“Urban Crime: Its Causes and Control” by William A. Stanmeyer – Imprimis, November 1972

A series of short posts summarizing my thoughts as I work my way through the archives of the Imprimis newsletter from Hillsdale college.

Stanmeyer begins with a description of a brutal and senseless crime. He then documents some of the heinous inefficiencies and injustices of a justice system that has been swayed in favor of the accused to the point of absurdity by the Supreme Court. Stanmeyer remarks about the radical changes that were occurring in the 60’s.

“During the ten year period, 1960 to 1970, our population increased by 13%, but serious crimes increased by 148%. This was also the period when the greatest prosperity in the world’s history was accompanied by the greatest waves of shoplifting, drug abuse, and delinquency in the most prosperous areas, the suburbs — a fact that shatters the simplistic notion that poverty “causes” crime. It was a period when pundits made the phrase, “the Puritan Ethic,” a term of opprobrium, and “intellectuals” extolled the virtues of young people who “do their own thing,” whatever the harm to other citizens or to a Rule of Law. And it was a time that courts throughout the land, particularly the U.S. Supreme Court, embarked on a relentless pursuit of constitutional abstractions, whatever the cost in terms of outraged common sense or the suffering victims of crime.”

Stanmeyer believes we have wandered from our legal forebear (the British legal system) and lost common sense flexibility which it was characterized by. He proposes ten reforms which would return the common sense to our system. I cite three below which I would like to see enacted.

  1. Permit all voluntary statements.
  2. Allow non-unanimous juries.
  3. Liberalize the exclusionary rule (the article cites great examples of this)

Here is another great quote from the article.

“Many factors generate crime. That ‘inner morality’ necessary to resist the temptation to rape, rob, or kill weakens in an environment of broken homes, systemic poverty, ethical relativism, religious decline. Poverty ’causes’ crime in general in the same way that pornography causes sex crimes and television violence causes violence by children: it is a predispositive condition. The ‘underlying causes’ of crime are spiritual as often as economic, psychological as often as material. If we could strengthen family life, raise the living standard, instill character values, and convert the citizenry to a religious outlook we would doubtless lower the crime rate. But these improvements take years. And experience shows that in these areas government action is singularly ineffective.”

It is hard to believe there are still people who research the causes of crime. Stanmeyer acknowledges his detractors.

“Some readers will find this essay distressing. They will allege that these recommendations make it easier to violate the rights of the innocent. My answer is that they make it much, much easier to convict the guilty and thereby protect the rights of the innocent.”

This is the sixth Imprimis article I have read. I am struck most that the issues and many of the solutions have not changed much since 1972. Another 400+ to go.


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