Use Statistics!

I’ve been criticized before for suggesting that we ought to use statistics in applying the laws to people. For example, if we’re looking for ‘undocumented’ immigrants, there’s not a lot of point in checking out white guys in Colorado.

So I thought I would explain why I support the use of statistics using an example that is less likely to cause a conniption fit to the PC crowd: criminal sentencing between males and females.

It is well-known that males receive harsher sentences for the same crimes as females do. I’m not entirely sure of the reasons for this, but it seems to me that this is probably statistically justified. Consider the recidivism rates. I’m not sure what they are, but if sex and recidivism correlate (and no 3rd factors can be found that make better predictors for the correlation), it makes sense to use that in sentencing. In other words, if men on average are more likely to return to crime after release, and if this likelihood cannot be traced back to some 3rd factor correlating with gender, then yes, it makes sense to punish them more harshly as an added deterrence (unless that added deterrence can be shown, through statistical analysis, to not actually be beneficial).

Of course, I’m not sure that sentences are generally carried out in such a logical manner. Maybe some judges just have a soft spot for women and give them lighter sentences, or maybe some are misandrists and give harsher sentences to men. The point is that there are potentially good reasons for men to get harsher sentences than women, on average.

Another example: child custody. Many people complain about how much more frequently the woman receives custody than the man in a divorce. Given that I think women have evolved to be more likely to have relevant skills for child-rearing and to be more likely to want to keep the child, I have no problem with this. Of course, each case should be judged on an individual basis, considering the specific couple involved, but that, on average, women get custody more than men does not bother me at all.

Of course, I believe in equal opportunity regardless of one’s demographics. People should, insofar as possible, be judged on their individual characteristics. However, when we need to predict a person’s future behavior (e.g. chance of recidivism or fitness for child rearing), there may be times when going by broad averages is the best we can do.

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