Several years ago, we read a revealing interview with Wilbert Rideau, former editor of the newspaper at Angola State Prison. He was asked whether harsher sentences, including the death penalty, would deter criminals. Rideau bluntly answered “no”—criminals never think they’re going to get caught. That’s in part because (as noted in the chart above) the majority of cases are never solved. The only way to deter crime, argued Rideau, was to increase police clearance rates, and thereby convince potential criminals that capture was a near certainty.
That observation echoed in our minds as we read this piece about the murder of a high-profile Guatemalan lawyer. As most of y’all likely know, Guatemala has a crime problem that can only be described as grave (as is made abundantly clear in the fantastic The Art of Political Murder.) How bad is it? Yikes:
The murder rate (of nearly 50 per 100,000 people) is higher than its average during the war. Police and courts are understaffed, underpaid and susceptible to bribes and threats. According to the United Nations, just 2% of crimes in the country are solved.
That two percent figure got us wondering about the clearance rates in other nations. The chart above is the best we could come up with, given that no international body appears to track global stats on the matter. (The figure cited in the Economist piece actually comes from a Guatemalan arm of the U.N., not headquarters.) Here’s the full paper (PDF) on clearance rates, which unfortunately relies on somewhat dated data; we were left to wonder how DNA has affected violent-crime cases, in particular.
The big question, then, is what most directly affects clearance rates? Are German cops just awesome at their jobs, or are they helped out by police-friendly laws (e.g. regarding evidence collection and interrogation)? And, of course, how much does fudging play a role? Anyone who’s seen seasons four or five of The Wire knows that cops are under tremendous pressure to manipulate their clearance rates. And instances of statistical hanky-panky are sadly commonplace.
We wonder if there’s a “natural” clearance rate for crimes, and anything above that hints at official misconduct. We certainly recall being skeeved out by reading that Japan’s conviction rate is a whopping 99.8 percent. No legal system can possibly be that flawless.