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It's the Culture, Continued

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Persons of sense have known for a long time that the primary "root cause" of crime is culture.  Kids growing up are subject to influence from parents, peers, schools, and popular media.  These influences instill in the growing kids either an attitude that (1) they should "do the right thing" in obeying rules (in all but extreme circumstances) and respecting the rights of others or (2) it's every person for himself and they should take whatever they can get away with.

Empirical validation of theories is difficult in social sciences because we generally cannot do controlled experiments.  That is why, for example, much of the "evidence" touted for rehabilitation programs is tainted by selection bias, as noted in posts last February here and here

Every once in a while, though, we get a "natural experiment" where a comparison becomes available between two groups that do or do not receive some "treatment" or "intervention" selected in a way that gives us increased confidence that the "treatment" and not the selection of the groups is the reason for the difference in outcomes.

One such "natural experiment" is forthcoming in the next issue of Pediatrics.  It is titled, "Successful Schools and Risky Behaviors Among Low-Income Adolescents."  The abstract is here and is copied at the end of this post.  The AAP press release is here.  AP has this story.

The thrust of the story is that kids randomly selected to go to better schools have a variety of better outcomes, including reduced gang membership.

More on Corrupt Peer Review

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Mary Kissel of the WSJ has a video interview with James Taranto on the peer review corruption scandal, similar to Taranto's column noted earlier
Last week, I had a post about the malleability of computer models and the problem of models done by advocates with no effective check in our Politically Correct academia.  Bill had a post on the scandal of peer-review corruption.

Today in the WSJ, Hank Campbell has an op-ed titled The Corruption of Peer Review Is Harming Scientific Credibility, subtitled Dubious studies on the danger of hurricane names may be laughable. But bad science can cause bad policy.  See also James Taranto's Best of the Web column today, also in the WSJ.

Campbell notes, "in biomedicine faulty research and a dubious peer-review process can have life-or-death consequences."  That is also true in criminal justice.  There is now a concerted effort to affect public policy with studies and papers downplaying the public-safety effect of punishment and touting alternatives.  Can we trust any of this?  Can we trust it with our lives?
Here's a bit of old news.  On May 28, Neelabh Chaturvedi reported for the WSJ MoneyBlog that the very smart folks at Goldman Sachs "crunched lots of numbers. Lots and lots of numbers," to make the prediction that host Brazil would win the grand prize in the world soccer tournament.

Um, that didn't exactly work out.  Phillipa Leighton-Jones and Jon Sindreu have this follow-up on the same blog.

In December 2011, I wrote a post titled Models Behaving Badly about a book with the same title on the shortcomings of computer modeling of human behavior.  The post noted the implications for criminal justice.  (See also the noteworthy comment by federale86.)

All of these cautions apply when the modeler is actually trying to get to the truth.  An additional heaping scoop of skepticism is called for when the modeler is or is retained by an advocate trying to convince people of a position he would believe for other reasons.  On Tuesday, Robert Caprara had this op-ed in the WSJ titled Confessions of a Computer Modeler.  While working for the EPA, Caprara was told to go back and do his model over repeatedly until he got the "right" answer, the answer predetermined by the agenda of the official in charge:
Investors Business Daily has this editorial:

As the attorney general again warns schools that even race-neutral discipline policies discriminate against black students, a study finds serial misbehavior "completely" explains the racial gap in suspensions.

The first-of-its-kind longitudinal study published in the Journal of Criminal Justice tracks black and white students from kindergarten through eighth grade, with the data set spanning the years 1998 to 2007.

It confirms the obvious: Differences in behavior -- namely, repeat classroom offenses -- explain differences in discipline, not racism by school officials or worse treatment of black offenders compared with similarly situated white offenders, as this race-obsessed administration has so recklessly alleged.
Citation and abstract follow the break.
The Onion reports on important new research on a "root cause" of violent crime:

A study published Thursday in The American Journal Of Criminal Psychology has found a nearly perfect statistical correlation between children who were denied a toy they wanted when visiting a store with their parents and the later development of homicidal...
Curious to see if we get a Swift's Law effect on this one.
Garry Rayno reports for the New Hampshire Union Leader:

CONCORD -- The Senate took little time Thursday to reject repealing the death penalty, not wanting to debate the issue a second time this session.

On a voice vote, the Senate refused to go along with the House and killed Senate Bill 202, which contained the death penalty repeal language from House Bill 1170, which remains on the table in the Senate after members deadlocked 12-12.
Repeal supporters continue with their disinformation campaign:

"There is not an ounce of evidence the death penalty keeps anyone safe," said Sen. David Pierce, D-Hanover. "One of government's jobs is to reduce crime. The death penalty does not reduce crime."
Reasonable people can and do disagree about how convincing the studies showing deterrence are, who has the burden of proof, and by what measure.  To say "there is not an ounce of evidence" of deterrent effect, though, is just a bald-faced lie. 

Deterrence studies published in peer-reviewed journals from 1996 to 2010 are tallied here, and the abstracts and citations are provided here.

BJS Study Tracks Recividism

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The Bureau of Justice Statistics has released a study tracking the rearrest rate of 405,000 felons released from prison in 30 states.  The BJS press release is here.  The study examines ex-convicts released in 2005 who were rearrested for a new crimes over the next five years.  More than 57% of those released were rearrested in the first year.   By the third year 68% had been rearrested.  After five years 77% had been rearrested at least one time, with many rearrested more than once.  In total, ex-convicts released from prison in 2005 were rearrested 1.2 million times for new crimes.   Property criminals, including burglars, car thieves, and identity thieves were rearrested at the highest rate of 82%.  77% of drug offenders, typically drug dealers, were rearrested over the five year period.  Recividism was highest among blacks, followed by Hispanics and whites.  Age and sex were also major factors with 84% of those 24 or younger rearrested.  The rearrest rate dropped to 69% for those 40 or older.  78% of males were rearrested compared to 68% of females. 

There will be two varieties of spin put on this study.  The first and most publicized will come from "Smart on Crime" advocates, which includes the ACLU, the Urban Institute, the Sentencing Project and much of academia.  They will point to these findings as proof that fixed and progressively severe consequences for criminals, such as mandatory minimums and habitual criminal sentencing have failed to rehabilitate criminals.  We will be told that the current transition to alternative sentencing featuring "evidence based practices" and treatment programs will help to reform the current racially biased system, lower the recividism rate, improve  public safety, and remove the stigma on America as the "incarceration nation."  

     
One of the pleasures of teaching law is the opportunity to meet some exceptionally bright students.  One of mine was Jarrett Dieterle, now in his third year, getting ready for his upcoming clerkship with a federal judge.

The paper Jarrett wrote for my class was something of a case study about how a federal statute, originally modest is scope, has grown beyond all comprehension.

More broadly, Jarrett's paper, now published in the Georgetown Law Journal, sheds light on the controversy surrounding the use of criminal sanctions as the hammer of the regulatory state, and the related question whether non-mens rea crimes have any place in the law, much less in federal law.  It is  something of an eye-opener.  You can  find it here.


Last week, I noted the posts by Sasha Volokh on studies of faith-based prisons and the selection bias problem.  Volokh explains selection bias in more detail, but in a nutshell a comparison of outcomes between a "treatment" group and a "control" group tells us nothing if the groups are selected in a way that makes one group more likely to achieve the outcome for a reason other than the treatment.  Any claim that a difference in outcomes shows the effectiveness of the treatment is junk science.

Now exactly this kind of junk, indeed an extreme example of this kind of junk, has been cited by none other than the Attorney General of the United States on the subject of felon disenfranchisement.  He has been called out on this by none other than the previous Attorney General of the United States in this op-ed in the WSJ (subscription).

FBI Prelim Crime Stats Jan-Jun 2013

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The FBI has released its preliminary figures for the Uniform Crime Reports for the first half of 2013.  Violent crime is down in all categories tracked and all regions.  Property crime is down also, although the decline in the West is a negligible 0.3%.

Unfortunately, the preliminary figures have no breakdown by state, so we cannot tell if the Realignment-driven crime increases are continuing in California.  Given the state's large weight in the Western region, though, that would be consistent with the West's relatively poor results.  The West's drop in violent crime is only 3.7% compared with 5.4% for the country as a whole.  As noted above, the West's property crime rate is essentially unchanged, compared to another 5.4% drop for the country. 

Perhaps most telling is motor vehicle theft.  As explained in this post, this is the category most likely to be affected by Realignment, and it did indeed shoot up in California between 2011 and 2012.  In today's report, motor vehicle theft is up 3% in the West as a whole, the only net increase in the entire table.

The Morphing Factoid

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WaPo Fact Checker Glenn Kessler examines a claim made by Attorney General Eric Holder over four years ago.  "Disturbingly, intimate partner homicide is the leading cause of death for African American women ages 15 to 45."  That would indeed be disturbing if it were true.  It is not.  Not even close.

Why is The Fact Checker focusing on a statement made four years ago? This assertion by the attorney general is an interesting case of a game of telephone being played with a factoid, in which the original statistic has become lost from its moorings.
There was a BJS report in 1998 that discussed the issue but did not say what it has since been cited for.  An article in the American Journal of Public Health miscited the study as saying homicide (not necessarily intimate partner homicide) was the leading cause of death in the demographic group in question.  Then another study published in DoJ's National Institute of Justice Journal miscites it again with the even more stark, and even more wrong, statistic.

A Stab in the Dark?

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Stop the presses!  Research indicates there are more muggings after dark!  The abstract from the November 2013 issue of the Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency (50(4)) is here and copied after the break.
Last month, you may recall, the FBI announced its final Crime in the United States report for 2012, showing an increase in violent crimes of 0.7% and a decline in property crimes of 0.9%.  (Press release here; prior post here.)  Today, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, a different branch of USDoJ, announced the results of its National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), showing violent crime increased 17.7% and property crime increased 15.0%. 

The press release is here.  The full report is here.  Percentage changes are in Table 9 on page 9.

What gives?  How can these two measures of "crime rates" produce such dramatically different results?  The devil is in the details.

FBI Releases Final 2012 Crime Stats

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The FBI has released the final statistics for its annual Crime in the United States reports.  Press release is here.

In prior posts (here and here), we examined preliminary data for indications of whether California's "realignment" program, effective October 2011, may have resulted in an increase in crime.  For the final data, as with the preliminary, all we can say is that the data are consistent with that hypothesis but definitive proof is not possible at this time.

With the FBI final data, we can compare statewide totals across states.  California's property crime is up 6.8%, compared with a national decline of -0.9%.  Property crime is the type most likely to be affected by realignment, as the program is not supposed to have any effect on the sentencing of violent criminals.  (It has more than advertised, but that is another topic.)

Other states that have significant rises in property crime are mostly small-population states:  South Dakota, Montana, Nevada, Alaska, West Virginia, Vermont, and North Dakota, in that order.  (California would come after Nevada in the ordered list.)  What's with the increases in the small states?  It could be that statistics are simply more volatile there.  Montana, West Virginia, and Alaska bounced back up from significant drops the year before, so this could just be "reversion to the mean."  Something else may be at work in the Dakotas.  South Dakota's property crime rate is up to a level not seen for 10 years.  Could be the oil boom.

Among medium and large states, California stands out.  Oregon's property crime increase is a shade more than half of California's.  Colorado's is lower.  Washington's is only a third.  And it's sharply downhill from there.  Texas is down -3.2%.  Florida and Ohio notched -7.0% and -7.1% drops, respectively.

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