Fear of Crime — The Perception of Crime is Not Crime

October 29, 2007

The leading element in local television news is crime.   “If it bleeds, it leads” is the popular explanation of the television stations’ choice of visual menu for its viewers.   This certainly helps prosecutors when those viewers show up at the courthouse as jurors.  They all have formed the belief that crime dominates everyone’s life.  These jurors are ready to get on the bandwagon before they enter the courtroom.
But the incidence of crime is not the same as the perception of the incidence of crime.  Crime is not as prevalent as it is perceived to be.  Gallup has been taking public polls for decades.   One of the polls they take is a measure of the public’s perception of crime.

A Gallup Poll conducted in October, 2007, showed an increase in negative public perceptions about crime, an increase from a few years ago.  The poll showed that statistically about half of Americans say crime is up in their local areas and about 7 in 10 Americans say crime is up nationally.

Meanwhile, both the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics publish statistics which measure the actual incidence of crime in America.  Both these sources show that both for crimes of violence and crimes of property the rates have generally leveled off to statistically “extremely low numbers”.   Rates of both types of crime declined sharply during the 1990s and now have leveled off at historically low rates.  The history of data for the Bureau of Justice goes back about 37 years since it began collecting data in 1972.

But reality does not affect the headlines on every nightly news show, nor on the variety of police detective shows.  The focus, the fascination, the fear goes on.  And on.

Furthermore, the problem with the mistaken perception is that it produces the general opinion that we are not “tough enough on crime” and so those in law enforcement and in the court system are encouraged to become overly zealous in pursuing people who are accused of a crime, many times producing injustice to the accused, instead of justice for all.

Aging Prisoner Problems

October 18, 2007

Among other problems that are developing from our bursting prisons is the problem of the aging prison population. Exceeding the growth of prison population is the growth of the elderly population in prison. Tough sentencing laws from the 1980’s and 1990’s have succeeded. Inmates locked up then are still locked up. But barbed wire fences don’t look so necessary when the inmates cannot get out their wheel chairs.

Department of Justice statistics show nationally that the number of inmates aged 55 years and older has increased 33 % from 2000 to 2005. For the same period, the growth in the number of inmates of all ages has grown 9%. This increase is greater in the Southern states, where estimates are that the increase in elderly inmates in 16 southern states is 145% since 1997.

Inmates are not eligible for coverage under Medicare nor Medicaid, so, instead of the state sharing these medical costs with the federal government, the state alone must pay for them. National costs estimates are $18,000 to $31,000 cost per year to house an inmate. The increased cost to care for an elderly inmate is uncertain, but certainly more than younger inmates. And prison inmates typically have led less healthy lives than the population at large, so more health problems are to be expected from aging inmates.

The United States Supreme Court ruled in 1976 that inmates have a Constitutional right to health care, so the federal courts have and will continue to be involved in monitoring the states’ performance in providing this health care for its prisoners.

Unfortunately, the fact that our state is “tough on crime” may not only provide overly punitive sentences to those found guilty of a crime but also may be costly to the rest of us because of the rising costs of housing and caring for our aging prisoners. I believe it’s time for our state to look at other options for sentencing and rehabilitation.

However, the best thing someone charged with a crime can do is to make sure they have the best defense possible in order to have a chance for freedom, or at least a reduced sentence from what the prosecution would attempt to achieve.

Current Trend for Possibility of Parole in Oklahoma Not Good for those Found Guilty of a Crime

October 7, 2007

The number of paroles has been dropping in Oklahoma for a decade, but observers are not sure exactly why. In 1999, an early release program allowed an inmate named Lamonte Fields out of prison early. A few days later, Fields killed his girlfriend and her parents and was himself killed by the police. Immediately, the governor cancelled the early-release program, and paroles have been dropping since, beginning the following year when paroles dropped ten percent.

Also in 1999, Governor Frank Keating signed the Truth in Sentencing law, which required inmates to serve no less than 85% of a sentence for certain crimes. Before that, sentences had been treated as served after completion of 1/3 of the sentence, and it is still true for the sentences that are not subject to the 85% rule. This 85% rule covers more crimes every years so the number of inmates to which this 85% rule applies increases every year.

From 2001 to 2006, the rate of the governor’s granting of paroles recommended by the Parole Board dropped about ten percent. In the same span of years, parole applications which reached the governor’s office dropped by 2,000. Last year, more than 25% of the inmates coming up for parole withdraw themselves from consideration.

One of the reasons parole applications have dropped is that many inmates choose to serve out their sentences in full, rather go on parole. An inmate might get out earlier on a parole, but he has to comply with a lot of restrictions in his life as a parolee. Many inmates have chosen simply to wait till they complete their sentences in full, and when they get out, they do not have to be supervised.

Another reason parole applications have dropped is that the wait has increased from the time the Parole Board recommends a parole and the governor acts on that recommendation. In 2001, the wait was 17 days. In 2006, the wait had increased to 89 days. More and more inmates are getting out without parole while their parole application is still sitting on the governor’s desk. That number was 200 inmates last year.

This leads anyone accused of a crime to the conclusion that their best chance at freedom or a lesser sentence is to get the best defense possible in Oklahoma to protect their interests rather than planning on an early parole. Once again, this indicates how tough the Oklahoma court system can be, more so than other states. If you or someone you know is facing a criminal charge please visit my site at http://www.edmondgeary.com to find out how to choose the best attorney for your case.