Crime and Punishment – A Thought Experiment
Imagine two neighborhoods in the same city subject to the same laws. Assume the crime rate is the same. Then you would expect arrest and prosecution rates to be the same.
Now, assume two other neighborhoods, also in the same city and subject to the same laws. Call them A and B. Assume the arrest and prosecution rate is X times higher in A than in B. Assume that has been the case for a long time.
Given this scenario, under what conditions do you expect crime in Neighborhood A to exceed crime in Neighborhood B? Under what conditions would you expect the reverse to be true?
Note. A good answer is generalizable.
You are switching cause and effect. In the first case, the crime rate is the same, so you expect the arrest and prosecution rates to be the same.
In the second, you have different arrest and prosecution rates, and ask for a projection of the crime rate. Should we not look at neighborhoods with different crime rates, and then ponder how the arrest and prosecution rates might differ?
Which is cause and which is effect?
Also, we need a more detailed definition of arrest and prosecution rates. Are they based on the number of people, or are they based on the number of crimes reported?
If one assumes that the arrest and prosecution rate is related to the level of enforcement and crime is only measured when it involves an arrest and/or prosecution, you’d expect neighborhood A to have a higher per capita crime rate. Since crime is less likely to lead to hassle and punishment in neighborhood B, one would expect the actual rate at which laws are broken to be higher.
For example: If one neighborhood enforces parking laws while another doesn’t, then one would expect a lot more parking violations where they are enforced. It is quite likely that more people are actually violating parking laws in the neighborhood where they are not enforced, but that doesn’t produce any measurable actions.
A historical example: In the 1930s Mayor Laguardia in New York declared Harlem to be a no enforcement zone for crimes not involving whites from outside the neighborhood. Harlem became noted as a place for gambling, whoring, drug sales and danger, and it was even worse if you weren’t white. Crime flourished, but the arrest and prosecution rate only rose slightly. People who lived in the neighborhood learned not to trust the police who would not deal with crimes against them and were usually in the pay of local criminals.
I expect a more general analysis would have to deal with the specifics of the situation. For example, neighborhood A might have a random crime wave; let’s assume that crime is a Poisson process. This would lead to more arrests and prosecution in neighborhood A. The criminals “feeling the heat” might move their operations to neighborhood B, so the uneven enforcement would actually lower the crime rate in neighborhood A. It would also raise the crime rate in neighborhood B which in turn would lead to more arrests and prosecutions there, or perhaps not, depending on the politics of neighborhoods A and B. If neighborhood B is considered marginal politically, it might wind up with more crime and fewer arrests and prosecutions.
Warren & Kaleberg,
You both hit on points that I was thinking about. I was thinking about it this way. Both Singapore and Norway are historically low crime areas. One has a very strict law enforcement structure, the other is famously lax and has prisons that resemble what in other countries would be resorts.
On the other hand, you can find countries with strict law enforcement, and others with lax law enforcement, that have insanely high crime rates.
Now it could be the efficiency of the police and the justice system that makes the difference. But I suspect its the culture of the people being policed. It is sometimes said of schools that if you take the students of a highly rated school and switched them with the students of a poorly rated school (ratings being a function of test scores, attendance, etc.), the good school will become bad and the bad school will become a good one – i.e., that the students make up whether a school is any good, and not vice versa. To the extent that there is truth in such a statement, perhaps crime goes the same way.
That isn’t to say that crime (or education) doesn’t depend at least in part on those administering justice (or those doing the teaching, in the case of education), but that ignoring the culture of the populace being affected by the justice system (or the school) risks missing a big chunk of the problem.
If the justice system gives those arrested and found guilty light sentences, then Neighborhood A should probably have a higher crime rate. If it hands down harsh sentences, it should have a lower crime rate.
Abstraction, abstraction, abstraction. I spent 15 years (1966-1980) on the streets of NYC’s baddest bad lands (six jails as a visitor) and do you know what that tells me about today’s crime wave (shooting and killing wave in Chicago): NOTHING!
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Black employment is what really, REALLY matters
There are low skilled jobs aplenty that can pay just as much as factory jobs. With collective bargaining workers are paid by the max consumers are willing to fork up — not by the minimum for which desperate workers are willing to show up.
Lack of collective bargaining is especially harmful to American raised workers of all colors in mixed American raised/foreign raised work forces like Chicago’s. The labor market doesn’t clear evenly. Look at fast food in Chicago and it is all Mexican and (East) Indian labor. My old taxi job has been “outsourced” to the whole world.
Foreign raised workers are willing to show up for $400 a week — Am are not. We want $800. If there were nobody but Am around they would have to pay $800. Also if wages were set by collective bargaining they would have to pay $800.
In any case with collective bargaining you intuit you have squeezed the best the economy (a.k.a., the consumers) of your era can produce (a.k.a., pay).
Result of dropout of Am in Chicago: an unbelievable 100,000 out of my guesstimate 200,000 gang-age, minority males are in drug dealing street gangs. (Last night the TV said, if I remember correctly, 40 of the 52 shot over the weekend had 672 arrests among them.)
Especially with a mixed rich country/poor country work force you desperately need to restore collective bargaining — to make the American labor market workable (pun intended) again.
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It’s the American dream, dog: flush toilet down the hall, AM radio, electric light in every room — and the year is 1916. Let’s call that $200/wk living in today’s scale. Today’s American raised workers will not show up for $400/wk. I wont drive a taxi for that — Pakistani raised drivers seemingly will (not sure how far they’ve sunk with UBER). Apparently half the gang age, minority males in Chicago wont.
As my more articulate brother John put it after I explained the American spinning wheels job market to him: “Martin Luther King got his people on the up escalator just in time for it to start going down for everybody.”
THE MONEY IS THERE SOMEWHERE
You can’t get something for nothing but, believe itg or not, the money is there, somewhere to make $10 jobs $20. Bottom 45% of earners take 10% of overall income; down from 20% since 1980 (roughly — worst be from 1973 but nobody seems to use that); top 1% take 20%; double the 10% from 1980.
One of many remedies: majority run politics wont hesitate to transfer a lot of that lately added 10% from the 1% to the 54% who now take 70% — who can transfer it on down due to higher prices to the 45% — with Eisenhower level income tax. In any case per capita income grows more than 10% over one decade to cover an income shifting around.
Not to mention other ways — multiple efficiencies — to get multiple 10%’s back:
squeezing out financialization;
sniffing out things like for-profit edus (unions providing the personnel quantity necessary to keep up with all society’s schemers;
snuffing out $100,000 Hep C treatments that cost $150 to make (unions supplying the necessary volume of lobbying and political financing;
less (mostly gone) poverty = mostly gone crime and its criminal justice expenses.
IOW, labor unions = a normal (low crime) country.
“Then you would expect arrest and prosecution rates to be the same.”
No, I would not. Rather I would observe that you don’t have enough information about other factors to make state any conclusion.
I do understand that you wanted to talk about those factors, but a bald statement like this in your first paragraph is a disturbing start.
A great deal is missing in this “thought experiment’s” terms.. For starters the police dept’s policies, major’s policies, city counsel’s policies, prosecutor’s policies and prosecutors’ staffing & staff experience levels, police force budget, per capita police force on the street? Just for starters.
Then there’s the definition of “neighborhood” which can mean almost anything … demarcated by income levels, boundaries independent of income, racial /ethnic proportions, age demographics, city maintenance levels, etc.
I can’t think of a thought experiment with a poorer set of conditions attached than this one.
Sebastian – read this:
What you say would make sense if most crime was committed by econs (rational evaluation of risks and rewards), but it isn’t.
I don’t see how I can possibly answer this without knowing the cultural backgrounds of the people in the neighborhoods.