Archive for Monday, June 23, 2008

Are prisons siphoning university funds?

June 23, 2008


— Listening to political talk requires a third ear that hears what is not said. Today's near silence about crime probably is evidence of social improvement. For many reasons, including better policing and more incarceration, Americans feel, and are, safer. The New York Times has not recently repeated such amusing headlines as "Crime Keeps on Falling, But Prisons Keep on Filling" (1997), "Prison Population Growing Although Crime Rate Drops" (1998), "Number in Prison Grows Despite Crime Reduction" (2000) and "More Inmates, Despite Slight Drop in Crime" (2003).

If crime revives as an issue, it will be through liberal complaints about something that has reduced the salience of the issue - the incarceration rate. And any revival will be awkward for Barack Obama. Liberalism likes victimization narratives and the related assumption that individuals are blank slates on which "society" writes. Hence liberals locate the cause of crime in flawed social conditions that liberalism supposedly can fix.

Last July, Obama said "more young black men languish in prison than attend colleges and universities." Actually, more than twice as many black men 18-24 are in college as there are in jail. Last September he said, "We have a system that locks away too many young, first-time, nonviolent offenders for the better part of their lives." But Heather Mac Donald of the Manhattan Institute, writing in the institute's City Journal, notes that from 1999 to 2004, violent offenders accounted for all of the increase in the prison population. Furthermore, Mac Donald cites data indicating that:

"In the overwhelming majority of cases, prison remains a lifetime achievement award for persistence in criminal offending. Absent recidivism or a violent crime, the criminal-justice system will do everything it can to keep you out of the state or federal slammer."

Obama sees racism in the incarceration rate: "We have certain sentences that are based less on the kind of crime you commit than on what you look like and where you come from." Indeed, in 2006, blacks, who are less than 13 percent of the population, were 37.5 percent of all state and federal prisoners. About one in 33 black men was in prison, compared with one in 79 Hispanic men and one in 205 white men.

But Mac Donald cites studies of charging and sentencing that demonstrate that the reason more blacks are disproportionately in prison, and for longer terms, is not racism but racial differences in patterns of criminal offenses: "In 2005 the black homicide rate was over seven times higher than that of whites and Hispanics combined. ... From 1976 to 2005, blacks committed over 52 percent of all murders." Do police excessively arrest blacks? "The race of criminals reported by crime victims matches arrest data."

As for the charge that the incarceration rate of blacks is substantially explained by more severe federal sentences for crack as opposed to powder-cocaine defendants (only 13 states distinguish between the two substances, and these states have small sentence differentials), Mac Donald says:

"It's going to take a lot more than 5,000 or so (federal) crack defendants a year to account for the 562,000 black prisoners in state and federal facilities at the end of 2006 - or the 858,000 black prisoners in custody overall, if one includes the population of county and city jails."

James Q. Wilson, America's premier social scientist, notes that "the typical criminal commits from 12 to 16 crimes a year (not counting drug offenses)" and Wilson says that 10 years of scholarly studies "have shown that states that sent a higher fraction of convicts to prison had lower rates of crime, even after controlling for all of the other ways - poverty, urbanization, and the proportion of young men in the population - that the states differed. A high risk of punishment reduces crime. Deterrence works." It works especially on behalf of blacks, who are disproportionately the victims of crimes by black men.

A recent report by the Pew Center on the States asserts that America incarcerates too many people, and in the process diverts money from higher education. Wilson notes that the report does not examine whether the slower growth of public spending on higher education than on prisons may be explained by the surge in private support for public universities. And, Wilson dryly adds, the report does not explore "whether society gets as much from universities as it does from prisons." A good question, but not one apt to be studied in academia.

George Will is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.


RedwoodCoast 9 years, 11 months ago

Invictus: You make me laugh. Black Music? Seriously? Do you realize that nearly ALL American music of the 20th century was rooted in what you call "Black Music"? And unfortunately, I sense that the 'moral learning/guidance' of which you speak is more than likely tied to a particular faith.As for the incarceration rate... I am a firm believer that drug use in our society is a social problem, but the way we deal with drug users is also a social problem.Let's say some rancher has some cattle and they keep turning up dead. As it turns out, there is a mountain lion killing his animals. So the state comes in and traps it with the intention of relocating it. Are they going to kick it back out where there are more cattle around? No, because common sense says it will probably just do what a mountain lion does--kill things. Instead, you release it where there are no cattle, and very few people.So what are we doing with drug users? We throw them in prison, let them sober up, and what? OK, so while they're in prison, they're learning from other drug users how to get money to support their habit. Essentially, prisons are criminal think-tanks. And when the jail term is up, what do we do? We kick drug users back out into the same environment; we've turned a mountain lion loose in ranching territory. Those people are going to fall back in with the people they knew before they went to jail--people who have continued the behaviors that landed the person in jail in the first place. So what does the released person do? Sure, they might resist for a while, but the chances of relapse are extremely high. We need to be treating drug addicts for their problems if we really want to make an impact in that realm. People on drugs are brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, etc. Society looks at them as criminals when they should be looked at as people with afflictions. A close family member of mine has experienced drug addiction, and I can tell you that the only reason he is clean now is because he steered clear of the people and placed he knew while he was using. It's time we change our hard-headed policies on this sort of thing and begin looking at it logically, rather than just punishing criminals. This is personal for me, and it is something that I am clearly passionate about.

Jcjayhawk1 9 years, 11 months ago

"Then what will you do with non-violent criminals? Suddenly it would be okay to steal from someone or burglarize their house, as long as they don't do so violently?"-----------------------------------------------------------------Allow me to rephrase. Free up non-violent drug offenders with exception to crimes against person & property. Stop mandatory minimums and keep the laws off of our bodies. If we prosecute now on the basis of threat to oneself and others then alcohol is the king of all substance abuse related crimes and afflictions. Cigarettes & alcohol are the TRUE gateway drugs yet both are enjoyed under the law. We can't have it both ways. The obscene here is the imprisonment of Marijuana users. Quite possibly the most passive substance usage violators jailed with hardened violent offenders.

RedwoodCoast 9 years, 11 months ago

Oh, and you can't say that everyone should place equal value on the things that you feel are important. You just can't do it; it defies the values American society places upon personal liberty. I would like to think we're not living in a fascist society.

Lindsey Buscher 9 years, 11 months ago

Obama sees nothing wrong with defeating conservative idiots in November. Afterall, most of Kansas is full of them.

fu7il3 9 years, 11 months ago

Then what will you do with non-violent criminals? Suddenly it would be okay to steal from someone or burglarize their house, as long as they don't do so violently?

RedwoodCoast 9 years, 11 months ago

Hey now, rap music is a medium. Within that medium, one can do whatever one pleases. It doesn't necessarily imply 'moral corrosion.' It is just like guns; they are neutral until people start doing things with them that we deem moral or immoral. It is all about image and style and the value that people place upon it. Hey, within your own faith (and here I'm assuming you're speaking from the Christian faith), there is an image game. You can either be a 'good Christian' who tries to obey and spread the Christian word, or you can do the opposite. The fact is that Christians place more value upon the former. The value placed upon it is what needs to be changed, not the music itself.

davidnta 9 years, 11 months ago

Crime committed on minority from minority aren't really talked about not because of fear from leaders in the community, but that's because they're not committed towards the white majority.

fu7il3 9 years, 11 months ago

"We need to be treating drug addicts for their problems if we really want to make an impact in that realm. People on drugs are brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, etc."Serial murderers and rapists are brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, etc. Somewhere there are people that thought Dahmer was a great guy. It doesn't change the fact that murdering people is a crime.Most drug users I have known would not seek treatment until they were caught by the police, and most people aren't gutsy enough to force their loved ones to get help. Until people start taking responsibility for their own actions, and for the actions of those they love, then the police are our only option.

Robert bickers 9 years, 11 months ago

Schools need less external funding due to the ever skyrocketing tuition paid by the students. My alma mater doubled tuition over a five year span, from just over $300 an hour to $600+. That's just stupid. . .Black on black crime is the scourge of our cities, but no one will speak out about it for fear of the wrath of "Revs." Jackson and Sharpton.

fu7il3 9 years, 11 months ago

For every style of music there is a people that thought others were morally corrupted by it.

yeah_right 9 years, 11 months ago

What do you believe is the cause of this "warped and degenerate" culture?

Jcjayhawk1 9 years, 11 months ago

Our overcrowded prisons could be easily relieved by letting the non-violent criminals out. I remember reading that the US holds 5% of the worlds people yet has 25% of it's prison population.

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