Letters: May 8, 1996
JOHN DIIULIO REPLIES
I am exceedingly busy with grading, advising, researching, writing, preparing for a leave year, and related personal, professional, and civic activities. Still, I must take the time to respond to the letter by William H. Rentschler '49, and to paw's decision to publish it without so much as informing me in advance or inviting a printed response.
Mr. Rentschler's personal, data-free, ad hominem attack on me repeated decade-old distortions advanced by certain anti-incarceration activists, radical-liberal criminologists, and their friends and funders. Their errant ideological nonsense against me has been answered in print by me, by the nation's leading crime- policy scholar, UCLA's Professor James Q. Wilson, by many other leading criminologists, by judges, by police officers, by federal and state lawmakers, by leading journalists, and by many, many others. Still, they persist: hell hath no fury like ideologically committed but intellectually and morally bankrupt policy elites rebutted by the data and scorned by responsible leaders and the public at large.
With respect to the substance of the issue, paw's readers are entitled to at least three items of fact drawn from just a few of my most recently published empirical studies.
1. About three-quarters of the over 5 million persons under correctional supervision in this country on any given day are not incarcerated. Based on two of the largest prisoner self-report surveys ever conducted (Wisconsin in 1990, New Jersey in 1993), in the year prior to their imprisonment, state prisoners commit a median of a dozen crimes each, excluding all drug crimes.
2. Based on a just-completed study of the complete adult and juvenile records of a large, randomly selected sample of state prisoners-a line-by-line analysis of over 3,500 pages of material on the prisoners' arrest records, their incarceration, probation, and parole records, their pre-sentencing investigation reports, and more-over 90 percent of state prisoners have a history of violence or are recidivists.
3. As several studies by myself and others have documented, a third of all violent crimes committed each year in this country-including in some states a third of all murders!-are committed by persons who, at the very moment they kill, rape, or assault, are on probation, parole, or pretrial release.
Mr. Rentschler and his allies can slay the messenger all they want; the facts stand.
Just imagine. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issues a report showing that, last year, a third of all near-mid-air collisions eventuated in hits. But the FAA's leaders and the country's air-safety experts shrug their shoulders, discounting the news with the observation that, though the hits cost thousands of lives, millions of injuries, and billions of dollars, they still represented only a tiny fraction of all yearly takeoffs and landings, while almost everyone who flies does so without incident. And the FAA and the experts take the opportunity to add that, since we're already spending lots on air-safety systems, and since many accidents are caused by factors over which we can exercise little if any direct control (for example, sudden changes in the weather), we should invest no more public resources in improving radar screens and enhancing tracking and communication devices.
Impossible, you say. The FAA leaders would be fired, Congress would launch investigations, and the "experts" would be laughed out of every professional association save their own. Yet the analogy holds 100 percent for Mr. Rentschler and other self-styled crime "experts" vis-à-vis the nation's dire dilemma of revolving-door justice. Not surprisingly, when these "experts" and activists do speak truth to power on the need to balance punishment with prevention-a need that I have written and lectured and testified about every bit as much as I have written and lectured and testified about the social benefits of imprisoning predatory repeat criminals, adult and juvenile-nobody with much real political influence listens. They can blame me if they wish, but their anti-incarceration comedy is the real root cause of their pro-prevention tragedy.
Fortunately, Mr. Rentschler, unless I am badly mistaken, here at Princeton we still have (a) academic freedom, (b) the institution of tenure to protect against precisely the kinds of influences that interested people like yourself would bring to bear against faculty members with whom they disagreed or for whom they harbored some intense personal dislike, and (c) an emphasis on classroom teaching and intellectual integrity that makes any faculty member knowable by his or her own teaching records and collegial relations. I disagree (vehemently!) with many of my Princeton colleagues, yet we work together, sometimes publish together (as in the recent Brookings volume, Social Policies for Children) and care about our students together.
Paw's decision to publish Mr. Rentschler's letter raises certain fundamental questions about its editorial standards and motivations. This action makes it much harder for me to respond as I generally have in the past to those who have asked me what it's like being a highly visible, university-based public intellectual who, though known to be progressive on public-service reform and several social welfare issues, is better known as a conservative on crime policy, not to mention pro-life and a person of deep religious faith as well.
In a note to me, paw's editor, Mr. J. I. Merritt '66, stated that he would "normally shy away from publishing a letter that attacked the bearer of a particular message in addition to the message itself," but "decided to do so because criminal justice is such an important public issue and you are such a significant player in the debate." Furthermore, Mr. Merritt wrote, "his [Rentschler's] letter (which my editing actually toned down) will provoke many responses from alumni who side with you on these issues."
I'm glad that paw doesn't often take the bait against faculty members who do the kind of scholarship and public-affairs work that brings them into conflict with ideologies like Mr. Rentschler. I only wish that I had been given the usual benefits of the doubt, and can only wonder why the editor of paw saw fit and felt comfortable to play editor of The National Inquirer in my case, and to handle my case differently than he's handled others.
John J. DiIulio, Jr.
Professor of Politics and Public Affairs
Douglas Dillon Non-Resident Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution
Adjunct Fellow, Manhattan Institute
I protest the inference in William Rentschler's letter that Professor John DiIulio is not a respected scholar. Professor DiIulio recently won the David N. Kershaw Award, given to an individual under 40 who has made a distinguished contribution to the field of public policy analysis and management. Other universities constantly court him. The most recent issue of the Journal of Economic Perspectives, an official journal of the American Economic Association, asked him to write the lead article for a symposia on "The Economics of Crime." As a card-carrying member of the ACLU, I find that DiIulio's scholarship challenges some of my most cherished beliefs. However, I do not dismiss his findings simply because they are unpleasant. Professor DiIulio does what the best scholars do-changes the way in which informed people think about important problems.
Professor of Economics and Public Affairs
Dean, Woodrow Wilson School
I take exception to the letter from my friend and classmate Bill Rentschler '49, who characterizes a statement by Professor of Politics John DiIulio, a tenured member of the faculty, as "racist" and his writings as "neither scholarly nor consistently truthful." I have read some of the writings of this particular professor, heard him speak at a conference of judges, and had personal discussions with him. I found nothing in the least "racist" about Professor DiIulio, and I very much regret my classmate's use of this highly inflammatory and unwarranted term. As to the professor's quality of scholarship, I simply note that the university granted him tenure several years ago, and he now also serves as Director of the Center for Public Management at the much respected Brookings Institution, scarcely a haven of hardright ideologues. The fact that others disagree with him on the very controversial subject of dealing with criminals surely does not evidence untruthfulness on his part.
Bill Rentschler, who ascribes to himself an extensive background in the realm of crime and punishment, should be pleased to know that Professor DiIulio has studied and written extensively on the subject of more humane and effective management of prisons and has served as a consultant to both state and federal penal institutions. I commend Professor DiIulio not only for his laudable efforts to improve the ghastly and inhumane conditions that we allow to exist in many of our prisons today but also his willingness to speak out on the issue that most troubles America-dealing with crime. Reasonable persons can certainly disagree on this troubling issue, but I for one am glad that a Princeton faculty member is involved.
John W. Kern III '49
District of Columbia Court of Appeals
Your March 6 From the Archives photo brought back memories of my hundreds of meals in Commons. I am about 99 percent certain that the student in the upper right, standing in a black sweater and raincoat, is me. This puts the time for the picture somewhere between fall 1951 and spring 1953. With less certainty, I also recognize current university trustee Paul Wythes '55 seated about halfway down the righthand side of the table. Although he's not in the picture, I recall frequently being steered to a table by Commons captain Paul Sarbanes '54, who is now a U.S. Senator from Maryland.
The food was not all that bad.
B. Beck Fisher '55
Wilton Manner, Fla.
Editor's note: We also heard from Norman Hochgraf '52, who places the picture between 1948 and 1950 and believes he is the waiter shown in profile, and from Sarge Bush '59, who places it in the time frame of 1958-59.
The April 17 paw carried a lengthy letter criticizing Heath Lowry of the Department of Near Eastern Studies, along with anyone else who argues that "genocide" is not the appropriate term for the Armenian massacres. What is especially disturbing about this letter is that, although it presents an argument along "historical" lines, it effectively cuts off any historical inquiry into the question of whether or not the Ottoman government based its policies on an explicit decision to exterminate the Armenians as a race. Anyone who dares to look in the Turkish archives is automatically branded as being in "genocide denial." Notably, not a single one of the writers and professors that signed the letter are historians specializing in the Ottoman Empire, and this is a serious detriment to the quality of their argument. Although I do not claim to be an expert on the brutal Armenian massacres, as a Princeton graduate who was taught to respect serious scholarship, I have to question the arguments put forward in the letter, no matter what the intentions of those who signed it. It is unfortunate that the issue carries so much emotional weight that scholarly debate is precluded, or rather, replaced by personal attacks on Princeton professors.
Phillip C. Allen '92
Princeton, N. J.
MILLION MAN MARCH
I was disturbed by the negative letters in the March 6 paw regarding the January 24 First Person by Melvin McCray '74 on the Million Man March.
As a senior white Republican male, I spent 45 minutes on the Mall at the fringes of the march. I neither saw nor heard Louis Farrakhan. What I did see were thousands of black males (and a few black females) talking, singing, or just standing arm in arm in friendship and with a desire to do better in their own lives and communities to promote education, racial harmony, and family values.
I went there at the suggestion of two of my black colleagues who, like me, had been attending a meeting of the National Alliance of Business on the day of the March. They were inspired by the sense of unity they felt with blacks of all hues and occupations and educational levels, a feeling they, as light-skinned college graduates with upper-middle-class status, had rarely if ever experienced.
I too am opposed to most of what Farrakhan stands for. But if, as a result of the march, even a few young black males become useful members of society instead of wasting their lives in jail, the event will have been a success.
Lewis A. Miller '49
The assertions in the March 6 Letters that the black men (and women) who participated in the Million Man March did so with uncritical admiration for Louis Farrakhan and without a moment's contemplation of his central message insult the entire black community, especially those who took part in the march. It never ceases to amaze me how easily people forget (or don't realize) that black people can and do think for themselves. So when one million black men assemble peacefully under the banner of sobriety, responsibility, and family, why is so much fear aroused? If people were ready to accept that black folks have minds of their own, this wouldn't be a problem. Isn't it possible for one black person to agree with only part of what another has to say? Why is Farrakhan held to such a standard, when no one talks about the racist histories of Senators Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms?
I hope for the day when we as a nation can finally throw off the shackles of our racist past. Until then, I join letter writer Moshe Simon '93 in my embarassment to be associated with the myopic views of some Princetonians.
Brian C. Lewis '98
Regarding the retirement of basketball coach Pete Carril, I was shocked by your April 3 cover line ("Adios, Pete!") and the secondary article in the Sports department. How lame! How Yale-like! Who's in charge there-a sociology nerd, or Rodney Dangerfield? You rookies ought to have engaged someone from Sports Illustrated to write a proper sendoff for the man who put Priceton athletics on the map.
Bill Chaires '75
Editor's note: See our story in this issue, and the author's credit line on page 33.
I am grateful for your March 20 article on The Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel '81. When even The New York Times and The Washington Post have toned down their editorial pages and "news" columns to reflect events with sensibility and fairness, it is comforting to know there still exist unrepentant renegades such as those on The Nation's editorial board. I feel my juices flowing yet again.
Jerome P. Coleman '70
New York, N.Y.
FOR THE RECORD
In our March 6 Faculty File on Professor of Politics John J. DiIulio, Jr., we incorrectly stated that he served on New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman's task force on crime; he did, however, chair Governor James Florio's corrections review panel and conducted the research for the state's 1993 Sentencing Policy Commission.
Our March 20 On the Campus incorrectly listed the class numerals of cartoonist Whitney Darrow, who is a member of the Class of 1931. An exhibition of his works is on display in the Millberg Gallery of Firestone Library.
In the same issue, our brief story on astronaut Dan Barry *80 should have said that his Princeton degree is a Ph.D. in electrical engineering and computer science.
Our April 17 article "Shorter Careers, Longer Lives" should have said that this year's Reunions panel on the same topic will be held at 3:15 p.m., May 31, in Dodds Auditorium, located in the Woodrow Wilson School.