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Posts Tagged ‘mass incarceration’

The University of California, Irvine released a forecast in February predicting a drop in California’s violent crime rate in 2017. The same month, a Whittier, California police officer was shot and killed, and another officer wounded, by a recently-incarcerated gang member. The tragedy touched off a debate about California’s controversial efforts to reduce prison overcrowding.

Common sense would seem to dictate that California cannot move from overaggressive law enforcement under “Three Strikes” to a hasty effort to comply with a Federal mandate to reduce prison overcrowding without consequence. For UCI to forecast a decrease in violent crime in 2017 when, in 2015, violent crime hit a double-digit increase as reported by The Los Angeles Times simply doesn’t add up. But that hasn’t stopped otherwise respectable sources from chalking up the increase in violent crime to a fluke, proving that statics are only as honest as the people who interpret them.

As much as we may wish to compartmentalize nonviolent vs. violent crime, the reality is that antisocial behavior, of which crime is but one manifestation, is on a spectrum. There is no surefire way to predict whether a low-level offender will remain nonviolent for life. Complicating matters, evidence indicates that recidivism among nonviolent offenders is in some cases higher than their more violent counterparts.

Society has long debated the concept of “gateway drugs“, which are thought to open the door to the use of harder street drugs. Seemingly, however, we have no comparable concept when it comes to crime. To the contrary, an argument that has gained popularity in recent decades is that Americans over-incarcerate people who in no way pose a threat to society. We even have a name for such offenses: “victimless crimes“. Using this logic, we should reduce sentencing for nonviolent crimes — in what California Gov. Jerry Brown calls a “Public Safety Realignment” — without fear that it will come back to haunt us.

Not so fast.

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