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Sometimes a Little Math Helps

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Christopher Glazek has this piece over at n+1 that makes this astounding claim:

Crime has not fallen in the United States--it's been shifted. Just as Wall Street connived with regulators to transfer financial risk from spendthrift banks to careless home buyers, so have federal, state, and local legislatures succeeded in rerouting criminal risk away from urban centers and concentrating it in a proliferating web of hyperhells. The statistics touting the country's crime-reduction miracle, when juxtaposed with those documenting the quantity of rape and assault that takes place each year within the correctional system, are exposed as not merely a lie, or even a damn lie--but as the single most shameful lie in American life.

Now if Mr. Glazek is willing to limit his claim to the prevalence of sexual assault, it might be credible.  It is easily conceivable that sexual assault is both frequent and under-reported in correctional facilities.  But his claim is broader:  Crime has not fallen despite large increases in incarceration - rather it's merely been transferred to the world of "hyperhell" prison cells.

But the data simply does not support this assertion.

In 1991, there were 24,703 homicides in the United States.  In 1999, there were 15,522 - a decline of 9,181 (pdf).  In 2009 there were 23 homicides in the nation's jails and 55 in the nation's state prisons for a grand total of 78 (pdf).  Additionally, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that between 2001 and 2007 the jail inmate mortality rate declined by 13%.  

No serious person could deny that crime - including violent crime - occurs in correctional facilities and that it is wrong and abhorrent.  But the notion that the crime rate has not fallen in the United States is simply false and the data backs that assertion up quite easily. 

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The idea that a high and unreported incidence of prison rape means that serious crime overall has not decreased is so facially preposterous that no sane person could believe it.

In 1991, there were 14,872,900 serious crimes. In 2010, there were 10,329,765 -- a reduction of 4,543,765. In other words, the crime reduction was TWICE THE ENTIRE PRISON POPULATION. Source: http://www.disastercenter.com/crime/uscrime.htm (giving BJS figures).

It's not that Mr. Glazed can't count. It's that he doesn't want to, while lionizing hoodlums as victims -- not that this is new.

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