Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Crime and punishment

Dick Puddlecote has written a superb post about the drop in crime seen in the Isle of Man since it opened Europe's first non-smoking prison. The crime rate fell by 14%, with burglaries dropping by 35% and assaults by 25%. Whether or not this represents a causal relationship is open to debate. It would be interesting to see whether those parts of America which have banned smoking in prisons have seen a similar decline. 

Whatever the truth, it is extraordinary that the media is happy to attribute a 14% drop in the crime rate to the smoking ban, just as they are happy to attribute a 2% fall in heart attacks to the smoking ban, but only mention the smoking ban as a footnote when reporting the  1,300% increase in pub closures (4 a week in 2006, 52 a week in 2009). 

And as Dick argues with impeccable logic, if criminals really do fear not being able to smoke more than they fear prison itself, what chance do publicans have of getting smokers to enter their premises of their free will?

If potential criminals are making life changing decisions to avoid being forced somewhere in which they can't smoke, is it so very difficult to accept that pubgoers can be easily discouraged from voluntarily entering premises, for the same reason?


Anonymous said...

Very good point. In fact, going to any pub, restaurant or any other public gathering place, in light of the smoking ban, makes them all seem like going into a prison these days and generally bad for business, socialization and free exchange of speech and ideas. It's all part of "the plan" perhaps, to demoralize and destroy everything the world's been built upon until now and replace it obviously with a new government order that has something different in mind than defence of private and personal liberties and rights. Supporting any smoking bans is in violation of the Geneva Convention which covered political and military prisoners - and yet here we sit, half a century after a World War from which the Geneva Convention came forth, only to see the other side, that of Hitler's Nazism, being the side to win, in the end. Disgusting it has gone as far as it has. Fearful is what will be coming soon, as the final solution to all of this.

Anonymous said...

"The crime rate fell by 14%, with burglaries dropping by 35% and assaults by 25%. Whether or not this represents a causal relationship is open to debate."

Crime rates in the entire U.S. precipitously declined during the 1990s, and people are still debating how and why that occurred. Reasons postulated include the New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's employment of "Broken Window Theory" crime fighting tactics, and the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe V. Wade decision on abortion in the early seventies.

Also, it's worth considering that no other form of drug prohibition has seen such a result anywhere, whether it be heroine, cocaine, barbituates or alcohol. So, even if one takes these results at face value, it seems to indicate that potential criminals are not engaging in avoidance behaviour because it means that they will have to give up a drug addiction, but because they will have to engage in an assault on the personal comforts they would look to for composure while in jail.

As the previous poster noted, The Geneva Convention itself entitled prisoners of war access to tobacco. The prisoners in Nazi concentration camps coveted tobacco to nearly the same degree they did food.(See Victor Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning".)

The legality and acceptability of tobacco use is largely based on the fact that tobacco doesn't inebriate the individual in any way. Beyond that, any health considerations are assumed by the individual. Only the flimsy arguments about ETS can be used to justify such a ban. If so, why should smoking prisoners be told "you committed a crime, so get used to it", when non-smoking prisoners could be equally told the same thing? I guess we're to then believe in the magical properties of ETS and how it "seeps through walls" and does magical leaps and turns to expose non-smokers to a minute risk of cancer, which is still questionable even its minuteness in the first place.

There's a cleverly placed subtext in the article linked. It says to readers, "only criminals smoke". WS.

Anonymous said...

Christopher, with all due respect, being stuck in jail is entirely different from visiting a pub. One is usually in jail much longer, and one's freedom is subject to elements out of their control. That's hardly comparable to entering a pub.

I agree with you in overall philosophy, but think about it; people don't avoid jail in the same way they avoid smoke-free pubs. Pubs are not jails. That's not "impeccable logic": it's a a questionable comparison on Mr. Puddlecote's behalf, and then on your behalf for taking it up.

I don't doubt at all that smokers eschew pubs in the face of smoking bans, but that's something quite different from criminals eschewing non-smoking jails.

Properly taking up those issues separately, and in their relevant context, absent of convenient comparisons, will result in impeccable logic.

Christopher Snowdon said...

Anon 6:37,

Being in a non-smoking prison is obviously a much more extreme situation than being in a non-smoking pub. The period of abstinence will be much longer and you can't step outside, for a start, but I think the comparison still holds.

Every individual balances the benefits against the sacrifices. As you seem to accept, some smokers have stopped going to the pub because they value the benefit of a socialising with the regulars less than they value the freedom of smoking indoors.

The Isle of Man burglar - if we are to believe these reports - has balanced the possible sacrifice of smoking with the benefit of maintaining his livelihood. Sacrificing your (criminal) career to safeguard your freedom to smoke is a more extreme case than sacrificing part of your social life but then the burglar faces a more extreme form of smoking ban if he goes to prison. Just because one is more extreme than the other does not stop them being comparable.

Would a burglar faced with this choice, choose to go straight? That's what the papers say, but I'm not sure I believe them. Dick's point was that if you *do* believe that some criminals change their whole way of life to avoid being forced to stop smoking, it shouldn't be so hard to believe that some smokers might stop going to pubs to avoid being forced to smoke outdoors.

Unknown said...

"I don't doubt at all that smokers eschew pubs in the face of smoking bans"

And that is precisely the point. In this case, the media are trumpeting the efficacy of smoking bans in cutting crime because potential criminals don't want to risk spending time in a place where they can't smoke. At the same time, however, the media completely reject the idea that pubs are closing for very similar reasons.