When Brute Force Fails
Most of you know Mark Kleiman as an excellent blogger. But there's also his exciting and mysterious alter ego: Mark Kleiman; crime expert. And his alter ego has published a new book: "When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment." I just cracked it open over the weekend, so I'm not far enough to have anything interesting to say. But the introduction is really excellent:
Engineers have a sardonic saying, "when brute force fails, you're not using enough." For three decades, in the face of the great crime wave that started in the 1960s, we have been trying to solve our crime problem with brute force: building more and more prisons and jails. Recently, the crime problem has diminished -- though the downtrend stopped around 2004 -- but we still have a huge crime problem, to which we have now added a huge incarceration problem: there are now 2.3 million people behind bars at any one time, and that number continues to grow.
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 through 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.
Developing a consequence-focused approach to crime control would require that we blunt the emotional edge that debates about crime often have and ask the simple question: what are the stakes in crime control? 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.
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