Like most social questions, that of the correct response to the phenomenon of crime is unanswerable, if by an answer we mean something that is indubitable, beyond question, and true for all time. Circumstances alter cases, and circumstances are themselves always altering. Nevertheless, we cannot take refuge in the eternal flux of the world: we have to act somehow, even – or always – in the possession of less than complete knowledge.
Recently in my house in France I had two English guests, one who was what might be called a hard-liner with regard to crime, and the other a liberal. By analogy with the Cold War, we might even call them the Hawk and the Dove. more>>>
As always, a great article. As a design engineer of 35 years experince, I love to see hard numbers. It would be immensely helpful to have these sets of data supporting the 'hawkish' approach in a summary publication.
Early economists realized that there are things you see and things you do not see given some choice of action. Thomas Sowell comments on the extraordinary delay between the time when political decisions are made and the time when the results become apparent. We have enough data and information to prevent a country like Britain to play the trial & error game.
7 Sep 2009 Gilbert Borman
An excellent and thought provoking article.
While I subscribe to most of Dalrymple's thesis, one should know that America's intelligencia are cognizant of the strengths and weaknesses of our justice system.
The Dove is not entirely wrong about thinking about root causes. The percentage of African Americans arrested is a product of actual crime and false suspicion. We call it DWB (drivng while black). I am an attorney and knowledgable enough about our system to say at least 10% of the people in America's prisons are not guilty of the crimes alleged or the evidence does not support the conviction. If you are rich and can afford a lawyer, you have a decent chance of getting away with it; if your attorney is a rookie working for legal aid, you will wind up with a plea bargain conviction.
Yet your Hawk is not wrong in believing that prison prevents crime. Virtually every American suburb is safer than all but the most rural parts of the UK. The impact to the quality of life in the UK cannot be overstated. 20 years ago New York was unlivable from crime and life on the streets, today, even with the bad economy, you are far safer in Greenwich Village than any High Street.
Nothing else works. You have to have the societal will to declare crime unacceptable and drive it from your streets. Nor do you have to become a fascist dictatorship to do.But have no illusuions the formula is simple- aggressive policing and long sentences for violent crimes.
14 Sep 2009 ANTIPODES
A sensible policy might be to impose much longer sentences to be served in civilised circumstances. This should keep the criminals from committing further offences via a twofold effect: simple removal from society and removal from society while they are young. Secondly, there would be a better chance of useful training, thus enabling the older and less likely acutely criminal individual to make his or her way in society after relase. Not utopian, but it might improve things.
What I find annoying is that ,if someone so offends society that they must be imprisoned, their imprisonment then costs society tens of thousands of euro per year.Those who offend society should be forced to contribute to it,not be a further drain."The Dove " will be horrified that I think a return to some sort of chain gang punishment is justified in that it is pointless to punish you by inflicting a massive cost upon ourselves
I am a regular Dalrymple reader - I happen to straddle the US, UK, and France.
I'd like to expand upon the discussion with personal observations.
In France, I had the worst of experiences where calling the local police. Five calls to the commissariat, yielded nothing. Two of those calls were not even answered - a 24/7 local line, mind you! Had to call the emergency hotline, where I was told to call the Commissarit "but they don't answer" - try in two minutes. I did this for about an hour. Two of these unanswered calls were attempst which lasted from 30 minutes to an Hours.
Where lived I - ask you?
Center of Paris, of course.
Now I cannot compare this to America, where the response tiem for any police call is maximum 5 minutes, nor to the UK, where generally you at least get through to the bobbies.
If I had to eyeball this - not only is the pool of victims significantly larger than the perpetrators, but considering the lack of crime reporting, and statistical distortions practiced by the Ministries tasked with policing the steets - even the perpetrator pool is gigantic. I'd venture the UK and France would have prison populations somewhat larger than that of the US, if sentences were fairly given.
In America, crime is a funciton of class and race - an issue which would perhaps advantage America towards lower incarceration rates - since Europe does posses a much bigger underclass in total numbers, than America. Youth delinquency is astronomical here. THe US simply doesn't have any Yobs. It has Latino and Black gangbangers.
Though Mr. Dalrymple eloquently rebuts the dove´s position, I fail to see a compelling argument for the hawk´s position. Rebutting one answer to an admitedly unanswerable question is no vindication of the opposite answer.
The hawk´s main argument is fact that imprisonment works, since a prisoner can´t commit a crime outside, while inside. It appears, that cited lower rates of recidivism after long prison sentences may be due to the ‘once (or twice) in a lifetime’ character of most severe offences.
Even if that second argument is granted, the hawk´s position rests entirely on a utilitarian calculus of recidivism. It leaves out, however, the costs of imprisonment. Simply in terms of money, many studies agree that long prison sentences are costly to society, not only because of the of costs of imprisonment itself, but also because many prisonerswould otherwise be working and paying taxes. On utilitarian grounds, being hawkish seems hardly compelling, especially for the lesser offences. Since minor offences are the vast majority of crimes, the call for stiffer sentences concerns mostly these.
Perhaps the only sensible position is to be undecided (chicken), instead of wrong (hawk or dove).
23 Oct 2009 P. Hayman
"Perhaps the only sensible position is to be undecided (chicken), instead of wrong (hawk or dove)."
...Or perhaps not. While you concede that prison works, you argue that the expense of prison is not taken into account. So are we to conclude that the financial imperative trumps the moral one? If so, then what would be a reasonable cost? Should criminals contribute to the costs of their upkeep through working during the day (for example, on chain-gangs and so forth)? Is it truly impossible to make prison cost-effective (however you might define the latter)?
...And is it really reasonable to assume (as you do) that a criminal who is not sent to prison is going to knuckle down and start paying tax?
As Dalrymple points out in his first paragraph, we have to decide upon some course of action: what exactly would a "chicken" (as you call it) propose?
12 Mar 2010 Ivelin Sardamov
I am tempted to follow TD’s foolproof logic and see where it leads. Here is the future the US is likely to face over the next few decades: Most of its young males have a choice of various occupations which have two things in common: they are inhumanly tedious, and the compensation they offer tends toward the minimum wage. And those who hold a job at all for prolonged periods of time are the lucky ones. Said young males have grown up in a social environment which does not exactly encourage uprightness and perseverance in the face of temptation. So, many may decide to seek easier money and risk imprisonment – which does not seem much worse than the hopelessness they face while “free.” Oh, and many of their friends are proudly serving long sentences already. Meanwhile, American society remains determined to separate cleanly offenders from quiescent victims of the collapse of the American dream. As a result, in 2027 the incarceration rate stands at 6.5 per cent of the US population – which translates into 45 per cent for some ethnic/age segments. But hey – they deserved it; and any hesitation to go down that path will launch any society on the road to serfdom Hayek feared so prophetically.