July 29, 2003
Missing (Part Of) The Point

Several bloggers have quoted the words of a recent Justice Department study: "The nation's prison population grew 2.6 percent last year, . . . despite a small decline in serious crime in 2002." DailyPundit quotes a criminologist named Alfred Blumstein who points out that it is "not illogical for the prison population to go up even when the crime rate goes down" because "some crimes considered victimless are not counted in the FBI's annual report on the crime rate, including drug crimes, gun possession crimes and immigration offenses" and because (is this really a reason?) experience has shown that "there is no reason that the prison count and the crime rate have to be consistent".

Isn't it also true that many of the people who were committing crimes last year are not committing them this year because they're in jail? Some went to jail last year and are still in or were in for part of this year but are now out, while others were not even jailed until this year. The American criminal justice system is not known for its efficiency, and the average time from crime to punishment is a fairly large fraction of a year. (How large a fraction? Ask a criminologist.) If I may borrow and adapt some economic terminology, shouldn't the crime rate be a 'leading indicator' of the incarceration rate, and the incarceration rate a 'lagging indicator' of the crime rate? Of course, as with economics, other factors are involved, and the War on Terror has probably skewed the numbers at least a little bit, since immigration offenses are not counted in the crime rate, even when they lead to incarceration.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at July 29, 2003 01:16 AM