Bill James pursues serial killers

That’s right, the baseball guy with superb skills of pattern recognition.  The article is interesting throughout.  Here is one James proposal:

James also posits a way to reform prisons, which he dubs “violentocracies.” His proposal: smaller facilities that house no more than 24 inmates and are part of a larger, incentives-based system. At a Level 1 prison, for example, you get a lawyer, a Bible, and around-the-clock supervision; at Level 5, a cat and a coffee machine. At Level 10, you can earn a living and come and go with relative ease. The idea, James says, is not only to reduce the paranoia-fueled violence in large prisons but to encourage prisoners to work their way up the ladder.

The core of the article is more like this:

In reading so many crime stories over the years, James was surprised that so many weak descriptions are taken seriously, while so many good ones go unheeded. In his system, police would rank eyewitness accounts, from a few basic details about the suspect’s height or race (Level 1) to IDing your neighbor as he moves a body out of the garage freezer in broad daylight (Level 6). These scales could later be applied to James’ 100-point conviction system.

For the pointer I thank Brent Depperschmidt.


That's very noble, but our prisons are a violentocracy by design. There is a reason America has the world's largest prison population and the highest prison to population ratio in the world. I think it is a great idea but it will never happen.

And that reason would be....?

Stupid drug laws?

The American voters can't deal with shades of gray. I have a theory that is responsible for the ridiculously high US incarceration rates. It's all black-and-white so far as crime is concerned.

Initially for the cheap labour after the collapse of slavery- a much better deal for the owners, since the state will pay for their room and board, and in any case you can hire a new one if you work them to death. Some prisoners in Angola are working the same cotton fields as their ancestors, but generally nowadays they work in manufacturing and waste clear up.

But the big factors nowadays are prison guard unions and private prison owners lobbying for tougher sentencing, the jobs prisons bring to local economies and,- well frankly the self-reinforcing nature of the whole thing, the race gangs formed in prisons control the drug trade and drag outsiders into their violent feuds, not to mention leaving the free leadership to (more) stupid youngsters who have a strong incentive to do something that will get them arrested and moved up the hierarchy. The rising violence leads to even stricter sentencing... you can see where this goes.

Incidentally the well known fact that America's adult prison population is larger than the Gulag at it's height is true both absolutely and as a percentage of the population. That there are more black males in prison than were enslaved is only true in absolute terms.

You've explained why the USA has a large prison population. You have not explained why it is larger than anywhere else.
Unless you are claiming that no other countries have gangs? Political lobbying by industrial groups? Feedback loops?

Other countries had slave systems that were replaced by massive expansion of the prison situation and forced labour? The feedback loops are what sustains it was the redemption that started the cycle. And no prison gangs which control the outside mafias are (as opposed to purely defensive internal gangs) not universal by any means, though Russia and Mexico have something similar. Also the ultra-racialised gangs in the US are the result of deliberate social engineering by prison guards in California in the wake of the Attica prison riots (or rather, La Eme were and everyone else followed suite)
The Perpetual Prisoner Machine is a good summary of the issues.

The reason is that the American electorate prefers a large prison population locked up in a violentocracy. Voters elect officials who increase the prison population and balance budgets with cuts to prisoners' comforts.

Can you imagine the backlash at spending taxpayer money to furnish prisoners with cats?

In probability theory the logic of science Jaynes proposes Bayesian Jurisprudence where the signal power of evidence is what convicts people. The system accepts a 1 in 10,000 chance of a false positive and then trials are probability based.

I don't understand that, but I've wondered about the "wife is usually killed by husband" rule (not just that rule, but it's the one that is always mentioned when a wife is missing). Unfortunately, collecting evidence is expensive, so it is collected where people look. If people always look at the husband they will find the evidence that indicates the husband making this rule moreso.

John Allen Paulos in "Once Upon a Number: The Hidden Mathematical Logic of Stories." goes through a proability based analysis of the OJ Simpson trial. Not verly relevant but it was interesting

I've got an econometrics final exam in 3.5 hours....can the collective knowledge of the blog explain to me the significance of unit roots? It's when your coefficient in a time-series is 1, meaning it neither converges nor diverges in an infinite series, right?

probably not a novel thought, but: i've been thinking that a similar point system could be used to suss out wrongful convictions.

Once the equation is figured out the false positive chances are going to go up. Prosecutors and Police will learn how to game the system to their advantage. A similar thing happened in baseball after the release of Moneyball. One of the things to look for in batters, were ones that were patient. Once scouts starting using pitches taken as one of the metrics, so hitters started purposely taking pitches. Unfortunately, batters that actually aren't patient hitters are worse off when they take these pitches.

Where's the asymmetric advantage to the prosecutors and police. If the equation was indeed figured out wouldn't the defense lawyers also use it to their advantage?

Can we apply the same method to public schools?

The problem is that I'm not sure you can use convictions as your dependent variable. What is it you guys say? "Endogenous"?

The link is to the 2nd page of the article, which isn't readily apparent at first and a little confusing. Here's the first page:

"Popular Crime was going to be a book on how to catch serial killers...
James eventually dropped the idea, as the results were anticlimactic: In most cases, James found, the killer was caught not by clever police work but simply because a potential victim managed to escape. "

It reminds me of fuzzy logic guru Bart Kosko's proposal that legal issues be graded on a fuzzy scale. I once tried it in traffic court when I was accused of running a stop sign. I asked the cop to tell the jury on a scale of 1 to 10 how BADLY I ran the sign (I nearly came to a full stop), but the judge wouldn't allow it.

Whatever happened to fuzzy logic anyway? It seems to have withered away as a pejorative term.

Isn't fuzzy logic very similar to the Bayesians? Same tools, new name?

So far as I could tell (and I freely admit to strong skepticism) is was an attempt to replace discrete approximation with linear approximation. It's a cute idea, but if the underlying data IS discontinuous, your approximation is as likely to be worse as better.

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