Time Cops: Can Police Really Predict Crime Before It Happens?

Slate is running an interesting new article about an idea known as “Predictive Policing.”  According to the article, “Predictive policing is based on the idea that some crime is random—but a lot isn’t.”

“For example, home burglaries are relatively predictable. When a house gets robbed, the likelihood of that house or houses near it getting robbed again spikes in the following days. Most people expect the exact opposite, figuring that if lightning strike once, it won’t strike again. ‘This type of lightning does strike more than once,’ says Brantingham. Other crimes, like murder or rape, are harder to predict. They’re more rare, for one thing, and the crime scene isn’t always stationary, like a house. But they do tend to follow the same general pattern. If one gang member shoots another, for example, the likelihood of reprisal goes up.”

Readers might wonder how this is any different from COMPSAT, and the article addresses that question by suggesting that “[t]he big difference is that CompStat is more retrospective than prospective.”  Finally, the article also addresses the possible criticism that much of this seems obvious – not revolutionary:

“But isn’t a lot of this stuff intuitive? If a crime occurs on a particular block of Compton, can’t the LAPD just keep a closer eye on that area in the days after the crime? Sure, says Brantingham, but intuition can take a police officer only so far. In a city as large and complex as Los Angeles, it’s hard to perform predictive policing by gut alone. Statistical models may simply confirm police intuition 85 percent or 90 percent of the time. ‘It’s in the remaining 10 or 15 percent where police intuition may not be quite as accurate,’ says Brantingham. Malinowski calls the data ‘another tool in the toolbox.’”


The American Thinker Gets Right On Crime

The American Thinker has posted a new piece by Christopher Bedford extolling Right On Crime.  Bedford begins by providing a little bit of historical context:

When Alexis de Tocqueville came to America in 1831, he had been sent by the French government to investigate and report on the American prison system.  In the United States, strong Christian values and experimental tendencies had led independent thinkers to break with Old World norms and introduce a host of radical ideas on justice, the most successful among them being the idea that the main function of imprisonment is not punishment, but reform.

Today, with rocketing prison costs, massive numbers of incarcerated citizens, police forces pushed to the brink, and a public that still does not feel safe, it is high time we remember that the fresh and effective ideas of American justice were once the envy of the world.

Next, after explaining some of the alarming problems in the current criminal justice system, Bedford eloquently states his main argument: “the means for fixing [criminal justice] exist directly within our philosophy.”  This, of course, is the central argument of the entire Right On Crime campaign.  Conservatives who are looking for solutions to American criminal justice problems just have to rediscover their philosophical roots — keep a skeptical eye turned to government at all times and demand accountability and efficiency.

Read The American Thinker piece in its entirety — and be sure to check out the many thoughtful comments.


Mitch Daniels Blogs about Criminal Justice Reform at The Corner

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels took some time yesterday to do a little blogging.  He put up a post at The Corner — National Review’s widely-read blog — about his conservative criminal justice reform efforts in Indianapolis.  Take a look:

Ordinarily, a kind mention in the New York Times — there have actually been a few, lately — sends me back for a serious rethink of whatever action or stance gave rise to the compliment. But this week’s support for our proposed criminal justice reforms in Indiana will engender no second thoughts, because the Times has it right — we can be a lot smarter about our incarceration policies.

During my transition to service in December 2004, I was told that we would need to build at least one new prison a year starting immediately. I said, “Uh, the state’s broke. I think we’ll need to find an alternative.” Six years later, we are housing 38 percent more prisoners without having built one additional cell. At a per day cost that is down around 30 percent, by the way. But even we are out of capacity utilization ideas.

Enter our friends from the Council on State Governments and the Pew Foundation. Their analysis shows that we are imprisoning, in our most expensive spaces, more people for relatively minor, non-violent offenses, like low-level property and drug violations, than most other states. Some of our guests are not with the state corrections system long enough for any rehabilitation, substance-abuse counseling, or job training to take place. They’re only with us, as my guys say, “long enough to study under some real criminals.”

If we can get our legislature to go along, we will soon be matching the place of incarceration more closely to the offender’s true danger to society, reducing recidivism and saving a bundle of money on new prisons we don’t have to build and staff. We’ll reinvest a small fraction of the savings into better community corrections and rehab services. And, as the researchers told us, “You’ll still be five times tougher on criminals than Ohio, just not ten times.”

As the Times editorialists were thinking, “Even a benighted Midwestern Republican stumbles on a good idea once in a while.” Which is approximately what I was thinking about them!


Pat Nolan Talks about Right On Crime


Ed Meese and Hugh Hewitt Discussing Right On Crime

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Marc Levin Talking about Right On Crime on The Lars Larson Show

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George Kelling and William Bennett Sign Right On Crime’s Statement of Principles

During the first week of Right On Crime’s national launch, two of the most prominent conservatives in America signed the campaign’s Statement of Principles: George Kelling and William Bennett.  The following biographies of Kelling and Bennett can also be found at the websites of The Manhattan Institute and billbennett.com.

George L. Kelling is a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a professor in the School of Criminal Justice at Rutgers University, and a fellow in the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Kelling is currently researching organizational change in policing and the development of comprehensive community crime prevention programs.

Kelling has practiced social work as a child care worker, a probation officer, and has administered residential care programs for aggressive and disturbed youths. In 1972, he began work at the Police Foundation and conducted several large-scale experiments in policing, most notably the Kansas City Preventive Patrol Experiment and the Newark Foot Patrol Experiment. The latter was the source of his contribution to his most familiar publication in the Atlantic, “Broken Windows,” with James Q. Wilson. During the late 1980s, Kelling developed the order maintenance policies in the New York City subway that ultimately led to radical crime reductions. Later he consulted with the New York City Police Department as well, especially in dealing with “squeegeemen.”

His most recent major publication is Fixing Broken Windows: Restoring Order and Reducing Crime in Our Communities, which he has published with his wife, Catherine M. Coles. Currently he is studying organizational change in policing and the development of comprehensive community crime prevention programs. He has two children and four grandchildren.

Kelling is a graduate of St. Olaf College (B.A.), the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (M.S.W.), and the University of Wisconsin-Madison (Ph.D.).

William J. Bennett is the host of the radio show “Bill Bennett’s Morning in America”.

He served as President Reagan’s chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities (1981-1985) and Secretary of Education (1985-1988), and President Bush’s “drug czar” (1989-1990). In his various roles, he was perceived — even by his adversaries — as a man of strong, reasoned convictions who spoke candidly, eloquently, and honestly about some of the most important issues of our time.

Dr. Bennett has recently completed a two-volume history of the United States, entitled: “America: The Last Best Hope,” Volumes 1 & 2–both New York Times Best-sellers. Bill Bennett has accomplished a rare feat: since leaving government, he has achieved an even greater impact on our national political debate. Dr. Bennett has written for America’s leading newspapers and magazines and appeared on the nation’s most influential television shows. He has also written and edited 16 books, two of which — The Book of Virtues and The Children’s Book of Virtues — rank among the most successful of the past decade. The Book of Virtues has been made into an animated series that airs on PBS in the United States and Great Britain and has been seen in over 65 countries. Dr. Bennett was named by focus groups and leading analysts the “Best Communicator of 2002,” the most well-received public commentator on the issues of “pride, patriotism, faith, and moral conviction.” In April of 2005, the Sunday New York Times named Dr. Bennett the “leading spokesman of the Traditional Values wing of the Republican Party.”

Although he is a well-known Republican, Dr. Bennett often has crossed party lines in order to pursue important common purposes. He has worked closely with Democratic leaders to fight the decline of popular culture and to end worldwide religious persecution, and he is the co-chairman of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America with former New York Governor Mario Cuomo.

Thanks to his writings and speeches, William Bennett has extraordinary influence on America’s political and social landscape. He, his wife Elayne, and their two sons live in Maryland.


Let’s Make the Prison System Accountable

Right On Crime’s Marc Levin has an editorial in the new Houston Chronicle in which he argues for greater accountability for American prisons.  The editorial is reproduced below, and it can also be read here.

Reduced spending. Limited government. Accountability. Conservatives campaigned on these fundamentals during the 2010 election, and voters rewarded them with control of at least one chamber in 19 state legislatures and a 63-seat gain in the U.S. House of Representatives.

What will this mean for criminal-justice policy? In the past, these conservative principles have too often been forgotten here, with “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” the default mindset.

However, prominent conservatives are charting a new course. Leaders like former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former U.S. Attorney General Ed Meese and Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist have signed the statement of principles for the Right on Crime campaign, which can be followed at www.rightoncrime.com. Led by the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, this project was launched this month to offer an improved approach to criminal justice that is both tough and smart.

One reason Right on Crime is needed is that taxpayers have not been getting a good return on their investment when it comes to criminal-justice spending, and historically few have held the system accountable for that — not even conservatives. In most cases, funding for prison facilities is allocated according to volume, rather than outcomes. In other words, more prisoners mean more money.

As a result, we have created a system that grows when it fails rather than one with incentives to deliver the best public safety return for every taxpayer dollar spent. The result: One in 31 Americans is under correctional supervision and one in 100 is in prison, which means a bigger government footprint and a heavier burden on taxpayers.

A certain level of prison capacity is clearly essential for public safety, but the question is whether spending the next dollar on putting another low-risk, nonviolent offender in prison makes us safer than spending it on better probation supervision, drug courts or policing.

The limited data available suggests that the boom in the size and cost of prisons over recent decades has reached a point of diminishing returns. Research reveals that an increased incarceration rate – and its increased cost – does not necessarily correlate to increased public safety. From 2000 to 2007, New York achieved a 25 percent reduction in crime while its incarceration rate fell 16 percent. During this same period, Florida’s crime rate dropped only 11 percent, even though it increased its incarceration rate by 16 percent.

Some states have begun to think outside the cell, transitioning to an approach of rewarding results. Arizona enacted performance-based probation funding in 2008 that gives a share of the savings to county probation departments when they reduce both the number of probationers revoked to prison and the number convicted of a new offense. Within a year, the Grand Canyon State saw a 12.8 percent decrease in the number of probationers who returned to prison, as both new crimes by probationers and revocations for rules violations declined.

Conservatives advocate for this kind of accountability in nearly every other area of government. Why not criminal justice?

Texas, renowned for its tough-on-crime approach, began shifting its funding paradigm and moving toward greater accountability in 2005. Essentially, the Lone Star State linked adult probation department grants to performance instead of only the number of probationers. Since then, the state’s crime rate has dropped 10.8 percent, reaching its lowest point since 1973.

Through this measure and other efforts to strengthen community corrections, Texas avoided $2 billion in prison costs. Moreover, nearly every participating department reduced the number of probationers who re-entered prison as a result of rules violations or new crimes.

Incentivizing community-based approaches to the extent they reduce reoffending is a no-lose proposition. By holding accountable and reforming amenable nonviolent offenders in the community and prioritizing prisons for dangerous and career criminals, we both limit the size of government and make it more cost-effective at improving public safety.

Conservatives earned votes last November because they stood against wasteful spending, big government and a lack of accountability. Now is the time to fight for conservative principles in the realm of criminal justice. With the right policy approach, we can cut costs, make our communities safer, and introduce accountability to a government bureaucracy that too often has gone unchecked.

Levin is the Director of the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.


Prison Reform: A Smart Way for States to Save Money and Lives

Right On Crime signatories Newt Gingrich and Pat Nolan have published an editorial about the campaign in The Washington Post.  It is entitled “Prison Reform: A Smart Way for States to Save Money and Lives,” and in just a few hours it has drawn nearly 100 comments and the attention of The Crime Report, the Sentencing Law and Policy blog, Sentence Speak, and Grits for Breakfast.

With nearly all 50 states facing budget deficits, it’s time to end business as usual in state capitols and for legislators to think and act with courage and creativity.

We urge conservative legislators to lead the way in addressing an issue often considered off-limits to reform: prisons. Several states have recently shown that they can save on costs without compromising public safety by intelligently reducing their prison populations.

We joined with other conservative leaders last month to announce the Right on Crime Campaign, a national movement urging states to make sensible and proven reforms to our criminal justice system – policies that will cut prison costs while keeping the public safe. Among the prominent signatories are Reagan administration attorney general Ed Meese, former drug czar Asa Hutchinson, David Keene of the American Conservative Union, John Dilulio of the University of Pennsylvania, Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform and Richard Viguerie of ConservativeHQ.com. We all agree that we can keep the public safe while spending fewer tax dollars if we spend them more effectively.

The Right on Crime Campaign represents a seismic shift in the legislative landscape. And it opens the way for a common-sense left-right agreement on an issue that has kept the parties apart for decades.

There is an urgent need to address the astronomical growth in the prison population, with its huge costs in dollars and lost human potential. We spent $68 billion in 2010 on corrections – 300 percent more than 25 years ago. The prison population is growing 13 times faster than the general population. These facts should trouble every American.

Our prisons might be worth the current cost if the recidivism rate were not so high, but, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, half of the prisoners released this year are expected to be back in prison within three years. If our prison policies are failing half of the time, and we know that there are more humane, effective alternatives, it is time to fundamentally rethink how we treat and rehabilitate our prisoners.

We can no longer afford business as usual with prisons. The criminal justice system is broken, and conservatives must lead the way in fixing it.

Several states have shown that it is possible to cut costs while keeping the public safe. Consider events in Texas, which is known to be tough on crime. Conservative Republicans joined with Democrats in adopting incentive-based funding to strengthen the state’s probation system in 2005. Then in 2007, they decided against building more prisons and instead opted to enhance proven community corrections approaches such as drug courts. The reforms are forecast to save $2 billion in prison costs over five years.

The Lone Star State has already redirected much of the money saved into community treatment for the mentally ill and low-level drug addicts. Not only have these reforms reduced Texas’s prison population – helping to close the state budget gap – but for the first time there is no waiting list for drug treatment in the state. And crime has dropped 10 percent from 2004, the year before the reforms, through 2009, according to the latest figures available, reaching its lowest annual rate since 1973.

Last year we both endorsed corrections reforms in South Carolina that will reserve costly prison beds for dangerous criminals while punishing low-risk offenders through lower-cost community supervision. The legislation was a bipartisan effort with strong support from liberals, conservatives, law enforcement, the judges and reform advocates. The state is expected to save $175 million in prison construction this year and $60 million in operating costs over the next several years.

Some people attribute the nation’s recent drop in crime to more people being locked up. But the facts show otherwise. While crime fell in nearly every state over the past seven years, some of those with the largest reductions in crime have also lowered their prison population. Compare Florida and New York. Over the past seven years, Florida’s incarceration rate has increased 16 percent, while New York’s decreased 16 percent. Yet the crime rate in New York has fallen twice as much as Florida’s. Put another way, although New York spent less on its prisons, it delivered better public safety.

Americans need to know that we can reform our prison systems to cost less and keep the public safe. We hope conservative leaders across the country will join with us in getting it right on crime.

Newt Gingrich was speaker of the House from 1995 to 1999 and is the founder of American Solutions. Pat Nolan was Republican leader of the California State Assembly from 1984 to 1988 and is a vice president of Prison Fellowship, a Christian ministry to prisoners, ex-prisoners and their families that also works on justice reform.


The Economist Criticizes the California Prison Guards’ Union

Conservatives have been battling public sector unions for decades because they correctly recognize that unions abusively seek higher pay, larger pensions, fewer hours, increased job security, earlier retirement, and lower performance standards.  Conservatives, however, have also tended to advocate for “tough on crime” policies that grow the size of the very unions they are supposedly seeking to smash.  The new issue of The Economist was released yesterday, and its lead article on battling public-sector unions mentions the California prison guards in its very first sentence.  The accompanying briefing in the magazine also contains this note:

In California…the prison guards’ union has been one of the leading advocates of getting tough on crime. The result of this policy has been a dramatic increase in both the size of the state’s prison-industrial complex (from 12 prisons in 1980 to 33 in 2000) and the pay of the people who run it (prison guards in 2006 made $70,000 a year in base salary and $100,000 with overtime).

At some point, conservatives who lambaste unions but applaud longer sentences and less community supervision, will have to acknowledge that these goals are increasingly in tension.