Sunday, January 1, 2017

State Prisons Are Not Filled With Drug Possession Convicts

State Prisons are NOT Filled with
Drug Possession Convicts

SQ 780 and 781 passed against a lot of opposition mainly because the New York ACLU poured millions of dollars into a misinformation campaign as well as gathering the signatures using paid signature gatherers.  The saving grace is that the two state questions weren't constitutional changes but modified existing statutes by lowering penalties for certain crimes and directing an accounting of the resulting "savings" to government from diverting criminals into drug treatment or other behavioral modification attempts.

One of the targets was the bail bond industry which liberal detest because if you have money or family with money and collateral you can bail out of jail on most crimes while the poor can't pay for bail and remain behind bars till they are tried.   One of the pegs the liberals are hanging their hats on to achieve a no bail system is predictive assessment of arrested criminals in an effort to decide who is safe to release pending their trial and who is dangerous or at risk of re offending.  As in all things of this nature there is a company behind it selling something to the state and federal government judicial systems.  Meet Northpointe who sells such a system.

COMPAS is Northpointe's main product and it sets a ranking for a potential bailee by asking 137 questions about the defendant's background either from criminal records, data basess, or from the criminal.  One of the questions that it isn't allowed to ask is the race of the defendant.  Such things as family criminal history, friends using drugs, fighting in school, or general attitude questions like is it right for a hungry person to steal.

The COMPAS system then spits out a computed ranking so the prosecutor, public defender, and judge have a fig leaf to cower behind should the defendant be released and promptly murder a witness or finish the job if he was trying to murder someone.  Since the invention of public justice systems these sort of decisions have always been in the hands of humans and have been subject to their experiences and learned biases.  Learned biases aren't bad things, learning early on not to date women that drove BMW cars is one example.

The idea behind the COMPAS system is to tweak the justice system so only those that need locked up are locked up, saving human cost along with tax dollars paid into prison systems.  So while the anti bail bond industry folks are pushing these sort of predictive models to torpedo the bail industry another group of liberals is screaming foul over an alleged racial bias in the predictive systems.  Even worse is that some judges have begun using these COMPAS scores to decide the severity of the punishment, how long the person serves in prison as an example.

Now the Oklahoman newspaper trumpeted the allegations that the COMPAS systems were racially biased in a recent article, linking to a tear jerker of a story about two black girls caught stealing six year old's bicycles and scooters, claiming that an evil white person who stole from Home Depot received a lower score than the innocent teenagers that stole from six year olds.  The story even excused the theft as the girls were "running late to pick up their god sister at school", the idea being that the two black girls somehow needed a tiny scooter and bicycle to hasten their trip to school.  

Later on in the story we learn that the teen had a criminal juvenile past but that it shouldn't count as it was a when she was a juvenile…  But the story attacks the algorithms behind the COMPAS system as causing the evil white man to get out on bail while the innocent teen bike thief stays in jail.

The idea is that the algorithms are flawed because more blacks get scored at being a greater risk than whites get scored at being a greater risk.  The system in totality was around 60% accurate which would be amazing if applied to something like the stock market or hiring employees.  The company that made COMPAS claims that the algorithms account for bias is wrong because both black and white outcome is at 60%.  In other words 40% of those ranked  as low risk and released go on to commit more crimes regardless of race.

Several sets of scholars looked at this and decided the problem is that blacks are re-arrested more often than whites it is impossible to make a predictive system like COMPAS have both equal outcomes for both blacks and whites while remaining fair and unbiased.  The different  arrest rates will lead to disparities in the accuracy of the prediction of whether the defendant will continue to commit crimes.

The only solution the scholars said was to treat blacks more leniently than whites, AKA affirmative action for criminals.   Parity is optimal discrimination in their view.

Jailing more defendants lowers crime according to statistics.  The higher incarceration rates starting in the 70's lead to a plummeting violent crime rate because if a criminal is in prison they aren't going to be committing more crimes for that period of their life.   An excellent article on race and crime rates is The Color of Crime.  

Some might say that sending one crook to jail just opens a vacuum for another criminal to steal but these guys don't have limited opportunities.  The second excuse is that as we lock up more criminals we have to scrape up lower level criminals to maintain the arrest rates.  The reality is that criminals have to work very hard to go to prison as only 3% of violent or property crimes lead to prison sentences.  Burglars had half that rate in 2004, 1.6% of arrested burglars went to prison.

Statistics show that almost 44% of released state convicts are rearrested within one year, with the percentage growing to almost 77% rearrested within five years.  The average ex con is arrested 2.9 times after being released from their first state prison stint.   This same criminal commits an estimated 12 to 15 felonies before the law catches them again.   Locking up criminals does lower the crime rate.

The Color of Crime goes on to address the lie that most prisons are filled with drug offenders that aren't going to commit violent crimes.   But only 13% of the total number or prisoners in all American jails are there on drug crimes and when they are it is usually trafficking, in fact only 3.7% of prisoners are serving sentences on simple drug possession and those were the result of plea bargaining to avoid trafficking convictions.  These prisoners had long criminal records.

State prisons are filled with violent criminals and serious property crime criminals, almost 54% violent crime charges and almost 19% were serious property crimes, and around 12% there for trafficking.  That is 85% of state felony convictions, leaving 15% for all other forms of crime including drug possession.

Those that want to gut the criminal justice system further have no qualms about releasing hordes of criminals to prey on the average citizen.   Their ideology is more important than those that lose life or property or family members or are forever ruined by rape or maimed by assault.

Our criminal justice system is working fine thank you.  Locking up criminals has lowered the crime rates.  Going soft on drug users that are committing property or violent crime to feed their drug habit is just going to create more crime and more deaths of law abiding citizens.

Yes, we need to treat drug possession and drug abuse as a mental health problem but that includes getting these degenerates off the streets and depriving them of many civil liberties.  That means we need a low cost method of incarceration that the prisoners themselves are able to fund with their work.  The stigma of being a drug abuser and a convicted violent criminal or thief needs to be strengthened not lessened.