But did you know that most criminals are never caught and when they are caught, most are not convicted.
Consider these statistics. It is estimated that in the United States there are about 500,000 burglaries that take place each month. But since crooks steal from other crooks only about half of those burglaries, about 250,000, are ever reported to the police. Here’s the kicker. Of the quarter of a million police reports, only 35,000 arrests are actually made. However, only 30,000 of those arrested are ever prosecuted for their crime and even fewer, only 24,000, are actually convicted.
Are you getting the picture? A half a million burglaries a month results in only 24,000 convictions but the truly amazing statistic is this: only a mere 6,000 are sent to prison. The rest are paroled and those who do go to jail for their crime spend only an average of 13 months behind bars. Apparently, crime does pay.
While crime may have a payoff for the criminal, crime has a tremendous cost to society. When you add up all the costs it is nearly trillion dollars per year. That may not sound like a lot to the average Washington politician but it is certainly a staggering number to the rest of us. Who pays that cost? Well, it apparently isn't the criminals. It’s the rest of us good, law abiding citizens.
We pay the the costs in higher taxes to fund the police and criminal justice system. We pay the costs when we spend our own money to protect our own homes and business. We pay the costs at the check out counter when we pay higher prices for items to cover the loss that businesses suffers through theft. And, we pay the cost when we pay higher rates to insure our homes, cars, and ourselves.
So what are we to do? Past solutions have been largely ineffective. Massive government spending on social programs, massive spending on more prisons, and sweeping changes in sentences have had very little effect. More prisons holding more prisoners for longer periods of time really isn't helping.
Some would advocate that we put more criminals behind bars and we keep them there for longer periods. Again, this makes sense on the surface but it is very expensive strategy that has resulted in very little change.
Others would have us focus more of our efforts and resources on habitual criminals. They are the ones who should be spending more time in prison because if they are in prison they can not commit more crimes or so the logic goes. They have a valid point.
We know that the majority of crime is committed by habitual criminals. Ninety percent of prison population has five or more arrest. But which came first, the habitual criminal or the prison? We also know that prisons are a breeding ground for more crime and smarter criminals. They are not places of rehabilitation.
Some would argue that we need alternate sentencing for vice crime. In other words, we need to decriminalize some crimes like drugs use and prostitution so our limited resources can be directed toward the serious and violent crimes. Having fewer laws would result in fewer criminals and that would result therefore in fewer prisons being built and expensively maintained. Yet, I’m not certain that will lessen the cost and consequences to society caused by those destructive behaviors.
On the other hand, I do recognize that tougher sentencing laws have not prevented more crime. In fact, in some cases it has actually created more crime.
That seems logical until you consider the data. Like most Americans I was in favor of the Three Strikes law when the various states first started passing them. It just made a lot of sense to me. On the third felony offense the criminal is locked away for a very long time. Three strikes and you're out of circulation. Since most criminals are habitual it seems like a reasonable strategy to combat crime. If the criminal hadn't rehabilitated or learned their lesson from the first two convictions and jail time, then keep them locked up and away from society. It is expensive to keep them there for sure but much safer for society, or so I thought.
Turns out that the law had unintended consequences, as all actions and laws do. Now many police departments and unions are pushing to have the Three Strikes laws stricken from the books in their respective states. Even though the law is meeting its original intended purpose by putting away more habitual criminals, it also appears to be causing violent crime to rise.
It does that in two ways. Lets say a burglar on the verge of a third strike in California has an even safer option for his next act—take his activities out of state. Just across the border in Arizona, there's no three-strikes law at all. In neighboring Nevada, the law is rarely invoked. So rather than breaking- an-entering in Los Angeles, why not take a road trip to Las Vegas or Phoenix instead? It seems that many criminals do. Studies have found that a larger fraction of repeat offenders repeat their crime out of state after the three-strikes law's passage.
Here is another way. Three-strike-eligible criminals who actually do get arrested for a third offense commit more serious crimes. Burglars, for example, become robbers—these are both offenses that involve stealing, but robbery has the added element of force. Similarly, while thefts decline overall, assaults during thefts go up under three strikes suggesting that an increasing number of thieves may, in desperation, be trying to muscle their way out of a third arrest. Police are concerned and working to overturn this law because more police are shot and many are killed by criminals trying to avoid their third-strike arrest.
One of the many gifts that Albert Einstein gave us is a definition of insanity. He said insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. It is apparent to me that our methods have been tried, and tried again, and yet with we keep getting the very same results: more crime not less, overcrowded prisons, and billions of wasted dollars. The methods we have employed are not failing for lack of funding or for lack of effort but because there are major flaws in our crime fighting strategies.
All of our current methods for reducing crime are mainly focused on punishment instead of prevention. I am a law and order kind of guy and I believe in punishment for crimes and I believe that the punishment should always fit the crime, including capital punishment for capital crimes. Opponents of capital punishment argue that the death penalty does not deter crime. That may in fact be the case, but capital punishment is about punishment, the penalty, not about deterrence.
I also believe, however, that locking up a single mom for twenty years because her third strike crime was drug possession is in itself a crime. The punishment simply goes way beyond the crime and is another very good reason to end the Three Strikes laws.
But fighting crime is about the prevention of crime or at least it should be. That is where we will find the savings. That is where we will make a society safer. That is where we must focus.
The flaws we see evident in our current strategies for reducing crime comes from having the wrong beliefs about the nature of crime and the motivation of criminals. Seems to me the way you overhaul a broken system is to first identify the incorrect assumptions that built the flawed strategy. Remember, flawed paradigm always lead to bad decisions.
There are a number of theories out there about the origins of crime. As I present these theories you will see just how much they have influenced the way we deal with crime and with criminals today. But first let me clarify something.
Mental illness is not a crime but the mentally ill do indeed commit crimes, sometimes horrific crimes as we have witnessed in recent months. Nonetheless, we can no longer afford to continuing using typical crime fighting strategies with those who are mentally ill. Talk about an exercise in futility. More gun laws will not cure the mentally ill or their delusions or the violent tendencies of some.
I also believe, and this will most likely be controversial, that drug abuse is a kind of self-inflicted mental illness and so the same principle applies. We can not treat the drug addict as a criminal accept when the addict has committed a real crime. Even then the standard methods of prison and punishment is meaningless and has no positive long term effects for the addict or society.
I am in no way suggesting that we should be soft on crime. I am suggesting though that we must come to some reasonable, basic understanding that there are differences in the causes of crime and those different causes requires that we come up with different solutions.
Here are five theories of crime that have at least some merit in that they describe some aspect of the origins of crime but each eventually fall short of correcting the problem because they do not go to the very root cause.
Broken Window Theory: This theory sees crime as the result of an “atmosphere of lawlessness” and there is some value to this idea. There is good evidence to support the notion that criminal behavior does gather and flourish in neighborhoods and sections of communities where there are signs that people do not care about law and order: abandoned buildings, broken glass, graffiti, garbage in the streets, and little lighting.
To stop crime is as simply as going into these areas and cleaning them up: paint the graffiti, fix the broken glass. pick up the trash. Research has shown that when communities do this the crime rate drops in that area. Problem solved. The truth, however, is that the crime didn't actually stop, it simply moved away to another bad neighborhood. This approach might help a particular section of town but it does little to really solve the problem.
Opportunity Theory: There are three components to this theory. 1) There must be the availability of a target or victim. 2) There must be an absence of capable guardians to protect the target or victim. 3) There must be the presence of a motivated offender. In summary, opportunity for crime leads to crime. The supporters of this theory would say, “In a world of thieves the only crime is stupidity.”
While this theory explains the mechanics of crime, it does not explain where the motivated offender comes from. This theory helps sell alarms and security systems but like the previous theory, removing the opportunity for crime just moves the criminal to other venues of opportunity.
Choice Theory: In this theory crime is a simple mathematical formula: benefits of the crime outweigh the consequences of the crime. In other words, high payoff and low consequences led to criminal. It is very similar to Opportunity Theory. The solution is to either lower the benefits of crime or increase the consequences crime.
This theory does not explain the absence of crime when opportunity is available. Nor does it explain why people commit murder (the greatest of all crimes) in a state that practices the death penalty, (the ultimate consequence for any crime).
Conflict Theory: This theory finds it source in old fashion Marxism and is getting a lot of press these days. In this theory crime is the result of an inherent conflict between the haves and the have nots. Poverty, racism, sexism, and other sources of conflict is the root cause of all crime.
Related to Conflict Theory is Strain Theory: Here crime is explained as a product of personal need and social pressure to meet that need. It was Lenin who said that “crime is the product of social excess.” While the theory might explain why a poor inner city teenager steals a pair of expensive basketball shoes, it does not explain why another teenager in a similar situation does not.
These and other theories touch on some aspect of how crime happens but provide no answer as to why crime occurs.
The two theories that I personally think gets closer to the heart of the matter and can provide real solutions to our rising crime problem are the Deviant Subculture Theory and the Moral Development Theory.
Deviant Subculture Theory sometimes referred to as Differential Association, states that crime is largely due to a deviant subculture where crime is valued and even rewarded. In other words, criminal behavior is learned much like any other social behavior, deviant or not.
I agree with this premise. Crime, like poverty, is largely a learned behavior. The problem with this theory is that, like all the others we've discussed today, it focuses on how a person becomes a criminal but not on why they become a criminal.
Any strategy, program, or effort to combat crime that does not take into consideration why someone chooses crime is doomed to ultimate failure. To better understand the “why of crime” and not just the “how of crime” we will take a moment to consider this last proposition.
Moral Development Theory: I like this theory because it basically says that crime is the result of a lack of moral development. Not having an inner compass or the ability to sympathize with others is why people choose crime if the atmosphere of lawlessness exists, if the opportunity presents itself, if there is strain or conflict.
Does it help to lock the door and turn on the alarm? Yes, but as the saying goes. It only keeps out the honest crooks. Does it help to have more police. Sure, it may increase your chance that one is close enough to stop you from being a victim of crime. But the odds are still against you.
This theory appears to agree with scripture but it still fails to answer the key central question that only the scripture both asks and answers. There is a big difference between knowing what we ought to do or what not to do versus our actual actions. Moral and character development, like what we teach everyday at Patrick Henry Boys and Girls homes is a good crime prevention program. It has many positive outcomes but in the end it does not solve the central cause of crime and other human misery - sin.
The Bible and only the Bible has the true explanation for crime. It’s called Sin Theory. Academics think such a notion is non-scientific. Modern man ridicules the idea of sin as old fashion or the myths of the simple minded. Well, I have two Masters degrees and 35 years of experience working in the social services arena and I am here to tell you that sin is the only explanation that makes any sense for the kind of crime, deprivation, and senseless acts of cruelty I have seen and continue to see on a regular basis.
More laws won’t stop crime. More laws just create more criminals. More police, more alarms, more registered gun owners will not stop crime either, it only moves it somewhere else.
The best hope for actually lowering the crime rate and not just move it somewhere else is the local church. The local church is in possession of the greatest power on earth to transform human nature and therefore it is the only hope in the end for reducing the growing crime rate.