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Monday, 01 May 2006

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Oh dear,'Larry' will be doing his sums even as I type!


Don't worry I'm not going to come out all blustering and frothing at the mouth just yet, but I do have one or two comments:

First, your primary contention - the existence of the Laffer crime curve with its virtuous right hand side - is unproven. The only evidence you've provided for it is the miniscule dip at the end of the black curve in chart 2. Since you haven't told us what that curve is (other than that it's given by "a maths technique"), I am not inclined to trust it an inch, let alone its extrapolation miles beyond anything supported by the current evidence.

Second, the “lock ‘em up” versus “give ‘em another chance” dichotomy is far too simplictic. A zero-tolerance approach (whereby people go to prison for a short time for even very minor crimes) is one thing, calling for longer sentences to be surved for major crimes, or what to do with repeat offenders - these are other matters, with their own corresponding issues of the effectivity of deterrence, public safety, and prison numbers. I'm sure your preference would be "all of the above". But an analysis which just says that we need more people in prison is no good, unless it also tells us which people we should be focussing on putting there, and for how long.

For instance it would be perfectly consistent with everything you've said that we don't need to change our sentencing arrangements at all, we just need better police investigations and DPP to ensure more convictions per thoudand recorded crimes. (I'm not saying that's the case, just that you haven't ruled it out as a possibility.)

The logical conclusion of the argument is therefore to introduce capital punishment for all crimes. This would deter the rational criminal, and allow us to eliminate the irrational criminals. Perhaps we could save some money by killing them all en mass with Zyklon showers...

The main problem with the argument above is it relies on crime figures, which are flawed at best, and calculated differently every time the government of the day decides to do so. Regular readers of David Copperfield's blog will know the basics of these flaws.

Its also worth considering that most of us have comitted petty crime quite regularly. How many of us can honestly say we have never broken the speed limit, parked on double yellow lines, left litter in the theatre, or broken copywrite laws? And how many of these crimes will appear in any statistics.

Another factor to consider is that punishments are very inconsistant, with judge's discretion used. In one case an assault could get you a fine, in another the same severity of assault would get you several years. The difference being the skill of your barrister, whether you plead guilty and have a believable sob story etc. So in order to deter a rational criminal there must be a clear message as to the punishment you will get, but also a system that allows discretion in sentencing.

Furthermore the likelyhood of conviction is a very important factor. Rape carries a life sentence (itself meaningless due to massive differences in the tarrifs handed out), but the shockingly low rates of conviction mean rapists stand a good chance of getting away with it.

So your central thesis is far from proven. Having said that I would agree that punishments for violent crime need increasing, but thats not because I think it would deter crime, merely because I dislike violence.

In a safe, sane and consensual manner with negotiation and safewords, I hope. Remember to stay away from the lower back, because while you do have a spare kidney, it would prefer not to have to do all the work. Similarly, walloping anywhere the bones are close to the skin is Right Out.

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