Category: Studies and Statistics

PA state police data shows no racial profiling in traffic stops: Study

The question of racial bias in police traffic stops is a highly debated issue. Some analyses have shown that certain racial or ethnic groups are disproportionately represented in traffic stops, leading many people to allege racial profiling and discrimination. However, it is not accurate or fair to claim that all police traffic stops are inherently racist. Other factors can contribute to racial disparities in police stops, including differences in driving behavior, geographic location, and crime rates in specific areas. As more research is conducted on this topic, it becomes more apparent how much context and other factors can play a role in traffic stop decisions. For example,  research that adequately accounts for the impact of contextual and situational factors has found that racial disparities may not be as pronounced as previously thought, and that they are often explained by other factors unrelated to race.

This was the case in a recent study examining traffic stops in Pennsylvania, which found no evidence of racial profiling. According to the full-length report, the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) stopped more than 440,000 drivers in 2022, 78.5% of whom white. In comparison, 14.4% were Black, and 8.2% were Hispanic. To conduct the study, the PSP partnered with Dr. Robin Engel and the National Police Foundation to ensure that the evaluation was independent and external to the department. Overall, these data should inspire public confidence in the police. It also suggests that PSP’s approach could serve as a promising model for other agencies.

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New York’s bail reform law and recidivism

In recent years, many states throughout the nation have taken steps to reduce or eliminate the use of monetary bail. According to proponents, the purpose of bail “reform” is to reduce jail populations and decrease income disparities regarding how bail is applied. However, critics believe that such laws would negatively impact public safety due to more defendants committing crimes while on pretrial release. Further, there also concerns that reforms could increase failure-to-appear rates.

One state where bail reform has received considerable attention is New York. Statewide reforms first took effect on January 1, 2020, though it was later amended in April 2020 and May 2022. Currently, there isn’t a ton of research examining whether bail reform contributed to crime, but more research is starting to trickle out on this topic. There seems to be a lot of variaiton regarding the findings though. One of the more recent reports on this topic was published earlier this month by the Data Collaborative for Justice (DCJ), which claimed that bail reform decreased recidivism among pretrial releases in New York City. However, this is inconsistent with a previous study from last year, also conducted in New York City, which found the opposite: bail reform efforts significantly increased recidivism. Thus, it’s important to read these studies very carefully to determine which ones are the most relevant and helpful. In this post, I will review the latest report released by the DCJ and provide my thoughts regarding its validity.

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A commentary on CCJ’s recommendations for sentencing reform

In Spring 2022, the Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ) launched a Task Force on Long Sentences with the aim of assessing our nation’s use of long prison terms (i.e., 10+ years) and the impact on public safety and justice. Most recently, the Task Force released a report detailing their 14 recommendations about how to reduce mass incarceration without negatively impacting public safety.

The recommendations are questionable, though, as they seem overly optimistic about the state of the research. For example, they propose various alternatives to incarceration that are supposedly effective, though they make the research sound much more conclusive than it actually is. Perhaps they ought to be reminded of the old adage: “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” In this post, I will highlight some of the more controversial “recommendations” and provide some points for consideration. In a future post, I will critically assess each recommendation in more detail and provide additional points for consideration.

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The problem with reducing reliance on incarceration: A commentary on Vera’s “new paradigm” on sentencing

The United States should move away from incarceration and ultimately work toward a system that creates “real safety,” according to a new, widely circulated report from the Vera Institute of Justice. In the report, the authors claim that severe sentences do not deter crime nor help survivors of crime heal, and therefore are not achieving their intended purpose. However, the argument seems to be rooted in emotion rather than facts. The research actually presents a more nuanced picture.

The controversy regarding incarceration is not new, and has remained a major topic of debate in recent years. Clearly, there are many different opinions regarding the utility of incarceration and its effectiveness, many of which are emotionally-driven and not rooted in facts. Rather, the research on incarceration presents a very nuanced picture. It is simply naive to think that any one policy would be 100% effective or 0% effective, and these types of “all-or-nothing” arguments are often rooted in emotion rather than facts.

In this post, I’ll give an overview of the lengthy report’s executive summary and give my thoughts regarding their key points. Stay tuned for part two of this post, where I will perform a deeper assessment of the report in its entirety.

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Latzer and Mangual: The Myths of Mass Incarceration and Overpolicing

Here is a very worthwhile event, available online at the Heritage Foundation. Barry Latzer and Rafael Mangual will speak on the topic above at noon EST on Thursday, January 26. We have quoted both Latzer and Mangual often on this blog. Our friend Cully Stimson is the host.

In criminal justice, as the old saying goes, it’s not what we don’t know that gets us in trouble; it’s what we know for a fact that just is not so. We can expect Latzer and Mangual to expose many “woke” myths at this event.

Sentencing Length and Recidivism: A Review of the Research

We previously announced a working paper, Sentence Length and Recidivism: A Review of the Research, in May 2021 and announced an update last June. We are pleased to announce that the review has now been published in a peer-reviewed journal, Federal Sentencing Reporter, in the October issue. (Vol. 35, No. 1) The permanent link to the published version is The paper is also available on CJLF’s website.

Here is the abstract:

In response to prison overcrowding concerns in recent years, many U.S. officials have undertaken efforts to reduce sentence lengths for certain crimes. However, it is unclear how these changes affect recidivism rates. Among the research on incarceration and recidivism, the majority of studies compare custodial with noncustodial sentences, while fewer examine the impact of varying incarceration lengths. This article reviews the research on the latter. Overall, the effect of incarceration length on recidivism appears too heterogeneous to draw universal conclusions, and findings are inconsistent across studies due to methodological limitations. For example, many study samples are skewed toward people with shorter sentences while others include confounds that render results invalid. Of the studies reviewed, some suggested that longer sentences provide additional deterrent benefits in the aggregate, though some studies also had null effects. None suggested a strong aggregate-level criminogenic effect. We argue that a conclusion that longer sentences have a substantial criminogenic effect, large enough to offset incapacitative effects, cannot be justified by the existing literature.

That last sentence is important. Continue reading . . .

Comparing nationwide violent crime estimates: Summary-based vs. incident-based reporting

The FBI released official 2021 crime statistics last month, but the data leaves major gaps in our understanding of national-level crime rates. Unfortunately, the numbers are incomplete this year because 36% of U.S. law enforcement agencies, some of them major cities, failed to submit their crime reports. This is largely because the FBI made major changes to the way that it collects crime data, making the submission process much more complicated. Rather than following the arduous process, many agencies simply declined to participate in last year’s data collection. In comparison, 2020 crime statistics included data from 85% of U.S. law enforcement agencies.

This post briefly reviews agency participation rates and discusses what that means for our current understanding of national-level crime. Then, using data from the years 2017-2020 (all of the years for which data from both systems are available),  I examine whether the two systems produce similar violent crime estimates. Continue reading . . .

Is Crime in San Francisco Worse Than NYC?

Responding to MSNBC interviewer’s statement that New York City residents “don’t feel safe in this town,” and are “worried we could become San Francisco,” the state’s newly-elected Governor Kathy Hochul said NYC “will never be San Francisco.”  Mallory Monench of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that Hochul went on to say that the Big Apple was successfully fighting crime, with homicides and shootings down dramatically from last year.  While the two cities have vastly different populations, on overall crime they are generally comparable.   Homicides are tracking down 14% in New York City compared to last year while they are up in San Francisco by .43%.  But NYC saw dramatic increases in 2020 and 2021, while San Francisco homicides increased only slightly.  Both cities have unacceptable rates of violent crime.  When it comes to property crime Hochul is correct about San Francisco.  The numbers for 2020 show almost three times the rate of property crimes in San Francisco than in New York.  The reporter admits something that most of the media and liberal think tanks ignore, “The number is almost certainly higher in reality since many people don’t report property crime to the police because of the perception that doing so won’t make a difference.”

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Violent crime is a key issue for U.S. midterm election

Crime has become a big issue in the U.S. midterm elections. According to a recent Gallup poll, crime ranked as the second most important issue among voters, with 71% of registered voters saying it was either “extremely” or “very” important to their vote. This came second after the economy, which 85% of voters said would be extremely or very important to their vote. According to a different Gallup survey released a few weeks ago, more than half of Americans (56%) said there was more crime in their area compared to a year ago. According to Gallup, “That’s up a whopping 11 points from 2021 and 18 points from 2020, and is the highest mark ever measured.” This issue was a concern across party lines, with 73% of Republicans, 51% of Independents, and 42% of Democrats all agreeing that crime is getting worse (in 2020, these percentages were 38%, 38%, and 37%, respectively).

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Misconceptions about racial disparities in police investigations: Results from Tucson

Debates about racial inequalities in the criminal justice system have ramped up in the last several years. This has been largely driven by discussions about racially-biased police violence, but many also speculate about disparities in how the police treat crime victims. For example, one common belief is that the thoroughness of police investigations varies based on victim and officer race. But a recent study published in The Journal of Law and Economics (subscription required for access) suggests otherwise, at least in the context of residential burglary.

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