Because of all we’ve seen, Because of all we’ve said, We are the dead

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Rufus F.

Rufus is an American curmudgeon in Canada. He has a PhD in History, sings in a garage rock band, and does a bunch of other stuff.

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264 Responses

  1. Avatar Chris says:

    I don’t know if I consider it his best novel, if only because its structure can make it difficult to read at times, but I definitely consider it his most… enlightening. It contains so much information, implicit and explicit, about Russian society, Russian prison (with interesting contrasts to later books on Soviet prisons — I’m thinking, in particular, of his descriptions of the behavior on work details), class divisions and class relations, etc., that it feels, as you said, like an anthropological text as much as a novel. Plus, more than any of his other novels, it has a way of putting a spell on you and causing you to feel like you are there, perhaps because of the detail in the descriptions of the people and the locations, but also because I suspect it was so personal for him. Prison, and the mock execution, really messed with his head, and I think it shows in the tone of the book.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. says:

      Yeah, it’s hard to say if ‘best’ is the right word. It definitely hit me where I live a bit harder than the others.Report

    • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

      Russian prison (with interesting contrasts to later books on Soviet prisons

      As an undergrad I made a set of lengthy notes comparing House of the Dead to The Gulag Archipelago, intending to turn them into a term paper for whatever class they might be appropriate to. Alas they got lost and the term paper never written.

      But I remember being shocked that as brutal as the Czarist prison was, it paled in comparison to the Soviet prison. My guess is that it had to do with the goals of the state. The Czarist state just wanted order, wheras the Soviet state wanted your soul. The Czarist prison was mostly impersonal in its brutality (exept, perhaps, things like the fake execution)–the abuse was directed at an abstraction called a convict, not at an individual with their own interior life, and so that interior life could go on, sustaining the individual. The Czarist state had no objection to that continued inner life. In contrast, the Soviet cruelty was entirely personal, directed at that interior life with the intent of destroying it entirely*, so that the person disappeared and became simply a unit of the state-dominated society, with no existence, no will, no individuality, separate from that of the state.**

      Rufus, Thanks for the post about a book that really influenced me. And may I beg you to post more often? I always enjoy what you write.

      *Later, my views on this were informed by Arendt.
      ** This us why I get uncomfortable with those who argue for the preeminence of society over the individual. Obviously they’re not striving for this, nor anything like. But I fear movement in that direction, and think a voluntary society is much safer.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        That’s precisely the contrast I was thinking of. Well, that and the description of work in House of the Dead and the description of work in A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. In the latter, the work detail is part of the spirit-breaking, or mind-destroying enterprise of the penal institution, where as in the former, the work is almost a joke, with the prisoners and the guards locked in a sort of battle of wits, the prisoners trying not to do any more than they have to (and only precisely what they are told), and the guards trying to make sure that they don’t get in trouble because the work didn’t get done. It’s two very different pictures of a prison system, and I think you’re right, part of the difference is the way the state running the system thinks about the prisoners and their crimes.Report

        • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

          So apparently I wasn’t just being a sophomoric undergrad when I read the books (20 or so years ago). 😉

          I just want to throw out there, though, that if anyone happened to read a critique of Marx or Marxism (qua Marx’s Marxism, anyway) into my comments about the Soviet state, that would be incorrect.Report

          • Avatar Chris says:

            There’s a perverse, perhaps atrophied altruism behind the Soviet system. Under the czarist system, just having them out of the way was enough. The system didn’t care what happened to them after that: live, die, whatever, as long as they were out of the way. If you’ll recall, in House of the Dead, the prisoners were largely left to their own devices within the prison, within certain bounds of course, and they developed their own cultures and even economies, with prominent smuggling (alcohol, women, and food). In Solzhenitsyn’s prisons, however, the goal is to rehabilitate the prisoner so that he or she can be a good Soviet citizen, making life easier for everyone, including the prisoner. They’re never left alone, everything they do is monitored and regulated and violations within the prison are harshly punished (often with removal to even worse prisons). What’s more, for the Czarist system, the crime was against the Czar and the system, which is bad, but again really just necessitates getting them out of the way, whereas in the Soviet system, the crime was against the People, and must be punished severely.

            One of the common portions of a Soviet criminal (including political) sentence was a post-prison period of denial of the rights and privileges of citizenship. Often in the czarist system, you just got sent to a sort of half-way town in Siberia, so that you were still out of the way but with no real restrictions short of staying that way (though you were probably going to end up in prison again pretty quickly, often on purpose, as Dostoevsky notes).Report

      • Avatar Barry says:

        “But I remember being shocked that as brutal as the Czarist prison was, it paled in comparison to the Soviet prison. My guess is that it had to do with the goals of the state. The Czarist state just wanted order, wheras the Soviet state wanted your soul. The Czarist prison was mostly impersonal in its brutality (exept, perhaps, things like the fake execution)–the abuse was directed at an abstraction called a convict, not at an individual with their own interior life, and so that interior life could go on, sustaining the individual. The Czarist state had no objection to that continued inner life. In contrast, the Soviet cruelty was entirely personal, directed at that interior life with the intent of destroying it entirely*, so that the person disappeared and became simply a unit of the state-dominated society, with no existence, no will, no individuality, separate from that of the state.**”

        Or the difference between a cruel pre-industrial regime and a cruel industrial-era regime.Report

  2. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Fearing Hell and unable to pull off Heaven, we settle for building Purgatories.

    An awesome line.

    The problem with prison is that there were so very many worse things that were done in the past (the death penalty for trifles, the lash used against slaves who had committed no crime) and so we’re stuck saying well… what can we do?

    We have mostly abandoned the Death Penalty, mostly (a couple of holdouts here and there). We have mostly abandoned corporal punishment as equally cruel/unusual. What’s left? Put people in a room with the lights on.

    This is, I suppose, something that makes sense for people like the BTK killer. We can’t trust him in society so we put in him a cell… but that’s waaaaaaaay over there on the “not only a good argument for prison, a good argument for the death penalty!” side of things.

    What about normal folks? Well, when you balance the “Three Felonies A Day” theory with the public love with “Three Strikes” laws, you’ve pretty much got a system where you can jail pretty much anyone for pretty much any amount of time you’re inclined to jail them.

    And stuff that seems like it could only have happened a hundred years ago ends up being just down the road.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      (Additionally: HURRAY DOCTOR FIREFLY!)Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. says:

        (Thank you very much. I suspect you’ll see more of me around these parts now that I have removed the dissertation from my neck.)Report

        • Avatar Chris says:

          Ah, congratulations Dr. F.Report

        • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

          Have you completed the defense then? Congrats Dr. Rufus!

          What is your discipline? And if you’re willing to tolerate my inordinate curiosity, what is your specific field, and the subject of your dissertation?Report

          • Avatar Rufus F. says:

            No problem. My discipline is history, more specifically early modern France and the Ottoman Empire, and my dissertation has to do with the French Romantic writers who pioneered pleasure travel to the Ottoman Empire in the early 1800s and the related practices of religious pilgrimage and tourism.

            Admittedly, I have NO idea what I plan to do with my life at this point (aside from becoming a bon vivant), although I am starting a project on my great-grandfather, who was a bit of a historical footnote as a good friend of Ernest Hemingway’s and a journalist in Paris in the 1930s. I intend to post some of that material here. Also, in general, I should be writing quite a bit more frequently here because that is one of the things I would like to do with my life and this seems like a good place to begin.Report

            • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

              Thanks. My minimal level of interest in France could never recommend me as good company, unfortunately, but I do wish I had time to learn more about the Ottoman Empire. Most of what I know relates to their mostly nominal hold on some of their outlying territories, like some of the North African states and the Gulf Emirates.Report

        • From one recent history phd to another….congrats!Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      I’ve always seen the problem as being in large part a result of the multiple often conflicting motives that govern our treatment of people whom we deem criminals. We have punishment, deterrence, rehabilitation, prevention, and many other motives, and some of them seem to result in solutions that are completely counterproductive with respect to the others. I imagine there is no ideal system, but as the fact that Dostoevsky and his protagonist in House of the Dead were political prisoners shows, the lack of an ideal system, in addition to not doing much to reduce or prevent crime, leaves the systems we do have vulnerable to abuse by their administrators.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer says:

      I think three felonies a day is a bit of an exaggeration but possibly not by much.

      How would you punish people who just don’t care for societal rules like Bernie Madoff or habitual drunk drivers?Report

      • Avatar Shazbot5 says:

        What two felonies a day do you commit?Report

        • Avatar Will Truman says:

          That’s part of the thing… we don’t even know. The book is on my to-read list, and hopefully it will give me some insights.Report

          • Avatar Shazbot5 says:

            When you read the book, let me know what the argument is.

            I suspect it is a bad argument with a hyperbolic conclusion.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              The basic argument is that the doctrine of mens rea has been abandoned and laws are increasingly vague. How many of our interactions on this board might be covered by Federal Cyber-bullying laws, for example?

              And that’s not even getting into the legality of what you and your life partner do in your shared bedroom (depending on where you live, of course).Report

        • Avatar NewDealer says:

          Cute. I thought the intent of the book was that there are so many laws on the books that people inadvertently end up committing multiple felonies a day.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        So we move the line a little. Prison isn’t just for BTK. It can also be for Madoff.

        Move the line a little more. Committed Drunk Drivers should be in prison.

        I’m wondering if we won’t stop drawing it somewhere around where we are now. (Maybe make some exceptions for weed.)Report

        • Avatar greginak says:

          And before you know everybody is in jail for everything.

          But really, if we all agree some people should be in jail and some shouldn’t, then the entire discussion is about where the lines should be.Report

          • Avatar Will H. says:

            . . . if we all agree some people should have a pillow held over their face until they stop kicking and some shouldn’t, then the entire discussion is about where the lines should be.

            FTFYReport

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            Every now and again, I get into the weeds of what we, as individuals, have the right to force other people to do. Law Enforcement theory gets *REALLY* weedy.

            I mean, are there circumstances under which I could see myself killing someone else? Sure, we can theorize a self-defense situation that would get the overwhelming majority of folks to say “yeah, the government shouldn’t press charges against you for you having done that.”

            What if I hold someone in my basement for 10 years? Would it matter if I explain that they were a bad person? A thief? A pot user? A pot grower? A pot dealer? We have to search for some *REALLY* weird circumstances to figure out a situation where that’s not a monstrosity.

            And yet we don’t think twice about the government putting people in basements for a decade.Report

            • Avatar greginak says:

              So i again i’ll say, if we all agree that some people should be put in jail for any one of a number reasons not least of which is that they are really dangerous then the discussion is about what should and shouldn’t be reasons for putting someone in jail.

              I’ll add in here that there was just recently a guy here who a long history assault who was released from jail Within 10 hours he broke into the apartment of some old couple, killed them and raped their 4 year old granddaughter. Surely he is an outlier in criminal justice terms but i’ll be the horrible terrible stalinist and say he should be put in jail. He should also receive mental health care, medical care, a PD and due process.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                And to the argument that there is nothing wrong with him that cannot be fixed with a mop handle?Report

              • Avatar Will H. says:

                I think it’s more an issue of the terms that obstructs the inquiry to a feasible solution.
                Everyone can be dangerous. Human beings are one of the most dangerous things on the planet.
                It’s really more of an issue of reasonableness; the causal relationship.

                Also, there is the issue of whether some people are just bad, to where nothing can be done about it. Is this really the case? If so, how might we recognize that?Report

        • Avatar NewDealer says:

          Nice poor rhetoric device.

          And yes I suspect that most people think BTK, Madoff, and committed drunk drivers should be given prison sentences.

          Do you think we should not punish Madoff? Committed Drunk Drivers who are a hazard?Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            It’s so obvious to you that you can’t even believe that it wouldn’t be obvious to someone else.Report

            • Avatar NewDealer says:

              Dude,

              I’m just asking for your ideas on alternatives. I don’t think we should lock up drug users even if I don’t think the underlying drug should be legal like meth and heroin. Nor do I believe in forfeiture clauses.

              Madoff scammed billions of dollars out of people and institutions. There is a lot of white-collar crime. What is an acceptable punishment?

              How about for someone who starts a brawl at a bar?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Would flogging work? Do it publicly. Put it on the television. Madoff gets stretched out and given a bit of leather to bite on and a list of names of victims read before each lash. Oh, and take his stuff and redistribute it as best you can among his victims.

                Then he’s free to go. Free as a bird.Report

              • Avatar NewDealer says:

                Are you being serious?

                A 70 year old man would probably die after that many lashes. A 22 year old man at the height of physical health would probably die after that many lashesReport

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                So put him in a room with the lights on for 80 years?

                A 70 year old man would die before 80 years passed. Hell, a 22 year old made at the height of physical health would probably die after that many years passed.

                (Though I don’t think I said how many lashes, did I?)Report

              • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

                The list of names of victims seemed to suggest a lash per victim.

                Alternatively, it could mean Madoff gets a long rest between each lash while the entire list of names is read yet again. That would certainly help the survival problem.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Oh, I suppose that’s true. So just divvy the list up into pieces. How many lashes should he get? Read 1/#th of the names before each of the # lashes.Report

              • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

                Apparently the proper number of lashes is too few to kill him, too many for the scars to serve as a right of passage (see below).Report

              • Avatar greginak says:

                Jay- you do know that in many gangs going through painful rituals such as beatdowns, tattooing or other feats of physical courage/pain tolerance are part of of getting in. These are common initiation rituals in many societies. A few lashes, just enough to leave some cool scars would make a great initiation ritual, then the dude, or dudettte, could be back with the gang stoned to the gills to get rid of the pain by dinner.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                The avoidance of cognitive dissonance: If you go through a lot to be in a group, it must be a great group to be in!Report

              • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

                I take the Groucho Marx approach myself.Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq says:

                The gangs could outsource at least part of the initation to governments that way. I imagine that a lot of them would want to completely give all the hazing fun to the police though.Report

              • Avatar Glyph says:

                Shame might be a better tool than pain then.

                Some judges have experimented with this stuff – it’s cool to endure physical pain, but not cool to have to stand on the street corner wearing a sign that says “I stole a dildo from the sex shop”.*

                *The humongous adult megastore in the town where I went to college did something similar – shoplifters were given a choice: either the police get called, or you pose for a Polaroid along with the item you were trying to steal, and this photo gets posted in the store, along with snarky accompanying text commentary from the staff.

                Apparently many shoplifters opted for the police.

                Later, they changed the policy, so that they took the picture AND called the police.

                And THAT’S how I broke into showbiz! 😉Report

              • Avatar greginak says:

                Hmmm So if a wall street type business man committed some infractions against SEC regs or fraud we could put up pix of him on the web admitting he pushed over the line. He could also put up his phone number for the inevitable job offers from other companies.Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq says:

                There is a clothing store in my neighborhood that also likes to shame shop lifters.Report

              • Avatar Glyph says:

                Would other companies want him? If his reputation is besmirched, wouldn’t that make him toxic to them from a PR perspective (no matter what they think of his practices)?

                Hmmm….in some ways, a “shame”-based punishment system might lead to even longer-lasting punishment, as we see with sex offender registries – they can be essentially life sentences, no way to tell when the “debt to society has been paid”.Report

              • Avatar Glyph says:

                Also, in case it isn’t clear, the final “showbiz” line above was a joke. All my dildos were acquired legally, never stolen.

                I use them for personal protection.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                Glyph appears unfamiliar with the SEC’s style of assigning fines.
                “Just enough to make it unprofitable” is the idea.
                For a small investor, getting fined by the SEC is the equiv of being told to pay 1/100th of a cent (or something like that).Report

    • Avatar Will H. says:

      Prison is a holdover from a times past, and we haven’t thought to do anything differently as of yet.
      I tend to like reading those Supreme Court cases where they go into the history of a thing. One such is Central Virginia Community College v. Katz, which is somewhat famous for finding a limited abrogation of the Eleventh Amendment in the bankruptcy clause. It’s worth a read, because it goes into the history of where bankruptcy comes from. Some interesting stuff there . . .

      The term “discharge” historically had a dual meaning; it referred to both release of debts and release of the debtor from prison. Indeed, the earliest English statutes governing bankruptcy and insolvency authorized discharges of persons, not debts. . . .
      Well into the 18th century, imprisonment for debt was still ubiquitous in England4 and the American Colonies. . . . [D]ebtors often fared worse than common criminals in prison; unfortunate insolvents, unlike criminals, were forced to provide their own food, fuel, and clothing while behind bars. . . .
      Roger Sherman of Connecticut alone voted against [the bankruptcy clause], apparently because he was concerned that it would authorize Congress to impose upon American citizens the ultimate penalty for debt then in effect in England: death.

      The steady progression of history has been toward ever-greater rights for more and more people.
      I feel rather certain that, in future times, the things that people are imprisoned for will seem to be quite barbaric; even as hanging a person that can’t pay their debts is to us in present times (though its benefit remains arguable . . . ).Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        I feel rather certain that, in future times, the things that people are imprisoned for will seem to be quite barbaric; even as hanging a person that can’t pay their debts is to us in present times

        Word.Report

    • Avatar Barry says:

      ” Put people in a room with the lights on.”

      Back in 2003, chapter 7 (or 8?) of the Gulag Archipelago was circulating, the one about the ‘we don’t torture’ torture going on in the USSR, for prisoners the government didn’t simply shoot and then draw up confessions for. Read what sleep deprivation will do to people; they’ll sign confessions to numerous capital crimes, either because they don’t know what they’re doing, or cease to care.Report

  3. Avatar NewDealer says:

    Hasn’t there been a lot of research done proving that people have a strong desire to punish people viewed as societal transgressors? IIRC this researched showed that people would rather punish a cheater even if it hurts them?

    I think Jaybird is onto something. Prisons might be a horrible solution and how to deal with crime but it is potentially much better than anything previous in human history. We used to execute people for petty transgressions.

    There are things that I believe should be illegal but are probably not best solved by locking people up. Examples include meth and heroin. I’ve seen people make the argument that only violent criminals should be locked up but then what do you do with people like Bernie Madoff and other fraudsters. You can still do a lot of damage to a person without it being violent (physically, emotionally, etc). Madoff ranks high here.Report

    • Avatar greginak says:

      There are minimum security prisons for the likes of Madoff. They are not nearly as bad as max security prison but serve the purposes of keeping a no-good-nick off the streets and punishment.

      People like to talk about rehab as a part of the prison system, but there really is a mostly lip service to it in most prisons. Oh there should be more, but that is the first money that gets cut and programs to help lower recidivism always are those icky liberal kind of ideas like education and training. The programs in prison are mostly drug treatment and psycho-education classes. All those are fine and dandy, but there isn’t much done to help a person get on their feet when they get out.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:

        I don’t disagree with anything you wrote.

        There is also the issue that we use prisons as de facto holding pens for the mentally ill because god forbid the US develop a comprehensive mental health program. This is the drug treatment that you note.

        Criminal Justice is an area where I think a lot of people on the left split seriously. You have liberals who want to become Public Defenders or at least see the benefit of Public Defenders and helping the wrongfully convicted be exonerated. But I also think you have a lot of liberals who are sincerely part of the “Victim’s rights” movement and are cynical about the idea of rehabilitation ever working.

        I think the US Justice System used to be a lot more reasonable and sentences were shorter. The compromise between the left and the right seems to be longer sentences for all because neither can agree on what crimes deserve long or short sentences.Report

        • Avatar greginak says:

          Well yeah providing universal medical and mental health care to all citizens would certainly be deeply oppressive so we might as well lock up millions of people with mental health problems.

          You are correct there is a real tension between the Victims Rights/ Domestic Violence Advocates and traditional liberal advocates for inmates and PD’s. Both are really correct within their sort of narrow viewpoint and role.Report

          • Avatar Chris says:

            Right, there’s another source of tension: mental illness and criminality are highly correlated, but like the prison system itself, any system for treating mental illness on a wide scale, particularly when people aren’t willing to be treated, quickly becomes ripe for abuse and a tool for power. How do you balance the needs and the risks?Report

            • Avatar NewDealer says:

              This is a good point. Last winter, there were two big stories about people who were pushed to their deaths on NYC subway tracks. Surprise surprise, both arrested suspects had long histories of mental illness, living on the margins of society, and not taking any medicine.

              Society used to have no problem with “institutionalizing” the mentally ill. Advocates for the mentally ill correctly labeled this program as inhumane. There was another debate about it recently on the net. One blogger said that deinstitutionalization was a boon for people with cognitive and developmental disabilities but not so much for people with delusions and schziophrenia. Another blogger countered that institutions were never very good and it was more of an “out of sight/out of mind” solution. Not that seeing the mentally ill and homeless shit on the street has exactly raised human compassion and awareness on the issue.Report

              • Avatar greginak says:

                Deinstitutionsation worked well for most of the mentally ill. I used to work in one of the programs in NJ designed to get people out of the state psych hospitals. In general most people who were long term state hosp residents could get out of the hospital and live stable lives in the community. But they needed help. They needed supportive housing, help with accessing systems, the occasional ride for some, meds and some counseling. It wasn’t much if at all cheaper to care for them out of the hospital compared to being in the hospital. But it was freer for them and their lives were improved.

                If we went a solid mental health care system we need to build it. It won’t sprout up on its own.Report

          • Avatar NewDealer says:

            Hey man, you are preaching to the choir here.

            On both paragraphs.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. says:

      Right- prisons are definitely better than lynch mobs or what was the norm through much of human history of putting criminals in dungeons long enough to convict and execute them.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        I’m starting to feel more sympathetic to lynch mobs, now that John Roberts has taught me that the anti-lynching law were unconstitutional discrimination against the South.Report

        • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

          I think you missed the “times have changed” part of his opinion.Report

          • Avatar Cletus says:

            “Times have changed.”

            Now let’s all get back to talking about Paula Deen, and Trayvon Martin, and how obviously stoopid that black girl Jeantel is for not speaking WASPy english while voter suppression laws are enacted by GOP legislatures around the nation.Report

          • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

            “May I take this opportunity of emphasizing that there is no voter suppression in the South. Absolutely none, and when I say none, I mean there is a certain amount, more than we are prepared to admit, but all potential voters are informed that if they try to vote and are refused in any way at all, they’re to tell me immediately so that I can immediately take every measure to hush the whole thing up. And, finally, lynching is right out. “Report

          • Avatar Barry says:

            Yes, I missed that in the noise of six states immediately passing laws designed to reduce voting. I also missed that in the whining sounds of Scalia b*tching (or rather, ‘scaliaing’) about how overturning DOMA was wrong, because it meant that the SCOTUS was overruling Congress.Report

      • Avatar Will H. says:

        There are two separate issues there, and let’s not confuse them: extrajudicial mechanisms and the courts.
        Where punishments delivered have been somewhat harsh historically viewed, denial of access to the courts is more brutal still.
        It was no great act of benevolence that cause Lord Coke to extend the rights under the Magna Carta to the common man, but rather he had seen the alternative to delivery of justice through the court system.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      We can do what the Scandinavians do but that would require a level of generosity, gentleness, and taxation that I don’t think most Americans could bear.Report

    • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

      IIRC this researched showed that people would rather punish a cheater even if it hurts them?

      Yes, altruistic punishment, it’s called in the lit. Although, given some recent notable findings that certain psych/behavioral studies didn’t replicate well across cultures, I’d like to see some multiple cultural tests of these findings.Report

  4. Avatar NewDealer says:

    Another issue is how crime out of all places in our justice/legal system is the most connected to emotion or the part likely to draw the most emotional reactions. A breach of contract is usually only emotional to the immediately interested parties. Every individual crime is an area that all of society has a feeling and say in.

    I’m pretty sure I can get people to agree to these propositions on their own:

    1. The right to settle or plea a case should belong to the client/party, not his or her lawyer.

    2. Lawyers should advocate well for their clients.

    3. The government should need to prove that someone is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt before said person can be punished for the crime he or she was accused of.

    4. It is never good for a person to be wrongfully convicted for a crime they did not commit and wrongful convictions/false accusations damage the justice system for everyone.

    5. This one is only a maybe but the idea that it is better for 100 guilty people to go free than it is for 1 innocent person to sit in jail.

    The problem is that when you combine 1-5 together. You are going to get people rightfully accused of a very shocking and notorious crimes. These people are going to insist on their right to plead not guilty. This means a lawyer might have to come up with arguments in their defense. And every now and then, one of these people will be found not guilty. This is where a lot of emotional outrage comes in. And I can’t always tell whether commentary is a matter of emotional venting or the starting of a sincere belief that there should be less protection for criminal defendants.

    I think people are baffled by the chutzpah of how someone like the guy in Ohio could plead not guilty after imprisoning and torturing three women for a decade. Maybe most people still think that in cases like that mob justice is best?Report

  5. Avatar Chris says:

    A couple loosely connected things.

    One, I’ve actually heard people say that the fact that they stole something was the fault of the person from whom they stole it. It’s more than just, “I wouldn’t have stole it if they hadn’t left it there with the keys in it,” it’s “I stole it because they left it there with their keys in it, so they didn’t deserve it anymore.” It’s a mindset that I can’t quite wrap my mind around, but it seems to be pretty common.

    Second, one of the things governments do when they send people to prison and then let them out is give them a bill, for back child support for example. Imagine you’ve just gotten out of an 8 year stint in the penitentiary, during which you were allowed to work for a (very) small wage, but were not allowed to keep any of it, so it was impossible for you to pay anyone anything for any reason. So you’re broke, and because you’re a convicted felon, if you are able to get a job it is likely going to pay minimum wage. Now the government comes and says that they’re going to garner your wages because you owe $40,000 in back child support or whatever. What are you likely to do? Get a minimum wage job and lose a substantial portion of your paycheck to current and back child support, so that you’ll be lucky if what you have left will pay for a small room in an apartment in a drug and crime-ridden neighborhood, or drop off the grid and make your money in a way that’s likely to put you right back into the penitentiary from which you’ve just been released? And would it be at all surprising that you thought you were justified in going back to a life of crime?Report

    • Avatar NewDealer says:

      “One, I’ve actually heard people say that the fact that they stole something was the fault of the person from whom they stole it. It’s more than just, “I wouldn’t have stole it if they hadn’t left it there with the keys in it,” it’s “I stole it because they left it there with their keys in it, so they didn’t deserve it anymore.” It’s a mindset that I can’t quite wrap my mind around, but it seems to be pretty common.”

      Normal society sort of thinks like this. There is a blaming the victim mentality for all crimes. Imagine this conversation:

      Steve: My laptop was stole!

      Bill: That sucks, dude! When was it taken?

      Steve: I left it in the back of my car when I rushed into the supermarket to get something for dinner.

      Bill: Dude, you shouldn’t have left it lying out in the open like that.

      Maybe we don’t know what kind of society we want? On the one hand, we do probably want to live in a place where you can leave your laptop lying in the backseat of a car. On the other hand, we blame people for acting like this society exists.

      Good points in the second paragraphReport

      • Avatar dhex says:

        “On the other hand, we blame people for acting like this society exists.”

        acting contrary to reality is kinda dumb, though.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Yeah, there’s blaming the victim, as in “That was stupid of you to leave it out,” and there’s blaming the victim as in, “I had to do it because you left it out. You made me steal your bike!”

        Before I moved to my current home, I lived in an apartment complex with a lot… a lot… of ex-cons. The conversations I had at the pool over beers while our kids were swimming were some of the most enlightening I’ve had in my life.Report

        • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

          Re: Your first sentence. This distinction gets blurred a lot I think, and most particularly in rape cases. It can be hard to clearly express the line between encouraging a person to take reasonable responsibility for their own safety (frosh coeds, do be careful at frat parties, and treating them as responsible (no, it’s not your fault you got raped; no matter how careless you act, nobody is justified in doing that to you).

          Thinking specifically of coeds, I suspect very few colleges do a good job of explaining this distinction to both male and female students. It’s been on my mind both because I’ve known students who were raped* and because daughter #1 goes to college in a couple of years, and I want to make damn sure both that she understands how to protect herself and that if anything happens–even if she acted carelessly and failed to protect herself–that she’s not at fault and can trust us not to be condemning.

          _________________________
          *A few years ago I was on the committee to reveal appeals of academic suspension. One frosh coed appealed because she wasn’t actually a bad student, but her grades had crashed after she’d been raped. As she actually apologized for having been raped and for not handling it better, I assumed one of the several women on our committee–good people all–would say something reassuring it. But nobody did (volunteer’s dilemma, I guess), so finally I spoke up to say that she absolutely did not need to apologize for either the rape or her emotional struggle to deal with it. It was surprisingly uncomfortable to say, even though it was both the truth and clearly what she needed to have some authority figure say.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy says:

            I’ve seen studies that indicate women can often be less sympathetic to victims of rape. The thinking is that if they can fins fault with the victim, they can mentally separate themselves from the reality that they could end up a random victim.Report

            • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

              I’d hate to think that was the case here, although obviously I can’t say that it’s not. I’m psychically more comfortable with the volunteer’s dilemma explanation.Report

            • Avatar Barry says:

              “I’ve seen studies that indicate women can often be less sympathetic to victims of rape. The thinking is that if they can fins fault with the victim, they can mentally separate themselves from the reality that they could end up a random victim.”

              I remember a study saying that the jurors most likely to convict were fathers of daughters. The conclusion was that women frequently were very uncomfortable with most rape cases, because the rapist didn’t look like a ‘rapist’; he looked like any other guy. This cause angst because how can you avoid being raped if avoiding ‘guys who look like rapists’ doesn’t work?Report

          • Avatar NewDealer says:

            Yeah I agree that the distinction gets blurred a lot especially in rape cases.

            There was an article in Vice by a woman who was a rape victim. According to her article, the attacker was a serial rapist. He joined the party and the woman assumed he was a “friend of a friend”. The woman was lured to the guy’s car by promises of a bit of cocaine I think.

            A lot of the Internet commentary (at least on Slate)* was about “why the fuck did you get in a car with a stranger for some cocaine?” Even the ones who were not trying to blame the victim fell into that trap.

            *For some reason, the Double XX factor at Slate seems to draw out the worst of the sexist trolls.

            LinkReport

            • Avatar Art Deco says:

              “why the fuck did you get in a car with a stranger for some cocaine?” Even the ones who were not trying to blame the victim fell into that trap.

              Prudence and the avoidance of vice are helpful in remaining out of trouble.Report

          • Avatar NewDealer says:

            What is your take on the “Just World thesis”?Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      One, people are very good at justifying their actions. I’ve done some really stupid shit that I came up with somesort of justification for even if it was only it made me feel better. I’m pretty sure that thieves aren’t the most humble people and are pretty good at rationalizing their crimes. People who commit much worse crimes are rationalizing it.

      Two, this represents the vengeful streak in American society. Like ND pointed out above, many and maybe even most Americans are skeptical about rehabilitations. Thats why we do a half-ass job of it in prison and why we continue to punish people for their crimes after their prison sentence is over in many ways. We do this even if it leads people back to a lot of crime.

      I really think that the Scandanavians have come up with the only just solution for criminals. It isn’t the best solution because it lets some really nasty people off easily. It does seem to work better than our system. The problem is that many Americans do not want to treat criminals that gently.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

        You’ve mentioned the Scandanavians twice, now, but without expanding on it. I’m totally ignorant on the subject, so I’d love to hear more about it.Report

        • Avatar LeeEsq says:

          Sorry, I should have elaborated. Each Scandanavian country is slightly differnt but basically they all stopped emphasizing the punishment aspect of prisons after WWII and really focus on rehabilitating prisoners through exercise, job training, and other therapies. There worst prisons are a lot nicer than our minimum security prisons. There were more than a few articles about Scandinavian prisons in the American press around the time of the Brevik massacre in Norway. It was repeatedly pointed out that the longest sentence that could get in Norway is twenty-one years. The New York Times had a very long and informative article on Norway’s prison system and its probably the most humane type ever developed.

          The problem with implementing the Scandinavian system elsewhere is that it requires an extraordinary amount of good faith, gentleness, and geneorisity from citizens. They have to give up their right to vengence basically because it rests on the idea that using prison as a punishment is counter-productive.Report

          • Avatar LeeEsq says:

            I should also point out that the Scandinavian prison system is an aspect of their welfare state thats in line with libertarian principles since most libertarians still give police powers to the state.Report

            • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

              Thanks, and yes to this comment. Libertarians don’t object to spending money to police crime and do something about criminals. Any objection to this system would probably, I think, be based more on personal values and perceptions about outcomes. But from my own perspective, if we’re going to have to spend money dealing with criminals–without any consideration of the moral issues about convict treatment–we should spend on the programs that most effectively reduce recidivism. It’s just more efficient.

              Granted, there’s a small percentage of people who are just wired wrong, psychopaths and such, so we’ll still need to deal with them, and I’m not opposed to lifetime imprisonment when it’s clearly–clearly–warranted. But there’s a damn good question about free will and mens rea with such folks, and my moral sense does kick in here and ask whether we’re sure they deserve actual punishment, rather than just segregating them from society purely for our own safety, which would suggest not just humane, but even nice living conditions might be called for.Report

              • Avatar NewDealer says:

                IIRC, Norway reviews all 21 year sentences upon completion and can decide to extend. So someone like Anders Brevik might be in prison for longer than 21 years.Report

              • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

                Seems like a good solution. I’m a big fan of giving decision-makers precisely controlled discretion.Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq says:

                Yes, the weakest aspect of the Scandinavian system is that it doesn’t give the state a clear cut way to deal with psychopaths. I think that there are pretty compelling reasons to segregate psycopaths that commit crimes. They might not be able to help it because of mens rea problems but that doesn’t mean we have to let them harm people if we can avoid it. There are more than a few psyopaths that manage to hobble through life without doign to much harm.Report

              • Avatar Barry says:

                “Yes, the weakest aspect of the Scandinavian system is that it doesn’t give the state a clear cut way to deal with psychopaths. ”

                I would say that a 21-year sentence, with the opportunity to review and extend, is a very clear cut way. Now, it involves more discretion, as opposed to life with no possibility of parole.Report

              • Avatar Art Deco says:

                Yes, but the discretion is in assessing likely future behavior, something about which judges have no particular insight.Report

              • Avatar Art Deco says:

                I think we can properly forego ‘nice’ living conditions on occasion.

                http://crime.about.com/od/current/a/connecticut_invasion.htmReport

          • Avatar Kazzy says:

            Thanks for sharing this, Lee. This is very much aligned with my own half-baked theory on how prisons et al. should work.Report

      • Avatar Art Deco says:

        Like ND pointed out above, many and maybe even most Americans are skeptical about rehabilitations.

        Aye. Likely those Americans who have been married for a while.Report

    • Avatar Cletus says:

      One option would be to outlaw employment discrimination on the basis of prior criminal convictions, unless the position required security clearance. It’d be easy to do; make the little “check here if you ever were convicted of a felony” box illegal and allow prisoners a free change-of-name on release if they chose to accept it in order to confound those nasty little google searches.

      But we’ll never see that in puritan vengeful America. Here, the motto is that prison should always be “punishment”. Worse, the punishment of prison is just the beginning. It’s the scarlet letter that really kills people and there’s a reason that novel was set in Boston.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        I don’t think a kleptomaniac should be given access to a cash register. But other than that… yeah.Report

        • Avatar Cletus says:

          If they are actually found to be a kleptomaniac by the analysis of one or more psychological practitioners, then there are treatment options and they probably should be living in some form of monitored or assisted living.Report

      • Avatar Roger says:

        I think preference should be given to people without criminal records, all else equal (and yes I know of exceptions to the rule).

        It seems to me that prison is indeed a punitive sanction. This of course does not make it irrational. It effectively changes the rational payouts of a “prisoners dilemma.” The benefits of cheating in society need to be adjusted for the risk of being caught times the cost of being caught (including the effect long term on employment and child support owed.)

        My issue with the system is that it is filled not with people that have stolen and killed, but that have used drugs.Report

        • Avatar Cletus says:

          Questions for you then.

          1. Do you think it is ever possible for someone to pay their debt to society and become a reformed, productive person?

          1a. Do you think this is more likely, or less likely, to happen when they come from a punitive as opposed to rehabilitative system?

          2. Do you find it problematic at all to tell people “go be a productive member of society now that you have served your time, but we’re going to do our level best to stop you from achieving that whole getting-a-job-and-being-productive thing”?

          My issue with the system is that every single person processed through our current inhumane, broken, sociopathic system is set up to fail no matter what their crime was.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            So let’s say that you are in charge of hiring your new position of (whatever) at your company. You have two applicants and the only difference between the two applicants are one is a guy who was convicted of (insert crime here) who went to prison for (X) years and who just got released and the other has no criminal record at all.

            Who would you be more inclined to hire?Report

            • Avatar greginak says:

              Having hired a guy with several serious felonies in his past, its a high bar to cross when you tell you bosses you want to hire that person. I was told to watch over the guy like a paranoid hawk because of his history. This was, of course, stupid since we hired him to work with homeless street kids. Either you hire the person and let them do their job or don’t hire them.Report

          • Avatar Cletus says:

            Follow-up question:

            What exactly do you think you’re accomplishing sticking a child into prison for life?Report

          • Avatar Roger says:

            “1. Do you think it is ever possible for someone to pay their debt to society and become a reformed, productive person? ”

            Yes, of course. I am familiar with some.

            “1a. Do you think this is more likely, or less likely, to happen when they come from a punitive as opposed to rehabilitative system?”

            We cannot just assume either that the rehabilitation works, nor that the two are mutually exclusive. More importantly, we must not ignore the effects of the system on discouraging crime, both before and after the initial transgression.

            I am for whichever course of action leads to the healthiest society long term (granted this is vague, more details if interested). My assumptions are that this will include strong, certain, clear punishment (always important for those with short time frames and narrow circles of empathy), and empirically proven, cost effective rehabilitation (as opposed to feel good hope to rehabilitate).

            “2. Do you find it problematic at all to tell people “go be a productive member of society now that you have served your time, but we’re going to do our level best to stop you from achieving that whole getting-a-job-and-being-productive thing”?”

            We are not doing our “level best to stop” anything. We are being transparent and allowing people to have information on the past track record of those they hire. I do see the systemic problem, and could provide several ideas which would address the situation. They are not well formulated, but briefly, they would allow people to clear their record over time and perhaps to encourage societies of ex felons to bond each other.

            “My issue with the system is that every single person processed through our current inhumane, broken, sociopathic system is set up to fail no matter what their crime was.”

            I agree our system is broken in various ways. It is focused on penalizing victimless crimes. It does not adequately protect prisoners from abuse while in prison. It could be better aimed at rehabilitation. That said, true crime (crime with victims like murder, rape and burglary) are down over fifty percent since 1990. Assuming the reduction of crime is the primary goal and that incarceration is one contribution to this trend, I would be careful calling the system totally broken, just severely cracked.Report

            • Avatar Cletus says:

              And yet the USA still has less than 5% of the world’s population, more than 25% of the world’s incarcerated population, and the world’s highest per-capita incarceration rate.

              I wonder how you can claim the system is not totally broken. It seems clear from those facts alone that it is.Report

              • Avatar Cletus says:

                But can you be educated?Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Upon more careful reading of my comment I think you will see my answer to the above question. To recap or elaborate, I believe most of the people in jail are in for victimless crimes. I would end this. I would pursue proven rehabilitations and systems which did not promote a criminal culture while in prison. I would make punishment clearer, quicker and more consistent, thus discouraging crime and quickly taking perpetrators out of the scene.

                The problem I have with your total failure comment is that it is only a total failure if people share your values and priorities. If we assume other people value lower crime toward others and retribution, then we can no longer say it is broken. According to their values it may be working just swell. I hate to say this, but a lot of people even like the idea of prison rape as another way to exact vengeance on criminals. Our “problem” is part of their “solution. “Report

              • Avatar Art Deco says:

                Just to point out that people incarcerated on drug charges amount to about 21% of the state and federal prison census. They are a majority of the federal census, but the federal prisons comprehend on 11% of the whole population.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Thanks Art. I assumed it was the majority overall were for drugs. I feel less bad now about our prison system, but just a little bit.Report

            • Avatar Cletus says:

              Also, please see my response to Art Deco below. Our system is horribly broken, much better models have been proven many times.

              Try looking up Hawaii’s HOPE (Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement) model. Instead of tossing anyone who violates probation into jail for months on end but only after several violations, they actually use cognitive therapy techniques and intensive supervision to work to change the behavior, punishing violations immediately with jail stays of up to a week at most. It’s the only program in the nation that will actually get the probative members to respond with “I made a mistake” or “I fucked up” rather than blaming “the system”, “the cops”, or someone else when asked why they’re in the short jail stay. It gets really good results, too; the members have less than half the standard recidivism rates and even better than that when it comes to drug use.Report

              • Avatar Art Deco says:

                Why not confine institutions of state to tasks which benefit from systematic action and mobilizing (coercively) factors of production? These sorts of tasks are scalable. Being someone’s mother or spiritual director is not.Report

              • Avatar Cletus says:

                Because your way has proven not to work and a definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over expecting different results.Report

              • Avatar Art Deco says:

                New York City has engineered a 75% drop in the homicide rate in the last twenty years. They did not accomplish this by flooding the zone with head shrinkers. They hired more cops and contrived methods of optimally deploying their manpower. The prison census in New York State has also increased two-and-a-half fold in the last 30 years.Report

              • Avatar Cletus says:

                They passed handgun regulations. You didn’t mention that.

                They fudged the statistics by ordering NYPD supervisors to downgrade more serious crimes to misdemeanors whenever possible. You didn’t mention that.

                And how did New York get to be such a mess in the first place? By doing things like this to their prisoners.

                The prison census in New York State has also increased two-and-a-half fold in the last 30 years.

                That’s a bug, not a feature.Report

              • Avatar Art Deco says:

                There are always going to be problems with taxonomy.

                I quoted the homicide statistics. Unless you think the NYPD is hiding dead bodies from the state health department, your complaint is not valid.Report

              • Avatar Patrick says:

                New York City has engineered a 75% drop in the homicide rate in the last twenty years. They did not accomplish this by flooding the zone with head shrinkers. They hired more cops and contrived methods of optimally deploying their manpower. The prison census in New York State has also increased two-and-a-half fold in the last 30 years.

                I will say two things germane to this comment:

                It’s certainly the case that the NYPD has become more efficient with their manpower distribution.

                The direct effect this has had on the NY crime rate can’t be measured by comparing crime rates 20 years ago to crime rates today. Because crime rates are dropping everywhere, including a bunch of places that aren’t doing what the NYPD is doing.

                Which indicates that a real measure of how effective the NYPD’s methodology changes are would need to correct for whatever domain-wide changes are causing the underlying overall crime rate to drop.Report

              • Avatar George Turner says:

                Well, let me point out that reaching any definitive conclusions on crime rates is a fool’s errand, because any formula you come up with will be “Smith’s law of crime rates.” Criminals, by definition and by their nature, will violate any such law.Report

              • Avatar Art Deco says:

                The most viperous area of New York City is a trio of neighborhoods in Brooklyn: Bedford-Stuyvesant, Ocean Hill, and Brownsville. The homicide rate recorded in this area in 2012 was about 17.5 per 100,000. Homicide rates in Rochester have bounced around 19 per 100,000 in the last decade and a half; Buffalo, about 20 per 100,000. Philadelphia, about 22.2 per 100,000; and so forth. The notion that NYC is nothing special is simply not true.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                Art,
                If Tokyo classifies a considerable number of murders as suicides, why can’t NYC do the same?Report

              • Avatar Art Deco says:

                Do you have evidence that they did? Has their been a spike in the suicide rate in five boroughs that you did not see elsewhere in the last 20 years? Did they have the co-operation of the local coroners in pulling this scam? How about survivors of the deceased?

                Well, no one’s brought up the Freakonomics eugenics argument yet, but we have run through the rest of the drill.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Cletus,

                I second some of Art’s points, though in a less extreme way. My take on history is that part of the reason crime rates skyrocketed in the 60s to 80s was the soft on crime, criminals are victims mentality. A key goal in criminal justice is to reduce crime. Crime rates are down by 50% in just about every class of victim crime since 1990. The question now is how we can maintain these levels of low crime while improving the cost effectiveness and compassion of our system.Report

              • Avatar Cletus says:

                Your take on history needs some actual history then. Crime rates did not, as you claim, “skyrocket” in the 60s to 80s and in fact the “lenient policies” you claim existed were never present. A point of fact is that the late 1950s and early 1960s were struck by a series of prison riots regarding the bad treatment of prisoners within. Conservatives started complaining about “cushy” prison treatment only when the Supreme Court ruled that things like food, blankets, and basic medical treatment were human rights not to be denied to prisoners under the Constitution’s prohibition on inhumane punishments.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Ok, this is getting comical. Your link is basically a detailed article making the exact point that I made. Crime rates skyrocketed up to around 1990 and have since been cut in half. Feel free to send me some more history lessons.

                The lenient policies I am arguing against have nothing to do with providing humane treatment in prison. It deals more with inadequate police enforcement, lenient and inconsistent sentencing and such.Report

              • Avatar Cletus says:

                You keep using the word “skyrocketed” as if it means anything other than the sensationalist coverage of the news media. The statistics don’t back up your claim.

                I’ll ask you the same question you asked me. Are you here for a real conversation? Yes or no.Report

              • Avatar Art Deco says:

                Index crime rates increased about 2.8 fold between 1960 and 1980. Homicide rates had a smaller amplitude but increased 2.13 fold during those years. Homicide is a useful indicator because it does not suffer from reporting deficits and taxonomic ambiguities involved in tracking other crimes.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                I do consider twice the rate of murder, rape, assault and burglary to be “skyrocketing”. Sorry for any confusion.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                The obvious reason for that rise was demographics: the baby boom meant a huge increase in the number of young males, who are most prone to commit violent crimes. That American society became “soft on crime” and that the alleged softness led to an increase in crime are both merely opinions that can’t be quantified.Report

              • Avatar Art Deco says:

                Demographics can be a factor. The thing is, the number of live births increased almost monotonically from 1933 to 1957. There were a few small dips (e.g. 1943-45). Therefore, the number of youths entering the most crime prone age group would have been on a considerable increase from 1950 to 1974. Juvenile delinquency was a problem during the 1950s, but the picture was much more mixed with regard to adult crime. James Q. Wilson dated the point of origin for generalized disorder at 1963. The general trouble reached a plateau around about 1981, fluctuated for about a dozen years, and then began to decline in 1993. It should be noted that the annual number of live births declined by about 30% after 1957, reaching a trough around 1976. The rapid decline in crime after 1993 was contemporary with increases in the number entering the crime-prone age group.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                Good data, but you’re not interpreting it carefully. What matters isn’t the number of youths entering the crime-prone age group, but the total number that are members of it. The simplest thing is to look at the absolute number. The census data is at http://www.census.gov/statab/hist/02HS0003.xls . The percentage in age bracket 15-24 (not perfect, but the closest thing available) is:

                1960: 13.4
                1965: 15.8
                1970: 17.8
                1975: 18.9
                1980: 18.7
                1985: 16.8
                1990: 14.8
                1995: 13.8
                2000: 13.9

                That’s a significant spike, and it tracks the crime rate extremely well.Report

              • Avatar Art Deco says:

                No, it tracks it roughly. Homicide rates by 2000 were only about 10% above 1960 values, but the more general run of index crimes remained seriously elevated. The index stood at 3,600 per 100,000 in 1960, 11,200 per 100,000 in 1980, and 7,700 per 100,000 in 2000. Consider also that the median age for a homicide perpetrator is about 25. The homicide rate fluctuated in a band of modest dimensions over the period running from 1974 to 1993, then tanked, something which does not track the dimensions of the referent cohorts even roughly.

                That aside, there is the inter-regional and inter-local variation in homicide rates. The five boroughs of the City of New York on the one hand and Lake County, Indiana on the other are both components of a larger metropolitan settlement and have some similar gross demographic metrics (though the former is much more affluent than the latter). Yet, the homicide rate of the latter is 3x the former.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                I am sure the explanation for such a dramatic shift is multifaceted. Here is Wikipedia…

                “After World War II, crime rates increased in the United States, peaking from the 1970s to the early 1990s. Violent crime nearly quadrupled [but did not ”skyrocket”] between 1960 and its peak in 1991. Property crime more than doubled over the same period. Since the 1990s, however, crime in the United States has declined steeply. Several theories have been proposed to explain this decline:

                The number of police officers increased considerably in the 1990s.

                The prison population has been expanded since the mid-1970s.

                Starting in the mid-1980s, the crack cocaine market grew rapidly before declining again a decade later. Some authors have pointed towards the link between violent crimes and crack use.

                One hypothesis suggests a causal link between legalized abortion and the drop in crime during the 1990s.

                Changing demographics of an aging population has been cited for the drop in overall crime.

                Another hypothesis suggests reduced lead exposure as the cause

                Three Strikes You’re Out Laws were suggested during the 1992 election cycle and implemented immediately following.”

                I accept all the above.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                Roger,

                Are you familiar with the theory that falling crime rates starting in the 90’s are the result of abortion becoming legal?Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                Crap. You referenced it. Somehow I missed that. Sorry.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew says:

                My impression is that the science is becoming somewhat overwhelming in its suggestion that the decline (and rise) in violent crime during this period is very significantly caused by the broad adoption of unleaded gasoline. That might be wrong, but from what I’ve seen the graphs on this point across time, of lead in the air next to violent crime, are overwhelmingly persuasive, while most of these other potential causes are out of sequence or otherwise not reflective of the curve in the crime rates the way that the curve in lead levels is.Report

              • Avatar Art Deco says:

                Explain to me why the homicide rate in Rochester is 3x that in New York City. Is it honestly your contention that people upstate are more devoted to the use of unleaded gasoline (or were 20 years ago)?Report

              • Avatar George Turner says:

                I really doubt leaded gasoline’s use would correlate to crime anywhere other than the US. I don’t recall hearing similar tales of skyrocketing German or Swedish murders during the same period.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                Explain to me why the homicide rate in Rochester is 3x that in New York City.

                Gun control. Happy?Report

              • @George Turner: That’s actually one of the things that they’ve looked at on this topic. They found that the correlation applied across every country studied. The study on this is here:
                http://pic.plover.com/Nevin/Nevin2007.pdfReport

              • Avatar Michael Drew says:

                AD,

                Some places have higher murder rates than others. The increases and declines we’re talking about are national aggregations. The first can keep being the case while that latter occur. Disaggregate the aggregations, and, yes, other differences remain. That’s pretty much your explanation.Report

              • Avatar George Turner says:

                But the crime rates would more closely correlate with the sales of LP’s, especially disco. There are a lot of assumptions in such studies, as mentioned here.

                There’s also the problem that violence and alcohol consumption are definitely correlated, leading to the possibility that lead makes people thirsty for some Strohs.Report

              • The theory isn’t that all or even most crime is caused by lead. Instead, the theory is that the vast majority of the fluctuation in crime rates in the relevant period can be explained by fluctuations in the amount of lead present in any given area during that period. The studies do not deny that there are other factors that cause crime; instead, they only suggest that the unusual aggregate increase in crime during this period, followed by the rapid aggregate decrease in crime, is explainable by corresponding changes in lead levels 20 years or so previous.Report

              • Avatar Art Deco says:

                Mark Thompson, that article reports a series of t-tests. It does not attempt to differentiate influences. It is also not nearly granular enough to provide evidence that lead paint explains inter-metropolitan differences in crime rates.Report

              • Avatar George Turner says:

                I find that dubious for many reasons. Worldwide, murder rates vary by a factor of about a hundred, and many of the countries with the highest rates have almost no cars (Africa, etc), while many countries with extremely low murder rates were bumper to bumper (Japan, etc) and many countries with extremely high lead levels (from using lead-gasoline in two-stroke engines in their scooters) have extremely low murder rates. And of course the correlation would imply that European use of leaded gasoline has been declining since the medieval era. It also doesn’t explain why we’re not all living in fear of the guys who fabricate old pipe organs, all of whom have extremely high lead levels.

                The crime rates had a bump in some places and countries and not others. Focusing on the places that did have a bump (and ignoring the fact that the correlation only applies to assaults, not murder or property crime) would lead to spurious correlations to all other things that showed a bump, while not showing correlations to things that were declining or things that were increasing. After that its all just rough curve matching, and there are millions of curves that would be a pretty good aggregate fit.Report

              • Avatar Art Deco says:

                Gun control. Happy?

                The primary regulatory authority in New York is the state legislature. I imagine there are supplementary regulations in the City. I seem to recall Bernhard Goetz shlepping about with an unlicensed pistol because he could not obtain a license, so I think their regs have been in force for a while. Gun ownership is quite common in the countryside in New York (lotsa deer), where homicide rates are less than a tenth of what they are in Rochester.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Cletus,

                I have already conceded it can be much improved. Will you concede the point that IF the desire is retribution or reduced crime levels, that it appears to be somewhat successful on those dimensions?Report

              • Avatar Cletus says:

                IF the desire is retribution, we violate our own ethical strictures against cruel and/or unusual punishments and reduce ourselves to the level of murderers and torturers.

                IF the desire is reduced crime levels, we do far better with rehabilitative programs as repeatedly shown. The claim that overly harsh sentencing and excessively long incarceration with no rehabilitative programs, supportive programs on the outside, and legal protections to help prisoners reenter the world and re-adjust to being normal citizens can do anything but cause recidivism is simply invalid.

                If the desire is indeed reduced crime levels, then the retribution model is shooting ourselves in the foot expecting to cure a headache. Insanity.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                I am not sure why you seem to reject the concept of punishment to prevent crime. You seem to believe that retribution is irrational. In game theory it is extremely rational.

                If you injure me, I (or my clan or the institutions) will injure you back. Thus, it is wisest not to injure me.

                Retribution does not have to be cruel or unusual, and incarceration where warranted certainly is not what most people think of as either.

                You then strangely accuse me of wanting overly harsh sentencing and excessively long sentences and no rehab. I am coming to the conclusion that you are not interested in a sincere conversation. Yes or no?Report

              • Avatar Cletus says:

                I am interested in a sincere conversation. You seem not to be aware of what you are advocating. Either this is a miscommunication issue or a fundamental difference of what each of us is referring to.

                I am not sure why you seem to reject the concept of punishment to prevent crime.

                I am not sure why you rely on it so much. I don’t deny it has an impact but the scientific evidence clearly shows that the American model’s version has a poor level of impact. Consequences are too far removed from the event, and all predicate upon the presence of a nearby authority figure. Those who commit many crimes believe that they will not be caught, and if you believe you won’t be caught then the concept of punishment is meaningless.

                Retribution does not have to be cruel or unusual, and incarceration where warranted certainly is not what most people think of as either.

                But you defend the system in the USA, where retributive sentencing coupled with post-sentence retributive behavior and various forms of mandatory sentencing guidelines amount to a dehumanization of the incarcerated. That absolutely is cruel.Report

              • Avatar Art Deco says:

                I am interested in a sincere conversation.

                chuckles.Report

              • Avatar Cletus says:

                We already know you’re not here for anything of the sort, Art.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Sorry to question your sincerity.

                In your second paragraph you start by agreeing that retribution works. But then you take a detour and questions America’s model.

                First, I have repeatedly stressed that I too have problems with our model. What I do not have problems with is swift, sudden and near certain retribution. I think I have said so three or four times. When you argue that the chance of being caught or punished is too distant to perps minds, I agree completely. Retribution should be made more certain and more immediate.

                As for defending our system, again I am defending certain aspects of it and not all. The swift and sudden retribution part I am defending. It seems to be contributing to reduced levels of crime, and this is a major goal of our system. I would further emphasize this and also research into rehabilitation.

                Question for you… Do you support retribution as part of your criminal justice system?Report

              • Avatar Cletus says:

                Roger,

                Retribution works when done in accordance with cognitive psychology’s fundamental principles. It needs to satisfy a number of requirements. In particular it needs to happen quickly in order to satisfy the dictates of time-orientation and it needs to not be disproportionate in order to make sure that the punished realize that they are being issued a corrective and not vindictive punishment. The perception that they are being issued a vindictive punishment creates a fight-or-flight response in the offender that makes most of them unable to process any form of a corrective lesson and in fact leads to later misbehavior as a form of revenge on their part.

                This is why I focused on Hawaii’s HOPE program for you. It satisfies all these requirements. The punishments that occur for violating parole happen quickly on the occasion of offense, with warrants issued for pickup within hours of a missed appointment or notification of activity and the police picking up the offender soon after if at all possible. The punishments are a short jail stay that shows the offender a punishment is occurring without being needlessly vindictive.

                Where I take issue most with the USA’s model as crafted by “tough on crime” conservatives is the focus on ever-increasingly vindictive and dehumanizing punishments.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                I have no problems with HOPE if it works to reduce crime rates and costs and makes the system more effective.Report

              • Avatar Art Deco says:

                Just to point out that the mean time served for those remanded to state or federal prison is around about 2.5 years. Without a doubt you can find many examples of stupefying sentences given that 670,000 people are remanded to prison each year, but most convicts serve for but circumscribed periods.Report

              • Avatar Cletus says:

                I’d be interested in seeing your source on that, Art. It doesn’t match this even remotely.Report

              • Avatar Art Deco says:

                Those are statistics for the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Again, 89% of all prisoners are at the state level.

                The statistics cited are the distribution between categories according to sentence pronounced. People do get paroled, so that is a different metric than sentence served.

                The Bureau of Justice Statistics and the Census Bureau have metrics on the prison census and the number remanded each year. The number remanded each year has been (IIRC) around 670,000 while the prison census has been somewhat north of 1.6 million.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Your source does indeed contradict Art’s sentence averages. However, it also states that 0ver 40% of sentences are related to drugs.??Report

              • Avatar Cletus says:

                Again Art please provide your source. You are making a very wild claim and I would like to see the numbers and breakdown because your claimed numbers don’t match with this either.Report

              • Avatar Art Deco says:

                The simplest source to check is the Bulletn issued by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The December 2011 issue had the title

                Correctional Populations
                in the United States, 2010

                Among the data cited in the narrative were the summary prison census (1.612 million) and the annual admissions (.703 millon). Again, the approximate mean duration is 2.3 years.Report

              • Avatar Cletus says:

                Third time asking for a LINK, Art?Report

              • Avatar Art Deco says:

                It is available in pdf format. Just do an ordinary search for it. The link I could give you would be a search result and be a thousand yards long.Report

              • Avatar Cletus says:

                Really, Art? Please confirm this link is the one you are referring to.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Cletus is MA?

                I am done. Bye.Report

              • Avatar Cletus says:

                Who, or what, is an MA?Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                MA is one of two people that frequent this forum that I will not converse with due to a susytained pattern of bad experience. The other one is a front pager who calls me a polished turd, accuses me of participating in gay orgies and has repeatedly threatened me and others.

                Please let me know if you are MA, so I can bow out and leave you in peace.Report

              • Avatar Art Deco says:

                Russell Saunders called you a polished turd too?Report

              • Avatar Cletus says:

                Roger,

                No, I am not. Nor do I have any intention of calling you a turd, polished or otherwise. I still think you are misinformed and possibly operating from faulty assumptions but those are entirely different matters.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Er, thanks, I guess…

                I find this forum is great at helping me flesh out faulty assumptions and explanations. Which assumptions do I have which give you concern?Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 says:

                Jaybird, do you work for the NSA? Are you checking Cletus’s ISP thingy number to claim he is MA? I’d say that is a pretty big abuse if so.

                If not, you shouldn’t accuse people without evidence. A gentlemen would ask “Are you MA?”Report

              • Avatar Cletus says:

                Roger,

                Here are the assumptions I think you are making that are not valid.

                1 – that a vindictive punishment, or as you term it “retribution” with your stated example of eye-for-eye murder, is a valid method of preventing crime from persons who already have poor predictive reasoning skills.

                2 – that people will more often internalize the correct lesson from a vindictive punishment as opposed to a non-vindictive punishment.

                3 – that a retribution-only punishment system will have better results than a rehabilitation-focused punishment system based in cognitive psychology to encourage adoption of law-abiding habits by retraining learned behaviors.

                4 – that even if a rehabilitation-focused system has better results, the current retribution-only system is “good enough” and not in need of improvement.

                5 – that vindictive punishments do not have a dehumanizing and cruel aspect with respect to those incarcerated. Three-strikes laws are a great example of this problem, giving us such oddities as persons given 25-to-life for stealing a $125 television.

                6 – that vindictive punishments that continue to impact the punished and create a sense of hopelessness WRT the idea of becoming a law-abiding citizen with a meaningful job and meaningful interpersonal relationships long after they are released back into society do anything but increase the recidivism rate.

                7 – that keeping large numbers of people locked up for an indeterminate number years is a valid way of reducing the crime rates in society given the generally deplorable and dehumanizing conditions inside of prisons in the USA that tend to create internal crime and gang violence inside the prisons themselves and have even created some of the worst modern gangs through incubation and concentration of antagonistic groups. With this last point I note that an unsurprising number of the people on death row are there for killing guards or other inmates. I think that a rehabilitative system would work better to keep the prisoners safe from each other.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                Shazbot,

                IP Addresses are among the (multiple) tools that we use to ascertain whether or not a banned commenterhas returned under a different name.

                At present, we have not obtained sufficient evidence that Cletus is a banned user to take action We’ll leave it at thatReport

              • Avatar Roger says:

                I pretty much do not agree with any of those assumptions, so it appears you are arguing with views other than mine.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                “Jaybird, do you work for the NSA?”

                Jaybird working for the NSA is absurd as, oh, say an Objectivist like Alan Greenspan heading up the Federal Reserve. It would never happen. Psychologically impossible.Report

              • Avatar Cletus says:

                Roger,

                Here are the problems that have confused me. You said earlier you agreed with most of Art Deco’s claims if to a lesser degree. You also posited the eye-for-an-eye sort of retribution as being valid. It is from those assertions and your repeated insistence that I recognize “retribution” as a valid theory of crime prevention that I derived my understanding of your assumptions.

                I think that maybe our definitions differ. I see the term “retribution” to necessarily include a vindictive component because it implies the punisher or the observer(s) taking pleasure at the suffering of another human being. It feeds a base and abhorrent desire on the part of many people to dehumanize the recipient.

                I prefer corrective action to retribution, 100% of the time.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 says:

                Will,

                Well if you haven’t established it privately amongst the people who run the blog, why is Jaybird airing your (apparently) as-of-yet unfounded suspicions publically?

                If Cletus is identical to a banned user, ban him. If he isn’t, why is Jaybird saying that he is. If you merely suspect but don’t know, why is Jaybird suggesting that the people who run the blog (and Jaybird is one of them) do know?

                The NSA question is clearly tongue in cheek, but for all the talk of privacy and respect for anonymity (from the government) on the internet around here, I’d like it if people practiced what they preached.

                It isn’t a big deal, but when someone is accused of being a banned user as a kind of taunting or argumentative put-down on a public thread, it makes the people running the blog look vindictive and small and disrespectful of anonymity.Report

              • Avatar Cletus says:

                After receiving the explanation I am insulted by both the initial insinuation and the insinuation that I am being watched and monitored to obtain some form of “sufficient evidence”. I’d like to see an apology.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I haven’t looked at his IP. Just his “style”, if you want to call it that, and the fact that he showed up within a few days of M.A.’s banishment.

                Close your eyes and listen to the voice. It’s M.A.

                And if it’s not? The accuracy of the comparison is good enough for me to stand as criticism in its own right.

                Nothing “NSA” about it. I’ve argued with M.A. and I’ve argued with Cletus. From my perspective? If they’re not the same person, they’re interchangeable. And I’m not saying that as an admin but one of the commenters in the comments.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 says:

                But you are saying it and you are one of the admin. Ypu can’t juststop being one of the admin to say something that would and does reflect poorly on the other admin.

                And Will suggests that Cletus’s IP is being looked at to look for evidence of him being a banned user, which would be done by the admin, of whom you are one.

                And you didn’t say “You sound suspiciously like MA.” You just called him MA and told him to be careful. You stated, explicitly, that he is MA. If you want to take that back, and say you just sort of have a suspicion that you would like him to address, you should apologize.

                Even if you are right -there is a similarity in writing style, but not so much in content, except that they are both lefties- you are acting ungentle(man/woman/robot)ly and you are making the admin look awful.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                To make it even clearer: I was one of the people who freaked out about Barrett Brown being all nutzo back in the day.

                My calling Cletus “M.A.” is more akin to wondering if the commenter with the strange handle talking about social conservativism and Mozart before wandering into some seriously tangential territory isn’t “Heidi” making another appearance.

                (Cletus, let me ask you a question about whether you are M.A. I’ve also noticed you’ve demanded an apology without, you know, denying it. M.A. was always one of those people who seemed to pride himself on his personal integrity and you seem to be similar… are the hands that type comments under the nom de plume “Cletus” the same hands that typed comments under the nom de plume “M.A.”?)Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Shazbot let me affirm for you now: I Have Never Looked At Any User’s IP. I have only looked at the emails associated with any given user if they have requested an email from me (which was followed by them getting an email).

                The only time I even look at anything beyond username is if a comment is held up in moderation and that’s just to check stuff like whether an email is “SHOES4CHEAP@CHEAPESTSHOES.RU” or “wellformed@welformed.com” and the former get shunted off to trash and the latter get okayed.

                Now, you can believe me or not… but I am telling you (as someone who gives a damn about his personal integrity) that when I refer to Cletus as M.A., it’s because their styles and voices are interchangeable.

                But if he answers the question I’ve asked of him in the negative (as opposed to, say, ignoring the question in favor of demanding my ouster from the masthead for groundless accusations and betrayal of privacy), I’ll stop calling him M.A.

                Okay?Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                Heidi used to go on about Bach. Not Mozart. They’re as different as, you know, Iron Man and Captain America.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                I miss Heidi. His obsession with me was flattering.Report

              • For what it’s worth, for purposes of enforcement of the comment policy, commenting bans, etc., Jaybird would not be amongst the people who might properly be called “admins,” nor to my knowledge is he privvy to any discussions, if any, referenced by Will T.Report

              • Avatar Cletus says:

                Jaybird,

                Read this direct response to Roger. I am not the person you are accusing me of being and I believe you are just using the accusation as a method to attack people you disagree with. It’s ungentlemanly and rude.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                Heidi was fun when he wasn’t crossing the line to inappropriateness, which, unfortunately, happened one too many times. (More than one too many, actually, post-ban.)Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                not to drag this way far offtopic, but was MA ever actually banned?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Well, I did specifically phrase my question very carefully… I mean, it could be argued that Han Solo and Indiana Jones are two very, very different people. One is from the 30’s or 40’s or something and the other is from a long, long time ago (and from a galaxy far, far away). Two very, very different characters.

                Which is why I asked about the hands who typed the words.

                But, fair enough. I will stop calling you M.A.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                No one here ever called anyone a polished turd, any more than anyone called Eddie Haskell a kissed ass. I’m quite skeptical that any front-pagers accuse commenters of participating in gay orgies, but since I have no idea what that refers to, I can’t be sure.Report

              • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

                Jaybird,

                Have you seen the initials FYIGM yet? Isn’t that both a necessary and a sufficient condition for any such accusation?Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew says:

                You think it would be sufficient to identify one unique commenter?

                I guess we’ve been brought to heel pretty well after all…Report

              • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

                Did anyone else here ever actually use it except as a joke?Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew says:

                I think so. Not in a completely sincere way that M.A. may have, but using it as something of an exaggeration to the end of making the same kind of point that people who do use it completely sincerely would make about libertarians. But not so much anymore, is the point. Progress.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew says:

                The site seems to be eating comments today. Trying again:

                Yes, I think so to some extent. Maybe not as completely earnestly as M.A. may have done, but still in such a way as to make a point about libertarians not completely dissimilar to the kind of point M.A. might have been making.

                I.e., where M.A. might have recently said “That view makes you, Hanley, a FYIGM libertarian,” which made him an outlier, I think there was a time that people here would pretty earnestly say, “That view brings you, libertarian (say, Mike Farmer), pretty close to FYIGM territory. You might want to watch that. Or not.”

                But not so much anymore, which was my point. Progress, I guess.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew says:

                I can’t get my comments to post right now for some reason, even though I’m being told I’m trying to post a duplicate comment. Could be my connection.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew says:

                Site seems to be eating comments today. Trying again:

                Yes, I think so to some extent. Maybe not as completely earnestly as M.A. may have done, but still in such a way as to make a point about libertarians not completely dissimilar to the kind of point M.A. might have been making.

                I.e., where M.A. might have recently said “That view makes you, Hanley, a FYIGM libertarian,” which made him an outlier, I think there was a time that people here would pretty earnestly say, “That view brings you, libertarian (say, Mike Farmer), pretty close to FYIGM territory. You might want to watch that. Or not.”

                But not so much anymore, which was my point. Progress, I guess.Report

              • Yeah, the spam filter was eating them. I saved one and left the duplicates.Report

              • Avatar Cletus says:

                What does FYIGM stand for? I’m assuming it’s an acronym.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                Yes, now I get told

                Thus people like Mike and LWA will subvert the justification of a good thing for their personal intolerance. As usual, they will do more harm than good, but feel good about doing so.

                Progress.Report

      • Avatar Art Deco says:

        One option would be to outlaw employment discrimination on the basis of prior criminal convictions, unless the position required security clearance.

        That’s only an option for those not sick and tired of lawyers second-guessing every decision businessmen make.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          I read a story earlier today about a British Pub in NYC that advertised that it wanted to hire a British person to tend bar and lend ambiance.

          Turns out, that’s illegal.Report

          • Avatar Glyph says:

            Sounds Fishy. We should Chip in for their defense.Report

          • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

            The job requirement is to appear British, not to be British. Why should fake Brits like William F. Buckley be denied a chance at honest work?Report

              • Avatar Rufus F. says:

                I don’t know that one can ever be rehabilitated from being British though.Report

              • Avatar NewDealer says:

                Nope. I support that decision. I don’t think it comes under the Bona Fide Qualified Work Exception.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                The authorities certainly agree with you.

                I might not mind the “you can’t do that” as much if it didn’t come with a staggering fine and a requirement that one go to diversity training. I’d think that just pointing out that “British folks working in British Pubs ain’t a BFQWE” should be enough for anybody.

                But I’m one of those people who believes that this falls under the “Hooters Category” of “why people come here” and, as such, the bar owner can hire pretty much whomever he wants.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                I like the idea of British diversity training. I might even go if at the end of it I could tell Geordie from Mancunian.Report

            • Avatar Art Deco says:

              William F. Buckley spent a large fraction of his upbringing in Mexico, is one of ten siblings who were both socially prominent and flagrantly Catholic, and (with his brother) had a boarding school accent of which you could occasionally hear milder versions where I grew up. How does he qualify as a ‘fake Brit’?Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                The affected “mid-Atlantic” accent that you mention, plus his penchant for over-complicated sentences and obscure vocabulary, caused many people to assume that he was British, or at least had been educated there.Report

              • Avatar Art Deco says:

                His brother the federal judge has the same accent, but with somewhat different diction. I can introduce you to boarding and finishing school graduates born in 1931/32 who have mid-Atlantic-ish accents. I once met a retired English professor from North Carolina (b. 1922 or therabouts, bred in South Carolina) who makes the Buckleys sound like Roy Rogers. For a certain class of people born prior to a certain date, it is not unusual.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                And they all have the right to be greeters at a British pub.Report

  6. Avatar Art Deco says:

    Prison is perhaps an unsolvable problem for that reason: so many of the people who wind up incarcerated already live by a moral code that is incompatible with the civilized world, yet incarceration with their peers does little to change that state of affairs and much to reinforce it. We know on some level that prison doesn’t work, yet we struggle to understand the problem or come up with better solutions. Fearing Hell and unable to pull off Heaven, we settle for building Purgatories.

    “Doesn’t work” toward what end?

    If you have a bloc of convicts who do not re-offend, why are you concerned about their inner life?Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. says:

      I’m not.

      I was thinking more of those crimes in which the recidivism rate is around 70-80% and why that is, given we at some point decided incarceration would be better for rehabilitating people than breaking them on the wheel.Report

      • Avatar Art Deco says:

        Since when is ‘rehabilitation’ a purpose of the penal system?

        While we are at it, we might consider the possibility that the inclination to make use of imprisonment is a function of the relative size of the surplus above subsistence in society. Imprisonment is a form of 24 hour care, and that is expensive.Report

        • Avatar Cletus says:

          That question has to be a joke.

          The early settlers to the USA coined the term “penitentiary” because they would put convicted criminals into solitary confinement with a bible on hand in order to become “penitent” and confess their sins to God, coming out cleansed and ready to begin a life avoiding their former sins. It was absolutely intended to be rehabilitative, though in actuality they usually left their victims in solitary too long and drove most of the poor souls mad instead.

          The turn towards a punitive-only model didn’t happen until the 1970s in America, when the right wing began to see the possibility of portraying themselves as “tough on crime” combined with deliberately targeted anti-minority propaganda painting all minorities as criminals as a method of getting the older white vote in the Southern Strategy. They have continued this crusade for the past 40 years despite strongly documented scientific evidence that the punitive-only model does not work.Report

          • Avatar Cletus says:

            Here’s some more reading for you on the subject.

            My colleague Bandy Lee and I have shown that an intensive re-educational program with violent male offenders in the San Francisco jails reduced the level of violence in the jail to zero for a year at a time. Even more important, participation in this program for as little as four months reduced the frequency of violent reoffending after leaving the jail by 83 percent, compared with a matched control group in a conventional jail. In addition to enhancing public safety, this program saved the taxpayers $4 for every $1 spent on it, since the lower reincarceration rate saved roughly $30,000 a year per person. The only mystery is: Why is this program not being adopted by every jail and prison in the country? Why are taxpayers not demanding that this be done?Report

            • Avatar Roger says:

              As above, I am all for cost effective, proven rehabilitation. I would be careful with the comment that the current system does not work though. It is making assumptions on what people want it to accomplish. If people want retribution or less crime, we could certainly argue that they are accomplishing these goals, though certainly not optimally.

              As above, I do have various large problems with the system. My opinions are probably not representative though.Report

              • Avatar Art Deco says:

                The only ‘rehabilitation’ that matters is that convicts released keep their noses clean. Helpful toward this end are

                1. Age
                2. A cop on every block
                3. Family
                4. Skills an employer might value.

                None of the foregoing are imparted by clinical psychologists or social workers.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Art,

                I am no fan of mamby pamby do gooders either. However, I am substantially less certain that no rehabilitation can ever work.

                I would suggest good law enforcement focused on victim crimes, swift punishment, AND cost effective rehabilitation where proven. I assume the problem of rehabilitation is solvable, although as with any unsolved problem, this is always just a useful working hypothesis.Report

              • Avatar Art Deco says:

                Lots of things ‘rehabilitate’ a convict. The question at hand is whether these are forces public agencies can mobilize; a secondary question is whether employment of members of the helping professions is effective for purposes other than…employment for members of the helping professions.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                A. Cop. On. Every. Block.????
                NOBODY does this. It would be insane.

                Family — a social support structure — is something that clinical psychologists or social workers can help with. “Yes, you should trust/date/love that person. No, that person is abusive. Really.”

                “Skills an employer might value” — “no, do not talk to squirrels at work. You may hear them talking to you, but they aren’t customers, and nobody else can hear them talking”Report

              • Avatar Art Deco says:

                A. Cop. On. Every. Block.????
                NOBODY does this. It would be insane.

                That’s a term of art. (And it is not insane for a circumscribed area).

                I grew up in a metropolis with low-density policing. The police forces are fragmented between five public agencies and the sum of sworn officers is about 1,400. If that particular metropolis had a quantum of sworn officers commensurate with that of other metropolitan centers in New York State, there would be about 2800 sworn officers. Given current levels of staffing in suburban zones, the additional increment would allow you to assign close to 400 uniformed police per shift to the problematic neighborhoods in the inner city. Those neighborhoods comprehend about 18 sq. mi of territory. That amounts to a mean density of 22 cops per sq. mile, or (typically) one cop for a square 0.2 miles on a side (though uniformed police have enough administrative work to do that you will never have that many boots on the ground at one time).Report

              • Avatar Art Deco says:

                Family — a social support structure — is something that clinical psychologists or social workers can help with.

                [chuckles].Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                What, you’ve never heard the phrase “buying a friend”?Report

              • Avatar Art Deco says:

                No. I have heard “rent a friend”.Report

          • Avatar Art Deco says:

            No, the question is not a joke.

            Punishment is inherent in placing people in prison. It is inherent in executions. It is inherent in the pillory and stocks and in the birch. People may also be penitent when these are applied, but that is a side benefit.

            The circumstance where rehabilitation is the aim and the application is useless without it are those circumstances where social work is substituted for punishment.Report

            • Avatar Patrick says:

              This is one of those discussion threads where I think to myself, “This viewpoint is alien to me.”Report

              • Avatar Cletus says:

                The USA is one of the last first-world countries to use executions and did away with the pillory, stocks, birch, hangman’s noose, torching at the stake, stoning, the dunk tank, and a large number of cruel punishments a long time ago. It seems to me that in general being punitive for punitive’s sake is something humanity are trying desperately to evolve away from rather than embracing. Or at the very least, the thought that we are gives me some slim hopes for humanity’s future.Report

              • Avatar Art Deco says:

                Why should anyone care about being fashionable?Report

              • Avatar Patrick says:

                “Moving away from being punitive for punitive’s sake” dismissed as “fashionable”…

                …that’s what I’m talking about when I say “This viewpoint is alien to me.”

                I understand that a section of the populace regards the primary function of the incarceration system is there neither to provide direct security (segregating bad actors from the rest of the society) nor rehabilitation (turning bad actors into good actors), but instead retribution.

                I get, intellectually, that people think this way.

                It is still alien to me. I think the moral and ethical calculus (not to mention the practical inaccuracy and impracticality of it all) is… odd.Report

              • Avatar Art Deco says:

                Patrick, my thinking is as follows:

                1. The salient factor to consider in the application of the capital sentence is whether or not a punishment fits the crime.

                2. Secondary factors to consider would be the degree to which it deters and its comparative utility in incapacitating bad actors.

                A really silly reason to unload capital sentencing is that they do not do it in Scandinavia or whatever other locale you all fancy we should imitate. This sort of thing has been characteristic of political discourse for at least 35 years. I see no reason to be deferential to European elite opinion. If you find that ‘alien’, too bad.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                “I understand that a section of the populace regards the primary function of the incarceration system is there neither to provide direct security (segregating bad actors from the rest of the society) nor rehabilitation (turning bad actors into good actors), but instead retribution.”

                I would add that the purpose of retribution, from both an evolutionary and game theory standpoint is to change the payoffs for undesired activities. Retribution is illogical. Substantive threats of retribution are extremely logical. Of course substantive threats require consistent follow through.Report

              • Avatar Patrick says:

                1. The salient factor to consider in the application of the capital sentence is whether or not a punishment fits the crime.

                I have no confidence in the ability of the state to perform this function in capital matters. That’s just me. YMMV.

                2. Secondary factors to consider would be the degree to which it deters and its comparative utility in incapacitating bad actors.

                Those are two different things.

                I think killing Bob because it might make Mike reconsider doing something that Bob did is completely morally bankrupt. Again, that’s just me.

                I think capital punishment has not shown that it is more effective at “incapacitating” bad actors than SuperMAX, but that’s at least arguable, I’ll grant.

                A really silly reason to unload capital sentencing is that they do not do it in Scandinavia or whatever other locale you all fancy we should imitate.

                I think this fundamentally misunderstands the way this argument is often presented. It’s also unnecessarily dismissive of the entire class of arguments that can be built out of the factoid that “the U.S. is a rather notable outlier among Western nations in its approach to capital punishment”… which is convenient if you happen not to want to engage with other versions of the argument.Report

              • Avatar Patrick says:

                @ Roger

                Retribution is illogical.

                Not in the sense that retribution is really important to some people, and those “some people” are part of the body politic with which we’re associated.

                I mean, it’s a democratic reality that I’m in a minority when it comes to my viewpoints on the incarceration state and in a particular minority when it comes to capital punishment. To deny this is a part of the expectation of many for the incarceration system is kind of illogical.

                If the people are not convinced that the legal system is not serving the purpose they think it ought (as embodied by the incarceration system, to a degree) they will reject it. Aligning “what it is” with some delta of “what the people think it ought to be” is thus a necessary activity.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                “the U.S. is a rather notable outlier among Western nations in its approach to capital punishment”

                Insofar as the government reflects how capital punishment polls?

                Because, if I’m not mistaken, mainland Europe supports the death penalty pretty consistently… perhaps (obviously) shallowly, but I believe it does poll well.Report

              • Avatar Art Deco says:

                Retribution is illogical.

                Rubbish.Report

              • Avatar Art Deco says:

                I have no confidence in the ability of the state to perform this function in capital matters. That’s just me. YMMV.

                Then why would you have any confidence in any other matters? The fact finding procedure is the same.Report

              • Avatar Art Deco says:

                which is convenient if you happen not to want to engage with other versions of the argument.

                I do not want to engage because those are silly arguments.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                My point was that retribution properly considered when used effectively as a deterrent is logical. Cutting my sentence that it is illogical out of the rest of the paragraph totally obscured my real point. I guess I could take the bait and argue that it would be illogical except for what I wrote in the rest of my comment, but that would be pretty illogical wouldn’t it?Report

              • Avatar Patrick says:

                Then why would you have any confidence in any other matters? The fact finding procedure is the same.

                The “capital” part is kind of important. If the regulatory state improperly impounds or penalizes someone, it is still theoretically possible to compensate them for it.

                Dead is dead, on the other hand.

                I do not want to engage because those are silly arguments.

                You don’t think there is anything interesting about the fact that the U.S. is an outlier when it comes to both incarceration rates and implementation of capital punishment?

                That’s rather unimaginative of you, I must say.

                @ Roger

                Oh, I wasn’t implying that, sorry if it came across that way.Report

              • Avatar Cletus says:

                @Art Deco – their crime and homicide rates are a fraction of those of the USA and you want to dismiss their arguments as silly? Could you try logically approaching their arguments instead?Report

              • Avatar Art Deco says:

                Cletus,

                It is fairly counterintuitive that our crime rate will go down if Texas stops executing people, or that the absence of capital punishment is a determinant of that importance.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                Meh. I don’t think the action-reaction of murder-death penalty is sufficient (in Texas or elsewhere) to act as much of a deterrent. It does make for some good Ron White jokes, though.

                Of course, I don’t think crime would go down with the abolition of the death penalty, either.Report

              • Avatar George Turner says:

                Europe’s homicide rates were a fraction of the USA’s even when they were using capital punishment. France was guillotining people right up through Jimmy Carter’s presidency. The big push that caused Europe to abandon capital punishment largely came from post-war Germany, not in reaction to the horrors of the Nazis, but in reaction to the allies executing Nazi war criminals, which they though was “victor’s justice.”Report

          • Avatar Art Deco says:

            Your ‘strongly documented evidence’ is a newsletter entry from an organization whose membership has a large component who manipulate people for salaries and fees and who have a vocational interest in promoting their own expertise.Report

            • Avatar Cletus says:

              Be honest. Are you a scientologist?Report

              • Avatar Cletus says:

                I ask because those are the only people I have ever known to describe the American Psychological Association, the standing authority regarding clinical mental health treatment, the governing body for accreditation of Ph.D and Psychology Doctorate programs in the USA, and an organization that works tirelessly to update and research conditions and treatment options, as a group of people “who manipulate people for salaries and fees and who have a vocational interest in promoting their own expertise.”Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Just like the AMA is the same for the doctors who work tirelessly to prevent children from dying of preventable disease?

                Have you bought your latest copy of the DSM? 5-point-oh, baby!Report

  7. Crime and Punishment is one of my favorite books and I can’t wait to read this one now. I am particularly interested in how the criminals justify their often heinous acts. This made it to my reading list, thank you.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. says:

      Oh, hey! The book! Thanks! I love Crime and Punishment too. I keep thinking I should read it with Zola’s book La Bête Humaine, which I’ve heard was intended as a sort of response to Crime and Punishment.Report