The issue of crime and punishment has been an ongoing theme in American politics for decades now, and arguably never more than today. There are more issues in this topic than one can shake a metaphorical stick at. Just a few of them include the cost of criminal justice and ways to diminish it. Also up there is the nasty idea of false convictions and how to combat such problems. Of course there is also the issue of rehabilitation versus punishment and whether or not prisons can be used to help criminals better their lives or should just be massive concrete hell-holes used to keep people away from mainstream society. This barely even scratches the surface.
The fact that every phone can now take video in conjunction with the advent of social media has turned nearly everyone into an amateur reporter whenever they want to be. Many people make good points, whether it be about the cost of criminal justice, flaws in the process, or even reporting the misdeeds or positive actions of law enforcement personnel.
Crime and punishment is a topic that is among the most divisive in the United States and has been for some time. Some people vilify cops, while others adore them. Many distrust the system as a whole, but others consider the flaws in that system to be so egregious that they counteract the positives of it. If you’re looking to dive head first into this terrible and controversial topic, you’ve come to the right place. Here are fifteen of the most shocking, puzzling and troubling facts about crime in the United States.
15. Violent Crime Rates Are Comparatively Low
If you watch the news on television, you may well be terrified, and rightfully so. No matter what news programming you’re watching, they all have to keep viewership, and the best way to do that is through sensationalism and terrifying their audience on a daily basis. The fact of the matter is, statistically speaking, the rates (per 100,000 citizens) for almost all violent crime and property crime are down, when considered in comparison to past decades. Both of these categories of crime rose steadily through the 1970’s and 1980’s, reaching their highest in the mid 1990’s and then steadily dropping. Murder, sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault (violent crimes) along with theft and vehicular theft, have all been at their lowest levels in decades throughout the last five years.
14. Cost for Capital Punishment
Capital punishment is a divisive issue in the United States and throughout much of the western world. In terms of countries that no longer use the death penalty altogether versus those that still have such a punishment in some capacity, there are just a few more that have outlawed the practice. Most countries that still have this sentence are in Asia, the Middle East or Africa. In the United States, capital punishment laws are on a state-to-state basis. Various states have different methods, including hanging, lethal injection, firing squad, gas chamber and of course the chair.
The sentence may be rare, but opponents consider it an anathema that it is even an option, arguing that it is not a deterrent, and that the state should not have the power to take a person’s life.
While a bullet, series of drugs, jolt of electricity, rope or gas may seem cheap, the process that a prisoner goes through while on death row, including increased cost (an additional $100,000 in some states) of being on death row, along with more judicial motions, more difficulty and procedure in terms of prosecuting, and of course, numerous appeals, all of which are commonplace when someone is awaiting capital punishment. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that the average execution in the United States costs about $3 million, while life in prison often costs far less, (estimates around a full million less) even in cases of first degree murder.
13. The United States’ Most Violent Cities
By now you’re either terrified or thoroughly entertained by the stories and stats dealing with brutality, crime and mayhem (you sick puppy), but you may be wondering where the most violent crimes are being committed. Well, these things change year to year, but there are generally some regular frontrunners that usually lead the pack in terms of violent offenses per 100,000 people; a far more accurate stat than just looking at the number of crimes committed.
Different sources take different criteria into consideration when determining which cities are the most dangerous, but there are a few that have been topping all the charts in the last few years, such as Birmingham, Oakland, Baltimore, Memphis, St. Louis and who can forget, good ol’ Detroit. Each of these cities has a violent crime rate of between 1,400 or 1,900 per 100,000 people on average over the last five years.
12. The Growing Global Threat
While most people worry about being beaten up while walking home at night, having their house broken into or being killed by a crazy ex, there is a relatively new form of crime that may become the biggest threat to both businesses and individuals. This is cyber-crime; a form of crime that attacks a person or business’ online data rather than a physical entity.
Here are some troubling statistics about cyber crime. The global cost of this form of crime is skyrocketing, and may well hit $2 trillion by 2019. Moreover, it is believed that there are still numerous breaches that go undetected, far beyond the 858 major breaches that occurred in 2016. Because of this new form of threat, cyber-insurance businesses are becoming more and more common to protect businesses and individuals from cyber-crime related losses.
11. The Total Cost of Corrections
Throughout 2015 and 2016, a confused old communist tried to get himself elected President. Many call him Bernie Sanders, but we prefer “comrade Bernie”. Most of what he and the other candidates claimed was partially false, misleading, or a full-on lie, but he did mention that the United States spends about $80 billion per year on locking people up. That’s about $250 per citizen if we estimate a population of 320 million people in the country. For a comparison, the Department of Education costs about ten billion less per year (but there is currently an entertaining debate about whether that should exist).
The costs for individual prisoners and prisons also varies based on whether certain offenders need to be kept separate from the rest of the prison population and other issues. Of course, the price per prisoner also depends on which state and municipality has the person locked up. New York and California have the largest costs (of course) in terms of state, and at the municipal level, several New York jails report costs of over $100,000 per year per person to keep people incarcerated.
Getting back to the issue; $80 billion per year is a pretty accurate figure and when considered as a “per taxpayer” number, seems far less massive. Many are asking however, what can be done to take that cost down, because while keeping some maniacs and violent offenders caged is a good idea, perhaps at least some of that money could be more effectively used elsewhere.
10. Percentage of Crimes That Go Unreported
The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), a group within the Department of Justice, releases an annual report on crime in the United States. One of the things they keep track of is what percentage of crimes even get reported to the police every year. The numbers are actually staggering. In terms of property crime, only about 35% of instances are reported to the authorities. In cases of violent crime, the numbers are slightly higher, with domestic violence (61%), crime involving injury (59%) and crimes involving weapons (56%). These numbers generally haven’t changed much in recent years and the data actually looks similar in recent surveys as it did a decade ago, with some changes but nothing particularly monumental.
When asked why they did not speak to police, many victims offered fairly predictable responses, claiming that the crime was personal and something they would prefer to deal with on their own, or that they lacked any faith that police would do anything about that crime.
9. Percentage With Criminal Records
There are a lot of ways to get thrown in prison. Some are obviously more heinous than others. We imagine we aren’t being controversial saying that murder, sexual crimes, and anything that hurts a child are among the worst, while smoking a joint, and assault are far more forgivable. Unfortunately, for many who simply got into a nasty fight (and got charged with assault) and some people caught with small amounts of drugs, that criminal record, levied upon them for something pretty mild, follows them everywhere they go and can cause problems for travel, job seeking and many other areas of life. The Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law estimates that the amount of Americans with criminal records is similar to the number of Americans with Bachelor’s degrees: somewhere around 70 million.
8. Longest Sentence Served
Paul Geidel was the man who served what is recorded as the longest prison sentence of any person in American history. He, like so many other criminals, had a messed up childhood, with an alcoholic father who died when he was just five, and many years spent in an orphanage. At age 17, in 1911, Geidel killed an old wealthy man in a hotel at which he worked as a bellhop. He was captured within a week and sentenced to 20 years in prison for second degree murder.
Fifteen years later, he was found to be insane and spent another four and a half decades in a mental institution. In the early 1970’s, he was transferred to a facility for older inmates. He was offered parole but chose to stay in prison a few more years, until his release in 1980. He died seven years later. His total sentence was 68 years and 245 days.
7. A War on Cops?
Some have suggested that there is a war on police going on in the United States, and that it has been going on for a few years now. Supporters of this idea cite officers experiencing violence while on the job, such as the shootings last year in Dallas and Baton Rouge. One would think that if there was such a war going on, the body count would be higher. In fact, much like the overall violent crime levels we discussed earlier, the numbers for police killed by civilians have dropped dramatically over the past couple of decades. Back in the 1970’s there was an average of about 115 cops feloniously killed in the line of duty: a number that came out to about 24 out of every 100,000. Between 2003 and 2013 (the more recent numbers are unclear, given that the justice system is still figuring out many incidents that happened between 2014 and 2016) the average number of officers killed on duty had dropped to about 7.3 out of every 100,000: under a third of the number several decades ago.
Don’t get us wrong, there is plenty of anti-cop rhetoric online (some of it is well-earned, and some of it is just misplaced anger) but there is certainly no war on cops. At the same time, with the amount of people filming cops on their devices, there is increased awareness of “bad apples” and cops who appease and defend them within the law enforcement community.
6. Most Arrested Man In The U.S. (The World Too?)
Most people consider one arrest to be a problem, let alone a few. For most of us, there is no reason to be arrested. While a series of arrests (and a record of beating the charges) may be a reason to brag for some people, how about an arrest total of over 1,500? Impressive? Profoundly troubling? Whatever your feelings, dear reader, that is some number, and it belongs to Henry Earl, of Kentucky. In Lexington, he has minor celebrity status, and many people in the city know him as James Brown.
The Lexington police and Fayette County police have both lost track of his total arrests and conservative estimates hover just over 1,000 arrests, while generous ones are closer to 1,600. He’s homeless and severely alcoholic, with the vast majority of his arrests coming for public intoxication. He received some publicity in 2013, mainly for the dance moves he uses to get change to pay for his next drink.
5. Incarceration Rate
If you follow political pages on Facebook in the United States, you’ve likely seen something about the incarceration level in the United States. Many have suggested that the United States has the largest prison population in the world. This is true, and is well over the numbers for China and Russia, countries known for throwing people away for sport. However, some publications have tried to claim that the United States has the largest prison population per 100,000 people, a more important measurement.
The highest incarceration rate per 100,000 citizens is the island nation the Republic of Seychelles. Their number is somewhere around 799 per 100,000 people, which includes accused Somali pirates kept in the country. The number for the United States is just under 700 people per 100,000.
4. Clearance Rates
One of the statistics often used to evaluate local and regional law enforcement is referred to as the “clearance rate”. A common definition for this stat is something to the effect of “the percentage of all crimes reported that are solved”. You may be asking: “wherein does the shocking part start here”? Good question.
First off, the clearance rate does not deal with how often a conviction is handed down but rather, how often a charge is laid for a certain crime. Some police departments exaggerate these numbers by handing out bogus charges, knowing full well that they will later be dismissed, just so that this number will remain high. The second shocking aspect is that in spite of all of the diligent police work that goes on out there, and the money spent on criminal justice, many of the most serious crimes have troublingly low clearance rates. Only about 60% of murder cases result in a charge, and that is considered high, in comparison with crimes like robbery (29%), arson (20%) and burglary (13%).
3. Mortality Behind Bars
If you watch a ton of crime themed movies, you may think that prison is a dangerous place where everyone is trying to take you out all the time. Much like the rates for violent crime in general, the murder rates in prisons and local jails across the country has been declining for a long time, since hitting a high of over 50 people per 100,000 inmates in the early 1980’s. These days, with a rate of about 3 killings per 100,000 inmates, it is actually somewhat safer to be in prison, as the national rate has been between 4 and 5 for a few years now.
Suicide is a very common occurrence in local jails, and though less common in state and federal prisons, it is still one of the largest causes of inmate death. Illness and disease kill far more however, and this should not be surprising as the prison population in the United States is rapidly growing, with almost 200,000 inmates over 55 years of age. The food and overall lifestyle in prison does not equate to a long life, and while medical expenses are covered for convicts who are within institutions, the care they need is often too late if they are suffering from something serious. Heart disease, liver disease and cancer are common among the aging prison population. Do we have ton of sympathy? Well, it kind of depends what they’re in for.
2. One in Five People Are Locked up for Drugs
One of the most interesting debates within the realm of crime and punishment is that over “victimless” crimes. Two of the most popular categories of offenses that are referred to as “victimless” are drug use and possession, and prostitution. Those who consider these crimes harmless argue that what one puts into one’s own body (drugs) and what one does with their own body (such as selling sex for money) is nobody’s business, let alone law enforcement.
Nearly half of all people in federal prisons in the United States (an estimated 97,000 out of 195,000), are in there for nonviolent drug offenses. At the state level, about 208,000 people out of about 1,330,000 are in for drugs. Looking to local jails, more than one in six is incarcerated for drug offenses. Many of those in for possession or simple drug use haven’t caused any real harm to anybody. Obviously using drugs and driving is a problem, but many consider most drug offenses to be a pointless waste of resources.
1. What Ethnicity Was Killed At The Highest Rate in 2016?
This will likely come as a shock to nobody but one of the nastiest debates in the world of crime and punishment in the United States is which ethnic group is being killed by police in the greatest number. In 2015, 307 black Americans were killed by police, for a per million total of 7.69, the highest in the country among ethnicities considered for 2015. 584 white people were killed in that year, but given the larger overall white population, the per million number was just 2.95. Looking to 2016 now, numbers for white and black Americans were similar at 2.9 per million and 6.66 per million, while 24 Native Americans were killed by police, for just over 10 killed per million. Obviously a big part of this has to do with the relatively small Native American population.