Thursday, May 25, 2006

Something Rotten in the USA



(via Crooked Timber.)



Here's what they're in for (as of 1996):




(source: Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin: Prisoners in 1996 pdf)


We're failing somewhere.

I believe that a large part of it is due to conservative policies. Conservatives tend to see social issues as moral ones. They emphasize "personal responsibility" and decry any attempt at understanding criminals as justification for their behavior. Just as many conservatives push "abstinence-only" sex education despite evidence that it's less effective than comprehensive sex ed, they push what I'll call "incarceration-only" social policy despite its ineffectiveness.

The prime example of this "incarceration only" social policy is the way we have been fighting (and losing) the so-called "War on Drugs." Whereas liberals would like to focus on providing education and opportunity to at-risk teens and treatment for users, conservatives focus on just locking people up. Politicians who disagree with the War on Drugs or even suggest that what we're doing isn't working are labeled "soft on crime."

Liberal policies of helping the poor through education and economic opportunity (for many youngsters, selling drugs is one of few economic opportunities currently available) combined with drug decriminalization, drug treatment programs, mental health care, and sensible gun control would do a much better job at reducing crime -- and probably for much less money. I'm no pollyanna that thinks we can cure all addicts just by sending them through a treatment program, but we can do better than just locking them up for a decade with a bunch of violent felons and then releasing them with no money, no job, and no prospects.

32 Comments:

Blogger Ezzie said...

I completely disagree. I'd prefer to see the crime rates of those countries, and what their punishments are for certain crimes.

I'd also like to see the economic affect: Do liberal policies such as welfare create an over-reliance on government that when not enough causes crime? Does it keep people on the streets who would otherwise be working?

Finally, your 2nd chart disproves your point to an extent: The percentage of inmates from violent crimes is drastically reduced - over 50% lower in 1995 than it was in 1985. It is mostly drug and public-order offenses that fill the jails - 78% of all inmates. In 1985 they were just 43%.

Packed jails means better enforcement. It does not mean worse social policy.

5/25/2006 12:46 PM  
Blogger Ezzie said...

That should say 3rd chart.

5/25/2006 12:46 PM  
Blogger Jewish Atheist said...

I completely disagree. I'd prefer to see the crime rates of those countries, and what their punishments are for certain crimes.

Do you doubt that we have a relatively high crime rate? I'll see if I can find some numbers.

Do liberal policies such as welfare create an over-reliance on government that when not enough causes crime?

How would they? People should only be given welfare if they can't work.

Finally, your 2nd chart disproves your point to an extent: The percentage of inmates from violent crimes is drastically reduced - over 50% lower in 1995 than it was in 1985. It is mostly drug and public-order offenses that fill the jails - 78% of all inmates. In 1985 they were just 43%.

Look closer. The percentage of inmates from violent crimes has gone down only because they're dwarfed by the incredible rise in locking up drug offenders. In absolute numbers, inmates from violent crimes went up!

5/25/2006 12:55 PM  
Blogger Ezzie said...

How would they? People should only be given welfare if they can't work.

Should and what happens are completely different.

Look closer. The percentage of inmates from violent crimes has gone down only because they're dwarfed by the incredible rise in locking up drug offenders. In absolute numbers, inmates from violent crimes went up!

Again, there's far better enforcement along with far better technology to catch criminals. A better statistic to find is what % of crimes result in an arrest. Furthermore, there is population growth particularly among immigrants. I'd be interested to see if that affects the rate (because they are generally worse off economically when they first come over).

5/25/2006 1:06 PM  
Blogger Ezzie said...

Do you doubt that we have a relatively high crime rate? I'll see if I can find some numbers.

In addition, crimes in the US are likely reported at a far higher rate than in other countries.

5/25/2006 1:07 PM  
Blogger Jewish Atheist said...

Ok, here's some data. It looks like the USA is in the top five countries in many categories of crime as a per capita rate. In "Total Recorded Major Assaults," for example, we're third, after Swaziland and South Africa.

In intentional homicides, we're pretty far down the list, but still significantly ahead of most other Western Democracies.

In rapes, we're ninth, after Australia, Barbados, Canada (!), Jamaica, Paraguay, Seychelles, South Africa, and Swaziland. (Not in that order.) We have more than twice as many rapes as "England & Wales."


You have a good point about the reported rates, but that should be similar across at least the Western Democracies, where we lead in basically all crimes.

Furthermore, there is population growth particularly among immigrants. I'd be interested to see if that affects the rate (because they are generally worse off economically when they first come over).

I don't know how immigrants factor in, but Blacks are VASTLY overrepresented and Latinos are significantly overrepresented in prison.

5/25/2006 1:13 PM  
Blogger Ezzie said...

It should not go by total, but rather per capita. Again, what's reported and what's enforced plays a major role: Saudi Arabia looks like the safest country by the numbers on this report.

but that should be similar across at least the Western Democracies

Not necessarily. France doesn't include the actions from nightly car torchings (and I'm not talking about during the riots) in most of their reports IIRC, for example.

Look at the rates of this, though, if you want a good example: Crimes recorded in criminal (police) statistics, by type of crime including attempts to commit crimes [per 100,000]

I think this would be one of the better measures, no?

In 1999 (US no stats for '00) the US trailed Chile, Denmark, England & Wales, Finland, and New Zealand.

Theft rates, btw, are *WAY* lower in the US than other (Western Democratic) countries, which seems to disprove the notion that it's because they are poor or uneducated.

5/25/2006 7:01 PM  
Blogger Ezzie said...

I don't know how immigrants factor in, but Blacks are VASTLY overrepresented and Latinos are significantly overrepresented in prison.

Separate subject. You'd have to be able to prove that they don't commit the crimes at a higher rate to make that point.

5/25/2006 7:02 PM  
Blogger Jewish Atheist said...

It should not go by total, but rather per capita.

The numbers I quoted were per capita.

Separate subject. You'd have to be able to prove that they don't commit the crimes at a higher rate to make that point.

You're inferring a point I wasn't making. (I think they do in fact commit crimes at a higher rate -- the question is why. I can't believe it's genetic, so it must be something else.)

5/25/2006 7:50 PM  
Blogger Ezzie said...

The numbers I quoted were per capita.

Realized afterwards, meant to take that line out. (orig went with your line of 'total recorded') Sorry. But my points in reverse were per capita as well.

You're inferring a point I wasn't making.

Yes. Sorry, knee-jerk assumption that a liberal is crying 'racism'. :)

Of course it's not genetic. It's often nurture: Being brought up in a culture where thuggishness is praised and idealized coupled with the emphasis black leaders often place on blaming everything but themselves. Those leaders and influential people who do speak out are often viewed as outcasts in the community or called "Oreos" or "Uncle Toms". It's sadly similar to those who point to problems within the Jewish community.

5/25/2006 8:39 PM  
Blogger Ezzie said...

* Note: Obviously this isn't true of all or even most blacks. It's just more common in black communities and to some extent Hispanic communities than it is in white communities.

5/25/2006 8:40 PM  
Blogger Charlie Hall said...

See

http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/prisons.htm

For more up to date statistics. The federal prison population is now over 180,000 and the prisons are 40% over capacity.

'I think they do in fact commit crimes at a higher rate -- the question is why. '

They also commit crimes for which they are likely to get caught, and when they do get caught they are more likely to be prosecuted, the prosecutors are more likely to file felony rather than misdemeanor charges (especially true for drug offenses) and are less likely to be able to plea bargain for light or no sentences. In addition, in some cases, the criminal statute is explicitly designed to give long sentences to minorities: the difference in the penalties between crack and cocaine possession. They are the same drug!

There is actually more use of illegal drugs in white suburban areas than in inner city minority areas (for the simple reason that well-off suburbanites can afford the drugs better) but the incarceration mostly affects urban minorities. The reason is that any suburban prosecutor who aggressively prosecuted all the cocaine and ecstacy users would be quickly voted out of office. As an example, for years the local prosecutor in Charlottesville, Virginia didn't prosecute underage drinking because the students at the University of Virginia made up a significant portion of the electorate.

5/26/2006 10:23 AM  
Blogger Classmate-Wearing-Yarmulka said...

In addition, in some cases, the criminal statute is explicitly designed to give long sentences to minorities: the difference in the penalties between crack and cocaine possession. They are the same drug!

I too used to think that this was wrong, that it was a racist policy. Then I heard Gerald A. Reynolds (Chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights) speak at my school.

Someone asked him why sentences were much more stringent for crack then for cocaine, and if it had had anything to do with racism.

He said, no, and he agreed with the tougher sentances.

Basically, he said, there are differences in the drugs. You can be a normal attorney or doctor and do cocaine.

Crack on the other hand, destroys communities and cities, everyone from grandmothers to preachers ruined their lives because of crack. He watched his own neigborhood get destroyed by crack.

5/26/2006 10:51 AM  
Blogger Charlie Hall said...

'reported and what's enforced plays a major role'

Comparison of crime statistics across countries is very difficult because of the difference in reporting patterns, and in some cases, the difference in the definition of the crimes (particularly a problem for sexual assault). The exception is homicide; it is universally reported pretty completely in all western democracies. And for that crime the US is far more dangerous than almost all other Western democracies. There are, however, some countries that have had consistently higher homicide rates than the US: The exceptions have been Northern Ireland (only because of the sectarian terrorism), Columbia, Brazil, Mexico, Belarus, Tanzania, and South Africa. Other countries are probably even more dangerous (Iraq) but there are not reliable statistics. Yet the fact that the safest large city in the US, New York, still after 17 years of improvement has about four times as many homicides as London, UK, a city of similar size and democraphics, should put ourselves to shame.

Not mentioned much is that homicide rates vary enormously across the US.

http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/homicide/region.htm

Yup, those liberals in New England aren't killing each other off. It is definitely NOT entirely because of gun control: Vermont has absolutely no gun control laws at all -- you can even carry a concealed handgun without a permit there. (You can't even do that in Texas!) I think the lack of executions might have something to do with it -- there has been exactly one death sentence carried out in that region in the past 40 years (and Rhode Island hasn't executed anyone in over 150 years).

5/26/2006 10:51 AM  
Blogger Chaim said...

I only briefly glanced the comments so forgive me if this was touched on, but I've had this discussion with a relative of mine who is a liberal. Her argument was on how come America still has the death penalty and has the highest incrassation rate. My feeling is that other countries have much stiffer first and second strike punishments. I think in this country a person gets picked up for selling drugs, as long as he turns in a bigger fish, there is a chance he will serve little or no time. If it's his second or third strike there may be a higher chance for longer jail time but they still get out within a few years and go right back. If we had stricter punishments, that might deter someone.

If someone knows that iif they get caught holding up a liqueur store they could be out within 5 years, its not the worse thing in the world. Many career criminals have done 5-10 years here and there. If we put someone away for 20 years or 15 years on the first offense of holding up a store or drug running, wouldn't that deter possible criminals?

On the other hand, we are extreme, a person may be able to hold up a liqueur store and get out within 5 years on good behavior but if you kill a child in the state of NY aren't you eligible to be put to death? We go from barely anytime to the death penalty.

5/26/2006 10:57 AM  
Blogger Charlie Hall said...

'You can be a normal attorney or doctor and do cocaine'

No, you can LOOK like you are a normal attorney or doctor and do cocaine. It is just easier to stay in denial that you have a problem.

I'm not sure what I think about legalization of drugs. I personally know far too many recovering addicts who are clean today ONLY because they got busted. That said, there is little evidence that marijuana ever hurt anyone other than the individual user (I had a roommate in college who dropped out because he was high for the entire semester), and in terms of its effects, alcohol is FAR worse and nicotine is FAR more deadly.

5/26/2006 10:57 AM  
Blogger Classmate-Wearing-Yarmulka said...

No, you can LOOK like you are a normal attorney or doctor and do cocaine. It is just easier to stay in denial that you have a problem.

The bottom line is that cocaine doesn't destroy communities- it's too expensive for almost everyone.

Crack; is very cheap, and you get addicited to it after your first hit. It destroys communities.

That's why their are much tougher laws dealing with crack.

5/26/2006 1:10 PM  
Blogger Eugene Weixel said...

Ezzie: Drug policies are enforced differently in different places and for different people, not to mention for different drugs such as "crack" (a culturally Black drug) and "powder cocaine" (a culturally whiter drug).

Cops make "sweeps" in non white neighborhoods. A "sweep" is exactly what the word implies. I am 99.99% sure they don't do that where you live. White kids in prison communities (prison guard families in Republican leaning rural areas) are not likely to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law for first time drug offenses. Much more likely is some form of "rehabilitation" without a prison sentence.If you live in Harlem "don't try this at home."

Most people who get welfare are required to participate in "workfare" which means they work for welfare checks instead of wages. It's been so for many years.

Charlie, something sure is rotten in the US. Our crime statistics in some part mask a civil war, a rebellion. This is in part the leaderless rebellions of captive nations, Charlie. Yes, I'm saying that African Americans constitute a captive nation, as do Chicanos and Indian tribes. I don't know if "looking like" a normal doctor or attorney for ten years is a personal accomplishment or whether it tells us that certain classes of people are coddled and shielded from the consequences of their actions. Maybe a little bit of both?

Classmate Wearing Yarmulka, what do you know about crack and powder cocaine that you didn't read or hear from some high paid government stenographer who gets published or broadcast? Do you know or have you met people involved in either? Have you seen any reliable objective statistics?

5/30/2006 6:34 AM  
Blogger Classmate-Wearing-Yarmulka said...

I know of no neighborhood that was devestated by cocaine. Crack on the other hand...

5/30/2006 8:48 AM  
Blogger Charlie Hall said...

'Our crime statistics in some part mask a civil war, a rebellion.'

Decreasing crime rates are associated with civil war? The violent crime rate has plummeted in the past 15 years. New York City alone has experienced a 75% drop in homicide rates since the late 1980s.

And there were times early in the 20th century with violent crime almost as high as the 1980 peak:

http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/glance/hmrt.htm

5/30/2006 9:18 AM  
Blogger Eugene Weixel said...

Wars wax and wane. Also, as has been pointed out our decreasing crime stats are still far above those of other First World countries. They're at levels that once evoked headlines of "Crime Wave" in the 60's.

Yarmulke guy, what neighborhoods were "devastated by crack cocaine and how do you know this?

5/31/2006 1:20 PM  
Blogger Classmate-Wearing-Yarmulka said...

Read the book Freakonimcs by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, and any other book that talks about crime.

From Freakonomics....

"By the 1980's, virtually every facet of life was improving for black Americans, and the progress showed no sign of stopping.

Then came crack.

While crack was hardly a black-only phenomenon, it hit black neighborhoods much harder than most. The evidence can be seen by measuring the same indicators of societal progress cited above. After decades of decline, black infant mortality began to soar in the 1980's, as did the rate of low-birthweight babies and parent abandonment. The gap between black and white schoolchildren widened...Black America was hurt more by crack cocaine then by any other single cause since Jim Crow....Suddenly it was just as dangerous to live it parts of Chicago or St. Louis or Los Angeles as it was to live in Bogota."

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