Why are prisons “getting Whiter”?

A February 2021 WaPo commentary by Keith Humphreys began with the following observation: “Prisons are getting Whiter.” That fact was also made clear in 2020 Featured Content from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) showing 2008-2018 trends in prison incarceration rates: “From 2008 to 2018, the imprisonment rate dropped 28% among black residents, ...
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Plausibility: This is your brain on lead

Hill (1965) says it is helpful if a causal hypothesis is biologically plausible. The plausibility of preschool lead exposure affecting learning and behavior has been demonstrated by extensive research showing adverse neurochemical, subcellular, and cellular effects on brain development (Banks, 1997). There are also “toxicological effects with behavioural concomitants at exceedingly low levels ...
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Context for recent “crime surge” commentary

In 2013, the USA murder rate fell to the lowest level ever recorded in FBI data that goes back to 1960. The FBI and the news media did not think that milestone was worth noting. In 2014, the murder rate fell to another new record low, again without any media attention. In 2015, ...
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Overlooked data in the Cut50 debate

In 2015, the Marshall Project reported that criminal justice reform organizations were uniting behind the “Cut50” goal to reduce the prison population by 50% over 10 to 15 years. That report also acknowledged the following implication of this goal: “Left mostly unsaid is that achieving the goal of this “Cut50” movement would entail ...
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The cohort effect when crime and incarceration were rising

Coates (2015) presented a graph showing that the USA violent crime rate surged after 1960, but the incarceration rate didn’t start rising until after 1970. Based on this time lag, Coates concluded that incarceration “rose independent of crime”. Hymowitz (2015) responded that this lag was better explained by policy that was “slow to ...
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The NYC crime decline and “better policing”

New York City’s crime decline is often attributed to better policing, but some tactics have been controversial, including the “stop, question, and frisk” tactic that peaked at about 700,000 stops in 2011. “A large percentage of those stopped were minorities, and critics and plaintiffs in federal court proceedings questioned whether all these stops ...
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“A black male baby born today … stands a” near-zero chance of going to prison

Bonczar & Beck (1997) estimated the lifetime risk of going to state or federal prison at birth and showed how the remaining risk of going to prison for the first time declines with age, based on the assumption that “incarceration rates recorded in 1991 remain unchanged in the future”. For black males, the ...
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Time-Precedence: Reasonable Doubt … in 2002

At a minimum, the time-precedence causation indicator requires that the suspected cause precede the effect. The best-fit time lags for lead and crime trends, with a shorter lag for property crime than for violent crime, provide especially compelling evidence of time precedence. The same lags are evident around the world, with divergent international ...
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Has any other crime theory predicted crime trends with so much accuracy, over so many years, in so many nations?

Hill (1965) states that “the strongest support for the causation hypothesis may be revealed” when an action is taken to prevent a suspected cause of disease, and later trends show “experimental evidence” of cause and effect: “Is the frequency of the associated events affected?” In other words, does the hypothesized causal relationship have ...
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Denno’s Discovery

From John Pekkanen (2006) (PDF), “Why Is Lead Still Poisoning Our Children?” Washingtonian Magazine: “Nevin’s conclusions amplify earlier studies linking lead exposure and criminal behavior, none more striking than work by Deborah W. Denno, a professor at Fordham University School of Law. Longitudinal studies analyze the same group of individuals over a period ...
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Consistency

Consistency is an established indicator of causation in public health research. The consistency of an association between an environmental exposure and a public health outcome is determined by whether the association has been “repeatedly observed by different persons, in different places, circumstances and times” (Hill, (1965). The association between individual preschool lead exposure ...
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