Risible Poppycock from the Criminology/Journalism Complex: The Sentencing Project and The Delaware News-Journal

It ought to take more than 25 seconds and two mouse clicks to find evidence that the media and The Sentencing Project are making stuff up.  It ought to, but it does not.

The Sentencing Project is a well-funded, powerful, anti-incarceration advocacy organization.  They pose as a think tank that publishes objective academic research on crime and punishment.

They are people on a mission.  Their mission is to empty the prisons and get murderers and rapists back onto the streets.

They get a lot of help from certain members of the media.  From the Delaware News Journal:

Report questions use of life sentences
Study’s push to abolish terms without parole likely to meet strong resistance in Delaware
BY JAMES MERRIWEATHER • THE NEWS JOURNAL • AUGUST 3, 2009

When researchers for The Sentencing Project started gathering figures for a national study last year, they found that 318 people were ordered to spend the rest of their lives in Delaware prisons.

That’s 8.3 percent of the total prison population, a proportion big enough to give Delaware a fourth-place ranking among the states.

Because of those findings, the organization recommended in its report that the 50 states and federal government abolish life sentences without the possibility of parole.

Not true.  Not even a little bit true.

If 318 people made up 8.3% of Delaware’s prison population, then the total prison population would be 3,831.  According to the Delaware Bureau of Prisons, the adult prison population in Delaware is 5,685.

318 is 5.5% of the current state prison population.

But wait, we’re just getting started!

The total number of offenders currently under some form of state control in Delaware, not counting those in pre-trial and thus not yet convicted, is 24,733.  This number includes convicts on home confinement, restitution-only, probation violation, psychiatric incarceration, prison, probation, parole, and supervised custody.

318 is 1.2% of the total prison population currently under state control.

If you want to compare life sentences to other sentencing outcomes, you have to count all sentencing outcomes, not only the ones that resulted in prison terms that are being served right now.  That is so glaringly obvious, I cannot believe the editors at the Delaware News Journal could overlook it.

But wait, there’s more!

That 24,733 may not even count offenders serving their sentences in local jails, or those convicted of crime but sentenced only to community control of some sort, or convicted but granted suspended sentences.  I don’t know how the state prison/local jail population breaks down in Delaware, but if it is like other states, large percentages of people convicted of crimes don’t ever get sent up to the state system, particularly if they are given one year or less.  On the other hand, Delaware is a very small state, and they may be more centralized.  Maybe, maybe not.

In any case, if you want to compare life sentences to other sentencing outcomes, you have to count all sentencing outcomes, not only the ones that result in state prison terms, right?

But wait, there’s more!

The Sentencing Project number (I can’t bring myself to call it a statistic) does not include juvenile convicts in the system.  If your goal is to show how many convicts receive life sentences for their crimes, there is no justification for leaving out crimes committed by juveniles.

But wait, there’s much more!

The Sentencing Project number only counts the current prison population.  But these 318 people serving life sentences were sentenced over a period of several decades.  So if you want to figure out the real percentage of convictions that resulted in life sentences in Delaware, or anywhere else, you cannot limit your count to people currently in the system.  You have to go back to the date when the first of these lifers was sentenced, and then add up all convictions for all crimes that occurred between that date and now, a number that would be very, very, very high.

How high?  Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that the oldest life sentence among Delaware’s 318 was doled out 30 years ago.  Let’s throw the activists another big bone and say that the tidal wave of crime between 1989 – 1993 never happened, and the conviction rate has remained steady.  The Delaware Department of Corrections reports approximately 20,000 “admissions” into their system last year.  If that number held steady, it would add up, very roughly, to 600,000 state-level incarcerations since 1979, 30 years ago.

Plus unknown numbers more if you actually counted the early 90’s crime wave, and counted the defendants who received sentences that did not place them in the state system at all, and counted the juvenile convictions over that time.

318 is .053% of 600,000.  We all know the real number of convictions is actually much higher.

In fairness to the Sentencing Project, you would have to add in the people who received life sentences during that time and died in prison, so the raw number of lifers would rise above 318.  But that would not really matter: we’re talking about comparing a handful of life sentences to hundreds of thousands — actually millions — of lesser sentences.

Now, let’s get back to the point of the exercise.  From the Delaware News-Journal:

When researchers for The Sentencing Project started gathering figures for a national study last year, they found that 318 people were ordered to spend the rest of their lives in Delaware prisons.  That’s 8.3 percent [not] of the total prison population, a proportion big enough to give Delaware a fourth-place ranking among the states.  Because of those findings, the organization recommended in its report that the 50 states and federal government abolish life sentences without the possibility of parole.

To paraphrase: because of fake findings, we should release first degree murderers by the thousands.  Apparently, the underlying justification is that we are insensitive to them.  According to the authors of the Sentencing Project’s “study,” life-without-parole

“discount[s] the capacity for personal growth and rehabilitation.”

Their proof?  There’s too many of them, based on cooked numbers, not just in Delaware, but everywhere:

Nationally, the organization counted 140,610 inmates — one in every 11 people in prison — serving life sentences. Some 41,095 of those lifers, or 29 percent, were serving sentences of life without parole.

Crunch the national numbers the way I did for Delaware, and that “one in every 11” would be shown up for what it really is: a lie of extraordinary proportions.

But the real issue is this: why would it matter whether 9%, or .05%, or .002% of the current prison population is serving life sentences?  It is a meaningless number.  The only thing that matters is the records of the inmates they are agitating to release.  The Project’s “researchers” do not want to talk about actual crime: for them, crime disappears the moment the offender crosses the prison threshold, leaving only an innocent, oppressed, and misunderstood prisoner in its wake.

Hopefully, legislators in Delaware and elsewhere will call The Sentencing Project on their shameless misrepresentation of the facts.

They obviously can’t count on the media to get it straight.

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1 thought on “Risible Poppycock from the Criminology/Journalism Complex: The Sentencing Project and The Delaware News-Journal”

  1. Thanks for taking a common skill- the abilities to read and do common arithmetic- and applying it to a pile of BS. I’m all for getting innocent people out of jails amd prisons, but why resort to lies and falsehoods? I guess the answer is that you have to be deceitful to do deceitful things.

    I have a record, and from my own time in local jails, my anecdotal experience showed that while all in jail weren’t guilty as charged, none of ’em were innocent, either.

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