Posts Tagged ‘Violent crime’

Three reasons for hopefulness

August 31, 2015

1.  The rate of killings of black people by police is going down.


I was surprised at the information in the graph, which I found on the Avedon’s Sideshow web site.   Of course the black death rate due to “legal intervention” is still double the white death rate.  I hope the trend continues.


Why still so many Americans in prison?

February 13, 2015


Why are there so many Americans in prison?  Why did the incarceration rate continue to rise even though the rate of violent crime went down?

I thought for a long time that the main reasons were that so many young men, especially black men, were imprisoned for nonviolent drug offenses, and that state laws required judges to impose long sentences even when the crimes were relatively trivial.

But John Pfaff, a Fordham law professor, has done an analysis indicating that, even if you fixed these two things, the U.S. prison population would only decline a little bit.

What then is the problem?  Pfaff said the increased prison population is due to zealous prosecutors.  In 1994, someone who was arrested faced a one change in three that a prosecutor would file felony charges.  By 2008, the odds of a felony charge were two in three.  Statistically, he said, this explains most of the increase.

It is not obvious what to do.  Prosecutors don’t a name for themselves, nor increase their chances of higher office, by exercising restraint.


Mass incarceration: A provocative new theory for why so many Americans are in prison by Leon Neyfakh for Slate.  (Hat tip to Mike the Mad Biologist)

The Imprisoner’s Dilemma by Oliver Roeder for FiveThirtyEight.  (Hat tip to  More statistics and analysis.  [Added 2/14/15]

In reality, murder and violent crime are declining

July 22, 2012

Click to enlarge.

Mass killings such as the one in Aurora, Colorado, are rare but horrible.  They take place against a background of a declining U.S. overall murder rate and a declining U.S. violent crime rate.   And the frequency of mass killings in the United States appears to have passed its peak.

Now I agree that statistics are no consolation if you or someone you love is a murder victim, and I know there are neighborhoods and communities in the United States where violence is a clear and ever-present danger.  But average middle-class Americans are less in danger of violent crime than they’ve ever been.

Click on The Declining Culture of Guns and Violence in the United States on the Monkey Cage web site for the statistics on the declining murder and violent crime rate.

Click on Horrifying But Rare for an article on rampage killings by Grant Duwe, director of research for the Minnesota Department of Corrections and author of Mass Murder in the United States: a History.

Why is the American homicide rate declining?

June 7, 2011

Click to view

Violent crime is on the decline in the United States.   The rise in crime during the 1960s and the continuing high violent crime rate in the 1970s and 1980s was an important issue during those years, despite the effort of some liberals to imply “law and order” was a code word for something else.  But current statistics indicate a violent crime rate as low as in the 1950s.

Nobody really understands why.

Some popular theories:

(1)  The United States has a high proportion of violent and potentially violent criminals behind bars and not on the street.

(2)  Legal abortion means there are fewer unwanted children to grow up to become alienated, violent adults.

(3)  Violent crime is a young man’s game, and the aging of the baby boom generation means a smaller proportion of the population in the crime-prone years.

I don’t claim to know the answer myself, but I wonder whether the ban on lead-based paint is a factor.  Scientific studies indicate that lead in a child’s bloodstream is linked to lower IQ and loss of neural motor functions, leading to impulsiveness, lack of self-control and anti-social behavior. Children in poor areas of large cities are prone to touching walls with peeling paint, and then licking their fingers, and they are exposed to environmental lead in other ways.

Somebody wrote a letter to the editor some weeks back in City newspaper, Rochester’s alternative weekly, saying that a principal of one of Rochester’s elementary schools once had the children in the school tested for levels of lead in their blood.  Every single one had elevated levels of blood.  I wonder what a test would show today.  I hope it would show improvement.

Another factor may be the religious revival of the past 20 or so years.  Religion, especially the more strict and conservative versions of religion, give people a sense of meaning, a community to belong to, help in maintaining self-control and self-respect based on something else besides violence.  Some historians credit religious revivals for the decline of crime in 19th century Britain and the United States. The same thing may be going on today.

Some people suggest that local police departments have simply become more restrictive in the way they report violent crime, and that actual crime may be higher than the figures indicate.  I don’t see how this would be possible.  There is leeway in deciding whether to report a crime as grand theft auto or unauthorized use of an automobile, but a killing is a killing.  I don’t see how selective reporting could mask it as something else.