Crime and Sentencing in America: A Conversation with Frank Zimring

Cop walkingThis next podcast is with criminal law expert Frank Zimring, author of The City That Became Safe: New York's Lessons for Urban Crime and Its Control, on the state of policing, crime, and sentencing in America. We discuss the revolution in policing and criminal deterrence in New York and what it has meant overall for criminal justice in America. In addition, our conversation focuses on recent efforts to reform state and federal sentencing laws.

The Guilty and the Oppressed


Growing up the son of a criminal defense lawyer who represented all sorts of unsavory people led to many strange experiences in my youth. I accepted collect phone calls from imprisoned felons, many of whom insisted, even to me—a kid answering the call—that they had been “wrongfully convicted.” I listened to my father rail against the abuses of unchecked executive branch power, as well as the ethical corner-cutting and sometimes flat out lying by the police. And I learned to balance the moral conflict—we could live in a world in which law enforcement did break rules and abuse power, while at the same time people who looked guilty, and were probably guilty, still deserved their legal rights. Innocence, my father always said, went out with Adam and Eve, but not guilty is a different kettle of fish.

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The Artifice of the Rule of Law

It will not have escaped the notice of many that men and women tend to differ in their opinions on many matters, for example on the jurisprudence of rape. Women, however liberal or lenient they may be in their attitude to other crimes, however much they disbelieve in principle in retributive justice, tend to be not only punitive with regard to rape but (at least nowadays) to favor the relaxation of the rules of evidence in cases of rape and other sexual crimes. Men, on the other hand, believe that rape must be proved in the same way as any other allegation must be proved.

The subject came up at a dinner party that I was at last night.

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The French Define Recidivism Down

Truth is universal but error is international. Living as I do between Britain and France, I am often surprised to see the same mistakes being made on both sides of the Channel with the same results, without any awareness on the part of either country of the other’s experience; the same bad arguments are made, the same false conclusions drawn.

I was on my way a few days ago to France via the Eurostar, the train that goes from the center of London to the center of Paris via the Channel Tunnel, and bought Le Figaro, the French newspaper of conservative posture, to read on the way. Its lead story was about the plans of the French Minister of Justice, Christiane Taubira, to suppress short prison sentences in favor of such penalties as probation, community service and the wearing of electronic bracelets, to release substantial numbers of prisoners before their prison sentences were completed, to give future prisoners the automatic right of release after serving two thirds of their prison sentences, and to remove certain crimes (unspecified) from the penal code. My heart sank; we’ve tried all that in Britain, with results that only an intellectual with years of training to prevent him from being able to see what is in front of his nose would or could find surprising.

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Diversity, Public Safety, and the Criminal Law: A London Tale

Earlier this week in a London courtroom Iranian-born Metropolitan Police Commander Ali Dizaei was convicted and imprisoned for abusing his powers and perverting the course of justice. He was found to have done so in July 2008 by arresting a young man with whom he was embroiled in an altercation over money the man claimed Dizaei owed him. Dizaei arrested the man for allegedly assaulting him with an implement that he was carrying.


Among many unusual features of the case, not least is that this is not the first time Dizaei has been tried and convicted for these offences. Two years ago he was found guilty of them in the very same courthouse where he received a four year prison sentence. He was still serving it a year later when that initial guilty verdict was overturned as unsafe on appeal. That led to his release and reinstatement in his former job on full pay, albeit under suspension pending the outcome of his retrial.

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