Posts Tagged ‘crime and punishment’

More riot notes

From Twitter, some further thoughts on the Baltimore riots and their implications:

In response, Twitter user @hamilt0n cites this NBER paper by William J. Collins and Robert A. Margo on the (very harmful) labor market effects of the 1960s riots, adds: “Riots=more spending, higher taxation, rich are mobile and flee, poor get stuck with the bill”

Sweetness and light in a New York Times “Crips and Bloods gangs come together to save Baltimore” story:

More from Liz Mair on how the rights just go to show what you already believed; Cathy Young (arguing, inter alia, that any system is going to accord police suspected of wrongdoing some advantages over other citizens in those circumstances and we might just as well accept this). Meanwhile, the seven-day 10 p.m. curfew threatens the livelihoods of thousands of Baltimoreans and small businesses [New York Times, Baltimore Sun]

The economics of rioting

Following the outbreak of serious riots on the streets of Baltimore, I wrote a post yesterday at Cato:

…More than twenty years ago in the Cato Journal, distinguished law and economics scholars David Haddock and Daniel Polsby published a paper entitled “Understanding Riots” that’s still highly relevant in making sense of events like these. Employing familiar economic concepts such as opportunity cost, coordination problems, and free-rider issues, Haddock and Polsby help explain why riots cluster around sports wins as well as assassinations, funerals, and jury verdicts; the group psychology of rioting, and why most crowds never turn riotous; the important role of focal points (often lightly policed commercial areas) and rock-throwing “entrepreneurs” of disorder; the tenuous relationship between riots and root causes or contemporary grievances; and why when a riot occurs the police (at least those in places like the United States and United Kingdom) seldom manage to be in enough places at once, more or less by definition.

I conclude that pundits and the news media are continuing to get the story wrong about riots like those in Baltimore, and link to the Haddock and Polsby article itself. The post is here.

P.S.: This is neat: Jack Shafer at Politico takes and runs with some of the paper’s analysis about prevention strategies and the spread of information about riot locations. And Jesse Walker looks further at the role of “outside agitators.”

Miss child support payment, go to jail

And good luck making those payments once you’ve lost your job or license. The Walter Scott shooting in South Carolina has focused belated attention on the “deadbeat-dad” rules crafted variously to please budget hawks, women’s rights advocates, and conservatives, which in practice can pile hopelessly large obligations on low-earning fathers, enforced in some states not only by jailing but also by deprivation of drivers’ and occupational licenses instrumental in earning a living. I’ve got more at Cato at Liberty, following up on New York Times coverage.

Prosecution roundup

  • Florida court blocks drug-related seizure of house as violation of Constitution’s Excessive Fines Clause [Orlando Weekly, opinion in Agresta v. Maitland]
  • Deferred- and non-prosecution agreements (DPAs/NPAs) have ushered in a little-scrutinized “shadow regulatory state” [Jim Copland and Isaac Gorodetski, “Without Law or Limits: The Continued Growth of the Shadow Regulatory State,” Manhattan Institute report]
  • Politicized prosecution: New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman throws book at bankers for not lending in Buffalo [Conrad Black via Tim Lynch, Cato]
  • Would it improve prosecutors’ incentives if localities rather than state governments paid for incarceration? [Leon Neyfakh, Slate, via David Henderson]
  • Andrew Pincus on the growing danger of enforcement slush funds [U.S. Chamber, more]
  • “The Department of Justice, if it succeeds on its new theory, may have criminalized many instances of dull employee misconduct.” [Matt Kaiser, Above the Law; Peter Henning, N.Y. Times “DealBook”]
  • A Brooklyn mess: new D.A. looking into 70 convictions obtained with evidence from retired detective Louis Scarcella [Radley Balko]

Our carceral child support system and the Walter Scott case

“In South Carolina, at least one in eight people in jail are there on contempt-of-court charges related to late or unpaid child-support orders.” [Marshall Project; Christopher Mathias/Huffington Post] For decades elected officials of right and left alike have backed punitive handling of “deadbeat dads,” with results that include repeated jail terms levied over arrears unlikely ever to be paid, as well as the denial of drivers’ licenses and other basics of participation in the aboveground economy. Earlier on child support issues.

Some writings from my Cato Institute colleagues on the Walter Scott case: Tim Lynch, Jonathan Blanks, Matthew Feeney. And a New York Times “Room for Debate” roundtable on police use of deadly force featuring Walter Katz, Prof. Seth Stoughton and others.

“When everything is a crime”

George Will on overcriminalization, mens rea, and regulatory crimes, typically clear and cogent. Second paragraph:

In 2007, professor Tim Wu of Columbia Law School recounted a game played by some prosecutors. One would name a famous person — “say, Mother Teresa or John Lennon” — and other prosecutors would try to imagine “a plausible crime for which to indict him or her,” usually a felony plucked from “the incredibly broad yet obscure crimes that populate the U.S. Code like a kind of jurisprudential minefield.” Did the person make “false pretenses on the high seas”? Is he guilty of “injuring a mailbag”?

“You are probably breaking the law right now”

Glenn Reynolds on overcriminalization and regulation [USA Today]:

Regulatory crimes” of this sort are incredibly numerous and a category that is growing quickly. They are the ones likely to trap unwary individuals into being felons without knowing it. That is why Michael Cottone, in a just-published Tennessee Law Review article, suggests that maybe the old presumption that individuals know the law is outdated, unfair and maybe even unconstitutional. “Tellingly,” he writes, “no exact count of the number of federal statutes that impose criminal sanctions has ever been given, but estimates from the last 15 years range from 3,600 to approximately 4,500.” Meanwhile, according to recent congressional testimony, the number of federal regulations (enacted by administrative agencies under loose authority from Congress) carrying criminal penalties may be as many as 300,000.

And it gets worse. While the old-fashioned common law crimes typically required a culpable mental state — you had to realize you were doing something wrong — the regulatory crimes generally don’t require any knowledge that you’re breaking the law. This seems quite unfair.

Crime and punishment roundup