Angela Hawken, Caesare Beccaria, and swift and certain sanctions

RBC readers will not be surprised to hear that HOPE probation and similar programs have great potential to reduce drug abuse, crime, and incarceration. But it may come as news to readers of Slate, and Sam Kornell gives a very good brief account of how and why swift and certain sanctioning works, and its potential to transform the criminal justice system. (Had it been my story, I would have put more emphasis on the managerial challenges that confront anyone trying to make such a program happen.)

Naturally, the story mentions Steven Alm, the judge who made it happen. Surprisingly and appropriately, the focus is on Angela Hawken, who did the research that showed HOPE worked and has vigorously spread the word since, against strong opposition from the friends of business-as-usual in criminal justice and drug treatment. Though the story doesn’t mention it, it was Hawken, more than anyone else, who made the Washington State version of swift-and-certain (called WISP) get started and succeed.

As a bonus, Kornell also credits Caesare Becccaria, who wrote most of it down in 1745. Ideas don’t always matter, and people who think for a living don’t always produce good ones. Correct idea that matter deserve more celebration than they get, and the Beccaria/Hawken has earned its moment in the spotlight.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

16 thoughts on “Angela Hawken, Caesare Beccaria, and swift and certain sanctions”

  1. And somewhere between Beccaria and Alm we should perhaps remember Rudy Giuliani, who put in place much of the same swift, certain, proportionate in New York City, with splendid results?

  2. The only thing that was swift and certain about Giuliani was his defense of the cops whenever they beat or killed a civilian. And that was scarcely proportionate, since the innocence of the civilian was irrelevant.

    Of course, crime rates went down tremendously under Giuliani’s watch. He must have been tremendously effective at this–crime rates went down everywhere in the US. I suppose that the criminals expected him to be retroactively elected President, or something.

    1. Not only that, but it was during the watch of Rudy’s predecessor, David Dinkins, that the murder rate and the overall violent crime rate stopped increasing and started declining. During the Giuliani years, the trend continued that started during the Dinkins years.

      Here’s a Washington Post “fact-checker” article that explains it, but there’s a couple of handy graphs that put it into visual form:

  3. You don’t hear much praise for Beccaria on the left. I think it’s because of this quote. Probably the only thing most people who’ve heard of him know of his work, which is a pity.

    1. A pity that the first true sentence is contradicted by the second in modern conditions. In Beccaria’s day, before the existence of preventive police forces on the street, the choice for a self-defence weapon was a sword, knife, or muzzle-loading single-shot pistol. French aristos still carried swords at the time as a status symbol, but I thing English gentry had given them up by then. In Gainsborough’s portraits, they sometimes carry long-barreled hunting guns, useless for self-defence.
      Did Beccaria ever write on Tokugawa gun prohibition? Admittedly, the shogun’s motive was to prevent rebellions, not street crime.

    2. I’d be surprised if it were true that most people who knew anything about Beccaria knew that quote. He is quite well-known, among those who know anything at all about him, for the proposition that swiftness and certainty in punishment is far more important than severity of punishment. I’d place a large bet that people who know only one thing about him know that, not his views on carrying swords. That he is not much praised on the left is simply explained: his views on swift and certain, but not necessarily severe, punishment have been the common sense of the matter for a long time to those occupying the leftish precincts. The source is not so important any more. Citing an 18th-century Italian thinker won’t persuade those who think otherwise and might look like showing off.

      1. I like it when people here show off! I learn stuff.

        I think Becarria/Hawken deserve much more than a moment. I think there should be a parade, with majorettes and an oompah band – or 3!!! A nice big brass section making a ruckus. Once a week for a couple years.

        Though, I suppose we should pay attention and see that this stuff actually gets put in place first.

      2. “I’d be surprised if it were true that most people who knew anything about Beccaria knew that quote.”

        It’s a common quote among 2nd amendment activists, who are a rather large group of people. You might factor that into your calculation.

        1. That’s setting the bar pretty low for defining people who “know anything” about Beccaria.

          1. That he was a 17th century criminologist highly regarded by the founding fathers is scarcely nothing, for all that it doesn’t make you a student of the man’s life.

          2. We’re getting off track here. The original proposition was that Beccaria gets little respect from “the left.” The supposition is that “the left” didn’t pay him his due because of his views about carrying swords.
            Both the original proposition and the supposed explanation seemd unlikely to me because the views for which he is best known among people who actually know anything about him — and I read his book long ago — are actually the common sense of the matter among “the left” and that his views on swords were probably not anywhere near as well known as his views on criminal punishment.
            It now turns out that the community of 2d Amendment advocates has been spoon-fed through the internet this fairly obscure bit of knowledge about Beccaria and swords. As a matter of arithmetic, it is, therefore, entirely possible — contrary to my original thought — that large numbers of people who know nothing else about Beccaria know this quote, and that that number may well exceed the number of people who know what he is justly known for. But those people, almost by definition, are not on “the left.” People on “the left” would be unlikely to know the quote, and, therefore, the quote cannot be plausibly offered as a reason for “the left’s” not making pretentious noises about Beccaria after they’ve already adopted the essence of his views.

          3. I agree we’re getting off track, but Beccaria was not talking just about swords, he was speaking of “arms”, which did at the time include firearms.

            Anyway, good book well worth reading from end to end.

  4. Beccaria is probably known best(by some at least) for two other things than the ones already mentioned. He began Enlightenment attention to punishment, and was studied by all the later 18th century poltical philosophers, including the Founding Fathers. Bentham was deeply indebted to him, and he was sharply criticized by Kant and Hegel. Second, he wrote the first philosophical criticism of the death penalty. (Kant and Hegel both criticize him for doing so.) So you might say that his opposition to the death penalty should make him more admired on the left.

  5. I have not done any research on swift and certain resolution to drugs and crime (other than anecdotal close observation in drug treatment facilities), but I also have been shouting to the rooftops here in central TX the next generation inevitability of HOPE and 24/7. More importantly, how these types of programs exponentially reduce unnecessary human suffering. That HOPE and 24/7 also skewer ossified and constipated worldviews is a bonus, I guess.

  6. I spent a large part of my childhood (ages 4-15) living in Beccaria Township, Pennsylvania, so he has at least one lasting tribute in the USA.

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