« Despite statutory repeal, capital defenders say they need to keep representing Nebraska condemned | Main | "Judicial Participation in Plea Bargaining: A Dispute Resolution Perspective" »

June 20, 2015

The Economist explains "how to make America’s penal system less punitive and more effective"

Download (7)This notable new piece from the print edition of The Economist, headlined "Jailhouse nation: How to make America’s penal system less punitive and more effective," provides advice from across the pond about how the US ought to reform its criminal justice system to address mass incarceration.  Here are excerpts:

More and more Americans accept that the harm caused by mass imprisonment now exceeds its benefits.  Hillary Clinton, whose husband’s 1994 crime bill filled many a cell, has now changed her mind.  On the right, fiscal conservatives decry the burden on taxpayers, while Christians talk of mercy.  Rick Perry, a former governor of Texas and a Republican presidential candidate, boasts of his record of closing three prisons in his state.  Nationwide, the incarcerated population appears to have plateaued; it should be sharply reduced.

A good start would be to end the war on drugs, which would do less harm if they were taxed, regulated and sold in shops, not alleys, as marijuana is in Colorado and Washington state.  In fact, the drug war is already ebbing: in 1997 drug offenders were 27% of all prisoners; now they are around 20%. That could be cut to zero if drugs were legalised.

The next step would be to amend or repeal rules that prevent judges from judging each case on its merits, such as state and federal “mandatory minimum” sentences and “three strikes” rules that compel courts to lock up even relatively minor repeat offenders for most of their lives.  New York has dramatically reduced its state-prison population this way. Prosecutors there have in effect been told to limit the number of people they imprison, giving them an incentive to lock up only the most dangerous. Prosecutors have long had huge discretion in which charges they bring; those in New York now use police intelligence to help them decide.  If the man in the dock seems relatively harmless, they go easy on him; if they know him to be a career criminal who has remained free because he intimidates witnesses, they throw the book at him. Crime has fallen in New York. There has been no backlash among voters.

Reducing the prison population to European levels is probably impossible, for America is still a much more violent place, even if most districts are reasonably safe.  There are roughly 165,000 murderers in American state prisons and 160,000 rapists. If America were to release every single prisoner who has not been convicted of killing or raping someone, its incarceration rate would still be higher than Germany’s.

But still, America does not need to lock up every violent criminal for as long as it does — which is longer than any other rich country. Some 49,000 Americans are serving life without the possibility of ever being released.  (In England and Wales the number is just 55.) Such harshness is unnecessary. A 50-year sentence does not deter five times as much as a ten-year sentence (though it does cost over five times as much).  Money wasted on long sentences cannot be spent on catching criminals in the first place, which is a more effective deterrent.

Reform is hard. Prosecutors and judges are often elected in America; many woo votes by promising to be tougher than their predecessors. Politicians who are seen to be soft on crime run a risk....

Nonetheless, the big fall in crime in the past two decades means that Americans are now less afraid than they were, and more open to reform. Californians voted last year in a referendum to downgrade several non-violent felonies to misdemeanours.  Other states are experimenting with better education in prisons (so that ex-convicts have a better chance of finding work), and drug treatment or GPS-enabled ankle bracelets as alternatives to incarceration.  Some are also trying to improve prison conditions, not least by curbing assaults and rapes behind bars. The aim of penal policy should be harm reduction, not revenge.  Tighter gun laws might help, because guns can turn drunken quarrels into murders; alas, that is politically improbable for now.  There is no single fix for America’s prisons, but there are 2.3m reasons to try.

June 20, 2015 at 10:52 PM | Permalink


The Economist.


Obviously, the vile feminist editor and her male running dog, Brit Twit reporters have never read this blog.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jun 21, 2015 2:22:07 AM

The question is not more or less punishment. The question is what are the most effective ways to reduce the rates of homicide and violence in America that are higher than in any other advanced nation.

Yet America has more knowledge on what is effective in reducing violence than all the advanced nations together. If America spent just 1/10th of 1% of its GDP - about $17 billion - on implementing effective violence prevention, it could save 7,000 lives, avoid many lives ruined by violence, and stop the waste of $50 billion a year or more on what does not stop violence - ie over use of incarceration.

To see what the evidence shows to be effective in stopping violence and how billions of dollars can be saved - see http://bit.ly/1av9GHF. Let´s get smarter on crime in America but also across the world.

Posted by: Irvin Waller | Jun 21, 2015 2:23:19 PM

Prof. Waller: "Focusing on efforts to reduce the likelihood of youth getting involved in crime, Waller argues that early childhood programs, family therapy, life skills training, conflict-resolution mentoring, and other efforts are more effective and cost efficient than current tactics."

We have all that today, in and out of prison. The idea that criminals can be changed is naive. They are missing pieces in their brains. To believe in rehabilitation or even habilitation is to believe you can a paraplegic climb stairs. They lack empathy. They have below average fear, some have never felt fear. They are impulsive and cannot be deterred. Half are murdered already in their life style.

Here is one easy way to cut crime by 50%. Have a Draconian enforcement of a ban on alcohol. Kill 10,000 smuggler, and lash a million drinkers. There is zero chance of an effective alcohol prohibition.

Marijuana has overtaken alcohol in adolescent substance abuse, and their crime rate is steadily falling, so legalization of marijuana is a realistic tactic to reduce crime. But it carries the baggage of amotivational syndrome and obesity.

Here is another. Fathers. Stop the all out war on the patriarchal family, and the promotion of bastardy by the vile feminist lawyer and its male running dogs. Criminality is the same across racial groups once controlling for family structure. So blacks growing up in intact families do not have a 5 fold increase in criminality. The attack on paternal authority is from all sides, from absurd definitions of child abuse to homosexual marriage, upgrading what will never be more than a friendship to the status of a family. The alternative is more social services that you are naively or evilly promoting. But your suggestions are carried out by fathers in white families. You want government employees and sub-contractors to get more tax money to do what fathers are supposed to do. You are either naive or an evil left wing rent seeker, promoting more tax paid government make work jobs. You have to disclose your real agenda.

Mandatory sentencing guidelines. Well, I am sorry, but they caused a 40% drop in the crime rate across all races and all types of crime. That is an absolute truth no matter what the lying, pro-criminal, big government left wing propaganda studies show. Those studies go against ordinary common sense, have serious methodological flaws, and are funded by left wing, government job promoting rent seeking sources.

Here is the third best. Immunize public self help if they attack and kill a violent criminal, indeed mandate it and fine those failing to carry out that duty.

Here is the second best. 123D. No crime. The criminals are all dead before age 18, the start of their busy period.

Here is the best. Prenatal genetic testing, and free abortions in the first trimester of the fetuses that will produce criminality. There is no racial disparity in the fraction with antisocial personality disorder.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jun 21, 2015 5:22:02 PM

It is Father's Day. And Prof. Waller is advocating government programs to do what fathers are supposed to do for their children. I think that is pretty funny.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jun 21, 2015 5:28:11 PM

Here is an additional gigantic benefit of mandatory sentencing, never ever mentioned, nor even researched. In stir, the criminal does not spawn 10 super predators by 10 crack whores. So the reduction in fecundity from imprisonment is the dividend that keeps on giving for countless generations into the future.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jun 21, 2015 8:09:39 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB