Letter in the Arizona Capitol Times: Responding to article criticizing the CPRC’s work updating Arizona prison study

18 Aug , 2017  

Dr. John Lott wrote a letter to the Arizona Capitol Times responding to a news article on August 11th titled “Controversial researcher hired to update prison population study.”  Dr. Lott’s response is available here (published online August 17, 2017):

Dear Editor:

A recent piece criticized my being hired to update a report on the Arizona prison system (Ben Giles, “Controversial researcher hired to update prison population study,” August 11).   I am indeed best known for my work on gun control. But the report, produced by the Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys’ Advisory Council (APAAC), has nothing to do with gun control. Giles doesn’t even try to draw such a link, and fails to mention that I have published many peer-reviewed research papers on sentencing and criminal penalties. One might think that the absence of debates over all my research on sentencing would be notable.

Giles claims that there has been a “wave” of research contradicting my work on gun control. But he doesn’t even try to provide balance or perspective. Had he done so, he would have noted that my original findings have been affirmed by over two-thirds of peer-reviewed, published research looking at U.S. data. Not one of these papers by criminologists, economists, and law professors found an increase in murder, rape, or robbery rates after right-to-carry laws were adopted. It is more than a little biased for Giles to only quote one of my critics.  Why not mention the published survey Professor Gary Mauser and I did showing that a 51 percent to 11 percent margin of criminologists and economists think that right-to-carry laws are more likely to reduce murder rates than increase them (Regulation, Summer 2016)?

Giles impugns The Crime Prevention Research Center for its association with the likes of Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke. The CPRC could not be prouder of that association. We also boast an academic board of advisers consisting of faculty from such places as Harvard, the Wharton Business School, the University of Chicago, and the University of Michigan. These are among the top researchers in the world on a variety of issues such as law and economics, corporate crime, criminal psychology, and predicting terrorist events.

Finally, Giles fails to mention that our board of academic advisers has people on both sides of the gun control debate and other crime issues.

John R. Lott Jr.

President, Crime Prevention Research Center

The beginning of a very long article is provided here. For the attacks on people such as Sheriff David Clarke the approach seems to be to note one negative charge against each person.  There was no attempt to provide balance.  Unfortunately, the article is behind a pay wall, so we can’t post the entire article.  Here are the first 600 words of a piece that was about 3,000 words.

Controversial researcher hired to update prison population study

For years, Arizona’s top prosecutors have leaned on a study of the state’s prison population to draw conclusions about how sentencing laws work.

For just as long, advocates of criminal justice reform in Arizona have criticized the study as flawed and misleading in a way that benefits the arguments prosecutors make to policymakers at the Capitol: that sentencing laws are working as they should. Put another way: the majority of people behind bars are the bad guys – violent and repeat offenders – who deserve to be there.

The latest update to the Prisoners in Arizona report, produced by the Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys’ Advisory Council, or APAAC, is scheduled to be finished this fall, and it promises to be more controversial than ever thanks to the man hired to update it, John Lott.

Lott is best known for his work in the field of gun laws, where his most talked about research concludes that areas that allow concealed carry of firearms are associated with lower crime rates.

Just as critics of the Prisoners in Arizona report have spent years rebutting the study’s findings, Lott’s critics are no less vocal. His research has been picked apart, and in many corners of the academic community, found to be lacking. His integrity has been questioned amid accusations that he manipulates data to draw conclusions that fit the narrative of his views on firearms, accusations that Lott has repeatedly denied.

His hiring by APAAC has left those already critical of the Prisoners in Arizona report even more wary that the council is engaging not in a fact-finding mission, but in a political exercise designed to protect their broad discretion as prosecutors.

Officials with APAAC either defended Lott’s research or argued that his political leanings and firearm-focused studies are irrelevant to the task at hand of analyzing data provided by the Arizona Department of Corrections. But for some, like Caroline Isaacs, whose work for the American Friends Service Committee in Arizona focuses on criminal justice issues, the politics are hard to ignore.

“This is a really unfortunate choice that honestly I think undermines the credibility of APAAC,” Isaacs said. “And if I were a member of APAAC, I would have serious reservations about putting my name behind any research produced by this guy.”

The Academic

Lott came to prominence for his work as a pro-gun academic, and is frequently called upon to make media appearances or write editorials expounding the virtues of guns as a crime deterrent. His résumé boasts work as a contributor, then columnist for Fox News.com, and most recently, the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center, an organization run out of his Pennsylvania home covering a wide range of research topics, most related to firearms.

Lott had his ups and downs through the years, most notably after a wave of research contradicting his work around “More Guns Less Crime,” his seminal book first published in 1998. “More Guns Less Crime” stemmed from a study Lott co-wrote as a research fellow at the University of Chicago. Published in 1997, that study drew a link between laws permitting concealed carry and lower crime rates.

His conclusions were much like the adage often heard at the Arizona Capitol that guns in the hands of well-to-do citizens are a quality means to deter evil-doers.

As gun advocates latched on to Lott’s research, the larger academic community began to scrutinize it, and what they found was, in the words of one criminologist, “garbage.”  Studies have since contradicted Lott’s work, criticizing everything from the data he chose to analyze and the statistical models he used to crunch the numbers. . . .


1 Response

  1. Tom Campbell says:

    What happened to the research paper in question?

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