How Much Time Do Criminals Really Serve?

Many people were surprised at Paul Manafort’s relatively light sentencing for bank fraud, filing fake tax returns, and failure to report foreign assets and compared his sentence of 47 months to other cases of seemingly lesser crimes given longer prison terms. A viral tweet thread from public defender Scott Hechinger began:

For context on Manafort’s 47 months in prison, my client yesterday was offered 36-72 months in prison for stealing $100 worth of quarters from a residential laundry room.

Anecdotes, however, run the risk of misleading if they are not representative. The Bureau of Justice Statistics just released Time Served in State Prison 2016. Stealing laundry quarters sounds like larceny (no break in). The average time served for larceny was 17 months and the median time served was 11 months.

Hechinger also notes this outrageous case:

15 years in prison for drug possession. You shouldn’t need more info than that to be outraged. But then learn: Juanita is a mother of 6. Her 18 year old is now head of household. Raising 5 kids. Crime is not even a felony in Oklahoma anymore.

The average time served for drug possession was 15 months and the median time 10 months. Arguably too long but a far cry from 15 years.

For a serious violent crime like robbery, taking property by force or threat of force, the average time served was considerably higher, 4.7 years and the median time served 3.2 years.

You can see the table below for more data. Judge for yourselves, but for most crimes mean and median time served don’t seem to me to be obviously too high. Moreover, keep in mind that most crimes do not result in an arrest let alone a conviction or time served.

In 2017, for example, victims reported 2,000,990 serious violent crimes (rape or sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault). In the same year there were approximately 446,510 arrests for these crimes (crime definitions may not line up exactly). In other words, the chance of being arrested for a serious violent crime was only 22%. Data on convictions are harder to obtain but convictions are far fewer than arrests. In 2006 (most up-to-date data I could find but surely lower today) there were 175,500 convictions for serious violent crimes. Thus, considerably fewer than 10% of violent crimes result in a conviction (175,500/2,000,990=8.7%).

Put differently, the expected time served for a serious violent crime is less than 5 months*. Do you want to reduce expected time served? What I would like to do is put more police on the street to increase the certainty of arrest and conviction. If we double the conviction rate, I’d happily halve time served.

I support decriminalization of many crimes, shorter sentences for some crimes and fewer scarlet letter punishments. I want to reduce bias and variability in the criminal justice system. But I do not want to return to the crime rates of the past. Even as crime rates fall, we should be careful about declaring the war won and going home. We are under policed in the United States and despite anecdotes that rightly shock the conscience, average time served is not that high, especially given very low arrest and conviction rates.

* Using the normalized percent of total releases for rape, robbery and assault to form the weighted average. Corrected from an early version that said 14 months.


I wish Hechinger had indicated whether his client had any prior offences. That's relevant in sentencing, along with other prior "relevant conduct". The criminal defense lawyer plays a major role in providing evidence and argument at the sentencing hearing. Perhaps Hechinger should share some of the blame for what he claims is disparate and/or too-harsh treatment of his client?

I don't think a tweet is the proper forum for evaluating sentences or verdicts. Tabarrok seems to at least understand that, although I don't think blogs are much better . If you really want to second guess judges and juries, which get to see a lot more of the facts relevant to the decisions we entrust them to make, perhaps you should delve into the specific matter just as deeply, or more so, than they did. I've observed a worrisome tendency among not only MSM but also the blogosphere to try to litigate cases in public without all the relevant facts. How responsible is that?

Another point about this tweet, which I originally overlooked:

"For context on Manafort’s 47 months in prison, my client yesterday was offered 36-72 months in prison for stealing $100 worth of quarters from a residential laundry room."

Given the language used "my client was offered..." leads me to believe that this was simply an offer made by the prosecutor in return for a guilty plea. Sentences handed down after trial are not "offered", they are "given". If it is indeed the case that this was a plea offer, then Counselor Hechinger can take his client to trial and argue for a lower sentence. Not sure he's going to win points with the prosecutor's office for trying to litigate his client's case in the court of public opinion.

Finally, how does one get 36 to 72 months in prison for what appears to be a Class A Misdemeanorin New York (theft under $1,000) if the description in the tweet if the full story about the charge(s)? There appears to be a lot more to this than meets the tweet:

Often there is more disinformation in these examples than information. More than likely it wasn't simple "drug possession" but something much worse that was bargained down to a lessor crime. More than likely it wasn't simply steal quarters. While there should be more equitable and appropriate sentencing it is misleading to give examples while hiding information.

As for Manafort, the real issue here is the left wants to so badly harm him that no one will ever again dare to work with a Republican presidential candidate. This is a total misuse of our legal system for political reasons. The prosecutors under Mueller have a history of criminal misuse of their powers and they themselves should be brought to justice.

Well, I have changed just one word - want to guess which one it is?

'... wants to so badly harm him that no one will ever again dare to work with a Ukrainian presidential candidate.'

Manafort's convictions have nothing to do with his work involving any Republican. But if you want to say that Republican operatives should be more deeply involved with pro-Putin individuals, well, would anyone be surprised?

On the contrary, Manafort is guilty of two "political" crimes (unspecified in the indictments but the reasons he is going to prison). He worked for a short period on Trump's 2016 election campaign and Mueller couldn't find anything Manafort did Russia-related.

You think you live in a free country. Wrong again.

'but the reasons he is going to prison'

The reasons he is going to prison involve documented bank and tax fraud.

The second judge to sentence him put it fairly succintly, actually - “This defendant is not public enemy number one, but he’s also not a victim either. There’s no question this defendant knew better, and he knew exactly what he was doing.”

He did the crime as did many others in DC. Let's have a fishing expedition to ferret out the rest of these criminals

You are aware that Manafort was found guilty of charges that were being investigated before Mueller started his work, right? Along with the fact that the investigation started before Manafort ever became involved in the Trump campaign, actually.

Or the same 'fishing expedition' that caught Manafort and Gates also caught these people - 'Former lobbyist Tony Podesta, Mercury Public Affairs partner and former Minnesota Republican Rep. Vin Weber and former Obama White House Counsel Greg Craig are all under federal investigation by prosecutors for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, multiple sources with knowledge of the matter told NBC News on Tuesday.

Those sources say this months-long investigation in New York follows a referral from the special counsel’s office.'

Seems like a start, at least. I am sure you would agree, right?

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An apt comparison to Manafort is Tony Podesta. Podesta and Manafort are accused of committing almost the same crimes as to exactly the same clients. The difference, of course, is that Podesta is a democrat and his brother was Hilary's campaign manager. No jail time for Podesta, no fine, no indictment.

Must be nice to have friends at the DOJ and Special Prosecutor's Office.

"For context on Manafort’s 47 months in prison, my client yesterday was offered 36-72 months in prison for stealing $100 worth of quarters from a residential laundry room."

When I read it, I thought, 'fake news'. You don't get three years for stealing quarters, unless there's something more.

If you're interested in how things work in real life, I can suggest the terrific 'Serial' and 'Crimetown' podcasts. 'Serial' Season 3 deals with daily justice in the Cleveland criminal court system, and it is absolutely appalling on any number of levels.

If you're going on a long car trip, I highly recommend downloading a bunch of episodes. They are both entertaining and enlightening. Fantastic journalism.

The $100 of quarters was a burgarly charge because it was unlawful entry into a residential building. In other words a serious felony, no matter the poor haul.

Possibly, but not clear from the tweet. Felony burglary sounds a lot more serious than “stealing 100 dollars worth of quarters”!

There's no way it could be anything other than burglary. If the residential laundry room was open to the public, hence no breaking and entering, and a jar of quarters was just sitting there for communal use, there would be no crime in taking it, except being a jerk. The most likely scenario is the guy broke into an apartment building to steal something, couldn't find anything, and decided to make off with the fat jar of quarters in frustration.

Have you ever seen a $100 jar of quarters lying around in a laundry room? I haven't.

I think the implication is that he jacked the washing and drying (or change) machines and took the money out of them, ie, burglary.

Burglary is much more serious. In order to be convicted, you must break and enter with the intent to commit another crime. So burglary often enhances the charges of other crimes like theft, rape, arson, etc.

"not clear from the tweet"

Yes but he admitted later under questioning from other tweeters.

Of course, it's white collar crime that's rarely even prosecuted much less punished. Here's the link to the obituary of William Powers, who wrote the report that lead to the Enron scandal and the prosecution of its chairman and CEO and the collapse of the company: The timing of his death is ironic, not only because of the current investigation and prosecution of white collar criminals associated with Trump but the scandal regarding fraud in elite college admissions. Read the obituary. It sheds an entirely different light on the second scandal.

If you are going to be a criminal, be a banker.

@rayward - William C. Powers Jr. was a typical liberal college administrator, see blurb below, looking out for his university, and arguably committing criminal acts himself. And Enron, though it inflated profits like everybody else back then, has had its investments pay off over the years (Google this).

NY Times: "The previous year, his adversaries had backed an investigation into reports that Mr. Powers had pressed for dozens of students who were well-connected but who had poor grades to be admitted to the university over the objections of the admissions staff.

The investigation found in early 2015 that he had admitted 73 such students over six years. He acknowledged doing so, but defended their admission, saying that the students’ families knew wealthy donors and lawmakers who controlled state funding for the university, and that admitting them would benefit the university in the long run."

That's super low. Arrests for violent crimes in France is 75%. But it goes down to 15% for non violent robberies. The United States is underpoliced but also police forces do not prioritize correctly between violent and non-violent crimes.

One way to circumvene that problem is to make all violent crimes federal crimes and having a federal police force investigate all these crimes. The US government will probably have to hire 50,000 to 100,000 for this new agency.

Nice stat. Arrests for crime in Japan is nearly 100%, as are conviction rates. Does our host want the USA to become like Japan, with persecution of foreign corporate officers over boardroom power plays, as in the case of the Renault Alliance CEO Carlos Ghosn? If crime rates have dropped in the USA, as they have, and are approaching Japanese levels, we need less police, not more (except for ghettos of course).

The USA is not Brazil, which has high crime. (troll bait)

The US crime rate is over an order of magnitude higher than in Japan.

"Arrests for crime in Japan is nearly 100%, as are conviction rates"

The former is absolutely untrue, because the Japanese police usually do not act on crimes which are difficult to solve and instead put a lot of effort into obtaining confessions. The latter, though, is: prosecutors in Japan only take cases which are slam dunks.

Never take losing cases to court.

Policemen are a commodity like any other and subject to marginal utility. The first ten policemen hired by a new town are very important people. When the 516th patrolman is sworn in he is much less important. There is a number of cops after which each addition is of little value in preventing or investigating crime.

Declining marginal utility does not imply low marginal utility. Cities like Chicago could easily double its police force and still have marginal benefits exceeding marginal cost. Net benefits doesn't imply increases in provision because of budget constraints and priorities.

Cities wouldn't need to double their police force, they could simply require that their cops work until the normal age of retirement rather than cashing in at age 45 and getting another police position. If crime is indeed a problem do they really need experienced cops digging around in 30 year-old cold cases when there's no shortage of active criminals loose on the street?

You are interpreting that wrong. USA has more Police per Capita. We also arrest a lot more people and have the most prisoners in the world.

But the relevant number isn't really police per capita, it's police per crime. And arrests per crime. And then it's not clear the US is such an outlier, on crude numbers, it just has lots of violence to respond to.

It would be great to see the data on the length of sentences vs actual time served, especially since Hechinger's anecdotes were only comparing sentences. As Vivian pointed out, many factors can influence sentencing— just as many factors will influence parole reviews. (Unfortunately, a cursory search didn't find much data on sentencing vs. time served.)

Time served is almost always way less than time sentenced and providing the data on only one to counter the point that another is too short is completely silly.

The anecdotes are helpful because they are representative of the right tail. When you see mean values 50% greater than median (drug cases for example), it shows something weird is going on in the extremes. That makes the following sentence from Alex the important one: "I want to reduce bias and variability in the criminal justice system."

No, they are misinformative because all else is not held equal. The right tail is filled with repeat offenders, aggravating factors, lack of mitigating factors, additional charges, idiosyncrasies of the judges and jurisdictions, and many other factors that widen the distribution for the same crime.

There is close to a 100% probability that this lawyer isn't telling us the whole story.

"In 2017, for example, victims reported 2,000,990 serious violent crimes (rape or sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault)."

I think it's a bit misleading to cite the figure provided by the NCVS without providing the UCR numbers. Among other differences, the NCVS is based on self-reported data, which means that the number above is likely higher than the actual number of serious violent crimes committed (i.e. people may see themselves as the victim of a crime when in fact they are not, people remember events differently, etc.).
The UCR, however, only includes crimes actually reported to police, which means that the UCR data is likely less than the number of actual violent crimes committed because not every crime is reported to the police.

I think any attempt to provide a concrete, definite number of crimes committed during any single period needs to incorporate the data from both of these sources.

For context how does the US approach compare across, say, the OECD?

'How Much Time Do Criminals Really Serve?'

Why not compare the amounts involved?

Manafort defrauded two banks 4.4 million dollars, and the U.S. government of the taxes due on 16 million dollars of income.

If someone directly stole millions of dollars in repeated acts of larceny (remember, we also need to keep in mind that Manafort was found guilty of multiple charges, not just one), do you honestly think the average time served for repeated acts of larceny would be 17 months and the median time served 11 months?

Or to put it differently, in just one case he was found guilty of seven acts equivalent to larceny with the total amount in the multiple millions, and he is certainly serving less than 102 months, if one did a simplistic multiplication of the sentence for one act of larceny.

(And as note, because we certainly don't want to let propaganda infect our decisions, federal crimes and sentences are not the same as state ones - broadly speaking, federal offenses are more serious, and carry heavier penalties. To be honest, that might not be part of the American citizenship test, and the American system can be confusing, even when one grows up in another country with a federal system.)

The Fyre Fraudster seems to have stolen a similar amount (not including wasteful social media spending) and was sentenced to about 6 years. I wonder what will happen in the college admissions and Theranos scandals. A new white collar crime golden age?

Do note that the important word in the following - 'In the end, Buchwald did offer some leniency. She had the option to go as high as 20 years for convictions on three counts of wire fraud, one count of bank fraud, and one count of lying to investigators. Instead, she allowed his different sentences to be served concurrently, meaning he’ll receive six years in prison, as well as three years of supervised release.'

He received more than 6 years, but the judge decided on a shorter actual jail term. Manafort, whose actions earned him no sympathy from two separate judges (after all, he was put into jail before his convictions due to those actions, though he will receive credit for time served), was not as lucky.

Basically, Prof. Tabarrok ignored completely just how Manafort's own actions pushed him into a situation where longer sentencing than otherwise was essentially unavoidable.

Though Manafort and his attorneys just might have a strategy to ensure that Manafort will not serve his sentence - '“The ‘no collusion’ refrain that runs through the entire defense memorandum is unrelated to matters at hand,” Jackson said, adding: “The ‘no collusion’ mantra is simply a non-sequitur." After all, she pointed out, the investigation isn’t over. It’s worth noting, too, that one hearing related to Manafort involved a lawyer for special counsel Robert S. Mueller III arguing that a particular meeting in which Manafort was involved got to “the heart” of Mueller’s investigation — which is centered on the question of coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.

After Jackson’s sentence was imposed, Manafort’s attorney Kevin Downing spoke briefly to reporters outside the courthouse.

“For anyone who was in the courtroom today, what I’m about to say will not be a surprise," Downing said. “Judge Jackson conceded that there was absolutely no evidence of any Russian collusion in this case, so that makes two courts, two courts have ruled no evidence of any collusion with any Russians."

That’s not what Jackson said, as people nearby quickly pointed out, but the message was sent: The president who on 226 occasions has specifically stated that there was no collusion could now proudly tweet Downing’s words. And, who knows, maybe show a little appreciation to Downing’s client for making that point.

What sort of appreciation? Well, the crimes for which Manafort has been sentenced were all federal crimes, and Trump has the power to pardon any person who has committed federal crimes.'

Where did Alex argue the sentence for Manafort was appropriate? The point of the post was that to compare it to outrageous examples is, well, outrageous.

I would agree with you that if you are assessing whether Manafort got off lightly, dollar amounts matter. As Alex pointed out, "The average time served for larceny was 17 months and the median time served was 11 months." Manafort got more than this, but likely the average amount stolen was less than his crime, so the comparison would likely have Manafort being sentenced very lightly. But the point of the post wasn't about Manafort: he was only mentioned in the beginning because people use him to bring up examples from the tail of the distribution as if they were representative. That is bad practice, and that is what the post was clearly saying...

The FBI investigated him after this happened years ago and decided not to prosecute. Telling of their confidence that he did something wrong. ( I don't doubt he did)

Nice chart, but AlexT's plea of: "But I do not want to return to the crime rates of the past" is ludicrous, since to return to the crime rates of the past, the USA has to somehow magically become much younger again.

I'm against mandatory sentencing. For example, I forgot to file a certain IRS form for when you have lots of foreign assets in overseas banks (usually I stay below the $300k limit but I inherited a bunch of money from my uncle and forgot about this IRS rule) even though I file the FBAR form every year. Should I go to jail? With mandatory sentencing, if that was the case, I might, if some overzealous prosecutor wants resume fame by saying "I busted Ray Lopez for money laundering, who's in the 1%". Same with "three strikes" for harmless stuff like larceny (think of kleptomanias). Also the only people who go to jail, seems to me, are ones who can't afford a good lawyer.

I've read (but do not have a reference) that its pretty common for a person to be convicted of one crime, e.g. drug possession, which is readily provable, when its pretty clear that they are actually guilty of one or more others (significant drug trafficking, assault, etc.). This is coupled with the very high (>95% IIRC) fraction of plea bargains.

All of which just goes to say that one has to be careful about drawing strong conclusions from a cursory examination of the data.

>All of which just goes to say that one has to be careful about drawing strong conclusions from a cursory examination of the data.

Not if you're a Marginal Revolution blogger.

Cursory examinations of data are the norm here, if the data fits the narrative.

It's "pretty clear they're actually guilty" but aren't tried for it? What does that imply about our Justice System.

If people being jailed for drug possession or robbery but those are actually just pretexts for much more serious crimes, doesn't that support OP's point that if anything jail terms are *too* lenient? If all these people serving a year and a half for robbery are actually there because police/judges/juries think they committed murder but can't quite prove it, such short prison terms don't seem like a good thing...

Conviction rates in Japan are 100%. In Singapore they have a corporal punishment.

I know we aren't prepared for the image of black dudes getting whipped, but you could end much of the crime in America if arrest rates and conviction rates were high and harsh corporal punishment was used. This would reduce the need for imprisonment.

"Conviction rates in Japan are 100%."

Clearly they aren't giving 110%.

Does Japan have show trials then?

If conviction rates are 100%, they would have to be predetermined. So yes, they would all then be show trials.

Almost every conviction in Japan rests upon a confession.

The obvious conclusion being that the accused are interrogated without end until they sign.

In Japan, a prosecutor losing a case is a very big deal, a major black mark on their career. They don't proceed to trial unless they have a slam-dunk case.

Which effectively makes them show trials.

That's true, if the prosecutor is not overzealous. If they are, then you and I, normal people, can catch the brunt of their wrath. The USA over the years has become like Japan, in that if the government wants to get you (Ghosn is the latest example in JP), they can. RICO type laws, "money laundering" laws and "process crimes" are the ways US prosecutors get you (a couple of US prosecutors over the years have even lost their license to practice law as well as in one case, NC, I think, gone to jail). As well as "cheating on taxes". They nailed Al Capone this way, but nowadays they can nail anybody reading this blog. Who here hasn't cheated on taxes by under-reporting something or another? AlexT wants more police but I, having studied law in the sausage factory, want even less. They don't have effective police in Greece or the Philippines and it's not so bad. Just the the families fight it out, vendetta style, it works.

@Engineer, sorry.

In a Beckerian model of crime, because arrest and conviction are uncertain prospects, the punishment must be substantially higher than the benefit of crime in order to act as a deterrent. The easier it is to get away with it, the higher the punishment should be, all else equal.

In my lifetime I've watched average sentences plunge and records get scrubbed. Our legal system has almost no deterrent value for those most likely to commit crimes. Indeed, one could argue that prison is a beneficial experience for some criminals, or at least there are some benefits that mitigate the costs.

Yeah, I'm sure a lawyer would never lie for attention. And I'm sure if this was his client's twenty-third offense, and he destroyed property to get the money, and was carrying a gun and fentanyl and the time, while abandoning a child at home and then resisting arrest, he'd be VERY upfront with those facts in his tweet about "stealing quarters."

As for Manafort, at this point, you almost have to feel bad for the douchebag. He cleanly got away stealing millions of dollars a long time ago. But why was we arrested?

Solely because, years later, he ran Trump's campaign for ten minutes and got swept up in the Democrat Hate Machine.

I didnt follow the indictment at all. Was the Russia probe the but-for cause of Manafort getting caught in past misconduct? Or was there a separate investigation that finally caught up with him?

We have fifty states, and I expect some variation in the sanctions those states hand out. Has anyone looked out car theft, simple assault, or armed robbery and compared crime incidence and length of prison time?

People weren't surprised that Manafort's sentence was "light" in some philosophical sense. They were surprised that it fell so far below the guidelines range, so the relevant comparison is really how often sentences end up at/above/below the guidelines.

They weren't "surprised" at all, they were upset that a hated political opponent [a Trump proxy no less] was not given the harshest possible sentence.

All else equal, the wealthier and higher-status someone is, the more punishing a given prison sentence will be. It's kind of like diminishing marginal utility of money, but in the opposite direction. Wealthier people have more to lose. The underclass might not care if you've been to prison (They might even see it as a status marker) but if an upper class person spends a nontrivial amount of time in prison this can utterly destroy any and all future career prospects.

Consequently, if we care about _equal_ justice for all, then all else equal, wealthier and more powerful members of society should serve smaller jail sentences than poorer and less powerful members of society, because those poorer members of society receive 100% of their punishment via jail time while the richer members of society receive their punishment as (say) 10% jail time and 90% destroyed career prospects

That's an interesting idea. The flip side, though, is that all else equal wealthier and more powerful are less like to be arrested, tried, and convicted when they do commit crimes. So, for deterrence purposes, they need harsher punishment when they are convicted. I don't have a clear intuition on how those two weight relative to one another.

Deterrence really is the cornerstone of the issue here really. Sentencing is balancing deterrence, sense of justice in the wronged party and society at large, and a reasonably humane result.

5 years for thefts of millions may deter White collar criminals who are capable of arranging it. Or 10-15 years. And be balanced with compassion and a sense of justice for the wronged.

But scale that back to burglaries and you're looking at zero time per burglary because the material benefit is always going to be so low. (Which is of course what guys like Hechinger would really like to be the case). That seems not then to function as either a deterrent or to really satisfy the sense of justice of the victims. Scaling up has the same problems, ballooning to cartoonishly draconian sentences for major white collar criminals.

Which gets us back to deterrence and consistency of the law having to be the major overriding considerations, without trying to square the circle of "equal sentencing years for equal harm" in a sort of implicit "eye for a eye" framework.

So we need fewer taboos, fewer sanctions, but more surveillance, more cops and more fear of them.

Taboos, I have discovered, are not distributed evenly.

The State has concluded that taboos related to sex and those related to what you smoke, snort, or swallow are not useful to its thriving; taboos related to thought are obviously gaining, though I'm a Bear of Too Little Brain to see why they're so very necessary at this time.

Cigarettes remain a weird frowned-upon exception. A historical accident? Are they tainted by tobacco's having been grown in bad states where the bad people live?

Well, the fact that the cigarette industry needs to find 300,000 new customers every year to replace those that die from smoking just might have a bit to do with it.

True. If they didn't die from smoking, they would remain customers forever and ever.

"15 years in prison for drug possession. You shouldn’t need more info than that to be outraged. But then learn: Juanita is a mother of 6. Her 18 year old is now head of household. Raising 5 kids."

That's the plot of "Shameless."

Not sure why you'd want to halve the time served? Then you wouldn't actually be reducing the average population of criminals roaming the streets, so what's the point?

Violent criminals don't reform, and to the extent that they do, we don't know why. Once you've committed a heinous crime, you should be in prison at least until you may have "aged out" of criminal behavior.

"Juanita Peralta, an inmate serving 10 years for possession of a controlled substance. She has previously served time for possession of a controlled substance, possession with intent to distribute and carrying drugs or a weapon into jail."

So spare us the sob story. She deserved to be charged with child endangerment. She's currently an unfit mother and perhaps some prison time will induce her to get her act together.

Of course, you don't get 10 years for first time possession.

Good bet it was a plea down from trafficing.

"Reformers" always leave the priors out.

Well, Siberian yuppie party-goer Maria Butina has been in solitary confinement since July, was offered and accepted a plea for being an unregistered foreign agent and still resides in a cell alone. But she'll probably be sentenced to return to Putin's Hell on Earth sometime in the future.

Yet she is still alive, which puts her ahead of Magnistky - 'Sergei Leonidovich Magnitsky was a Russian investigative lawyer who specialized in anti-corruption activities. His arrest in 2008 and subsequent death after eleven months in police custody generated international media attention and triggered both official and unofficial inquiries into allegations of fraud, theft, and human rights violations in Russia.'

Assuming she was in fact a Russian asset, she probably wants to stay alive, hence declining a plea.

Isn't the legal system of the US of A supposed to be better than that of the evil Russkies?

What's the correlation between the Russian cowgirl affair and the Magnitsky event? Are you getting enough sleep?

Alex, what do you think of this article showing how Oakland got violent crime down to new record lows despite not adding more cops?

Oakland and the rest of the East Bay area have the normal problems with the cops they've got and some more, like Celeste Guap. Of course, no time was served by any of the cops involved in sex with an underage drug addict.

Don't lawyers usually brag about how little time their clients serve?

Half of them do.

Have you ever heard the phrase, "don't make a federal case of it?" Federal sentencing is much harsher than state sentencing, and makes up a very small proportion of all criminal prosecutions. Even though almost everything can be a federal crime if it involves drugs or a bank, they are rarely prosecuted as federal crimes unless deemed especially serious.

Escalation into the federal criminal justice system is exactly the sort of harsh but random punishment that behavioralists decry as the least effective way of reducing crime.

There are really two issues here: (1) is Manafort's sentence fair under the system that we have established? and (2) is the system that we have established fair? Alex seems to be implying that we should not care much about the former because the answer to the latter question is no. And while I agree with him that the system is over-punitive and unfair (especially to people who don't have anything like Manafort's wealth, education or connections), we should be concerned about whether or not it functions fairly according to its own rules.
Manafort's sentence was dramatically lower than what the guidelines recommended and some of the principal justifications for a downward departures were not present (Manafort did not cooperate or accept responsibility for his crimes, live in challenging circumstances, etc.). That seems like a failure of the system to follow its own rules, which is disappointing and frustrating even if you think that the system could benefit from significant reform.

How about this:

Prisons are expensive and counter-productive. In an actually libertarian system, they would not exist--nobody would be willing to pay for the convicts' food, housing, medical care, and protection from vengeful victims. Therefore, all punishment should be corporal, capital, or financial.

One of the more remarkable facts in the above data is that what were universally recognized and treated as capital crimes - murder and rape - are (at median) now only 13 and 4 years in prison.

I noticed that too. Disgraceful.

AG: If most criminals are Negative Marginal Value, I guess that will move us towards corporal and capital punishments as dominant modes?

Anti-Gnostic; I like libertarian solutions, but this is trite. What if the offender has nothing to make restitution with?

I guess I'm ok, theoretically, with enslaving them for the sum of damages, but enforcing enslavement will be costly on an individual basis! Plus some criminals will have zero value even as slaves....harvest for organs, I suppose....Or sell their lives for entertainment running man style...

Cops are expensive. Smart people avoid the law to reduce their tax burden. Then smart people hire cheap cops and learn to deal with cheap cops.

People not so smart need social workers/cops; and those are highly expensive. The effect is separation, the cheap cops end up mostly in dumb neighborhoods, an explosive recipe.

It was interesting to note that Alex posted only state data, not federal.

There is a significant difference in time served. Very significant.

Here is the data on time served for federal offenses:

From this Pew Report study:

"Two factors determine the size of any prison population: how many offenders are admitted to prison and how long they remain. From 1988 to 2012, the number of annual federal prison admissions almost tripled, increasing from 19,232 to 56,952 (after reaching a high of 61,712 in 2011).5 During the same period, the average time served by released federal offenders more than doubled, rising from 17.9 to 37.5 months.6 These two upward trends— shown in Figure 2—caused a spike in the overall federal prison population, which jumped 336 percent, from 49,928 inmates in 1988 to an all-time high of 217,815 in 2012.7 One study found that the increase in time served by a single category of federal offenders—those convicted of drug-related charges—was the “single greatest contributor to growth in the federal prison population between 1998 and 2010.”8

• Time served went up across all offense categories. The average length of imprisonment increased for inmates in all six categories of federal crime: violent, property, drug, public order, weapon, and immigration offenses.
• It grew the most for public order, immigration, and weapon offenses. The average length of imprisonment rose 321 percent for public order offenses, such as racketeering, extortion, and tax law violations (from 8.9 to 37.5 months). It went up 293 percent for immigration offenses (from 4.4 to 17.3 months) and 192 percent for weapon crimes (from 19.5 to 56.9 months).
• It rose more for drug offenses than for violent and property crimes. Time served for drug offenses went
up 153 percent (from 23.2 to 58.6 months), compared with 44 percent for violent crimes (from 49.8 to
71.6 months) and 39 percent for property crimes (from 16.3 to 22.7 months). Expressed another way, drug offenders released in 1988 served less than half as much time in prison as violent offenders; those released in 2012 served more than 80 percent of the time that violent offenders did. Longer periods of imprisonment for drug offenders also had an outsize effect on the size of the overall federal prison population, given the large number of these inmates. From 1988 to 2012, the number of sentenced drug offenders in federal prison grew from roughly 15,000 to nearly 100,000.12

If you are claiming that federal sentences are low, or high with reference to Manafort, why do you use state data and not federal data?

"It was interesting to note that Alex posted only state data, not federal."

Well since Manafort was convicted by the State of NY, Alex's choice is clearly the most appropriate.

It's more interesting why you chose to jump to Federal sentencing data instead? Was it pure mood affiliation on your part?

You are mistaken. Manafort has been tried, convicted and sentenced in two federal courts. The first trial was in the Eastern District of Virginia and the other in the US District Court for the District of Columbia. Both are federal courts and he was convicted of federal crimes. He now faces charges in New York state criminal courts. One possible reason for the state prosecution is that Presidential pardons can't affect a state criminal conviction.

"for most crimes mean and median time served don’t seem to me to be obviously too high"

Living in America seems to have rotted your brain by inuring you to insanely long American sentences.

For most crimes in that table, most sentences should be less than the median time before parole.

Most robbery convicts, for example, should be sentenced to less than 3 years, and median time to parole perhaps ought to fall in the 6-18 month range.

You wouldn't feel that way if your spouse or child had a gun stuck in their face, had all of their stuff stolen, and subsequently had to deal with all kinds of anxiety issues.

Yes I would, but in any case how upset the victim feels (or the victim's loved ones feel) shouldn't really play very much of a role in the harshness of sentencing.

I mean, for one thing, it's way too variable. If two robbers commit the same crime, is one gonna get a twice as long sentence because the victim is twice as mad about it? Ridiculous.

Plus, of course, America's unnecessarily large prison population, caused by over-long sentences, probably increases crime at the current margin. If you're against robbery, let the robbers go free!

The victim of a crime is of no consequence in the activities of the state coercion complex, which is a large and important industry that employs and benefits many people. If no one made any money from it, it would not exist. Those whose income depends upon it are quite happy with a significant crime rate and long prison terms. Even at the lowest levels of the prison culture there are good jobs available.

Of course it should! If a victim’s feelings about the violation didn’t matter we’d treat penetrative rape the same way we’d treat a shove that caused a skinned knee. Not only is psychic harm a huge part of the harm of a crime, the willingness to inflict psychic harm indicates how fundamentally warped the criminal is, which tells you something about the probability of reoffense.

And prison only increases criminality if you eventually let the criminals out. If a person puts a loaded gun in my wife’s face to take her purse, I’m totally ok with him dying in prison.

Psychic harm is in the eye of the beholder. My self-esteem was diminished, I feel marginalized and disrespected by that insolent look you gave while making me feel unsafe. You deserve an extra two years in the slammer.

Not really. There are obviously some actions that broadly cause similar amounts of harm in all people. Again, we view rape that results in no physical injury as far, far worse than an attack that results in scrapes and bruises.

"...average time served is not that high,..."

Serve some time in prison, and let me know if that changes your opinion. ;-)


Censured Data alert!

What about the prisoners who are never released? Or more accurately, die whilst in jail?

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