Tuesday, October 27, 2009

How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment

Imprisonment at five times the historical level in the United States, and at five times the level of any of the countries with which we would like to compare ourselves, has not been sufficient to fully reverse the growth in crime; current crime rates are still at 2.5 times the level of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Even that discouraging number understates how much worse things are now than they were half a century ago; today’s high crime rates persist in the face not only of ferocious punishment but also of greatly enhanced – and very costly – adaptations by potential victims to avoid being victimized. Those adaptations range from buying alarm systems to moving to the suburbs. Most of all, they involve avoiding risky situations. The need to take such precautions leaves all of us less free than Americans were half a century ago.

An amazing essay. Click on the link to read the rest of it.

Is there an alternative to brute force? There is reason to think so, and pieces of that alternative approach can be seen working in scattered places throughout the world of crime control. But the first step in getting away from brute force is to want to get away from brute force: to care more about reducing crime than about punishing criminals, and to be willing to choose safety over vengeance when the two are in tension.

If for a moment we thought about “crime” as something bad that happens to people, like auto accidents or air pollution or disease, rather than as something horrible that people do to each other—if we thought about it, that is, as an ordinary domestic-policy problem—then we could start to ask how to limit the damage crime does at as little cost as possible in money spent and suffering inflicted.