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It Doesn’t Go Far Enough—Anchorage Daily News Editorial 9/18/2010

September 20, 2010

The Anchorage Daily News jumped on a bandwagon, one reported in Anchorage at a meeting where Texas Representative Jerry Madden spoke about initiatives in Texas to reduce some of their costs of investigating crimes, prosecuting, convicting and incarcerating criminals. According to Representative Madden, the Texas program required an investment of $240 million. Texas concentrated on 5 areas:

“The five were parole, probation, diversion for drunken driving offenders, school programs to cut the “pipeline to prison” for young offenders, and even preschool programs, which have proven over time to improve the odds that a youngster will stay within the law.”

Criminal law is an interesting arena of discussion. An extremely punitive system focuses incredible attention on a small percentage of perpetrators of crime who happen to be unlucky enough to be caught. Let me explain myself. In 1994, the Rand Corporation published a report titled “Three Strikes and You’re Out: Estimated Benefits and Costs of California’s New Mandatory Sentencing Law.” According to figures contained in the report, the estimated percentage of crimes solved that resulted in a sentence being handed down were:

“Here are the percentage of criminal offenses in California, by category, that are ever resolved by a conviction: Rape 2.3%, Robbery 3.6%, Assault 8%, Burglary 3.4%, Theft 2.1%, MVT 1.4% These are amazing numbers, very carefully researched,…” Comments, Gill, October 7, 2009 to “Prison Crisis: Long Sentences, More Prisoners,” By Maureen Cavanaugh, on KPBS.

The plain and simple fact is that most crimes are not solved. This is borne out by a few studies that have asked adults if they have every been sexually abused for purposes of studying Adverse Childhood Experiences and their impact on the adults being studied. In the original ACE Study, 27% of women and 16% of men reported sexual abuse as children. U.S. conviction rates are so much lower. 97.7% of rapes in California are never resolved by conviction.

So, the resources that Texas is dedicating to deterring crime are very likely addressing a very small percentage of perpetrators of crime, that is, those who are unlucky enough to be arrested for a crime.

What is missing from the ADN analysis is the huge impact of the unprosecuted crimes. The huge costs of our criminal justice system produce what appears to be less than a 5% resolution rate of most crimes. There are huge numbers of victims in our midst. I know, I am one (twice).

The reason I am saying that the ADN did not go far enough is that the solutions proposed by Texas do nothing other than manage the very small group of convicted perpetrators. In past blogs, I have advocated for using greater resources to attack the root cause of most crime, and that is the impact caused by Adverse Childhood Experiences on a sizeable proportion of our U.S. population. Much of the U.S. incarcerated population has a significant history of emotional, physical and sexual abuse, or a significant history of unresolved trauma. Federal and state efforts to try and help citizens resolve this trauma early in life may be our most effective option. If we provide services to families with personal trauma who are raising children that will experience the inter generational transmission of trauma. If we can help families break this cycle of intergenerational transmission of trauma, we will most likely reduce overall crime, and impact more of our population.

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