The Department of Justice recently ran a press release noting “the rate of family violence fell by more than one-half between 1993 and 2002, from an estimated 5.4 victims to 2.1 victims per 1,000 U.S. residents 12 years old and older.” But violence overall is declining as well, as are property crimes.

The report and the rates cited above are all based on high quality data from the National Crime Victimization Survey (the 1993 start date is important because the NCVS had a major redesign in ’93 that clearly affected reporting of family violence).

The Department of Justice recently ran a press release noting “the rate of family violence fell by more than one-half between 1993 and 2002, from an estimated 5.4 victims to 2.1 victims per 1,000 U.S. residents 12 years old and older.” But violence overall is declining as well, as are property crimes.

The report and the rates cited above are all based on high quality data from the National Crime Victimization Survey (the 1993 start date is important because the NCVS had a major redesign in ’93 that clearly affected reporting of family violence).

I’ve been teaching juvenile delinquency and criminology since the mid-1990s. Each year, I show my classes how the crime rate has generally declined as measured by household victimization or crimes known to the police. At the end of each term, however, I always get a few papers that lead off by citing “alarming increases” in crime/homicide/violence. The FBI’s preliminary numbers for 2004 again show a drop of 1.7% for property crime and 1.8% for violent crime nationally since 2003. For the past 10 years, the news has been great with regard to trend, though crime levels remain unacceptably high in many communities.

Some criminologists have been predicting a crime surge, but I see room for further reductions — particularly if graduation rates and labor markets improve. I guess a better way to put it is that I haven’t been convinced that the pessimistic predictions are justified by much more than regression to the apparent “mean” established in the worst of the bad old days. It is very tough to make crime projections over the long-term, since the effects of things like age structure, economic performance, and incarceration seem to vary quite a bit over time (that is, I think a model predicting crime in the 1960s wouldn’t do so well in explaining 1990s trends). In any case, I now warn my classes that I will completely freak out if they cite “alarming” increases without indicating precisely what has increased and when it began to rise.

Minnesota has long had some of the greatest racial disparities in punishment in the nation, with African American incarceration rates over 10 times those of white rates for several years. In fact, whites have represented a minority of prisoners in a state that is 87% white overall. Today’s Star-Tribune reports that white prisoners are now back in the majority in Minnesota prisons: 59% of MN prisoners are white today. This is due in large part to a deluge of white methamphetamine cases (only about 1 in 20 meth prisoners is non-white) and longer sentences for sex offenders, who also tend to be white.

Minnesota has historically had a very low incarceration rate, but is experiencing rapid (though not California-style) expansion the past few years. Politicians on both sides of the aisle are now calling for reform, early release, and other programs that would reduce the economic and social costs of incarceration. Now connect the dots: “The surest way to get sentencing reform is to over-incarcerate white people,” said Rep. Keith Ellison, DFL-Minneapolis…”All of a sudden, folks want to talk about redemption.” When I read Ellison’s quote, I was reminded of Naomi Murakawa’s excellent work on mandatory minimum sentences. The last time that the number of mandatory minimums was actually reduced came in the Nixon administration — when white college kids were sent away for long prison terms for drug offenses.

Minnesota has long had some of the greatest racial disparities in punishment in the nation, with African American incarceration rates over 10 times those of white rates for several years. In fact, whites have represented a minority of prisoners in a state that is 87% white overall. Today’s Star-Tribune reports that white prisoners are now back in the majority in Minnesota prisons: 59% of MN prisoners are white today. This is due in large part to a deluge of white methamphetamine cases (only about 1 in 20 meth prisoners is non-white) and longer sentences for sex offenders, who also tend to be white.

Minnesota has historically had a very low incarceration rate, but is experiencing rapid (though not California-style) expansion the past few years. Politicians on both sides of the aisle are now calling for reform, early release, and other programs that would reduce the economic and social costs of incarceration. Now connect the dots: “The surest way to get sentencing reform is to over-incarcerate white people,” said Rep. Keith Ellison, DFL-Minneapolis…”All of a sudden, folks want to talk about redemption.” When I read Ellison’s quote, I was reminded of Naomi Murakawa’s excellent work on mandatory minimum sentences. The last time that the number of mandatory minimums was actually reduced came in the Nixon administration — when white college kids were sent away for long prison terms for drug offenses.

I’ve been teaching juvenile delinquency and criminology since the mid-1990s. Each year, I show my classes how the crime rate has generally declined as measured by household victimization or crimes known to the police. At the end of each term, however, I always get a few papers that lead off by citing “alarming increases” in crime/homicide/violence. The FBI’s preliminary numbers for 2004 again show a drop of 1.7% for property crime and 1.8% for violent crime nationally since 2003. For the past 10 years, the news has been great with regard to trend, though crime levels remain unacceptably high in many communities.

Some criminologists have been predicting a crime surge, but I see room for further reductions — particularly if graduation rates and labor markets improve. I guess a better way to put it is that I haven’t been convinced that the pessimistic predictions are justified by much more than regression to the apparent “mean” established in the worst of the bad old days. It is very tough to make crime projections over the long-term, since the effects of things like age structure, economic performance, and incarceration seem to vary quite a bit over time (that is, I think a model predicting crime in the 1960s wouldn’t do so well in explaining 1990s trends). In any case, I now warn my classes that I will completely freak out if they cite “alarming” increases without indicating precisely what has increased and when it began to rise.

In Gonzales v. Raich, the Supreme Court today struck a major blow against medical marijuana use. According to a recent Forbes article, however, 500 economists just signed off on a letter and report advocating marijuana legalization. Notables include Milton Friedman and faculty at many of the top-ranked econ departments. Friedman’s support shouldn’t be that surprising, given that he’s always advocated straight free-market/invisible-hand economics. The cost/benefit analysis in the report seems a bit thin to me (heroic assumptions, sparse data), but the upshot is about a $10 billion net projection annually:

  • savings of $7.7 billion per year in government expenditure on enforcement of prohibition, most of it at the state and local level
  • tax revenue of $2.4 billion annually (or $6.2 billion if we tax pot at the same rate as alcohol and tobacco).

The $10 billion figure could be reasonable if the model accounts for all the “large” effects and if the ceteris paribus assumption (that nothing else changes) actually holds. The toughest thing to model, in my opinion, is whether (and to what extent) legalizing and taxing marijuana would increase use (or decrease it, I guess, depending on tax rates!). If use rates are unaffected, no problem. If use changes by 5% or 10%, then the analysis gets complicated. It would have to put a number on the costs (or benefits?) to long-term health, increased Doritos sales, and myriad other factors that are tough to identify, let alone measure. Lifetime marijuana prevalence rates for high school seniors have fallen since 1997 to about 46% in the 2004 Monitoring the Future data series. I don’t hear many people making the “gateway drug” argument these days, but I’m sure that (socially) conservative critics will raise the spectre of increased cocaine, meth, and heroin as well. Though supported by the pro-reform Marijuana Policy Project, I think this study probably understates the costs of the drug war. In addition to the impossible position of those prescribed medical marijuana who remain subject to prosecution, a detailed analysis would need to estimate the intergenerational costs of incarceration to families and communities. It seems as though a pilot experiment (or quasi-experimental comparison of laws across states and time) would help provide some additional traction here. What would Friedman say about banning Sudafed?

In Gonzales v. Raich, the Supreme Court today struck a major blow against medical marijuana use. According to a recent Forbes article, however, 500 economists just signed off on a letter and report advocating marijuana legalization. Notables include Milton Friedman and faculty at many of the top-ranked econ departments. Friedman’s support shouldn’t be that surprising, given that he’s always advocated straight free-market/invisible-hand economics. The cost/benefit analysis in the report seems a bit thin to me (heroic assumptions, sparse data), but the upshot is about a $10 billion net projection annually:

  • savings of $7.7 billion per year in government expenditure on enforcement of prohibition, most of it at the state and local level
  • tax revenue of $2.4 billion annually (or $6.2 billion if we tax pot at the same rate as alcohol and tobacco).

The $10 billion figure could be reasonable if the model accounts for all the “large” effects and if the ceteris paribus assumption (that nothing else changes) actually holds. The toughest thing to model, in my opinion, is whether (and to what extent) legalizing and taxing marijuana would increase use (or decrease it, I guess, depending on tax rates!). If use rates are unaffected, no problem. If use changes by 5% or 10%, then the analysis gets complicated. It would have to put a number on the costs (or benefits?) to long-term health, increased Doritos sales, and myriad other factors that are tough to identify, let alone measure. Lifetime marijuana prevalence rates for high school seniors have fallen since 1997 to about 46% in the 2004 Monitoring the Future data series. I don’t hear many people making the “gateway drug” argument these days, but I’m sure that (socially) conservative critics will raise the spectre of increased cocaine, meth, and heroin as well. Though supported by the pro-reform Marijuana Policy Project, I think this study probably understates the costs of the drug war. In addition to the impossible position of those prescribed medical marijuana who remain subject to prosecution, a detailed analysis would need to estimate the intergenerational costs of incarceration to families and communities. It seems as though a pilot experiment (or quasi-experimental comparison of laws across states and time) would help provide some additional traction here. What would Friedman say about banning Sudafed?

When I visit prisons I’m struck by how many inmates are serving time for sex offenses in the Minnesota system and the degree of stigma that attaches to their crimes — both inside and outside the gates. Once applied, the “sex offender” label is far more stigmatizing than “murderer” or “arsonist” and incredibly tough to remove. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s editorial staff came out today against the strict proposal being considered by the MN House — special license plates for former offenders, big sentence increases (automatic life without parole for first- and second-degree sex offenses and prison terms of 20 years to life for recidivists convicted of less serious offenses), and even chemical castration. A few years ago, I wrote an article with Candace Kruttschnitt and Kelly Shelton on the subject. Of 448 sex offenders on probation, only 19 committed new sex crimes within 5 years. I can certainly understand the state’s interest in incapacitating rapists and child molesters. Nevertheless, these proposals would be extremely costly and likely provide little payoff in public safety — particularly in an environment of declining resources for local police forces and state corrections agencies.

When I visit prisons I’m struck by how many inmates are serving time for sex offenses in the Minnesota system and the degree of stigma that attaches to their crimes — both inside and outside the gates. Once applied, the “sex offender” label is far more stigmatizing than “murderer” or “arsonist” and incredibly tough to remove. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s editorial staff came out today against the strict proposal being considered by the MN House — special license plates for former offenders, big sentence increases (automatic life without parole for first- and second-degree sex offenses and prison terms of 20 years to life for recidivists convicted of less serious offenses), and even chemical castration. A few years ago, I wrote an article with Candace Kruttschnitt and Kelly Shelton on the subject. Of 448 sex offenders on probation, only 19 committed new sex crimes within 5 years. I can certainly understand the state’s interest in incapacitating rapists and child molesters. Nevertheless, these proposals would be extremely costly and likely provide little payoff in public safety — particularly in an environment of declining resources for local police forces and state corrections agencies.