Michael Connelly over at Corrections Sentencing has this post regarding the latest criminal justice statistics showing an increase in reported violent crimes. Connelly's post argues that most pundits are missing the chance to suggest that more crime leads to worse laws; that is, the fear of violence drives legislatures to enact unwise, and presumably harsh, laws. Indeed, our criminal justice policies are not wise when prompted by emotions. Moreover, given the innumerable variables that likely affect crime from year to year, the latest statistics might just represent normal variation instead of the beginning of a trend -- only time will tell. However, this part of Connelly's post deserves a brief comment:
"Why not point out that the resources devoted to putting tokers in prison could be put into cops on the street"
Many folks within the criminal justice reform movement often make these types of assertions: that the money spent on incarceration would be better spent putting more police on the street. But more police means more enforcement, which means more punishment. Such a policy would likely lead to more incarceration, the very phenomenon reformers dislike. Prevention efforts are noble yet the evidence is lacking that they actually work. Many supporters cite to various studies suggesting that programs like drug courts work; yet the methodology used in these studies leaves much to be desired.
The growth of our criminal codes during the past thirty years is breathtaking. Every year the penal law books get thicker and more conduct falls under the purview of our criminal justice system. Yet sometimes less is more: both in terms of the criminal codes and our fiscal outlays towards solving unwanted conduct. The problem lies not where our criminal justice money goes but the fact that we spend so much trying to enforce an increasingly burdensome criminal code. The code itself, of course, is an attempt to control behavior. When we're talking about malice in se crimes this makes a lot of sense: murder, rape, assault needs to be prevented and punished. When the crimes are mala prohibita, it becomes less convincing that our monies are well spent; especially when recidivism rates remain high. If incarceration for non-violent crimes are bad; sentencing alternatives are worse because they provide a form of social engineering under the threat of force inherent in our criminal justice system. Sometimes you simply can't force people to be better citizens.