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Saturday, October 31, 2009

When Brute Force Fails: How To Have Less Crime And Punishment

The title of this post is also the title of a book by Mark Kleiman. More threats and less force may be the answer. A study done in High Point, North Carolina points out you can reduce crime by making credible threats, without having to lock up so many people.

To deter, a punishment must be swift,certain and severe. Of these. severity matters the least, according to Mr. Kleiman. There is a trade off when you apply severity, there are more legal safeguards that are required when severity is imposed. The costs of severity skyrocket and can cost into the millions as in the case of capital punishment for example.

Turns out that milder sanctions can be swifter and more certain with a lot less legal effort. In Hawaii, until recently, felons ignored the terms of their probation because the only punishment available was getting sent back to prison typically for five to ten years. Courts and probation officers were swamped to handle the necessary paperwork along with all the legal challenges to such harsh penalties. Violators typically got off free. Probationers thought they could misbehave with impunity. This all ended when a Judge started handing out instant sentences of a week or so behind bars. This action made most of the probationers behave.

The numbers of people in jail in the United States has quadrupled since 1980 to 2.3 million people! Many of these people make the streets safer by their absence and exposure to the general public. However, there are some 500,000 people behind bars who are non-violent drug offenders.

Prisons and jails are expensive places to keep people locked away. It costs $85/day to keep people in the Canyon County Jail. A more non-macho way of dealing with these people would be to raise alcohol taxes, start school later in the day to deter after school crime. Force probationers to wear GPS tags making probation a tough (and cheaper) alternative to prison and jail. Along with the Sheriff's inmate labor detail, community service, work release and all manner of methods that do not involve locking people up.

Voters want vengeance and Politicians are more that willing to oblige. The real objective should be to cut crimes not to make criminals suffer. You can't do the same old thing in the same old way and expect a different result. It would seem reasonably simple to cut sentence times in half to thereby doubling our current jail space and make sentences swift, certain and shorter.

The current average sentence in Canyon County is 19 days. In 1996 the average was 9 days. Jails are not rehabilitation facilities their purpose is deterence and socital retribution. The notion we are locking people up and throwing the key at our county jail is nonsense as well.

Is it worth $72million to you to build a new jail to lock up more people for an average of 19 days? Vote on Tuesday and let your voice be heard.

1 comment:

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