Archive for the ‘criminal justice’ Tag

New Mexico abolishes death penalty

New Mexico has a great flag; it was rated #1 in the Union in a 2001 NAVA survey

New Mexico has a great flag; it was rated #1 in the Union in a 2001 NAVA survey

New Mexico’s governor, Bill Richardson, signed a bill that abolishes capital punishment in that state—at least henceforth; the two people currently on death row in the Land of Enchantment will stay there. For crimes committed after 1 July of this year the maximum penalty will be life in prison without the possibility of parole.

New Mexico is the second state to abolish capital punishment since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated it in 1976.  New Jersey did so in 2007.  The state used the death penalty very sparringly, only executing one person since 1960.

Richardson said that over 12,000 people contacted his office by phone, e-mail, snail mail, or in person; over three-quarters supported repeal.  While he used to support capital punishment, he cites the possibility of executing an innocent person and the racial disparity in the penalty’s application as reasons for abolishing it.

There are now 15 states without the death penalty; two of them, Nebraska and New York, had existing statutes declared unconstitutional by their Supreme Courts and have yet to pass new laws.  About 22.25% of all Americans live in a state without the death penalty.  Many others, including Maryland, are considering abolishing it.

Guys with uncommon names more likely to commit crimes

MSNBC has a story discussing a new study published in the journal Social Science Quarterly which indicates that guys with less common names are more likely to commit crimes than guys with more common names.

David E. Kalist and Daniel Y. Lee of Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania compared the first names of male juvenile delinquents to the first names of male juveniles in the population. The researchers constructed a popularity-name index (PNI) for each name. For example, the PNI for Michael is 100, the most frequently given name during the period. The PNI for David is 50, a name given half as frequently as Michael. The PNI is approximately 1 for names such as Alec, Ernest, Ivan, Kareem, and Malcolm.

Results show that, regardless of race, juveniles with unpopular names are more likely to engage in criminal activity. The least popular names were associated with juvenile delinquency among both blacks and whites.

Correcting for race is obviously needed; Hispanics, blacks, and whites often follow different naming conventions for their children.  However, the study would also need to be correct for income; wealthy people and poor people may well follow different conventions when naming kids and poverty often correlates with criminal activity.  The presence of a father also correlates with tendency towards criminality and it seems possible to me that whether a child is named only by his mother or by both his mother and father may influence the sort of name he is given.

While the names are likely not the cause of crime, the researchers argue that “they are connected to factors that increase the tendency to commit crime, such as a disadvantaged home environment, residence in a county with low socioeconomic status, and households run by one parent.”

“Also, adolescents with unpopular names may be more prone to crime because they are treated differently by their peers, making it more difficult for them to form relationships,” according to a statement released by the journal’s publisher. “Juveniles with unpopular names may also act out because they consciously or unconsciously dislike their names.”

I am dubious about using a kid’s name to tell how likely he is to commit crimes.  Why not just look at socio-economic status and family situation itself to decide where to focus resources and aid?  Parents should definitely not worry about what name they give their son; just be good parents and he’ll probably turn out fine.

For my part, I would simply point out that according to the Social Security Administration Jacob has been the #1 name for baby boys in the United States for every year between 1999 and 2007 (the latest year for which data are presently available).  You could therefore say that I should be at low risk for committing crimes.