Less punishment, less crime

When HOPE-style programs work, they send fewer people to prison.

Just to stress the key point in Keith’s post on HOPE and related programs: not only do they reduce substance abuse and crime, they reduce incarceration. The more general point is that, compared to current practices, well-designed enforcement systems can bring about both less undesired behavior and less punishment.

I say that’s the crucial point for two reasons, one ethical and one political. Ethically, keeping people out of prison is a demand progressives ought to unite behind, even when the mechanism that brings it about is coercive (threats of jail) rather than facilitative (offers of treatment). Politically, less incarceration means reduced cost: HOPE in Hawaii pays for itself about four times over. If you’re a governor facing a fiscal crisis – which is to say, if you’re a governor – doing community corrections right is, potentially, a source of substantial savings as well as a means of reducing substance abuse and crime.

Footnote The thinness of the research base on these programs is a scandal. Any drug treatment approach that achieved anything like HOPE’s results – 80% abstinence at one year – with a population of long-term, criminally-active heavy meth users would be the subject of multi-site trials funded by NIDA and CSAT. But HOPE isn’t “treatment,” and the fact that it works isn’t fully consistent with the idea that substance abuse is some mysterious “brain disease” that can only be addressed medically, rather than a bad habit that can be modified the way other bad habits are modified. Ergo, no research money.

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 “Less punishment, less crime”

  1. re your comment 'compared to current practices, well-designed enforcement systems can bring about both less undesired behavior and less punishment'

    Isn't the point that given more punitive approaches are highly costly and ineffective, arguably counterproductive, then doing almost anything else with those resources would produce better outcomes.

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