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Lies, Damned Lies, and Lazy Falsehoods

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One of the frustrating things about debating criminal justice issues is the extent to which the other side can says things that are just flat-out falsehoods and have them published without checking in supposedly respectable media.

In the Ten Miles Square blog at the Washington Monthly, Erik Voeten publishes a guest post by Marc Howard, titled Fear vs. Facts.  Howard is discussing the California prison situation.  Following some quotes from Justice Alito, Justice Scalia, DA Cooley, and yours truly (at least he has me in good company) about the potentially disastrous effects of prisoner release in California, Howard says this:

This panic-stricken reaction conveniently ignores the fact that more prisoners are incarcerated as a result of property, drug, public order, and other crimes than of violent crimes--and presumably the former would stand to benefit from early release, not the latter [see Marc Mauer, Race to Incarcerate, 2nd ed. (New York:  The New Press, 2006), pp. 30-35].

But Howard's "fact" is simply, clearly, objectively false.  The truth is not hard to find.  All you have to do is go to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation's website, get the most recent California Prisoners and Parolees report and look at Table 8 on page 34 of the PDF file, page 16 of the printed document.  Even if we look only current offense of commitment, which is all we have hard numbers for, the felons committed for violent crimes are a majority.  Add in those with drug or property current crimes and violent priors (a number not readily available but surely substantial), and it will be a heavy majority.

Did Howard intentionally lie?  Probably not.  I'll give him the benefit of the doubt.  But his assertion is incredibly lazy for someone accusing others of having their facts wrong.  The citation is to a book which I can't access today, but even on its face the cite is flaky.  A book published five years ago likely has data from six or seven years ago, as there is a time lag in available data.  Are these figures specifically for California, the subject of the debate, or are they national averages?  California never did have drug laws of the severity of the federal government or New York, and it has already reduced the percentage of inmates with drug convictions substantially, see Table 9 of the above report, so figures from other jurisdictions are irrelevant to this debate.

So, Professors Howard and Voeten, I respectfully suggest that you take the time to check your own facts before you accuse others of having theirs wrong. Oh, and a correction and apology are in order.

(The remainder of Howard's post is not about facts.  Rather, it is stock arguments making highly debatable and hotly debated interpretations of facts.  No need to rehash that debate here.)

1 Comment

Annoying. Of course, a violent criminal "violated" for drug offenses is basically crime prevention. Paroled violent criminals who want their fix are a violent crime waiting to happen.

My guess is that to earn a stretch in a California prison, you have to be a pretty bad guy.

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