01 November 2009

Approaches on crime and punishment

But hosted by a different Russian guy.
Simple game theory modeling in this one (prisoner's dilemma type stuff)
Costs of crime are, more poverty Not really that surprising to consider, but usually people think the direction goes the other way (that hardship and poverty cause crime). I suspect it will take a while to process that crime can cause poverty, but all one really needs to consider is that there is a premium applied to development in a high crime area, for the purchase of security or additional police, that businesses and employers are not willing to pay when they can simply locate a few miles away at lower overall costs. That means: no jobs. Which means ultimately more time and incentives for crime.
Oh by the way, there's a racial component to the judicial inequality system.
Finally, some sensible ideas
I'll go through a few of those to explain them a bit.

"Emphasize swiftness and certainty of punishment rather than severity." - Obvious really. Crime tends to be pretty low when criminals are caught and punished. The severity issue may have been a deterrent at one time (particularly when the severity is very high or socially visible, such as cutting off hands for theft or death by public hanging). But the reason it is actually operating as a deterrent is that there's an obvious cause and effect to the rest of society, not that the penalty was so severe as to constitute brutality or torture in its own right. Criminal does A. Police or the public catch criminal. Penalty B, whatever B is (determined to be suitable based on the severity of the crime involved and the potential risks for future violations of any variety). A+B=C, less crime. The problem seems to be more the focus on locking people up and getting them off the street, which can help for certain types of criminals, but does nothing to actually prevent new ones from forming or to prevent old ones who are released from returning to their former pastime. Actually catching and penalizing people with certainty is not easy, but it's extremely effective when it is properly executed.

"Concentrate enforcement rather than dispersing it." - Came up in Tipping Point. Basically the idea was that they picked some crime and cracked down on it hard for a while. Worked for the subway system pretty well apparently to go through and detain people who were fare jumping. Sometimes using fairly elaborate schemes. Focusing on cleaning up one area or behavior later gives more attention elsewhere as a result.

"Add police to areas with high ratios of crimes to officers." - I recall other than the abortion legalization effect, Levitt projected that increasing the number of police was the other main thing to decrease crime rates. I imagine it would certainly decrease the amount of traffic tickets issued by some low violent crime neighbourhoods if the cops were moved to the "bad part of town." Which I personally have no problem with. Speeding is largely enforced by social and physical norms (how fast can one safely go on a crowded road) rather than police action anyway. Go drive through any major city and observe the speed limits relative to the actual rate of travel (Chicago is my personal favorite for this type of observation, there's a bit more room than NYC and more available mass transit than LA). Meanwhile, their police are often sort of busy doing actual police work.

"Identify and target high-rate serious offenders, with the goal of incapacitating them by incarceration. Don’t neglect domestic violence in this analysis." - Amazing how domestic violence has to even be singled out. Suggests that it isn't. What a country.

"Consider both the offender’s broader criminal history and the broader driving history – especially a history of accidents with personal injury – in sentencing drunken or reckless drivers." - I've long struggled to come up with some way to effectively deal with drunk driving (seeing as it suffers from a classic Pareto principle problem). I suspect simply jacking up the tax on alcohol would work pretty well though (which is, coincidentally, suggested as the alternative to the present drinking age of 21. Which has made the problems on college campuses worse rather than better). Seizure of property (the car used) or penalties that apply to enablers would also be helpful here. I'm somewhat skeptical of the constitutionality of either of those methods, but I'm pretty sure they would work.

"Prosecute felonies committed by parolees as new crimes, rather than allowing them to be treated as mere parole violations." - Yes. We don't do this already. We're fucking stupid.

"Since skills such as literacy are portable across the boundary between prison and the community, stress skill acquisition rather than attempts at behavior change such as drug treatment. Put a computer in each cell." - I'm sure this would go over well with the "more bars and more guards" crowd of wardens. A terminal to a central wireless server with some basic monitored/restricted access would suffice here. Probably smarter than parking a law library there in the long run. If they want to look up stuff for an appeal or some sort of civil rights violation that they feel entitled to, go right ahead. But the physical space is also flexible enough this way to allow them to also look up practical things that interest or delight the mind. To carry out correspondence with family (or legal counsel). To attend basic learning courses. And so on. There is a percentage of the population of prison inmates that seems capable of being "scared straight" or something like that. I suspect the percentage would be higher if we figured out why it exists and how to mobilize the forces that created it more constructively. Instead of the lock em up and throw away the key idea.

"Impose few rules on probationers and parolees, and enforce every rule consistently and swiftly." - I cite this sort of concept frequently in response to the "more regulation" catcalls. We don't really need new rules all the time. What would be more useful than new rules in many cases is to deter people from breaking some of the current ones and to properly enforce them when they are. Changing dumb rules into something more structurally useful would also be more helpful.

"Focus enforcement attention and sentencing on violence, disorder, and the use of juveniles, not on the mere volume of drugs sold." - I think his position is a half-measure of decriminalized drug possession and a grey market instead of a black market (sort of like many locations already have for marijuana, which he advocates complete legalisation). It's not quite where I come down on the issue, but it's probably more palatable to the average American. Though still not so palatable given the American's distaste for heroin being supplied to heroin addicts in Europe and treated as a medical problem to be managed or cured rather than a basis for arrest and detention. Sometimes I curse the Puritanical nature of our history (actually this happens a lot. Between sex, drugs, and rock and roll/hip-hop, you'd think we were burning churches and priests alive).

"Close the private-sale loophole." - In a related story, it is considered sufficient to merely ask potential buyers if they have committed felonies by some private sellers. Way to keep guns out of the hands of people we nearly all acknowledge shouldn't have them and fulfill a civic duty in the pursuit of a buck. It amazes me that the same market forces that have allowed me to build a powerful computer myself at a cut rate price and for whatever purpose I can imagine it to have, have also brought us baconnaisse, dog snuggies, and people who would sell guns to anyone without regard to whether they should or not.

"Start middle school and high school later in the day, and end them later." - Been asking why we don't do this simply on educational grounds for years. I don't recall being "awake" by 8 am. But I had to make it to school anyway. And then there's that whole 2-3 hours before the parents and adults in a neighbourhood return to their homes. In which to make mischief, if one where so inclined. I'm guessing this might also cut back on some teen pregnancy rates as well. Not a crime to have sex as a teenager, but not all that helpful either for the rest of us to get pregnant or to get someone else pregnant while one is still in the process of being indoctrinated and stripped of their individuality. Err, I mean educated.
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