|RationalWiki's Chilling Tales of True|
|Articles on illegal behaviour|
“”Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime.
|—New Labour mantra.|
Crime woo is a result of public fascination with the criminal world, in equal doses with public hysteria over how dangerous the modern world is perceived to be.
Mean world scenario
We have the media to thank for this moral panic about a purported crime epidemic. Whenever some horrific crime goes down the media jumps all over it. By reporting everything negative that has happened in the entire world, and broadcasting the stories for weeks and weeks, media cause the average person to feel like they live in a world of ever-increasing danger and violence, increasing levels of anxiety and depression in the population. In reality, the crime rate in the US has been dropping since the early 1990s, due to several factors including the aging baby-boomer generation, the waning of the crack epidemic, unleaded gas, better education programs, and, if you believe the Freakonomics guys, abortion (yes, it's as controversial as it sounds).
Forensic police procedures have led many to overestimate the usefulness of forensic science. In TV land, the cops always catch the bad guys, fingerprints are always clear, and DNA results come back in an hour or so. In the real world, forensic labs are underfunded, understaffed, and often under-qualified; fingerprints are usually degraded, and most DNA testing is backlogged for several years (the actual DNA testing, however, takes only a few hours, so most of the wait is due to backlog).
The onset of DNA testing in the 1990s, which is science-based (though imperfect because of potential contamination), has meant that many older forensic methods that use pattern matching could be more rigorously tested for accuracy. Pattern-matching methods were developed within the criminal forensics field, and not by scientists. These methods include hair analysis, fiber analysis, bite mark analysis, tool marks and tire tread analysis. Two studies found that there was insufficient evidence to support the claims of these pattern matching methods.
Getting "the truth" out of someone
Lie detectors, including polygraphs, are rank woo. Incredibly, they are still allowed under limited circumstances in some jurisdictions even though there is no empirical evidence they work. Also in this category are things like alleged "truth serums", actually just narcotic drugs that aren't effective in eliciting truthful confessions. Attempting to recall memories through hypnosis can result in creating memories due to heightened suggestibility. Incredibly, people have been prosecuted due to false testimony of Satanic ritual abuse (something that probably doesn't even exist at all) elicited from this method. Torture, it should go without saying, is also ineffective at anything but showing to the world just what a reactionary asshole you are.
The Crime Clock
The Crime Clock (x crime happens every y seconds) is a commonly misused statistic (usually to justify increases in police forces and/or funding). The problem with it is that it doesn't adjust for per capita (per 100,000 people in this case) so it doesn't adjust for population increases. Say a crime occurs every 1 minute per 100,000 people. Well at 200,000 people you would have two occurrences of that crime being committed in that same minute, giving the appearance of an increase in crime even though proportionally it has remained the same.
The Judge Dredd comic pokes fun at this when it says that 17,000 crimes a day are reported...but the population of Mega-City One when that statistic was given was 800 million. That works out to be 2.125 (17,000/800 million*100000). But in the real world US of 1977 (when Judge Dredd came out) there were some 30095 crimes a day (10,984,500/365) with a population 216,332,000 which comes out as 13.9. Far from being the crime-ridden disaster area portrayed in the comics, the world of Judge Dredd, by the numbers, should be in better shape than it is.
Background check woo
So somebody in your place of work has a 24 year old conviction for DUI, loitering, marijuana, or theft of cable TV services? So fucking what. If you think that's any of your business, get a life.
And, OMG, ACORN hired (gasp!) felons to register voters!
And no, mentioning that you have no convictions on your job interview is in no way an asset that will grant you a higher chance at being accepted for the job. If anything, it's a waste of time, because if they need it they are going to ask you to hand over your jury files to them the very next day.
Because we were late in making Orwell seem like Nostradamus in 1984[note 1] and it is no longer a horrifying future to avoid, it is now a model for civic planning. So install those cameras, the more the better. A good totally non-scientific ratio to use on Interstate 81 is one surveillance camera for every one CRUSH CRIME sign. Thus will crime be both surveilled and crushed with your Virginia highway tax dollars hard at work. In Lancaster, Pennsylvania, they use a ratio of 8 surveillance cameras per every one Amish buggy, which should be enough to blanket the whole town and then some.
On the other side of the coin, the high numbers of cameras cited in the UK are very rough estimates. Also, most of those cameras are in private ownership, and it's a bit hard to outlaw members of the public from filming things in public and/or on their own property without unreasonable civil liberties implications.
Hysteria over nonexistent or rare crimes
Terrorism, drug abuse, rape, pedophilia, guns, gangs, switchblades, nunchucks, kiddie porn, child abductions, teenagers with their hats on backwards, voter registration fraud, and Satanic ritual abuse — they're all over the place and we must do something now!
In one example, a purported epidemic of "child abductions" led to the creation of the Amber Alert system of electronic signs on freeways. Amber Alert signs are supposed to broadcast immediate information about abducted children. In reality most of the time they broadcast "Report Suspicious Activity 1-800-xxx-xxxx" paranoia, thus making the United States look a bit more like East Germany. But did anyone speak out to oppose the implementation of Amber Alert? No, it got near unanimous support just like putting CRUSH CRIME signs all over the Virginia freeways did.
The current hysteria over "illegal immigration" and "underage drinking" are probably responsible for people now having to show ID cards everywhere they go, even though in principle, it's unconstitutional for police to require someone to identify himself unless there's reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.
"If prison is unpleasant enough, then criminals won't commit crimes"
This is the bit of bullshit most often spouted by politicians and companies with money deep in the prison industry. They think that the bad guys won't want to go back to prison if it sucks. In reality most criminals are poor and uneducated with little to no work experience. The years-long gaps and the stigma associated with being an ex-con reduce their chances of getting a decent paying job. While in prison, the inmates are victims of a near constant stream of threats, abuse, and rape, both from the staff and other inmates, causing them to be released with severe mental stress issues. It also likely has the effect of making many people more violent just to survive (not to mention learning new criminal behaviors, a phenomenon documented since the 19th century). Drug addicts receive no treatment for their addictions and are either forced to go cold turkey, or to buy drugs on the inside. Either way they are released into the real world still addicts and have difficulty finding jobs. Released prisoners go directly from this brutal harsh environment and are expected to rejoin the real world as reformed men, but in reality the above factors cause them to return to a life of crime at a staggering rate (about 75% in the United States). Not to mention that it's legal in the US to refuse ex-cons housing, jobs and benefits, making it far more difficult for them to get back on their feet even if they want to.
In the UK, one key measure used to help "reform" prisoners when they get released is to give them precisely £46 (approx $70), intended to tide them over for one week, as well as a set of "adequate clothing". The £46 is not particularly helpful, as those released from prison are often in poverty and therefore likely to claim benefits, which can take 6 weeks at least to kick in. This amount of support was considered paltry in 2007 and it doesn't look like it's getting much better. The fact that little regard is given to rehabilitating offenders in the UK is exemplified by the recent cock-up with the prison book ban.
We need more cops!
Many citizens feel that police patrols will help to deter criminals on the streets. In reality there have been several studies showing that an increased police presence does not help to deter crime. The most notable experiment is the "Kansas City Experiment".
Drug Abuse Resistance Education or D.A.R.E. was somebody's idea to send cops into schools to teach kids to say no to marijuana, and to stir up further moral panic convincing everyone there was some vast drug/gang/whatever epidemic in schools. It does not stand for "Drugs Are Really Expensive", though we kind of wish it did. D.A.R.E. started in the early 1980s in Los Angeles and was the brainchild of the infamous Daryl Gates, the racist crank who also invented SWAT teams. It spread like poison ivy in the late 1980s, with corporate sponsors like Kentucky Fried Chicken, and it was to the late 1980s and 1990s what social guidance films about drugs and bullying were to the 1960s and 1970s: completely ineffective. Numerous studies, including those by the Surgeon General, have determined that D.A.R.E. "does not work". However, the Surgeon General did find one effect, "positive effects have been demonstrated regarding attitudes towards the police." Additionally, the D.A.R.E. program increased the likelihood of the use of alcohol and other drugs.
Various Christian organizations have claimed that conversion to Christianity will prevent crime and recidivism (e.g. Charles Colson). However, graduates of Colson's InnerChange were more likely to repeat offend than inmates who were spared from the haranguing.
A small study found that religion may actually be criminogenic, that it is an excuse used by criminals ("God told me to do it!" or "I know I did something bad, but I pray God will forgive me [and that you'll be sympathetic and do the same].").
- "New Labour. Because Britain Deserves Better" (Labour Party General Election Manifesto 1997).
- TV violence researcher dies
- The Psychological Effects of TV News, Graham C.L. Davey Ph.D., Jun 19, 2012
- The Effect of Education on Crime
- Abortion and crime: who should you believe? Steven D. Levitt 05/15/2005
- The CSI Effect: Popular Fiction About Forensic Science Affects Public Expectations About Real Forensic Science, Jurimetrics
- The 'CSI Effect': Does It Really Exist? by the National Institute of Justice
- Bad science puts innocent people in jail — and keeps them there: How discredited experts and fields of forensics keep sneaking into courtrooms. by Radley Balko & Tucker Carrington (March 21, 2018) The Washington Post.
- Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward Committee on Identifying the Needs of the Forensic Sciences Community, National Research Council (2009) National Criminal Justice Reference Service.
- Forensic Science in Criminal Courts: Ensuring Scientific Validity of Feature-Comparison Methods President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (2016) The Obama White House Archives.
- Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial District Court of Nevada
- Released prisoner cash 'too low', by the BBC
- reality of Chris Grayling’s probation revolution – ‘£46 goes nowhere’, The Guardian
- Prison 'book ban' rule relaxed, by the BBC
- The Kansas City Preventive Patrol Experiment, National Police Foundation
- Psychological Treatments That Cause Harm by Scott O. Lilienfeld (2007) 2(1):53-70. Archived.
- Cops for Christ? A Growing Nexus Between Law Enforcement And Fundamentalist Christianity Raises Church-State Concerns, by Americans United for Separation of Church and State
- World peace from the quantum level, Transcendental Meditation Blog
- With God On My Side: The Paradoxical Relationship Between Religious Belief and Criminality Among Hardcore Street Offenders, Journal of Theoretical Criminology
- Damn Truman didn't listen when he was told to invade China.