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DiIulio's Crime Solution

Like a party clown twisting balloons into cute animal shapes, John J. DiIulio Jr. twists facts, myths, and statistics into fantastical logical conclusions.

DiIulio is professor of politics and public affairs at Princeton University. He is also a media-darling of the lock-em-up, conservative right. Professor DiIulio insists that imprisonment is a highly cost-effective solution for what ails America. He produces a dazzling array of statistical magic tricks to the delight of those who seek proof that locking up more citizens than any country in the world isn't sufficient -- we need to lock up more.

One of his most oft-cited statistical fallacies is featured in a National Institutes of Justice study which claims that violent crimes committed each year will cost victims and society more than $400 billion in medical bills, lost days from work, lost quality of life - and lost life.

Mr. DiIulio fails to mention anything about the "lost quality of life" or "lost days of work" of the 1.5 million people currently imprisoned in this country. Presumably their "quality of life" has no calculable financial value to society.

In a recent New York Times article, DiIulio weaves an impressive array of statistical humbuggery. He cites Patrick A. Langan, senior statistician at the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics, who calculated that tripling the prison population from 1975 to 1989 may have reduced "violent crime by 10 to 15 percent below what it would have been," thereby preventing a it conservatively estimated 390,000 murders, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults in 1989 alone.

Following this convoluted logic leads to the conclusion that tripling the prison population seven more times would eliminate crime altogether. Why, we'd only have to imprison 1.5 billion Americans. DiIulio fails to address the toughest question, however: which 1.5 billion Americans should we lock up?

New York Times

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