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 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.


6 Responses to Crime

  1. red says:

    John Derbyshire is also describing why we are having problems with police today: Police have started to view good people as bad people because they don’t grovel before the cops. As such they don’t have a problem sending them to jail on false charges or out and out murder them.

  2. M.G. says:

    But they’re bad people; we’re better off with them in jail.

    This called to mind one of Wisconsin’s most famous wrongful-imprisonment cases, Steven Avery, released after 18 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit. (wrongly identified in photo line-up, later DNA absolved) But Avery ended up in the line-up in the first place because he was a scary dude already known to police–among other things he’d already run a woman off the road and tried to drag her from her car (turned out to be a deputy’s wife).

    Anyway, barely had the Wisconsin Innocence Project finished downing its celebratory champagne over Avery’s release and $400,000 settlement, when he went out and committed this crime (graphic, disturbing details, be warned). Which has now netted him life without parole.

    Absolutely none of this justifies locking up innocents, but your English friend’s comment confirms one of my long-held but depressing suspicions.

  3. ErisGuy says:

    “See, it all comes out in the wash”

    Ugh. It all comes out in a wash except for the victims the released criminal afflicts along the way.

    • Bill says:

      And for the victims of criminals who were not properly deterred b/c the guilty so routinely go free. And for the victims of criminals who got more generous plea bargains b/c prosecutors know there is some non-trivial chance that they will go free if they go to trial. Etc.

  4. Alrenous says:

    I’m disappointed nobody’s mentioned the obvious solution.

    Double-check that what the probation officer is seeing is in fact true. If so, then instead of whatever evidence standard we’re using now, use his.

    If he can tell they’re bad people, so can we.

    Less idealistically, you could use that standard to contrast the current standard, and show how diametrically opposed to effective solutions it actually is.

    Conversely, we might find his standard was almost pure self-justifying bias, which would prove the innocence project’s perspective.

    Either way, the real travesty is that the test isn’t even on the table. I believe ignorance should be a defence, but wilful ignorance is far from the same stuff.

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