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It's the Culture, Stupid

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Last month, law professors Amy Wax of U. Penn. and Larry Alexander of U. San Diego published this op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer.  Their thesis was that the breakdown of "the basic cultural precepts that reigned from the late 1940s to the mid-1960s" was "implicated" in a host of modern maladies, including crime:

Too few Americans are qualified for the jobs available. Male working-age labor-force participation is at Depression-era lows. Opioid abuse is widespread. Homicidal violence plagues inner cities. Almost half of all children are born out of wedlock, and even more are raised by single mothers. Many college students lack basic skills, and high school students rank below those from two dozen other countries.
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That [late 40s - mid 60s] culture laid out the script we all were supposed to follow: Get married before you have children and strive to stay married for their sake. Get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard, and avoid idleness. Go the extra mile for your employer or client. Be a patriot, ready to serve the country. Be neighborly, civic-minded, and charitable. Avoid coarse language in public. Be respectful of authority. Eschew substance abuse and crime.

This would seem to be self-evident and ought not be controversial.  But Wax and Alexander work in the Bizarro World of contemporary academia.

Neighborhood Crime Rates

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Like increasing the resolution on a camera, going to finer-grained data gives us a sharper picture of crime, seeing things that we don't see from coarse-grained data.

"Well the south side of Chicago is the baddest part of town," Jim Croce told us musically in '73.  It still is.  Rafael Mangual of the Manhattan Institute has this article in the City Journal.

What this analysis shows is that, in many American cities, a substantial number of residents live through what can only be described as a homicide epidemic. And, despite assurances to the contrary, nowhere is that epidemic more pronounced than in Sub-Chicago, which happens to be 88 percent black and Latino. If we're serious about improving life in places like South and West Chicago, we must confront the uncomfortable truths about crime concentration in U.S. cities. Step one is recognizing that while most of the country is relatively free from such violence, a portion of the country lives in the urban equivalent of a killing field. These Americans don't need to be told that crime is down nationwide; they need protection.

Crime in California, 2016

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Last summer, we reported that the annual Crime in California report showed that crime in the formerly golden state was up across the board.  This year's report, which is 2016 data due to the reporting lag, is more mixed but still not good news, as noted in today's News Scan.

Violent crime rates* rose across the board, 4.1% percent overall.  See Table 2 on page 11 of the PDF file.  The 2015-2016 interval is the first time in recent years that we have had a one-year change number with a consistent definition of rape (see footnote 1), and that figure is up a worrisome 6.4%.

Property crime rates have bounced around since 2011, the last year that was mostly before the major California sentencing changes.  Last year the overall property crime rate was up 6.6% percent from the year before, and this year it is down 2.9% from last year.  Overall, property crime rates have been pretty flat since 2011, with a -1.9% change overall.  National property crime rates have dropped steadily over the 2011-2015 period.  We should have national 2016 numbers in a couple of months.
Andy Kessler has this article with the above title in the WSJ.

Hands down, the two most dangerous words in the English language today are "studies show."

The world is inundated with the manipulation of flighty studies to prove some larger point about mankind in the name of behavioral science. Pop psychologists have churned out mountains of books proving some intuitive point that turns out to be wrong. It's "sciencey," with a whiff of (false) authenticity.
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Further Issues with Brain Imaging

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Day after day it seems we are told that neurosciences will dramatically change in how we conceptualize human behavior and ultimately culpability.  As I have noted extensively in the past, there are many problems with this view.  The newest difficulty was published last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences:

Functional MRI (fMRI) is 25 years old, yet surprisingly its most common statistical methods have not been validated using real data. Here, we used resting-state fMRI data from 499 healthy controls to conduct 3 million task group analyses. Using this null data with different experimental designs, we estimate the incidence of significant results. In theory, we should find 5% false positives (for a significance threshold of 5%), but instead we found that the most common software packages for fMRI analysis (SPM, FSL, AFNI) can result in false-positive rates of up to 70%. These results question the validity of a number of fMRI studies and may have a large impact on the interpretation of weakly significant neuroimaging results.

Whoops.
Hat tip to Prof. David Bernstein of Antonin Scalia Law School for pointing out this article, a long but illuminating study about why it's misleading to compare murder rates in the United States with those in other "developed countries."  It starts:

Much of the political thinking about violence in the United States comes from unfavorable comparisons between the United States and a series of cherry-picked countries with lower murder rates and with fewer guns per capita. We've all seen it many times. The United States, with a murder rate of approximately 5 per 100,000 is compared to a variety of Western and Central European countries (also sometimes Japan) with murder rates often below 1 per 100,000. This is, in turn, supposed to fill Americans with a sense of shame and illustrate that the United States should be regarded as some sort of pariah nation because of its murder rate.

Note, however, that these comparisons always employ a carefully selected list of countries, most of which are very unlike the United States. They are  countries that were settled long ago by the dominant ethnic group, they are ethnically non-diverse today, they are frequently very small countries (such as Norway, with a population of 5 million) with very locally based democracies (again, unlike the US with an immense population and far fewer representatives in government per voter). Politically, historically, and demographically, the US has little in common with Europe or Japan.
The Brennan Center is an enthusiastically pro-criminal outfit affiliated with NYU. It produces a number of papers it calls "reports," but which are actually advocacy pieces for lowered sentencing.

It came out with one recently, titled "Crime in 2016: Final Year-End Data." Mostly, it presents a chipper picture.  But if you look hard enough...

Lying By Cherry-Picking

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There are many ways to misuse numbers to intentionally create a false impression in the mind of the reader.  Such deception is morally no different than lying, in my view, even if one carefully avoids saying anything false.  Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution has pointed out an exceptionally egregious example from the New York Times.

The headline of the Times article is "Amid 'Trump Effect' Fear, 40% of Colleges See Dip in Foreign Applicants."  The article states:

Nearly 40 percent of colleges are reporting overall declines in applications from international students, according to a survey of 250 college and universities, released this week by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.
The actual finding of the survey is "39% of responding institutions reported a decline in international applications, 35% reported an increase, and 26% reported no change in applicant numbers."  That is a complete nothingburger, but cherry-picking the first number creates a very wrong impression.

Cowen is too generous in the title of the post:  "This one is a real blooper and I cannot let it pass by."  The word "blooper" implies an innocent mistake or accident.  This looks like intentional deception to me, and that appearance is reinforced by the fact that the misleading story and atrocious headline are still on the NYT website three days after this has been all over the internet.  Additional commentary comes from James Freeman at the WSJ and Eugene Volokh at the Volokh Conspiracy.

We see similar cherry-picking in arguments about criminal justice, but this is such a clear and obvious example of the deceptive tactic that I thought it worth noting here.

Federal Criminal Statistics

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The Bureau of Justice Statistics has released a report on Federal Justice Statistics 2013-2014.  Note the time lag.  That's part of the problem with justice statistics.

Another problem is that statistics are sometimes defined in ways that people would not expect.  "Tracking recidivism rates involved identifying prisoners released from federal prison following a U.S. district court commitment between 1998 and 2014."

What about people released from federal prison and subsequently prosecuted by state authorities?  Not in the definition.  Not tracked.

Three-fifths of federal arrests in 2014 were made in just 5 of the nation's 94 judicial districts -- Southern Texas, Western Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Southern California.  What do these five districts have that none of the others have?  You guessed it.
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Since 2011, California has gone further than other states in the rapid dismantling of its tough-on-crime policies, so we have been keeping track of California crime rates as compared with the nation as a whole.  Here are graphs showing 2011 to 2015 with data from the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports.*

The "realignment" bill, AB109, took effect in October 2011, and one would not expect much effect in the first couple of months.  So we can consider 2011 to be a base year.  California shows a jump in violent crime the following year while the rate for the country as a whole was essentially flat.  California had a sharp jump in property crime for 2012, while the national rate was declining.
As has been reported on this blog and in many other places, crime across the cities of this country has been on a tear the last two years the likes of which we have not seen for decades.  After a generation of keeping our nerve and getting tough under Bill Clinton and George Bush, we decided that the real problem is thuggish police and overcrowded prisons.  So we started down the road of policing consent decrees and retroactively lowered sentences.

Liking the results?

But wait, it gets worse.  Lots worse.
The FBI issued this press release yesterday on its Preliminary Semiannual Uniform Crime Report.

All of the offenses in the violent crime category--murder and non-negligent manslaughter, rape (revised definition), rape (legacy definition), aggravated assault, and robbery--showed increases when data from the first six months of 2016 were compared with data from the first six months of 2015. The number of aggravated assaults increased 6.5 percent, murders increased 5.2 percent, rapes (legacy definition) increased 4.4 percent, rapes (revised definition) rose 3.5 percent, and robbery offenses were up 3.2 percent.
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In the property crime category, offenses dropped 0.6 percent. Burglaries were down 3.4 percent, and larceny-thefts declined 0.8 percent. However, motor vehicle thefts increased 6.6 percent.

We at CJLF will be looking at the data more closely and will report what we find on this blog.
An implicit assumption in the outcry for releasing "nonviolent offenders" is that criminals specialize, and a person in prison for, say, burglary, is no more likely to commit a violent crime than regular law-abiding people are.  Last month, California voters approved an initiative for releasing supposedly "nonviolent" criminals by a landslide even while they rejected an initiative to repeal the death penalty by a greater margin than they did four years ago.  That indicates the extent to which the "nonviolent offender" myth has taken hold.

But it's a bunch of hooey.  Today the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics released supplemental data on Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 30 States in 2005: Patterns from 2005 to 2010.

How many prisoners released in 2005 were rearrested by 2010, and for what crimes?

For those committed for violent offenses, 33.1% were rearrested for another violent offense.  For those whose most serious commitment offense was classified as a property offense, 28.5% were rearrested for a violent offense.

Is that a big difference?  No, it is a small, bordering on trivial, difference.  The premise that "nonviolent offenders" can be released without placing law-abiding people at increased risk of violent victimization is just plain wrong.

Study: Racist Police Narrative is False

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For the past eight years, the world has been told that American law enforcement is infected with racism.  The President, the Attorney General, most civil rights leaders, most of academia, seemingly every Democrat politician in the country, and the national media have repeatedly cited the disproportionate number of arrests, convictions and incarceration of young black males as proof that white police officers and prosecutors are literally rounding up blacks and throwing them in prison.  We have been told that the racial bias is so prevalent that white police officers routinely single out black suspects and murder them.  The Black Lives Matter movement was formed specifically to fight this perceived injustice and over the past couple of years more than a few police officers have been assassinated by BLM followers.  John Lott, Jr., of the Crime Prevention Research Center and Carlisle Moody of the College of William and Mary have released a study mentioned below in the News Scan which found that black suspects are more likely to be shot by black police officers and female police officers than by white police officers.

Poll Analysis Kerfuffle

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The things people get angry about ...

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