Why Crime Rates Have Fallen Over The Last 30 Years (hint: it’s not prison)

There is no doubt that crime, particularly violent crime, has reduced significantly over the last 30 years in the developed world.

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Men are responsible for 86% of all indictable crimes in England and Wales, 88% of crimes against the person, 90% of murders, and 98% of sexual offences (all for the year 2012).  Young males commit many more crimes than any other group, so any influence on this group will disproportionately affect crime levels.

Criminal behaviour in young men is partly due to their naturally high levels of testosterone, which causes aggressive, risk taking behaviour across the animal kingdom. Our environment is now full of anti-testosterone pollutants.  These chemicals mostly come from medicines (including cancer treatments and the contraceptive pill) that enter our water supply via the sewage system. Some pesticides used in agriculture also act as anti-testosterones.  These chemicals are leading to the ‘feminisation’ of male fish and have been linked to falling male fertility in humans.  They may also be helping to reduce aggressive, risk taking, criminal behaviour as a welcome effect.

There is also good evidence that lead pollution from leaded petrol causes more violent aggressive behaviour, particularly in men.  Decreased lead pollution after the West moved towards unleaded fuel is compounding this positive effect on crime.

Another factor is the increased use of social media, which is keeping young men at home on Facebook and Twitter, rather than meeting in pubs and on the streets.  The use of video games by young men has also had a similar effect.  This may have contributed to the measurable national reduction in the consumption of crime causing drugs such as alcohol, heroin and crack-cocaine. In Britain, the current generation of 18- to 24-year-olds is a lot less likely to have tried an illegal drug or to drink than those ten years older were at their age, and the same is true in most European countries.

Demographics also play a role in the reduction of crime.  There are fewer young people overall than in previous generations and therefore fewer young men.

A recent study has suggested that liberal abortion policies can reduce crime by taking potential criminals out of the population before they are born.   A pregnant woman who does not want her child often does so for good reason. She may be poor, uneducated, unmarried, very young, living in chaotic circumstances or addicted to drugs or alcohol.  The boys born to mothers with this combination of circumstances are more likely to embark on a life of crime during their testosterone fuelled adolescence .  There is a direct correlation between those American states which legalised abortions in 1970s and a subsequent drop in crime rates 15 to 20 years later.  Also American states with the highest abortion rates in the 1970s experienced the greatest crime drops in the 1990s, while states with low abortion rates experienced smaller crime drops.  Since 1985, states with high abortion rates have experienced a roughly 30 percent drop in crime relative to low-abortion states.  By the same reasoning any policies which prevent unplanned pregnancies and teenage pregnancies should also have a demonstrable effect on crime rates 15 to 20 years later.

Other reasons for the reduction in crime is due to better policing and forensics. Better security on homes and cars and CCTV in our streets makes it more likely that a criminal will be caught.  The lower value of stealable items also now makes crime relatively uneconomic.   All these act as a disincentive to crime and stops many young men becoming criminals in the first place.

The drop in crime is less likely to be due the policy of locking people up in prison for longer. In Britain the prison population doubled between 1993 and 2012. But several countries, including Canada, the Netherlands, Germany and Estonia, have reduced their prison populations without seeing any spike in crime; so too have some American states such as New York, where crime rates have fallen fastest. Prison takes existing criminals off the streets, but in many places, the drop in crime seems to be down to people not becoming criminals in the first place. Between 2007 and 2012 the number of people convicted of an offence for the first time in Britain fell by 44%.

The decline of the traditional nuclear family and growing ethnic diversity has not unleashed the unstoppable crime wave many conservatives predicted. Religion cannot claim to reduce crime either. In recent polls, 65% of British people said they weren’t religious and weekly church attendance in the UK is down to less than 2%. Left-wingers who argued that crime could never be curbed unless inequality was reduced and wealth redistributed must also reassess their dogma. Their prediction that high unemployment and austerity would increase crime is equally wrong.


Why do men commit most of the crimes?

Men and crime

Crime is plunging in the rich world.

Lead Pollution and Crime

The urban rise and fall of air lead (Pb) and the latent surge and retreat of societal violence.

Where have all the burglars gone?


Speed Cameras and Liberty

I’m not against using technology to catch criminals and provide evidence that will result in their conviction.

My problem with UK speed cameras is that they do this by trampling over the 3 hard-fought-for legal pillars of our legal justice system (which is immoral):

1. Presumption of innocence. We are expected to prove we were not driving to prevent prosecution, whereas it is normal for the police to provide evidence in other cases.

2. Right not to incriminate ourselves. The Notice of intended Prosecution bullies citizens in giving information, which would lead directly to the prosecution of themselves or their loved ones.

3. Right to remain silent. Remaining silent results in an inconvenient and expensive court summons.

The problem with Gatsos is that they rely on citizens providing the last and vital piece of evidence to make a prosecution. I understand that the European Court has ruled that this does not contravene our rights not to incriminate ourselves as it extracts only one piece of evidence.  Other evidence (the photograph of the car) is also required. However, the vital evidence is the identification of the actual driver at the time and this is forced from us by threats of an inconvenient, intimidating and expensive court summons. It also creates a huge dilemma if we can’t quite remember who was at the wheel at the time. Do we go to court (expensive, inconvenient, intimidating) or risk perverting the course of justice (possibly resulting in a prison sentence)?  An unpleasant dilemma for many law abiding citizens and one to which we should not be subjected.

I also note that many European countries do not have the presumption of innocence nor trial by jury. This legislation may be very European but it is definitely un-British.

In any case all this can be avoided by turning the camera around and getting a photograph of the driver. Such technology exists as they use it very effectively in Japan. That way the police have all the evidence they need. There would be no need to bully citizens into providing vital evidence and it would maintain the integrity of the three pillars of the British legal justice system.


Drugs and Liberty

Drugs are undoubtedly bad for our health and we could even make a case that recreational drug use is immoral. However this should have no bearing on whether drugs should be illegal or legal. It is clear there is no chance of the perfect solution where drugs can be completely eradicated from society. We must therefore decide what is the harm of having drugs illegal and compare that with the harm of having drugs legalised – and then choose the least bad option.

The main harm of making drugs illegal is that it creates enormous profits for some of the world’s most violent and unpleasant people, who murder, extort, bully and corrupt their way to power.  i.e. organised criminal gangs. It also supports corrupt regimes in some of the worlds nastiest countries and finances terrorism.

America’s attempt, in 1920-33, to prohibit the sale of alcohol (sensibly not copied in any other big country) inflated alcohol prices, promoted bootleg suppliers, encouraged the spread of guns and crime, increased hard-liquor drinking and corrupted a quarter of the federal enforcement agents, all within a decade. The drugs war has achieved all these things but, since the business is global, it has done so on an international scale.

Add to this the levels of crime conducted by users and addicts to pay the inflated prices, the high cost of law enforcement (police, customs, courts and prisons), the healthcare costs associated with poor quality and doctored products and the criminalisation of a nation’s youth and we have a very high cost to society for making drugs illegal.

Legalisation gives us the ability to easily reach out to users and addicts to educate them away from drug use.  We can also assure the quality of the product, making them safer and reducing the costs of treatment.  Tax revenue from the sale of drugs can be fed back into education programmes explaining the risks of drug taking.  Finally the poor producers in developing countries could get the financial benefits from a legitimate cash crop rather than the criminals in the current distribution chain.  In my opinion the biggest benefit would be taking an enormous source of revenue away from these nasty people in organised crime.

These benefits to legalisation must be balanced with a resulting lower social stigma from drug taking (if that was possible) and lower prices (to ensure nobody bought from illicit channels) possibly creating more users. But bear in mind that drugs are already very available in our society.  In any case most drugs users grow out of their habit if left alone.  Peter Cohen, of the Centre for Drug Research at the University of Amsterdam, followed a sample of cocaine users whom he describes as typical. After ten years, 60% had become completely abstinent and 40% remained occasional users. “Most drug users ultimately stop,” he says. “Drugs no longer fit their lifestyle. They get jobs, they have to get up early, they stop going to the disco, they have kids.”

So what is the least bad option – illegal or legal?  Governments already allow their citizens the freedom to do many potentially self-destructive things: mountaineering; bungee-jumping; cave diving; motor biking; alcohol and cigarette consumption; gambling and (famously) horse riding.  Some of these are far more dangerous than drug taking.

Perhaps John Stuart Mill was right. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.  Trade in drugs may be bad for our health, immoral and irresponsible, but perhaps it should no longer be illegal.