Sunday, October 06, 2019

Encouraging new data on reduced arrests for low-level offenses (while national crime rates continue to decline)

This new Wall Street Journal article gets my week off to an encouraging start.  The full headline of the piece sets for the essentials: "Arrests for Low-Level Crimes Are Plummeting, and the Experts Are Flummoxed: Data collected from U.S. cities revealed declines in driving and alcohol-related violations, disorderly conduct, loitering and prostitution." Here are excerpts:

Major police departments around the country are arresting fewer people for minor crimes, according to a growing body of criminal justice data. New statistical studies show a deep, yearslong decline in misdemeanor cases across New York and California and in cities throughout other regions, with arrests of young black men falling dramatically.

New York City’s misdemeanor arrest totals have fallen by half since peaking in 2010, with rates of black arrests sinking to their lowest point since 1990. The arrest rate for black men in St. Louis fell by 80% from 2005 to 2017, a period that saw steep declines in simple assault and drug-related offenses. In Durham, N.C., arrest rates for blacks fell by nearly 50% between 2006 and 2016.  While racial disparities in enforcement persist, researchers say they are surprised by the downward misdemeanor trend, which pushes against ingrained assumptions about overpolicing in urban areas.

At the moment, experts can only speculate about what’s behind the decline.  It is expected to be the subject of more study that could yield better understanding in the future. Some say the falling arrest rates signal a fundamental shift in crime prevention. The shrinking misdemeanor system, they say, is evidence that police departments are pulling back on sweeping quality-of-life enforcement and focusing instead on “hot spots,” neighborhood strips and streets with clusters of gun violence and gang activity.

The decline, some experts say, could also be driven by technologies like the internet and mobile phones that help to keep social interaction off the streets and inside homes. The growing decriminalization and legalization of marijuana has also contributed, they say.  “The enforcement powers of the police are being used far less often,” said Jeremy Travis, a former president of John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan. It is a “very deep reset of the fundamental relationship between police and public.”

Millions of Americans are swept into the misdemeanor system every year, but only recently have scholars sought to dig into the numbers of low-level crime. Criminal data and research have focused on violent felonies like rape and murder and more serious drug-dealing offenses, while statistics on misdemeanors have been notoriously inconsistent and spotty.

Historically, few jurisdictions made it possible to track how many people were arrested for crimes like turnstile jumping, disorderly conduct, marijuana possession, shoplifting, trespassing, drunken-driving and fist fight assaults.  Federal investigations into policing practices in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore, and scrutiny of aggressive policing tactics like “stop-and-frisk,” helped to raise the visibility of misdemeanor justice and its impact on poor minority communities.  Most defendants charged with petty offenses serve little or no time behind bars but pay court fines and fees or get their cases conditionally dismissed.

Researchers saw misdemeanors as another unchecked, racially unbalanced police power creating barriers to housing, employment and education.  With millions of dollars in grants, a network of scholars led by John Jay collected data from several cities and released reports over the past year.  Other studies revealed similar patterns.  A December report by the Public Policy Institute of California found that misdemeanor rates in California declined by close to 60% between 1989 and 2016.  Los Angeles police made 112,570 misdemeanor arrests in 2008 and 60,063 by 2017, largely driven by declines in driving and alcohol-related offenses, according to John Jay’s research network.

A forthcoming paper by law professors at George Mason University and the University of Georgia also found sizable arrest declines in rural Virginia, San Antonio and other jurisdictions.  Other indications include shrinking caseloads reported by the National Center for State Courts and arrest tallies by the Federal Bureau of Investigation showing steady declines in disorderly conduct, drunkenness, prostitution and loitering violations....

Compared with the felony system, misdemeanor enforcement is much less sensitive to actual crime rates and more influenced by changing political and cultural winds, says Alexandra Natapoff, a University of California-Irvine law professor.

In addition to the great news that we are finally gathering better data on misdemeanor systems, it is even greater news that we are using it less. In this post some months ago, I spotlighted LawProf Alexandra Natapoff's terrific book highlighting how much harm and punishment can come with the misdemeanor process.  And, though not mentioned in the WSJ article, I think it critical to note that the reduction in low-level arrests has come at the same time as a great reduction in violent and property crimes over the last decade (details here on latest FBI crime data).  I think we all ought to hope and aspire for a world with less crime and less punishment, and that seems to be what we are starting to achieve in recent years.

October 6, 2019 in Data on sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

"Association of Prior Convictions for Driving Under the Influence With Risk of Subsequent Arrest for Violent Crimes Among Handgun Purchasers"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new research authored by multiple researchers appearing in JAMA Internal Medicine.  Here is its abstract:

Importance  Alcohol use is a risk factor for firearm-related violence, and firearm owners are more likely than others to report risky drinking behaviors.

Objective  To study the association between prior convictions for driving under the influence (DUI) and risk of subsequent arrest for violent crimes among handgun purchasers.

Design  In this retrospective, longitudinal cohort study, 79 678 individuals were followed up from their first handgun purchase in 2001 through 2013. The study cohort included all legally authorized handgun purchasers in California aged 21 to 49 years at the time of purchase in 2001. Individuals were identified using the California Department of Justice (CA DOJ) Dealer’s Record of Sale (DROS) database, which retains information on all legal handgun transfers in the state.

Exposures  The primary exposure was DUI conviction prior to the first handgun purchase in 2001, as recorded in the CA DOJ Criminal History Information System.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Prespecified outcomes included arrests for violent crimes listed in the Crime Index published by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault), firearm-related violent crimes, and any violent crimes.

Results  Of the study population (N = 79 678), 91.0% were males and 68.9% were white individuals; the median age was 34 (range, 21-49) years. The analytic sample for multivariable models included 78 878 purchasers after exclusions.  Compared with purchasers who had no prior criminal history, those with prior DUI convictions and no other criminal history were at increased risk of arrest for a Crime Index–listed violent crime (adjusted hazard ratio [AHR], 2.6; 95% CI, 1.7-4.1), a firearm-related violent crime (AHR, 2.8; 95% CI, 1.3-6.4), and any violent crime (AHR, 3.3; 95% CI, 2.4-4.5). Among purchasers with a history of arrests or convictions for crimes other than DUI, associations specifically with DUI conviction remained.

Conclusions and Relevance  This study’s findings suggest that prior DUI convictions may be associated with the risk of subsequent violence, including firearm-related violence, among legal purchasers of handguns.  Although the magnitude was diminished, the risk associated with DUI conviction remained elevated even among those with a history of arrests or convictions for crimes of other types.

October 1, 2019 in National and State Crime Data, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 30, 2019

New FBI crime data for 2018 reports encouraging crime declines in all areas except rape

In addition to celebrating a certain kind of new year, this morning I am also celebrating the release of the FBI's crime data for 2018 showing notable declines in nearly all crimes relative to 2017. This Marshall Project piece sums up the data story in this full headline: "New FBI Data: Violent Crime Still Falling: 2018 drop extends decades-long trend, but rapes rise for sixth straight year." Here are a few particulars from this piece:

FBI data released Monday suggests that the violent crime rate in the U.S. remains on a decades-long downward trend, falling by 3.9 percent in 2018. Overall, the violent crime rate has plunged by more than 50 percent since the highwater mark of the early 1990s.

The drops came across categories of violent offenses, including murder, non-negligent manslaughter and robbery, and property crimes like burglary, larceny and vehicle thefts, while aggravated assault numbers remained about flat. The rate for rape bucked this trend however, up slightly for 2018, and in each of the last six years....

The overall numbers, recorded by police departments across the country and compiled annually by the FBI, are welcome news for crime researchers like Ames Grawert, who closely monitored an uptick in violence in 2015 and 2016 .“That's a really good sign that the long term trend towards greater safety is not in fact reversed, and that we’re moving past whatever happened in 2015 and 2016,” said Grawert, senior counsel with the Brennan Center for Justice, a research institute at New York University’s School of Law. “It’s a reminder that two years isn’t a trend, and two years doesn’t break a trend.”

This main FBI chart has all the essential data going back to 1999, and I am drawn to the positive news in the property crime arena as well as in the violent crime numbers.  The data show not just a record low rate of property crimes in 2018 for the period of the last two decades, but also a record low total number of property crimes even though there are roughly 55 million more persons in the US now than back in 1999.  

Of course, the rates and numbers of murders and other violent crimes in the US are still higher than what is reported in many European nations, and so we ought not pat ourselves on the back too much.  Still, reduced crime rates are always justify celebration, and criminal justice reform advocates should be sure to not for skeptics that we are still experiencing continued reductions in all sorts of crimes at a time when all sorts of sentencing reform are being implemented or considered.

September 30, 2019 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

BJS releases "Criminal Victimization, 2018" reporting increase in violent victimization and decrease in property crime victimization

The federal government collects and reports on crime data in two essential ways: though the uniform crime reporting system run by the FBI (details and publications here) as well as through the Bureau of Justice Statistics' National Crime Victimization Survey. The latest crime data from BJS appear in this new publication titled simply "Criminal Victimization, 2018." Along with this full report, BJS has provided some data highlights via a Press Release and a Summary, and here are excerpts from the one-page summary:

The longstanding general trend of declining violent crime in the United States, which began in the 1990s, has reversed direction in recent years, based on findings from the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), one of two major sources of crime statistics in the United States. Meanwhile, the long-term decline in property crime has continued in recent years.

After declining 62% from 1994 to 2015 (the most recent year in which a 1-year decline was observed), the number of violent-crime victims increased from 2015 to 2016, and again from 2016 to 2018. Among U.S. residents age 12 or older, the number of violent-crime victims rose from 2.7 million in 2015 to 3.3 million in 2018, an increase of 604,000 victims. This overall rise was driven by increases in the number of victims of rape or sexual assault, aggravated assault, and simple assault.

From 2015 to 2018, the portion of U.S. residents age 12 or older who were victims of violent crime increased from 0.98% to 1.18% (up 20%) (see figure).  Over that span, the portion of white persons age 12 or older who were victims of violent crime increased from 0.96% to 1.19% (up 24%), the portion of males who were victims rose from 0.94% to 1.21% (up 29%), and the portion of females who were victims rose from 1.03% to 1.16% (up 13%).....

There was no statistically significant 1-year change in the number of violent-crime victims age 12 or older from 2017 to 2018; however, the number of violent incidents (the number of specific criminal acts involving a victim) rose from 5.2 million to 6.0 million.  Based on the 2018 survey, the offender was of the same race or ethnicity as the victim in 70% of violent incidents involving black victims, 62% of those involving white victims, 45% of those involving Hispanic victims, and 24% of those involving Asian victims....

While violent crime rose in recent years, property crime fell, as the portion of households that were victims of property crime fell from 7.99% in 2014 to 7.27% in 2018, while the portion that were victims of burglary dropped from 1.27% to 1.07%.

September 10, 2019 in National and State Crime Data, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Study suggests outdoor community service especially effective at reducing recidivism

The harms of solitary confinement and other extreme form of indoor isolation in correctional settings have been widely documented.  But this recent study, titled "The Effect of Horticultural Community Service Programs on Recidivism" and authored by Megan Holmes and Tina Waliczek, spotlights the potential benefits of outdoor community programming for justice-involved individuals.  Here is it abstract and final paragraph:

The average cost of housing a single inmate in the United States is roughly $31,286 per year, bringing the total average cost states spend on corrections to more than $50 billion per year. Statistics show 1 in every 34 adults in the United States is under some form of correctional supervision; and after 3 years, more than 4 in 10 prisoners return to custody. The purpose of this study was to determine the availability of opportunities for horticultural community service and whether there were differences in incidences of recurrences of offenses/recidivism of offenders completing community service in horticultural vs. nonhorticultural settings.  Data were collected through obtaining offender profile probation revocation reports, agency records, and community service supervision reports for one county in Texas.  The sample included both violent and nonviolent and misdemeanor and felony offenders.  Offenders who completed their community service in horticultural or nonhorticultural outdoor environments showed lower rates of recidivism compared with offenders who completed their community service in nonhorticultural indoor environments and those who had no community service.  Demographic comparisons found no difference in incidence of recidivism in comparisons of offenders based on gender, age, and the environment in which community service was served. In addition, no difference was shown in incidence of recidivism in comparisons based on offenders with misdemeanor vs. felony charges.  The results and information gathered support the continued notion that horticultural activities can play an important role in influencing an offender’s successful reentry into society....

Results of this study found those who completed any type of community service had less incidence of recidivism compared with those completing no community service. Results also found that offenders who completed their community service in horticultural or nonhorticultural outdoor environments showed lower rates of recidivism compared with offenders who completed their community service in nonhorticultural indoor environments and those who had no community service. When possible, community service options should be made available to those on probation or parole and include the opportunity for exposure to nature and the outdoors.  Past research (Latessa and Lowenkamp, 2005) found within correctional facilities that rates of recidivism were not affected from standard institutionalized punishment alone. However, basic adult education programs were an effective and promising method for lowering rates of recidivism among adult offender populations (Cecil et al., 2000).  Therefore, participating in horticultural programs on being released from prison or while on probation for the continuation of vocational and/or cognitive-behavioral training championed with community service could provide a sense of meaning and purpose to the individual, which could prove helpful for a successful transition back into society.  Future studies should investigate further the impact of the role of horticulture in the results of this study by comparing nonhorticultural outdoor, horticultural outdoor, and horticultural indoor activities as community service options in a similar study on the impact of recidivism.

September 8, 2019 in National and State Crime Data, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

"The short-run effects of marijuana dispensary openings on local crime"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new empirical article authored by Jesse Burkhardt and Chris Goemans. Here is its abstract:

The recent legalization of marijuana in several states has led to increased public interest regarding the effect of legalization on crime.  Yet, there is limited empirical evidence relating the legalization of marijuana use and distribution to criminal activity.  This paper uses a difference-in-differences design to estimate the effect of marijuana dispensary openings on local crime rates in Denver, Colorado. 

We find that the opening of dispensaries actually decreases violent crime rates in above median income neighborhoods, an important finding in light of increased political debate surrounding legalization.  We also find robust evidence that non-marijuana drug-related crimes decrease within a half-mile of new dispensaries but do not simultaneously increase within a half-mile to mile of new dispensaries, with one possible explanation being that legal marijuana sales and hard drug sales are local substitutes.  Finally, in line with previous research, we find that vehicle break-ins increase up to a mile away from new dispensaries.

Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform

August 6, 2019 in Marijuana Legalization in the States, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 03, 2019

"Consequences of mental and physical health for reentry and recidivism: Toward a health‐based model of desistance"

The title of this post is the title of this recent Criminology article authored by Nathan Link, Jeffrey Ward and Richard Stansfield. Here is its abstract:

During the last few decades, criminologists have identified several adult roles and statuses, including employment, positive family relations, and economic stability, as critical for promoting successful reintegration and desistance.  Very few researchers, however, have investigated the conditions that serve to bring about these transitions and successes crucial for behavior change.  As a complement to a burgeoning amount of literature on the impact of incarceration on health, we emphasize the reverse: Health has important implications for reentry outcomes and reincarceration.

Informed by multiple disciplines, we advance a health‐based model of desistance in which both mental and physical dimensions of health affect life chances in the employment and family realms and ultimately recidivism.  Investigating this issue with longitudinal data from the Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative (SVORI) and structural equation models, we find overall support for the health‐based model of desistance.  Our results indicate several significant pathways through which both manifestations of health influence employment, family conflict, financial problems, and crime and reincarceration.  The findings highlight the need for implementation of correctional and transitional policies to improve health among the incarcerated and avert health‐related reentry failures.

August 3, 2019 in National and State Crime Data, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 29, 2019

"The Effect of Public Health Insurance on Criminal Recidivism"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new empirical paper recently posted to SSRN and authored by Erkmen Giray Aslim, Murat Mungan, Carlos Navarro and Han Yu. Here is its abstract:

The prevalence of mental health and substance abuse disorders is high among incarcerated individuals.  Many ex-offenders reenter the community without receiving any specialized treatment and return to prison with existing behavioral health problems.  We consider a Beckerian law enforcement theory to identify different sources through which access to health care may impact ex-offenders' propensities to recidivate, and empirically estimate the effect of access to public health insurance on criminal recidivism. 

We exploit the plausibly exogenous variation in state decisions to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.  Using administrative data on prison admission and release records from 2010 to 2016, we find that the expansions decrease recidivism for both violent and public order crimes.  In addition, we find that the public coverage expansions substantially increase access to substance use disorder treatment.  The effect is salient for individuals who are covered by Medicaid and referred to treatment by the criminal justice system. These findings are most consistent with the theory that increased access to health care reduces ex-offenders' perceived non-monetary benefits from committing crimes.

I think the punchy way to pitch these findings would be to say that Obamacare reduces crime and limiting or eliminating Obamacare risks increasing crime.  Very interesting (though not all that surprising for folks who think through issues at the intersection of criminal justice and health care access).

July 29, 2019 in National and State Crime Data, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 14, 2019

Brennan Center "final analysis" reports notable crime drops in major cities for 2018

This week the Brennan Center released this new data analysis of 2018 murders and crime rates in 30 major US cities under the titled "Crime in 2018: Final Analysis."  This short report, authored by Ames Grawert and Cameron Kimble, is summarized on this webpage in this way (with links from the original):

In this final analysis of crime rates in 2018, we estimate that rates of violent crime, murder, and overall crime declined in the 30 largest American cities, with significant declines in murder. The data in this report are collected directly from local police departments. The FBI’s final 2018 data, covering the entire United States, will be released in September. 
 
The data reported here refine an initial Brennan Center report released in September, Crime and Murder in 2018: A Preliminary Analysis, which concluded that “increases in the murder rate in 2015 and 2016 were temporary, rather than signaling a reversal in the long-term downward trend” in crime and violence.  A December update reached the same conclusion, showing rates of crime, violent crime, and homicide all declining. These continuing declines indicate that, while increases in crime in 2015 and 2016 merit further study, they did not signal the start of a new “crime wave.” 
 
Updated Tables 1 and 2 support conclusions similar to the Brennan Center’s September and December reports, and now include complete data through the end of the year:
 
Murder: The 2018 murder rate in the 30 largest cities is estimated to have declined by 8.0 percent since 2017.  This finding indicates that the major-city murder rate will approximate 2015 levels but remain above 2014’s low point.
 
Modest declines in most cities explain this decrease.  The murder rate in Chicago, which increased significantly in 2015 and 2016, declined by nearly 12 percent but remains roughly 40 percent above 2014 levels.  Baltimore, another city that continues to struggle with violence, also saw its murder rate decline by 9.1 percent.  While Las Vegas saw its murder rate decrease significantly, by more than 40 percent, part of this decline is attributable to the mass shooting at the Mandalay Bay Resort, which led to an unusually high homicide total in 2017.
 
Some cities saw their murder rates rise in 2018, such as Washington, DC (35.6 percent) and Philadelphia (8.5 percent).  These increases suggest a need to better understand how and why murder is increasing in some cities.  New York City’s murder rate also increased, but by less than 1 percent, making it essentially the same as the 2017 rate. 
 
Crime: The overall crime rate in the 30 largest cities in 2018 is estimated to have declined slightly from the previous year, falling by 3.5 percent. If final FBI data track these findings, crime will have again reached a record low, driven by declining rates of property crime.
 
Violent Crime: The violent crime rate is also estimated to have declined, falling by 4.0 percent from 2017.
 
Estimates of crime and violent crime are based on data from 25 of the nation’s 30 largest cities; estimates of murder include data from 26 cities. The Brennan Center’s previous report on crime in 2018 is available here, and a report studying crime trends from 1990 to 2016 is available here

June 14, 2019 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Critically reviewing how the Bureau of Justice Statistics has reviewed its sex offender recidivism data

Last week I blogged here about the Bureau of Justice Statistics' press release providing highlights of this big report titled "Recidivism of Sex Offenders Released from State Prison: A 9-Year Follow-Up (2005-14)."  A helpful reader made sure I did not miss this notable new piece by Wendy Sawyer over at Prison Policy Initiative reacting to these documents.  This posting is fully titled "BJS fuels myths about sex offense recidivism, contradicting its own new data: A new government report reinforces harmful misconceptions about people convicted of sex offenses. Here's our take on how to parse the data."  I recommend the piece in full, and here are excerpts:

A new report released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics should put an end to this misconception: The report, Recidivism of Sex Offenders Released from State Prison: A 9-Year Follow-Up (2005-2014), shows that people convicted of sex offenses are actually much less likely than people convicted of other offenses to be rearrested or go back to prison.

But you wouldn’t know this by looking at the report’s press release and certain parts of the report itself, which reinforce inaccurate and harmful depictions of people convicted of sex offenses as uniquely dangerous career criminals.  The press release and report both emphasize what appears to be the central finding: “Released sex offenders were three times as likely as other released prisoners to be re-arrested for a sex offense.” That was the headline of the press release.  The report itself re-states this finding three different ways, using similar mathematical comparisons, in a single paragraph.

What the report doesn’t say is that the same comparisons can be made for the other offense categories: People released from sentences for homicide were more than twice as likely to be rearrested for a homicide; those who served sentences for robbery were more than twice as likely to be rearrested for robbery; and those who served time for assault, property crimes, or drug offenses were also more likely (by 1.3-1.4 times) to be rearrested for similar offenses. And with the exception of homicide, those who served sentences for these other offense types were much more likely to be rearrested at all.

The new BJS report, unfortunately, is a good example of how our perception of sex offenders is distorted by alarmist framing, which in turn contributes to bad policy. That this publication was a priority for BJS at all is revealing: this is the only offense category out of all of the offenders included in the recidivism study to which BJS has devoted an entire 35-page report, even though this group makes up just 5% of the release cohort. This might make sense if it was published in an effort to dispel some myths about this population, but that’s not what’s happening here.

Prior related post:

June 6, 2019 in Detailed sentencing data, National and State Crime Data, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

Saturday, June 01, 2019

Another notable study spotlighting a now ubiquitous technology to help explain the great crime decline

One of many major mysteries in this modern history of US crime and punishment is just why crime rates rose so dramatically in the 1970s and 1980s and then the fell dramatically in the 1990s and 2000s. Lots of folks have lots of data to support lots of ideas, and this recent Atlantic piece by Alexis Madrigil, headlined "The Collapsing Crime Rates of the ’90s Might Have Been Driven by Cellphones," provides perhaps another piece of the story.  Here are excerpts from the piece (with a few links preserved) that provides a nice review of the state of this debate:

It’s practically an American pastime to blame cellphones for all sorts of societal problems, from distracted parents to faltering democracies. But the devices might have also delivered a social silver lining: a de-escalation of the gang turf wars that tore up cities in the 1980s. The intriguing new theory suggests that the arrival of mobile phones made holding territory less important, which reduced intergang conflict and lowered profits from drug sales.

Lena Edlund, a Columbia University economist,  and Cecilia Machado, of the Getulio Vargas Foundation, lay out the data in a new National Bureau of Economic Research working paper. They estimate that the diffusion of phones could explain 19 to 29 percent of the decline in homicides seen from 1990 to 2000.

“The cellphones changed how drugs were dealt,” Edlund told me. In the ’80s, turf-based drug sales generated violence as gangs attacked and defended territory, and also allowed those who controlled the block to keep profits high.  The cellphone broke the link, the paper claims, between turf and selling drugs. “It’s not that people don’t sell or do drugs anymore,” Edlund explained to me, “but the relationship between that and violence is different.”

Edlund and Machado used Federal Communications Commission data on cellular-infrastructure deployment and matched it against the FBI’s (admittedly spotty) database on homicides across the country. They demonstrated a negative relationship that was even stronger for black and Latino populations. The title of their paper suggests that a crucial aspect of understanding declining crime has been hiding in plain sight for years: “It’s the Phone, Stupid: Mobiles and Murder.”

Their theory is the latest entry in a series of attempts to explain the components of the long-term decline in crime that began in the early 1990s. The rise and fall of crime in the late 20th century (and into the 21st) is one of the great mysteries of social science. No one has come up with an explanation that fully—and incontestably—accounts for the falling crime rates. Many have tried, and shown substantial initial results, only to have their findings disputed.

Edlund and Machado are not the first to suggest that phones could have played a role in the decline.  Among others, the criminologists Erin Orrick and Alex Piquero were able to show that property crime fell as cellphone-ownership rates climbed.  The first paper on the cellphone-crime link suggested that phones were an “underappreciated” crime deterrent, as mobile communications allow illegal behavior to be reported more easily and quickly.

But cellphones are far from the only possible explanation.  Any measurement that was going up in the ’90s correlates with the decline of violence.  Thus, there are probably too many theories out there, each with limited explanatory power.   One commonsense argument that’s been made is that certain police tactics (say, stop-and-frisk or the “broken windows” approach) or the explosion of incarceration rates must have been responsible for the decline, but most careful reviews have found little evidence to suggest that they had more than a marginal impact.

The University of New Haven criminologist Maria Tcherni-Buzzeo published a review of the contending theories in 2018 that found no fewer than 24 different explanations for why crime began a multi-decade decline in the early 1990s, through economic times good and bad, in different countries and cities, under draconian policing regimes and more progressive ones.

Every theory has its proponents and detractors.  For example, the economists Steven Levitt and John Donohue proposed (and doubled down on) the idea that legalizing abortion reduced crime rates by cutting down on the number of unwanted pregnancies and children born into situations that make them more likely to fall into criminal life. Tcherni-Buzzeo described the theory as “thoroughly debunked by empirical research” in a 2018 book chapter looking at the theories behind the crime decline. Yet Levitt and Donohue’s most recent research, published as a working paper this month, contends they were even more right all along than they’d thought, and that the “cumulative impact of legalized abortion on crime is roughly 45 percent, accounting for a very substantial portion of the roughly 50–55 percent overall decline from the peak of crime in the early 1990s.”

June 1, 2019 in National and State Crime Data, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Bureau of Justice Statistics releases "Recidivism of Sex Offenders Released from State Prison: A 9-Year Follow-Up (2005-14)"

The Bureau of Justice Statistics has this new press release providing highlights of this big new report titled "Recidivism of Sex Offenders Released from State Prison: A 9-Year Follow-Up (2005-14)." Here are excerpts from the press release:

State prisoners released after serving time for rape or sexual assault were more than three times as likely as other released prisoners to be re-arrested for rape or sexual assault during the 9 years following their release, the Bureau of Justice Statistics announced today.  Released sex offenders represented 5% of prisoners released in 2005 and 16% of post-release arrests for rape or sexual assault during the 9-year follow-up period.

The BJS study tracked a representative sample of prisoners released in 2005 in the 30 states that were responsible for 77% of all state prisoners released nationwide and examined their arrests through 2014.  An estimated 7.7% of released sex offenders were arrested for rape or sexual assault during the 9-year follow up period, versus 2.3% of other released prisoners.

While rape and sexual assault offenders were more likely than other released prisoners to be arrested for rape or sexual assault, they were less likely than other released prisoners to be arrested for other crimes. About two-thirds (67%) of released sex offenders were arrested at least once for any type of crime during the 9 years following their release, compared to about five-sixths (84%) of other released prisoners.  Almost all prisoners who were re-arrested (96% of released sex offenders and 99% of all released offenders) were arrested for an offense other than a probation or parole violation.

This is BJS’s first recidivism study on sex offenders with a 9-year follow-up period. Fewer than half of released sex offenders were arrested for any crime within the first 3 years of release, while more than two-thirds were arrested within 9 years.  About 3 in 10 released sex offenders were arrested during their first year after release.  About 1 in 5 were arrested during their fifth year after release, and nearly 1 in 6 were arrested during their ninth year....

Overall, half of sex offenders released from prison had a subsequent arrest that led to a conviction.  However, sex offenders were less likely than all released prisoners to have a new arrest resulting in a conviction.  Within 3 years of release, 28% of persons released after serving a sentence for rape or sexual assault had an arrest that led to a conviction, compared to 49% of all released prisoners. At the end of the 9-year follow-up, 50% of sex offenders and 69% of all released prisoners had a new arrest that led to a conviction.

Sex offenders were more likely than other released prisoners to receive longer sentences and to be granted unconditional releases from prison.  The median sentence length for sex offenders was 60 months versus 36 months for all state prisoners released in 30 states in 2005.  About 32% of sex offenders were granted an unconditional release and not placed on parole, probation or some other form of community supervision. About 26% of all released prisoners were granted an unconditional release.

BJS also has created this one-page summary of the report.  In short form, this report details that sex offenders released from state prison in 2005 were less likely to be arrested for any offense than other released prisoners, but they were more likely to be arrested for a sex offense than other released prisoners.  And, as I have said before based other data from this BJS set, recidivism rates for everyone released from state prison in 2005 have been depressingly high.  It is worth emphasizing, though, that these data are focused on prisoners released back in 2005, a time when there was relatively little interest in prison rehabilitation programming or in aiding prisoner reentry.  I am hopeful that recent state reforms on these fronts might be now producing lower recidivism numbers, but only time will tell.

May 30, 2019 in Detailed sentencing data, National and State Crime Data, Offender Characteristics, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

FBI reports on encouraging crime data from the first half of 2018

This FBI press release, titled "Preliminary Semiannual Crime Statistics for 2018 Released; Report Shows Overall Crime Declined in First Half of Last Year," provides heartening news about recent crime trends.  Here are the basics from the release:

Preliminary statistics show declines in both violent crime and property crime in the first half of 2018 when compared to statistics from the first half of the previous year, according to the FBI’s Preliminary Semiannual Uniform Crime Report, released today.

The report contains data from more than 14,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide that voluntarily submitted crime data to the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program. The report showed nearly all offenses in the violent crime category declined. Robbery offenses decreased 12.5 percent, murder and nonnegligent manslaughter offenses decreased 6.7 percent, and aggravated assault offenses declined 2 percent.  Rape (revised definition), however, increased 0.6 percent.

When comparing data from the first six months of 2018 with the first six months of 2017, all property crime categories showed a decrease. Burglaries were down 12.7 percent, larceny-thefts decreased 6.3 percent, and motor vehicle thefts declined 3.3 percent.

The full Crime in the United States, 2018 report will be released later this year.

The data follow reports from last year that the first-half of 2017 crime data also reflected a decline in most categories of crime. 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 move down significantly after increases in 2015 and 2016 and a small decline in 2017.  And the continued huge decline in property crime remains remarkable.

February 26, 2019 in National and State Crime Data, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 14, 2019

"The Dark Figure of Sexual Recidivism"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper authored by Nicholas Scurich and Richard John now available via SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

Empirical studies of sexual offender recidivism have proliferated in recent decades. Virtually all of the studies define recidivism as a new legal charge or conviction for a sexual crime, and these studies tend to find recidivism rates on the order of 5-15% after 5 years and 10-25% after 10+ years.  It is uncontroversial that such a definition of recidivism underestimates the true rate of sexual recidivism because most sexual crime is not reported to legal authorities, the so-called “dark figure of crime.”

To estimate the magnitude of the dark figure of sexual recidivism, this paper uses a probabilistic simulation approach in conjunction with a.) victim self-report survey data about the rate of reporting sexual crime to legal authorities, b.) offender self-report data about the number of victims per offender, and c.) different assumptions about the chances of being convicted of a new sexual offense once it is reported.  Under any configuration of assumptions, the dark figure is substantial, and as a consequence, the disparity between recidivism defined as a new legal charge or conviction for a sex crime and recidivism defined as actually committing a new sexual crime is large.  These findings call into question the utility of recidivism studies that rely exclusively on official crime statistics to define sexual recidivism, and highlight the need for additional, long-term studies that use a variety of different measures to assess whether or not sexual recidivism has occurred.

February 14, 2019 in Data on sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (13)

Monday, February 11, 2019

Acting AG Whitaker makes the case that "law enforcement works"

Today in Washington, DC, Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker delivered these remarks to the National Sheriffs’ Association’s Winter Conference. The structure and specifics of what he had to say is quite similar to the message delivered by former AG Jeff Sessions in similar settings in years past, and here are notable excerpts speaking to federal enforcement efforts:

In the last fiscal year, the Justice Department charged the greatest number of violent crime defendants since we started to track this category more than 25 years ago.  We broke the previous record by nearly 15 percent.  We also charged more than 15,000 defendants with federal firearms offenses, which is a record. We broke that record by a margin of 17 percent.

Last year we charged more illegal aliens with illegal entry than ever before.  In fact, we charged 85 percent more defendants with illegally entering America than we did in the previous year. And we increased the number of felony re-entry prosecutions by more than 38 percent.

All of these efforts that I’ve mentioned are adding up — and they’re bringing down the crime rate in counties all across America. In September, the FBI released final crime statistics for 2017. They showed that the violent crime rate and the homicide rate both went down after two years of increases under the previous administration.

For 2018, one estimate projects that the murder rate in our 30 largest cities declined by 7.6 percent.  That is usually a good indicator of what is happening nationwide.

And as this crowd knows well: when you lock up gang members and violent criminals, you also have an impact on drug crime.  In fiscal year 2018, the Department of Justice charged six percent more drug defendants than in the year before.  We prosecuted 36 percent more opioid defendants than the previous four-year average. We increased heroin prosecutions by 15 percent and oxycontin prosecutions by 35 percent.  We have broken records for fentanyl prosecutions two years in a row.

More importantly, drug overdose deaths may have finally stopped rising. According to preliminary data from the CDC, fatal overdoses stopped rising in September 2017 — and then decreased by two percent through April 2018.

This is preliminary data, but it is still encouraging. As our efforts have shown over these last two years, law enforcement works.

I am very pleased that there is a projected significant decline in the murder rate and also that overdose deaths may be decreasing. I am not sure it is sound to attribute these positive developments to stepped up federal prosecutions, but I am sure that we should all celebrate the very fact that there are good crime and overdose data to "spin" in various possible ways.

February 11, 2019 in Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, National and State Crime Data, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 21, 2018

Bureau of Justice Statistics releases results of the 2017 National Crime Victimization Survey

As reported in this press release and as fully detailed in this 30-page report, the Bureau of Justice Statistics has just published the results from its annual survey of households about their experiences with crime.  Here is how the survey is exampled in these documents: "The NCVS collects information on nonfatal violent and property crimes against persons age 12 or older, whether or not these crimes were reported to police, from a nationally representative sample of U.S. households. Respondents are asked about the number and characteristics of crimes they have experienced during the prior six months." And here are the statistical basics via the press release:

There was no statistically significant increase from 2016 to 2017 in the number of residents age 12 and over who had been victims of violent crime during the prior six months, while there was a statistically significant increase from 2015 to 2017. The overall number of victimizations that occurred, reflecting the total number of times people were victimized, did not increase significantly over either a 1- or 2-year span.

These 2017 findings follow a statistically significant increase in the number of victims of violent crime from 2015 to 2016.

From 2016 to 2017, trends were mixed among individual crime types. The rate of robbery victimizations rose from 1.7 per 1,000 residents age 12 or older in 2016 to 2.3 per 1,000 in 2017. Meanwhile, the burglary rate dropped from 23.7 victimizations per 1,000 households in 2016 to 20.6 per 1,000 households in 2017. In the NCVS, robbery is defined as theft or attempted theft directly from a person by force or threat of force, and burglary is the unlawful or forcible entry or attempted entry of a residence or other non-commercial structure, such as a garage or shed.

The portion of U.S. residents age 12 or older who had been a victim of violent crime during the prior six months increased from 0.98 percent in 2015 to 1.14 percent in 2017. This 2-year rise in the prevalence of violent crime was driven primarily by an increase in simple assault (which is generally non-felony assault).

For the second straight year, the number of victims of violent crime was higher than in 2015. The number of persons age 12 or older who had been victims of violent crime rose from 2.7 million in 2015 to 2.9 million in 2016 (up 9 percent from 2015) and 3.1 million in 2017 (up 17 percent from 2015). The 2-year increase in the number of violent-crime victims was 455,700.

From 2016 to 2017, the portion of persons victimized by violent crime increased among females, whites, those ages 12 to 17, those age 65 and over, and those who were divorced or had never been married. The portion of Asians victimized by violent crime, however, decreased. From 2015 to 2017, the portion of persons who were victims of violent crime increased among males, whites, those ages 25 to 34, those ages 50 to 64, those age 65 and over, and those who had never been married.

Overall, property crime decreased from 2016 to 2017, falling from 118.6 victimizations per 1,000 households to 108.4. This decrease followed an increase in property crime the previous year, from 110.7 victimizations per 1,000 households in 2015 to 118.6 in 2016.

Based on the 2017 survey, about 45 percent of violent victimizations and 36 percent of property victimizations were reported to police. The percentage of rapes or sexual assaults that were reported to police rose from 23 percent in 2016 to 40 percent in 2017.

I think it fair to say that this metric determined that violent crime ticked up a bit in 2017, but not as much as in prior years, and property crime during the same period trended downward.

December 21, 2018 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, December 20, 2018

"California transformed its justice system. But now crime is up, and critics want rollbacks"

La-1545291924-l4bgfb9fvx-snap-imageThe title of this post is the headline of this notable new Los Angeles Times article that merits a read in full. Here is the first part of the piece:

Over the last decade, California has led the nation in reducing its prison population. The state has shortened sentences and diverted some offenders to the counties for incarceration and supervision, transforming California’s criminal justice system into what supporters hope will become a humane model around the country.

But amid the changes, crime has increased in recent years, sparking debate about the causes and giving ammunition to those leading a new effort to roll back some of the reforms.

An analysis by the Marshall Project and the Los Angeles Times found that California’s crime rates remain near historic lows, but overall crime spiked in both 2012 and 2015, the years that immediately followed two major statewide measures aimed at decreasing the number of people in prison. Those jumps were mainly driven by increases in property crimes, particularly thefts from motor vehicles.

After decades of mirroring national downward trends in violent crime, California saw a 12% increase from 2014 to 2017, while the violent crime rate in the other 49 states together increased only 3%, the analysis showed. In 2014, California voters approved a ballot measure that reduced sentences for many low-level drug and property crimes. California’s property crime rate fell slightly in the last two years, but remains 2% higher than it was in 2014. By contrast, the rate of property crimes in the rest of the nation has dropped by 10% over the same period.

There is no simple explanation. Crime trends vary dramatically from county to county. Thirty-one of the state’s 58 counties saw an increase in violent crime last year, while 22 saw an increase in property crimes. The rest stayed flat or declined. What single factor can explain the fact that violent crime went up 6% last year in Los Angeles but fell 6% in Sacramento?

There also have been large differences in the way counties spent the billions in state money allocated to implement the new measures. Some focused on building jails, others on recruiting and deploying police, and still others experimented with collaborative courts and reentry programs.

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To complicate matters, specific crimes come with their own caveats. Reports of rape have increased nationally since 2013, for example, but sexual assaults have traditionally been underreported, and part of the increase stems from the FBI’s decision to broaden its definition of rape in 2013. (The Marshall Project and Times data analysis excluded rape.) Reports of aggravated assaults in California also have increased, but part of that increase is likely due to underreporting from 2005 to 2012 by the Los Angeles Police Department.

California’s criminal reform revolution began in earnest in 2011 after the U.S. Supreme Court approved a cap on the number of inmates in prison. Lawmakers responded by passing Assembly Bill 109, known as realignment, which lowered the prison population by shifting the burden to the counties to house and supervise thousands of inmates convicted of crimes that the law categorized as nonviolent and nonserious.

Three years later, California voters approved Proposition 47, which turned drug use and most theft convictions from felonies to misdemeanors. In 2016, voters overhauled the state parole system by backing Proposition 57, which gave thousands of inmates the chance to earn an earlier release from prison.

The undeniable result of all these measures is that people are on the street today who would have been locked up in previous years. Critics of the reforms argue that they have created a permissive climate that makes policing harder and weakens the deterrent effect of a possible prison sentence.

“There’s no accountability,” said Assemblyman Jim Cooper (D-Elk Grove). “People know they can get away with things. That’s contributed to it. That’s really been a big source of frustration. No one’s going to jail anymore.” Cooper, a retired Sacramento County sheriff’s captain, has been a leading voice in a coalition of prosecutors and law enforcement groups pushing back.

A statewide initiative that will appear on the 2020 ballot would reverse some provisions of Proposition 47, toughen supervision of parolees and disqualify some prisoners from early release.

Backers of the proposed rollback argue that the state’s drug courts, intended as an alternative to criminal courts, are seeing fewer people because prosecutors can no longer force someone into treatment with the threat of a felony. (Some counties, including San Diego, have reported decreases in drug court participation since Proposition 47, but no statewide figures are available.) Those who favor toughening the law also claim counties are struggling to supervise offenders with violent criminal records.

Supporters of the prison downsizing measures dispute any link between the new laws and an increase in crime. They argue that using 2014 as a baseline — the year with the fewest crimes reported in the state since the 1960s — unfairly skews any analysis. “To look at it from a year-to-year basis is very short-sighted,” said Michael Romano, the director of the Three Strikes Project at Stanford Law School who helped write Proposition 47. “We really have had a sustained downward trend over the past decade or two.” He said it’s unlikely any single factor led to an increase in crime, but rather a combination of issues, such as poverty and unemployment, in different counties throughout the state.

Californians for Safety and Justice, a group that co-authored Proposition 47, points out that several states saw larger increases in violent crime than California from 2016 to 2017. (An analysis by The Times and the Marshall Project found 20 states with larger increases in violent crime rates.) They note that none of the recent laws changed penalties for violent crimes.

In 2013, the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California found that the first major prison downsizing law, realignment, had no effect on violent crime, but did lead to an increase in auto thefts. In 2016, a prestigious social science journal reached a similar conclusion. Under realignment, people convicted of auto theft, a nonviolent felony, usually serve shorter sentences in their local jails and are released under local supervision.

Two studies published this summer — one by a UC Irvine criminologist and another by the Public Policy Institute of California —found no link between Proposition 47 and increases in violent crime. Both noted a possible link between the initiative and increases in larceny, particularly thefts from motor vehicles, although the Irvine study found those links too tenuous to conclude Proposition 47 was to blame.

After national crime data for 2017 released this fall showed California departed from the national trend — violent crime in California ticked up slightly while it fell slightly across the 49 other states taken together — researchers said they planned to revisit the question of a link between Proposition 47 and violent crime. California’s robbery rate jumped 14% from 2014 to 2017; the rest of the country saw a 7% drop. “It is troubling and deserves more attention,” said Magnus Lofstrom, policy director of corrections at the Public Policy Institute of California.

In addition to praising the work of this article, I wanted to flag the possibility that the stories of crime in California might get even more complicated and unclear if and when we get complete data for 2018. The recent Brennan Center report indicates crime is down in 2018 in some major California cities and that murder is down a lot in all big California cities. If these numbers hold true throughout the state reform advocates will have some important data to push back on the claim that reform rollbacks are needed to enhance public safety.

UPDATE The day after running this general story about an uptick in California crime, the Los Angeles Times followed up with this more encouraging local tale under the headline "Crime once plagued San Joaquin County, but now its jail has empty beds. Here’s what it did right."  The unsurprising take-away is that how and how well a jurisdiction implements criminal justice reform impacts how well criminal justice reform works.

December 20, 2018 in National and State Crime Data, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment, State Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Brennan Center releases its latest (encouraging) accounting of crime in 2018

Ames Grawert and and Cameron Kimble at The Brennan Center have produced this new report titled "Crime in 2018: 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 decline in crime and murder in 2018. Our report, Crime and Murder in 2018: A Preliminary Analysis, concluded that crime and murder in 2018 are again declining nationwide, continuing the historic downward trend.

This analysis updates the September report and finds that, where data were available, rates of crime, violent crime, and murder in major American cities are estimated to decline through the end of 2018.  However, murder rates in some cities remain above 2015 levels, demonstrating a continued need for evidence-based solutions to violent crime....

• Murder: The 2018 murder rate in the 30 largest cities is estimated to decline by nearly 6 percent. Large decreases this year in Chicago and San Francisco, as well as moderate decreases in other cities such as Baltimore, contributed to this decline.  The murder rate in Chicago — which increased significantly in 2015 and 2016 — is projected to decline by 18.1 percent in 2018.  The murder rate in San Francisco is estimated to fall by nearly 27 percent. Baltimore’s 2018 murder rate is projected to decline by 7.4 percent.

Some cities are projected to see their murder rates rise, including Washington, D.C. (by 39.5 percent), and Houston (by 22.6 percent).  Further study is needed to better understand the causes of these rises.

• Crime: The overall crime rate in the 30 largest cities in 2018 is estimated to decline slightly from the previous year, falling by 1.8 percent.  While this conclusion is based on preliminary data, if the trend holds, the crime rate will fall to its lowest since at least 1990.

• Violent Crime: Violent crime rates are projected to decline in the majority of the 30 largest cities through the end of 2018.  Overall, the violent crime rate is estimated to decrease by 2.7 percent, continuing a downward trend from 2017.

Estimates of crime and violent crime are based on data from 22 of the nation’s 30 largest cities; estimates of murder include data from all 30 cities. While the estimates in this report are based on early data, previous Brennan Center reports have correctly estimated the direction and magnitude of changes in major-city crime rates.

December 18, 2018 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 17, 2018

Should Senator Cotton and any others fretting about crime after passage of the FIRST STEP Act focus a lot more attention on crime risks presented by climate change?

The question in the title of this post is my (slightly tongue-in-cheek) way of highlighting a recent research paper published in GeoHealth linking warmer winters to more violent crime.  This paper, which I saw thanks to this post at The Crime Report, is authored by Ryan D. Harp and Kristopher B. Karnauskas, and it is titled "The Influence of Interannual Climate Variability on Regional Violent Crime Rates in the United States."  Here is its abstract and plain language summary:

Abstract

While the impact of climate on regional geopolitical stability and large‐scale conflict has garnered increased visibility in recent years, the effects of climate variability on interpersonal violent crime have received only limited scientific attention.  Though earlier studies have established a modest correlation between temperature and violent crime, the underlying seasonality in both variables was often not controlled for and spatial heterogeneity of the statistical relationships has largely been overlooked. Here a method of spatial aggregation is applied to the United States, enabling a systematic investigation into the observed relationships between large‐scale climate variability and regionally aggregated crime rates.  This novel approach allows for differentiation between the effects of two previously proposed mechanisms linking climate and violent crime, the Routine Activities Theory and Temperature‐Aggression Hypothesis.  Results indicate large and statistically significant positive correlations between the interannual variability of wintertime air temperature and both violent and property crime rates, with negligible correlations emerging from summertime data. Results strongly support the Routine Activities Theory linking climate and violent crime, with climate variability explaining well over a third of the variance of wintertime violent crime in several broad regions of the United States.  Finally, results motivate the development of observationally constrained empirical models and their potential application to seasonal and potentially longer‐term forecasts.

Plain Language Summary

Higher wintertime temperatures lead to higher crime rates across several broad regions of the United States.  We combined more than 30 years of climate and crime data from five U.S. regions with similar climate and found a very strong relationship between temperature and both violent and property crime, particularly in the winter.  That milder winters–when people are more apt to be out and about compared to harsh winters–see that higher levels of crime provides support to a theory that simply increasing the number of interactions between people is likely the primary driver of this climate‐crime connection.

December 17, 2018 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 28, 2018

"Mass incarceration isn’t always the issue. Uneven incarceration is."

Title of this post is headline of this recent Washington Post commentary by Charles Lane.  Here are excerpts (with a little cursory commentary to follow):

“Mass incarceration” update: It peaked during the years 2007-2008 and has been quietly but consistently falling ever since. The U.S. prison and jail population that equaled 760 out of every 100,000 people in each of those two years had declined by the end of 2016 to 670 per 100,000, according to the Justice Department.

Does that 11.8 percent drop represent meaningful progress? Well, compared with what? If the standard is the low-violent-crime, low-incarceration norm enjoyed by the United States’ peer nations in Western Europe and Japan, the progress here looks modest at best.  Germany, for example, had an incarceration rate of 76 per 100,000 in 2016, and a murder rate of 1.18 per 100,000, according to the United Nations. 

Yet the United States is clearly headed in the right direction: We have managed to halt and reverse ever-growing incarceration rates, including, crucially, for black men, whose numbers in prison have fallen by about 98,000 since 2009, according to the Pew Research Center. The overall incarceration rate is now at a 20-year low, Pew reports.

Meanwhile, violent crime, despite a troubling uptick in 2015 and 2016, has not reverted to the out-of-control rates of the late 1980s and early 1990s.  According to FBI data released last month, the 2017 U.S. murder rate was 5.4 per 100,000, roughly quintuple Germany’s, but still about half what it was in 1991.

In one significant respect, however, the problem in the United States may be underincarceration.  As a Post team reported in June, murder goes all but unpunished in large areas of numerous U.S. cities, with impunity concentrated in heavily minority areas where police-community relations are at their worst and gang intimidation at its strongest. In Baltimore and Chicago, The Post report noted, police “solve so few homicides that vast areas stretching for miles experience hundreds of homicides with virtually no arrests.”

And because no one seriously questions that murderers and other violent offenders should be imprisoned (indeed, 54 percent of the state prison population is serving time for violent offenses, not drug offenses or other nonviolent crimes), these data imply that, for some U.S. jurisdictions, mass incarceration is not the issue, but rather something possibly more corrosive: uneven incarceration. Minority communities experience a criminal-justice system that simultaneously over- and under-enforces the law....

Despite recent decreases, the United States still incarcerates more people, in absolute numbers and as a share of our population, than any other nation on Earth. This statistic is nothing to be proud of.

Considered in proper context, though, it reflects not only historic social and racial inequalities, and punitive attitudes, but also the fact that the United States is the only large nation on Earth with both a functioning criminal-justice system and a fairly high level of violent crime.

The goal of criminal justice should not be any particular level of incarceration, high or low, but rather fair, consistent and effective enforcement focused on the most repugnant and most socially destabilizing crimes.  We’re not there yet, but compared with the recent past, we are doing better.

I commend this commentary for noting that "we are doing better" on crime and punishment in the US, while also noting that we also still have way too much violent crime and way too much prison punishment in our nation.  These realities should call for, especially after the last few days of hate-fueled crimes, some real soul-searching about what makes America less than great on these metrics.  I certainly have some thoughts on some factors that I think fuel these realities (e.g., disparities, drugs, guns, leadership), but what I think is most important is that any and everyone concerned about either crime or punishment give real thought to the progress we are making and how far we still have to go even when merely compared to any comparable nation.  

October 28, 2018 in National and State Crime Data, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

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.

October 19, 2018 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

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.

October 3, 2018 in Data on sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (4)

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.

September 30, 2018 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

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. 

September 24, 2018 in National and State Crime Data, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 21, 2018

Spotlighting ever-increasing overdose casualties amidst the last four decades of the war on drugs

F2.largeA 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:

INTRODUCTION

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.

RATIONALE

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.

RESULTS

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.

CONCLUSION

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:

September 21, 2018 in Data on sentencing, Drug Offense Sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1)

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.

September 20, 2018 in Data on sentencing, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

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:

Research Summary

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.

Policy Implications

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.

September 13, 2018 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, National and State Crime Data, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (2)

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.

August 25, 2018 in National and State Crime Data, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

Friday, August 03, 2018

Interesting new data suggesting important recent recidivism reduction

Changing-State-of-Recideivism_chart_650px_v1The 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.

August 3, 2018 in National and State Crime Data, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (1)

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."

July 22, 2018 in National and State Crime Data, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (22)

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).

July 11, 2018 in National and State Crime Data, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (4)

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.”

June 19, 2018 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

"The Impact of Proposition 47 on Crime and Recidivism"

ImagesThe title of this post is the title of this notable new report from the Public Policy Institute of California. Here is the report's conclusion:

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

June 13, 2018 in National and State Crime Data, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

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.

June 13, 2018 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (2)

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.

June 9, 2018 in Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, National and State Crime Data, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

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.

May 8, 2018 in Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, National and State Crime Data, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (7)

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.

March 25, 2018 in National and State Crime Data, Offense Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (3)

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.

March 21, 2018 in Data on sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (1)

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.

March 11, 2018 in Data on sentencing, Drug Offense Sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1)

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:

February 6, 2018 in National and State Crime Data, Offender Characteristics, Race, Class, and Gender | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

New FBI crime data on first half of 2017 show encouraging declines in all areas except murder and car thefts

LargeThis 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. 

January 23, 2018 in National and State Crime Data, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Effective state-by-state review of recent crime rate and imprisonment rate declines

PSPP_35_states_cut_crime_and_imprisonment_infographicThe 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.

January 16, 2018 in National and State Crime Data, Scope of Imprisonment, State Sentencing Guidelines | Permalink | Comments (2)

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:

Abstract

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.

January 6, 2018 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (1)

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":

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.

December 28, 2017 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (8)

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:

December 26, 2017 in National and State Crime Data, Offender Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (2)

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.

December 20, 2017 in National and State Crime Data, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

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."

December 7, 2017 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (1)

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?

November 29, 2017 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, National and State Crime Data, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

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.

November 21, 2017 in Drug Offense Sentencing, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (11)

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.”

November 20, 2017 in Gun policy and sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Second Amendment issues | Permalink | Comments (1)