|The Many Myths Of Crime And Justice|
|By Leonard A. Sipes, Jr.|
As someone who has spent decades in the justice system, and after three university degrees, and thirty-five years of being the primary spokesperson for national and state criminal justice agencies, it bothers me that we can’t have an honest conversation about crime and criminal justice issues.
There are myths that are so persuasive that I sometimes don’t mention my background just to avoid conversations.
This all started decades ago when there was a national scare about stranger abductions of children, Washington Post. There were hundreds of articles and news reports of children being snatched by strangers.
But at the time, my law enforcement background told me that this wasn’t true; the overwhelming number of missing children was the result of family members, not strangers.
Crime Policy is Political
We need to understand that crime policy is often political or philosophical in nature. If you believe (and most do) that programs for offenders work to reduce recidivism, then the conversation often turns sour when I suggest that they don’t.
People have an innate and understandable desire to help those caught up in the justice system. But if you believe that “education worked for me, thus education will work for them,” that’s going to be a bedrock belief that will shape how you see the justice system regardless of the evidence.
Just understand that the discredited adult and juvenile boot camp movement also came from “it worked for me, it will work for them,” philosophy.
There are advocates and criminologists with impeccable credentials who will state firmly that (fill in the blank) works regardless as to the evidence that it doesn’t. They do so with passion because their value system mandates embraced philosophies.
The unfortunate part is that they propel policymakers (and like-minded reporters) to enact and write about strategies that are worthless and possibly harmful. Regardless as to your right or left-leaning philosophies, we all hold onto beliefs regardless of the evidence.
Finding Good Programs
I urge anyone contemplating justice solutions to spend time with Crime Solutions.Gov, a credible effort on the part of the US Department of Justice to set the empirical record straight. They offer objective analysis on most proposed crime reduction efforts.
Please note that there are reasons for crime control measures beyond evidence that they work. Adult boot camps have little to offer as to the reduction in recidivism, but they do move lower level offenders through prisons thus freeing up prison beds for more serious offenders.
The research base is simply inadequate. When I entered the justice system, we were promised a new era of research that would guide us through the minefield of social issues and crime. That promise was never fulfilled.
Most Popular Myths
There are immense complexities when studying crime and justice issues. Myths are understandable when you have competing (and credible) sources of information.
School Shootings Are A Recent Phanomium
From The Crime Report: The Columbine High School killings in 1999 seemed to usher in a new era of school shootings. Yet Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox says that school shootings were more frequent in the 1990's than today, the Associated Press reports. From 1991 until the Columbine shooting, an average of 19 fatal school shootings happened each year, with about 22 people killed. In contrast, over the past eight years, an average of about six fatal school shootings happened each year, with about 14 killed. Fox said, “schools are safe, and if you consider the over 50 million schoolchildren and the over 100,000 schools that we have, the risk of a student or a faculty member being killed by gunfire, it’s extremely low,” The Crime Report.
Programs for Offenders Reduce Recidivism
Most programs for offenders do not reduce recidivism, or increase it, or have reductions of ten percent or less. If 90 percent of offenders fail, how does that translate into success? See Offender Recidivism.
Hate Crimes are Exploding
Hate crimes per the US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) are declining, see Hate Crimes. We have multiple federal measures of hate crimes, one from the FBI reporting a 17 percent one year increase, and one from the US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics stating that hate crimes decreased by close to 90,000 since 2009. Because of their huge database, the BJS data is considered the most reliable.
Violence Is Increasing
America experienced twenty years of decreasing violent crime with increases in recent years. But the primary sources from 2015 to 2018 show mixed results, Crime in the US. Yes, there are cities and metropolitan areas throughout the country where violence is a major problem.
Violence is America’s Primary Crime Problem
Violence may be America’s greatest concern, but twenty-six million Americans are victimized by identity theft, far outstripping the number of violent and property crimes, Identity Theft.
Long Sentences for Violent Offenders
We are endlessly told that the American justice system is overly harsh based on extremely long prison sentences. Per the US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, most violent offenders serve three years or less in prison, Violent Offenders-Time Served.
School Shootings Are Exploding
The U.S. Education Department said that in the 2015-2016 school year, “nearly 240 schools … reported at least one incident involving a school-related shooting.” The total is far higher than most other estimates. NPR reached out to every one of those schools and found that more than two-thirds of these reported incidents never happened. Only 11 incidents were confirmed, School Shootings.
Four Or Five Mass Shootings A Year-Not One A Day
While there is an increase in mass shootings, it’s certainly not the one a day figures often promoted by the media. A “mass shooting” is defined as a multiple homicide incident in which four or more victims are murdered with firearms, within one event, and in one or more locations in close proximity. It does not include family-related and other felonies (street crime) events. Some local and national media are still observed that crime in schools was increasing, and there is one mass shooting a day; all of which are incorrect, Mass Shootings.
The United States Is One Of The World’s Most Violent Countries
The United States is one of the world’s safest countries, Safety in America. When you look at individual countries, the United States ranks 35th out of 142 countries measured on Gallup’s Law and Order Index with a score of 84. In fact, many of the 34 countries posting higher scores than the US are small and lacking in the intense multicultural aspects of American life. Generally speaking, traditionally homogeneous societies have less crime. I’m not quite sure that comparing Singapore, Norway or Iceland (top three scoring countries for safety) to the United States indicates a level playing field. Same with Finland, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Denmark, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Ireland, Sweden and others who had better scores. It would be like comparing Montana to France.
Law Enforcement Solves Most Crimes
Endless television shows portray savvy detectives with endless technology solving all crimes. But less than two in five reported crimes are solved, Crimes Solved.
College Rapes Are High
A new study from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, actually finds that between 1995 and 2013, college-aged women were 1.2 times more likely to experience rape or sexual assault when they were not in college, College Rapes.
Most Citizens Don’t Trust Law Enforcement
There has been an endless stream of negative publicity (some of it deserved) about law enforcement officers regarding police shootings and use of force. But law enforcement is one of the highest rated professions in the US and the World. When I tell police officers this, most don’t believe me. Police agencies are having a hard time retaining and recruiting officers, Trusted Professions.
Crime in America offers data on all the topics below. Use the search button or categories at the bottom of the site.
Ban the Box: Many advocate “Ban the box” shielding criminal histories of job applicants, but the data suggests that it doesn’t work.
Men Have Highest Rates for Violence: We’re told that men have higher rates of crime than women, but it’s just the opposite. The violent victimization rate for males dropped below females in 2015.
Elderly Have Lowest Crime Rates: We’ve been told that the elderly have the lowest rates of crime but rates for property crime, fraud and burglary are all very high for older Americans.
Incarceration: We’re told over the course of decades that we rely too much on prison for those convicted of felonies.
About half (51%) of all defendants had five or more prior arrest charges, and more than a third (36%) had 10 or more. About 3 in 5 defendants had at least one prior conviction.
An estimated 43% of defendants had at least one prior felony conviction.
But only 42 percent of felony convictions result in a sentence to prison.
Victims Support Leniency: Every group advocating for less incarceration or other forms of leniency offer data stating the victims of crime do not want prison for their offenders. Considering that 53 percent of prison inmates are there for violent crimes, and most of the rest have multiple felony arrests or convictions, I believe these reports are disingenuous at best. I’ve worked with victims and their representatives for decades. Not one violent crime victim suggested leniency; victims want justice and accountability for violent and multi-repeat offenders.
Cops as Warriors: President Obama’s recent commission urged cops to be guardians, not warriors. But if an active shooter is in your elementary school, you want officers to have the training, tactics, and weapons (i.e., armored cars) to end the situation quickly. To do this, we have to train and equip them to be warriors. If the public demands protection from active shooters or terrorists, what choice do we have?
Reprinted with permission from https://www.crimeinamerica.net.
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Leonard A. Sipes, Jr has thirty-five years of experience supervising public affairs for national and state criminal justice agencies. He is the Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse and the Former Director of Information Management for the National Crime Prevention Council. He has a Post Master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University and is the author of the book "Success With the Media". He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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