Shifting the Risk

One of the success stories of the recent decades has been the decline in the crime rate.  Rape, especially, has plummeted:
When it comes to rape, the numbers look even better: from 1980 to 2005, the estimated number of sexual assaults in the US fell by 85 percent. Scholars attribute this stunning collapse to various factors, including advances in gender equality, the abortion of unwanted children, and the spread of internet pornography.
What if the rate hasn't fallen, but merely been shifted out of sight?
Before last year, the federal government had never bothered to estimate the actual number of rapes that occur in prisons....  After asking around, and performing some calculations, the Justice Department came up with a new number: 216,000. That’s 216,000 victims, not instances. These victims are often assaulted multiple times over the course of the year. The Justice Department now seems to be saying that prison rape accounted for the majority of all rapes committed in the US in 2008, likely making the United States the first country in the history of the world to count more rapes for men than for women.
The article is by a progressive, and suggests a place where there is an opportunity for left/right political compromise.
If ever there were a time to launch a coordinated assault on the prison-industrial complex, the time is now. Budgets are strained, voters are angry, and crime is low. The Tea Party is in the midst of convincing everyone that government is the enemy— and so it is, in the field of criminal justice.

Popular resentment against an authoritarian state shouldn’t be denied or pooh-poohed— it should be seized and marshaled toward progressive ends. The prison crisis was created by centrists. Limited reforms and immoral moderation will not end the crisis.
So let's think this through.  We don't want to reform the system in such a way that we lose the benefit of having all the rapists out of the general society:  that's clearly a good thing.  What we do want is to reform th system so that (a) rapists don't continue to prey on a different population, and (b) we spend less money on prisons and prison guards.

That suggests a two-pronged approach.  Rape should carry the death penalty, in or out of prison:  it is obvious that rapists shouldn't be released from prison, but their containment exposes us to this problem.  Killing them is the right response.

The second part of the approach concerns the drug war, which I think we need to declare a sad failure.  Some movement to legalize most recreational drugs -- even if we do so with controls such as requiring a prescription and regular oversight by a doctor -- makes more sense than continuing to imprison so many people whose main crime was to desire a different way of getting high than whiskey.  The probable expenses of doing so are greatly outweighed by the savings involved in not having to have so many prisons, and not having to support so many prisoners and guards.  We would be a better society, too, than one which tolerates hundreds of thousands of people we have rendered helpless to be raped each year while they are under our alleged protection.


Texan99 said...

Academics attribute a decline in the incidence of rape to the abortion of unwanted children?

Cass said...

That's not necessarily an oxymoron. Children raised in poverty and/or dysfunctional homes are generally at higher risk of committing crimes, often because they witness them or are the victims of crimes as children.

I"m a bit uncomfortable with the idea of making a crime that isn't always easy to prove subject to the death penalty. Maybe for violent rape where there's physical and DNA evidence. But the prison rape situation is absolutely horrifying.

MikeD said...

I'd support a tiered approach to the crime of rape. Forcible rape where a clear assault occurs should be a serious felony which I'd be comfortable giving the death penalty for. Then you could have a less harshly punishable crime of Compelled Rape, where one compels a false "consent" either chemically (date rape drugs, alcohol, etc) or via social pressures (being forced to sleep the the boss, teacher, or other authority figure). I'm not sure I like the idea of retroactively withdrawing consent becoming rape, however. Much as was discussed earlier, you should pretty much know whether you've assaulted someone or not, you should have a pretty clear notion of if you have consent or not. The idea that a freely given consent could be withdrawn after the fact is frankly terrifying and makes me immensely grateful that I am married and not single.

Texan99 said...

I don't suggest it's an oxymoron. There's nothing inherently contradictory in being an unwanted child to start with and later a rapist. It just seems a big stretch to say one causes the other, and in particular to say that a decrease in rapists is explained by a timely elimination of children who would have been unwanted if they had survived. It would take one heck of an explanation to get from A to B -- luckily, too, or we'd have a good argument for the euthanasia of all kids whose parents didn't much care for them.

Grim said...

I've always understood rape to be what I guess you, Mike, are calling "forcible rape." The other things that sometimes travel under that banner are categorically different, as you note. Likewise, I appreciate Cass' concern that there are kinds of sexual assaults that are quite difficult to prove.

Still, in cases of prison rape, it ought to be relatively easy to prove because the authorities would have direct access to the victim and the alleged attacker at once. We can have reasonably strict requirements for evidence, and of course the usual standard for proof beyond a reasonable doubt. When we have such evidence, though -- DNA from the attacker inside of the victim coupled with injuries on the victim, for example -- I see no reason that the death penalty should not speedily follow.

Much of the problem may go away once we've made a few clear examples. I think it's likely that the author of the piece is correct to assert that the prevalence of rape in prison is to a large degree because the prison culture -- including the authorities -- accepts it.

Grim said...


It's not just rape. The argument is that abortion reduces all forms of crime. It's a statistical argument; you can read about it at the link.

Texan99 said...

Ah, then my euthanasia program is looking solid. It's hard luck on the kids, but they have the misfortune of belonging to a group that will prove to consume more societal resources than they are worth, because statistically they are more likely than others to fail. It would be too expensive to let them all try to prove their worth individually, particularly in light of the overwhelming national interest in safe streets.

Grim said...

Exactly. It's one of those arguments that may be correct, but can't be right.

Texan99 said...

You didn't recognize it from its recent context?

Grim said...

I thought I recognized the phrasing, but I assumed that someone as careful and thoughtful as you would not attempt to draw a parallel between the question of whether we accept someone's service in an infantry unity (which service they have no right to provide -- that's why it's service, and follows the interests of the military rather than the interests of the individual), to the question of putting poor children to death (which does deprive them of a natural right).

The question of abortion, though, is perfectly parallel.

bthun said...

"I've always understood rape to be what I guess you, Mike, are calling "forcible rape." The other things that sometimes travel under that banner are categorically different, as you note. Likewise, I appreciate Cass' concern that there are kinds of sexual assaults that are quite difficult to prove."

That's my understanding of rape, from the most violent and demeaning assault on a person right on through Whoopi's not really rape rape* variety, along with the burden of proof satisfying reasonable doubts being the sticky wicket in assigning the proper punishment** to almost every crime.

"The argument is that abortion reduces all forms of crime."

That study bothers me, but I'd need to spend a bit more time than I have at the moment to try to articulate why. Or,

"It's hard luck on the kids, but they have the misfortune of belonging to a group that will prove to consume more societal resources than they are worth, because statistically they are more likely than others to fail. It would be too expensive to let them all try to prove their worth individually, particularly in light of the overwhelming national interest in safe streets."

what Tex said will suffice as... a modest proposal.

* Not real clear on Whoopi's notion, nor do I want to be.

** to include the imposition of fines and civic duties, right on through serving extended sentences on penal colonies in the middle of the Indian Ocean, up to and including capital punishment.

Texan99 said...

It's true that one's right to life is more important than one's right to take on an arduous and dangerous (though glorious) task. Death is certainly a worse penalty than subjection to contempt. That's why I said the slippery-slope argument has to be consulted with care.

Nevertheless, slippery slopes are hazardous, this one has unusual ugliness at its foot, and the distance markers are not as bright as we might like to think. There are few worse social conventions than those that prevent someone from even trying to excel on equal terms, merely because of the average capabilities of the group he belongs to. It's a tool we rarely can avoid seeing twisted to a repellent purpose.

Grim said...

We disagree here on one particular: I agree that it is true that the question of life is more important than the question of service in the infantry, but I don't agree that one's right to life is more important than one's right to service in the infantry.

This is because I do not recognize a right to serve in the infantry. For that matter, there isn't a general right of the type you're describing: "one's right to take on an arduous and dangerous (though glorious) task." I have no right to compel a corporation to hire me to undertake an arduous and dangerous (though glorious) job that I want, for example. If I did, I'd have a better job.

But I don't even have a right to compel them to consider me, or to give me a chance to compete. I can email them my resume and cover letter, but they're not obligated to open the email.

The military is public, not private, but even here there's no general right of the type you're after. The State Department is not obligated to hire me to undertake a difficult and dangerous bit of diplomacy, though I might like it very much if they did; but again, I can send my resume, but there's no obligation on them to even read the thing. This is because I have no right to the job, or to any job, or even to a job. If I can't get one, it's on me, and the negative consequences of unemployment and bankruptcy are mine to bear alone.

Grim said...

That said, I agree with the rest of your comment. In general we have to be careful about how seriously we take "group membership." It's important to be sure that the category is real and not fictive if we put any weight on it at all; and if it is real, we should still be reasonable in applying it.

Grim said...

Now, if you want to argue for a general right to do difficult and arduous (but glorious) things on your own nickle... that I think I can buy, within reason.

For example, if you wanted to put together an all-female mercenary unit ("Pinkwater"?) and take service under governments in places like Africa, I'd be a big supporter of that idea. Or a co-ed unit, if you prefer.

Texan99 said...

The important distinction, for you, is that the government has picked up the tab for the training? Would you really feel better about allowing female combat soldiers in the door if they'd been trained on their own nickel and could demonstrate their competitive skills before they were inducted?

As for your right to compete fairly with others for a job opportunity, you do in fact have a right not to be excluded from competition to win the job offer on the basis of your membership in a number of protected classes, with severely limited exceptions. That is why, for instance, we can no longer openly exclude blacks from military service, or Jews from law firms. Sure, the Jews were also free to form their own separate law firms; the law firm of which I used to be a part was formed in exactly that way in the 1930s, when "white shoe" firms excluded Jews. But that's an amelioration of a bad mistake, not a cure. And even then, the law firm wasn't forced to go practice in Africa, so as not to get in the hair of the more entitled lawyers.

Anyway, you already knew that I am extremely prickly on the subject of judgment of individuals on the basis of their group membership. I always want to play devil's advocate and test the argument to its limits. I know you agree that group membership is treacherous ground; it's just not such a pet subject for you as it is for me. If I fight tooth and nail on the subject, I hope I do not offend. I trust you to test my ideas.

Anonymous said...

"Scholars attribute this stunning collapse to various factors, including advances in gender equality, the abortion of unwanted children, and the spread of internet pornography."

That's a statement that begs for a cite and an explanation.


Grim said...

The important distinction for me is that the Republic and the Constitution depend on the military for their continued survival. All these freedoms and liberties and protections exist practically within the space created and sustained by military force.

For that reason, it is imperative that the military be organized around the principle of maximum combat effectiveness. Everything else depends upon it. Every other practical freedom we have depends upon it.

To the degree that military service is a right, then the military must be organized instead around the principle of providing the opportunity to exercise the right: and however positive a principle that may be, it's not the principle of combat effectiveness. To change the organizing principle away from combat effectiveness is to endanger every other right, every other protection.

That's why I suggested a private military company as an alternative. It's not that women shouldn't fight, or be allowed to choose to attempt glorious things; but it is the case that this one thing, the US military, needs to be ordered in a particular way. Maintaining its good order guarantees the rest, and is therefore of primary importance.

I'm not at all offended, and I enjoy testing your arguments. Usually they are very strong. I'm aware of the existence of protected classes, although I'm not one of them. For example: I actually applied for a job as a Navy civilian once, and the first page of the online application was the demographics/preferences page. I filled out 'white,' 'male,' and all the other questions about whether I was due Federal preference points under this or that program. At the end of this first page, I clicked "Next," and the second page informed me that I wasn't qualified.

I was actually quite highly qualified for that particular job, except that one of the qualifications was a high enough preference score. Over the years I've applied for lots of Federal jobs through USAJOBS, and it will even tell you when you were rejected due to insufficient preference points. It's happened to me maybe a dozen times.

The way that works, by the way, is that there's a two-stage selection process. If you don't score high enough, your resume is not forwarded to the second stage -- the actual hiring officer. That means that they don't even know you applied, or that you were an option. You receive no consideration for hiring at all.

It happens all the time. Do I sue? No, because those laws weren't written to establish that I have a right to be considered: they were written to protect certain classes of people who have been discriminated against historically. They don't establish a general right to consideration; they establish special preferences for particular groups (including, obviously, women).

Texan99 said...

Well -- there is a huge chasm between outlawing the practice of disqualifying people according to their class, which I approve of for the most part, and affirmative action, which I execrate. When you are excluded because you don't belong to a special class, that's AA, and I have no use for it.

It's extremely frustrating that we have to careen between disqualifying whole groups from competition, and putting our thumbs on the scale to help the same groups. I keep hoping some day we'll just set the standards where they make sense and quit trying to guess ahead of time who will be able to meet them.

Grim said...

I'm not trying to put the blame for AA on you; actually, I kind of understand it. There's a lot of gaming the system, though: a ton of those preference categories are just rewards for people who have done time in Federal employment, without regard to historic whatever.

The point is that the general right you're after doesn't exist. I'm living proof: I've been turned down for consideration from at least a dozen jobs I wanted because I wasn't in the right category.

So, I mean, this isn't privilege talking. There's not a lot of privilege in being a Southern white male anyway; one time when I actually did get an interview, the officer interviewing me questioned whether my Master's degree was from an accredited university.

"It's a state university," I replied.

"Well, but we've never heard of it," she answered. "Sometimes those little schools aren't."

Well, even in Georgia, the state universities are pretty much accredited. I didn't get that job, either.

douglas said...

Making death the maximum penalty for rape could have two positive effects- One, it would rid us of some of the worst among us, and spare the prisons their type. Two, it might have positive effects in our society, as regards the diminution of the word 'rape' when used for lesser offenses, and in turn could reduce over-charging and false accusations as it maintains and reinforces the seriousness of the charge in our consciousness.


"If I fight tooth and nail on the subject, I hope I do not offend. I trust you to test my ideas."

Indeed! The Hall is a place to 'train in armor' as it were- and I have deep respect for it in that capacity especially, particularly as it's denizens are also decorous about the process. I believe that trust well placed and shared. Thank you, Grim.

Texan99 said...

Surely you can't equate a "right" with something other people always honor on your behalf.

Grim said...

No, but the point here isn't that it is or isn't honored; the point is that I have no right to consideration at all. It's not just that they don't do it. It's not just that I can't go to court to make them do it. It's that, in principle, I ought not to be able to go to court to make them do it.

A week or so ago there was a big discussion over at VC about the question of "our jobs," in the context of outsourcing. This is ultimately the same point. If there is a job in the world that I want, I have no right to it -- not a government job, not a private corporate job, not any job at all.

It wouldn't make sense to make it possible for me to sue someone for failing to hire me. It wouldn't even make sense to make it possible for me to sue them for failing to consider me. For example, how would you possibly structure such a process for appeal in a way that was coherent with the corporation's right of free association?

Grim said...


You are certainly welcome.

Texan99 said...

I'm not sure I agree. Certainly the anti-discrimination laws have been horribly abused, but then I detested the earlier practice of openly excluding blacks, women, etc., from hiring as a group. I do draw the line at "disparate impact" arguments, but I don't have any problem creating a legal right of suit by a group that can show they are systematically excluded from any consideration up front.

Freedom of association is important, but perhaps not paramount.

Grim said...

Well, that's just what the Federal preference system is: systematic exclusion. But it's not designed to be that. It's designed as a system to ensure that people from protected groups are included, by removing the choice to hire non-protected classes when protected members apply.

I object to some of it -- the preference for former Federal employees is just insiders protecting themselves, for example. But other parts of it are very reasonable: there is a high preference point award to service-disabled veterans, who have plainly earned our special consideration.

I don't think corporations are quite this blatant, but I don't really know. My sense is that in the corporate world, affirmative action is about tipping the scales in favor of protected classes where applicants are more or less equally qualified. The Federal system doesn't even look at the qualification level until it has excluded the non-privileged.

Anonymous said...


"Scholars attribute this stunning collapse to various factors, including advances in gender equality, the abortion of unwanted children, and the spread of internet pornography."

One who supports the idea that the rise in abortions leads to a decrease in crime is Steven Levitt, of Freakonomics fame.

Texan99 said...

I believe it's wrong to turn a blind eye to an applicant's qualifications because you've formed a hidebound judgment of him on the basis of a group he belongs to. But I also think it's wrong to hire by a quota system.

Grim said...

Is it as wrong to turn a blind eye to an applicant's qualifications, though, if it's not done out of prejudice toward him or his group? I mentioned service-disabled veterans, for instance. Let's say that there are ten applicants to a position; three of them are service-disabled veterans (disabled in a way that does not impact their ability to perform the job).

Is it wrong to restrict the hiring choice to those three? If you do it, it's not because you are prejudiced against any of the groups to which any of the other members may belong. It's only because you recognize that the veteran did something special for his country, and as a patriotic citizen you want to reward that.

Texan99 said...

Well, you know my views. I detest disqualification and quotas for the same reason: that they call for judgments of the individual according to the group he belongs to. At least in the case of disabled veterans, if he's being extended an extra break, it's in compensation for something that demonstrably occurred to him personally, not to a group or past members of a group.

In other words, I don't care that much whether prejudice is exercised for or against groups. It's the prejudice, which is to say the blindness to the reality of the individual, that bugs me.

Grim said...

OK. So, having established that, is it your view that the Federal hiring process represents a violation of some natural right of mine? That is to say, even though the law doesn't support my suing them, should the law support it?