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Impenetrable at Stanford Law

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Not to knock my alma mater, but Stanford Law School is home to a lecturer in law, Michael S. Romano, who seems oblivious to the preeminent realities about crime and sentencing staring him in the face.

This article from the National Journal  --  the eight trillionth about supposed overwhelming Republican zeal to join forces with the criminal defense bar  -- contains the following paragraph:

What's changed the political equation on crime [in the last three decades]? The most important factor is the decline in the crime rate. After surging through the 1980s as the crack epidemic crested, the violent crime rate has fallen almost every year since 1993 and now stands at only about half of what it was then, according to FBI figures. (A separate Bureau of Justice Statistics crime survey shows the violent-crime rate ticking back up over the past two years but still down about two-thirds from its 1993 level.) "We have an incredible opportunity for change because crime is down," says Michael S. Romano, a lecturer at Stanford University Law School.

Is this what passes for critical thought at Stanford nowadays?

 
Did Mr. Romano give any thought at all to why the crime rate has fallen so much over the last generation?  If so, no hint of it appears in the article.  But, as numerous prior posts have shown, and as basic common sense will tell you, it has fallen in significant part because of increased use of the very imprisonment that Mr. Romano would now slice-and-dice.

His view amounts to saying, "Since we've brought down the crime rate, it's time to abandon the policies that succeeded in helping us do that in order to return to the policies that failed to do it."

Yikes.

If George Bush had said any such thing, it would go down as another hilarious Bushism.  But when a fellow who teaches at Stanford says it, it gets quoted uncritically in the National Journal.

There was one insight the Journal conveyed, however:  "A separate Bureau of Justice Statistics crime survey shows the violent-crime rate ticking back up over the past two years..."

Just so.  Anyone want to take a guess as to what else has happened over the last two (actually, over the last four) years?

Right you are!  Just as the violent crime rate has ticked up, the prison population  -- the one that had been burgeoning  --  ticked down.

Yes, yes, I know, we've all heard it:  Correlation is not causation.  This weary truism would carry at least some heft if the slash-sentences crowd had any genuine curiosity or even  --  God forbid  --  honest willingness to take a look at what the causation of changes in the crime rate actually is.  Absent that, however, I will be content to note that, correlation not being causation, it's just a very, very, very odd coincidence that, for 20 or 25 years, crime goes way up as incarceration is dormant; for the next 20 or 25 years, crime goes way down as incarceration skyrockets; and for the most recent two or three years, crime upticks slightly as incarceration downticks slightly.

Now that is what I call coincidence!!!

Still, repeat after me:  Correlation is not causation.  Correlation is not causation. Correlation is not causation..........................

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