Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Book: When Brute Force Fails

"When Brute Force Fails - How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment", Mark A. R. Kleiman, 2009, 227 pages

Mark discusses how to improve our crime control policies by shifting from raw punishment to more intelligent methods and the obstacles that make it difficult. The basic idea is to concentrate efforts on high risk individuals. The most original ones are investing in parenting education and making post-release well being of prisoners a performance criteria of prison wardens.

My underlinings:

[p.xii] Rhoda Bennett, my first and second grade teacher, taught me that learning could be a source of joy; a child who learns that will eventually learn whatever else he needs to know.

[p.1] ...the first step in getting away from brute force is to want to get away from brute force: to care more about reducing crime than about punishing criminals, and to be willing to choose safety over vengeance when the two are in tension.

[p.2] Crime causes damage... more than 10 percent of GDP. Furthermore, this damage falls most heavily on the poor and socially marginal people least able to bear it...

[p.3] ...swift and certain punishment, even if not severe, will control the vast bulk of offending behavior... the more severe a sentence is the more reluctantly it will be imposed and the more "due process" - and therefore the more time - it will require.

[p.4] The challenge is to find, even temporarily, enough additional capacity to do the job.

[p.6] Since a relatively small number of people account for a very large proportion of all crime, broadly distributed social services have low "target efficiency" as crime-control measures... teaching first-grade teachers techniques of classroom order maintenance demonstrably improves not only learning, but also pupils' behavior outside the classroom well into adolescence, if not beyond.

[p.7] Services that would not be cost-effective as crime control measures if scattered may look much more attractive if focused on the most likely to become serious criminals when they grow up.

[p.8] "With the birth of the third child," it has been said, "parents have to move from man-to-man coverage to zone defense."

[p.9] ...sending someone to prison did not, on average, reduce his subsequent criminal behavior, other than keeping him off the streets for a while.

[p.14] The devastation wrought by incarceration itself - on the prisoners most of all, but also on their families and the neighborhoods where their absence is an important demographic fact - is now too great to ingore.

[p.16] At least three-quarters of people in this country [USA] who are addicted to an intoxicating drug are addicted primarily to the one legal intoxicant, alcohol, which also accounts for the most drug-related crime, disease, job loss, accidents, and fetal damage.

[p.19] victimize someone is to treat that person as one whose rights can be violated and whose interests can be disrespected. There is evidence that being victimized (but not suffering accidental loss) tends to reduce the victim's standing in her own eyes and in the eyes of those around her, and that the effect is worse if no retribution is exacted from the perpetrator.

[p.21] Even accidental poisoning accounts for as many deaths each year as homicide, yet no one considers accidental poisoning a major social problem, while even modest movements in the homicide rate make headline news... Much crime-avoidance behavior is wasteful from a social perspective, but not from an individual perspective.

[p.31] Like crime, criminal justice hits hardest at those who already have the least: the poor, the homeless, and members of otherwise disadvantaged ethnic groups, above all African Americans.

[p.34] ...the more credible a threat is, the less often it has to be carried out.

[p.56] ...the strategy of concentration outperforms the strategy of equal-opportunity enforcement.

[p.61] Adding just a little bit of sanctions capacity at the very beginning, or doing something else to reduce those initial propensities to offend, could reliably tip this system toward its low-violation equilibrium.

[p.73] ...there is evidence that juveniles who have been arrested once are far less afraid of subsequent arrests... By the time the punishments start to become substantial, the habit of burglary may well be established and noncriminal career options largely foreclosed.

[p.77] Whether people are asked to give a numerical rating of how good of bad an experience was, or instead asked, having experienced it once, to make a choice between experiencing it again and some fixed alternative, the answers they give turn out to be sensitive to the most intense moment of the experience and to its end, but only minimally sensitive to its duration.

[p.85] ...we should expect to find offending concentrated among those who heavily discount the future compared to the present, undervalue tiny risks of large disasters compared to high probabilities of small gains, and overestimate their luck and skill.

[p.90] The crime rate of the most active 20 percent of offenders average ten times the rate of the median prisoner.

[p.94] Especially for a juvenile, a forty-hour sentence served in solitary with no radio or television might be highly unpleasant without being at all damaging to the juvenile's future, and at the same time so undramatic as to deprive him of bragging rights.

[p.99] What fraction of those currently in prison or jail could be adequately punished and prevented from committing future crimes by having their drug use monitored and their whereabouts monitored 24/7? ...Discovering the answer to that question ought to be the first priority for anyone interested in shrinking both crime and incarceration.

[p.103] The "collective efficacy" or "collective social capital" of a neighborhood - roughly speaking, the ability of the neighborhood as a whole to get residents and visitors to act in a "public-spirited," rather than a purely selfish, manner - is clearly an important contributor to crime control.

[p.106] In departments that use arrest counts as part of their internal scoring system and of the presentation of their results to the public, officers and their supervisors have no incentive to economize on arrest.

[p.117] ...since crime is a cause as well as a consequence of disadvantage, reducing crime will tend at the same time to help cure the conditions that foster crime.

[p.120-21] The unit costs in the criminal-justice system are high. A year of police officer's services cost about twice what a schoolteacher-year costs. the cost of maintaining a prisoner is about three times the cost of teaching a high-school student. ...teaching arithmetic known as the "the New Math" worked well at pilot scale but poorly at mass scale, at least in part for lack of adequately skilled teachers. We need programs that work when implemented by the staff actually available, and at a scale large enough to make a measurable impact on the problem.

[p.124] Gangs offer a substitute for the security against victimization that the state is supposed to provide.

[p.126] The sheer impatience of citizens and politicians demanding the Something Be Done About Crime right this minute has in it an ironic echo of the inability of many criminals to take the future fully into account in deciding whether to a commit a crime today.

[p.127] In a well-evaluated experiment in upstate New York, nurse home visitation for expectant mothers whose demographic profiles put their children at high risk of poor outcomes reduced the arrest among the children of those mothers by 69 percent compared to the matched control group. If that result is event close to correct, nurse home visitation focused on high-risk mothers is surely cost-effective as crime control - compared, for example, with prison-building - even ignoring all its other benefits and cost savings.

[p.134] Do the high levels of noise in poor urban neighborhoods contribute to crime? It would be surprising if they did not, given how much mental-health damage chronic noise exposure is known to cause.

[p.153] ...the crime control gains from frug enforcement need to be weighed against the losses from reducing the level of police, prosecution, and corrections capacity available to attack predatory crime and disorder directly. ...more crimes, and especially violent crimes, are committed under the influence of alcohol than under the influence of all illicit drugs combined.

[p.164] As long as there are more offenses being detected than the system can punish, dynamic concentration makes sense. But if the limiting factor is detection rather than adjudication and punishment, and if it is not possible to greatly reduce detection costs, then the project falls to the ground.

[p.165] The bad news is that most predatory - as opposed to transactional or public-order - offenses are hard to observe. There is no direct analogy of a drug crackdown for controlling burglary.

[p.167] ...part of the uncertainty involves the behavior of officials, which may be less predictable than the behavior of offenders.

[p.172] Even in a democratic setting, those who make the laws do not have interests of opinions identical to those whome the laws control. The less democratic the setting, the greater the gap. ...improved enforcement of a law that should not have been passed in the first place can be a loss rather than a gain.

[p.173] Making enforcement cheaper and more effective could slow the process of liberalization, an effect many of us would bitterly regret.

[p.176] Focus police attention on reducing crime and disorder, not on making arrests.

[p.177] Identify recent prison releasees, put them under close scrutiny in the high-risk early months, and warn them of that scrutiny.

[p.179] Develop a performance-measurement system and hold wardens accountable for performance, as measured by the post-release welfare and criminal activity of the prisoners.

[p.180] The apparently common-sense practice of moving prisoners down levels of supervision, which generally means somewhat more pleasant conditions, as their release dates approach may be counterproductive; perhaps the last two weeks of every prison term should be spent in solitary confinement on bread and water.

[p.185] Permit the consumption of cannabis, and its production for personal use or gratis distribution, while maintaining the ban on commerce in the drug.

[p.189] Be prepared to spend money to improve parenting skills in high-risk populations.

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