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Chapter 1: Superpredators and other Myths about Juvenile Delinquency
by James C. Howell
In: Preventing and Reducing Juvenile Delinquency: A Comprehensive Framework
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9781452274980.n1
1992

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CHAPTER 1: Superpredators and Other Myths About Juvenile Delinquency

The juvenile justice field is littered with myths, for no apparent reason. This chapter explores key myths that have been promoted recently. First, what is a myth? Bernard (1992) describes myths as “beliefs about the past that are strongly held and convenient to believe but are based on little actual information. Myths are not necessarily false—people generally just don’t know or care whether they are true or false. They hold the belief because it is convenient to do so” (p. 11) (“In Focus” Box 1.1).We begin this chapter by focusing on the most bizarre myth ever perpetrated about juvenile delinquency—the “superpredator”—after which other popular myths are discussed.

IN FOCUS 1.1: Myths About Juvenile Delinquency

The following are some common myths about juvenile delinquency (Bernard, 1992, p. 12):

• The myth of progress: Delinquency in the past was much more serious than it is today. Few people believe this myth; rather, they fear that if they let their guard down, delinquency will get worse.

• The myth that nothing changes: Delinquency in the past was about the same as it is today. More people believe this myth than believe the first one. It is supported by the view that delinquency is part and parcel of human nature—“boys will be boys.”

• The myth of the good old days: Delinquency in the past was much less serious than it is today. More people probably believe this myth than believe the first and second ones combined. This myth is true some of the time and false at other times. The view that delinquency was better controlled at one time implies that simple solutions (quick fixes) should solve the problems associated with juvenile delinquency today.


The Juvenile Superpredator Myth

A professor of politics and public affairs on the political science faculty at Princeton University, John DiIulio, created and popularized the superpredator concept. He coined the term superpredator (1995b) to call public attention to what he characterized as a “new breed” of offenders, “kids that have absolutely no respect for human life and no sense of the future. . . . These are stone-cold predators!” (p. 23). Elsewhere, DiIulio and co-authors have described these young people as “fatherless, Godless, and jobless” and as “radically impulsive, brutally remorseless youngsters, including ever more teenage boys, who murder, assault, rob, burglarize, deal deadly drugs, join gun-toting gangs, and create serious disorders” (Bennett, DiIulio, & Walters, 1996, p. 27).

The superpredator myth gained further popularity when it was linked to forecasts by James Q. Wilson and John DiIulio of increased levels of juvenile violence. Wilson (1995) asserted that “by the end of [the past] decade [i.e., by 2000] there will be a million more people between the ages of 14 and 17 than there are now. . . . Six percent of them will become high rate, repeat offenders—thirty thousand more young muggers, killers and thieves than we have now. Get ready” (p. 507). DiIulio (1995a, p. 15) made the same prediction. Media portrayals of juvenile superpredators have created the impression that juveniles are most likely to be armed—heavily armed—and to use guns in attacks.

A year later, DiIulio (1996a) pushed the horizon back 10 years and raised the ante, projecting that “by the year 2010, there will be approximately 270,000 more juvenile super-predators on the streets than there were in 1990” (p. 1). DiIulio based his projection of 270,000 on two factors. First, he assumed that the 6% figure that the Philadelphia Birth Cohort Study found in relation to Philadelphia boys who were chronic offenders in the 1960s would remain constant. Second, he factored this figure in with projections of the growth of the juvenile population made by the U.S. Bureau of the Census. According to these projections, the ages 0–17 population group in the United States was expected to grow by 14% (4.5 million) between 1996 and 2010 (Box 1.2).


DiIulio (1996b) warned that juvenile superpredators would be “flooding the nation’s streets,” coming “at us in waves over the next 20 years. . . . Time is running out” (p. 25). He also used inflammatory language, warning, “We must therefore be prepared to contain the [‘crime bomb’] explosion’s force and limit its damage” (DiIulio, 1995a, p. 15). However, he expressed hopelessness, saying, “This crime bomb probably cannot be defused,” and asserting that the superpredators would be here within 5 years (i.e., by the year 2000) (p. 15). They never arrived.

Two other criminologists contributed to DiIulio’s exaggeration. Speaking at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Fox warned of a “bloodbath” of teen violence (quoted in Associated Press, 1996). He also warned elsewhere of a juvenile “crime wave storm” (Fox, 1996a). In a report to the U.S. attorney general, Fox (1996b) said, “Our nation faces a future juvenile violence problem that may make today’s epidemic pale in comparison” (p. 3). He called attention in particular to the projected growth in the black teenage population (ages 14–17), which would increase 26% by 2005. He also issued a warning: “There is, however, still time to stem the tide, and to avert the coming wave of teen violence. But time is of the essence” (p. i).


Blumstein’s (1995a, 1995b, 1996) analysis showed that the homicide rates among juveniles, the numbers of gun homicides, and the arrest rates of nonwhite juveniles for drug offenses all doubled in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and he tied these three findings together around the “crack cocaine epidemic” of that era (Campbell & Reeves, 1994; Hartman & Golub, 1999). Blumstein contended that youngsters who joined the illicit drug industry felt it necessary to carry guns for self-protection from other armed juvenile drug sellers, and that the spread of guns among adolescents and young adults led to violent crimes and growth in the homicide rate among these age groups. It is interesting to note that in Canada, juvenile homicide rates increased sharply in the mid- to late 1980s without the presence of any crack cocaine epidemic (Hagan & Foster, 2000). Blumstein also feared that the youth violence epidemic would continue with the growth of the young population and warned that “children who are now younger (about ages 5 to 15) represent the future problem” (Blumstein, 1996, p. 2; see also Blumstein & Rosenfeld, 1999, pp. 161–162).

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[Baby Born Addicted to Crack] DA-DA!
[Da-Da] CIA


Already, people associated with the case were beginning to die in what amounted to a reign of terror among young people in Alexander, Arkansas.

Keith Coney, who told his mother he knew too much about the railway deaths and feared for his life, died in a motorcycle accident after a high-speed chase. Coney had been with the two boys a few hours before their deaths. Linda Ives now believes that they met up again at the tracks. "I'm sure now that there were three of them out there, at least, and he was one who got away," she said. [18]

Boonie Bearden, a friend of the boys, disappeared. His body was never found.

Jeff Rhodes, another friend, was killed with a gunshot to the head in April 1989.

And on it went. The killing fields.

There had always been rumors that the railway tracks were a drop-zone for drugs. It was assumed the deliveries were coming by train. But in June 1990 the undercover officers of Jean Duffey's Seventh Judicial District task force stumbled on evidence of a much bigger trafficking operation involving aerial drops. [19]

Aircraft with no lights were observed flying very low over the tracks at night. One informant staked out the area and observed a twin engine plane coming in at approximately 3:00 AM at least once a week. "It would fly in extremely low over the field, reduce speed, before throttling up again. By the field is a children's colony [20] that is lit up each night like a 'Christmas Tree.' That was the 'beacon.'"
[21]

-- The Secret Life of Bill Clinton: The Unreported Stories, by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard


Where Did the Superpredators Go?

The short answer is that the large cadre of superpredators that DiIulio described never existed, and the growth of this mythical group never happened. Several researchers have debunked the superpredator myth and doomsday projections (Howell, 1998c; Males, 1996; Snyder, 1998; Snyder & Sickmund, 2000; Zimring, 1998a). The illogical nature of DiIulio’s projection is readily apparent. He assumed that 6% of babies and children as well as juveniles would be chronic offenders (see Zimring, 1996). If we were to apply the 6% figure to the 1996 population under age 18, according to DiIulio’s analysis, there already were 1.9 million superpredator juvenile offenders in the United States. This number is larger than the total number of children and adolescents referred to juvenile courts each year. Wilson and DiIulio were guilty of other errors in logic (see Zimring, 1998a, pp. 61–65).

In addition, DiIulio and Wilson apparently were not aware that the majority of the 6% “chronic” offenders in the Philadelphia Birth Cohort Study were never arrested for a serious violent crime (Weitekamp, Kerner, Schindler, & Schubert, 1995). The 6% figure was based on police contacts, not actual arrests. In fact, only one-third of the police contacts resulted in an arrest, and only half of this group’s police contacts resulted in a court adjudication of delinquency (Bernard & Ritti, 1991). This oversight exaggerated further the potential dangerousness of future juvenile offenders.

DiIulio, Fox, and Wilson also made the mistake of assuming a direct correlation between population size and crime rates. As Cook and Laub (1998) have shown, the size of the juvenile population “is of little help in predicting violence rates” (p. 59). In fact, they found a negative relationship between the size of the juvenile population and the number of homicides in the late 1980s and early 1990s. That is, the high juvenile homicide rates of this period occurred when the size of the adolescent population was low.
Juvenile homicides and other violent crimes are decreasing, while the size of the juvenile population is increasing. In fact, the end of the period covered in the doomsday projections (1995–2010) of waves of juvenile violence is near, and juvenile violence decreased from 1994 to 2005 (Butts & Snyder, 2006; Snyder & Sickmund, 2006). For a decade (through 2004), juvenile Violent Crime Index offenses decreased, proving that DiIulio, Wilson, and Fox were seriously wrong in their forecasts (Butts & Snyder, 2006; Butts & Travis, 2002). Specifically, between 1994 and 2004, the juvenile arrest rate for Violent Crime Index offenses fell 49% (Snyder, 2006). As a result, the juvenile Violent Crime Index arrest rate in 2004 was at its lowest level since at least 1980. From its peak in 1993 to 2004, the juvenile arrest rate for murder fell 77% (Snyder, 2006).

Forecasting juvenile delinquency rates—and adult crime rates, for that matter—is risky business. As McCord, Widom, and Crowell (2001) note, criminologists’ capacity to forecast crime rates is very limited, and “errors in forecasts over even relatively short periods of two to three years, let alone for a decade or more, are very large” (p. 65). When observers attempt to make such forecasts, they should be careful to include both warnings about the inherent inaccuracy of projected estimates in this area and cautions about the limited appropriate use of such estimates. In addition, juvenile justice policy makers should guard against giving much credence to forecasts made by reputed “experts” from outside the field of juvenile justice who are unfamiliar with the implications of using arrest data to measure juvenile delinquency. Uncritical acceptance of juvenile arrest data is a common problem in the juvenile justice field (Elliott, 1995, 2000).

Despite these problems with DiIulio’s, Wilson’s, Blumstein’s, and Fox’s doomsday forecasts, they were taken seriously for a number of years. Some research was even sponsored to interview young people to see how they were managing in everyday life to cope with the presumed pervasive violence (Irwin, 2004). Not surprisingly, they were managing just fine. The two images foremost in these forecasts, of “superpredators” and a growing “crime bomb,” were powerful, and they played well in the broadcast media and with politicians who wanted to appear tough on juvenile crime. Several popular magazines featured stories on the predicted crime wave, and many depicted on their covers young black thugs—often gang members—holding handguns. Stories that played to readers’ fears were common (e.g., Gest & Pope, 1996). Articles spoke of “baby-faced criminals” (Lyons, 1997). Fear of young people grew in the public’s mind (Soler, 2001). In a national survey of parents conducted in 2000, one-third of those responding said that the threat of violence affecting their own children was a major concern (Villalva, 2000).

Studies gradually discredited the doomsday forecasts of growing numbers of superpredators, and research on juvenile offender careers proved pivotal. Snyder (1998) conducted an analysis of juvenile court referrals in Maricopa County, Arizona (the county that includes Phoenix and other, smaller cities), that produced the first empirical description of the parameters that distinguish serious, violent, and chronic juvenile offenders. There is a standing policy in Maricopa County that all youth arrested must be referred to juvenile court for screening. Therefore, the court records in that county provide complete histories of all youthful offenders’ official contacts with the juvenile justice system (Snyder & Sickmund, 1999, p. 80).

Figure 1.1 illustrates the overlap of the three delinquent offender subgroups. The entire circle in the figure represents all individuals in 16 birth cohorts who were referred to juvenile courts from ages 10 through 17. Snyder (1998) found that almost two-thirds (64%) of juvenile court careers were nonchronic (fewer than four referrals) and did not include any serious or violent offenses. These offender careers are shown in the clear outer circle of Figure 1.1. Conversely, just over one-third (36%) of the delinquent careers contained serious, violent, or chronic offense histories. Nearly 18% of all careers contained serious nonviolent referrals and were nonchronic, 8% of all careers contained violent referrals but were not chronic, and slightly more than 3% of all offender careers were chronic and included serious and violent offenses. (Note that it is inappropriate to total these percentages because an individual offender can be represented in more than one career.)

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Figure 1.1 Overlap of Serious, Violent, and Chronic Offender Careers

In sum, about 18% of all careers included serious (but nonviolent) offenses, just 8% included violent offenses, and only 3% of the careers were serious, violent, and chronic. These are far smaller proportions among all delinquents than DiIulio imagined. Even given the overlap of the career types, less than a third (29%) of the chronic offenders were also violent offenders, only about a third (35%) of the serious offenders were also chronic offenders, and about half (53%) of the violent offenders were also chronic offenders.

Other Myths About Juvenile Delinquency

Myth 1: A juvenile violence epidemic occurred in the late 1980s and early 1990s.


This is a questionable assertion. Public health scientists use the word epidemic to refer to particular health problems that affect numbers of the population above expected levels, but they do not specify what constitutes an “epidemic level.” The evidence does not necessarily support the conclusion that there was an epidemic of overall juvenile violence in the late 1980s and early 1990s; only the increase in homicides might be considered to have reached such a level. At the height of the so-called “juvenile violence epidemic” (in 1993), “only about 6% of all juvenile arrests were for violent crimes and less than one-tenth of one percent of their arrests were for homicides” (McCord et al., 2001, p. 33).

It can properly be said that a gun homicide epidemic occurred in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and juveniles were a part of this. From 1984 through 1993, the number of juveniles killed with firearms tripled, and the number of nonfirearm homicides remained nearly constant. However, the gun homicide epidemic was by no means limited to juveniles; the biggest absolute change was for young adults (Butts et al., 2002; Cook & Laub, 1998, p. 60).

The availability of guns was the predominant factor. From 1973 through 1994, the number of guns in private ownership in the United States rose by 87 million (Malcolm, 2002), to an estimated 200 million (Reich, Culross, & Behrman, 2002). The growing number of privately owned guns continued into the new millennium, and the latest estimate is 258 million privately owned firearms, of which 93 million are handguns (Wellford, Pepper, & Petrie, 2005). Approximately 4.5 million new (i.e., not previously owned) firearms are sold each year in the United States, including 2 million handguns (Hahn et al., 2005). The estimated total number of firearms transactions ranges from 7 to 9.5 million per year, of which between 47% and 64% are new firearms.

It can also be said that a gun suicide epidemic occurred in the 1980s and early 1990s. Just as gun homicides increased, so did gun suicides. Surprisingly, for each young person murdered, another commits suicide (Snyder & Sickmund, 1999). The rate of adolescent suicides involving firearms increased 39% from 1980 through 1994, whereas the rate of suicides not involving firearms remained nearly unchanged during this period (Snyder & Sickmund, 1999). More than 20,000 juveniles committed suicide between 1981 and 1998, almost as many as were victims of homicide during the same period (Snyder & Swahn, 2004). During this period, white juveniles ages 13–17 were more likely to kill themselves than to be killed by others. Thus it would be accurate to say that an adolescent gun suicide epidemic occurred at the same time as the adolescent gun homicide epidemic, particularly among young black males. Any explanation for the increase in adolescent gun homicides in the late 1980s and early 1990s must also account for the increase in adolescent gun suicides during that period. The emergence of “superpredators” is not a plausible explanation for both phenomena. Rather, the increased availability of guns and gang growth both occurred then (see Chapter 6).

Myth 2: Juveniles frequently carry guns and traffic in them.

The increase in juvenile and young adult homicides from the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s prompted the U.S. Department of the Treasury to launch the Youth Crime Gun Interdiction Initiative (YCGII), which gathered valuable information on the ages of illegal gun carriers. Under the YCGII, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in the Department of the Treasury supported 27 cities in developing systems that would allow them to trace all recovered crime guns. Surprisingly, nearly 9 out of 10 of the illegal guns recovered by police in the 27 cities in 1997–1998 were in the hands of adults (ages 18 and older); only 11% were recovered from juveniles (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, 1999). Nearly three times more recovered guns (32%) were in the hands of young adults, ages 18–24, than were in the hands of juveniles. Since then, federal gun interdiction initiatives have focused mainly on young adults.

Myth 3: Juvenile violence is the top crime problem in the United States.

Actually, adult violence is our nation’s top crime problem. FBI data show that juveniles accounted for only 5% of the murders and only 12% of all serious violent crimes in the United States cleared by arrests in 2004 (Snyder, 2006). These figures are far below juveniles’ proportional representation (19%) in the age range of the total population that commits most crime (ages 10–49) (Snyder & Sickmund, 1999). Young adult offenders ages 18–24 have the highest violent crime arrest rates (Cook & Laub, 1998), and the overwhelming majority of gun homicides and gun assaults in the United States involve adult perpetrators and victims (Cook & Ludwig, 2001).

Myth 4: Juveniles were the driving force behind the increase in violence in the United States from the mid-1980s through the early 1990s.

In reality, studies conducted by researchers at the National Center for Juvenile Justice have shown that adults, not juveniles, accounted for two-thirds of the increase in murders in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and those adults were responsible for nearly three-fourths of the increase in violent crime arrests during this period (Snyder, Sickmund, & Poe-Yamagata, 1996). Murders increased 23% from 1985 through 1994 (Snyder et al., 1996, p. 20). If murders by juveniles had remained constant over this period, murders in the United States would have increased by 15%.

Myth 5: School shootings represent a second wave of the juvenile violence that doomsday forecasters Fox and DiIulio prophesied.

School shooters do not fit the profile of mythical superpredators—or any other high-risk youth profile, for that matter. It is important to recognize that student school shooters represent only a fraction of all mass killers, a group that is overwhelmingly made up of adults (Fessenden, 2000). All types of rampage shootings increased in the 1980s and 1990s, corresponding with increased production of semiautomatic pistols (Fessenden, 2000). The extent of the panic over school shootings (see Chapter 2) is evident when one contrasts the reality of this form of violence with public perceptions of the problem. School crime did not increase in the early 1990s and has dropped since then (Brooks, Schiraldi, & Ziedenberg, 2001; Snyder & Sickmund, 1999). In fact, school-associated violent deaths dropped 40% at the end of the 1990s, and the chance that a school-aged child would die in a school was 1 in 2 million (Brooks et al., 2001). Yet 71% of people responding to a public poll in 1998 said that they thought a school shooting was likely to happen in their community. Actually, violent events in schools have declined significantly for more than a decade, at least up to 2005 (National Center for Education Statistics, 2007).

Myth 6: Juvenile offenders are committing more and more violent crimes at younger ages.

The federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) Study Group on Very Young Offenders concluded that there is no empirical evidence to support this claim (Loeber & Farrington, 2001a; see also Butts & Snyder, 1997; Snyder, 1998). The proportion of all juvenile violent arrests involving children ages 10–12 remained essentially constant in the 1980s and 1990s (Snyder & Sickmund, 1999, p. 121). Just 1% of all juvenile arrests involved youth under age 10 in 2004 (Snyder, 2001, 2006).

A comparison of national self-report studies showed that the proportion of child delinquents involved in serious and violent delinquency did not change from 1976 through 1999 (Espiritu, Huizinga, Crawford, & Loeber, 2001). Yet the number of arrested child delinquents increased from 1980 through 1996 (Snyder, 2001), and law enforcement agencies referred a larger percentage of the child delinquents they arrested to the juvenile courts in 1997 than in 1988. Thus child delinquents came to constitute a large proportion (10%) of all juvenile cases by the late 1990s (Butts & Snyder, 1997; Snyder, 2001).

To resolve the “superpredator” issue, the OJJDP, in the U.S. Department of Justice, undertook a program of research to determine the size and characteristics of the worst juvenile offenders, which was spearheaded by Snyder’s 1998 Maricopa County study described in Chapter 5. Snyder used that database to examine three key claims about juvenile violence that had been tied to the superpredator myth:

• That the relative proportion of serious and violent offenders among all juvenile delinquents is growing

• That juvenile offenders are becoming younger

• That juveniles are committing more and more violent crimes

None of these assumptions proved to be correct. An Arizona study (Snyder, 1998) showed that the proportion of chronic offender careers increased by only 4% from the 1980s to the 1990s. Moreover, the worst offenders in the latter period were not significantly more active, more serious, or more violent. Second, there was no evidence that the juveniles in his study were beginning their court careers at younger ages. Third, no increase was found in the numbers of crimes for which serious and violent offenders were charged. Rather, Snyder found that the juvenile justice system may be spreading its net wider, bringing in more juveniles, not more serious juvenile offenders. Other research shows that the proportion of children under 13 involved in delinquency has not changed much over the past two decades (Espiritu et al., 2001).

Myth 7: The juvenile justice system in the United States is a failure; it is collapsing because it cannot handle today’s more serious offenders.

In the midst of the moral panic over delinquency, such unusually critical statements were made about the juvenile courts—including charges that they are “kiddie courts,” too lenient, and quaint, and that probation is a farce (Butterfield, 1997)—that some critics proposed scrapping them altogether (see Chapter 12). The notion that the juvenile justice system has become ineffective is based on the following three assumptions (Tracy & Kempf-Leonard, 1998):

• Sanctions in juvenile courts are neither certain enough nor severe enough to deter serious delinquents from continually committing serious crimes.

• The rehabilitative techniques used by juvenile courts have not sufficiently reduced recidivism (i.e., returning to criminal activity).

• The preponderance of noncustodial sanctions (such as probation) and the very short institutional sanctions that are applied allow delinquents to pose a continued and severe risk to public safety.

These and other related myths about the juvenile justice system are discussed next.

DiIulio’s preposterous claims left no plausible role for the juvenile justice system in stemming the coming tide of superpredators. The juveniles who achieved this mythical status were said to be beyond redemption; jailing and imprisonment was the presumed answer. Just desert advocates promoted the use of punitive laws, policies, and practices in the juvenile justice system, including three-strike laws, determinate sentences, longer sentences, sentencing to boot camps, electronic monitoring, drug testing, shock incarceration, and other punitive measures (Howell, 2003b). Such policies and practices, which deemphasize prevention of juvenile crime and rehabilitation of juvenile offenders, became common in the juvenile justice system through new state legislation. Together, DiIulio’s superpredator concept and just desert principles spawned a major myth that the juvenile justice system could not be effective with the new breed of juvenile offenders and was no longer relevant in modern-day crime control (Box 1.2).

Hillary Clinton has a complicated history with incarceration. As first lady, she championed efforts to get tough on crime.“We need more police, we need more and tougher prison sentences for repeat offenders,” Clinton said in 1994. “The ‘three strikes and you’re out’ for violent offenders has to be part of the plan. We need more prisons to keep violent offenders for as long as it takes to keep them off the streets,” she added.

-- Private Prison Lobbyists Are Raising Cash for Hillary Clinton, by Lee Fang


We told criminals convicted time and again for serious violent crimes or drug trafficking that from now on, it's three strikes and you're out. And we established the death penalty for drug kingpins, because they should reap what they sow.

-- Statement on Signing Legislation Rejecting U.S. Sentencing Commission Recommendations, by William J. Clinton


IN FOCUS 1.2: The Logic of DiIulio’s Superpredator Prediction

• The Philadelphia Birth Cohort Study found that 6% of the boys in the study sample were chronic offenders (Wolfgang, Figlio, & Sellin, 1972).

• From 1996 through 2010, the number of boys under age 18 would increase by a total of 4.5 million (from 32 million to 36.5 million).

• Therefore, by 2010, the United States would have 270,000 (.06 × 4.5 million) more superpredators (chronic offenders) who would perpetrate a “coming wave of teen violence.”

SOURCE: DiIulio (1995b).


Myths About the Juvenile Justice System (JJS)

JJS Myth 1: Rehabilitation is no longer a priority in the juvenile justice system; punishment is now favored.


Declarations that the rehabilitative mission of the juvenile justice system is in serious decline, if not dead, are common (Box 1.3). Many state legislatures did indeed rewrite their juvenile codes to endorse punitive objectives (Torbet & Szymanski, 1998); however, 45 of them maintained an allegiance to the juvenile justice system’s traditional benevolent mission (Bishop, 2006). In fact, Bishop noticed in her review of the past 3 years (2003–2005) of legislative actions that “efforts are underway to mitigate or even abandon punitive features [of juvenile laws enacted in the past decade and] to address the treatment needs of most juvenile offenders” (p. 660).

IN FOCUS 1.3: Claims That the Juvenile Justice System Fails to Meet Expectations

“Politicians and the public have repudiated the [juvenile] court’s original rehabilitative premises” (Feld, 1993).

“[The system is] unable to stem the tide of declining public support” (Bazemore & Umbreit, 1997, p. 5).

“In many jurisdictions [the juvenile justice system] does not consistently serve the public safety, hold juveniles accountable, or meet the treatment and rehabilitation needs of each juvenile offender” (Bilchik, 1998, p. 1).

“The voices calling for the abolition of the juvenile court are no longer falling on deaf ears, but are beginning to capture the attention of state and nationally elected public officials, the media, and other opinion leaders” (Schwartz, Weiner, & Enosh, 1998, p. 534).

“Demands for an overhaul of the juvenile justice system continue to be commonplace at the national, State, and local levels” (Hsia & Beyer, 2000, p. 1). “The original purpose of the juvenile court has systematically unraveled” (Garascia, 2005, p. 489).


JJS Myth 2: The public no longer supports rehabilitation of juvenile offenders.

Others say that the efforts of “child savers” are all for naught anyway because of a lack of public support for rehabilitation of juvenile offenders (Box 1.4). These observers assume that the impact of the just desert movement on the adult criminal justice system—in greatly diminishing the use of treatment programs—has filtered down to the juvenile justice system. Is this a matter of fact? Decidedly not. “The notion that the American public is opposed to the treatment of juvenile offenders is a myth” (Cullen, 2006, p. 665). Cullen notes that a 2001 national survey found that 80% of the sample of adults thought that rehabilitation should be the goal of juvenile correctional facilities and that more than 9 in 10 favored a variety of early intervention programs, including parent training, Head Start, and after-school programs. “The legitimacy of the rehabilitative ideal—especially as applied to youthful offenders—appears to be deeply woven into the fabric of American culture” (p. 666). Therefore, it is not surprising that state and local juvenile justice officials have taken steps to soften the impact of punitive reforms (Bishop, 2006; Mears, 2002).

IN FOCUS 1.4: Key Myths About Juvenile Delinquency

• A juvenile violence “epidemic” occurred in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

• Juvenile violence is the top crime problem in the United States.

• Juveniles were the driving force behind the increase in violence in the United States from the mid-1980s through the early 1990s.

• Juvenile offenders are committing more and more violent crimes at younger ages.

• School shootings represent a second wave of the juvenile violence that doomsday forecasters Fox and DiIulio prophesied.

• The juvenile justice system in the United States is a failure; it is collapsing because it cannot handle today’s more serious offenders.

• The public no longer supports rehabilitation of juvenile offenders.

• Rehabilitation is no longer a priority in the juvenile justice system; punishment is now favored.

• Transferring juveniles to the criminal justice system is the way to reduce juvenile delinquency.


JJS Myth 3: Juvenile correctional systems are a dismal failure.

Whether confinement in juvenile reformatories halts or accelerates juvenile criminal behavior is a question that has been debated since the mid- 19th century (Krisberg & Howell, 1998). For the first time, reasonably good data are available that provide a rough approximation of recidivism rates among offenders released from state juvenile correctional facilities (Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice, 2005). The gathered state reports were not uniform. Some measured recidivism by rearrests (9 states), others used reconvictions (12 states), and the final group used reincarceration (12 states). A total of 33 states provided data, so there is overlap in the formats in which data were reported (but only 4 states reported recidivism data using all three measures). The average recidivism rates were as follows: rearrests (57%), reconvictions (33%), and reincarceration (20%).

These averages appear to be far better than juvenile justice system critics have assumed and also much better than comparable measures for the criminal justice system: Two-thirds (67%) of released prisoners are rearrested within 3 years, and more than half of released inmates are returned to prison (Langan & Levin, 2002). Actually, the adult recidivism rates should be lower than those for juveniles because adolescents are on the upward side of the age–crime curve and adults are on the downward side, already in a desistance mode.

JJS Myth 4: Transferring juveniles to the criminal justice system is the way to reduce juvenile delinquency.

DiIulio said “by my estimate, we will probably need to incarcerate at least 150,000 juvenile criminals in the years just ahead” (DiIulio, 1995b, p. 28). In one fell swoop, DiIulio dismissed the relevance of the juvenile justice system. But it already had been dealt a serious blow from the just desert movement (specific and extreme punishments for crimes), which I will discuss in more detail in the next chapter.

However, as we shall see in Chapter 12, studies have shown that juveniles who are transferred to criminal court and placed in adult prisons are actually more likely to recidivate than juveniles retained in the juvenile justice system, and their recidivism rates, offense rates, and offense severity appear to increase after they are released from prison. Nevertheless, many research questions about transfers remain to be answered (Mears, 2003). Equally important, the business of transferring juveniles to another system not designed for them presents myriad complex matters that rarely are considered (Mears, 2000).

The unifying theme in these four myths is the notion that punishment is now predominant in juvenile justice policies and practices, driven by shifting public opinion. However, Bishop (2006) astutely observes that “to the public, the idea of punishment versus rehabilitation is a false dichotomy” (p. 656) and that “we have sold the public short for a long time regarding the degree to which it supports the rehabilitation of juvenile offenders” (p. 656). The reality, she says, is that the public endorses both strategies simultaneously. Indeed, Bishop sees that the public embraces a balanced approach of punishment for offenses while also providing the necessary treatment to help offending youth move on into adulthood with their life chances intact. This is the essence of effective juvenile justice system philosophy, a concept that politicians and legislators appear to have difficulty grasping.

Recap

The most damaging and erroneous myth propagated in the 100-year history of the juvenile justice system in the United States is that concerning the emergence of a new breed of juvenile offenders called “superpredators.” Observers have linked this mythical image with forecast increases in the size of the juvenile population. DiIulio reportedly now regrets using the term, and Wilson has acknowledged that he was wrong in making the erroneous forecast. But their misgivings came too late. Frightening images of “waves of violent adolescents coming at us over the next decade,” producing a “bloodbath,” had already been presented over and over by the broadcast media.

Other myths about juvenile violence fit well with the superpredator myth and the myth of an epidemic of juvenile violence, such as the myth that juvenile offenders are committing more and more violent crimes at younger ages and the myth that the juvenile justice system lacks the capacity to deal effectively with the new breed of superpredators and the coming juvenile violence epidemic. Such myths have led to a perception of juvenile delinquency as equivalent to adult crime, and some observers have come to believe that turning juvenile offenders over to the criminal justice system is a solution. This has proved to be a flawed policy, however.

The current state of juvenile justice has nothing to do with superpredators or new waves of violent juvenile offenders, as DiIulio, Fox, and Wilson have suggested. Rather, the erroneous perceptions of these observers have contributed to a moral panic over juvenile delinquency that has led to a problem of overload in the juvenile justice system; I turn to this topic in Chapter 2.

Discussion Topics

1. Why are myths about juvenile delinquency developed?

2. What are the essential ingredients for sustaining them?

3. What is the most believable myth? Most unbelievable?

4. Try to come up with your own myth about juvenile delinquency and develop a plan for promoting it.

5. How can such myths be stopped?
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Re: CNN Tonight with Don Lemon on Bill Clinton & BLM

Postby admin » Fri Apr 15, 2016 5:41 am

Bill Clinton Says Black Lives Matter Protesters Defend Gang Leaders, Crack Dealers
by Kevin Gosztola
April 8, 2016

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'Remarkably,' writes Gosztola, Bill Clinton undermined a previous apology by Hillary Clinton "by justifying her 'super-predator' comments and support for the crime legislation he signed into law." (Photo: YouTube/Screenshot)

Former President Bill Clinton accused protesters of defending gang leaders and crack dealers, who killed the black lives protesters say matter, while stumping for his wife, Hillary, at a presidential campaign event in Philadelphia.

The protesters from the movement for black lives were present to call attention to Clinton’s crime policy, which increased sentencing minimums for federal offenses, and how young black Americans were criminalized as “super-predators.” They also called attention to the devastating impact of welfare reform and policies in the War on Drugs, which Bill Clinton strengthened.

Bill Clinton responded, “I don’t know how you would characterize the gang leaders, who got 13-year-olds hopped up on crack and sent them out in the street to murder other African American children. Maybe you thought they were good citizens. She didn’t. She didn’t. You are defending the people who killed the lives you say matter. Tell the truth.”

RACISM AND CRACK

On October 30, 1995, President Clinton signed legislation preventing a reduction in federal mandatory minimum penalties for the possession of crack cocaine from taking effect, as recommended by the U.S. Sentencing Commission. The legislation overturning the recommendation of the U.S. Sentencing Commission passed the House 332 to 83 and was approved by the Senate unanimously. But the debate over the federal crack penalties -- five years in prison for five grams, or roughly 130 "rocks" of crack -- focused on two charges: (1) that the law was unjust because the crack penalties were two to six times higher than for a comparable quantity of powder cocaine; and most divisive of all, (2) that the law was racist because over 90 percent of those sentenced under it were black. When the Reverend Jesse Jackson addressed the Million Man March in Washington on October 16, he said of the federal crack law and its enforcement: "That's wrong. It's immoral. It's unfair. It's racist. It's ungodly. It must change." [44]

In fact, it is unlikely the controversy would have arisen if crack were a race-neutral plague. Unfortunately, in the crack trade, both predator and prey come disproportionately from black, inner-city communities. As noted above, cocaine-driven emergency room admissions for African-Americans are at historic high levels -- 900 percent above the rate for the population as a whole.

Yet Reverend Jackson and others maintained, against the evidence, that crack is no different than powder cocaine. And having played the race card, few national leaders ventured to challenge him with the facts:

• Crack is a much more powerful psychoactive agent than powder cocaine. Crack reaches the brain in just 19 seconds, making it far more addictive than snorted powder.

• Crack use is associated with the explosion in the most horrifying cases of child abuse in recent years. And while drug addiction has long been a path to prostitution, crack has created what is called on the street the "freak house" phenomenon, where female crack addicts (variously known as "rock stars" or "toss-ups") gather to trade sex for their next five-dollar piece of crack.

• Crack dealers are notorious for raising violent drug trafficking to new extremes: the trial of Washington, D.C.'s First Street Crew, for example, was marked by the shooting of eleven witnesses -- five of them fatally. When federal law enforcement agencies have assisted local officials in apprehending crack organizations like the First Street Crew, their actions disproportionately benefited minority inner-city residents who have to put up with the drive-by shootings and the unlivable neighborhoods. ...

And no one has credibly claimed that federal enforcement patterns reflect bias....

In fact, very few federal crack defendants are low-level, youthful, and nonviolent. According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, of the 3,430 crack defendants convicted in 1994, there were just 51 youthful, small-time crack offenders with no prior criminal history and no weapons involvement (48 of the 51 were black). [46] And under the so-called safety valve provision of the 1994 Crime Act, which repealed mandatory minimum penalties for first-time, nonviolent offenders, cases similar to these 51 are now eligible for specially lenient sentences.

What the Reverend Jackson actually did in charging racism was to identify the interests of the black community with a small number of predatory criminals, instead of with the millions of inner-city residents who have equal rights to safe neighborhoods. He used race to argue for denying the protection of law to black Americans.

-- Body Count: Moral Poverty ... And How to Win America's War Against Crime and Drugs, by William J. Bennett, John J. Dilulio, Jr., John P. Walters


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-- CIA: WE PUT THE COKE IN AMERICA



[Zach Weissmueller, Reason Magazine reporter] Hi, I'm Zach Weissmueller for Reason.tv. We're here with "Freeway" Rick Ross today. He was the notorious drug dealer from the 1980s who is widely credited with introducing crack cocaine on a mass scale in Los Angeles, and eventually nationwide. A federal judge sentenced Ross to life in prison for purchasing more than 100 kg of cocaine from a federal agent, but an Appeals Court found that this amounted to oversentencing, and Ross walked free in 2009. His latest autobiography tells the story of his rise to and fall from power. He'll be featured in an upcoming documentary "Freeway: Crack in the System," and he's portrayed by Michael K. Williams in the new movie "Kill the Messenger," about the late journalist Gary Webb....

One of the more controversial claims involves Oscar Danilo Blandon, a supplier who turned out to be a federal agent, and was the person who ultimately led to your downfall. You were a source for the journalist Gary Webb who claimed that Blandon was funneling cocaine money to the Contras either with the help of the CIA, or with a kind of turn the other cheek attitude for the CIA. Do you stand by Webb's reporting?

["Freeway" Rick Ross] Since Gary has passed, you know, the CIA has come out and admitted that they were working with known drug traffickers. So now it's no longer this myth or perception that it may have happened or it may not have happened. It absolutely happened. The government admitted it. They put it in their own report.

[Zach Weissmueller, Reason Magazine reporter]Sometime it spins off into theories like, "Oh, the government purposely created the crack epidemic in L.A." You wouldn't go that far, would you?

["Freeway" Rick Ross] It doesn't matter if they purposely planned on doing that. What wound up happening is it flooded the ghettos of America. 600,000 Black men are in prison right now for non-violent crimes. Our prison industry has boomed. So that happened! You know, "why did it happen?; was it purposely targetted?" We may never know. Oliver North and those guys were given a pardon before they ever went to trial, so the evidence never came out.

[Zach Weissmueller, Reason Magazine reporter] Has the drug war, over the past 40 years, which is very much aligned with your life, been a success or a failure?

["Freeway" Rick Ross] You know, people ask me, "Oh, do you think drugs should be illegal?" I don't know. But what I do know is that the drug war that we're fighting right now is a total failure. There's more drugs on the streets of America than ever before. I think it's time to take all of these old people out of here who have been sitting back making money off the prison industry not caring if it's going to end the drug war.

[Zach Weissmueller, Reason Magazine reporter] You made millions of dollars selling drugs. How do you think your life would have been different if there had not been a war on drugs at that time?

["Freeway" Rick Ross] Well, without this artificial price that we put on cocaine, I wouldn't have been selling cocaine. You give a kid the opportunity to make $1,000 a week, rather than being broke, no less than going to MacDonalds and working for at that time $3.50 an hour, you know, which one would he choose?"




In February, after a Black Lives Matter activist confronted her at a fundraiser in South Carolina, Hillary Clinton apologized for calling black youth “super-predators” when she was First Lady. She said, “I shouldn’t have used those words, and I wouldn’t use them today.” However, she did not repudiate the crime policies, which she supported in the 1990s.

Remarkably, Bill Clinton, one of her campaign’s most valuable surrogates, undermined her February apology by justifying her “super-predator” comments and support for the crime legislation he signed into law.

“I had an assault weapons bill in it. I had money for inner city kids for out of school activities,” Bill Clinton argued. “We had 110,000 police officers so we could put people on the street, not in these military vehicles, and the police would look like the people they’re policing,” he said, although it must be noted that it was the Clinton administration which first authorized the Pentagon to sell military vehicles to police departments.

He maintained African American groups, who “thought black lives matter,” told him to take the crime legislation and get it passed because their kids were being shot in the streets by gangs.

“We had 13 year-old kids planning their own funerals. She don’t want to hear any of that,” Clinton said, referring to one of the protesters. “You know what else she doesn’t want to hear? Because of that bill, we had a twenty-five year low in crime, a thirty-three year low in the murder rate. And listen to this—because of that and a background check law, we had a forty-six year low in the deaths of people by gun violence, and who do you think those lives were that mattered? Whose lives were saved that mattered?”

Except, Bill Clinton’s main talking point about the crime bill is a lie. It did not create the “twenty-five year low.”

In September 2014, Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post did a fact check and gave the claim three Pinocchios. The Community Oriented Police Services (COPS), which funded tens of thousands of additional police, was only responsible for a “1.3 percent decline in the overall crime rate,” according to the Government Accountability Office.

The COPS program was “not the primary or even secondary factor in the dramatic reduction in crime during the 1990s,” and the “precise reasons for which remain a mystery,” Kessler wrote. Funding community police was not the “primary reason” for why the crime rate “went way down.”

Michelle Alexander provided a robust critique against the policies of the Clintons in her post, “Why Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Deserve Black People’s Votes,” which was published in early February. It highlighted the federal “three strikes” law,” the creation of “dozens of new federal capital crimes,” “100-to-1 sentencing disparity for crack versus powder cocaine, which produced staggering racial injustice,” and the elimination of “Pell grants for prisoners seeking higher education,” along with the signing of legislation, which imposed “a lifetime ban on welfare and food stamps for anyone convicted of a felony drug offense—an exceptionally harsh provision given the racially biased drug war that was raging in inner cities.” The Clinton administration made it easier to deny public housing to anyone with a criminal record.

Rather than fully rehash Bill Clinton’s record, let’s focus on the right-wing nature of his statement about protesters supporting gang leaders and crack dealers, who were responsible for the deaths of black Americans. One thing the Clintons have not confronted is the pseudo-science, which fueled the perception of “super-predators” who were responsible for high rates of crime in inner cities.

As Eddie Glaude, a professor and chair of the African American Studies Department at Princeton University, emphasized back in February, John DiIulio coined the term “super-predator” to create a “moral panic around a so-called ‘new breed of criminal.'” However, his findings were proven incorrect. The data he relied upon was wrong. There were “no super-predators on the horizon.”

“Bad social science drove public policy and ruined the lives of countless people,” Glaude declared. Quite a number of black politicians supported this “bad social science,” and DiIulio recanted his theory of “super-predators” in 2001. “If I knew then what I know now, I would have shouted for prevention of crimes,” he said, when he was an aide for President George W. Bush.

To be clear, DiIulio’s theory was the following, “America is now home to thickening ranks of juvenile ‘super-predators’—radically impulsive, brutally remorseless youngsters, including ever more preteenage boys, who murder, assault, rape, rob, burglarize, deal deadly drugs, join gun-toting gangs, and create serious communal disorders.”

None of this was addressed as wrong. Bill Clinton defended what everyone who supported the bill at the time thought, in the same way one might defend their vote for the Iraq War by pointing out that the majority of the political class supported the invasion.

Also, Bill Clinton defended his welfare reform bill, suggesting it contributed to the largest drop in poverty. This statement misrepresents what positive effects the legislation had for Americans.

In 2006, Joel Berg, executive director for the New York City Coalition Against Hunger who was part of Clinton’s administration, argued, “Poverty reduction occurred despite the bill. The act was signed into law in the summer of 1996 and took full effect in 1997. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, between 1993 and 1997, there was a 25% (7.7 million person) drop in poverty. Between 1997 and 2000, poverty declined by 15%, a four million person decrease. In other words, poverty dropped more rapidly before welfare reform than after welfare reform.”

Both Hillary and Bill Clinton are fond of noting Hillary’s work with Marian Wright Edelman for the Children’s Defense Fund. Bill Clinton mentioned her as he challenged the protesters. However, Edelman thought the welfare reform legislation was a “moment of shame,” and her husband, Peter Edelman, resigned from the Clinton administration in protest against the bill.

As Peter Edelman described in an essay for The Atlantic in 1997, there was an effort to make cuts to balance the budget, but “the only deep, multi-year budget cuts” enacted were cuts affecting low-income Americans. A Department of Health and Human Services study found 2.6 million people, including 1.1 million children, would move into poverty. Eleven million families would lose income.


Finally, in one of the most cringe-inducing parts of Bill Clinton’s remarks, he said, “All I know is this election’s about the future. They’re trying to blame her for something she didn’t do. So, I’ll tell you another story about a place where black lives matter: Africa.”

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[White Man] Go back to AFRICA!


He proceeded to tell a story about a picture from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, which showed a crafts store called “The Hillary Clinton Store.” Clinton suggested there was a store named after her in Tanzania because Hillary has “tripled” the number of Africans whose lives were saved from AIDS by lowering the costs of drugs.

The Clinton Health Access Initiative, which was responsible for the effort to lower the costs for drugs for AIDS, has been the subject of controversy. It “failed to disclose its donors from 2010 to 2013, violating an agreement Hillary Clinton forged with President Obama as a condition of becoming secretary of state,” according to the Boston Globe.

As secretary of state, foreign contributions sharply increased. The Boston Globe conducted a review of donors that found “prominent examples of overlapping interests,” involving corporations like Hewlett-Packard and German drug manufacturer Bayer AG. In other words, the Clinton Health Access Initiative has been utilized to keep up the flow of corporate cash into the bank accounts of the Clintons and maintain mutually beneficial ties to corporations.

Plus, as the Boston Globe pointed out, South African president Nelson Mandela signed a law in 1997, which “angered pharmaceutical companies because it allowed South Africa to import HIV/AIDS medicines from countries where the same drug sold for a lower price.” Bill Clinton’s administration “sided with U.S. drug companies and put South Africa on a trade watch list in 1998 and 1999.”

This was apparently a moment in history when black lives in Africa didn’t matter.

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Re: CNN Tonight with Don Lemon on Bill Clinton & BLM

Postby admin » Fri Apr 15, 2016 6:07 am

Bill Clinton just gave criminal justice reformers another reason to be cautious of Hillary
by German Lopez
April 8, 2016
@germanrlopez german.lopez@vox.com

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Criminal justice reformers just got another reason to be skeptical of the Clintons.

On Thursday, racial justice protesters interrupted a Bill Clinton rally for Hillary, as they have done in the past, to highlight Hillary's 1996 remarks about "superpredators" — a racially charged term — and the Clintons' role in perpetuating mass incarceration.

Bill then attempted to respond to the protests. But his response seemed to miss the point:

I don't know how you would characterize the gang leaders who got 13-year-old kids hopped up on crack and sent them out onto the street to murder other African-American children. Maybe you thought they were good citizens. She didn't. She didn't. You are defending the people who kill the lives you say matter. Tell the truth!


The concerns with Hillary's remarks are not, as Bill suggests, that racial justice activists want to characterize dangerous criminals as nice people who got an unfair rap. The criticism is that the word she used to describe dangerous criminals — "superpredators" — was based on faulty research and pushed policies that helped drive an increase in incarceration that disproportionately hurt black people.

So Bill's comments fail to get at the actual criticism of policies both he and Hillary supported, and actually invoke some of the same tough-on-crime rhetoric of the '90s that protesters criticized. For justice reformers, this seems to validate one of the biggest concerns they have about a President Hillary Clinton.

Superpredators didn't exist



Let's start with the biggest problem: Superpredators didn't exist. The type of criminal Clinton was describing came from faulty research that's been repeatedly debunked — and even the biggest proponent of the superpredators myth has since apologized for spreading the idea.

Clyde Haberman reported in the New York Times:

No one in the mid-1990s promoted this theory with greater zeal, or with broader acceptance, than John J. DiIulio Jr., then a political scientist at Princeton. Chaos was upon us, Mr. DiIulio proclaimed back then in scholarly articles and television interviews. The demographics, he said, were inexorable. Politicians from both major parties, though more so on the right, picked up the cry. Many news organizations pounced on these sensational predictions and ran with them like a punt returner finding daylight.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the apocalypse. Instead of exploding, violence by children sharply declined. Murders committed by those ages 10 to 17 fell by roughly two-thirds from 1994 to 2011, according to statistics kept by the Justice Department's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Mugged by reality, a chastened Mr. DiIulio has offered a mea culpa. "Demography," he says, "is not fate." The trouble with his superpredator forecast, he told Retro Report, is that "once it was out there, there was no reeling it in."


Politicians used the myth of superpredators to promote mass incarceration



Nonetheless, the myth was used to push tough-on-crime policies that helped lead to a rise in incarceration. Again, Haberman explained:

It certainly had consequences. It energized a movement, as one state after another enacted laws making it possible to try children as young as 13 or 14 as adults. (New York had such a law even earlier, and it is now being applied to Kahton Anderson.) Many hundreds of juveniles were sent to prison for life, though in the last few years the United States Supreme Court has ruled that such sentences must not be automatic, even in murder cases. Individual circumstances and possible mitigating factors should be weighed, the justices said.


Hillary used the idea to promote her husband's tough-on-crime policies while he was president. She said in 1996, "It's not just gangs of kids anymore. They are often the kinds of kids that are called superpredators — no conscience, no empathy. We can talk about why they ended up that way, but first we have to bring them to heel."

Phoenix Dragon
‏@1PhoenixDragon
@CapehartJ 'Bring them to heel' (said by Clinton) is an old Southern Saying from the time of slavery meaning to break in your slaves


Hillary was tapping into the sentiment that criminals have to be harshly punished for crime — a sentiment that was very powerful in America, including black communities, after decades of rises in violent crime. It was the same sentiment that led Bill to sign a law in 1994 that helped continue — but didn't cause — mass incarceration.

Hillary and Bill have both apologized for the 1994 law. And Hillary has said she regrets her superpredator comments. But these apologies are widely seen as insufficient for many racial justice advocates and criminal justice reformers, who worry that the politically opportunistic Clintons would simply fall back on the same kind of rhetoric if crime were to rise once again in America. And with this view already out there, comments like Bill's make the Clintons' apologies feel all the weaker.

The Clintons' remarks about superpredators cast doubt on how they'd handle a future crime wave

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Bill Clinton. Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images

Over the past few years, America has seen an unusual bipartisan push for criminal justice reform to draw down mass incarceration. One reason for the shift toward reform is that mass incarceration is very expensive, and the research shows it's not even an effective way to fight crime anymore. But another reason is that crime has simply been dropping for decades, reducing the need for politicians to appear tough on crime.

But what happens if crime goes up again in the future? Some politicians may change their tune again, going back to the old tough-on-crime rhetoric to appear strong and, perhaps, because they see punitive policies as the right solution to high crime.

The worry for racial justice advocates and criminal justice reformers is the Clintons — who, let's face it, are known as politically opportunistic — will be among the politicians to go from reform-friendly to tough-on-crime.

The context here is not just Clinton's "superpredators" remarks or even just the 1994 crime law. It's that the Clintons were very much cognizant of fears of black crime in the 1990s, and they exploited it in their presidential campaigns. Just take a look at this picture of Bill in 1992, during a press conference in Stone Mountain, Georgia:

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sean. ‎@SeanMcElwee
Bill Clinton hosts campaign event on Stone Mountain, the birthplace of the KKK, with Black inmates in background.
9:38 AM - 1 Apr 2016


Bill's comments at Thursday's press conference speak to this kind of politicking: He was ready with off-the-cuff remarks to condemn criminals harshly — to defend comments his wife made to justify policies that perpetuated mass incarceration. When it was politically opportune, Bill had no problem switching back to the tough-on-crime mode.

It's fair to argue that the '90s were different times, with much higher crime rates than we have today, which called for desperate measures. Hillary is also (obviously) a different person than her husband, and it's possible that what he said doesn't reflect on her views at all. (After all, Hillary already said she regrets the superpredator remarks.)

But because the Clintons are partners and have a history of jointly supporting tough-on-crime policies, there's genuine concern about how a Clinton White House would react to another crime wave. What if the 2020s look like the 1990s in terms of crime, instead of the 2010s? Would a President Clinton still push for criminal justice reform? Based on the Clintons' history, there's reason for doubt — and Bill's comments did nothing to assuage those concerns.
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Re: CNN Tonight with Don Lemon on Bill Clinton & BLM

Postby admin » Fri Apr 15, 2016 6:10 am

John Dilulio's "Superpredator" Fear-Mongering Changed the US Criminal Legal System and Locked Away a Generation of Black Youth
by Bill Berkowitz
Buzzflash at Truthout
17 November 2015 08:09

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This is a story about the ginned-up "superpredator" scare of the 1990s, the imprisonment of tens of thousands of black youth, and the survival of Reginald Dwayne Betts.

In the early 1990s, John Dilulio, a Princeton political scientist, coined the term "superpredator" to call attention to "stone-cold predators," "kids that have absolutely no respect for human life and no sense of the future." DiIulio and co-authors described these young people as "fatherless, Godless, and jobless" and as "radically impulsive, brutally remorseless youngsters, including ever more teenage boys, who murder, assault, rob, burglarize, deal deadly drugs, join gun-toting gangs, and create serious disorders." Criminologist James A. Fox warned of a juvenile "crime wave storm" and an impending "bloodbath" of teen violence.

Reginald Dwayne Betts was one of the teens caught up in the wave of imprisonment that resulted from these myths. Now, after a long, and sometimes tortuous journey that included eight and a half years in prison, he is now a poet, teacher and law student. He was born months before Ronald Reagan won the White House, and came of age during the Reagan/George H.W. Bush/Bill Clinton administrations, when crack cocaine saturated inner-city streets, fear reigned supreme, the criminalization of young black people became the order of the day, and "lock 'em up and throw away the key" was the criminal legal system's mantra.

Last year, The New York Times' "Retro Report" pointed out that the "superpredator jeremiads ... proved to be nonsense. They were based on a notion that there would be hordes upon hordes of depraved teenagers resorting to unspeakable brutality, not tethered by conscience ... Chaos was upon us, DiIulio proclaimed back then in scholarly articles and television interviews. The demographics, he said, were inexorable. Politicians from both major parties, though more so on the right, picked up the cry. Many news organizations pounced on these sensational predictions and ran with them like a punt returner finding daylight."

Reality didn't match the dire superpredator predictions: "Instead of exploding, violence by children sharply declines. Murders committed by those ages 10 to 17 fell by roughly two-thirds from 1994 to 2011, according to statistics kept by the Justice Department's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Mugged by reality, a chastened Mr. DiIulio has offered a mea culpa. 'Demography,' he says, 'is not fate.' The trouble with his superpredator forecast, he told Retro Report, is that 'once it was out there, there was no reeling it in.'"

Dilulio's career, however, took off; he was suddenly viewed as an expert on issues of criminal justice. His reputation was enhanced, he was often quoted by hardliners in both political parties, and, onerous new laws were passed, including state laws allowing 13 and 14 year-olds to be tried as adults. Thousands of juveniles were sent to prison, some for life.

Dilulio later became the first director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives under President George W. Bush. He is currently the Frederic Fox Leadership Professor of Politics, Religion, and Civil Society and Professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania.

What did wash over the land was the fear and loathing of black youth; the building of more prisons; the incarceration of a generation of black, poor and minority youth; and the rise of the prison industrial complex.


Dwayne Betts survived prison and solitary confinement. He has written a memoir, A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison, and two books of poetry, including the recently published Bastards of the Reagan Era. His work has been described as "fierce, lyrical and unsparing." Betts is a 2010 Soros Justice Fellow, 2011 Radcliffe Fellow, and 2012 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellow, and in 2012, President Obama appointed him to the coordinating council of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. He is now attending Yale Law School.

Nevertheless, Betts remembers the pain of prison well. Betts is a 2010 Soros Justice Fellow, 2011 Radcliffe Fellow, and 2012 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellow, and in 2012, President Obama appointed him to the coordinating council of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Last year, he wrote an essay titled "I Was 16 and in Solitary Before I Ever Even Went to Trial." In a recent interview, "On Point's" Tom Ashbrook asked: "Are you scarred for life by eight years in prison?" and Betts answered: "The bigger question is what do you do with the trauma you inherit?" The interview includes a quote from Dostoyevsky's The House of the Dead: "The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons." Ashbrook noted Betts' incisive response in his book, Bastards of the Reagan Era: "Had he [Dostoyevsky] said you judge by our crimes, this van runs off the rails and back into the Atlantic from whence we came. But see he didn't say that. And so what does all this say about America?"

Dwayne Betts' survival and growth resulted from a confluence of things: his steadfast determination and resilience; his interest in books and ideas; his loving and supportive family; and his great fortune in finding mentors in prison. Unfortunately, Betts' current situation is more the exception than the rule. With so few positive programs available in prison, too many of Dwayne Betts' contemporaries will have little to show for their time when they are released.

John Dilulio knows, and now admits, that he overstated the threat that helped lead to the mass incarceration of black youth. However sincere his apologies may be, the damage has been done. We must reverse that damage.
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Re: CNN Tonight with Don Lemon on Bill Clinton & BLM

Postby admin » Fri Apr 15, 2016 6:13 am

Bill Clinton confronts protesters who say his crime reforms hurt blacks
by Luciana Lopez and Jonathan Allen
April 8, 2016

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Former President Bill Clinton on Thursday faced down protesters angry at the impact his 1994 crime reforms have had on black Americans and defended the record of his wife, Hillary Clinton, who is relying on the support of black voters in her quest for the presidency.

The former president spent more than 10 minutes confronting the protesters at a campaign rally in Philadelphia for his wife over criticisms that the crime bill he approved while president led to a surge in the imprisonment of black people.

The Democratic race for the Nov. 8 election has become increasingly heated as Hillary Clinton, stung by a string of losses in state contests, has traded barbs with her rival for the party's nomination, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, over who is better prepared for the White House.

In Philadelphia, several protesters heckled the former president mid-speech and held up signs, including one that read: "CLINTON Crime Bill Destroyed Our Communities."

Video footage of Hillary Clinton defending the reforms in 1994 has been widely circulated during the campaign by activists in the Black Lives Matter protest movement. In the footage, she calls young people in gangs "super-predators" who need to "be brought to heel." Hillary Clinton, 68, who also has faced protesters upset by her remarks, said in February she regretted her language.

Bill Clinton, 69, who was president from 1993 to 2001, defended her 1994 remarks, which protesters say were racially insensitive, and suggested the protesters' anger was misplaced.

"I don't know how you would characterize the gang leaders who got 13-year-old kids hopped on crack and sent them out on the street to murder other African-American children," he said, shaking his finger at a heckler as Clinton supporters cheered, according to video of the event. "Maybe you thought they were good citizens. She (Hillary Clinton) didn't."

"You are defending the people who kill the lives you say matter," he told a protester. "Tell the truth."

Hillary Clinton promised to end "mass incarceration" in the first major speech of her campaign last year. She has won the support of the majority of black voters in every state nominating contest so far, often by a landslide.

Spokesmen for the campaign and Bill Clinton did not immediately respond on Thursday to a request for comment.

A SURGE IN PRISONERS

The United States has more people in prison than any other country. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1.05 million prisoners were held in federal or state facilities in 1994. By 2014, it was 1.56 million. That year, 6 percent of all black men in their 30s were in prison, a rate six times higher than that of white men of the same age.

Bill Clinton said last year that he regretted signing the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act into law because it contributed to the high incarceration rate of black people for nonviolent crimes. On Thursday, he did not explicitly recant those regrets, but appeared to be angry at any suggestion the bill was wholly bad.

The legislation imposed tougher sentences, put thousands more police on the streets and helped fund the building of extra prisons. It was known for its federal "three strikes" provision that sent violent offenders to prison for life. The bill was backed by congressional Republicans and hailed at the time as a success for Clinton.

Although Clinton is popular among Democrats who view him as a gifted orator and crowd pleaser, he has in the past veered from the carefully calibrated message put out by his wife's campaign, causing problems for her representatives.

During Hillary Clinton’s failed 2008 presidential bid, civil rights leaders and high-ranking Democrats in Congress criticized the former president for statements he made during a heated campaign against then-U.S. Senator Barack Obama. Bill Clinton said Obama's campaign had “played the race card.” Obama became the first U.S. black president in November that year.

Bill Clinton's remarks on Thursday drew criticism online. Some saw him as dismissive of the Black Lives Matter movement, a national outgrowth of anger over a string of encounters in which police officers killed unarmed black people.

Johnetta Elzie, a civil rights activist, wrote online that Clinton "can't handle being confronted by his own record."

"This is like watching a robot malfunction," she wrote.
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Re: CNN Tonight with Don Lemon on Bill Clinton & BLM

Postby admin » Fri Apr 15, 2016 6:23 am

The Many Causes of America’s Decline in Crime. A new report finds that locking up more offenders isn't making people any safer—and may even be counterproductive.
by Inimai M. Chettiar
February 11, 2015

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The dramatic rise of incarceration and the precipitous fall in crime have shaped the landscape of American criminal justice over the last two decades. Both have been unprecedented. Many believe that the explosion in incarceration created the crime drop. In fact, the enormous growth in imprisonment only had a limited impact. And, for the past thirteen years, it has passed the point of diminishing returns, making no effective difference. We now know that we can reduce our prison populations and simultaneously reduce crime.

This has profound implications for criminal justice policy: We lock up millions of people in an effort to fight crime. But this is not working.

The link between rising incarceration and falling crime seems logical. Draconian penalties and a startling expansion in prison capacity were advertised as measures that would bring down crime. That’s what happened, right?

Not so fast. There is wide agreement that we do not yet fully know what caused crime to drop. Theories abound, from an aging population to growing police forces to reducing lead in the air. A jumble of data and theories makes it hard to sort out this big, if happy, mystery. And it has been especially difficult to pin down the role of growing incarceration.

So incarceration skyrocketed and crime was in free fall. But conflating simple correlation with causation in this case is a costly mistake. A report from the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, called What Caused the Crime Decline? finds that increasing incarceration is not the answer. As Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz writes in the foreword, “This prodigious rate of incarceration is not only inhumane, it is economic folly.”

Our team of economic and criminal justice researchers spent the last 20 months testing fourteen popular theories for the crime decline. We delved deep into over 30 years of data collected from all 50 states and the 50 largest cities. The results are sharply etched: We do not know with precision what caused the crime decline, but the growth in incarceration played only a minor role, and now has a negligible impact.

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The Crime Decline

The drop in crime stands as one of the more fascinating and remarkable social phenomena of our time. For decades, crime soared. Cities were viewed as unlivable. Politicians competed to run the most lurid campaign ads and sponsor the most punitive laws. Racially tinged “wedge issues” marked American politics from Richard Nixon’s “law and order” campaign of 1968 to the “Willie Horton” ads credited with helping George H.W. Bush win the 1988 election.

But over the past 25 years, the tide of crime and violence seemed to simply recede. Crime is about half of what it was at its peak in 1991. Violent crime plummeted 51 percent. Property crime fell 43 percent. Homicides are down 54 percent. In 1985, there were 1,384 murders in New York City. Last year there were 333. The country is an undeniably safer place. Growing urban populations are one positive consequence.

During that same period, we saw the birth of mass incarceration in the United States. Since 1990, incarceration nearly doubled, adding 1.1 million people behind bars. Today, our nation has 5 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of the world’s prison population. The United States is the world’s most prodigious incarcerator.

Incarceration and Crime Rates 1980-2013

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Brennan Center

The Role of Incarceration

What do the numbers say? Did this explosion in incarceration cause the crime decline?

It turns out that increased incarceration had a much more limited effect on crime than popularly thought. We find that this growth in incarceration was responsible for approximately 5 percent of the drop in crime in the 1990s. (This could vary from 0 to 10 percent.) Since then, however, increases in incarceration have had essentially zero effect on crime. The positive returns are gone. That means the colossal number of Americans cycling in and out of prisons and jails over the last 13 years was not responsible for any meaningful fraction of the drop in crime.

The figure below shows our main result: increased incarceration’s effectiveness since 1980. This is measured as the change in the crime rate expected to result from a 1 percent increase in imprisonment—what economists call an “elasticity.” During the 1980s and 1990s, as incarceration climbed, its effectiveness waned. Its effectiveness currently dwells in the basement. Today, a 1 percent increase in incarceration would lead to a microscopic 0.02 percent decline in crime. This is statistically indistinguishable from having no effect at all.

Effect of Increased Incarceration on Crime (1980-2013)

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Increased incarceration accounted for about 6 percent of the property crime decline in the 1990s, and 1 percent of that drop in the 2000s. The growth of incarceration had no observable effect on violent crime in the 1990s or 2000s. This last finding may initially seem surprising. But given that we are sending more and more low-level and non-violent offenders to prison (who may never have been prone to violent crime), the finding makes sense. Sending a non-violent offender to prison will not necessarily have an effect on violent crime.

How Rising Incarceration’s Effect on Crime Waned

There is no question that some level of incarceration had some positive impact on bringing down crime. There are many habitual offenders and people committing serious, violent crimes who may need to be kept out of society. Criminologists call this the “incapacitation” effect: Removing someone from society prevents them from committing crimes.

But after a certain point, that positive impact ceases. The new people filling prisons do so without bringing down crime much. In other words, rising incarceration rates produce less of an effect on crime reduction. This is what economists call “diminishing returns.” It turns out that the criminal justice system offers a near perfect picture of this phenomenon.

As incarceration doubled from 1990 to today, it became less effective. At its relatively low levels twenty years ago, incarceration may indeed have had some effect on crime. The positive returns may not have yet diminished.

Incarceration rates have now risen so high that further increases in incarceration are ineffective. Due to the war on drugs and the influx of harsher sentencing laws in the 1980s and 1990s, an increasing proportion of the 1.1 million prisoners added since 1990 were imprisoned for low-level or non-violent crimes. Today, almost half of state prisoners are convicted of non-violent crimes. More than half of federal prisoners are serving time for drug offenses. The system is no longer prioritizing arresting, prosecuting, and incarcerating the most dangerous or habitual offenders. In this case, each additional prisoner will, on average, yield less in terms of crime reduction. We have incarcerated those we should not have. This is where the “more incarceration equals less crime” theory busts.

Even those who have argued for the effectiveness of incarceration acknowledge this possibility. University of Chicago economist and Freakonomics co-author Steven Levitt found in his 2004 study that incarceration was responsible for over a third of the 1990s drop in violent crime. He noted that, “Given the wide divergence in the frequency and severity of offending across criminals, sharply declining marginal benefits of incarceration are a possibility,” which, if present, could have affected his findings.

Decrease in Incarceration and Crime

Can the United States safely reduce its incarcerated population? After all, it would be too bad if reducing incarceration yielded a spike in crime.

Fortunately, there is a real-time experiment underway. For many reasons, including straitened budgets and a desire to diminish prison populations, many states have started to cut back on imprisonment. What happened? Interestingly, and encouragingly, crime did not explode. In fact, it dropped. In the last decade, 14 states saw declines in both incarceration and crime. New York reduced imprisonment by 26 percent, while seeing a 28 percent reduction in crime. Imprisonment and crime both decreased by more than 15 percent in California, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Texas. Eight states—Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Utah—lowered their imprisonment rates by 2 to 15 percent while seeing more than a 15 percent decrease in crime.

This is all very significant. Incarceration is not just any government policy. Mass incarceration comes at an incredible cost. “A year in prison can cost more than a year at Harvard,” Stiglitz points out. Taxpayers spend $260 billion a year on criminal justice. And there will continue to be less and less to show for it, as more people are incarcerated.

There are 2.7 million minor children with a parent behind bars. More than 1 in 9 black children have a parent incarcerated.


There are significant human costs as well—to individuals, families, communities, and the country. Spending a dollar on prisons is not the same as spending it on public television or the military. Prisons result in an enormous waste of human capital. Instead of so many low-level offenders languishing behind bars, they could be earning wages and contributing to the economy. Incarceration is so concentrated in certain communities that it has disrupted the gender balance and marriage rates. The costs are intergenerational. There are 2.7 million minor children with a parent behind bars. More than 1 in 9 black children have a parent incarcerated.

Research also shows that incarceration can actually increase future crime. Criminologists call this the “criminogenic effect” of prison. It is particularly powerful on low-level offenders. Once individuals enter prison, they are surrounded by other prisoners who have often committed more serious and violent offenses. Prison conditions also breed violent and anti-social behavior. Former prisoners often have trouble finding employment and reintegrating into society due to legal barriers, social stigma, and psychological scarring from prison. Approximately 600,000 prisoners reenter society each year. Those who can find employment earn 40 percent less than their peers, and 60 percent face long-term unemployment. Researchers estimate that the country’s poverty rate would have been more than 20 percent lower between 1980 and 2004 without mass incarceration.

This lack of stability increases the odds that former prisoners will commit new crimes.
The more people we put into prison who do not need to be there, the more this criminogenic effect increases. That is another plausible explanation for why our massive levels of incarceration are resulting in less crime control.

Our findings do not exist in a vacuum. A body of empirical research is slowly coalescing around the ineffectiveness of increased incarceration. Last year, the Hamilton Project issued a report calling incarceration a “classic case of diminishing returns,” based on findings from California and Italy. The National Research Council issued a hefty report last year, finding that crime was not the cause of mass incarceration. And, based on a summary of past research, the authors concluded that “the magnitude of the crime reduction [due to increased incarceration] remains highly uncertain and the evidence suggests it was unlikely to have been large.”

We go a few steps further to fully reveal the complex relationship between crime and incarceration. By using thirteen years of more recent data, gathered in the modern era of heavily elevated incarceration, combined with an empirical model that accounts for diminishing returns and controls for other variables, we are able to quantify the sharply declining benefits of overusing prison.

Other Factors Reducing Crime

But if it was not incarceration, then what did cause the crime decline?

There is no shortage of candidates. Every year, it seems, a new study advances a novel explanation. Levitt attributes about half the crime drop to the legalization of abortion. Amherst economist Jessica Reyes attributes about half the violent crime drop to the unleading of gasoline after the Clean Air Act. Berkeley law professor Franklin Zimring credits the police as the central cause. All three theories likely played some role.

Instead of a single, dominant cause, our research points to a vast web of factors, often complex, often interacting, and some unexpected. Of the theories we examined, we found the following factors had some effect on bringing down crime: a growth in income (5 to 10 percent), changes in alcohol consumption (5 to 10 percent), the aging population (0 to 5 percent), and decreased unemployment (0 to 3 percent). Policing also played a role, with increased numbers of police in the 1990s reducing crime (0 to 10 percent) and the introduction of CompStat having an even larger effect (5 to 15 percent).

But none is solely, or even largely, responsible for the crime drop. Unfortunately, we could not fully test a few theories, as the data did not exist at the detailed level we needed for our analysis. For those, we analyzed past research, finding that inflation and consumer confidence (individuals’ belief about the strength of the economy) probably had some effect on crime. The legalization of abortion and unleading of gasoline may also have played some role.

In aggregate, the fourteen factors we identified can explain some of the drop in crime in the 1990s. But even adding all of them together fails to explain the majority of the decrease.

Popular Theories on the Crime Decline

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Brennan Center

A Sensible Way Forward

No one factor brought down crime. Today, incarceration has become the default option in the fight against crime. But more incarceration is not a silver bullet. It has, in fact, ceased to be effective in reducing crime—and the country is slowly awakening to that reality. Incarceration can be reduced while crime continues to decline. The research shows this and many states are watching it unfold.

Where do we go from here? As President Obama said it in his State of the Union last month, “Surely we can agree that it’s a good thing that for the first time in 40 years, crime and incarceration have come down together, and use that as a starting point for Democrats and Republicans, community leaders and law enforcement, to reform America’s criminal justice system so that it protects and serves all of us.” And indeed, reforming our criminal justice system is emerging as a bipartisan cause. Everyone from Jeb Bush to Hillary Clinton to the Koch Brothers to George Soros has made similar calls.

We should listen to them. There are bold, practical policy solutions starting to gain bipartisan support. Incarceration can be removed as a punishment for many non-violent, non-serious crimes. Violations of technical conditions of parole and probation should not lead to a return trip to prison. Sentence maximum and minimum lengths can be downscaled across the board. There is little reason to jail low-risk defendants who are simply waiting for their trials to begin. And, government funding streams can change to reward reducing incarceration.

Crime is expensive. We do well to fight it. But increasing incarceration is definitely not the answer.
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Re: CNN Tonight with Don Lemon on Bill Clinton & BLM

Postby admin » Fri Apr 15, 2016 6:38 am

Lead: America's Real Criminal Element. New Research Finds Lead is the Hidden Villain Behind Violent Crime, Lower IQs, and Even the ADHD Epidemic. And Fixing the Problem is a Lot Cheaper Than Doing Nothing.
by Kevin Drum
Mother Jones
January/February 2013 Issue

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WHEN RUDY GIULIANI RAN FOR MAYOR of New York City in 1993, he campaigned on a platform of bringing down crime and making the city safe again. It was a comfortable position for a former federal prosecutor with a tough-guy image, but it was more than mere posturing. Since 1960, rape rates had nearly quadrupled, murder had quintupled, and robbery had grown fourteenfold. New Yorkers felt like they lived in a city under siege.

Throughout the campaign, Giuliani embraced a theory of crime fighting called "broken windows," popularized a decade earlier by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling in an influential article in The Atlantic. "If a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired," they observed, "all the rest of the windows will soon be broken." So too, tolerance of small crimes would create a vicious cycle ending with entire neighborhoods turning into war zones. But if you cracked down on small crimes, bigger crimes would drop as well.

Giuliani won the election, and he made good on his crime-fighting promises by selecting Boston police chief Bill Bratton as the NYPD's new commissioner. Bratton had made his reputation as head of the New York City Transit Police, where he aggressively applied broken-windows policing to turnstile jumpers and vagrants in subway stations. With Giuliani's eager support, he began applying the same lessons to the entire city, going after panhandlers, drunks, drug pushers, and the city's hated squeegee men. And more: He decentralized police operations and gave precinct commanders more control, keeping them accountable with a pioneering system called CompStat that tracked crime hot spots in real time.


8: Spreading the Word

The daily press knew how to handle this story. So what if Science buried Nelson-Rees's report in the back pages under the stodgy title "Banded Marker Chromosomes as Indicators of Intraspecies Cellular Contamination." The newspapers, properly horrified, played it on page one with headlines more to the point:

CANCER WAR SET BACK
GOOF COSTS 20 YEARS OF RESEARCH

A line of human tumor cells used by laboratories around the world for more than 20 years may have invalidated millions of dollars worth of cancer research, according to a scientist's report .... As a result, says the author, Dr. Walter A. Nelson-Rees, checks are in order for dozens of laboratories engaged in cancer research. -- Los Angeles Herald Examiner


DEAD WOMAN'S CANCER CELLS SPREADING

Dr. Walter Nelson-Rees, one of the most experienced cell biologists in the world ... has reported that many cell lines are by no means what they are thought to be by the laboratories handling them. -- Miami Herald


A SHOCKER FOR SCIENTISTS

"The main situation has probably existed for years," said the main author of the report, Walter A. Nelson-Rees, a highly respected researcher. ... Nelson-Rees said the contaminating potential of the HeLa cells is well known, but that sufficient precautions against it have apparently not been taken. -- San Francisco Chronicle


All this publicity made no sense to a number of scientists. Why was Nelson-Rees taking bows now when Stan Gartler had dropped the original bomb in 1966?

Part of the reason was that Nelson-Rees's paper was printed in Science, one of the few technical journals that nonscientists, particularly reporters, find accessible. One section, prepared by the journal's news staff, was actually written in English, and in the 7 June 1974 issue, the section carried a story that translated Nelson-Rees's article beautifully. "If Nelson-Rees is right," wrote Barbara Culliton, "a lot of people may have been spending a lot of time and money on misguided research. If, for example, you are studying the properties of human breast tumor cells, hoping to find features that distinguish breast cells from others, and are, all the while, dealing unknowingly with cervical tumor cells, you've got a problem." That was plain enough even for a newspaper reporter to understand, and to embellish and bang out for the morning edition.

But what really made Nelson-Rees a media star was the dramatic background of his shocking results: "The War." In Gartler's day, HeLa contamination had been the dirty little family secret of the tissue culture crowd. Its broader impact was not obvious. In 1974, however, "The War" had been officially declared and raging for several years. Everybody knew that the nation's most brilliant medical experts were at this very moment working feverishly against the scourge of cancer. It was a national priority.

Nelson-Rees's message made this large and serious effort seem a little silly. Sure, the institute was spending millions of dollars sending its brave recruits over the top against the enemy. But it turns out our boys were shooting with blanks!


-- "Goof" Costs 65 Years to Infinity of Cancer Research. Excerpt From: "A Conspiracy of Cells: One Woman's Immortal Legacy and the Medical Scandal It Caused", by Michael Gold


The results were dramatic. In 1996, the New York Times reported that crime had plunged for the third straight year, the sharpest drop since the end of Prohibition. Since 1993, rape rates had dropped 17 percent, assault 27 percent, robbery 42 percent, and murder an astonishing 49 percent. Giuliani was on his way to becoming America's Mayor and Bratton was on the cover of Time. It was a remarkable public policy victory.

Hernandez reveals publicly for the first time that the downgrading of crimes to manipulate statistics allowed a man to commit six sexual assaults in a Washington Heights neighborhood in 2002 before he was finally caught after his seventh attack.

The initial six crimes, committed over a two-month period, went unnoticed by 33rd Precinct detectives, Hernandez says, because patrol supervisors had improperly labeled most of them as misdemeanors. It was only through a lucky break—an alert neighbor spotted the suspect pushing his seventh victim into her apartment—that the rapist, Daryl Thomas, was finally captured.

After his arrest, Hernandez persuaded Thomas to detail his earlier crimes. The detective then combed through stacks of crime complaint reports to identify the pattern of violence.

Hernandez learned that most of the victims' complaints in the prior assaults had been classified as criminal trespassing, so the incidents never reached the detective squad and, in turn, were never declared a pattern, which would have triggered an intense campaign to capture the perpetrator.

He says Thomas told him that with each new assault, his brazenness and level of violence increased: "I asked him, 'Weren't you ever afraid that you would get caught in any of these locations?' He goes 'Nah. I looked around, I never saw any cops,' " Hernandez says. "What they do is continue to hide these complaint reports, and what happens is no one is alerted that they have a serious crime pattern in those areas."

A Manhattan jury convicted Thomas in five cases on first-degree attempted rape, robbery, burglary, and sexual assault charges. He is currently serving a 50-year sentence in a state prison in Romulus, New York.

No police official was ever disciplined for misclassifying the complaints. Not only did Police Commissioner Ray Kelly allow the precinct commander, then Captain Jason Wilcox, to stay on, but he promoted him twice: Wilcox is now an Inspector and the commanding officer of the Manhattan Transit Bureau....

In addition to the Thomas case, the Voice series has documented a policy of refusing to take robbery complaints from some victims, and includes references to a dozen instances of crime complaint manipulation in the 81st Precinct. Subsequent Web reports have contained evidence of additional manipulations. Other Voice Web reports document an attempted rape of the journalist Debbie Nathan that was downgraded to forcible touching in the 34th Precinct, and an attempted armed robbery report that disappeared in the 94th Precinct....

"It made no sense that there was no pattern," Hernandez says. "Then it dawned on me. They [precinct supervisors] are fudging numbers, misclassifying cases. So I start looking."...

But supervisors had made sure that the early reports were shaded to keep them from being filed as serious, felonious crimes. "They look to eliminate certain elements in the narrative. One word or two words can make the charge into a misdemeanor."...

Hernandez found out sometime later that a detective sergeant in the squad had noticed the similarity of the incidents, but when he brought it to the attention of the squad commander and the precinct commander, he was rebuffed.

"He told them, 'You have a predator out there,' and they said, 'Keep your mouth shut,' " Hernandez says. "He told them, 'You keep on believing that, it's going to blow up in your face. And it would get ugly if people found out about it.' They didn't listen."...

Professors John Eterno of Molloy College and Eli Silverman of John Jay College have released a new study based on a survey of hundreds of retired NYPD supervisors, which offers yet more evidence of the practice of downgrading criminal complaints. The study, to be published in the International Journal of Police Science and Management, found that pressure to downgrade crime complaints grew as a result of the CompStat model, which holds precinct commanders accountable for crime in their areas....

Supervisors spoke of precinct commanders going to crime scenes to get the victim to change his story, the survey found....

The Thomas case, Hernandez says, was just one of many questionable things he observed during his career.

He says he had a robbery case that someone downgraded to petit larceny and his signature was forged to make it appear that he himself had downgraded the crime. The forgery was discovered after a paralegal from the Manhattan D.A.'s Office obtained the case file from Police Headquarters in preparation for the trial....

It got to the point, he says, that he would enter the complaints himself into the computer system. But that still didn't solve the problem because precinct supervisors would go back into the system and alter the reports. "Or they would come to me and tell me to change it, and I would refuse because that's not a lawful order," he says. "If that didn't work, they would complain to the squad lieutenant and try to manipulate him."

-- NYPD Tapes 3: A Detective Comes Forward About Downgraded Sexual Assaults, by Graham Rayman


But even more remarkable is what happened next. Shortly after Bratton's star turn, political scientist John DiIulio warned that the echo of the baby boom would soon produce a demographic bulge of millions of young males that he famously dubbed "juvenile super-predators." Other criminologists nodded along. But even though the demographic bulge came right on schedule, crime continued to drop. And drop. And drop. By 2010, violent crime rates in New York City had plunged 75 percent from their peak in the early '90s.

All in all, it seemed to be a story with a happy ending, a triumph for Wilson and Kelling's theory and Giuliani and Bratton's practice. And yet, doubts remained. For one thing, violent crime actually peaked in New York City in 1990, four years before the Giuliani-Bratton era. By the time they took office, it had already dropped 12 percent.

Second, and far more puzzling, it's not just New York that has seen a big drop in crime. In city after city, violent crime peaked in the early '90s and then began a steady and spectacular decline. Washington, DC, didn't have either Giuliani or Bratton, but its violent crime rate has dropped 58 percent since its peak. Dallas' has fallen 70 percent. Newark: 74 percent. Los Angeles: 78 percent.

There must be more going on here than just a change in policing tactics in one city. But what?

Compstat crime reduction efficacy is frequently advocated by police administrators, several of whom moved from the NYPD to head other city police departments. Compstat’s introduction in New Orleans, for example, corresponded with a reported decline in murders from 421 in 1994, diving 55 per cent in 1999 to 162. Minneapolis’s version of Compstat, CODEFOR (Computer Optimised Deployment-focus on Results), has been credited for a double-digit decrease in homicides, aggravated assaults, robberies, burglaries and auto thefts between 1998 and 1999 (Anderson, 2001, p. 4). In 2000, Compstat was introduced in Baltimore by its new chief, a former NYPD deputy police commissioner. By the end of the year, the city experienced below 300 homicides for the first time in 20 years, accompanied by an overall crime drop of 25 per cent (Anderson, p. 4; Clines, 2001, p. 15; Weissenstein, 2003, p. 27). Between 1999 and 2001, Baltimore’s overall violent crime declined 24 per cent, homicides dropped 15 per cent, shootings fell 34 per cent, robberies dropped 28 per cent, rapes 20 per cent and assaults 21 per cent (Henry, 2002, p. 307). Philadelphia’s former police commissioner, another former NYPD deputy police commissioner, attributed a decline in the city’s crime to Compstat-driven policing.

On the other hand, concerns have been raised in many jurisdictions that Compstat has served as a catalyst to inaccurate law enforcement statistical measurement (Long & Silverman, 2005; Manning, 2001; Willis et al., 2003b). When this type of system becomes excessively supervised, whether within a highly centralised organisation or from external political or hierarchical organisations, the consequences can be alarming. Subordinate units will naturally concentrate on those items being measured. Or, as the saying goes, ‘what gets measured gets done’. This can lead to crime statistics manipulation and/or downgrading, which has been reported in numerous locales including Philadelphia, Atlanta (Hart, 2004, p. 6), New Orleans (Ritea, 2003a, p. 1, 2003b, p. 1), New York (Gardiner & Levitt, 2003, p. 8; Parascandola & Levitt, 2004, p. 5) and Broward County, Florida (Hernandez, O’Boye, & O’Neill, 2004, p. 9). In Philadelphia, charges of altered crime reports emerged after the police department introduced Compstat. ‘If a person was punched in the eye, it might have been written up as a hospital report, so it didn’t reflect a crime had occurred’, reported one Philadelphia police official (Webber & Robinson, 2003).

-- The NYPD’s Compstat: compare statistics or compose statistics?, by John A. Eterno and Eli B. Silverman


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Illustration: Gérard DuBois

THERE ARE, IT TURNS OUT, plenty of theories. When I started research for this story, I worked my way through a pair of thick criminology tomes. One chapter regaled me with the "exciting possibility" that it's mostly a matter of economics: Crime goes down when the economy is booming and goes up when it's in a slump. Unfortunately, the theory doesn't seem to hold water—for example, crime rates have continued to drop recently despite our prolonged downturn.

Another chapter suggested that crime drops in big cities were mostly a reflection of the crack epidemic of the '80s finally burning itself out. A trio of authors identified three major "drug eras" in New York City, the first dominated by heroin, which produced limited violence, and the second by crack, which generated spectacular levels of it. In the early '90s, these researchers proposed, the children of CrackGen switched to marijuana, choosing a less violent and more law-abiding lifestyle. As they did, crime rates in New York and other cities went down.

Another chapter told a story of demographics: As the number of young men increases, so does crime. Unfortunately for this theory, the number of young men increased during the '90s, but crime dropped anyway.

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Chart: The PB Effect
Top: Rick Nevin, USGS, DOJ


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Bottom: Rick Nevin, Guttmacher Institute, CDC

There were chapters in my tomes on the effect of prison expansion. On guns and gun control. On family. On race. On parole and probation. On the raw number of police officers. It seemed as if everyone had a pet theory. In 1999, economist Steven Levitt, later famous as the coauthor of Freakonomics, teamed up with John Donohue to suggest that crime dropped because of Roe v. Wade; legalized abortion, they argued, led to fewer unwanted babies, which meant fewer maladjusted and violent young men two decades later.

But there's a problem common to all of these theories: It's hard to tease out actual proof. Maybe the end of the crack epidemic contributed to a decline in inner-city crime, but then again, maybe it was really the effect of increased incarceration, more cops on the beat, broken-windows policing, and a rise in abortion rates 20 years earlier. After all, they all happened at the same time.

To address this problem, the field of econometrics gives researchers an enormous toolbox of sophisticated statistical techniques. But, notes statistician and conservative commentator Jim Manzi in his recent book Uncontrolled, econometrics consistently fails to explain most of the variation in crime rates. After reviewing 122 known field tests, Manzi found that only 20 percent demonstrated positive results for specific crime-fighting strategies, and none of those positive results were replicated in follow-up studies.

So we're back to square one. More prisons might help control crime, more cops might help, and better policing might help. But the evidence is thin for any of these as the main cause. What are we missing?

Experts often suggest that crime resembles an epidemic. But what kind? Karl Smith, a professor of public economics and government at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, has a good rule of thumb for categorizing epidemics: If it spreads along lines of communication, he says, the cause is information. Think Bieber Fever. If it travels along major transportation routes, the cause is microbial. Think influenza. If it spreads out like a fan, the cause is an insect. Think malaria. But if it's everywhere, all at once—as both the rise of crime in the '60s and '70s and the fall of crime in the '90s seemed to be—the cause is a molecule.

A molecule? That sounds crazy. What molecule could be responsible for a steep and sudden decline in violent crime?

Well, here's one possibility: Pb(CH2CH3)4.

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Chart: Did Lead Make You Dumber?
Rick Nevin/CDC


IN 1994, RICK NEVIN WAS A CONSULTANT working for the US Department of Housing and Urban Development on the costs and benefits of removing lead paint from old houses. This has been a topic of intense study because of the growing body of research linking lead exposure in small children with a whole raft of complications later in life, including lower IQ, hyperactivity, behavioral problems, and learning disabilities.

But as Nevin was working on that assignment, his client suggested they might be missing something. A recent study had suggested a link between childhood lead exposure and juvenile delinquency later on. Maybe reducing lead exposure had an effect on violent crime too?

That tip took Nevin in a different direction. The biggest source of lead in the postwar era, it turns out, wasn't paint. It was leaded gasoline. And if you chart the rise and fall of atmospheric lead caused by the rise and fall of leaded gasoline consumption, you get a pretty simple upside-down U: Lead emissions from tailpipes rose steadily from the early '40s through the early '70s, nearly quadrupling over that period. Then, as unleaded gasoline began to replace leaded gasoline, emissions plummeted.

Gasoline lead may explain as much as 90 percent of the rise and fall of violent crime over the past half century.


Intriguingly, violent crime rates followed the same upside-down U pattern. The only thing different was the time period: Crime rates rose dramatically in the '60s through the '80s, and then began dropping steadily starting in the early '90s. The two curves looked eerily identical, but were offset by about 20 years.

So Nevin dove in further, digging up detailed data on lead emissions and crime rates to see if the similarity of the curves was as good as it seemed. It turned out to be even better: In a 2000 paper (PDF) he concluded that if you add a lag time of 23 years, lead emissions from automobiles explain 90 percent of the variation in violent crime in America. Toddlers who ingested high levels of lead in the '40s and '50s really were more likely to become violent criminals in the '60s, '70s, and '80s.

And with that we have our molecule: tetraethyl lead, the gasoline additive invented by General Motors in the 1920s to prevent knocking and pinging in high-performance engines. As auto sales boomed after World War II, and drivers in powerful new cars increasingly asked service station attendants to "fill 'er up with ethyl," they were unwittingly creating a crime wave two decades later.

It was an exciting conjecture, and it prompted an immediate wave of…nothing. Nevin's paper was almost completely ignored, and in one sense it's easy to see why—Nevin is an economist, not a criminologist, and his paper was published in Environmental Research, not a journal with a big readership in the criminology community. What's more, a single correlation between two curves isn't all that impressive, econometrically speaking. Sales of vinyl LPs rose in the postwar period too, and then declined in the '80s and '90s. Lots of things follow a pattern like that. So no matter how good the fit, if you only have a single correlation it might just be a coincidence. You need to do something more to establish causality.

As it turns out, however, a few hundred miles north someone was doing just that. In the late '90s, Jessica Wolpaw Reyes was a graduate student at Harvard casting around for a dissertation topic that eventually became a study she published in 2007 as a public health policy professor at Amherst. "I learned about lead because I was pregnant and living in old housing in Harvard Square," she told me, and after attending a talk where future Freakonomics star Levitt outlined his abortion/crime theory, she started thinking about lead and crime. Although the association seemed plausible, she wanted to find out whether increased lead exposure caused increases in crime. But how?

In states where consumption of leaded gasoline declined slowly, crime declined slowly. Where it declined quickly, crime declined quickly.


The answer, it turned out, involved "several months of cold calling" to find lead emissions data at the state level. During the '70s and '80s, the introduction of the catalytic converter, combined with increasingly stringent Environmental Protection Agency rules, steadily reduced the amount of leaded gasoline used in America, but Reyes discovered that this reduction wasn't uniform. In fact, use of leaded gasoline varied widely among states, and this gave Reyes the opening she needed. If childhood lead exposure really did produce criminal behavior in adults, you'd expect that in states where consumption of leaded gasoline declined slowly, crime would decline slowly too. Conversely, in states where it declined quickly, crime would decline quickly. And that's exactly what she found.

Meanwhile, Nevin had kept busy as well, and in 2007 he published a new paper looking at crime trends around the world (PDF). This way, he could make sure the close match he'd found between the lead curve and the crime curve wasn't just a coincidence. Sure, maybe the real culprit in the United States was something else happening at the exact same time, but what are the odds of that same something happening at several different times in several different countries?

Nevin collected lead data and crime data for Australia and found a close match. Ditto for Canada. And Great Britain and Finland and France and Italy and New Zealand and West Germany. Every time, the two curves fit each other astonishingly well. When I spoke to Nevin about this, I asked him if he had ever found a country that didn't fit the theory. "No," he replied. "Not one."

In Australia, Compstat-like performance management systems were also modelled after New York’s Compstat. Queensland’s Police Service version of Compstat is known as Operational Performance Review (OPR). One study found the introduction of OPR ‘associated with a significant decrease in the total number of reported offences’ (Mazerolle, Rombouts, & McBroom, 2007).

The country’s largest police force, the New South Wales police, developed its Operations and Crime Review (OCR) management system after visits to NYPD’s Compstat (Davis & Coleman, 2000). A previous commissioner stressed that OCR policing is data driven, ‘uncompromising difficult and stressful’ (Ryan, 2000 cited in Kennedy 2010).

Like elsewhere, Australian performance-based policing is controversial. On the one hand, for example, two Australian scholars’ evaluation of the OCR found this process to be effective in reducing three of the four offence categories studied (Chilvers & Weatherburn, 2004). Yet a 2000 evaluation by an independent consulting group (Hay Group Consulting Consortium, 2000) found communication to be largely a one-way process with little feedback to commanders, ‘reinforcing the culture of fear and punishment’. The following year, the deputy commissioner resigned after he announced that crime was falling when the Bureau of Crime Statistics said it was increasing (Kennedy, 2000, p. 27).

Australia’s National Uniform Crime Statistics Committee reported variations in crime statistics due to ‘. . . the extent of unreported crime; inadequacies in offence definitions, counting rules and offence classifications; procedural differences such as the offences under which an offender may be charged; differences in the way statistics are compiled as a result of the lack of uniformity in systems used and noncompliance with the rules governing the collation of statistics’ (Hallam, 2009, p. 55) Carach and Makkai (2002) found that recorded crime statistics in the State of Victoria varied depending on whether an evidential or prima facie approach was applied by officers involved in the crime recording process.

-- The NYPD’s Compstat: compare statistics or compose statistics?, by John A. Eterno and Eli B. Silverman


Just this year, Tulane University researcher Howard Mielke published a paper with demographer Sammy Zahran on the correlation of lead and crime at the city level. They studied six US cities that had both good crime data and good lead data going back to the '50s, and they found a good fit in every single one. In fact, Mielke has even studied lead concentrations at the neighborhood level in New Orleans and shared his maps with the local police. "When they overlay them with crime maps," he told me, "they realize they match up."

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Put all this together and you have an astonishing body of evidence. We now have studies at the international level, the national level, the state level, the city level, and even the individual level. Groups of children have been followed from the womb to adulthood, and higher childhood blood lead levels are consistently associated with higher adult arrest rates for violent crimes. All of these studies tell the same story: Gasoline lead is responsible for a good share of the rise and fall of violent crime over the past half century.

When differences of atmospheric lead density between big and small cities largely went away, so did the difference in murder rates.


Like many good theories, the gasoline lead hypothesis helps explain some things we might not have realized even needed explaining. For example, murder rates have always been higher in big cities than in towns and small cities. We're so used to this that it seems unsurprising, but Nevin points out that it might actually have a surprising explanation—because big cities have lots of cars in a small area, they also had high densities of atmospheric lead during the postwar era. But as lead levels in gasoline decreased, the differences between big and small cities largely went away. And guess what? The difference in murder rates went away too. Today, homicide rates are similar in cities of all sizes. It may be that violent crime isn't an inevitable consequence of being a big city after all.

The gasoline lead story has another virtue too: It's the only hypothesis that persuasively explains both the rise of crime in the '60s and '70s and its fall beginning in the '90s. Two other theories—the baby boom demographic bulge and the drug explosion of the '60s—at least have the potential to explain both, but neither one fully fits the known data. Only gasoline lead, with its dramatic rise and fall following World War II, can explain the equally dramatic rise and fall in violent crime.

IF ECONOMETRIC STUDIES WERE ALL THERE were to the story of lead, you'd be justified in remaining skeptical no matter how good the statistics look. Even when researchers do their best—controlling for economic growth, welfare payments, race, income, education level, and everything else they can think of—it's always possible that something they haven't thought of is still lurking in the background. But there's another reason to take the lead hypothesis seriously, and it might be the most compelling one of all: Neurological research is demonstrating that lead's effects are even more appalling, more permanent, and appear at far lower levels than we ever thought. For starters, it turns out that childhood lead exposure at nearly any level can seriously and permanently reduce IQ. Blood lead levels are measured in micrograms per deciliter, and levels once believed safe—65 μg/dL, then 25, then 15, then 10—are now known to cause serious damage. The EPA now says flatly that there is "no demonstrated safe concentration of lead in blood," and it turns out that even levels under 10 μg/dL can reduce IQ by as much as seven points. An estimated 2.5 percent of children nationwide have lead levels above 5 μg/dL.

But we now know that lead's effects go far beyond just IQ. Not only does lead promote apoptosis, or cell death, in the brain, but the element is also chemically similar to calcium. When it settles in cerebral tissue, it prevents calcium ions from doing their job, something that causes physical damage to the developing brain that persists into adulthood.

Only in the last few years have we begun to understand exactly what effects this has. A team of researchers at the University of Cincinnati has been following a group of 300 children for more than 30 years and recently performed a series of MRI scans that highlighted the neurological differences between subjects who had high and low exposure to lead during early childhood.

High childhood exposure damages a part of the brain linked to aggression control. The impact is greater among boys.


One set of scans found that lead exposure is linked to production of the brain's white matter—primarily a substance called myelin, which forms an insulating sheath around the connections between neurons. Lead exposure degrades both the formation and structure of myelin, and when this happens, says Kim Dietrich, one of the leaders of the imaging studies, "neurons are not communicating effectively." Put simply, the network connections within the brain become both slower and less coordinated.

A second study found that high exposure to lead during childhood was linked to a permanent loss of gray matter in the prefrontal cortex—a part of the brain associated with aggression control as well as what psychologists call "executive functions": emotional regulation, impulse control, attention, verbal reasoning, and mental flexibility. One way to understand this, says Kim Cecil, another member of the Cincinnati team, is that lead affects precisely the areas of the brain "that make us most human."

So lead is a double whammy: It impairs specific parts of the brain responsible for executive functions and it impairs the communication channels between these parts of the brain. For children like the ones in the Cincinnati study, who were mostly inner-city kids with plenty of strikes against them already, lead exposure was, in Cecil's words, an "additional kick in the gut." And one more thing: Although both sexes are affected by lead, the neurological impact turns out to be greater among boys than girls.

Other recent studies link even minuscule blood lead levels with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Even at concentrations well below those usually considered safe—levels still common today—lead increases the odds of kids developing ADHD.

In other words, as Reyes summarized the evidence in her paper, even moderately high levels of lead exposure are associated with aggressivity, impulsivity, ADHD, and lower IQ. And right there, you've practically defined the profile of a violent young offender.

The man sitting across from Hernandez didn't fit the stereotype of a sex offender. Thomas helped manage a computer system at a Manhattan law firm. He had a wife and a daughter, and they all lived in the same neighborhood where the attack had taken place.

-- NYPD Tapes 3: A Detective Comes Forward About Downgraded Sexual Assaults, by Graham Rayman


Needless to say, not every child exposed to lead is destined for a life of crime. Everyone over the age of 40 was probably exposed to too much lead during childhood, and most of us suffered nothing more than a few points of IQ loss. But there were plenty of kids already on the margin, and millions of those kids were pushed over the edge from being merely slow or disruptive to becoming part of a nationwide epidemic of violent crime. Once you understand that, it all becomes blindingly obvious. Of course massive lead exposure among children of the postwar era led to larger numbers of violent criminals in the '60s and beyond. And of course when that lead was removed in the '70s and '80s, the children of that generation lost those artificially heightened violent tendencies.

Police chiefs want to think what they do on a daily basis matters. And it does. But maybe not as much as they think.


But if all of this solves one mystery, it shines a high-powered klieg light on another: Why has the lead/crime connection been almost completely ignored in the criminology community? In the two big books I mentioned earlier, one has no mention of lead at all and the other has a grand total of two passing references. Nevin calls it "exasperating" that crime researchers haven't seriously engaged with lead, and Reyes told me that although the public health community was interested in her paper, criminologists have largely been AWOL. When I asked Sammy Zahran about the reaction to his paper with Howard Mielke on correlations between lead and crime at the city level, he just sighed. "I don't think criminologists have even read it," he said. All of this jibes with my own reporting. Before he died last year, James Q. Wilson—father of the broken-windows theory, and the dean of the criminology community—had begun to accept that lead probably played a meaningful role in the crime drop of the '90s. But he was apparently an outlier. None of the criminology experts I contacted showed any interest in the lead hypothesis at all.

Why not? Mark Kleiman, a public policy professor at the University of California-Los Angeles who has studied promising methods of controlling crime, suggests that because criminologists are basically sociologists, they look for sociological explanations, not medical ones. My own sense is that interest groups probably play a crucial role: Political conservatives want to blame the social upheaval of the '60s for the rise in crime that followed. Police unions have reasons for crediting its decline to an increase in the number of cops. Prison guards like the idea that increased incarceration is the answer. Drug warriors want the story to be about drug policy. If the actual answer turns out to be lead poisoning, they all lose a big pillar of support for their pet issue. And while lead abatement could be big business for contractors and builders, for some reason their trade groups have never taken it seriously.

More generally, we all have a deep stake in affirming the power of deliberate human action. When Reyes once presented her results to a conference of police chiefs, it was, unsurprisingly, a tough sell. "They want to think that what they do on a daily basis matters," she says. "And it does." But it may not matter as much as they think.

SO IS THIS ALL JUST AN INTERESTING history lesson? After all, leaded gasoline has been banned since 1996, so even if it had a major impact on violent crime during the 20th century, there's nothing more to be done on that front. Right?

Wrong. As it turns out, tetraethyl lead is like a zombie that refuses to die. Our cars may be lead-free today, but they spent more than 50 years spewing lead from their tailpipes, and all that lead had to go somewhere. And it did: It settled permanently into the soil that we walk on, grow our food in, and let our kids play around.

That's especially true in the inner cores of big cities, which had the highest density of automobile traffic. Mielke has been studying lead in soil for years, focusing most of his attention on his hometown of New Orleans, and he's measured 10 separate census tracts there with lead levels over 1,000 parts per million.

To get a sense of what this means, you have to look at how soil levels of lead typically correlate with blood levels, which are what really matter. Mielke has studied this in New Orleans, and it turns out that the numbers go up very fast even at low levels. Children who live in neighborhoods with a soil level of 100 ppm have average blood lead concentrations of 3.8 μg/dL—a level that's only barely tolerable. At 500 ppm, blood levels go up to 5.9 μg/dL, and at 1,000 ppm they go up to 7.5 μg/dL. These levels are high enough to do serious damage.

"I know people who have move into gentrified neighborhoods and renovate everything. They create huge hazards for their kids."


Mielke's partner, Sammy Zahran, walked me through a lengthy—and hair-raising—presentation about the effect that all that old gasoline lead continues to have in New Orleans. The very first slide describes the basic problem: Lead in soil doesn't stay in the soil. Every summer, like clockwork, as the weather dries up, all that lead gets kicked back into the atmosphere in a process called resuspension. The zombie lead is back to haunt us.

Mark Laidlaw, a doctoral student who has worked with Mielke, explains how this works: People and pets track lead dust from soil into houses, where it's ingested by small children via hand-to-mouth contact. Ditto for lead dust generated by old paint inside houses. This dust cocktail is where most lead exposure today comes from.

Paint hasn't played a big role in our story so far, but that's only because it didn't play a big role in the rise of crime in the postwar era and its subsequent fall. Unlike gasoline lead, lead paint was a fairly uniform problem during this period, producing higher overall lead levels, especially in inner cities, but not changing radically over time. (It's a different story with the first part of the 20th century, when use of lead paint did rise and then fall somewhat dramatically. Sure enough, murder rates rose and fell in tandem.)

And just like gasoline lead, a lot of that lead in old housing is still around. Lead paint chips flaking off of walls are one obvious source of lead exposure, but an even bigger one, says Rick Nevin, are old windows. Their friction surfaces generate lots of dust as they're opened and closed. (Other sources—lead pipes and solder, leaded fuel used in private aviation, and lead smelters—account for far less.)

We know that the cost of all this lead is staggering, not just in lower IQs, delayed development, and other health problems, but in increased rates of violent crime as well. So why has it been so hard to get it taken seriously?

There are several reasons. One of them was put bluntly by Herbert Needleman, one of the pioneers of research into the effect of lead on behavior. A few years ago, a reporter from the Baltimore City Paper asked him why so little progress had been made recently on combating the lead-poisoning problem. "Number one," he said without hesitation, "it's a black problem." But it turns out that this is an outdated idea. Although it's true that lead poisoning affects low-income neighborhoods disproportionately, it affects plenty of middle-class and rich neighborhoods as well. "It's not just a poor-inner-city-kid problem anymore," Nevin says. "I know people who have moved into gentrified neighborhoods and immediately renovate everything. And they create huge hazards for their kids."

Tamara Rubin, who lives in a middle-class neighborhood in Portland, Oregon, learned this the hard way when two of her children developed lead poisoning after some routine home improvement in 2005. A few years later, Rubin started the Lead Safe America Foundation, which advocates for lead abatement and lead testing. Her message: If you live in an old neighborhood or an old house, get tested. And if you renovate, do it safely.

Another reason that lead doesn't get the attention it deserves is that too many people think the problem was solved years ago. They don't realize how much lead is still hanging around, and they don't understand just how much it costs us.

It's difficult to put firm numbers to the costs and benefits of lead abatement. But for a rough idea, let's start with the two biggest costs. Nevin estimates that there are perhaps 16 million pre-1960 houses with lead-painted windows, and replacing them all would cost something like $10 billion per year over 20 years. Soil cleanup in the hardest-hit urban neighborhoods is tougher to get a handle on, with estimates ranging from $2 to $36 per square foot. A rough extrapolation from Mielke's estimate to clean up New Orleans suggests that a nationwide program might cost another $10 billion per year.

We can either get rid of the remaining lead, or we can wait 20 years and then lock up all the kids who've turned into criminals.


So in round numbers that's about $20 billion per year for two decades. But the benefits would be huge. Let's just take a look at the two biggest ones. By Mielke and Zahran's estimates, if we adopted the soil standard of a country like Norway (roughly 100 ppm or less), it would bring about $30 billion in annual returns from the cognitive benefits alone (higher IQs, and the resulting higher lifetime earnings). Cleaning up old windows might double this. And violent crime reduction would be an even bigger benefit. Estimates here are even more difficult, but Mark Kleiman suggests that a 10 percent drop in crime—a goal that seems reasonable if we get serious about cleaning up the last of our lead problem—could produce benefits as high as $150 billion per year.

Put this all together and the benefits of lead cleanup could be in the neighborhood of $200 billion per year. In other words, an annual investment of $20 billion for 20 years could produce returns of 10-to-1 every single year for decades to come. Those are returns that Wall Street hedge funds can only dream of.

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There's a flip side to this too. At the same time that we should reassess the low level of attention we pay to the remaining hazards from lead, we should probably also reassess the high level of attention we're giving to other policies. Chief among these is the prison-building boom that started in the mid-'70s. As crime scholar William Spelman wrote a few years ago, states have "doubled their prison populations, then doubled them again, increasing their costs by more than $20 billion per year"—money that could have been usefully spent on a lot of other things. And while some scholars conclude that the prison boom had an effect on crime, recent research suggests that rising incarceration rates suffer from diminishing returns: Putting more criminals behind bars is useful up to a point, but beyond that we're just locking up more people without having any real impact on crime. What's more, if it's true that lead exposure accounts for a big part of the crime decline that we formerly credited to prison expansion and other policies, those diminishing returns might be even more dramatic than we believe. We probably overshot on prison construction years ago; one doubling might have been enough. Not only should we stop adding prison capacity, but we might be better off returning to the incarceration rates we reached in the mid-'80s.

So this is the choice before us: We can either attack crime at its root by getting rid of the remaining lead in our environment, or we can continue our current policy of waiting 20 years and then locking up all the lead-poisoned kids who have turned into criminals. There's always an excuse not to spend more money on a policy as tedious-sounding as lead abatement—budgets are tight, and research on a problem as complex as crime will never be definitive—but the association between lead and crime has, in recent years, become pretty overwhelming. If you gave me the choice, right now, of spending $20 billion less on prisons and cops and spending $20 billion more on getting rid of lead, I'd take the deal in a heartbeat. Not only would solving our lead problem do more than any prison to reduce our crime problem, it would produce smarter, better-adjusted kids in the bargain. There's nothing partisan about this, nothing that should appeal more to one group than another. It's just common sense. Cleaning up the rest of the lead that remains in our environment could turn out to be the cheapest, most effective crime prevention tool we have. And we could start doing it tomorrow.

Support for this story was provided by a grant from the Puffin Foundation Investigative Journalism Project.
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Heather MacDonald, Manhattan Institute

National Review Online contributor Heather Mac Donald falsely said there is no evidence "that the overrepresentation of blacks in prison or arrest statistics is a result of criminal justice racism," while on NBC's Meet the Press. In fact, studies have found "conclusively" that disproportionate incarceration for African Americans is attributed to "racial bias."

Mac Donald has a history of racially inflammatory comments, including claiming that young African-American males have a "lack of self-discipline"; that it is "common sense that black students are more likely to be disruptive" than white students; and that black men possess a "lack of impulse control that results in ... mindless violence on the streets."

Still, the August 17 edition of Meet the Press turned to Mac Donald to discuss fallout from the fatal shooting of unarmed African American teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, MO. In a taped segment, Deadspin.com's Greg Howard argued that "It's physically easier for a police officer to weigh what a black man's life is worth and to end up feeling that he is justified in pulling the trigger." Mac Donald was then presented as a counterpoint, to claim there is no evidence of racial bias in the criminal justice system:


MAC DONALD: The criminology profession has been trying for decades to prove that the overrepresentation of blacks in prison or in arrest statistics is a result of criminal justice racism. It is black crime rates that predict the presence of blacks in the criminal justice system, not some miscarriage of justice.


Due to a lack of information from local authorities it is still unclear what, if any, crime the police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown believed Brown was committing, and whether such use of force was a necessary or appropriate response. However, research indicates that nationally, African-Americans are arrested and incarnated at rates that cannot be explained by crime rates.

For example, a recent report from the American Civil Liberties Union found that even though African-Americans and whites use marijuana at approximately the same rate, African-Americans are 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession. ACLU found that in some communities, African-Americans were arrested for possession 30 times more often.

Research from Human Rights Watch also found that African-Americans were disproportionately arrested on drug charges "in every year from 1980 through 2007":

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3. MYTH. JUSTICE IS APPLIED EQUALLY.
REALITY: Crime prevention and enforcement policies target people of color disproportionately.
BLACKS WERE ARRESTED ON DRUG CHARGES 2.8 TO 5.5 TIMES HIGHER THAN WHITES IN EVERY YEAR FROM 1980 THROUGH 2007.


The trend holds true for juvenile arrests as well. According to Rebuild the Dream President Van Jones, Department of Justice statistics indicate that "African American youth arrest rates for drug violations, assaults and weapon offenses are higher than arrest rates for white youth -- even though both report similar rates of delinquency."

Numerous studies have found that African-Americans are sentenced to longer prison terms compared to whites when committing the same crime. According to a 2012 study by law professors at University of Pennsylvania, University of Chicago, and Harvard University, the sentencing discrepancies can "conclusively" be attributed to "racial bias."
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