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August 15, 2009

New York Times op-ed urging "Getting Smart on Crime"

Jailforweb Today's New York Times included this op-ed by Charles Blow titled "Getting Smart on Crime."  Though the piece cover a lot of ground that should be familiar to regular readers of this blog, these excerpts (and the chart reprinted here) seemed worth emphasizing:

Much of the rise in the prison population was because of draconian mandatory sentencing laws that are illogical — sociologically and economically.

On the sociological side, as the criminal justice expert Joel Dvoskin of the University of Arizona explained to me, data overwhelmingly support the idea that locking up low-risk, nonviolent offenders makes them worse, not better.

A study from a decade ago that was published in the journal American Psychologist put it this way: “Department of corrections data show that about a fourth of those initially imprisoned for nonviolent crimes are sentenced a second time for committing a violent offense. Whatever else it reflects, this pattern highlights the possibility that prison serves to transmit violent habits and values rather than to reduce them.”

On the economic side, putting nonviolent drug offenders in rehab is cheaper than putting them in prison.  A 2006 U.C.L.A. study found that California’s Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act of 2000, which allowed nonviolent drug possession offenders to go to rehab instead of prison, saved taxpayers nearly $2.50 for every $1 invested in the program.  (Unfortunately, funding for the program has been gutted.)

Put them in prison and make them worse criminals, or put them in rehab, possibly make them better, and save some money.  Sounds like a no-brainer.

There are encouraging signs that policy makers are moving in the right direction. Many states have moved to repeal mandatory minimums, and there is a bill in Congress to repeal federal mandatory sentencing.  Furthermore, Attorney General Eric Holder seems to be thinking about this issue the right way.  Speaking to the American Bar Association last week, he said, “There is no doubt that we must be tough on crime.  But we must also commit ourselves to being smart on crime. ... We need to adopt what works.”

Some recent related posts:

August 15, 2009 at 09:30 PM | Permalink


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The simple solution to satisfy all sides of this debate is to release the men and women in the state funded drug rehabs like the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco, CA. They aren’t inmates; they are civil commits who chose drug rehab to keep from going to prison. Housing costs much more per year than a regular inmate because of their treatment. A 9-month substance abuse program, which upon completion, they are released. This means they all have less than a year to go anyway.
Because of overcrowding institutions such as CRC, house regular felons with the recovering addicts, a big no-no. There are no cells, the whole place is dorms like the reception area where the Chino riot started, making it much more volatile at double capacity. Chino is right next door to CRC, so relieving the pressure would be a good idea.
As to public safety being at risk by early release, it wouldn’t be an issue here. You can’t be a violent offender and be eligible for this program, eliminating the danger of prison staff clerical errors releasing dangerous predators, like Samuels, the man who killed the Burk girl. The letter “N” in their CDC number easily identifies the civil committed recovering addicts.
Finally, this wouldn’t be the early release of inmates but the discharging of patients. This eliminates the buzzword “inmate early release” used in the fear campaigns against it. If need be treatment could be continued on the outside or the program could just be shortened. (Most rehabs only last 30 days not 9 months like this one) Problem solved. Was that so hard?
I am a student hit hard by California budget cuts.

Posted by: Dinah Bordum | Aug 16, 2009 2:59:15 AM

Getting Smart on Crime is code for loosing the criminals and generating a lot of government worker jobs. It is a rent seeking scam.

At a party, spoke to the Chair of a top economics department. He agreed that rent seeking was a synonym for armed robbery. He changed the subject when I started on the lawyers, as a criminal cult enterprise. I asked why economists do not start to measure the damage they do, leaving law and economics to the self-dealing lawyers. And that rent seeking theory is the grand unified theory of lawyer conduct, not the Coase Theorem. He was a funny, chatty person. Bring up lawyers, and the subject must be changed.

Speaking of utter failure, this charmer also explained, economists can predict events that go along a line. They cannot predict events that go along a line, and suddenly drop off a cliff. Bernake has his utmost confidence. He was grateful that Bernake "saved our country" (his words).

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 16, 2009 2:20:54 PM

"getting smart on crime", translation, "be nice to criminals".

Posted by: federalist | Aug 16, 2009 4:15:41 PM

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