NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


October 18, 2007

The idea that "injustices and inequities" explain crime goes back more than two hundred years.  But while such ideas have been around for centuries, they did not become the dominant ideas among those making legal and political policy in the United States until the second half of the 20th century -- more specifically, the 1960s, says columnist Thomas Sowell.

This "root causes of crime" rhetoric is still going strong on the left today, despite mountains of evidence to the contrary that have accumulated in the decades since then:

  • It was the rise to power in the 1960s (in the courts and in politics) of those who believed that "injustices and inequities" were the causes of crime which marked a de-emphasis on law enforcement and imprisonment -- and marked one of the most dramatic increases in crime in our history.
  • Having declined for decades on end, the murder rate suddenly doubled between 1961 and 1974; the rate at which citizens became victims of violent crimes in general tripled.
  • Such trends began at different times in different countries, but the patterns remained very similar; as the rates of imprisonment declined, crime rates soared -- whether in England, Australia, New Zealand or the United States.

After a whole generation of crime victims was sacrificed on the altar to the theories of the left, a political backlash produced higher rates of imprisonment -- and lower rates of crime -- in all those countries in the late 20th century, says Sowell.

We are still not back to where we were in 1960, regarding either the level of crime or the downward trend in murder rates.  The notions of the left are still going strong in the media, in academia and in politics, says Sowell.

Source: Thomas Sowell, "With 'Injustice' As An Excuse, Crime Soared," Investor's Business Daily, October 16, 2007.


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