When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment
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Since the crime explosion of the 1960s, the prison population in the United States has multiplied fivefold, to one prisoner for every hundred adults--a rate unprecedented in American history and unmatched anywhere in the world. Even as the prisoner head count continues to rise, crime has stopped falling, and poor people and minorities still bear the brunt of both crime and punishment. When Brute Force Fails explains how we got into the current trap and how we can get out of it: to cut both crime and the prison population in half within a decade.
Mark Kleiman demonstrates that simply locking up more people for lengthier terms is no longer a workable crime-control strategy. But, says Kleiman, there has been a revolution--largely unnoticed by the press--in controlling crime by means other than brute-force incarceration: substituting swiftness and certainty of punishment for randomized severity, concentrating enforcement resources rather than dispersing them, communicating specific threats of punishment to specific offenders, and enforcing probation and parole conditions to make community corrections a genuine alternative to incarceration. As Kleiman shows, "zero tolerance" is nonsense: there are always more offenses than there is punishment capacity. But, it is possible--and essential--to create focused zero tolerance, by clearly specifying the rules and then delivering the promised sanctions every time the rules are broken.
Brute-force crime control has been a costly mistake, both socially and financially. Now that we know how to do better, it would be immoral not to put that knowledge to work.
straightforward explanation for what would otherwise seem an unreasonably high willingness-to-pay to avoid what is, in strictly financial terms, the fairly modest risk associated with residential burglary. Some of those losses are intangible, in the form of anxiety. Some are diffuse and hard to measure, such as the damage crime does to interpersonal trust, which is an important contributor to collective social capital* and the contribution of crime to ethnic and social-class tensions. But one
change in the sanction-priority rule: Al always gets punished when he violates, even if Bob also violates. So—this is a subtle, but crucial point—it is not the case that Al can go back to violating because the punishing authority has its sights on Bob; the authority seems to have its sights on Bob precisely because Al is not violating, and it can switch back instantaneously. So we find in simulation, as in pure game theory, that more sanction capacity can lead to less actual sanction, and
the range of probation-officer caseloads. Let us assume, as a simplification, that the officer has perfect knowledge of who violates and who does not.* For example, drug testing can provide nearly certain knowledge about drug use, and position monitoring using cell-phone or GPS technology can do the same for violations of curfews and restraining orders. Every week some clients violate the rule. The probation officer must then decide which of those violators to punish, but can not punish more
any one of which might be improved by spending money. Why not, then, start our crime-control effort there, and why not spend some of the money we now spend on police and prisons on the programs that might help make police and prisons less necessary? This is what might be called the “weak form” of the claim that we should give priority to social programs over criminal-justice operations. There is, moreover, an argument from justice: insofar as different social conditions would have led to lower
consumption, and especially consumption by heavy drinkers, who spend a large proportion of their personal budgets on drinking, is responsive to price.9 At present, the federal and state tax burden on the average drink is only about 10 cents, roughly one-tenth of the total price. The effect on alcohol-related crime (including domestic violence and child abuse) of raising that tax to a dollar a drink would likely be substantial, even allowing for the risk of developing illicit markets in untaxed