Tag Archives: crime

Cryptic Crosswords and Face Identification

A study comparing the effects of various leisure activities on the recognition and identification of faces has concluded that eyewitnesses should not be permitted to do cryptic crossword puzzles prior to an identity parade.

The study, conducted by Cardiff University’s Michael Lewis, compared logic puzzles (sudoku), crossword puzzles (both cryptic and standard) and mystery novels (Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code) and found that performing cryptic crosswords reduced the reliability of recognising and identifying faces.

“The identification of an offender by a witness to a crime often forms an important element of a prosecution’s case. While considerable importance is placed by jurors on the identification of the offender by a witness (such as a suspect being picked out from an identity parade), research tells us that these identifications can often be wrong and sometimes lead to wrongful convictions.”

“It would be undesirable,” he writes, “to have witnesses doing something before an identity parade that would make them worse at picking out the offender … Consider what witnesses may do before an identity parade. It is possible that they might be doing something to pass the time (eg read or do a puzzle). It is possible that some of these potential activities may lead to a detriment in face processing.”

via @noahWG

Immigration Makes Cities Safer

Cities with large immigrant populations are some of the safest places to live, suggest the data and studies, especially those where the police “know how to work with [immigrants], not against them“.

The studies in question–including one extensive study by the FBI–go on to suggest reasons why immigrants reduce a city’s crime:

This is not just a matter of random correlation being mistaken for causation. A new study by sociologist Tim Wadsworth […] carefully evaluates the various factors behind the statistics that show a massive drop in crime during the 1990s at a time when immigration rose dramatically. In a peer-reviewed paper appearing in the June 2010 issue of Social Science Quarterly, Wadsworth argues not only that “cities with the largest increases in immigration between 1990 and 2000 experienced the largest decreases in homicide and robbery,” which we knew, but that after considering all the other explanations, rising immigration “was partially responsible.” […]

So, yes, there are pretty compelling data to support the argument that immigrants as such—even presumably “illegal” immigrants—do not make cities more dangerous to live in. But what mechanism about such immigration makes cities safer? Robert J. Sampson, head of the sociology department at Harvard, has suggested that, among other things, immigrants move into neighborhoods abandoned by locals and help prevent them from turning into urban wastelands. They often have tighter family structures and mutual support networks, all of which actually serve to stabilize urban environments. As Sampson told me back in 2007, “If you want to be safe, move to an immigrant city.”

The Relationship Between Police and Crime

Does an increased police presence decrease crime? That’s the seemingly simple and obvious question that Mark Easton poses on his BBC blog before explaining the difficulty in attempting to discern if a greater number of police helps to reduce crime.

To set the scene, Easton quotes from a Steven Levitt study (pdf) that attempted to answer this question by analysing crime fluctuations around electoral cycles (because, equally interestingly, the number of police increases around elections).

One of the most surprising empirical results in this literature is the repeated failure to uncover evidence that an increase in the number of police reduces the crime rate. Of the 22 studies surveyed by Samuel Cameron (1988) that attempt to estimate a direct relationship between police and crime using variation across cities, 18 find either no relationship or a positive (ie incorrectly signed) relationship between the two.

Easton does conclude, however, by saying that it “would be almost perverse to argue that more police has no effect on crime. But we don’t know how much impact they have or how long that impact lasts”.

via @vaughanbell

The Case for Redemption

In light of the recall into custody of Jon Venables–one of the ten-year-old boys who horrifically murdered the two-year-old James Bulger in Manchester, 1993–Brian Masters deliberates on the possibility of absolution for a heinous crime committed in one’s childhood.

But I do know that [Jon Venables] cannot be the warped and skewed child who shared in that dreadful crime all those years ago. It is just not possible. He is somebody else now. We all of us change and develop as we pass into adulthood and beyond, and there is no reason to suppose that a child who murders should be exempt from this inevitability. […]

Besides which, most of the religions that are professed in this country, and to which angry avengers pretend to adhere, give space to that precious possibility of redemption. Surely our society is mature enough to permit religious wisdom to prevail rather than let intelligent thought be swamped by quivering fascination with wickedness. […]

Nobody would wish to belittle the ghastly fate that befell James Bulger. Letting his killers attempt to redeem themselves in peace does not do that. But we should be mindful of the fact that indignation is relatively easy to satisfy, and demands no sacrifice, no exposure to horrid experience, no damage to the soul. To continue feeding indignation against a 10-year-old boy who glimpsed Hell, and who knew it, is at best unworthy, and at worst is itself a manifestation of wickedness.

I stand by a previous comment of mine stating that it’s the “Best & worst thing I’ve read in a very long time”. And as David said, it isn’t for the faint hearted, but is worthy nonetheless (I stole David’s headline, too–thanks!).

Rethinking Prison Design

Justice Center Leoben is a fantastically-designed prison in Austria that can’t be ignored. Designed by architect Joseph Hohensinn, views on the prison are varied and emphatic. The New York Times takes a tour of the prison, offering some novel thoughts on imprisonment and rehabilitation.

Before the prison opened, late in 2004, [Joseph Hohensinn] had a solid career building public housing. Now he is the Man Who Built That Prison, a distinction that dismays him slightly, if only because, as he says, “One always has mixed feelings about having one work singled out for attention.”

Leoben has received quite a lot of attention. In America, its public profile has been limited to [mockery], but in Europe, Hohensinn’s design has become more of a model […]. It is the opening statement in a debate about what it means to construct a better prison.

I’m all in favour of prison complexes such as this, and my reasons why can easily be encapsulated in two quotes: one from Hohensinn himself, and the other—carved into a concrete wall of the prison—from the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights:

“They are criminals, but they are also human beings. The more normal a life you give them here, the less necessary it is to resocialize them when they leave.”
“All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.”

As the article states, it’s still too soon to tell if such an approach is ‘correct’, but before we can answer that question we have others we need to debate. Some I found myself asking:

  • Does imprisonment work?
  • If you trust a criminal with a better environment, will he prove trustworthy?
  • Do ‘comfortable’ prisons encourage crime?
  • What do we want prisons to actually do?
  • What exactly does ‘imprisonment’ constitute?

At first glance these may seem obvious, but with further examination they’re quite complex questions.