Saturday, August 25, 2007

Less Punishment Means More Crime

From Don Surber, writing at the Charleston Daily Mail:

Norwegian officials estimate that after sentencing, 20 percent of Norway's criminals don't bother to show up for prison.

That is because until very recently it was not against the law in Norway to skip out of prison. Norway's legislature recently changed that law, but prison officials haven't gotten around to implementing the law....

Not surprisingly, Norway's crime rate is double that of the United States.

In 2006, Norway had 86.3 crimes reported for every 1,000 people, according to Statistics Norway.

In the United States, reported crimes were 39.8 per 1,000 people, according to the FBI.

The violent crime rates are similar: 5.5 per 1,000 people in Norway, 4.7 per 1,000 people in the United States.

No, for violent crime, one has to head north to Canada, where there are 9.5 violent crimes for every 1,000 people. That figure is down 5 percent from 1996. The numbers are from Statistics Canada.

That's double the violent crime rate in the United States....

We are told that the United States leads the world in its prison population. This may be true. Roughly 1/2 of 1 percent of Americans are in prison.

The upside is that is nearly 1.4 million robbers, muggers, killers and rapists who are not out robbing, mugging, killing and raping....

The state of West Virginia spends about $100 million on prisons. That is about 2.5 percent of the state's $4 billion general revenue budget.

The prisons are worth every penny.

Prisons keep more children from being molested. Prisons keep more people from being killed. Prisons keep more drunken drivers off the road.

Some say the nation is becoming a "prison state." I grew up in a high crime area in Cleveland where no one ventured out after dark.

That's a prison state.

The choice is this: Either have a high incarceration rate or have a high crime rate. Norway and Canada have made their choice. America has made hers.

Surber's column reminds me of several of my posts. From this one:
Justice serves civilization and social solidarity. First, of course, it deters and prevents wrong-doing. Second, it meets the deep, common need for catharsis through vengeance, while protecting the innocent (and all of us) by replacing mob rule with due process of law.

Justice -- to serve its purposes -- must be swift, sure, and hard. That is, it must work and be seen to work, by the just and unjust alike.
And this one:
I...ran many regressions on the violent-crime rate and various combinations of the key variables. Only one regression yields credible results (high R-squared, standard error of estimate among the lowest, intuitively correct signs on all coefficients, and high t-statistics on all coefficients). That regression takes the following form:
Number of violent crimes per 100,000 persons =
- 3723
+ 37058 x number of Blacks as a decimal fraction of the population
- 0.568 x number of persons incarcerated per 100,000 of population

The t-statistics on the intercept and coefficients are -15.854, 17.047, and -5.042, respectively; the adjusted R-squared is 0.936; the standard error of the estimate is 47.0.

The mean value of the dependent variable is 483.1, with a range of 158.1 to 758.2. The corresponding values for proportion of blacks: 0.117, 0.105, 0.125; for incarceration rate: 202.4, 93, 476.

The years represented in the regression are 1960-99 (the last year of data on Blacks as a fraction of the population).
That equation is especially compelling because both explanatory variables are statistically signficant even though they are strongly correlated (R = 0.84). Given that, and the evidence of the plots above -- in which the declining crime rate is accompanied by a rising incarceration rate -- two things are evident: incarceration is the key to crime reduction, and abortion has no place in the discussion of crime. What happened was that the incarceration rate finally became high enough, around 1991, to offset the countervailing influences on crime.

Incarceration follows from prosecution, which follows from investigation. I therefore stand by my earlier conclusion that "incarceration and spending on the criminal justice system . . . . are the public-policy weapons of choice" when it comes to fighting crime.

UPDATE (01/04/06): None of my regressions (not even the best one) fully accounts for the sharp decline in the violent-crime rate after 1990. That is because I did not try to model the effects of concerted efforts, since the late 1980s, to put violent offenders behind bars and to keep them there longer. The missing variable, of course, is to be found in the effectiveness of federal sentencing guidelines, which were enacted in 1987 and declared constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1989. Liberal do-gooders and their allies on the bench nevertheless persuaded the Supreme Court last year (in a pair of related cases) to find the guidelines unconstitutional and, therefore, only advisory rather than mandatory.

Given the inevitability of more lenient sentencing in many jurisdictions, I predict that the violent-crime rate will resume its long-term ascent. That ascent will mirror the continuing destruction of civil society at the hands of liberals -- and those libertarians who seem unable to grasp the notion that liberty must be defended, at home and abroad.
And this one:
I argue in "More Punishment Means Less Crime" that making federal sentencing guidelines advisory rather than mandatory, as the Supreme Court has done, will lead a resurgence of the violent-crime rate. Eugene Volokh cites a case in point:

Why People Are Skeptical of Judicial Discretion in Sentencing: Here's the story:

Wednesday [Vermont trial court Judge Edward Cashman] sentenced child rapist Mark Hulett to 60 days in jail. Hulett admitted he raped a little girl countless times when she was between 7 and 10 years old.

Prosecutors said Hulett deserved at least 8 years in prison in part as punishment.

But Judge Cashman said the 60-day sentence guaranteed that Hulett would get into sex offender rehabilitation quickly or face a possible life sentence. He said he had no choice because the Corrections Department classified Hulett as a low risk offender meaning he can't get treatment until he's out of jail.

And more importantly the judge announced that after 25 years on the bench, he no longer believes in punishment....

...Mandatory federal sentencing guidelines were a necessary and fairly effective counter-measure to that reign of reverse racism. But the Supreme Court has neutralized that counter-measure.

Government's sole justification is to fight the enemies of liberty, namely, criminals and terrorists. The Judge Cashmans of this world have sided with those enemies.
...Now we have this, from an exchange at Legal Affairs Debate Club between Douglas Berman and Frank O. Bowman III:
Berman: 1/16/06, 09:43 AM
Given the enormous and unexpected shocks to the federal sentencing system over the past three years—Congress' enactment of the PROTECT Act, then the Supreme Court's decision in Blakely v. Washington, and finally the Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Booker—I am wary about making any predictions about what will be the future of federal sentencing. But I am happy to opine about what should be the future of federal sentencing: Congress should allow the advisory guideline system created by the Booker decision to continue to operate while the U.S. Sentencing Commission and others assess its efficacy and fairness....

Bowman: 1/17/06, 09:01 AM
...A year has passed since the Booker decision. The Sentencing Commission has been gathering and promulgating data about post-Booker practice on a nearly monthly basis since April 2005. In consequence, we have a very good idea about how the post-Booker system has worked so far:

...since Booker, the rate of compliance with the Guidelines, by which I mean the percentage of cases sentenced within the guideline range calculated by the sentencing judge, has declined by about 11% nationally—from about 72% to about 61%.

...Virtually the entire country has experienced a decline in compliance with the guidelines. The compliance rate of every circuit has fallen, and compliance fell in more than 90% of all districts.

...the average length of a federal sentence in 2005 stayed the same as it was in 2004. On the other hand, the trend in sentence length (and guidelines compliance) from 2001-2004 was sharply up, the apparent result of conscious efforts by both Congress and the central administration of DOJ to increase guidelines adherence and criminal penalties. In short, the average federal sentence length post-Booker seems to reflect not maintenance of the status quo, but the sudden arrest of what had been a powerful and continuing upward surge.

...the decrease in guidelines compliance after Booker is almost entirely due to judicial action. Judges are using their new authority to reduce sentences below the range in almost 10% of all cases, and it is their exercise of this authority that is driving the decline in overall compliance rate.

I'll make no comment now on these facts, other than to suggest that the argument for delay in response to Booker cannot much longer be premised on the claim that we don't know how the new system will work. In fact, we have a very good idea of how it's working.
Indeed we do. It's working in favor of criminals. And that will lead to a resurgence of crime.
Stay tuned.

Related posts:
Does Capital Punishment Deter Homicide?
Libertarian Twaddle about the Death Penalty
Crime and Punishment
Abortion and Crime
Saving the Innocent?
Saving the Innocent?: Part II
More on Abortion and Crime
More Punishment Means Less Crime
More About Crime and Punishment
More Punishment Means Less Crime: A Footnote
Clear Thinking about the Death Penalty
Let the Punishment Fit the Crime
Another Argument for the Death Penalty
Crime, Explained