The several television programs under the CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) brand are crime dramas depicting how sophisticated forensic tools are used to solve cases. Because such tools are based on science, they are only as good as the science on which they rest. How good is the science? As the references listed below make plain, much of the forensics depicted in television programs is at best fanciful, and real life forensics are too often not much better.
With all of publicity surrounding crime statistics, it is easy to get a misleading impression about the risks that homicides pose. Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control can provide a factual basis from which to assess the real risks.
There have been claims for decades that in the United States the death penalty serves as a deterrent. When there are executions, violent crime decreases. But there have also been claims that executions “brutalize” society because government agencies diminish respect for life when the death penalty is applied. With brutalization comes an increase in violent crime, and especially homicides. Both sides assert that there is credible research supporting their position.
Since 1980, the share of the US population that is foreign born has doubled, rising from just over 6% in 1980 to over 12% in 2010. Compounding this demographic shift, the share of the foreign born population of Mexican origin also doubled, leading to a quadrupling of the fraction of US residents who are immigrants from Mexico. A majority of recent immigrants of Mexican origin living in the United states are thought to be undocumented, leading to a contentious policy debate concerning the collateral consequences of this particular type of immigration.
From the 1970s until about 2010, the number of individuals incarcerated in state prisons, federal prisons, and local jails increased dramatically. The main drivers were (1) changes in laws leading to longer, often mandatory, sentences, (2) "truth-in-sentencing" legislation requiring individuals convicted of violent crimes to serve at least 80% of their sentences, and (3) increased use of incarceration for drug-related crimes. Since then, there have been concerted efforts in some jurisdictions to reduce the number of individuals incarcerated.
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