Monthly Archive: September 2022

Culture, Root Causes, and Discussion Taboos

In a basketball tournament for teenage girls last November, one player punched an opponent, knocking her to the floor and giving her a concussion. What did the offending girl’s mother think of this blatant assault and battery? She was the one who instructed her daughter to do it. Latria Shonty Hunt was charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor but let off with an apology and restitution. See this story by Vikki Vargas and Heather Navarro for NBC LA.

People have long debated the “root causes” of crime, and the discussion usually focuses on income. Poverty is the root cause of crime. Government programs are the solution to poverty. So let’s just spend more on government anti-poverty programs and crime will go down. That was how the Great Society was sold to America in the 1960s, and it was a cataclysmic failure. But that does not stop people from urging us to repeat the history.

Victor Hugo notwithstanding, we have enough of a social safety net in place that no one is going to jail for stealing loaves of bread to feed starving children. We need to look elsewhere for root causes. A powerful but under-discussed root cause of crime is culture. Too many young people are subject to influences from those around them that cause them to choose the path of crime rather than the path of law-abidingness. In the case of Ms. Hunt’s daughter, the very person who should have been teaching her to obey the law, respect the rights of others, and generally be a good person was teaching her just the opposite. Even kids with good parents are subject to bad influences from peers and popular culture.

So why don’t we hear more about culture as a root cause of crime? Continue reading . . .

A Report and a Critique on Nitrogen Hypoxia Executions

Scientific American has this report by Dana Smith on execution via nitrogen hypoxia. Dudley Sharp has this critique of the article. As Mr. Sharp notes, all of the people interviewed by Ms. Smith for the article are opponents of the death penalty. As is standard practice in journalism now, opponents of the death penalty are not identified as such. The Death Penalty Information Center’s misleading self-identification is repeated uncritically in the article: “a national nonprofit that provides information and analysis on death penalty issues.” This Soros-funded organization filters and colors the information it provides to support only anti-death-penalty arguments, but you would never know that from the way it is routinely identified in the press.

Some of the comments are misleading and some border on silly. Among the latter, an anesthesiologist criticizes the coining of a new term, “nitrogen hypoxia,” as “a made-up two-word expression meant to sound like you’re on the bridge of the starship Enterprise.” For the record, I am a Star Trek fan of long standing, and the term never once made me think of the Enterprise. There is absolutely nothing wrong with coining a new term for a new procedure or invention. “Television” is a made-up word unknown in the nineteenth century. “Smart phone” is a more recent coined term for a more recent invention. Anything wrong with either of those? Continue reading . . .

Philadelphia murder rates rise due to lenient sentences sought by progressive prosecutor Larry Krasner

As the progressive prosecutor movement grows in popularity, we see more and more policy changes that reduce penalties for certain crimes. One of the common themes is de-prosecution, or the discretionary decision to not prosecute certain criminal offenses. Another aspect of de-prosecution involves reducing the severity of punishment for individuals who are prosecuted. The movement came about due to the belief of many progressives that mass incarceration actually increases crime through supposed “criminogenic” effects. That is, they believe that people who serve long periods of time in prison will adapt to that culture and learn certain behaviors that will make them worse criminals. However, opponents argue that de-prosecution policies don’t hold offenders sufficiently accountable, and will only encourage more crime as offenders learn that there are little to no consequences for their behavior.

In Philadelphia, de-prosecution began in 2015 with District Attorney Seth Williams. This resulted in a substantial decline in both new cases prosecuted and sentencings (particularly for drug possession, drug trafficking, and felony possession of firearms), a trend that accelerated when District Attorney Larry Krasner took office in 2018. At the annual Federalist Society Convention last year, Krasner boasted that his policies are “on the side of the data,” vehemently denying that de-prosecution increases crime. However, a 2022 study published in Criminology and Public Policy refuted Krasner’s claims. The study, conducted by Thomas Hogan, revealed a causal link between de-prosecution and increased homicides in Philadelphia.

Continue reading . . .

USCA9 Strikes Down Cal. Ban of Federal Private Prisons

State laws interfering with federal government operations within the state present a constitutional problem that goes back to the early days of the republic. In the early nineteenth century, the Bank of the United States was very controversial, and the State of Maryland tried to kill it with a discriminatory tax. The Supreme Court declared the tax unconstitutional in a landmark decision by Chief Justice Marshall, M’Culloch v. Maryland, 17 U.S. 316 (1819).

Within California, immigration enforcement efforts are highly controversial, particularly in the prior Administration. Privately operated prisons are also very controversial. The state can, of course, choose not to use such prisons itself. However, the California Legislature in 2019 enacted AB 32, barring any person from operating a private prison. In essence, they barred federal contractors from continuing to provide services they had long provided to the federal government. Continue reading . . .

USDOJ Seeks Comments on Pentobarbital

The U.S. Department of Justice has published this notice in the Federal Register, asking for comments about the use of pentobarbital in executions.

This may be another step in the game of execution whack-a-mole. When the gas chamber and electrocution were the common methods of execution, they were attacked with an argument that the pain inherent in those methods was unnecessary because the three-drug lethal injection method was painless. When that method was widely adopted, it was attacked with an argument that the single-drug barbiturate method presented far less risk of pain. When that method was widely adopted, some experts crawled out of the woodwork to claim that it presents an unacceptable risk of painful pulmonary edema. Continue reading . . .

Judge Slaps Philly DA For Misconduct

With homicides in Philadelphia on track to eclipse last year’s record-setting 562 murders according to AXIOS,  District Attorney Larry Krasner’s office is working to reduce sentences for convicted murderers.  The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that last week a federal judge rejected Krasner’s effort to reduce the death sentence of a 1984 double-murderer, in a decision highlighting the fact that his office had attempted to mislead the court.  Shortly after the former criminal defense attorney’s election as district attorney in 2018, Krasner fired 31 deputies, including a dozen experienced homicide prosecutors.  Since then. his office has partnered with defense attorneys to petition Philadelphia judges to resentence condemned murderers to life in prison without parole.  Earlier this year the DA joined the defense attorney for Robert Wharton, who murdered a young couple in 1984, to petition Federal District Judge Mitchell Goldberg to overturn his death sentence on a claim of ineffective assistance of council at the sentencing hearing.

Continue reading . . .

BJS releases 2021 victimization statistics

The Bureau of Justice Statistics recently released information on 2021 victimization rates derived from the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS). There were no statistically significant changes in violent victimization or property victimization rates from 2020 to 2021. However, the violent victimization rate increased in urban areas, from 19.4 to 24.5 per 1,000. The percentage of violent victimizations reported to police increased (+6%), as did the percentage of violent crime victims who sought assistance from victim service providers (+3%). The percentage of property victimizations reported to police decreased (-2%), which was mostly due to a decrease in reporting for “other theft” (-3%). This post outlines the major findings from the report, while more detailed information can be found via the NCVS’ interactive data dashboard.

Continue reading . . .

You billed the union health plan for what?

The U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California (LA and adjoining counties) issued this press release last Wednesday:

Federal prosecutors today filed criminal charges against nine defendants – seven of them dockworkers at the Port of Long Beach – who allowed more than $2.1 million in fraudulent claims to be submitted to their labor union’s health insurance plan for sexual services or for physical therapy that never was provided. Continue reading . . .

Violent crime is up in 2022, according to MCCA survey of 70 U.S. police agencies

Violent crime is on the rise in the U.S., according to 2022 survey results recently published by the Major City Chiefs Association (MCCA). The MCCA is a professional organization of police executives that advocates for the advancement of public safety through innovation, research, and policy development. The results presented here were collected as part of an annual survey of their membership, which included 70 of the largest jurisdictions in the U.S.

Agencies reported the number of aggravated assaults, homicides, rapes, and robberies that occurred during the first half of 2022 and first half of 2021. Counts and rates were compared across years. Among responding agencies, there was a total increase of +4.4% in violent crime. This was driven mostly by increases in robberies, which were up +13.1%, and aggravated assaults, which were up by +2.6% These two crimes were the most prevalent overall, accounting for 86% of violent crime reported in 2022. Continue reading . . .

The Full Harm of Burglary

Karen Bass, a member of Congress and candidate for LA Mayor, was the victim of a home burglary recently. KTTV has this interview.

Ms. Bass says “my safety was shattered” and describes returning home to find the house burgled as “traumatic.” But isn’t burglary a “non-violent property crime”? Aren’t people who commit such crimes nearly harmless, to be handled with kid gloves and let off lightly? That’s what the folks on Ms. Bass’s side of the aisle have been telling us for years, and California has seen a cascade of laws designed to water down the consequences of committing such crimes. Continue reading . . .