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The Astounding Success of the Criminal Justice System


Prof. Doug Berman put up an entry today on Sentencing Law and Policy about the last book published by the late Harvard Law Prof. William Stuntz.   The book is titled, "The Collapse of American Criminal Justice."   Its thesis, not too surprisingly given the title, is that our criminal justice system has fallen into utter failure.

Prof. Berman's entry notes that the Stuntz book was reviewed by former Justice John Paul Stevens.  The review is favorable, and likewise laments the putatively rampant shortcomings of the system, even while noting that Justice Stevens would refrain from using the word, "collapse."


The whole thing  --  all of it  --  is preposterous.  Over the time this alleged disaster is supposed to have happened (roughly the last 20 years), the crime rate has fallen off a cliff.  The property crime rate is down by 43%; the violent crime rate by 47%, and the murder rate by slightly more than 50%.  The raw figures are here, and you can do the math yourself.  If you look at the numbers, you'll see that the murder rate is lower now than it has been at any time in almost 50 years.

Perhaps the most stunning figure, however, is this:  The number of serious crimes annually 20 years ago was 14,872,900. The number last year was 10,329,135. That is a drop of 4,543,765.  Four and a half million fewer crime victims.

That is not a "collapse" or anything remotely similar.  It is, to the contrary, an astonishing success story. I am not aware of a similarly successful domestic program of comparable size and scope, ever.

I will readily concede that the system looks "broken" to two categories of observers: (1) academics who never saw a criminal for whom an excuse could not be manufactured, and who thus lament their incarceration; and (2) the criminals themselves, now thankfully keeping each other company rather than the rest of us.

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