Zero tolerance, Zero intelligence

Two new stories of the damage done by dimwitted “zero-tolerance” policies: one about “weapons” [*](in this case a butter knife packed in a middle school girl’s lunch) and “drugs” [*] (asthma medication given by one student to another in a potentially life-threatening situation).

Zero tolerance is the bastard child of dim-wittedness out of litigiousness. It sounds good to concerned parents and voters, and it helps defend against charges that discretion has been abused for some discriminatory purpose by abolishing discretion altogether.

But as Madison said about liberty and faction, to try to prevent discrimination by abolishing discretion is like fighting fire by abolishing oxygen. Not a good deal.

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: