perhaps, I should be addressing college students thinking of law school, to warn them, to arm them against the methods they will encounter.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 30, 2009 5:11:45 PM

federalist, it seems that any attempt to prove that an urban discount exists or not would be extremely difficult due to difficulty in establishing a control. My biggest question is how do you define "urban" versus "non-urban?" In cases where the jurisdiction is only the city like Baltimore (city) or Richmond that is pretty clear, but its much less clear in someplace like Virginia Beach or Wake County, North Carolina.

Posted by: virginia | Oct 30, 2009 6:06:25 PM

Here are victimization data showing urban people suffer more crime of all kinds.


Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 30, 2009 11:30:45 PM

When brute force fais what do we do? Continue using brute force.

We've become incapable of learning from mistakes and fixing them. Look at the drug war.

Posted by: John K | Oct 31, 2009 1:49:06 AM

John: Those who oppose punishment must explain the low crime rate of Cairo, with extreme population, extreme density. The low rate of victimization is from independent international household survey, and reliable.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 31, 2009 9:10:34 AM

SC, if low crime rates were the only concern achieving them would be no problem. Any number of brutal, oppressive regimes have done that.

I don't "oppose punishment" when it's meted out evenhandedly with wisdom and restraint. Though to be honest, the concept of punishment does strike me as paternalistic, mean-spirited and authoritarian.

Instead, I'd prefer to view incarceration as a means of segregating clearly dangerous and destructive folks from the rest of us.

Besides, the degree of punishment afforded by a prison cell varies; to some inmates the cell constitutes endless torment and misery. To others it's a secure, familiar briar patch and they don't mind being thrown into it.

Problem is that some folks, possibly including you, SC, seem to savor punishment way too enthusiastically.

We'll have a healthier society when not every mistake, poor judgment or self-destructive behavior requires years of imprisonment in mostly arbitrarily determined multiples of five.

We criminalize too much human conduct. We punish minor infractions too harshly. Restraints on law enforcement authorities have steadily eroded as their powers have swelled.

So rest easy, SC. Viewed from your perspective we appear to be headed in the right direction.

Posted by: John K | Oct 31, 2009 10:56:15 AM

John: Security is the sole reason to have and to pay for government. I favor accuracy, and torts to hold government accountable for its mistakes and malpractices. Prove a harm before prohibiting something, or else leave people alone. If the ultra-violent predator cannot learn from all the punishment endured from age 3, at some point, it is time to be expelled from this world.

What the left, now in total control of government, has chosen is to expel 17,000 innocent people from this world, using really rough methods of execution. Why? Because the murder victim generates no fee. The murderer generates $billions in lawyer fees, and cannot be deterred in any way.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Nov 1, 2009 5:30:36 AM

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