The times, they are a-changin’

Bill Bennett thinks that locking people up isn’t always the best solution to the crime problem. That’s good news.

There remains a puzzle: HOPE and related ideas appeal to conservative pundits and think-tanks, but Republican legislators seem firmly committed to toughness for the sake of toughness.  On the other hand, liberals in office tend to be enthusiastic about practical and crime-reducing approaches to decarceration, but the liberal think-tanks simply can’t be bothered.

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

12 thoughts on “The times, they are a-changin’”

  1. I’d suggest a minor correction: Republican legislators seem firmly committed to brutality for the sake of brutality.

  2. Maybe crime issues aren’t considered trendy on the left? Is there foundation funding for that area?

  3. Politics is a race to the bottom. When is there ever a significant constituency for doing the right thing? Just look at our military budget.

  4. I don’t know. Maybe it’s like the high correlation between religious fundamentalism and porn: they’re so busy repressing their compassion and selflessness, that they have to constantly prove how macho and tough they are.

  5. I imagine both sides are playing defensive populism – each side knows the other will dive right down their throat on a high-stakes panic-prone issue, and that they’ll take their losses from that long before getting any chance to reap gains from successful reform.

    The fact that the prison-industrial complex is a concentrated interest, and its victims a despised, dispersed, and often actually a disenfranchised one, will not exactly help.

    If enough States find – either out of principle, pragmatism, or simple lack of resources to keep on with the viciousness – that they can indeed steer down a better road locally without the sky falling in, national politics may eventually flip rather hard and fast. Which would be nice; and perhaps not, in the long run, for the USA only.

  6. That’s a mischaracterization to say that Republican legislators are firmly committed to toughness for the sake of toughness. Is this toughness for the sake of it still present among some Republican legislators, sure. But frankly not only are the conservative pundits and think-tanks putting liberals to shame on this issue, but so are many Republican politicians and legislators around the country. In my home state of PA, the biggest champion for prison reform and downsizing our prison population is Senator Stewart Greenleaf, a Republican who spent much of his time pushing mandatory mins and passing many bills during the 80s and 90s to lock up as many people as possible. He is now a born-again Christian and has had the courage to admit the wrong path he previously pursued, and now has pushed through at least two prison reform bills in the last couple of years and is working on a third (SB 100, which has a provision to push county probation departments in PA to try HOPE probation). He certainly hasn’t made any friends among his old D.A. buddies, and is really a profile in political courage. Then take a look at some of the Republican governors around the country who are leading the way towards pushing for prison downsizing in their respective states. Just sayin’.

  7. I hope you’re right, Bux. Conservatism has had a long history of seeing crime in black and white, and suffering no fools in pursuit of their vision of justice. I don’t see how this has changed. It seems at the core to differ from liberalism in its perspective on human behavior and agency. If something has changed in their philosophy, would you say it is only due to fiscal concern, or something deeper?

  8. OK, so in looking for answers to my own question I went over to hot air and looked at commenter responses to the issue.
    A couple of choice remarks:
    “Execute the illegal aliens until their countries do the right thing”
    or
    ““improve health care”…. Yeah summer’s coming and there is a tendency for the body to overheat. It’s been scientifically proven that nothing cools a body faster than bullet holes. Ah the wisdom of lawyers in black bathrobres.”

    There were a couple of comments opposing drug convictions. But compassion or understanding seems to still have escaped at least these conservatives.

  9. I have to agree with Bux. (For once!) Too many liberals have gone the Chuck Schumer route, and refuse to be outflanked on the hangee-burnee-floggee line, even though they know better. Conservatives have more room to maneuver, Nixon-to-China style. Most of them don’t know any better than hangee-burnee-floggee, but some of them do. And they’re the ones who are making a difference.
    Of course, the whole thing is being moved by budget constraints at the state level. Folk who don’t care much about penology are looking for the cheapest approach, which turns out to be the intelligent approach, for once.

  10. Nobody’s mentioned race. The US incarceration programme locks up an extraordinary proportion of young African-American men. That explains Republican big-penal-government “toughness”, but not the neglect of progressives. Is is just Clintonite centrism?

  11. I think it is a combo of the Nixon-to-China space that conservatives have politically on crime, that the left doesn’t have, and perhaps an overload situation for liberals. I think a lot of energy on the left for the last ten years went into foreign policy and terrorism. Amazingly, we somehow managed to lose the criminal v. military approach to terrorism argument, even though the military one really hasn’t had much success. (One infamous dead guy aside.) We also let the Taliban become the enemy when they really never were, odious as they may be. It was to certain people’s benefit to try to scare everyone. So a lot of energy got wasted (not to mention lives). And on economic issues, a continuous onslaught of bad policy that just keeps coming from the right. We have to work so hard just to hold off the vandals. Also, probably, a big blind spot on this. So I’m not sure it was any one thing.

  12. (Kleiman): “…liberals in office tend to be enthusiastic about practical and crime-reducing approaches to decarceration, but the liberal think-tanks simply can’t be bothered.
    1. Employment reduces crime. Black unemployment rises with the minimum wage. Speaker Pelosi’s House passed a large increase in the minimum wage.
    2. Candidate Obama favored education policy guided by research. President Obama’s Department of Education
    sat on research which found a positive effect of the DC tuition voucher program. The Brookings Institution has published quite a bit of research and analysis favorable to vouchers.
    3. Drugs. The State-monopoly school system and drug prohibition disproportionately harm poor and minority kids and young adults. I did not expect much from a community organizer with no executive experience, but I had hopes that Barak Obama would support school vouchers and a relaxation of drug prohibition. This has not happened.

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