David Kennedy on norms, narratives, respect, and crime control

Formal social control – law enforcement and the criminal justice process – controls crime mostly by leveraging informal social control: individual conscience and local norms. Treating offenders with respect turns out to be more than just good manners.

Keith Humphreys and I just got a note from David Kennedy, expressing enthusiasm for the Sobriety 24/7 project, and in particular for the respect with which it treats the second-time DUI convicts whose behavior it tries to change. David notes that Sobriety 24/7 now joins a substantial list of successful projects built around “smart sanctioning” replacing random severity with predictable, quick, mild sanctions in a transparently fair and respectful process: HOPE, the Ceasefire gang violence reduction program in Boston and elsewhere, the low-arrest crackdown focused on drug markets in High Point and elsewhere, and the New York Police Department’s Juvenile Robbery Intervention Program.

Formal social control works mostly by leveraging informal social control: individual consciences and group norms. Respect and transparent fairness are the key. When the law enforcement system expresses hatred and contempt for offenders and the communities in which they live, that’s not just rude and stupid: it’s counterproductive. People who have been offenders are more likely to change their behavior if they can do so without sacrificing their self-respect.

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: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

2 thoughts on “David Kennedy on norms, narratives, respect, and crime control”

  1. What role, if any, does propaganda as expressed in film, television and books play in this interaction? Under the Hays Code, certainly, even hardened criminals generally displayed respect for law enforcement even as they were in opposition to it; convicted criminals similarly were portrayed as doing their time and (mostly) accepting the legitimacy of prison guards. Once they got out, they had "paid their debt to society" and fictionally moved on.

    More recent generations of the same kinds of dramas, in contrast, seem much more likely to portray the interaction of criminals and police as those of rival violent gangs with roughly equivalent claims to legitimacy. Same with prisoners and guards, and ex-cons are assumed to be forever tainted.

    On the one hand, such portrayals just reflect what the writers can find around them, but on the other they're certain to help mold the unconscious attitudes (and voting/policy preferences) of the vast majority who have minimal interaction with law enforcement and the criminal justice system. And there are also clear differences by country (it appears, for example, that officers in canadian cop shows are written to have much more respectful interactions with the criminal class than are those in US shows).

  2. David Friedman pushes back a bit against the certainty > severity logic. He thinks we're mismeasuring severity by just looking at duration of incarceration rather than reputational effects:
    That would gel with your take on informal social control. But I don't think it makes much sense for Hawaii's repeat offenders who have little reputation to lose from spending a night in jail.

    Also, I hadn't heard of New York's juvenile program. Could you provide a link on that, or an explanation? Have you written about it elsewhere?

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