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The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • LV Times columnist: A litmus test for crime that actually works

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  • From 2006-2011, homicide rates in the U.S. declined, and it seemed as if the nation had at long last brought under control the surge of violent crime that began in the late 1960s.
    However, in 2012, homicide figures for the U.S increased, and some cities like Chicago positively exploded in violence in calendar year 2012.
    The national homicide statistics for 2013 have not yet been released by the Justice Department, but evidence from around the nation both in 2013 and 2014 indicate that violent crime may be enjoying a resurgence.
    So, it is appropriate to ask what should be done at both the local and state levels here in Kansas in response to the nation’s continuing problem of crime.
    Looking first at what does work in fighting crime, what is interesting is the sorts of programs that are effective are well-documented, and if they are not implemented more often it is because of political problems.
    First, if you are going to respond to a crime surge you need to have your police forces fully staffed — the success of Mayor Rudy Guiliani in New York City in 1993-2001 in curbing that city’s crime problem owes a lot more to his increases in the size of the NYPD than to any controversial programs like “Stop and Frisk.”
    Leavenworth’s Police Department has often been below strength in recent years — the city should be sure the department has the full complement of officers it needs. Second, there is a need for programs to cut recidivism among prison inmates.
    “Lock Them Up and Throw Away the Key” makes a good bumper sticker — but the fact remains that 95 percent of the men and women in prison will be released eventually. If steps are not taken to give these released inmates the skills necessary to function in society they will likely again victimize innocent people.
    Around the nation, states that have the most job training and counseling programs for inmates have the lowest recidivism rates, and not coincidentally, the lowest crime rates. Now, both of these programs are controversial — a lot of the politicians who love to say that they are “tough on crime” are also very reluctant to raise taxes so as to expand police forces, and programs for inmates lead to inevitable charges that “the state is coddling criminals.”
    But, these are the sorts of programs that work, and if people want lower crime rates these are the steps they have to take.
    A second interesting aspect about fighting crime is that the popular programs for fighting crime are also the ones that do not work.
    First, let us look at that hardly perennial issue, the death penalty. Now, I will be a good political scientist and freely acknowledge that, if we were willing to execute hundreds and hundreds of people a year here in the U.S., that it would make a big difference in reducing crime. That has been the result in other nations that made liberal use of the death penalty.
    Page 2 of 2 - However, and this is the sticking point, as a nation we also do not want to execute innocent people, so we have an elaborate appeals process for the death penalty that greatly reduces the number of executions.
    If we want to take our chances with executing innocent people and greatly shorten the appeals process so that we had lots of executions each year it would reduce crime, but we as a nation have said quite emphatically that option is not acceptable.
    So, the way the death penalty is in fact administered here in the U.S., where we have at most a few dozen executions per year, almost invariably decades after the murder has been committed, makes no real impact on reducing crime.
    The other popular program for fighting crime is “three strikes and you're out.” However, here again the implementation of this program in a number of states shows that it, too, is a fatally-flawed program.
    The problem with this sort of program is simple: If you try to put too many people in prison, including large numbers of non-violent offenders, you end up not having enough prison capacity to keep imprisoned the really violent, dangerous individuals who actually do need to be separated from society indefinitely.
    Put differently, when society insists on sending people like Martha Stewart to prison on a misguided notion that “no one should be above the law,” it ends up having to release violent offenders to make room for people like her.
    Like I say, what works and what does not work in fighting crime is pretty well established — it is very much to be hoped that state and local officials will ignore the temptation to engage in political posturing and instead take the steps that actually will reduce crime.

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