2/09/2009

Releasing prisoners from prison will have "no adverse impact on public safety"

One could make a few different arguments for releasing prisoners early from prison, but claiming that there will be "no adverse impact on public safety" is absurd. No increase in crime from reducing the penalty from committing crime? This is simply not serious. This quote is from the NY Times, which doesn't seem to have any problem with the claim.

The California prison system must reduce overcrowding by as many as 55,000 inmates within three years to provide a constitutional level of medical and mental health care, a federal three-judge panel tentatively ruled Monday.

Relying on expert testimony, the court ruled that the California prison system, the nation’s largest with more than 150,000 inmates, could reduce its population by shortening sentences, diverting nonviolent felons to county programs, giving inmates good behavior credits toward early release, and reforming parole, which they said would have no adverse impact on public safety. . . .

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14 Comments:

OpenID forthesakeofscience said...

1) How do you know the NY Times has no issue with your quote? You cited a news piece, not an editorial.

2) How are you defining "safety"? If the word references bodily harm, then yes, it's unlikely that non-violent will reduce public safety. If the word references any crime, then you're just being redunant.

2/10/2009 12:13 AM  
Blogger John Lott said...

Dear forthesakeofscience:

1) Couldn't the NY Times have found one expert who disagreed with the court's claim? Just one person who would say that if you let 55,000 criminals out early from prison there will be an adverse effect on public safety. The only reference to an expert in the whole piece claims the opposite.

2) For the sake of argument, let's take your assumption. Even property crimes raise the risk of physical harm. When you are talking about 55,000 criminals being released early are you seriously saying that none of them represented an extremely high risk of violence? There are other even more important points: the lower risk of punishment raises the rate of crime for those who aren't even in the 55,000 released and some violent criminals may only have been caught and convicted for a nonviolent offense that they committed.

2/10/2009 12:21 AM  
OpenID forthesakeofscience said...

1) There is opposition cited. Perhaps they should have cited an expert, but the California attorney general is generally perceived as carrying some weight. At any rate, the lack of contrary expert citation does not necessarily reflect a bias.

2) The releases would need to be done on a case-by-case basis, at least where more serious non-violent crimes are concerned.

The California prison system is one of the worst in the Western world. Something needs to be done. Releasing low-threat prisoners is the best idea proposed so far, especially considering 1) the lack of humane conditions and 2) that silly 3 strikes law the state has.

2/10/2009 12:36 AM  
Blogger JFA said...

About the prisoners released: Are we talking about peaceful people imprisoned for victimless crimes such as smoking pot, growing ten plants of pot and selling an ounce to a friend, or some other BS charges to de jure crimes that the State loves to manufacture or are we talking about people who initiated violence against someone else (assault, burglary, murder, theft, etc)?

2/10/2009 1:42 AM  
OpenID DougHuffman said...

I think 'for the sake of nonsense' is stuck in the paradigm of newspapers (and NYT) as honest brokers of fact. The inmates are running the asylum that is California and have just busted their fellows out to join them in society and the legislature.

Defining 'safety'? Safety is the first act of security theater. Safety is the tyrant's tool because no one can be against safety. Safety is an invitation to thoughtlessness similar to "It's for the chilldruun!"

2/10/2009 5:49 AM  
Blogger John Lott said...

Dear forthesakeofscience:

On the one side is Jerry Brown and on the other side are the judges and apparently the Governor and also the expert. By any measure this isn't balance, but more importantly for my point no one challenges the claim that there is "no adverse impact on public safety." If Jerry Brown did challenge that point, he is not quoted on it.

Lowering the penalty means that other criminals (not currently in jail) are going to be more willing to commit crime than they were previously. Your point is not responsive to my argument on this, and you don't respond to my point about violent criminals who we only caught for some property crime nor that even some property criminals also end up committing violent crime.

2/10/2009 6:24 AM  
OpenID DougHuffman said...

Maybe a brief review of basic statistics, from someone more expert than I am, is in order.

How is the fraction of violent people in the non-violent incarcerated sample related to the population from which the sample is drawn? I see no reason to believe that it is less, that the incarcerated are less violent.

Returning this sample to the population cannot reduce violence in general and can only cause the rate to be stable if the probability is precisely the same in the sample as in the population. More likely the sample is more violent than the population and will cause an increased rate of violence.

Who refuses to do arithmetic is doomed to nonsense.

2/10/2009 7:15 AM  
Blogger Martin G. Schalz said...

Media bias aside, releasing 55,000 criminals into society, when said society is in the midst of a financial crisis, and jobs are few and far between, will result in no problems?

Praise the Lord, and pass the kool aide!

So much for balanced journalism, eh?

Kudos to Mr. Huffman. Well put, Sir!

2/10/2009 10:27 AM  
Blogger Hecate said...

The idea that releasing criminals will have no adverse impact on public safety makes as much sense as saying complying with criminals and not defending yourself will reduce crime. Both statements come from the same cesspool of politically-correct denial.

2/10/2009 10:46 AM  
OpenID forthesakeofscience said...

"If Jerry Brown did challenge that point, he is not quoted on it."

Then the argument ends with your assumption, doesn't it?

"Lowering the penalty means that other criminals (not currently in jail) are going to be more willing to commit crime than they were previously. Your point is not responsive to my argument on this, and you don't respond to my point about violent criminals who we only caught for some property crime nor that even some property criminals also end up committing violent crime."

I was quite responsive. Let's review.

"The releases would need to be done on a case-by-case basis, at least where more serious non-violent crimes are concerned."

In other words, *in direct response* to your concern about non-violent criminals who still may be violent, there would need to be a case-by-case study done in each release. It's exactly what happens now, anyway, but in this instance it is happening more quickly so as to restore humane conditions, something you do not seem to favor.

So, yes, John, I did respond to you. You ignored everything I said. Don't do that. It's bad practice.

On your concern about non-prisoned criminals being more willing to commit crimes over this, that should only apply to non-violent criminals. While it would be unfortunate to see an increase in relatively minor crimes, even if they do not result in violence, it is something with which California must deal. Despite you ignoring the fact, prisoners are humans beings, too. They deserve better treatment. Have you ever wondered why some countries that are otherwise friendly refuse to send people back into our awful, awful prison systems? We have some of the worst in the world and California is leading the charge.

As an aside, if you're interested in a useful blog, enable HTML.

2/10/2009 5:02 PM  
Blogger Bitter Old Man said...

If there is no safety hazard in releasing 55,000 incarcerated people then the California justice system has committed an incredible act of injustice by putting these people behind bars to begin with.

2/10/2009 6:34 PM  
OpenID forthesakeofscience said...

Bitter Old Man,

The California prison system is one of the worst in the world. As it stands, it does not meet many standards of humane treatment, at least according to some other nations. It won't be long before it fails to reach the humane standards of the state of California. That's saying a lot. The state has low standards. To not meet those is, yes, an incredible act of injustice.

No one is saying there will be a 0% decrease in public safety. The goal is to make sure the decrease is as small as absolutely possible while also balancing that treating our fellow human beings as, well, human beings.

2/10/2009 8:14 PM  
Blogger John Lott said...

Sorry, forthesakeofscience, but the quote is "no adverse impact on public safety." Not even "a small adverse impact on public safety."

2/11/2009 10:09 PM  
OpenID forthesakeofscience said...

Actually, the quote concerns "shortening sentences, diverting nonviolent felons to county programs, giving inmates good behavior credits toward early release, and reforming parole", not simply releasing prisoners. It's good that you pointed out the dishonest title you gave this thread.

Beyond that, "no adverse impact" can be measured in any number of ways, the least likely of which is to be as '0% impact'. Beyond that, placing people in unconstitutional conditions for unnecessary and unjustifiable periods of time is likely to compromise public safety upon the inevitably bitter release of long-term prisoners.

2/12/2009 12:16 AM  

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