Geography of Crime and Punishment

The Black Sea Region as a Historical Focus of “Ethnic Cleansing” and Genocide

The Black Sea region is not noted for its history of genocide and forced population transfers (or “ethnic cleansing”). Internet searches on several different engines, for example, returned very little linked to these key terms. But there is probably no other area in the world that has experienced more instances of these forms of atrocity, at least in the 20th century. The map posted below shows key episodes in the region, starting with the Circassian genocide of the mid 19th century. As is immediately apparent, the Black Sea region has been the focus of many such events.

There are several important reasons why the Black Sea has seen so much ethnic cleansing and genocide. In the 1930s and early 40s, one genocidal dictator, Joseph Stalin, controlled much of the region, whereas another, Adolf Hitler, coveted and invaded the same area. Stalin’s mass killing in the Black Sea zone began in the 1930s with the Holodomor, or the mass extermination by starvation of the kulaks (peasants owning more than 3.2 hectares of land) of Ukraine and environs and of Cossacks in the Kuban region. After Nazi Germany invaded, Hitler ordered the genocide of vast numbers of Jews living in the northern Black Sea region. As German forces drove toward the oil fields of Baku, Stalin ordered the mass removal of several ethnic groups in the region who were suspected of not being adequately loyal to the Bolshevik regime. This process was itself genocidal, as vast numbers of people perished in the process. Something similar had happened to the Armenians of the greater southeastern Black Sea region during and before World War I: Ottoman authorities were worried about Armenian loyalty, and therefore expelled vast numbers to the deserts of the Middle East. The mortality rate was extraordinarily high, leading most scholars to classify this as an episode of genocide.

But there are other reasons for the processes of ethnic removal that have occurred in the Black Sea region. Much of the coastal zone had long been characterized by profound ethnolinguistic diversity, as is common in maritime areas characterized by extensive interregional trade. Such diversity ran afoul of the modern political model of the ethnically based nation-state. As a result, many ethnic communities were kicked out to create more ethnically homogeneous countries. Sometimes this involved mutual expulsions, as occurred when the new Turkish Republic expelled its ethnic Greeks to Greece while Greece expelled most its ethnic Turks to Turkey. Romania and Bulgaria did something similar in the 1940s. Such episodes continued throughout the 20th century. In the 1980s, for example, Bulgaria undertook mass expulsions of ethnic Turks. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and Georgia became independent, Abkhazia declared its independence from Georgia; in the conflict that followed, most ethnic Georgians and Greeks either voluntarily left Abkhazia or were expelled from it.

One Black Sea coastal region, Budjak in Ukraine, was subjected to less “ethnic cleansing” than many other littoral areas, although its Jews and Germans were mostly lost in the early 1940s. A current language map of Budjak reveals a much more complicated ethnic mixture than is found in most other Black Sea coastal regions.

In investigating the Black Sea region, I have been repeatedly struck by how central it is to understanding and interpreting key historical events and processes, dating back to the neolithic. Yet the Black Sea region occupies a very modest position in the conventional geo-historical imagination. This paradox deserves further scrutiny.

The Black Sea Region as a Historical Focus of “Ethnic Cleansing” and Genocide Read More »

Mapping Crime and Substance Abuse in Russia


In the previous post, I examined regional differences in demographic issues across Russia. As many sources note, alcoholism is one of the biggest factors contributing to low life expectancy and high rate of death from non-natural causes. In fact, Russia ranks at the top in terms of both alcohol consumption (especially by men), as discussed in detail in my earlier post. Russia and the neighboring FSU countries also top the charts in percentage of deaths attributable to alcohol. According to the World Health Organization report, such a high level of alcohol-related deaths results not only from what and how much people drink (e.g. drinking spirits causes more alcoholism and alcohol-related deaths than drinking wine or beer), but also how they drink. The WHO report includes data on what the authors refer to as “Patterns of Drinking Score” (PDS), which is “based on an array of drinking attributes, which are weighted differentially in order to provide the PDS on a scale from 1 to 5”; the attributes include the usual quantity of alcohol consumed per occasion; festive drinking; proportion of drinking events, when drinkers get drunk; proportion of drinkers who drink daily or nearly daily; and drinking with meals and drinking in public places. Some countries with high per capita alcohol consumption have low PDS scores (particularly, countries in southern and western Europe), while Russia has one of the highest PDS scores worldwide.

A combination of what, how much, and how people drink—as well as who is doing the drinking—creates the observed patterns of alcoholism within Russia as well. (The data on alcoholism and drug abuse, discussed below, comes from the Wikipedia.) The prevalence of alcoholism differs from region to region even more than other social indicators considered in previous posts. The range between the highest and lowest alcoholism levels is one of three orders of magnitude, from less than one case reported per 100,000 population in Ingushetia to nearly 590 cases per 100,000 in Chukotka. Overall geographical patterns are quite clear: the highest levels of alcoholism are registered mostly across the Far North (and some of the regions of the Far East, which despite their relatively low latitude qualify legally as the “Far North”), while the lowest levels of alcoholism are found in the Caucasus. According to the website, alcohol consumption is also the lowest in the north Caucasus, especially in Chechnya, Ingushetia, and Dagestan, and the highest in the harshest areas of the Far North/Far East (particularly in the Jewish Autonomous oblast, Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Magadan, and Kamchatka). However, they do not list the specific figures of alcohol consumption in various regions and I could not find them elsewhere, but I suspect that the quantity of alcohol consumed per capita in the northeast Caucasus and in the Far North does not differ by three orders of magnitude. Much more significant is the type of alcoholic drink being consumed: vodka is the most common choice in the Far North, whereas the Caucasus region has a long history of viniculture going back 8,000 years. Besides viniculture, the Caucasus is well-known for its venerable tradition of wine-drinking with meals, accompanied by elaborate toasts, which slows down the consumption and metabolism of alcohol. Another important factor is genetically based difficulty that people from many indigenous groups have in breaking down alcohol. This genetic propensity causes particularly high levels of alcoholism in such areas of northern Russia as Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Sakha Republic, and Chukotka.


Unlike alcoholism, drug abuse is considerably less common than alcoholism across the Russian Federation: all but four federal subjects register over 50 cases of alcoholism per 100,000, whereas none reports more than 50 cases of drug abuse per 100,000, and fewer than a dozen register over 30 cases. Geographical patterns of drug abuse are less obvious and harder to explain than those of alcoholism. Particularly high levels of drug abuse (over 30 cases per 100,000) are found in Murmansk, Chelyabinsk, Sverdlovsk, Kurgan, Novosibirsk, Kemero, Amur, and Sakhalin oblasts, and in Primorsky Krai. One common denominator is that all of these regions had a high level of industrial urban development during the Soviet period but have experienced significant economic stagnation since the fall of the USSR. One area that does not fit this generalization is Sakhalin, which is still a major area of natural resource extraction and processing. It would be interesting to know if any of our readers can think of another explanation for these patterns of drug abuse.


Interestingly, neither alcoholism nor drug abuse correlate very closely with crime rates, although there is a connection. Of the areas where drug abuse is most prevalent, only Sakhalin and Kemerovo oblasts also exhibit high crime rates (over 2500 cases per 100,000), while several others—Murmansk, Sverdlovsk, and Novosibirsk—have an average level of crime. Alcoholism correlates with crime even less, as only Magadan and Sakhalin oblasts exhibits high levels of both. A number of regions with a high level of alcoholism, particularly Nenets Autonomous Okrug and Sakha Republic, which have a large percentage of indigenous population, exhibit little crime. Other areas with high proportions of indigenous peoples, such as the Caucasus and the Middle Volga, also have particularly low levels of crime. The low level of reported crime in Tula, Ryazan, and Belgorod oblasts is perplexing, however.


When it comes to murder, eastern and especially southern Siberia is clearly more dangerous than European Russia or western Siberia. The “murder capital” of Russia is Tuva, which registered over 35 homicides per 100,000 population. Neighboring Altai Republic has over 25 murders per 100,000 population, as does Zabaikalsky Krai. Curiously, high rates of alcoholism may contribute to the elevated murder rate in such areas as Sakha Republic, Chukotka, and Jewish Autonomous oblast, but other areas where alcoholism is prevalent, such as Karelia and Sakhalin, register only slightly above-average murder rates. Similarly, the prevalence of drug abuse does not correlate with murder rates. Nor do crime rates or murder rates correlate with the level of urbanization, unemployment level, or regional GDP.



Mapping Crime and Substance Abuse in Russia Read More »

Surprising Patterns in Geography of Crime in California

California Violent Crime MapMapping crime rates by county in California shows few easily explicable patterns. At first glance, the map of violent crime (which is unfortunately somewhat dated) appears almost random. That of property crime shows a concentration in the Central Valley (which I have outlined on the map), but only a slight one: note how low the rate is in Kings County. The California Property Crime Mapremainder of this post will focus on the map of violent crime, seeking correlations with patterns found on maps of other phenomena.










California Crime Income Map


Is violent crime geographically associated with income at the county level? The first set of paired maps indicates that any such correlation is meager. Relatively high rates of violent crime are found in rich counties such as San Francisco and Alameda, and in relatively poor counties such as Shasta and Tehama. Likewise, relatively low rates of violent crime are found in rich counties such as Marin and San Mateo, and in relatively poor counties such as Glenn and Trinity.

California Crime Population MapIs violent crime geographically associated with population density? The next set paired maps indicates that any such correlation is meager. Relatively high rates of violent crime are found in densely populated counties such as, again, San Francisco and Alameda, and in sparsely populated counties such as Alpine and Shasta. Likewise, relatively low rates of violent crime are found in densely populated counties such as Orange and Santa Clara, and in sparsely populated counties such as Modoc and Trinity.

California Crime Politics MapDo voting patterns have any connection to violent crime rates? As the next set of paired maps indicate, the answer is again “no.”




California Crime Ethnicity map 1What if one turn to the hot-button issue of crime and race & ethnicity, a topic so controversial that I hesitate to even mention it? But in this case as well, no clear correlations exist, at least at the county level of analysis. Consider, for example, the paired maps of violent crime and the Hispanic population. Although the southern half of the Central Valley (the San Joaquin Valley) has a generally high violent-crime rate and a large California Crime Ethncity Map 2percentage of Hispanic residents, some of the most Hispanic counties in the state have very low rates of violent crime (Imperial and Colusa). Nor is there any clear correlation between the state’s relatively small Black population and the violent crime rate. Note that Alpine, by far the most violent county in the state according to these statistics, has no Black residents whatsoever.

California Crime Ethncity Map 3Similar things can be said in regard to California’s White and Asian populations. To be sure, many overwhelmingly white counties have very low rates of violence, such as Calaveras and Trinity, but Tehama and especially Shasta counties are also heavily White yet have strikingly high California Crime Ethncity Map 4rates of violent crime. Heavily Asian counties tend to have low crime rates, but that is not the case in regard to San Francisco.





Several of the counties that stand out most clearly on the map of violent crime deserve more consideration. Alpine County, with its particularly high level of crime, is the largest mystery, although its minuscule population means that such figures might not be very indicative. San Joaquin County, on the other hand, is no surprise, as its main city, Stockton, has long been regarded as a relatively dangerous place with a grim and decaying downtown. It is probably not coincidental that Stockton suffered severely in the economic crisis of 2008, earning it the unenviable title of “Foreclosureville USA.” (To be fair, however, Stockton does have many nice neighborhoods as well as a habitually underrated university, the University of the Pacific.)

The high rate of violent crime in Shasta County, on the other hand, did come as a surprise to me. But the elevated—and rising—level of crime in the county’s main city, Redding, has been noted by several publications. In 2012, Forbes magazine rated the small city (metro population 182,000) as the fifth most dangerous place for women in the United States, with a particularly high rate of rape. An exaggerated local blogsite calls itself “Crumbling Town – Redding, CA: The Horrific Demise of a Once Beautiful and Peaceful Town in Northern California.” Its most recent post is grimly amusing:

We have so many jailhouse tatted adult men riding children’s bicycles, we have no choice but to embrace them as our official mascots. They can be found zipping in and out of traffic, casing parking lots, trolling alleyways, pedaling through quiet neighborhoods by day, returning to rape, pillage, and plunder by night. They look so cute, how can anyone not love them?

The mascot’s costume is consistent with his lifestyle: He can go skin or shirt, shorts or long, shaved head or hat. He accessorizes with stolen headphones, sunglasses, and knives. His body is illustrated with tattoos. He always has a bulging backpack and frequently carries enormous bags of “recyclables”

Redding’s Ubiquitous Mascots own this town. Untouchable by police, living lives of anarchy with no consequences or responsibilities.

Time Magazine noted the high rate of crime in Redding in 2014, but unlike the other sources that I consulted it offered an explanation:

There were 1,298 violent crimes in the Redding metro area in 2012, up from 851 violent crimes in 2007. On a standardized, per 100,000 resident basis, violent crime rose more than 53% in that time. Additionally, property crimes rose by more than 50%, the most of any metro area reviewed, despite a nationwide 12.7% decline in such crimes during that time. According to the Redding Record Searchlight, some area residents believe that the area’s high crime rates may be related to marijuana cultivation. Officials in Shasta County — which makes up the Redding metro area — recently elected to ban outdoor growing, although the city of Redding is not included in the ban.

I am quite skeptical, however, of this explanation. The heart of marijuana cultivation in California, the so-called Emerald Triangle of Humboldt, Trinity, and Mendocino counties, has a low to moderate crime rate. Cannabis is also widely grown in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, in a belt extending from Nevada to Mariposa counties, a region that happens to have the lowest rate of the violent crime in the state.

But it may not be marijuana cultivation per se that is associated with crime, but rather with who is doing the cultivating. I recently had an instructive conversation with the sheriff of a north-coastal California county on precisely this issue. According to him, the hippies living in the hills who have been cultivating small patches for decades are no problem at all, but the young men moving in, those with “perpetually sore shoulders” seeking to get rich, are a major problem. Perhaps Shasta County has many of latter sort of cannabis cultivator. But I suspect that its real problem is associated instead with biker gangs and methamphetamine production.




Surprising Patterns in Geography of Crime in California Read More »

Chile: Inequality, Incarceration, and Drug Smuggling

GINI World MapChile is rightfully celebrated for the socio-economic progress that it has achieved over the past several decades. But although it has seen a substantial reduction in poverty, Chile still has a high degree of economic inequality, like most other Latin American countries. According to the Wikipedia,* in 2011 Chile ranked in the 155th position out of 176 countries in terms of the GINI Coefficient, the most widespread statistical measurement of income inequality, with a figure of 50.8. The CIA gave it an even higher figure—52.1—in 2009. As a 2011 article in the Council on Hemispheric Affairs put it, “When the media and politicians report on Chile’s growth they tend to omit where that growth is taking place and who reaps its benefits; the statistics are without a doubt positive, but the majority of Chileans are not represented by that growth.”


More recently, however, Chile’s gap between the rich and poor has declined to some extant. A 2014 New York Times article went so far as to claim that “while vast disparities continue to exist, Chile, like much of Latin America, is practically the only place in the world today where the income gap is actually shrinking rather than widening.” The same article, however, argued that such gains are threatened by the current slow-down in China’s imports of Chilean products.

Some of Chile’s own statistics indicate somewhat less income disparity than those of the World Bank of the CIA. The Ministry of Social Development of Chile’s 2013 Casen Survey gave the country a GINI figure of .436. If accurate, this would place Chile in a position near that of the United States, a country with a moderately high level of income inequality.

Chile GINI MapChile’s level of income inequality varies considerably from region to region. According to the Casen Survey data, the GINI coefficient is highest in greater Santiago, the country’s center of wealth, which nevertheless has a significant degree of poverty. It is also fairly high in such relative poor regions as Araucanía, Los Ríos, and Los Lagos. Otherwise, the patterns on the GINI map of Chile are rather indistinct. One interesting feature is the relatively low inequality figure in Arica and Parinacota in the extreme north. As can be seen in the maps found in the previous post, Arica and Parinacota is characterized by a lower-than-average level of income and a higher-than-average level of poverty, yet it also has somewhat elevated figures in regard to the possession of durable products, such as computers and especially vehicles.

Where Arica and Parinacota really stands out, unfortunately, is in its Chile Incarceration Mapincarceration rate, which is by far the highest in the country. Interestingly, relatively low incarceration rates are found in some of Chile’s richest regions (Magallanes) and in some of its poorest regions (Araucanía). Oddly, the north has a much higher rate of incarceration than the rest of the country, despite the fact that it is the wealthiest part of the country on a per capita basis and is also characterized by lower-than-average levels of income disparity.

Arica and Parinacota is an unusual part of Chile in several different ways. To begin with, it is quite ethnically diverse, containing a large indigenous population, the main Afro-Chilean community, and substantial numbers of persons of East Asian, Middle Eastern, and Roma (”Gypsy”) descent. Unlike the country’s other northern regions, its economy is not centered on mining, but rather on services, trade, and transportation. As explained in the Wikipedia article on the city of Arica:

Arica is an important port for a large inland region of South America. The city serves a free port for Bolivia and manages substantial part of that country’s trade.‪ In addition it is the end station of the Bolivian oil pipeline beginning in Oruro.‪ The city’s strategic position is enhanced by being next to the Pan-American Highway, being connected to both Tacna in Peru and La Paz in Bolivia by railroad and being served by an international airport.

Arica and Parinacota’s high incarceration rate is apparently related to its position as a trade hub rather than its demographic characteristics. It does not, moreover, seem to reflect the region’s actual crime rate. Although I have not been able to locate crime statistics, informal information suggests that Arica and Parinacota is a relatively law-abiding place. As one blogger writes about the region’s main city:

Arica is one of the lowest cities in crime and violence in Chile. A few times a year the city is alarmed with the news of an assault or murder, but this is a small city where lots of people know each other, so the offenders are usually caught. Regarding violence, Arica is a pretty safe place. Riots and social unrest are almost non-existent except a few university manifestations twice a year typically.

But even if Arica has a low crime rate, it does seems to be a drug-smuggling hub, as befits its place in regard to Chile’s international linkages and transportation infrastructure. The drug trade from Bolivia and Peru increased quickly in the early 1990s, and has been more recently associated with some major corruption cases. As was reported by In SightCrime, “the Arica attorney general’s office opened an investigation into more than 100 cases that could potentially uncover links between officers and drug trafficking…”

As Arica is key node in international drug smuggling, it is not surprising that many of its incarcerated individuals are foreign nationals. As reported in another In SightCrime article:

At the beginning of 2014, the Bolivian consulate in Arica counted 179 Bolivian prisoners in that city’s jail — 45 of them women — the majority for drug trafficking. The number of Peruvians held in Arica for trafficking is also high. In December 2013, according to the Peruvian consulate, there were 176. And that’s nothing: two years earlier, Chile had expelled more than 800 Bolivian and Peruvian prisoners from the country after they finished serving a five year, one day sentence for trafficking 600, 700 and even 800 grams of cocaine.

*Based on World Bank Data


Chile: Inequality, Incarceration, and Drug Smuggling Read More »

Joaquín Guzmán and the Geography of Homicide in Mexico

World Murder Rate MapConsidering the astounding escape of Mexican drug lord Joaquín Guzmán (also know as “El Chapo”) from a supposedly secure prison, this seems like an appropriate time to examine the geography of violent crime in Mexico. Comparing crime rates from place to place is a notoriously difficult exercise, as official statistics tend to be unreliable and are often gathered on a different basis in different jurisdictions. Data on intentional homicides, however, are often viewed as relatively solid and comparable, although even here, as the Wikipedia notes, “The legal definition of “intentional homicide” differs among countries. Intentional homicide may or may not include infanticide, assisted suicide or euthanasia.”

World Murder Rate TableThe official statistics that we do have indicate that Mexico has a high rate of intentional homicide, although by no means the highest in the world. As the Wikipedia table posted here indicates, Mexico trails Honduras by a wide margin, and comes in below even Puerto Rico and the Bahamas. Still, Mexico’s intentional homicide rate is far higher than that of any European country. (In Europe, rates per 100,000 people vary from 5.0 in Albania to 0.3 in Iceland; in the United States, the figure is 4.7).

It is misleading, however, to view Mexico as a singular unit when it comes to its homicide rate — or in terms of just about anything else, for that matter. As it turns out, Mexico’s intentional homicide rate varies hugely from state to state. In Yucatán, the figure in 2011 was 2.7, well below that of the United States, whereas that of Chihuahua was 130, far above that of Honduras. In Mexico Homicide Rate Map2010, moreover, Chihuahua had registered many more murders than it did in 2011 (6,407 vs. 4,502). Since then, the rate has dropped a bit more, but Chihuahua has long been and still is a dangerous, crime-ridden state. As was reported in the El Paso Times:

Chihuahua state …. also had the highest number of auto thefts (42,911), the third highest number of carjackings (1,304), the second highest number of extortions (213) and the third largest number of kidnappings (38). From 2008 to 2013, Chihuahua state reported the most homicides (15,614), followed by Nuevo Leon (5,539).


Mexico HDI MapAs the murder map posted here shows, a few additional Mexican states stand out as violent places. Intentional homicide rates are also elevated in Sinaloa, Durango, and Guerrero, although none really compares with that of Chihuahua. The general pattern is that of more homicide in the north and less in the southeast. Intriguingly, such patterning correlates poorly with socio-economic indicators. The northern states with elevated violent crime tend to be more developed than the less violent states of the southeast. Chihuahua, for example, has one of Mexico’s highest life-expectancy figures, whereas Chiapas has one of the lowest life-expectancy figures as well as one of the the Mexico Live Expectancy Maplowest homicide rates (longevity, however, varies surprisingly little across Mexico). If anything, rates of indigenous language speaking, which tend to correlate positively with poverty, correlate negatively with intentional homicide. Guerrero, however, is something of an exception on all of these scores.

Mexico Indigenous Langauge MapSuch seemingly odd patterns, however, are in the end not very mysterious. Intentional homicide in Mexico is largely attributable to battles between drug gangs, a phenomenon divorced from the geography of wealth and poverty. In Chihuahua’s Ciudad Juarez, for example, 340 out of 434 murders in 2014 were attributed to drug-related causes. The extraordinarily high homicide rate in Chihuahua is clearly linked not just to drugs but more specifically to the actions of a few narcotics kingpins. The key factor, according to the El Paso Times, has been the “brutal battle between the Juárez drug cartel led by Vicente Carrillo Fuentes and the Sinaloa drug cartel led by Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman.”

Guzman’s home state of Sinaloa, posting Mexico’s second highest murder rate, has long been noted for its violence and drug trafficking. As was reported by PBS:

If you say the words “Sinaloa,” and more particularly “Culiacán” to most Mexicans, the first things they think of are drugs and violence. …. The drug lords who have come out on top have done so through a ruthless exercise of force, and the willingness to resort to violence and killing has long been considered a Sinaloan specialty.


Joaquín Guzmán and the Geography of Homicide in Mexico Read More »

Unnecessary Environmental Destruction from Marijuana Cultivation in the United States

cannabis legal status mapOver the past several years, the campaign for marijuana legalization has surged ahead in the United States. Colorado and Washington have voted for full legalization, and a number of other states now allow the consumption of medical cannabis. Yet the U.S. federal government still regards the substance as a “Schedule 1” drug, more dangerous and less useful than cocaine or methamphetamine. The position of cannabis in American society is a deeply charged issue undergoing a sea change in the court of public opinion.

drug harm graphMarijuana legalization advocates make strong claims. By most objective measurements, cannabis is less harmful than alcohol from both a social and a medical perspective. But those who favor legalization would be advised not to overstate their case. As is true in regard to any substance, marijuana generates problems. Perhaps its most severe drawback is environmental damage, an inconvenient truth that is usually overlooked by legalization supporters. Consider, for example, the graph on the left, recently posted by the renowned blogger Andrew Sullivan. Sullivan is a proponent not only of marijuana legalization but also of its judicious use, as reflected in his book, The Cannabis Closet. Although I am persuaded by most of Sullivan’s arguments, I think that he erred in posting this graph, which purports to show the extent of damages imparted by various drugs. Are we really expected to believe that alcohol is more harmful that heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamine? It would seem that the purpose is to shock rather than inform.

Although I am tempted to break down the graph and criticize its various components, I will confine my attention to one feature: the environmental damage of cannabis production. According to the figure, such costs are almost negligible, as can be seen in the inset illustration (which I have modified to highlight cannabis). In reality, the environmental damage imposed by marijuana growing is massive.

The most extreme form of environmental degradation associated with the cannabis industry stems from indoor cultivation. Growing indoors requires not merely intensely bright lights, but also extensive ventilation and dehumidification systems. The result is a gargantuan carbon footprint. According to a well-researched 2012 report:

The analysis performed in this study finds that indoor Cannabis production results in energy expenditures of $6 billion each year–6-times that of the entire U.S. pharmaceutical industry–with electricity use equivalent to that of 2 million average U.S. homes. This corresponds to 1% of national electricity consumption or 2% of that in households. The yearly greenhouse-gas pollution (carbon dioxide, CO2 ) from the electricity plus associated transportation fuels equals that of 3 million cars. Energy costs constitute a quarter of wholesale value.

Colossal energy use is not the only environmental drawback of indoor marijuana cultivation. Plants in such artificial environments are susceptible to a variety of pests and pathogens, often requiring heavy doses of biocides. Spider mites are a particular problem for cannabis producers. In order to prevent mold infestations, growers maintain low humidity levels, favoring mite proliferation. And as noted by the Wikipedia, “[their] accelerated reproductive rate allows spider mite populations to adapt quickly to resist pesticides, so chemical control methods can become somewhat ineffectual when the same pesticide is used over a prolonged period.”

Growing sun-loving plants in buildings under artificial suns is the height of environmental and economic lunacy. Outdoors, the major inputs—light and air—are free. Why then do people pay vast amounts of money to grow cannabis indoors, regardless of the huge environmental toll and the major financial costs? The reasons are varied. Outdoor cultivation is climatically impossible or unfeasible over much of the country. Everywhere, the risk of detection is much reduced for indoor operations. Indoor crops can also be gathered year-round, whereas outdoor harvests are an annual event. But the bigger spur for artificially grown cannabis appears to be consumer demand. As noted in a Huffington Post article “indoor growers … produce the best-looking buds, which command the highest prices and win the top prizes in competitions.” In California’s legal (or quasi-legal) medical marijuana dispensaries, artificially grown cannabis enjoys a major price advantage, due largely to the more uniformly high quality of the product.

Journalists have been noting the environmental harm of indoor marijuana cultivation for some time. Unfortunately, few people seem to care. In 2011, the San Francisco Bay Guardian reported that environmental concerns were leading some consumers to favor outdoor marijuana, but any such changes have not yet been reflected in market prices. In the cannabis industry, as in the oil industry, ecological damage does not seem to be much of an issue.

dead fisher marijuanaBut even if indoor cultivation were to come to an end, the environmental harm of cannabis cultivation would not thereby disappear. Outdoor growing usually relies on heavy applications of chemical fertilizers, which can easily pollute waterways if not done correctly. Total water use is pronounced as well, which is an issue in the dry-summer cultivation areas of California. The most serious eco-threat, however, is posed by the rodenticides used to combat wood rats. These poisons endanger not merely rodents, but also the carnivores that prey upon them. In far northwestern California, the fisher (Martes pennanti)—rare to begin with—has been put in serious jeopardy by backwoods cultivators.

Cannabis can be raised in an environmentally responsible manner, as it often is by individual growers. Healthy outdoor plants suffer little damage from insects and other invertebrates. Mammals seldom eat the leaves, and wood-rat gnawing causes only minor damage in most areas. The highest yields, moreover, are obtained by those who avoid chemicals in favor of compost, manure, and biochar (buried charcoal). The liberal use of biochar, moreover, can actually generate a negative carbon footprint, as it involves sequestering carbon in the soil. Biochar is also one of the best long-term agricultural investments imaginable; the tierra preta soils of the Amazon, made by indigenous peoples before 1500, have maintained their fertility for centuries in an environment otherwise characterized by impoverished soils that cannot retain nutrients.

Cannabis production by stateGiven these advantages, why is organic cannabis cultivation in general, and the use of biochar more specifically, not more widespread? One crucial issue, which holds for organic farming the world over, is the amount of labor required, which is considerable. But equally important is the lack of consumer demand. In the cannabis market, relatively few buyers consider environmental costs, focusing instead on quality and appearance. And even those who do care about ecological consequences are thwarted by the impossibility of certifying sustainable production. Perhaps carbon-negative biochar-produced cannabis could command a price premium in some markets, but consumers have no way to know if such methods were actually used.

California top cash cropsThis situation is more than a little hypocritical. Both legalization advocates and the environmental community simply give a pass to some of the most environmentally destructive agricultural practices found on Earth. Pot consumers themselves tacitly support hyper-destructive “farming” by their eagerness to pay a premium for indoor product. Yet these same groups tend toward green politics, and many of their members are unforgiving when it comes to “non-sustainable” practices used by other farmers. Self-interest usually generates some level of moral blindness, but here it seems to be particularly pronounced.

California Precipitation Emerald Triangle MapIf cannabis cultivation in the United States were to move in an environmentally benign direction, California’s leading position would be greatly enhanced. California is unquestionably the top marijuana producer in the U.S., and the crop is without doubt the state’s most valuable. In his masterful 2010 Field Guide to California Agriculture, geographer Paul F. Starrs estimated the value of the California cannabis harvest at between $19 and $40 billion: if the former figure is correct, the crop is worth roughly half the value of all other agricultural products in the state; if the latter figure is accurate, then its value exceeds that of everything else combined. Due to climate, top-quality outdoor cannabis is difficult or impossible to produce in other states. Low humidity is required during the long maturation period in September and October; otherwise, mold infestations can rage out of control. Owing to its Mediterranean climate, California has favorable conditions, although in the prime growing counties of the Emerald Triangle, located in the wettest part of the state, mold is still the growers’ bane. As a result, cultivators welcome the Diablo Winds, warm dry easterlies that periodically blow in the autumn months. As is always the case, geography matters.

(Note: much of the information in this post was derived from interviews with cannabis growers, persons who understandably prefer to remain anonymous.)


Unnecessary Environmental Destruction from Marijuana Cultivation in the United States Read More »

Tabulating the Underground Economy, and the DEA’s Pathetic Attempt to Map the Marijuana Trade

When lecturing on world economic geography, I always stress the incomplete nature of the standard data, emphasizing the size of the unrecorded, underground economy, or “black market,” that constitutes up to twenty percent* of global production. Obtaining decent information on such matters is difficult, and as a result I am always on the lookout for maps, tables, and graphs that portray aspects of illicit exchange. I recommend Havocscope to my students, a website devoted to “global blackmarket information” that pegs the total value of its subject at $1.79 trillion. If you are curious about the price of a contract killing of a police chief in Mexico, Havocscope has an oddly precise answer: $20,832. The reliability of the data is open to question, but to the extent that it is accurate, I am staggered by the price discrepancies. A seller of a human kidney (for transplant) in Kenya supposedly receives $650, whereas one in Ukraine can get $200,000. One would expect substantial differences between these two countries, but not by this margin. Perhaps the sample size is a little too small.

According to the Havocscope website, the top five illicit markets worldwide are counterfeit prescription drugs ($200 billion), prostitution ($187 billion), counterfeit electronics ($169 billion), marijuana ($142 billion), and illegal gambling ($140 billion). I find the global marijuana industry of particular interest due to its extensive long-distance trade. Whereas prostitution and illegal gambling are relatively ubiquitous, cannabis production and consumption zones tend to be more localized. Unfortunately, Havocscope provides little geographical information. It does, however, give price differences by country, reporting that a gram of marijuana costs $110 dollars in the United Arab Emirates and eight cents in India. Such figures do not account for quality, and it is suspicious that the same table gives the price in the United States at “$20-$1,800 per ounce” (one ounce = 28.3 grams). A crowd-sourced website with more precise figures based on more robust sample sizes, “The Price of Weed,” claims that high-quality cannabis in California sells for $250 an ounce, whereas low-quality product goes for $194. Oddly the same table puts medium-quality cannabis at $193.62 an ounce. In Minnesota, the site tells us, high-quality marijuana fetches $373.92 an ounce, whereas low quality “weed” can be purchased for $184.39. Such figures would suggest marked regional difference in the definition of “quality”; they also demonstrate a lack of market clearing, as would be expected in regard to a mostly illegal product. (Under California state law, “medical marijuana” is legal and the threshold for medical use is low; Washington and Colorado are transitioning to fully legal cannabis markets.)

cannabis use mapIn regard to worldwide cannabis consumption, the Wikipedia provides a somewhat useful map and table, based on the World Drug Report 2011 published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). As can be seen, Papua New Guinea ranks at the top, with 29.5 percent of its population (ages 15-64) using the drug annually. In the table, which unfortunately does not match the map, the United States also ranks extremely high, at 21.4 percent. Other leaders include Ghana (21.5%), the Czech Republic (15.2%), and Italy (14.6%). Countries at the bottom of the chart include Japan (0.1%), Libya (0.05%), and Singapore (0.004%). I am suspicious of these figures, however, as they would have us believe that people in the United States are twice as likely as those of Canada and almost five times more likely than those of the Netherlands to use cannabis on an annual basis.

cannabis seizures mapVastly more reliable figures are available in regard to seizures by law-enforcement officials. As can be seen on the UNODC maps posted here, “cannabis herb” seizures are concentrated in the Western Hemisphere, with Mexico, the US, Bolivia, Colombia, and Paraguay figuring prominently. In the Eastern Hemisphere, Nigeria, Morocco, Indonesia, and South Africa occupy the top positions. In regard to hashish, or highly processed cannabis resin, seizures are concentrated in Europe, the main consumption zone, and in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and Morocco, the main production areas.

cannabis resin seizures mapNeither consumption levels nor quantities seized provide information on how much cannabis is produced, as production can be geared toward export and as seizures are linked to police priorities. Comprehensive production figures are difficult to locate. In 2008, Paraguay and Mexico were widely cited as the top producers, whereas a 2010 UN report put Afghanistan in the top position. But again, quality issues as well as the difference between herb and resin can skew the reporting. But it does seem clear that Paraguay, Morocco, and Afghanistan are major producers but relatively modest consumers (with official prevalence rates of 1.6, 4.2, and 4.3 percent respectively). As a result, all three countries export massive amounts of cannabis.

Cannabis trade mapMaps of the global cannabis trade are also lacking. The US Drug Enforcement Administration Museum and Visitor’s Center in Arlington, Virginia, however, does present one such map. It is, unfortunately, of dismal quality, as is the website that accompanies it. The problems begin with the webpage title, “Cannabis, Coca & Poppy: Nature’s Addictive Plants.” This statement is misleading at several levels. “Poppy,” to begin with, is not “an addictive plant,” although the resin from the opium poppy certainly is. More important is the fact that cannabis is less addictive drug dependency chartthan coffee and tea (caffeine) and vastly less so than tobacco (nicotine), plants ignored by the website. The map, moreover, appears to be little more than a vague attempt to link exporting and importing countries with lines of various thickness. It makes it appear as if the cannabis flow from Cambodia and the Philippines to Japan is much larger than that from Paraguay to Brazil and Argentina, which is patently untrue. A literal reading of the map would lead one to imagine a major flow of marijuana from Colombia to the virtually uninhabited boreal forests of northern Canada, and a somewhat smaller flow from the frigid shores of Hudson Bay to New England. The mapmaker is also apparently unaware that Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Baffin Island, and Vancouver Island are parts of Canada.

Cannabis cultivation mapThe same website includes a map of “Outdoor Cannabis Cultivation” in the United States. If anything, it is a greater cartographic catastrophe. The counties marked as cultivation zones seem to have been selected almost at random. The cartographer places the Sierra National Forest in the middle of the agricultural San Joaquin Valley and the San Bernardino National Forest in the Mojave Desert. Overall, the website is an embarrassing compendium of undue simplification, misleading information, and outright fabrications.

In one regard, however, the DEA’s portrayal of the domestic cannabis industry in the United States is largely on target: environmental degradation—the subject of the next GeoCurrents post.

* As estimated by Misha Glenny in his invaluable book, McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld

Tabulating the Underground Economy, and the DEA’s Pathetic Attempt to Map the Marijuana Trade Read More »

Misleading Murder and Rape Maps, and the Sweden Rape Puzzle

World Murder Rate MapThe previous post on murder rates in Brazil featured a Wikipedia map of homicide rate by country, based on a 2011 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). That map, reproduced here, is less than ideal, as its highest category lumps together countries with hugely different homicide rates, ranging from 20.1 per 100,000 in Kyrgyzstan to 91.6 in Honduras. I therefore remapped the same data in 12 rather than six categories. I also used a two-color scheme, depicting low-murder-rate countries in varying shades of blue and high-murder-rate countries in red. Such a system better captures the huge variation in murder rates, which ranges from 0.3 per 100,000 (Iceland and Singapore) to almost 100 per 100,000 (Honduras).

World Murder Rate Geocurrents MapThe geographical patterns revealed by the map are clear. Murder is much more common in tropical Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and Russia than it is in most of the rest of the world. Homicide is relatively rare in Europe, East Asia, and the Middle East & North Africa.

But are such figures reliable? In general, murder data is considered to be one of the more reliable crime statistics, due in part to the mere severity of the offense. But that still does not mean that it is necessarily trustworthy. I am skeptical, for example, of the low homicide rate posted for Somalia (1.5), which is substantially below those of neighboring countries. Much of Somalia is wracked by extreme violence, although it can be difficult to determine whether an individual killing is best considered an act of murder or an incident of war. But more to the point, how could a country as anarchic as Somalia possibly gather dependable murder data?

The low reported murder rate in China has been received with some skepticism, as have official reports that it has been declining sharply in recent years. As The Economist recently reported:

Official figures show that the number of murder cases rose from fewer than 10,000 in 1981 to more than 28,000 in 2000. Since then it has dropped almost every year, to about 12,000 in 2011. China’s statistics bureau does not disclose which crimes are included in its murder data. Chinese scholars say that a single case might include several deaths, and that some killings which occur in the course of other violent crimes such as rape or robbery might be excluded. In a 2006 report, the World Health Organisation estimated that in 2002, when 26,300 murder cases were recorded in China, 38,000 people died from “homicide-related injuries”.

Homicide Data Source mapWhen I mentioned China’s supposedly low murder rate in my seminar on the history and geography of current global events this week, the one Chinese student in the class expressed strong doubt. According to her, murder for gambling debt is common in China but rarely recorded. Although I was unable to find systematic information on this topic, an internet search of “China, murder, gambling” does return a curiously large number of hits.

The authors of the UNODC report are well aware of such data problems, and they worked hard to overcome them. They have considered the discrepancies found among different sources of information for different countries, and they weight the results accordingly. For several parts of the world they have abandoned conventional “criminal justice data” in favor of “public health sources.”  In the process, they have revised murder rates of many African countries sharply upwards.

World Rape Rate MapIf global murder-rate figures are problematic, rape-rate figures appear to be almost worthless. Consider, for example, the Index Mundi rape-rate map posted here, which indicates that Sweden and New Zealand have some of the highest levels of rape in the world, and that Egypt has one of the lowest. Although the map comes with a disclaimer,* it is hardly adequate. Could anyone possibly believe that Sweden has a higher rape rate than Egypt? Egypt is currently suffering a rape epidemic so severe that it is becoming a diplomatic issue. Sweden, meanwhile, consistently rates as one of the most gender egalitarian, nonviolent countries in the world.

Yet it does appear that many people accept such official statistics, and are happy to use them to score ideological points. This occurs on both on the right and left sides of the political spectrum. In a letter to the government of Sweden, leftist filmmaker Michael Moore writes:

Let me say that again: nine out of ten times, when women [in Sweden] report they have been raped, you never even bother to start legal proceedings. No wonder that, according to the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention, it is now statistically more likely that someone in Sweden will be sexually assaulted than that they will be robbed. Message to rapists? Sweden loves you! So imagine our surprise when all of a sudden you decided to go after one Julian Assange [of Wikileaks fame] on sexual assault charges.

On the political right, an article in FrontPage also accepts Sweden’s official rape statistics on face value, but places all the blame on Muslim immigrants:

In 2003, Sweden’s rape statistics were higher than average at 9.24, but in 2005 they shot up to 36.8 and by 2008 were up to 53.2. Now they are almost certainly even higher as Muslim immigrants continue forming a larger percentage of the population. With Muslims represented in as many as 77 percent of the rape cases and a major increase in rape cases paralleling a major increase in Muslim immigration, the wages of Muslim immigration are proving to be a sexual assault epidemic by a misogynistic ideology.

Although Muslim immigrants have been responsible for many if not most recent cases of forcible rape in Sweden, the country’s extremely high official rape rate seems to be mostly a result of tabulation strategies. Many acts are counted as rape in Sweden that would not be so counted elsewhere. As explained recently in the BBC:

On the face of it, it would seem Sweden is a much more dangerous place than these other countries. But that is a misconception, according to Klara Selin, a sociologist at the National Council for Crime Prevention in Stockholm. She says you cannot compare countries’ records, because police procedures and legal definitions vary widely. In Sweden there has been this ambition explicitly to record every case of sexual violence separately, to make it visible in the statistics,” she says. “So, for instance, when a woman comes to the police and she says my husband or my fiance raped me almost every day during the last year, the police have to record each of these events, which might be more than 300 events. In many other countries it would just be one record – one victim, one type of crime, one record.”

Barriers to Rape Reporting MapMany countries exhibit the opposite tendency: the systematic under-reporting of rape. Rape cases are not reported for a variety of reasons, both cultural and institutional.

One strategy for determining the actual prevalence of rape is to examine obstacles to reporting the crime. The Woman Stats Project, which has created an intriguing map collection, has done precisely that, mapping the “Strength of Barriers to Reporting Rape.” As can be seen, cultural and legal obstacles are depicted as extreme across South and Southwest Asia, and much of Africa as well. The data source, however, is not specified, and I am skeptical of many of the claim advanced by the map. Are reporting barriers really much more intense in Germany than they are in Austria or Switzerland?  I have more serious misgivings about another map in the same cartographic series, which depicts the prevalence of rape. This map tells us that rape is non-existent in Armenia and Georgia, and that India, Pakistan, and Sudan have a lower prevalence of the crime than Iceland, Finland, and Australia. It also tells us that Brazil—another country currently experiencing a “rape epidemic”—suffers less rape than the Netherlands and at least six times less rape than Montenegro. The huge gaps between neighboring countries in Africa are also highly suspicious.

Prevalence of Rape MapWhen it comes to crime rates, it does seem that statistics—and maps based on those statistics—are often so misleading as to be essentially dishonest.

*The disclaimer reads as follows: “Note though that comparison of crime rates across countries needs to be be taken with a grain of salt, since in some countries the population may be reluctant to report certain types of crimes to the police.”


Misleading Murder and Rape Maps, and the Sweden Rape Puzzle Read More »

Brazil’s Changing Geography of Murder

World Murder Rate mapBrazil is noted for its high murder rate. In the Wikipedia map posted here, Brazil falls in the highest homicide category, with more than 20 slayings a year per 100,000 people. This figure significantly exceeds that of the United States (4.8) and vastly exceeds those of such countries as Japan (0.4) and Iceland (0.3).  Yet Brazil is hardly the most murderous country: the current homicide rate of world-leader Honduras is 91.6.

Brazil Murder Rate graphNot surprisingly, murder rates in Brazil vary greatly from region to region and over time. The relatively peaceful southern state of Santa Catarina, for example, has a murder rate of 13, whereas the figure in the northeastern state of Alagoas is over 60. In recent years, the homicide rate in Brazil as a whole has declined slightly, falling from a peak of 28.9 in 2003 to around 21.0 currently. It had previously escalated steadily, more than doubling from 1980 to the turn of the century. Such national figures, however, hide regional patterns. As it turns out, some Brazilian states, such as São Paulo, have seen substantial declines over the past several decades, whereas others have seen major increases. Alagoas was less murder-prone than São Paulo in 1980, yet it is now so violent that it would have the world’s third highest homicide rate if it were independent, exceeded by only Honduras and El Salvador.

Brazil Murder Rate by State graphThe extraordinarily elevated level of violent crime in Alagoas has garnered the attention of the international new media. As reported in a 2011 article in The Economist:

Alagoas … is a place of sugar and cattle, where the sugarcane cutters settle scores with fists and knives and the well-connected escape punishment by using contract killers instead. Year-round sunshine, beautiful beaches and coral reefs mean tourism offers Alagoas’s best chance of development. But its status as Brazil’s crime capital puts that at risk. State officials are desperate to point out that Alagoans kill each other, not outsiders, and in slums, not beauty spots. Victims and murderers are often indistinguishable: unemployed, illiterate, drug-addicted young men, says Jardel Aderico, the state secretary for peace, whose job title represents an aspiration.

Better policing and economic growth have seen the murder rate fall by nearly two-thirds in São Paulo and two-fifths in Rio over the decade. Criminals squeezed out of long-held strongholds followed the money to areas of new industrial development and tourist destinations. Illegal logging and land grabs, together with new cross-border routes for guns and drugs, stoked crime in the Amazon. And Alagoas, its state government debt-ridden and police force weak, corrupt and often on strike, was at times close to lawless.

Brazil Murder rate mapAlagoas is one of the poorest states in Brazil, whereas several of the country’s richest states have relatively low homicide rates, such as Santa Catarina and São Paulo. One might therefore be tempted to correlate murder levels in Brazil with developmental indicators. Yet as a comparison of the murder map with that of the Human Development Index (HDI) shows, any such connection is rather weak. It is true that the developed states of southern Brazil tend to have relatively low homicide rates, and that the state with the most killings (Alagoas) also has the lowest HDI. But beyond that, the correlation breaks down. The least murderous state in Brazil is Piauí, which ranks third from the bottom in HDI. Espírito Santo, on the other hand, has the country’s second highest murder rate, even though its HDI is roughly at the national average.

Brazil HDI,2005MapNortheastern Brazil is certainly the poorest and least developed part of the country. It is often viewed by outsiders as a relatively uniform region marked by violence and deprivation. Yet as this exercise shows, great social differences are found across the region. Both Alagoas and Piauí are poor, but the former is much more violent than the latter. A study of this difference would make an interesting project.

Brazil Murder-Rate Map2Addendum: After making this map, it occurred to me that it might be useful for readers to be able to see the locations of cities, rivers, railroads, roads, and other geographical features, as well as the murder-rate-by-state pattern. I have therefore done a simple map overlay, and adjusted the transparency settings to 50%. I would be interested to know what readers think of this style of mapping.

Brazil’s Changing Geography of Murder Read More »

El Monte’s “Gangnam Style” Embarrassment

City slogans are almost always upbeat, but the positive messages that they are meant to convey are sometimes contradicted by the policies enacted by their own city governments. Such is the case in regard to the southern California town of El Monte (population 113,000), which advertises itself with the motto: “Welcome to Friendly El Monte.” Lately El Monte has been anything but friendly to its own employees. In a case that is getting international attention, the city fired 13 lifeguards and a swimming pool manager for making an innocent spoof video of the global YouTube sensation “Gangnam Style” in the municipal pool, despite the fact that they did so on their own time, using their own resources. Officials claim that their behavior “violated prohibitions on the use of city property and didn’t meet employee conduct standards.” An international petition campaign is now urging the city government to rethink its decision. The resulting publicity has certainly given attention to the spoof: “Lifeguard Style’ has been viewed more 1.5 million times on YouTube.

Gangnam Style, by South Korean hip-hop artist Psy (Park Jae-sang), mocks the social pretentiousness found in Seoul’s Gangnam District. Gangnam is not only the most exclusive neighborhood in South Korea, but perhaps in the entire world, noted for its conspicuous consumption. Psy’s satire, noted for a dance move that he himself describes as “cheesy,” has certainly hit a nerve, with more that 221 million hits on YouTube, and more than a million comments.

El Monte’s “Gangnam Style” Embarrassment Read More »

India Fighting Bull Semen Smuggling Ring

Ongole BullAccording to a recent article in The Hindu, The government of Andhra Pradesh in India has recently put all airports and seaports in the state on high alter, due to concerns about the smuggling of genetic material by organized crime syndicates. The material in question is “semen of the Ongole bull, acclaimed as one of the world’s best bovine [breeds] available.” In late February, suspicions were raised after “agents of a foreign concern made a vain bid to transport 124 Ongole bulls/bullocks by containers suspectedly to Bangladesh en route to Brazil, Switzerland etc.”

Ongole bulls have long been exported; according to the Wikipedia, “The Brahmana bull in America is an offshoot of the Ongole.” India wants more control over the process, however, and calls have been made to patent the animal’s genetic material.

The Indian website “Breeds of Livestock” provides interesting background on the development of the breed:

Before organized efforts of the colonial rule, the institution of Brahmini Bull system in the ongole area has substantially improved the breed by avoiding inferior breeding and inbreeding. It has been the custom in the area that dedicating a young bull selected by a village committee funded by village rich men or the local deity and the bull being branded at a ceremony either with Sanku, Chakra, Trisul, then becomes common property and Brahmini bull is the property of the village and covers the village herd, this is how a small farmer provided the stud services.

India Fighting Bull Semen Smuggling Ring Read More »

The Geography of the Death Penalty in the United States

Map of Executions in the US by State, Per Capita The death penalty has featured prominently in news editorials over the past several weeks. Depending on the context, assessments of the punishment vary tremendously, as seen in two recent New York Times opinion pieces. On October 5, 2011, the paper opined that an Alabama case “should leave no doubt why the death penalty should be abolished,” describing capital punishment as “barbaric.” Two days earlier, the same paper had described a death sentence in Pakistan as a “rare glimmer of hope” for the embattled country.

Wikipedia Map of Capital Punishments Law in the USCritiques of the death penalty often focus on the United States, one of few democratic countries to impose it. Yet the U.S. government has little to do with the issue, as it is largely a state rather than a federal matter.* Broadly speaking, the northeast and the upper Midwest have essentially eliminated the practice, while the Southeast and parts of the Southwest impose it regularly. The pattern is of long standing. Wisconsin eliminated the death penalty in 1853, and before that it had only executed a single person, whereas Alabama executed a man convicted merely of robbery as recently as 1964.

As is widely known, Texas is the largest executioner. Since 1976, it has put 475 persons to death, more than four times as many as the second-place state. In per capita** terms, however, the story is different. Here, Oklahoma leads the list, followed by Virginia and Delaware—although Texas is not far behind. As can be seen by comparing the execution map with that of the legal status of the death penalty, some states that retain capital punishment do not practice it (Kansas), whereas others that have executed convicts within the past several decades have more recently abolished the penalty (Illinois).

Map of Per Capita Death Row Figures by State, USACurrent death-row figures are similar yet by no means identical to the pattern of past executions. Here the core area of capital punishment is found in the central part of the Southeast, with Alabama forming a pronounced outlier. A secondary center emerges in the Southwest, including Arizona, California, and Nevada. Several northeastern states—Ohio, Pennsylvania— also maintain sizable death rows. Virginia, on the other hand, has conducted numerous executions, yet currently holds few prisoners so condemned.

Map of Per Capita Murder Rate by State, USA The regional patterns of the death penalty mesh only partially with those of violent crime. The murder rate is lowest in the death-penalty-imposing greater Northwest, rather than in the execution-shunning greater Northeast. On the other side of the coin, a few states with fairly high murder rates avoid executions. Michigan, with a per capita murder rate of 5.7 per 100,000 people in 2010 and one of 7.8 as recently as 1997, has only killed one person in its entire history. New Mexico currently has one of the country’s highest homicide rates, yet it has recently moved to eliminate capital punishment.

Map of 2000 Election, USAPartisan voting behavior, not surprisingly, correlates more closely with the geography of the death penalty. The 2000 presidential election map provides a particularly good match. In general, strongly Democratic-voting states tend not to impose capital punishment, whereas strongly Republican-voting ones tend to use it frequently. Oklahoma and Alabama, the execution and death row leaders, are two of the most strongly Republican-leaning states. Yet there are some interesting exceptions even to this pattern. Republican Kansas, for example, has not used capital punishment in decades. Democratic California, on the other hand, has the largest number of condemned criminals in the country, with 721 persons facing execution.

*The federal government does impose the penalty as well, having executed three persons since 1976.

**Per capita execution rates are difficult to calculate over a several decade period, as the populations of the various states have grown at different rates during the time span, As a result, approximate per capita rates  have been calculated here by using population data from 2000.





The Geography of the Death Penalty in the United States Read More »

The Geography of Capital Punishment

Map of per capita executions in 2010Capital punishment has featured prominently in the global news in recent weeks, due both to the execution of Troy Davis in Georgia and to the scheduled hanging of three men in India convicted of killing prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. One reason for this attention is the relative rarity of the death penalty. Many countries have eliminated the practice, as is shown in the second map posted here. More to the point, many countries that allow executions rarely if ever carry them out. As the first map shows, only a handful of states conducted executions in 2010. The vast majority occurred in China, which may have killed as many as 5,000 persons. In per capita terms, however, oil-rich and notoriously corrupt Equatorial Guinea led the pack.

Wikipedia Map of Death PenaltyCountries practicing capital punishment are concentrated in East Asia, the Middle East, and northeast Africa. The United States is an extreme outlier: the only country in the Western Hemisphere to have carried out executions in 2010.

Many American news organizations are highly critical of capital punishment. Yet on October 4, 2011, the New York Times lauded a death penalty sentence. Under the heading “Justice in Pakistan,” it argued that the slated execution of Malik Mumtaz Qadri presents a “rare glimmer of hope” for the troubled country. Qadri was convicted of murdering Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province and a prominent critic of Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws.


The Geography of Capital Punishment Read More »

Anti-Immigrant Violence and Organized Crime in Italy

On January 10, 2009, the front page of the New York Times carried an article entitled “Race Riots Grip Italian Town and Mafia Is Suspect.” In two days of violence, 53 people were injured, including 18 members of the police, 14 local residents, and 21 immigrants. Most of the immigrants involved in the riots were sub-Saharan Africans recruited to pick fruit in the citrus groves of Calabria, the “toe” of Italy. Working conditions in the orchards are reported to be dismal, with immigrants often being cheated out of their meager wages. Many locals resent the migrants, although the local economy has come to depend on their labor. According to the Wikipedia article on the incident, “Attacks against the migrant workers included setting up a roadblock and hunting down stray Africans in the streets of Rosarno. Some of the crop-pickers were shot; others beaten with metal bars or wooden clubs.” As the casualty figure show, however, violence occurred on both sides of the divide; migrants burned cars, smashed windows, and threw stones at townspeople. As the fighting subsided, more than 1,000 African workers were shipped off to detention centers elsewhere in southern Italy. On January 12, the United Nations expressed deep concern about racism in Italy, while the Italian government began investigating the incident.

Immigration tension is common through much of Europe, but the situation in Calabria seems to be especially severe due to the role of organized crime. Crime syndicates control much of the region’s economy, including the fruit industry, and they have engaged in particularly brutal and deceitful “labor management” practices. The Times headline errs, however, in pointing its finger at the “Mafia.” Strictly speaking, the Mafia is a Sicilian group; the crime syndicate that runs much of Calabria is the ‘Ndrangheta. As the map shows, one finds distinctive criminal organizations in different regions of southern Italy.

Organized crime is of much greater geographical significance than this one example would indicate, both in Italy and in the world as a whole. According to an October 23, 2007 New York Times article, organized crime is now the largest sector of the Italian economy, accounting for some seven percent of the country’s total economic production. The prevalence of such activity in the south is one of the reasons why the Italian political party called the Lega Nord (“Northern League”) wants autonomy if not actual independence for northern Italy, a region that it calls Padania (see map). (The Lega Nord is also known for its stridently anti-immigrant views. One prominent party spokesman argued that the recent rioting in Calabria resulted from “too much tolerance” of migrant populations.)

Organized crime, of course, is hardly limited to southern Italy. As Misha Glenny shows in his powerful book McMafia: A Journey through the Global Criminal Underworld (Knopf 2008), its presence is nearly ubiquitous. An essential website on the topic, Havocscope Black Markets ( values the global illicit market at over one trillion dollars. Yet such figures are routinely excluded from our economic calculations. When we measure a given country’s GDP, we usually look not at the “total value of goods and services produced ” — despite what we tell ourselves we are doing — but rather at the total valuation that is accessible to that country’s government. We tend to think of “crime” as one category and “economy” as another, downplaying the substantial overlap. Such myopia stems in part from our tendency to exaggerate the power of the state, seeing those aspects of life that escape state control as somehow aberrant and temporary.

The disconnection between licit and illicit economic activities is abundantly demonstrated in the CIA World Factbook. Consider its listing of Colombia’s main exports: “petroleum, coffee, coal, nickel, emeralds, apparel, bananas, cut flowers.” There is no mention here, or anywhere else in the CIA’s “Colombia economy” report, of cocaine or of any other illegal products. Can one actually understand Colombia’s economy without delving into such matters?I don’t think so.

Anti-Immigrant Violence and Organized Crime in Italy Read More »