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Monday, January 03, 2005

Crime and Punishment

The inmate populations are up, and crime rates are down. That’s the great news from recent Justice Department statistics. There are a number of reasons for this trend.

First, courts have been getting tougher on crime, resulting in an increased number of convicted criminals being sent to prison: 615,400 in 2002, up from 522,000 in 1995. Also, the average prison term has increased to 30 months, up from 23 months over the same period. These have contributed to crime rates either dropping or remaining steady each year since

Additionally, legislatures across the country have instituted laws making it harder for criminals to walk out of court with only a slap on the wrist. These measures include mandatory minimum sentencing laws, which require inmates to serve some of their time actually behind bars; truth-in-sentencing laws, which required an inmate to actually serve the time he was sentenced to; and a variety of three-strikes laws that increase the penalties for repeat offenders.

Oddly enough, some can’t see that putting criminals in prison and keeping them there leads to lower crime rates. In a November 8th New York Times article, Fox Butterfield writes that “the number of inmates in state and federal prisons rose 2.1 percent last year, even as violent crime and property crime fell, according to a study by the Justice Department”. He then continues to comment that if crime rates are falling, that inmate populations should be decreasing, and therefore, something is very, very wrong. He even asks an FBI agent to “explain the paradox of a falling crime rate but a rising prison population”.

Could it be – that because the criminals are going to prison and staying there, that they are not able to commit crimes, and because of that, the crime rate is dropping? Look at the facts: overall violent crime arrests dropped 16 percent in the last ten years, including a huge drop of 36 percent in arrests for murder and a 25 percent decrease in arrests for robbery. Average inmate age has also increased over the same period, with the proportion of inmates in the 40 to 54-yr age range increasing since 1995. This is an indicator that violent criminals are going to prison and staying there into their late middle-ages, and not being quickly paroled. With these criminals off of the streets, crime rates are dropping because there are fewer criminals in the free population.

People who commit violent crimes against individuals and society have lost their right to freedom, and the government’s duty to protect its citizens demands tough laws and tough enforcement. The results of increased vigilance in this area are a marked drop in the crime rate all over the country and increased inmate population. While we must ensure that justice is meted out with due regard for individual rights, complaining about the successful prosecution and punishment of criminals is counterproductive. Instead of searching for conspiracy theories and inventing governmental oppression, we should perhaps spend our time enjoying the lower crime rates – and get out more.


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