Police, Blacks, Prisons, Drugs, and Neighborhoods

UnknownAmerica – “Land of the Free” – leads the world in locking people up. Yes, our incarceration rates exceed those in the most repressive countries like Russia or China.

Can it be that Americans lead the world in criminality? I think not.

Our over-incarceration is really a case of black over-incarceration. The black percentage of inmates way exceeds their percentage of the general population. It’s a holocaust for black communities and a significant contributor to our gaping socio-economic divide. I’ve written about how single motherhood exacerbates that divide. Over 70% of black children are born to unwed mothers – partly because so many black men’s marriageability is reduced by the criminal justice system. In Milwaukee, over half the black men in their thirties have been in prison.

It’s tempting to say, well, all this does reflect a higher rate of criminal behavior – if blacks didn’t do so many crimes they wouldn’t fill the prisons. But, in partial answer, blacks are more likely than whites to be imprisoned for comparable offenses. And one reason for that is blacks are more targeted by police. Discrimination? Rather, it’s mainly because they live in more crime-ridden areas.

imagesNow we get into a chicken-and-egg conundrum. Citizens in crime-infested neighborhoods need more police attention, for their own protection. And obviously it makes sense for police to deploy resources to locales where crime is concentrated. But on the other hand, if you go looking for something, chances are you will find it – so heavy police attention in black neighborhoods means that a lot of blacks will get caught up in that net, whereas quiet white neighborhoods are lightly policed with consequently fewer arrests.

UnknownThis sounds like a hopeless dilemma. But there’s another big fact: a lot of black arrests and imprisonments are drug-related. This is a huge wound for America that is self-inflicted. Whatever may be the harm of drug use, the harm of the “War on Drugs” is vastly greater. And if decriminalization led to more drug use – very doubtful – the harm of that increase would be vastly outweighed by the societal benefits of stopping the misguided drug war.images-1

Citizens in crime-ridden black neighborhoods do not benefit when police pull out half the males for drug-related offenses. They would benefit, greatly, if police could stop doing that, to concentrate their efforts instead on combating the violent crimes, muggings, burglaries, etc, that plague these neighborhoods. That would go far toward mending the broken relationships between the police and the policed.

Another point: kids growing up in bad neighborhoods tend to do badly, and bad neighborhoods are hard to fix (as half a century of well-intentioned social programs proves). But The Economist recently noted some pilot programs giving people vouchers to move to better neighborhoods. Voilà, their children did better. But, the magazine lamented, giving every poor black family such a “golden ticket” would cost about $30 billion a year. Unknown-1My reaction: Say what? Only $30 billion?! Why, the government loses more than that between its sofa cushions. (Almost literally: it’s estimated the feds make $125 billion in improper payments annually.) Thirty billion is less than 1% of the federal budget. Sounds like a no-brainer bargain to me, surely a better expenditure than all those other social programs mentioned.

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8 Responses to “Police, Blacks, Prisons, Drugs, and Neighborhoods”

  1. Frank Bath Says:

    I’m English and over here I sometimes watch a US import called ‘Cops’. Whether it’s entertainment, instruction or a celebration of a cop’s life I can’t say, but what I can say is the amount of attention the police give to petty drug offenders is, frankly, incredible. For simple possession men and youths are chased, brought to the ground, cruelly cuffed and hauled off to the station. They are invariably black. Nothing like that happens here, a warning and the cops move on. I suppose if you have a ‘war’ on drugs the cops will go out and do ‘battle’. Get over it.

  2. rationaloptimist Says:

    Thanks. I agree. It’s nuts. Societal self-abuse worse than the abuse of drugs.

  3. Roger Green Says:

    Part of this, though, was the criminalization of drugs and other relatively minor crimes. How else did the numbers jump from 400000 in 1970 to over 2 million by the turn of this century?http://www.rogerogreen.com/2014/08/09/mass-incarceration/

  4. bruce Says:

    Good points, would you then agree that food stamps should be used to buy drugs? Legalize them, sell them at safeway, let food stamps buy them. No need to support your habit.
    No I am not argueing with you, (it might work) its a tough situation that has roots that go deep and dirty. I always used to talk about getting jobs. But the market for men needing suspenders is slight. Education, not in the cards either. I also used to think private schools with the strictest discipline. Create a since of… but then I realize they are there for a reason, just wish I was aware of the benefit to cost analysis reasoning.

  5. Pedro Dunn Says:

    Now, sell this line of reasoning to a Republican candidate, and watch him/ her win the next presidential election…

  6. EriK Says:

    Pedro Dunn,
    I think Rand Paul buys the argument. I’m sure by the time they get to the GOP primary here in NY, the nominee will have already been determined. I don’t think it will be Rand. We could do a lot worse than him, and being Republicans, I’m sure we will.

  7. Lee Says:

    I am thinking that a negative income tax is the way to go. If you make more than some threshold you pay 0% up to that threshold and, say, 39.6% beyond it. If you make less than that threshold you get a refund of 39.6% of your shortfall from that threshold. The (vast majority of the) desperate will know where they need the money most and will promptly apply the money there.

  8. rationaloptimist Says:

    Milton Friedman advocated this as far preferable to the crazy-quilt of contradictory and irrational welfare policies, with all their baneful disincentives.

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