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Detroit Legal Blog

Will Harsher Sentences Reduce Detroit Gun Crimes?

Dec 15, 2015, by Maurice Davis in Criminal Defense, Firearms Charges, Legal Blog

Detroit has the reputation of being one of the most dangerous cities in the developed world. With a murder rate of close to 44 per 100,000 inhabitants, Detroit is the second most dangerous city in the United States, behind St. Louis. Violent crime occurs at three times the national average. In short, Detroit has a problem with violent crime — and especially violent offenses involving firearms.

Some pundits believe that stiffer sentences for gun crimes would protect Detroit’s citizens by putting dangerous criminals behind bars and deterring others from committing similar crimes. But this is an old-fashioned and overly simplistic approach to the problem of violence, which most experts agree does not stem from flawed individuals, but social and economic catalysts.

Additional Prison Time Does Not Reduce Crime Rates

In Detroit, around 70 percent of murders go unsolved. From a practical perspective, increasing penalties for such violent crimes might be futile seeing that in most cases the perpetrator is never even brought before the courts.

A paper from University of Michigan economics professor Michael Mueller-Smith gives interesting insight into the effects of incarceration. Based on data collected in Harris County, Texas from 1980 to 2009, the paper concludes that every year a prisoner spent in prison increased that prisoner’s likelihood of reoffending by over 5 percent. This held true for nonviolent offenders and violent offenders alike. In fact, people jailed for non-serious offenses tended to commit more serious offenses upon their release the longer they spent in jail.

While jail pushes prisoners to committing more crimes upon their release, it also diminishes their earning potential. This in turn may encourage some ex-cons to resort to crime to make a living. For each year in jail, the inmates that Mueller-Smith studied saw their odds of pose-release employment reduced by 24 percent.

What all of this tells us is that prison hardens criminals and makes them more likely to re-offend in the future. And when these criminals are released, they are unable to make a living legitimately, and are often forced back into the criminal underworld. What the paper doesn’t tell us is what we can all see on the streets of Detroit’s — that mass incarceration breaks up families and the very social fabric of our city.

Addressing Social and Economic Issues in Detroit is the Key

Instead of handing out extra punishment for criminals, a better policy might be to address the social and economic factors that contribute to criminality. According to a 2007 analysis, Detroit officials noted that about 65 to 70 percent of homicides in the city were drug-related. This means that the drug trade is a major contributor to the frequency of violent crime.

Why do people engage in the drug trade? Because they may be ex-convicts who can’t apply for a job — or maybe there just aren’t enough jobs left in Detroit. In some cases, kids grow up in environments in which they simply aren’t exposed to a healthy alternative to the gangster life. When fathers, uncles, mothers, and brothers are locked away in prison — who can provide guidance for these children?

From the perspective of a Detroit resident and Michigan criminal defense attorney, it seems that what we need is a program to revitalize our city, create economic opportunities for adults, and help youngsters steer away from a life of crime. While it may be easier to simply increase penalties for violent criminals, we should understand that solving a big problem is never that easy. It will take insight, resolve, and courage on the part of Detroit’s citizens and officials to solve the problem of violent crime.

Contact a Michigan Criminal Defense Attorney

Maurice Davis is a Michigan criminal defense attorney based in Detroit who serves people charged with crimes throughout the state. You can call the Davis Law Group today at (313) 818-3238 to get a free and confidential consultation about your legal issues.