Friday, January 05, 2007

Are We Committing More Crimes, Or Passing More Laws?


Last week I got my hands on a story that soon made its way all around the newswire. While I was busy covering some other big stories .. most of the national hosts picked up on it, and began their analysis. While some good ideas were thrown out there .. my take was far different from the norm, and it turns out many of my listeners agreed. Here's the story I'm talking about:

Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) .. A record 7 million people - or one in every 32 American adults - were behind bars, on probation or on parole by the end of last year, according to the Justice Department. Of those, 2.2 million were in prison or jail, an increase of 2.7 percent over the previous year.

More than 4.1 million people were on probation and 784,208 were on parole at the end of 2005. Prison releases are increasing, but admissions are increasing more.

At first glance this paints a grim picture of this country. One in thirty-two Americans are on the bad end of the justice system .. why? Well, O'Reilly gave us his answer a couple of days after the story broke. He said there was question.. that secular progressive values were responsible for blurring right from wrong. This was the main idea behind his book "Culture Warrior", and has really been a great platform for him. Bill..s SP arguements are brilliant, and for the most part correct. He argues that SP values are distorting right from wrong in America, and they are. While there are victims of SP values included in the one in thirty-two Americans .. that is NOT the main problem. Oh, and Bill, there is question...

Given the rash of stupid laws proposed in this country .. including some soon-to-be-proposed laws here in Nevada .. I was skeptical of the reasons why an increasing number of Americans end up being punished by the justice system. I..m thinking our justice system is more of a business. Rather than a means to protect citizens. Afterall, there is a lot of money involved here.

Think about it. We elect politicians based on emotions, most of them are lawyers, and we elect district attorneys, sheriffs and judges on the same precident. Lawmakers and enforcers are reliant upon our emotions, and money to get into power. Let..s not forget the special interests they end up beholden to as well. In the end the lawmakers, judges, sheriffs, and district attorneys are nothing but politicians. Which means their goal is to exploit the voter..s emotions in order to win elections. Unfortunately, the voter is largely ignorant of these particular issues. We know we want peace, low taxes, and a good economy. Beyond that .. we give free reign to the elected.

To back all of this up .. I went to the Department of Justice..s website to crack some numbers. Guess what I found? We know the new report from the DOJ says that more Americans are being ..punished.. by our justice system than ever before .. which means more crimes are being committed right? Wrong! At least .. not major crime.

  • Serious violent crime levels declined since 1993.
  • Since 1994, violent crime rates have declined, reaching the lowest level ever in 2005.
  • Homicide rates recently declined to levels last seen in the late 1960s.
  • Rape rates have been stable in recent years.
  • Robbery rates declined after 1994.
  • Assault rates declined since 1994.

Ok, according to the Bureau of Justice major crime has been declining in nearly all categories since 1993. So how is it possible to have a steady increase in offenders? Maybe it..s juveniles picking up the slack for the rest of the population. However, according to the BOJ:

  • The proportion of serious violent crimes committed by juveniles has generally declined since 1993.

The AP article clearly stated that it factored in adults only anyway. So we can..t use our traditional convenient scapegoat and say it..s because of the kids.

Drug offenses have only counted for 49% of the increase in prison populations, and only 34% of felony convictions are drug offenses. So it isn..t accurate to say the increase is due to drugs either. We also know it isn..t theft because theft reached its lowest level EVER in 2005. The only two categories in which there was an increase in crimes committed are drugs and public order. Everything else has declined.

Public order crimes are the things you do when you drink too much. They are also the things that kids got caught doing only to have to police take them home and tell their parents. Well, the police used to take you home and tell your parents (which was mortifying), and the police used to put you in the drunk tank for the night if you drank too much. Not anymore folks .. now you get charged with a crime. Something that takes far more effort, resources, and money. However, in the public eye this appears as being tough on crime.

The more convictions, arrests, and laws passed gives the impression of progress. This translates into votes for politicians. The immature things we all did in our youth to get grounded can now cost you your freedom. An example of this is a proposal to make graffiti a felony here in Nevada. Right now you have to do serious damage to draw that charge for spraying paint. The new law would make painting a window a felony. Mainly because the cost of a new window will be factored into the dollar amount of the charge .. not the cost of cleaning the window.

This all translates into money. Being tough on crime is not being fair on crime. We all know that the prison population in the U.S. is going through the roof. We all hear the news reports of the lack of room in our prisons, and being forced to set prisoners free. Yet we have dramatic declines in major crime accross the board while more and more citizens are being incarcerated.

Local governments spend more on criminal justice than their state and federal counterparts. This makes perfect sense because local governments are known to pass rinky-dink ordinances that would not garner large scale support outside of their districts. all read the stupid laws in history that say something to the effect of don..t wear blue pants on Wednesday after a full moon if you are wearing a had, and have a mustashe. The DOJ also reports that spending in all facets of criminal justice is increasing every year. Which doesn..t make any sense given that crime is on the decline.

I submit, due to the decline in major crime in this country, politicians were no longer able to campaign on being tougher on crime than their opponent. Therefore, they had to make up a new criminal threat. If we don..t have murder, burglary, and rape .. we have graffiti, public lewdness, and harassment. If this isn..t about money and power .. I don..t know what it..s about .. because it certainly isn..t about reducing crime.

The justice system makes a lot of money off of speeding tickets .. injuries and deaths be damned. This is an easy fix. All they have to do is require governors on all vehicles that limit the speed to 70mph, or less. However, this would mean losing millions of dollars, and so it isn..t done.

Every single American has committed a crime punishable by death in another country. We tell ourselves that their laws are irrational, and we are lucky to not have to worry about it. Unfortunately, we seem to be headed in that direction. We may not be facing the death penalty, but we are facing an ever increasing number of minor infractions becoming felonies. They may have succeeded in protecting us from violent crime, but made potential criminals of us all.

Casey Hendrickson


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