Pubdate: Sun, 17 Feb 2002
Source: Chattanooga Times Free Press (TN)
Copyright: 2002 Chattanooga Publishing Co.


Two organizations that want light sentences for criminals are using shaky 
statistics and baffling logic to achieve that goal.

The Sentencing Project and the Justice Policy Institute have issued reports 
rejoicing that some states are toning down their tough-on-crime stances in 
the wake of crime rates that have fallen during the past nine years. But 
there is good reason to be suspicious of the suggestions of the two 

First, the shaky statistics. Despite reports from the U.S. Justice 
Department, we really don't know what the United States' crime rates are. 
Experts acknowledge that standards for reporting crime vary widely from 
state to state. Even if two states -- or agencies within those states -- 
try to use the same standards, it is not certain that they do an equally 
good job of making sure all the agreed-upon crimes show up in the reports.

This can be innocent. It might result, for instance, from overworked law 
enforcement agencies simply not having time to compile and sort all the 
crime statistics. Or it can stem from a desire not to seem overrun by 
crime. Tales of underreported crime on college campuses -- where officials 
worry about scaring away prospective students -- are numerous.

Some authorities in Tennessee recently have said crime may appear to have 
risen in their jurisdictions after the publication this coming June of 
crime statistics under new reporting methods. It's not necessarily that the 
rates will have changed, but that the standards will be different.

Then there's the confused reasoning put forth by the advocates of light 

Even if Justice Department reports showing crime falling the past nine 
years are accurate, wouldn't it be nonsensical to dump the tough sentencing 
that may well be responsible for that drop?

If there has ever been an argument for not fixing something that ain't 
broke, this is it.
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