When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime (and Less Punishment)

Since the crime explosion of the 1960s, the prison population in the United States has grown fivefold--a rate unprecedented in American history. Is there an alternative to incarceration?

In his new book, When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton University Press, 2009), Mark A. R. Kleiman, director of the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Public Affairs's drug policy analysis program, argues that smarter enforcement strategies are the answer. He makes the case for concentrating resources on the worst offenders, such as gangs that commit the most serious crimes, rather than dispersing those resources evenly among all inner-city gangs. The goal of corrections must be to reduce reoffending, instead of letting most misconduct go unpunished and lashing out occasionally with ferocious punishments, as our probation system does now. Data support the value of imposing swift and certain, but not necessarily severe, punishment as an effective form of behavioral control. For example, strictly monitored, nonviolent drug offenders who receive immediate jail stays for probation violations are significantly less likely to commit new crimes. Such enlightened practices are already underway in a handful of cities across the country, with promising results so far. The new policies are even more cost-effective than existing policies.

At this AEI conference, Mr. Kleiman will present the thesis of his new book. Distinguished experts in domestic drug policy and criminology, Robert L. DuPont, M.D., of the Institute for Behavior and Health and James Q. Wilson of Pepperdine University, will comment on the feasibility and limits of such a strategy. Sally Satel, M.D., a resident scholar at AEI and the staff psychiatrist at the Oasis Drug Treatment Clinic in Washington, D.C. will moderate the discussion.

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