Science, Evidence-Based Principles, Donald Trump And Crime Control

Observations

Does everyone in the criminological community religiously adhere to scientific, evidence-based principals before suggesting or implementing policy?

What we want and what we can prove are two different things. That applies to Donald Trump. It also applies to the rest of us.

Just as every cop is a criminal, and all the sinners saints-The Rolling Stones.

Author

By Leonard A. Sipes, Jr.

Thirty-five years of supervising public affairs for national and state criminal justice agencies. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse. Former Director of Information Management for the National Crime Prevention Council. Post-Master’s Certificate-Johns Hopkins University.

Editorial

There is a question from the criminological community as to whether the Trump administration will pursue scientific principals via crime policy, see Washington Post article below.

Some believe that criminal justice topics are mostly ruled by politics and personal philosophies, and that many in the criminological community are just as susceptible to nonscientific beliefs as anyone else.

The following is opinion based on close to fifty years of state and national criminal justice involvement, and a life-long passion and respect for criminological literature.

Washington Post

Tom Jackman of the Washington Post’s “True Crime” blog offered a letter from former presidents of the American Society of Criminology to the President and the Attorney General entitled, “Keep Science in the Department of Justice.”

Concepts such as evidence-based crime policy and reliable crime data took great leaps forward in the Justice Department during the Obama administration, with the idea being that scientific evaluation of how America’s police do their jobs might actually reduce crime and improve officer safety. But a group of top criminologists from across the country is worried that science may take a backseat in the Trump administration’s Justice Department.

The article and link are below.

Science in the Eye of the Beholder

After decades in the justice system, I have found that “science” is in the eye of the beholder. Some express an allegiance to evidence-based principals while cherry picking data to support incorrect conclusions.

Some in criminology seem to have preferences (prejudices?) that are “different” than those of us occupying line and management positions in criminal justice agencies.

I would also contend that some criminological thought is different from the majority of Americans as to holding offenders accountable for their actions.

I’ll provide examples and let the reader decide if a strict adherence to scientific principals is truly a hallmark of most in the criminological community. If the Trump administration chooses a direction (i.e., Project Exile), is that path any less valid than other approaches?

Are “science” and evidence-based principals so firmly established that we have a precise, obvious, empirically based course of action as to crime policy?

Incarceration

There are criminologists wouldn’t give credit to incarceration for decades of crime reductions if the lives of their children depended on it, yet imprisonment levels remain high. Either the criminological community cannot convince, or they are out of step with the American public.

Crime is at Record Lows

Data from the Department of Justice (crime reported to police via the FBI-National Crime Survey) tell us that there has been an almost continuous decrease in crime for the last twenty years, with increases in violent crime in 2015 and the first six months of 2016.

But you can’t say that there are increases in violent crime without concurrently insisting that our current crime levels are at historic lows. Some criminologists suggest that we have never lived in safer times.

Crime continues to be an immense concern for Americans; fear of crime is at a 15 year high per Gallup, gun sales are going through the roof. Home security sales are increasing. Crime is a top item in local news coverage. Gallup states that crime (per their methodology) is at record highs. See Gallup Says Crime and Fear Are Up.

Insisting that crime is at historical lows (which is correct) when multiple American citizens and cities are greatly suffering is like suggesting that a violent crime victim has no right to complain about their trauma because they have never lived in safer times.

Rehabilitation Programs

There are criminologists who fervently believe in rehabilitation programs when the track record as to effectiveness is less than stellar. When they work (some don’t) the result is generally a less than ten percent reduction in recidivism. If you had cancer, and the operation removed ten percent, would you consider the result a success?

We concurrently promote the use of risk and need instruments to predict future criminality as the cornerstone of programmatic efforts, but I am unaware (after years of asking) of data indicating that risk instruments are any better than flipping a coin.

Law Enforcement

Like the rest of us, criminologists desperately want cops to be all things to all people, and to do it without bias. They want cops to be “guardians” and not “warriors.”

Yet when there is a school shooting or an act of terrorism or a mass shooting, we want officers to have the training, weapons, armored vehicles and military skill to end the situation with as little loss of life as possible. The same military precision is a must for handling warrant service for a violent offender, a horrible accident or conducting a rescue.

Policing will always involve a very complex array of paramilitary skills. Cops will forever be warriors when warranted. Being a guardian is desired, but when the bad guys are holding our family members hostage, you want skilled, precision combatants.

But we can’t even agree as to the value of policing. There are two things that we know, the vale of cops and crime control is proven when they are absent, and that crime rose recently in cities where cops stopped being aggressive (effectively absent).

But some criminologists fervently believe that there is no connection to “cops holding back” and the recent increases in crime in cities throughout the country.

There Are Few Impartial Sources

There are hundreds of websites addressing criminal justice issues, but there are a handful providing objective data or opinions. The vast majority claim to be impartial and bipartisan; they are not.

Even Department of Justice websites (particularly those funded externally) will reflect the values of current or past occupants of the White House.

Reasons for Crime

No one can explain to anyone’s complete satisfaction why crime goes up or down. It’s not the economy (crime seems to increase, not decrease, in good markets).

I live in the Appalachian Mountains where average household wages are below the national average; there is poverty, drug use and tons of guns, but stranger-to-stranger violent crime is very low.

Employment doesn’t have a direct correlation to reduced illegal activities. We simply don’t know why crime goes up or down.

But I have talked at length with criminologists who provide definitive reasons. They insist that there is a clear, evidence-based approach to crime control. There isn’t.

Guns

There are criminologists who strongly believe in gun control. There are over 350 million firearms in the United States per the Washington Post. If you prohibited all firearms, it would take a lifetime for the ban to have any effect.

Per the National Crime Survey and the FBI’s National Incident-Based Reporting System, the overwhelming number of crimes does not involve firearms. Beyond expansion of background checks to gun shows or auctions (you could equip a small army at an auction), you are on shaky ground with many Americans.

Substance Abuse:

Some criminologists will tell you that substance abuse should be treated as a public health problem without having a clue as to what that means, or what it would cost.

We currently treat very few people who need it. Expanding treatment to everyone would require massive expenditures and, quite simply, we don’t have the personnel to do it. The United States will never have the money to provide customized drug and mental health treatment to everyone.

My Hypocrisy

My hypocrisy is that I believe in many of the things I just criticized some in the criminological community for. I believe in rehabilitation programs. The only alternative beyond programs and sentencing reform is mass incarceration. States simply cannot afford to continue their current rates of incarceration

I believe that every prison inmate and everyone on parole and probation supervision should have access to an array of programs to address their needs.

I want cops to be guardians; I want them to be friends with the community. I want drug and mental health treatment. I want less incarceration. I support sentencing reform.

The difference between me and some in the criminological community is that I will not cherry pick evidence-based reasons and research to implement those policies.

What we want and what we can prove are two different things. That applies to Donald Trump. It also applies to the rest of us.

True Crime Blog

Criminologists urge Trump administration not to cut science from crime policy

By Tom Jackman March 23

John H. Laub, criminology professor at the University of Maryland and co-author of a letter to the Trump Administration by the former presidents of the American Society of Criminology. (University of Maryland)

Concepts such as evidence-based crime policy and reliable crime data took great leaps forward in the Justice Department during the Obama administration, with the idea being that scientific evaluation of how America’s police do their jobs might actually reduce crime and improve officer safety. But a group of top criminologists from across the country is worried that science may take a backseat in the Trump administration’s Justice Department.

So 25 former presidents of the American Society of Criminology have drafted a letter to the president and the attorney general entitled “Keep Science in the Department of Justice.” The co-authors, John Laub of the University of Maryland and Richard Rosenfeld of the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said they hoped that politics didn’t intrude on the science-based approach that the National Institute of Justice and the Bureau of Justice Statistics has fostered in recent years, while both agencies await the appointment of new directors by the president.

Laub, who headed the National Institute of Justice from 2010 to 2013, said that “as the first NIJ Director in its 40-year history that possessed a Ph.D, in criminology I wanted to write the piece to ensure that DOJ does not slip backwards and continues to use science and evidence with respect to policies regarding crime and justice.”

Rosenfeld said, “What we’re trying to do is institutionalize a scientific ethos in the Justice Department, which traditionally has been run, reasonably enough, by a lawyers’ culture. The NIJ and the Bureau of Justice Statistics are very very important agencies and we want to make sure they remain scientific agencies, not politicized.” He noted that the Justice Department created a Science Advisory Board in 2010 to assess the effectiveness of policing programs, much of which can be seen at crimesolutions.gov, and that with new Attorney General Jeff Sessions expressing concern about the uptick in violent crime in American cities, evaluating the best programs to fight crime should be a valued approach.

Washington Post

 

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Comments

  1. Project Orange Jumpsuit’s cohort study reveals effects of wealth-based detention on disparities in bail & disposition outcome. Explains massive incarceration of indigent–people of color.
    Gerald R. Wheeler Ph.D.