Saturday, December 11, 2010

Crime and Punishment

Recently I was called for jury duty. I live in a county with a population of just over 100,000. It is on the outer fringe of the 19 county Dallas-Fort Worth Combined Statistical Area which has a population of over 6.8 million people. On the day I reported, over 200 other potential jury members had been called to sit 3 juries. I ended up in a pool of around 60 people from which 13 (twelve for the jury plus one alternate) would be selected. The trial was for a very serious criminal offense; I’ll leave it at that.

If you’ve ever been called for jury duty on something like this, you know that both the prosecuting and defense attorneys get to ask a lot of questions. We were sitting in a courtroom and each attorney had a seating chart with our names. I was praying not to be selected for the jury. And my prayers were answered.

I did come away from the jury screening session intrigued by the groups’ responses to two questions: Have you ever been the victim of a crime? Do you have any immediate family members who are in prison or who have served time in prison?
Now I admit that some folks, despite swearing to tell the truth, might have fudged on their answers. But for the most part, I think people were being truthful. I would say at least half of the 60 or so people in the group, including me, responded that they had been a crime victim. We also had to say what sort of crime had been committed. While the vast majority of crimes were burglaries and theft, there were a significant number of people who had been the victims of violent crimes. In response to the question regarding family members and prison time, at least a dozen people responded yes.

My first reaction was disbelief that over half the people sitting in that room would have been crime victims and one out of five had family members with a prison record. But when you consider the crime stats it makes sense. While crime rates have been dropping in recent years, the numbers are still high; especially when you consider them over a long window of time. Over the last 30 years annual property crime rates in the U.S. have been in the range of 3000-5000 per 100,000 (and they are even higher in Texas.) Violent crimes have ranged from around 425-750 per year per 100,000 (and again they are higher in Texas). So over a 30 year period anyone might well have become a crime victim. And considering the crime statistics, it also makes sense that in a room of 60 people, at least 20% of them would have a close family member serving time or having served time.

The good news as noted above is that crime rates have been going down in recent years. There are a lot of theories about the reasons for the decline, one being that legalized abortion has reduced the number of unwanted babies who grow up to commit crimes. I’m not buying that one, even if it’s true. Killing unwanted babies so a few of them won’t grow up to steal your SUV? I do believe that stronger law enforcement and the broad application of security technology have certainly been major factors in reducing crime. And there is probably some effect of the baby-boomer population aging beyond their most “productive” crime years. But when it’s all said and done, we still have a serious crime problem in this country.

My gut tells me that it’s about to get much worse. We have more people living on the margins of society. The “have-not” population is growing faster than the “haves”. 40% (yes forty percent) of all babies are now born out of wedlock and the numbers in certain demographics are almost double that rate. The institution of marriage is broken. How many happy families do you know? Which village is raising your child or your neighbor’s child? Think about it. What have we done to ourselves?

Do not hold against us the sins of past generations; may your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need. Psalms 79:8

No comments: