In the 1990s a miracle came to New York. Crime fell by 75%.
Did the cops have a new plan? Did all the bad guys finally get locked up? Did everybody get rich? No, actually something happened two decades earlier that changed everything.
In the 1970s the government launched a widespread program to remove lead from our environment. Even in very small amounts, lead causes brain damage in children, leading to lower IQ, antisocial behavior, and crime. We know this. The children who came to adulthood two decades after lead was effectively removed were 75% less likely to commit crimes. The number of serial killers also dropped by two-thirds during the same period. So simple, so utterly effective.
A miracle came to New York. Crime fell by 75%.
Amazingly, there are a number of other steps we could take that would be almost as important, and they would be literally lifesaving for some. These changes will not come free, but they are vastly cheaper than the dysfunction that comes with out-of-control crime.
And how much does serious crime cost? Up to $800-million for each serial killer. $1.7-trillion per year. A mere $100-million in prevention would work miracles nationwide. Benefits from lead abatement alone were 2,500% greater than the cost!
Republicans will fight all such plans tooth and nail, because they all cost money, and it is a major item of faith in the conservative Republican religion that all government expense is money wasted. So their opposition is yet another example of how to be penny wise and dollar foolish, to say nothing of the fact that lead abatement and many other government programs are quite obviously effective. If the incidence of crime in New York hadn’t fallen as it did, what would be the cost of a crime rate four times higher than it is now?
It is a major item of the
conservative Republican religion that
all government expense is money wasted.
Let’s review a few of the known causes of adult crime.
There are numerous bio-social contributors to criminal behavior. I recommend Adrian Raine’s The Anatomy of Violence as the best lay overview of criminal violence currently available. Forty years ago, the entire focus was on social causes for crime. Raine and other researchers have shown us that there are biological causes that are just as important, many more than the ones I mention here.
Crime often starts in utero. A sure-fire way to create a criminal is to cause brain damage in the womb. This will happen if the mother drinks alcohol, smokes, or takes street drugs. A habit with any of these things will cause severe damage in the infant brain, eventually leading to crime. The outcome will be cemented in place with neglect or abuse of the infant.
A sure-fire way to create a criminal is to
create brain damage in the womb.
If a pregnant woman does not want the child, but is forced to carry it, she is very likely to neglect or abuse her infant, or injure him. Hitting and shaking can cause serious brain injury in an infant. The frontal lobes and a number of other areas are particularly vulnerable. Of course, the father carries an equal responsibility.
If the mother pawns the kid off to, say, an unenthusiastic relative during the critical first year, the child will not develop a maternal bond, will have a personality devoid of empathy, and will stand a good chance of becoming a psychopath. He will exhibit antisocial behavior as a child and criminal behavior later.
Young pregnant women often are ignorant of the fragility of the fetal brain developing inside them and how drastic the effects of their bad habits will be, even when they are intelligent and well educated. Prenatal education is therefore extremely important early in every pregnancy. If she uses drugs or alcohol, or smokes, a strong program to help her stay clean during pregnancy will pay huge dividends for the child, the family, the school, and society as a whole.
Childhood nutrition is one of the
most important factors in crime prevention.
Childhood nutrition is one of the most important factors in crime prevention. In fact, the relationship between poor nutrition and antisocial behavior is so direct and clear it’s hard to believe. When children have a nutritious diet that includes fresh vegetables, fruits, and some fish, their behavior and their success in school improves. Just like that. Improvement of the diet of the poor, who often live in a “nutritional desert” where fresh foods are unavailable, would go a long way toward lessening crime.
The worst criminals always had really bad parents. If the parents are stupid and nasty, we should remember that they probably had bad parents too, and they are also brain damaged. They are often addicted, criminal, and abusive or neglectful. Serial killers virtually always had truly horrible parents. Good intervention won’t turn them into Ward and June Cleaver, of “Leave It To Beaver”, but properly funded social help can improve things all around. “Properly funded” is the operational term here; social services are notoriously underfunded, understaffed, and overworked, to everyone’s great loss.
The cost of violent crime is $1.7-trillion per year.
We may not like squandering money on dirtbag parents, but if the cost of violent crime is improved even one percent, there will be a savings of $17-billion. It costs the equivalent of an average family income just to house one criminal, and there are numerous other costs of crime. In California we spend more money on criminals than we do on students.
It is the future that we are able to address most successfully, not the present. Even if the parents are hopeless, preventing brain damage and abuse, assuring good nutrition, and preventing other problems in the young child may well make him a productive and mature adult, breaking a cycle that has gone on for generations. However, the real result of our intervention is only seen two decades later, which is a long time to wait to see how well we are doing.
The price is cheap, but we may not understand that because we won’t know what we would have spent if he had become a criminal until the time comes when we can visit a parallel universe where the child became a serial killer who cost us $800-million. The child who was saved from brain damage and abuse and became a good citizen is invisible to the criminal justice system.
The Republican plan to de-fund everything
is stupid and illogical, and will cost
vastly more than it could possibly save.
The Republican plan to de-fund everything they can get their hands on is a stupid and illogical scheme that will automatically increase violent crime and the enormous social and financial costs that always accompany it. It will cost vastly more than it could possibly save as a cancelled budget item.