More fifteen minutes

Video of my crime talk at the American Enterprise Institute and audio of the WBUR program on medical marijuana are now posted.

My crime presentation at the American Enterprise Institute last Friday, with Sally Satel introducing and James Q. Wilson and Bob DuPont commenting, has now been posted on the AEI website.  It seemed to go pretty well.

Audio of the “On Point” discussion about medical marijuana is now up. Remarkably calm and sensible, given the topic.  Tom Ashbrook of WBUR is a skilled interviewer.

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:

7 thoughts on “More fifteen minutes”

  1. One of the points Dr. DuPont raises as to why this seemingly simple and straightforward plan for how to radically shift our criminal justice system to a more effective and humane model, is that the system is so overwhelmingly complex and ingrained.

    This may indeed be the case. But it seems to be owed just as much to political will. Now, that is a word that is thrown around quite a bit. I simply use it to describe a fundamental philosophical disposition on the part of a good portion of Americans that views human behavior, and specifically crime, in a very naive and simplistic, antiquated manner.

    Many people simply feel that criminals make bad choices when they could just as easily have made good ones. There is an incredibly powerful, commonsensical belief in the notion of free will that prevents them from attempting to untangle the complex web socioeconomic factors that, for all intents and purposes, determine the life choices of the citizenry. Loads and loads of social research has been done to produce loads and loads of data, backed up by psychological and neurological findings that utterly refute it. But still this popular myth persists, embedded as it is in our religious, cultural and political institutions.

    I'm still optimistic. I'm glad the AEI is interested in this work. But I wonder whether it is less an issue of smart policy and more a general change of mindset that has to happen in the public at large who understands the causal relationships involved, and is thus willing to let go of these almost superstitious notions about why people do what they do.

  2. I think you have to distinguish between two senses of "free will"; As a soft determinist, I'd argue that the fact that people's choices are caused doesn't strip them of their status as choices. Rather, it's the very fact that their choices are determined by circumstances and their own nature that gives them significance greater than random events.

    You can't leave out that "and their own nature", it's important: For every criminal with a predisposing background, there are going to be many more people with the same background who didn't chose a criminal path. Perhaps we're not all tested, but that doesn't mean some who are tested fail, and some pass. It really does tell you something about the person.

  3. Brett, I agree that misconduct tells us something about the person as well as the situation. What it doesn't tell is is that hurting that person is morally good. That's where I part company from the Joe Arpaios of the world. Punishment is always an evil, which needs to be justified by some independent good: prevention of future crime, vindication of the victim, or (if you can figure out how to do it) improvement in the character of the person punished. After all, the "nature" of the person at time T is a function not only of his genetic makeup but of everything that has happened to him at times <T.

  4. Brett, I agree that the nature aspect is just as integral. However, it doesn't seem any less of a cause outside the individual's power to originate. That is, if Man A is unable to regulate his emotions enough to stop from blowing away the liquor store owner, while Man B is, the behavioral cause is more natural, owing to biochemical development.

    We can see this play out in trends we see across demographics. Starting with prenatal conditions, environmental conditions are almost inseparable from biology. In poor communities, we see a whole range of risk factors, from parent drug, alcohol or tobacco use, to allergens and lead in the environment. As cognitive development begins – which is crucial to behavioral development – poor babies are found to have radically lower levels of the basic building blocks of stimulation needed to thrive. All of this just builds and builds on through elementary and secondary school until we have kids who are unable to self-regulate, have poorly developed cognition, and all the peer association in the world to lead them to making poor choices.

    This, in my opinion, is the real moral problem, as Mark puts it, with our current punishment structure. (I'd argue as well it is the problem with our reward structure, in that you can make the reverse argument regarding class privilege and economic success). Society is basically setting up these individuals to fail – which is a painful enough experience (see black vs. black crime), but then heaps on misery in the form of prison sentences justified by the simple premise that "they could have chosen differently".

Comments are closed.