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.