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Arizona Youth Crime Rates

  • August 14th, 2007

The Economist recently described Phoenix as “a crime ridden mess” blighted by planners. Being here for 2 days does not qualify one to doubt that exalted authority, but it is not easy to feel confident in it when their other claim, that it is hard to walk around because of light rail construction, is so patently wrong. 

It is easy to walk around, the construction is well shielded (US litigation fears work their usual magic). But who would want to walk? Light rail is not the only planners’ spoor. There’s too much open space between the buildings. It’s too far to walk. And the buildings don’t block enough sun. An official temperature of 116 Fahrenheit today did not do justice to the felt temperature. The car thermometer said 133 F outside in the carpark.

I could not track down statistics to support other Economist claims either. Burglary, theft and car crime figures are still much lower than New Zealand’s, though high by US standards. More importantly the trends have been down since they peaked in 1994, though with a plateau in the last two years. Phoenix has shared in the astounding US wide 30%+ drop in serious juvenile (under 18) crime.

For example, US wide homicides by juveniles (under 18) have fallen from a peak of 1800 then to around 500 now. The family murder rate by juveniles has stayed pretty constant. The drop is accounted for almost entirely by an 80% fall in the rate of non-family murder.

Tomorrow I mean to get to the bottom of some of the local statistics. We are to join a chain gang as it leaves Tent City prison at 5-30 am. At 11 am we’ll start a session with Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County. It is the biggest police district in Arizona, and part of the greater Phoenix urban area.

In 1971 I was enticed here to a  concert by someone I’d scarcely heard of – Carlos Santana. It was mind-blowing. Phoenix was not. It felt like a country town about the size of Christchurch. Of Arizona’s total population now nearing 6m, the County has 3.5m, increasing by 8000 immigrants per month. 

I’ve been doing my internet homework, especially on the all important juvenile crime figures. The youth population proportion is almost identical (NZ 27% Maricopa 27.8%).

It is idle to complain about recidivism rates from any prison system (though Sheriff Joe’s seem better than NZ’s) because no one can show proof than any rehabilitation system does much more than make its promoters feel better about themselves.

The rates that matter are the offending rates, and above all changes in juvenile crime rates. Long term, crime will drop only when recruitment of young people drops. If a prison tells kids who have not become hardened that crime does not pay, that prison works, even if it does not deter a single adult recidivist.

As far as I can tell from comparing NZ stats with Maricopa County stats, NZ comes off badly. From what I saw and heard today it comes off badly even on the humanity measure. I’ve visited 10 NZ prisons. Unrestricted visits to two prisons today (we were taken wherever we asked, and left alone to talk to any staff or inmates we wanted to) left an impression of  humane institutions run well by competetent disciplined staff, proud of their work and their colleagues. They were a powerful contrast with my NZ prison tours. Only one prison in NZ (Auckland Central Remand Prison) matched them, and its management has since been dumped.

 More to follow tomorrow….



If you have time, Stephen, head out to Frank Lloyd Wright’s house, Taliesin West–out at Scottsdale.

That might help you think better of the city. 🙂

  • Lindsay
  • August 22nd, 2007
  • 10:36 am

Stephen, Can you clarify a couple of things? The Sherrif only has control of the prisons housing offenders serving a year or less (10,000) being state prisons? Do federal prisons house all other offenders? What is the relationship between the two?

  • Carol Smith
  • July 1st, 2008
  • 3:27 am

Innovation of prisons can play a big role in reducing drug addiction from prisoners. They need a comfortable dwelling place as they are also human-beings.


Carol Smith
Addiction Recovery Arizona

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