The Three Tracks of Criminal Enterprise

The Three Tracks

Crash test dummies are the people who are too unambitious, stupid, impulsive or unreliable to ever be given serious responsibilities or achieving major power in a criminal organization. As a result, they are treated as totally expendable.

Middle management types are the solid earners for the organization...

The players are the top dogs. The ones who really make the power moves.

The prime examples used are the Sopranos and the Wire, but this categorization seems to be able to apply to many movies and television shows. Intuitively, it seems to apply to the hoods on the street too, but I try to avoid direct experience in that area.

h/t The Fourth Checkraise

Crime in Canada

I was a little surprised by this report I found on the crime rate in Canada. I had pretty much figured that Canada was overall lower crime than the United States. I asked the Magistra Scientia (formerly the Microbiologist-in-Residence) her best guess as to relative crime rates between the US and Canada. She guessed Canada saw half as much crime. Turns out it is actually double.

US Crime Rate 1960 - 2005Canada Crime Rate 1962 - 2006From these graphs you can see a very similar trend in crime in both nations, but in 2005 the total crime rate in Canada was 8,000 crimes per 100,000 residents, versus 4,000 crimes per 100,000 residents in the U.S. Violent crime looks similar, but it is hard to see exactly where the Canadian graph falls due to the lack of tick marks.

This is very good marketing on Canada's part.


h/t Kathy Shaidle

The Pit of Despair

I was horrified today to learn of the work of Harry Harlow, Ph.D. Harlow actually stumbled into his most famous work because he was attempting to lower the cost of his laboratory by raising his own rhesus monkeys. He raised them Skinner style, fed and warm, but bereft of any contact with either their mothers or other juveniles. He discovered that his monkeys went crazy from this lack of social interaction. Instead of thinking to himself, gee, that was dumb, Harlow instead decided to do this on purpose to see what happens when you deprive an animal of something that it needs. Does that count as a sin against nature?

I came across this little tidbit in an article in the New Yorker about solitary confinement. The article is tough going, but I can recommend it if you are interested in matters of crime and punishment. The reason Harlow came up is that what he saw in his monkeys is oftentimes seen in prisoners who undergo extended periods of solitary confinement. The article is an extended reflection on whether solitary confinement is making things worse or better in American prisons. The article refers to a study done in 2003 on just that question but regrettably fails to cite it. Ah well. I'm sure the experimental design would just annoy me.

I am generally sympathetic to the conclusion of the article that solitary confinement is probably not worth it overall, given that those subjected to it are generally rendered less fit for society than they were previously, and the violence in the general prison population continues unabated.  By way of counter-example, British prisons are cited for a different approach (but again no data!)

Beginning in the nineteen-eighties, they gradually adopted a strategy that focussed on preventing prison violence rather than on delivering an ever more brutal series of punishments for it. The approach starts with the simple observation that prisoners who are unmanageable in one setting often behave perfectly reasonably in another. This suggested that violence might, to a critical extent, be a function of the conditions of incarceration. The British noticed that problem prisoners were usually people for whom avoiding humiliation and saving face were fundamental and instinctive. When conditions maximized humiliation and confrontation, every interaction escalated into a trial of strength. Violence became a predictable consequence.

So the British decided to give their most dangerous prisoners more control, rather than less. They reduced isolation and offered them opportunities for work, education, and special programming to increase social ties and skills. The prisoners were housed in small, stable units of fewer than ten people in individual cells, to avoid conditions of social chaos and unpredictability. In these reformed “Close Supervision Centres,” prisoners could receive mental-health treatment and earn rights for more exercise, more phone calls, “contact visits,” and even access to cooking facilities. They were allowed to air grievances. And the government set up an independent body of inspectors to track the results and enable adjustments based on the data.

This too makes sense. Prison violence is not irrational. You do what you got to do to survive. To shank. It's a verb.

However, on the other hand, it is a bit unwise to hold up England as a paragon of criminal rehabilitiation. If anything, the English slums are worse than the prisons in some respects. For example, take the experience of Theodore Dalyrymple, who found that his patients were much healthier after a stint in prison than they were when left to their own devices. If anything, the English seem to have quelled violence in the prisons by unleashing it on the countryside. Perhaps part of the problem is that you can only punish (and thereby rehabilitate) a good man.

It would be helpful to see some real data on this. Perhaps I will troll through the work of Steve Sailer to see if something pertinent comes up. I do know that a large part of the problem is that American jurisprudence has constitutionalized criminal justice to such a degree that the only options left to the ordinary modes of government are longer sentences and harsher penalties. The better European policing referenced in the New Yorker article is actually a result of Europeans having fewer rights than Americans do.