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What Is Your Personal “Aggregate Burden of Crime”?

On Tuesday, I wrote about the debate that’s raging over incarcerating convicts or releasing them to “community sentencing” programs of one type or another.  Proponents of community or alternative sentencing argue that we save tax dollars when people convicted of crimes get to stay at home for therapeutic or rehabilitative interventions instead of being removed from the community and sentenced to prison terms. 

However, these anti-incarceration advocates do not count the additional costs that arise whenever a person under “community control” (or a prisoner released early) commits more crime – costs that range from additional police and justice system expenses to the injury, fear, suffering, and financial losses experienced directly by their victims and indirectly by other community members.

A friend in Atlanta describes his own “aggregate burden of crime”  (I have removed some identifying details):

“When I first moved in, and the house was about to fall down, I was burglarized twice, believe it or not.  Looking at the condition of the house, you would have thought, this guy has nothing.  But, they came in twice anyway.  Didn’t take anything, because the boys next door heard them and ran them away.  I wasn’t there.  However, they had everything electronics in my suitcase, ready to go.

I then spent about $1,300 for the installation of the security system, and $28.95 a month for monitoring.  Later on, after I bought the TV, $1,300 for flat screen, which they took, I upgraded the system and cost me another $300 – $400 dollars.  J.W. had to come by and re-install the deadbolts that are keyed on both sides.  I know the argument about flippers on the inside lock (code for the city), but I changed them to keyed on the inside.

He charged me about $250.00 for everything, because he also drilled into the windows, with those metal cylinders to stop the opening of the windows.

Now, my nerves after those next two times of coming into my house almost made me sell the house and move.  But, to where?”

That’s $350 per year for home monitoring, $1,850 for installation of safety devices, and $1300 in losses.  Not to mention the home and auto insurance rates he must pay to live in the inner city, which are substantially higher than elsewhere; the high taxes he must pay to support the police and the courts, and the immutable fact that many offenders already live on the public dime, in subsidized housing with subsidized food and subsidized healthcare, all paid by the same people they victimize. 

And what cost do you put on peace of mind, after being broken into four times?

Those are the direct costs incurred by one victim who is surely not the only victim targeted by the offenders who broke into his house.  Does anyone break into only one stranger’s home?  This is not Les Misérables: they are not stealing bread to feed a starving child.  It is a lifestyle, one that simultaneously destroys the lifestyles of decent, compassionate, hard-working people like my friend. 

***

Criminologists in America do calculate the “aggregate burden of crime” here, but these statistics (see here, here, and here) never make it into public debates or newspaper articles.  Why not?  Why is the debate about incarceration versus “community sentencing,” or “three strikes laws,” or other crime-stopping initiatives carried out without any acknowledgement of the financial burdens communities face when offenders are not incarcerated? 

In contrast, in Britain and Wales, the “Economic and Social Costs of Crime Against Individuals and Households” statistics have been part of the public debate about crime policy for several years.  Here are the official 2003/2004 numbers.  Costs counted include: physical and emotional impact on direct victims, value of property stolen, property damaged/destroyed, victim services, lost output (significant for murders), health services, criminal justice costs, and costs in anticipation of crime.

Rather than relying on the Pew Center Report, which deceptively promises vast savings every time a convict doesn’t go to prison, it’s time for American journalists to begin seeking out better data on recidivism, crime costs, and the actual effectiveness and expenses arising from drug courts, other community sentencing programs, and judges’ decisions to simply let offenders go without punishment.

The Pew Center Study, Repeat Offenders, and the Real Price of Crime

From The Tennessean

Cons commit crimes after early release

Sentencing guidelines enable repeat offenders

A college student is kidnapped, brutalized and murdered. A mother looks up from changing her baby’s diaper to find a gun pointing in her face. A 62-year-old man is bludgeoned with a baseball bat in a mall parking lot.

The crimes share one trait, aside from their brutality. In each case, the person charged with the offense was an ex-convict, out on probation or parole — a situation Tennessee prosecutors and law enforcement leaders say is all too common because of how the state sentences its convicted criminals. . . .

Amanda Sue Kelley, 19, was arrested seven times last year on charges that ranged from drug possession to domestic assault and theft. In January, police say, she wrenched open the door of a parked car, pointed a gun at a woman changing her 13-month-old daughter’s diaper in the back seat, and demanded cash. . . .

It costs about $63.90 a day to keep someone behind bars in Tennessee. A day monitoring someone’s probation or parole costs $2.95.

“We really need to do a better job of sorting our offenders by risk,” said Adam Gelb, director of the Pew Center on the States’ Public Safety Performance Project. “This is less and less an issue of being tough on crime or soft on crime and more an issue of giving the taxpayers a better return on their dollars.” 

The Pew Center study, “One in One Hundred,” has attracted a lot of attention — but less obvious is the Center’s ideological anti-incarceration bias.  The Center did not include what is known as the “Aggregate Burden of Crime” in its analysis of the price of incarceration versus the price of community sentencing.  The aggregate burden of crime, which measures the total economic effect of crime on victims, communities and the offender, offers a picture of the real cost of incarcerating convicts versus letting them go free — not a one-line argument comparing the day-to-day cost of probation to the day-to-day cost of incarceration.

There is no excuse for excluding the other costs that inevitably arise when people who should be in prison commit additional crimes — unless the study is simply designed to sway public opinion towards letting convicts back on the streets.  

In 1996, the Department of Justice issued a far more comprehensive, less ideological study called “Victim Costs and Consequences: A New Look”  which placed the cost of crime for victims at $450 billion dollars per year.  And in 1999, Professor David A. Anderson published another study, titled “The Aggregate Burden of Crime,” which placed the annual cost of crime at 1.7 trillion dollars a year.  Here is a description of his study:

Anderson takes into account all costs which would not exist in an ideal society totally free of crime. That includes the cost of private preventative measures such as locks, safety lighting, alarm systems, fencing and private security guards. In addition it calculates the cost of crime-related injuries and deaths, including medical care, lost workdays, pain, and fear, and the opportunity costs of time spent preventing, carrying out and serving prison terms for criminal activity. Finally, it mentions a $28 billion decrease in property values of real estate and buildings that are cheaper than similar facilities because they are located in high-crime areas. The costs associated with living in the suburbs to avoid crime in the city center are also discussed, since there are significant costs for activities such as commuting and parking. 

If the Pew Center had really intended to quantify the difference in cost between incarcerating offenders and releasing them to the community, they would have had to first figure out the number of crimes committed each year by offenders who could have been sentenced to prison, or kept there without parole, but who were instead released to commit more crime.  Then they would have had to plug in the price of this additional victimization.  Absent that, they are operating on the assumption that no parolees or probationers ever commit crimes.  

Victim and community expenses appear nowhere in the Pew Center report.  When you focus narrowly on the price differential between daily incarceration expenses and parole/community control expenses, you are intentionally excluding the bulk of expenses born by innocent people — victims, bystanders, and neighborhoods — who have been impacted by illegal activities.  That’s not just bad public policy: it’s dishonest public policy.

The Case of the Missing Zero or 785 Officers

WHAT a difference a month makes. Or does it?

A few short weeks ago, Atlanta Police Chief Richard Pennington and Mayor Shirley Franklin were working overtime to insist that residents’ concerns over crime were overblown. “The city is safer now than it has been in decades,” the Mayor callously announced when the brutal murder of bartender John Henderson mobilized residents to demand more police on the streets.

In another scolding published in the wake of that crime, Chief Pennington insisted that, “we have enough resources to deal with it,” “it” meaning crime (making him possibly the first Chief of Police in half a century to make such a claim). He suggested that citizens were simply “perceiving” crime more intensely now that the Internet enabled people to tell each other about crimes that were occurring in different parts of the city.

OOPS. The Internet certainly did that. It also enabled residents to compare notes on what they were seeing on the streets versus what the police department was posting on its website. It allowed them to ponder the often-craven ways the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Creative Loafing work with the Mayor to dismiss concerns about home invasions, like the schmaltzy two-step in which the AJC published a highly selective study of crime statistics one Sunday and Mayor Franklin, a mere four days later, published an editorial in the paper praising the study and using it to bludgeon residents’ concerns about home invasions.

The Internet interrupted this closed-loop system so abruptly that officials and reporters are now scrambling in its wake. Fourteen days after Chief Pennington told reporter Tim Eberly that the Atlanta Police Department didn’t need more resources to keep the city from “becoming less safe,” and one day after the AJC published its “study” showing select crimes in certain places were down, and three days before the mayor thanked the paper for showing the protesters that the city didn’t need more police officers, the AJC wedged in another article reporting that Chief Pennington also said “the city will soon need 2,400 officers.”

That is 785 more officers than the current number, 1,615. Or, to put it another way, a 48% increase in the number of police on the streets.

So according to Chief Pennington, Atlanta either has enough police on the streets right now to combat crime, or it needs to increase the size of its force by 48%. “Soon.”

PERHAPS in order to back away from this absurd and bizarre game of numbers, Pennington has now announced the formation of a task force to investigate burglaries of flat-screen televisions. Or perhaps he is really reaching out to the public.

(Shirley Franklin, who cannot run for mayor again and already has one foot out the door and firmly planted, no doubt, in some half dozen lucrative consulting contracts, doesn’t need to come up with plans to fight crime anymore and has thus said nothing.)

I sincerely applaud any effort Chief Pennington is willing to make to do something about burglary, or any other crime. And I personally think that most of the problem of not addressing criminal behavior lies with the courts, not in the police department. But there’s an element of minimizing the truly threatening nature of these home invasions by creating a “task force to investigate the burglaries of flat-screen televisions.” Why not a task force to investigate the invasions of homes?

This minimizing of crime is not incidental: it is of a piece with everything else that has been said to the citizens of Atlanta, and especially to crime victims and activists, by the Mayor and the Chief of Police since John Henderson was murdered.

So before anyone is permitted to shift the conversation to using DNA to protect television ownership, I think Chief Pennington needs to change the tone of the conversation itself. There needs to be unambiguous acknowledgment of the real problem. It’s not about “property”: it’s about the real danger created by numbly sociopathic or drug-crazed criminals who are kicking in the doors of people’s homes. It’s about never feeling safe because you know there are criminals stalking your neighborhood, waiting for you to leave for work in the morning, and wondering if your wife is going to be safe at home after the car’s not in the driveway at 9:05 a.m.

Chief Pennington needs to acknowledge this instead of playing it down by talking about property theft, even if that’s what the Mayor and many (not all) journalists seem to be trying to do.

I’M certain there are things I don’t know about Pennington, but he did have a reputation as a reformer, someone who did a great deal to clean up the force in New Orleans. I want to believe that he really wants 2,400 cops on the streets and that he believes that every home invasion (home invasion necessarily precedes ripping the flat-screen from the wall) is an intense, personal, violent crime.

Behind statistics there are always intentions. NYPD Chief William Bratton intended to lower crime, so he used crime statistics to solve crimes, not to deny their existence in the newspaper.

Bratton didn’t lecture people about the difference between “violent” and “non-violent” home break-ins or the “victimless” nature of turn-style jumping: he instituted CompStat, which, if you think about it, works precisely because it got the police thinking about property crimes as potential predictors of future violent crime.

Exactly the opposite is happening in Atlanta. But it’s not too late for Pennington to turn that message around.

Getting Away with Crime, Circa 1970

(I will get to “Recommendations for the Courts” later in the week.)

Events are moving quickly for activists in Atlanta, a place where a weird confluence of crime, organizing against crime, and Internet connections have torn away the media curtain that ordinarily hangs between the public and public individuals’ experiences of crime and the courts — revealing the abject failure of those courts and our top elected officials to act on public safety.

At this odd moment, I want to offer a little historical perspective on the phenomenon of getting away with crime.

In 1968, President Lyndon Johnson responded to exploding crime rates in America’s cities by founding the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Crime.  Like many efforts of its time, the Commission was heavy on seeking psycho-social “root causes” for criminality.  Howard Zinn weighed in on how the “Pigs” should be in prison and the prisoners should roam the streets.  And so on.

But those were more civilized days among the elite, which of course included Howard Zinn, his demurral notwithstanding.  So the Commission’s report to the President offered a wide range of ideological views on the subject of crime, something that rarely happens in academic conferences today.

Milton S. Eisenhower was one of those old guys whose yellowing Brillo creamed black-and-white visages still stare out at us from office lobbies everywhere.  He was, in two words, widely respected.  He was the head of Johnson’s crime Commission, and the former President of Johns Hopkins University, and a member of UNESCO, and lots of other things.  Here is what Milton S. Eisenhower said to the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Crime in 1970:

We live in an urban society.  We live in an affluent society.  And we live in a society that is violent.  In the convergence of those three characteristics lies a central problem for America in the 1970’s.

The best estimate of the number of serious crimes committed in the United States each year is 10 million, of which more than 1.2 Million are violent crimes: homicides, aggravated assaults, forcible rapes, and robberies.  According to another estimate, more than 1 out of 100 Americans commits a major violent crime in any one year.

There remains one very obvious reason for mounting crime in our society: the increasing failure of law enforcement agencies to cope with it.  Comsider the grim statistics.  Probably 10 million serious crimes were committed in the United States last year.  About half of those crimes were never reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  Only 12 percent of those 10 million crimes resulted in the arrest of anyone.  Only 6 percent resulted in the conviction of anyone, and this 6 percent included many pleas to lesser offenses.  Only 1 1/2 percent resulted in the incarceration of anyone.  And of those who were incarcerated, most will return to prison another time for additional offenses.  As Lloyd Cutler, eminent lawyer and executive director of the Violence Commission, remarked on these statistics: ‘It would hard to argue that crime does not pay.  The sad fact is that our criminal justice system, as presently operated, does not deter, does not detect, does not convict, and does not correct.’

Violence: The Crisis of American Confidence, ed. Hugh Davis Graham (Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore, 1971)

In 1970, our nation’s best minds across the political spectrum agreed that fewer than 2% of those who commit a serious crime even served time for it.  That was forty years ago, and it hasn’t changed much.