Crime and Punishment in the 21st Century

“To have once been a criminal is no disgrace. To remain a criminal is the disgrace”
-Malcolm X

It’s easy to laugh at Ray Comfort. He has a funny accent and says really dumb things. I sometimes read through quotes of his for hours and I don’t know why because unlike the majority of his anti-fans, I don’t find Ray Comfort to be funny at all. In fact, I think he’s down right dangerous.

Comfort is constantly putting forth end times prophecies and creating a narrative based around evil atheists bent on his destruction. He’s created an alternate reality for his followers in which the world is in the worst shape it’s ever been and he is their savior. Sure, he’ll say Jesus is the only way to be “saved”, but his near daily reminders that the only True Christians™ behave exactly like he does (he’ll teach anyone how to get into heaven for a fee) betray him. Fear-mongering is the best way for any charlatan to keep sales up, and Comfort is one hell of a salesman.

While I consider him dangerous, I also see his potential as a tool for skepticism. The man is seemingly incapable of telling the truth and creates opportunity after opportunity for skeptics to hone their research skills. If he ever offers a statistic, rest assured that the data has been cherry-picked or completely misrepresented.


Let’s look at his latest less-than-truthful offering, shall we?



The truth, as can best be ascertained, is more complicated than he’s presented here. In actuality, there’s about a 61% clearance rate for homicides in the US. This has nothing to do with the wiliness of killers or an increased lack of fear for the law. The act of murder has become far less personal these days because of drug- and gang-related crimes. Anonymity and indiscriminate killing make it much more difficult to crack cases and bring in suspects. This doesn’t mean that each killing has a unique perpetrator. I don’t know if there’s any way to get actual numbers, but it’s more than likely that a lot of these killers lay claim to multiple murders. With with an estimated 35-50 active serial killers in the US right now, we could attribute at least 100 murders to just one small group of people. Where Comfort came up with his 50% chance of getting away with murder statistic, the world may never know.

His next statistic is just as mystifying. The US Department of Justice puts the average sentence for murder or nonnegligent manslaughter at 20 years, and almost a quarter of those were sentenced to life. While possible, odds aren’t at all in favor of leaving prison in less than 10 years. Either he has difficulty with math or he’s just making things up as he goes along. Or maybe it’s some combination of both.

I corrected his numbers for his next bit because 1990-2000 is actually 11 years, but he is right that during the period between 1991 and 2000 there were about 200,000 murders and nonnegligent manslaughter cases. Where he intentionally misleads his sheep is that we’ll continue to see MORE of the same if we rehabilitate criminals instead of seek revenge. And let’s be honest. Revenge is what he wants. Forced participation in rehabilitation programs and a loss of freedom are punishment. If he thinks living in an 8×8 cell, cohabiting with dangerous criminals, and losing all autonomy is anything less than punishment, he’s dumber and scarier than I thought.

If we look at this table from the FBI’s website, we’ll see that 203,856 murders were committed from 1991-2000 while only 163,001 were from 2001-2010. The rate has been cut by more than half since 1991. Looking at the other stats for violent crime shows dramatic decreases across the board. Reality, it seems, has found another point on which to disagree with Ray Comfort.

To what do we credit current crime rates? According to Comfort, and I’m more than certain this wasn’t his intention, that honor goes to increasing secularism. A quick look through any religious survey does show that secularism/atheism are on the rise in America, and, if these stats are any indicator, that’s a good thing. Maybe this is one of those occasions when correlation and causation seem to be one and the same. I think one could these numbers to make a pretty convincing argument for the benefits of secularism.


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