February 2007 Archives

Public Safety Performance Project

Now the latest national study, this one from PEW, "Public Safety Performance Project", shows the extraordinary costs and questionable crime reduction benefits of continued reliance on increasing incarceration to manage the problem of crime in the U.S.

The facts are easy to state although hard to swallow: the U.S. has the greatest number of offenders incarcerated--and the highest rate of incarceration--than any country in the world. Not surprisingly, we also spend more money on prisoners and prisons than any other country in the world.

Second, our incarceration rate is increasing, not because of increasing crime rates (crime has been declining for some time now) but because of changes in laws requiring that more offenders spend greater lengths of time incarcerated. Moreover, this rate is projected to continue increasing dramatically.

Third, the recidivism or crime level of released prisoners in the U.S. continues to be very high; prison is not decreasing the likelihood of prisoners repeating the same or other crimes.

Simultaneous with these phenomenal increases in incarcerated populations and absence of desired effects is an equally large long-term loss in support for alternative nonincarcerative programs and services that might prevent crime or its causes in local communities. This is a direct and indirect result of the transfer of funds from state and local government to incarcerate federal, state and local prisoners. The consequence is "lost opportunities" to manage programs in alternative ways.

As this report notes, there is a great need for legislators to recognize policies and programs that will reduce recidivism and which do not mean increased incarceration costs. A big problem is that policy makers may simply be unaware that programs exist to reduce recidivism without incarceration. We know that locally politicians are afraid to be perceived as "soft on crime" if they do not support more prison or be "tough" on crime.

Perhaps the greatest myth driving the race to incarcerate (no pun intended since African American and Hispanic populations are greatly overrepresented in prisons) is that prisons are the primary or major cause of reduced crime in the U.S., which is not true. This study shows that there is no one-to-one correspondance between the rate of incarceration and reduction in crime: indeed, in some periods of increased incarceration crime goes up and others it goes down. The report looks at these and other data and concludes that the relationship between incarceration and crime reduction is extremely complex.

It is plainly obvious that major changes need to come about in the U.S. approach to managing its crime problem. Where do we begin with the health care crisis, the imminent effects of global warming, and other major issues facing our society if we dump enormous sums of money into the ineffective black holes (no pun intended) of prisons that we are unable to address these issues?

Here are some statistical trends relating to crime, victimization and related opinions that we have derived from police, NCVS and opinion poll data, taken from the Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics and others and then converted into graphs and PDFs for your downloading needs. These data are valuable in crime discussions because, as they reveal, crime has been on the downswing for quite a while. However, at the same time public fears and worry about crime remain extraordinarily high. Since so much of the debate about what we should do about crime incorrectly assumes we are in the middle of a crime wave, that crime is increasing, and that all of us do or should live in fear, it makes it exceedingly difficult to have rational debates about crime control. Politicians know their constituencies are scared to death and the media has a heavy investment in continuously reporting crime stories. So, if you're here and have an interest in learning some of the facts perhaps it will be a step in the right direction. Additional links on crime data and how to interpret them can be found at The Redwood Highway, especially this page.

UCR Crime Trends, by region and year:

These are police data for these offenses from 1971-2005; in some graphs the years are numbered 1-35 rather than 1971-2005. Points for discussion: 1) why are Western rates higher than those of other regions? 2) where and why are there slight 2004-5 increases and decreases?

California Data from Police

California's data are revealing because they show how we depart from Western regional trends in UCR data (above).

California Data on Stalking. View stalking data here.

National Crime Victimization Survey Data

Victimization data show the steady decline and leveling of the six offenses used for comparison with UCR data. These are not broken out by region. Note that the denominator changes when looking at NCVS data (it's victimizations per 1,000 rather than arrests per 100,000 population for police data presented above).

Other Survey Data

A Gallup poll video on crime trends: October 19, 2006

So there you have it. Now the question: why are we so worried and afraid about being a crime victim, and why do we think crime is constantly increasing, if crime is declining and serious victimization is relatively low and falling?

The Redwood Highway: Media and Crime

We would be lost if we forgot the Enron scandal. It is still with us, and another like it could come again if we are not vigilant. Here a culprit is deregulation, which provided oceans of opportunities for the unscrupulous, or what Galbraith calls "The Predator State." The quote below, taken from the Attorney General report on Enron, reveals the extraordinary losses to California and the callous disregard for the welfare of its citizens. It presents a new version of Rawhide adapted to the spirit of ripping off California.

An E-mail from Jeffery Fawcett to Lorna Brennan, et al. transmitted on April 30, 2001 at 11:17 a.m.

Subject: California Sing-along

California Sing-Along Circulated by Generators

And to start off the week...California's new State Song! The Rolling Blackout Theme Song

(To the theme music from the TV western 'Rawhide')

Rollin', rollin', rollin',
Though the state is golden,
Keep them blackouts rollin', statewide.
A little colder weather,
And we all freeze together,
Wishin'more plants were on the line.
All the things I'm missin',
Like lights and television,
Are waitin' 'til we can pay the price.


Turn 'em on, turn 'em off,
Shut 'em down, block 'em out,
Turn 'em on, turn 'em off, statewide!
Brown 'em out, black 'em out,
Charge 'em more, give 'em less,
Let the pols fix the mess, statewide!

Keep movin', movin', movin'
Though they're disapprovin',
Keep them rates a-movin', statewide.
Don't try to understand 'em,
Just raise, charge, and collect 'em.
Soon we'll be livin' high and wide.
My heart's calculatin',
Nuclear plants will be waitin',
Be waitin' at the end of my ride.


Turn 'em on, turn 'em off,
Shut 'em down, block 'em out,
Turn 'em on, turn 'em off, statewide!
Brown 'em out, black 'em out,
Charge 'em more, give 'em less,
Let the pols fix the mess, statewide!


SOURCE: State of California. 2004. Attorney General's Energy White Paper: A Law Enforcement Perspective on the California Energy Crisis. Recommendations for Improving Enforcement and Protecting Consumers in Deregulated Energy Markets. [Online}. Available:http://ag.ca.gov/publications/energywhitepaper.pdf, p. 22.

For further information about the Enron scandal go to the Redwood Highway or see the documentary, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005).

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