Does the Punishment Fit the Crime?


This is the fourth in a collection of newspaper ads from United Technologies that appeared in the Wall Street Journal from the late 1970s through the early 1980s. Here is the original ad.

There’s a major
crime committed
in America at the
rate of one every
3 seconds.
A murder every
24 minutes.
A robbery every
68 seconds.
An assault every
51 seconds.
A burglary every
10 seconds.
A theft every
5 seconds.
The odds are
narrowing that you
will be a victim
of a bodily or property
But the person who
commits a crime has
only a 1 in 5 chance
of being
and a 1 in 100 chance
of going to jail.
Our criminal
justice system
is inadequate.
Perhaps Lady Justice
should trade in her
blindfold for an
The eye with the
patch would retain
for the accused,
but the other
eye would look
for ways
to protect you.

This ad from United Technologies looked at the prevalence of crime in the United States in 1980, and so I thought it would be helpful to update the data, as shown in the table below.

Crime 1980 crime rate 2010 crime rate
Major Crime One every 3 seconds 3 seconds
Murder One every 24 minutes 36 minutes
Robbery One every 68 seconds 84 seconds
Assault One every 51 seconds 41 seconds
Burglary One every 10 seconds 15 seconds
Theft One every 5 seconds 5 seconds
Chance of being arrested
for committing a crime
20% 18%
Chance of going to jail
for committing a crime
1 in 100  ??

The table reveals that for some types of crime, the rate has improved, but for others it has gotten worse.

Other interesting facts include:

  • In October 2013, the incarceration rate of the United States of America was the highest in the world, at 716 per 100,000 of the national population. While the United States represents about 4.4 percent of the world’s population, it houses around 22 percent of the world’s prisoners.
  • About 68 percent of 405,000 prisoners released in 30 states in 2005 were arrested for a new crime within three years of their release from prison, and 77 percent were arrested within five years, according to a report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS).
  • A 2008 New York Times article said that “it is the length of sentences that truly distinguishes American prison policy. Indeed, the mere number of sentences imposed here would not place the United States at the top of the incarceration lists. If lists were compiled based on annual admissions to prison per capita, several European countries would outpace the United States. But American prison stays are much longer, so the total incarceration rate is higher.”
  • From a 2012 New York Times article – for petty offenders and violent criminals alike, the length of a prison stay increased by more than a third over the past two decades, a period of time in which the prison population doubled, according to a report by the Pew Center on the States. Inmates released from prison in 2009 spent an average of 2.9 years — or 36 percent — longer behind bars than offenders released in 1990, the report found.

I hadn’t planned to get into all these statistics when I started this post, but I’ve learned that sometimes the blog takes on a life of its own when I start writing. My usual plan with these United Technologies ads is to just briefly comment on the ad, and let the ad speak for itself.

However, the nature of this ad made an update of the data almost mandatory, just to see if things have changed over the past 30 years. While I am not a trained sociologist and I certainly did not spend more than a couple of hours looking at the data, the only statement I am comfortable making is that crime is still an issue in the U.S. And certainly there are new types of crime that were almost nonexistent in 1980, such as identity theft and cyber attacks.

Despite my lack of expertise, I will share a couple of my thoughts on crime and punishment, for those that may be curious.

First, I think that marijuana (and other ‘recreational drugs’), should be legalized. I am happy to see many states going in this direction, and I hope that soon it becomes a Federal law.

Second, the death penalty should be completely removed as a sentencing option, and that people who are currently on death row should have their sentence revised to reflect such a change.

Third, I am a big believer in economic sanctions. I think they are an effective tool when dealing with international disputes, and I think a similar approach could be used with those convicted of a crime. For example, rather than sentencing an individual to 10 years in jail for a certain crime, perhaps a combination of 5 years in jail, and a significant dollar fine, would be better. Again, this is not my area of expertise, and there may be some serious problems with such an approach, but I think it would be worth exploring.

I’ll stop there before I completely alienate my audience, but as mentioned in previous posts, one of the reasons I blog is that it forces me to write down what some of my beliefs are, and so I am really writing myself. If it happens to start a conversation with others, that’s icing on the cake.


By the way, all this talk of Crime and Punishment makes me want to read the book. I’ve heard it is one of the best novels of all time, but I’ve never gotten around to reading it. Perhaps I’ll put it on my summer reading list.


One thought on “Does the Punishment Fit the Crime?

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