Justice Update: Crime Stats Debunk “Viral Video Effect”

May 19, 2016

Final 2015 Crime Data Shows No ‘Viral Video Effect’

The Brennan Center’s Crime in 2015: A Final Analysis has helped push back on claims by FBI Director James Comey that less aggressive policing caused an increase in homicides. Comey has blamed this alleged new police posture on public scrutiny around videos of police confrontations, a dynamic he’s termed the “viral video effect.”

The New York Times editorialized it’s a “false notion that the country is entering a crime wave,” adding: “That idea was debunked last month in a study by the Brennan Center for Justice of 2015 crime data from the 30 largest cities. The study found that crime had remained the same as in 2014 and that two-thirds of the cities had actually had drops in crime.”

The data was also cited by The Washington Post.

There are year-to-year variations but no nationwide epidemic, and no factor that easily explains localized upticks, according to Ames Grawert who spoke to The Intercept

Read more from The Guardian and The Washington Times. Read the Brennan Center’s analysis debunking a national crime or murder wave here.

Experts Say Mass Incarceration Hurts Economy

Members of the Brennan Center’s Economic Advisory Board were at the White House last month to talk about mass incarceration’s effect on economic inequality, poverty, and the economy.

The panel discussion was held in collaboration with the White House and American Enterprise Institute. It was the public launch of the Center’s Economic Advisory Board, and coincided with the release of a report from the president’s Council of Economic Advisers on the economic impact of mass incarceration.

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, an advisory board member and a former director of the Congressional Budget Office, characterized the penal system as an “economic burden.”

“Not only do taxpayers spend billions per year to send people to prison for far too long,” he said. “This time in prison also means lost income for families and lost job prospects upon release, which create disruptions to our economy and labor force.”

Peter Orszag, another advisory board member and a former director of the Congressional Budget Office, said evidence shows “we need to devote resources to smart policing, reentry programs, and treatment — not funneling more money into longer prison sentences.”

Reuters, in a piece on the White House report, noted that “later this year, the Brennan Center will unveil a study quantifying how much the U.S. criminal justice system costs Americans in terms of employment, wages, and gross domestic product.”

The discussion also garnered coverage by C-SPANThe EconomistThe Washington PostNPR, and PoliticoRead a New York Times op-ed by Jason Furman, chair of the Council on Economic Advisers, and Holtz-Eakin. Orszag also penned two op-eds on the criminal justice system for Bloomberg.

Washington Still Pushing Criminal Justice Reform

The federal government announced a new rule last month to “ban the box” in the federal employment process, meaning that job applicants will not be asked about their criminal history until the final stages of hiring. The rule will be finalized after a 60-day comment period.

It implements a recommendation from 15 Executive Actions, a Brennan Center report that listed democracy-enhancing executive actions that should be taken in President Barack Obama’s last days in office. The Brennan Center also recently signed a letter with more than 130 other organizations asking Obama to apply the “ban the box” rule to federal contractors. For more on the president’s executive actions, read this roundup by Grainne Dunne.

Meanwhile on Capitol Hill, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act is making progress. Revisions to the bill announced last month helped win added support from Republican Senators. It’s also backed by influential law enforcement groups including the National District Attorneys AssociationMajor Cities Chiefs AssociationMajor County Sheriffs AssociationInternational Association of Chiefs of Police, and Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration.

“People on both sides of the aisle recognize that current sentencing laws don’t work and put people in prison who shouldn’t be there,” said Nicole Austin-Hillery. “I’m hopeful that common ground will continue to guide this bill through Congress and onto the president’s desk.”

Obama also referenced the bill in a commencement speech at Howard University. Supporters hope it will reach his desk in the coming months. 

Research Roundup

  • The Criminal Justice Policy Review released a review of publications about the effect of “collateral sanctions” for felony convictions on recidivism rates. The report found that while returning prisoners in states with felony firearm restrictions were less likely to be sent back to prison, returning prisoners were more likely to recidivate in states that restricted public assistance and subsidized housing due to a felony conviction.
  • The Sentencing Project published a policy brief which found that between 2003 and 2013, the rate of youth commitment to juvenile detention facilities fell by 47 percent. However, during this period, the racial gap between black and white youth in secure juvenile facilities increased by 15 percent. Commitment to a secure facility was four times more likely for black juveniles, three times more likely for American Indian juveniles, and 61 percent more likely for Latino juveniles than it is for white juveniles.
  • A recent research brief by the Urban Institute investigated the impact of South Dakota’s sentencing reforms in 2013. The authors examined the preliminary effects of laws promoting community supervision for low-level felonies in lieu of incarceration and easing sentences for drug possession and use. They found that judges used probation more frequently after the 2013 reforms, fewer people were sent to prison for offenses subject to the “presumptive probation” laws, and prison terms were shorter for drug abuse and addiction offenses.