Crime and punishment: a conversation with George Gascon

The tape of my Hammer Forum appearance with Chief George Gascón of the San Francisco Police Department, moderated by Ian Masters, is now up, as both video and audio. Since I don’t use any slides and a have a face for radio, you might want to listen to this in the car.  (There’s no escape from the fact that I also have a voice for blogging.)

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:

13 thoughts on “Crime and punishment: a conversation with George Gascon”

  1. There's no escaping the fact that I've got a baby asleep, and no headphones. Doesn't anybody post text anymore???

  2. Ditto! I prefer text too. It's one reason I can't stand to listen to NPR very much. It is just too slow a way to get information. Especially about really random stuff from places I will never visit.

    Mark: there's nothing wrong with your voice.

    So, professor, would you agree with my view that our .08 BAC DUI law is complete and total hooey? I am soooooo sick of seeing people with alcohol problems go to jail for "murder" because they ran over someone when they were s-faced.

    Seems like it's never their first DUI, so my question is, why oh why aren't we yanking their danged licenses??? My feeling is, you get your license taken away for *at least* 2 or 3 YEARS the first time, and then the next time, a lifetime ban on driving. None of this six-month stuff. Please.

    And, the limit should be 0.00. Eliminate the uncertainty.

    Then, we'd have fewer senseless deaths, and less tax dollars spent on court dates for say, certain actresses who clearly have no business driving. More or less regular people will less often wake up in the morning and realize, holy moley, I killed someone last night! And, as a great side benefit, public support for mass transit will grow because eventually a sizeable number of us will get DQ'd from driving. And our friends will get sick of driving us.

    What's the downside here, other than the alcohol lobby screaming?

  3. Oh, and I forgot that we'd save on prison costs, probably. We might not need to imprison as many people for killing bystanders if we just yank the licenses more often.

  4. Hope I'm not monopolizing the conversation here, but I have to disagree with Mark's response to one of the questions having to do with women prisoners.

    Professor, you said it was harder for women to get put in prison, and that judges are less likely to incarcerate them than men.

    However, I distinctly recall from a visit to an LA court with a public defender friend a few years back, probably 2005 or so, we are still putting women in jail for streetwalking.

    Now, this is a non-violent crime, at least on the prostitute's part. Why should they go to jail at all, for even one day? The young lady I vividly recall weighed maybe 95 pounds soaking wet, and she'd had to be in prison all weekend wearing practically nothing (a whole other issue).

    I gathered at the time that maybe the problem was she hadn't shown up on a previous warrant or something like that, but really, who gives a &*%#@??? Given her size, I highly doubt the appearance she'd missed couldn't have been for anything very serious. She was 19, as I recall.

    If anyone should go to jail for that, it should be the john. Is this not completely obvious?? What am I missing? And how many times is this happening just in LA county?

  5. NCG, I'm working on a paper now that I believe substantiates Mark's claim that judges are less likely to incarcerate females than males. My co-author and I are building on a methodology and analysis that was first used by Al Blumstein (Carnegie Mellon) to examine racial disproportionality in incarceration rates. Blumstein's method was actually ingeniously simple; he compared black-to-white arrest ratios to black-to-white incarceration ratios with the logic that if there are no extra-legal factors in play (e.g., discrimination or differential treatment by the court) then the arrest ratio should approximate the incarceration ratio. What Blumstein concluded in two different papers using this method is that differential participation in crime alone (or at least differential arrest rates) explains somewhere in the order of 70% to 80% of the racial disproportionality in incarceration rates. My paper that I'm working on attempts to apply Blumstein's methodology to an examination of the gender gap in incarceration rates. Interestingly, what I find from my preliminary analysis is that less of the difference between male vs. female incarceration rates (somewhere in the order of 50% to 60%) can be explained by differential involvement in crime, when compared to Blumstein's race estimates. What this seems to imply is that females are receiving more preferential treatment in sentencing outcomes for extra-legal factors than are whites. Only a little over half of the disproportionately male incarceration rate can be explained by the fact that males participate more in crime. I think the conclusion is inescapable that females largely get a better deal in the criminal justice system than do males, whether or not one likes the fact or sees legitimate reason(s) (e.g., primary childcare, etc.) for it to be so.

  6. I agree on streetwalking: I'd make the pimps, not the women, the enforcement targets. Street hooking is a neighborhood problem, but you certainly don't need prison time to deal with it.

    As to DUI, let me repeat my easily implemented radical suggestion: don't bother taking away their driving licenses; take away their drinking licenses. That would mean "carding" all purchasers of alcohol, and putting a special marking on the driver's licenses of people convicted of DUI or drunken assault that makes them ineligible to buy: "honorary teenagers," if you will.

    Since that ain't gonna happen, the second-best approach is raising alcohol taxes.

    South Dakota has a program called Sober 24/7, which uses frequent breathalyzer tests to keep twice-convicted DUIs from drinking: not drinking and driving, but drinking. Seems to work like a charm.

    For once I agree with Brett: I vastly prefer the data-rate of reading. On the other hand, you can't read in the car.

  7. If prostitution were legal, there would be very little street hooking and pimps would be employers held to the same civil and criminal restraints as any other employer.

  8. JMG: probably because we're ignorant!!! Or maybe that's just me. ; >

    Bux: so are you comparing the same crimes committed by men and women? Are you looking only at violent crimes, or any crime?

    I guess I would expect that if women are getting less time in jail, it might have something to do with the motive. Something about their crime could be more personal, so juries and judges don't feel the person is a danger to random people? Maybe that would only apply to violent crimes though. Just speculating. I hope you will tell us about your findings when you're done!

    I basically agree with Mark and anyone else who says we put too many people in prison. But gender equality is important too, of course.

    I wonder if Mark's carding idea is workable. How hard is it now for teens to get alcohol? I don't know any so I can't ask them. It just doesn't seem like we are that good at keeping substances away from people. Maybe we should just put those breathalyzer things in all the cars?

  9. NCG, to answer your question, I am indeed disaggregating my findings by crime type so that I am comparing same crime types between men and women. There is less disproportionality between males and females left unexplained by differential arrest rates when I look at more serious crimes such as murder, which is to be expected. But I'm including in my analysis all types of crimes that get one to state prison (e.g., murder, robbery, assault, theft, burglary, etc.). I'm not looking at rape, since there are so few females in prison for rape which makes analysis very difficult. I'm not looking at sentence length, I'm looking at what we call the "in-out decision", which is whether the person is sentenced to prison or not. Others have looked at differences between males and females in terms of sentence length. Your idea of females getting punished less harshly because their crime is more intimate rather than stranger crime is perfectly plausible. This would be one "focal concern" (arguably legitimate) that judges may consider in sentencing females more leniently.

  10. Although basing things on arrest rates seems simple enough, using that as a proxy for involvement in criminal activity (given what we have heard about police profiling) seems a little dubious, no?

  11. Indeed Paul, this is the limitation commonly pointed to. The alternative is to use victimization data (e.g., NCVS). At least for an analysis of the racial disproportionality, studies have in fact been done using the same basic method but substituting victimization data for arrest data. The conclusions are largely the same. This doesn't mean that your general point isn't legitimate though, about being cautious of using arrest as a proxy for criminal involvement.

  12. Sounds fascinating, really. I hope there will be a way to find out what you find.

    For future reference, in case some day you don't already have enough work to do, I have a sneaking suspicion that sentences for drunk driving death-causing (be it titled murder, manslaughter or what-have-you) are probably horribly divergent based on the bad things like race and class. It's just a gut instinct, from reading the news. Could be wrong, but I'm curious.

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