Saturday, January 13, 2007

Criminal Logic

James Taranto regularly chronicles a recurring bit of liberal-logic on the issue of crime. In his latest, he quotes a Chicago Tribune editorial commenting on falling crime rates in Illinois:
What's harder to explain is why, though crime has fallen so sharply, prison admissions have continued to rise.
To non-liberals, the answer is obvious: When a criminal is in prison, he cannot commit crimes against innocent citizens. Consequently, a rise in prison admissions means that corresponding fewer criminals are on the street committing crimes.

Liberals, such as the Chicago Tribune editors, see the criminal justice as focused on punishment. Because they usually have sympathy for criminals, they usually see too much punishment going on. To non-liberals, punishment is only a secondary goal. The primary goal is the protection of innocent citizens. The Chicago Tribune captures the failure of the system in the following comment:
Recidivism rates are disturbingly high. Half of the people who leave prison wind up back behind bars within three years.
That appears to mean that they shouldn't have been let out in the first place. The cost to society of of the crimes that they committed while out is incalculable. There is even significant to the justice system in investigating the crimes they commit, re-arresting them and re-trying them. It would be better for innocent citizens and less expensive to the government to just have kept them locked up for those three years instead. Illinois spends only $22,000 per year to keep a criminal in prison while the cost to society of convicting him, which would include police, lawyers, the judge and court staff, and the time that jurors donate, is quite high.

Further, recidivism may be worse than the Chicago Tribune's number would indicate. The US Dept. of Justice did a multi-state 3-year study on inmates released in 1994. They found the 3-year recidivism rates for robbers, burglars, and thieves to be in the range of 70 to 80%. Further, the DoJ found
The 272,111 offenders discharged in 1994 had accumulated 4.1 million arrest charges before their most recent imprisonment and another 744,000 charges within 3 years of release.

That is a lot of crime. But, to the editors of the Chicago Tribune, it is worth it.

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