Today I read/listened to two interesting discussions of crime.
First, here’s Bill James:
As a society, do we overestimate or underestimate the importance of crime in day-to-day life?
We underestimate it, because it’s our intent to underestimate it. We only deal with it indirectly. We all do so many things to avoid being the victims of crime that we no longer see those things, so we don’t see the cost of it. Just finding a safe place for us to have this conversation, for example — we needed a quiet place, but before that, we needed to find a safe place. A hotel lobby is what it is because of the level of security. I’ve checked out of this hotel, but I’m still sitting here in the third-floor lobby, because it’s safe. When you buy something, it’s wrapped in seven layers of packaging in order to make it harder to steal.
Second, here’s John Derbyshire:
The old cliché goes: "It is better that a hundred guilty men go free than that one innocent man be jailed." I’m a law’n’order man myself; I want criminals locked up, and preferably set to breaking rocks or working treadmills. The evidence is out there, though, and it’s hard to ignore: we do in fact lock up a lot of innocent people. Check out innocenceproject.org for some hair-raising cases.
All sorts of qualifications need to be introduced here. I had a friend back in England who worked as a probation officer. I asked him one day: "How many people in jail are innocent?" "Innocent of what?" he replied. "Innocent of the exact thing they were sent down for? Five percent. Innocent of anything at all? Zero point one percent. The cops frame up a lot of people. But they’re bad people; we’re better off with them in jail."
Still, if we’re jailing innocent people at the rates suggested, letting the occasional guilty one go free doesn’t look so bad. The truly bad types revert sooner or later anyway and end up in a cell. Pop quiz: Where is O.J. Simpson right now? Answer: in Lovelock Correctional Facility as a guest of Nevada Department of Corrections, serving a 33-year sentence for armed robbery. See, it all comes out in the wash.