Yet crime went up, not down

Saturday, September 16th, 2017

The history of academic criminology is one of grand pronouncements that don’t prove out in the real world:

In the 1960s and 1970s, for example, criminologists demanded that public policy attack the “root causes” of crime, such as poverty and racism. Without solving these problems, they argued, we could not expect to fight crime effectively. On this thinking, billions of taxpayer dollars poured into ambitious social programs — yet crime went up, not down. In the 1970s and 1980s and into the 1990s, as crime rates continued to spike, criminologists proceeded to tell us that the police could do little to cut crime, and that locking up the felons, drug dealers, and gang leaders who committed much of the nation’s criminal violence wouldn’t work, either.

These views were shown to be false, too, but they were held so pervasively across the profession that, when political scientist James Q. Wilson called for selective incapacitation of violent repeat offenders, he found himself ostracized by his peers, who resorted to ad hominem attacks on his character and motivations. Wilson’s work was ignored by awards committees, and criminological reviews of his books, especially Thinking About Crime and Crime and Human Nature, were almost universally negative.


Evidence of the liberal tilt in criminology is widespread. Surveys show a 30:1 ratio of liberals to conservatives within the field, a spread comparable with that in other social sciences. The largest group of criminologists self-identify as radical or “critical.” These designations include many leftist intellectual orientations, from radical feminism to Marxism to postmodernism. Themes of injustice, oppression, disparity, marginalization, economic and social justice, racial discrimination, and state-sanctioned violence dominate criminological teaching and scholarship, as represented in books with titles like Search and Destroy: African American Males in the Criminal Justice System, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, and Imprisoning Communities: How Mass Incarceration Makes Disadvantaged Neighborhoods Worse.

A quick perusal of Presidential Awards for Distinguished Contributions to Justice, bestowed by the American Society of Criminology (ASC), shows that the winners were primarily rewarded for their left-wing advocacy. They included a judge in Massachusetts who advocated abolishing the state’s death penalty, an FBI agent who successfully sued the organization for ethnic discrimination, and a former director of juvenile corrections in Massachusetts who closed the state’s juvenile reformatories and wrote a book alleging that the system hunted down black men for sport. The society also honored Zaki Baruti, a radical black activist in St. Louis known for his hatred of police and support for leftist causes.


Liberal criminologists avoid discussing the lifestyles that criminal offenders typically lead. Almost all serious offenders are men, and they usually come from families with long histories of criminal involvement, often spanning generations. They show temperamental differences early in life, begin offending in childhood or early adolescence, and rack up dozens of arrests. Their lives are chaotic and hedonistic, including the constant pursuit of drugs and sex. They produce many children with different women and rarely have the means — or inclination — to support them. Active offenders exploit others for their own benefit, including women, children, churches, and the social-welfare system. They commit many crimes before getting arrested, and they move in and out of the criminal-justice system for decades. Many also report enjoying acts of violence; the social-media accounts of martyred gangsters shot by police often illuminate this subculture. Perhaps not surprisingly, they see the police as another competing tribe that has to be manipulated, controlled, and sometimes confronted. In sum, the lives of persistent criminal offenders are often shockingly pathological. The nature of this world is hard to grasp without witnessing it firsthand.


When it comes to disciplinary biases, however, none is so strong or as corrupting as liberal views on race. Disproportionate black involvement in violent crime represents the elephant in the room amid the current controversy over policing in the United States. Homicide numbers from the Federal Bureau of Investigation Supplementary Homicide Reports, 1976–2005 indicate that young African-American males account for homicide victims at levels that are ten to 20 times greater than their proportion of the population and account for homicide offenders at levels that are 15 to 35 times greater than their proportion of the population. The black-white gap in armed-robbery offending has historically ranged between ten to one and 15 to one. Even in forms of crime that are allegedly the province of white males — such as serial murder — blacks are overrepresented as offenders by a factor of two. For all racial groups, violent crime is strongly intraracial, and the intraracial dynamic is most pronounced among blacks. In more than 90 percent of cases, the killer of a black victim is a black perpetrator.


Reliable evidence tells us that the most effective strategies to reduce crime involve police focusing on crime hot spots, targeting active offenders for arrest, and helping to solve local problems surrounding disorder and incivility. Putting predatory, recidivistic offenders in jail or in prison remains the best way to protect the public — especially those who live in high-crime neighborhoods. Lower-level offenders can often be supervised in the community, and many benefit from programs that seek to modify drug and alcohol addictions that contribute to their criminal behavior. Despite our best efforts, though, most will re-offend and reenter the system at some point.

Arnold Kling notes that it was Robert Nozick who coined the term “normative sociology” as the study of what the causes of problems ought to be:

My fear about academic economics is that it will evolve in the direction of criminology. I foresee ever-increasing social pressure within the community of academic economists to undertake research that confirms left-wing biases.


  1. Bob Sykes says:

    Criminality is largely genetic, and its elimination would require truly horrific eugenic pogroms, which, obviously, cannot be implemented..

  2. Michael W. Towns says:

    Criminality is “largely genetic”?

    Please explain, with citations and evidence to back up your assertion. I’m all ears.

  3. Jim says:

    Low repeat alleles of the MOAO-A gene have been associated with higher levels of violent behavior in studies done in at least three different countries. There are large racial differences in the frequencies of these alleles. The lowest repeat allele, the 2L allele, has a frequency of about 5% among US black males vs. .1% in US white males.

    The monoamine oxidase-A enzyme plays an important role in regulating the levels of various neurotransmitters which in turn greatly affects neurological functioning hence also behavior.

    Alleles associated with hyperactivity also show large racial differences. Some South American Amerindian populations have very high levels of such alleles whereas the Han Chinese have very low levels.

    Northeast Asians show remarkably low levels of criminal behavior in comparison to other racial groups both in their ancestral lands and as emigrants all over the world.

    Studies of the behavior of newborn infants have shown strong racial differences in behavior. Chinese babies are much less inclined to cry for example than white babies. These differences show up in very early infancy.

    Higher levels of criminal behavior are strongly associated with lower IQ particularly lower verbal IQ. There are large racial differences in average IQ between racial groups with average IQ ranging from about 55 for Mbuti pygmies to about 110-115 for Ashkenazi Jews.

    Modern genetic studies of human behavior involving identical twins raised apart indicate that genetics is the most important factor in human behavior. The next most important factor is “non-shared environment” the nature of which is not presently known. Least important are “shared environment” factors such as SES, family structure, parental style, type of schooling, viz. everything that was once thought to be important.

    Crime in the US is to a very great extent a problem involving blacks. The most reliable predictor of the level of crime in different areas of the US is the proportion of the population which is black.

  4. Michael W. Towns says:

    I’m not convinced that chromosomes force people to make specific choices.

    But, I very much doubt a continued conversation on this topic will be profitable, so I’m bowing out.

  5. Jim says:

    Michael, I’m not sure what you mean by “force people to make specific choices”. If that means that an organism’s behavior can be predicted based on no other knowledge than what the chemical structures of it’s polynucleotides are than of course that is absurd. But from a knowledge of the chemical structures of an organism’s polynucleotides it would be possible given sufficient understanding of biochemistry to accurately predict behavioral probabilities for that organism.

  6. Jim says:

    There is no autonomous self which functions in people as an independent causal agent. Polynucleotides are at the center of all biological phenomena. Human behavior is no exception.

  7. Kirk says:

    Genes don’t equate to predestination; no matter what, the final choice of whether or not to commit a crime is in the hands of the individual. Sure, there may be a good statistical correlation between certain gene complexes and criminal behavior, but the sad fact is that we just don’t know if that’s solely what’s responsible.

    In the end, the only thing you can do is go on actual behavior–The criminality of an individual should not be determined based on what things might be in his or her genes, but in their actual behavior. Anything else just substitutes science for the religious mumbo-jumbo of predestination and divine intent.

    One of the big issues I have with all this crap is the fact that while we’ve done a lot of studies on the insane and the criminal, a similar amount of work has not been done in the population of “normals”. It may be that these supposed “criminal indicators” in the genes are more commonly distributed than we think, and that the fact that there could be a bunch of people out there with them who haven’t committed any crimes at all sort of argues that we don’t even know what we don’t know.

    Just like the friggin’ idiots back in the days when eugenics was a popular thing, we truly don’t know what the hell goes into this stuff like intelligence and criminality. Sure, we’re scraping at the doorstep of it all, but the state of the art, today? Nowhere near enough is known to say anything at all beyond “Yeah, there’s some statistical correlation here, but that’s about all I’m willing to say…”.

    It’s just like sanity and creativity–The insane are sometimes incredibly creative and artistic. Is that because they’re operating on the ragged edge of human intellectual potential, and are incredibly fragile because of it, or is the creativity a function of a lessened grip on reality? Is madness a necessary component of high art?

    I’ll happily pull the trigger on a murderer; someone who merely has “murderer’s genes”, and who hasn’t committed any crime…? Oh, hell no…

  8. Jim says:

    Kirk – We all have a strong intuitive sense of an autonomous self which operates as a true causal agent. But such an entity is totally incongruous with all of modern science particularly molecular biology.

    As science advances it often shows that basic human intuitions are incorrect. The ancient Greeks discovered that the Earth is a ball not a flat surface. Modern physics has shown that our basic intuitions about space and time are profoundly mistaken. Our intuitions about the basic nature of human behavior will eventually meet a similar end.

  9. Kirk says:

    Regardless of one’s take on the nature of reality and our place in it, the fact remains that the purely mechanistic idea that possession of a particular allele in one’s genetic coding does not equate to predestination.

    I’ve got a somewhat pronounced history of alcoholism in my family, along with chronic emphysema. Knowing this, I avoid becoming dependent on alcohol, and smoking. The fact that I have a set of alleles in my genes that predisposes me towards these things, I make the conscious choice not to enable them. Likewise, the fact that one might possess a similar set of alleles predisposing one toward criminal behavior does not imply that one is predestined to commit crimes. There is still a choice, and if you make it, you are still responsible for your actions–No amount of excuse-making, like “…I come from a family of criminals…” will change that fact: You made the choices that led you to committing those acts.

    Excusing this crap because of “bad childhoods” or other such BS is a huge part of the reason society is breaking down around us. The “dindu” syndrome is another facet, where parents and other family members refuse to admit their progeny did something wrong. No matter what, there is still the objective fact: You made the decision, and you committed the crime. Perhaps you were predisposed, but “predisposed” is not “doomed to become”, is it?

  10. Graham says:

    My impression has long been that most people, in times through which I have lived and of which I could read people’s written attitudes, have believed some variation of the idea that people have hereditary traits and yet can control themselves to some degree.

    So we have the notion that ‘the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree’ for good or ill, or that some people are ‘bad to the bone’. At the same time, we had the notions of willpower and self-discipline and various attitudes on whether and how these could be reinforced.

    Put that into modern idiom, perhaps one could say that one’s genetic makeup [ie. heredity] establishes a set of probabilities for ones behavior under a range of circumstances, one’s environment establishes learned patterns of response, and within that one’s brain is capable of both impulsive reaction and controlled direction on a moment to moment basis.

    That the range of control and the degree of consciousness are, respectively, within a framework and directed by probabilities is exceptionally important but almost beside the point on a day to day basis.

    The people who can’t exercise a brake on their impulses at all are typically recognized as ‘touched’ in primitive societies or as ‘insane’ or ‘mentally ill’ in more scientific ones. The inbred qualities of their condition are recognized either way, and perhaps by implication the inbred nature of the ability to direct action is too.

    When most people historically have spoken of free will and choice, I’m not sure they meant more than this. I wonder at what point the notion of free will acquired the connotations of self-directing the entirety of one’s personal nature, interaction with the universe, and the nature of reality itself? Nietszche? Anthony Kennedy?

    Free will defined that way is definitely extreme.

  11. Atavisionary says:

    The social sciences would be a joke if they weren’t so disastrously influential. A wretched hive of scum and villainy. Here is an article which elaborates more on the left-wing biases in social science, which criminology unsurprisingly suffers from.

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