New Jersey facts of the day

Erik Eckholm reports:

I was startled by these calculations for New Jersey, for example: Cutting in half the number of people sent to prison for drug crimes would reduce the prison population at the end of 2021 by only 3 percent. By contrast, cutting the effective sentences, or time actually served, for violent offenders by just 15 percent would reduce the number of inmates in 2021 by 7 percent — more than twice as much, but still hardly the revolution many reformers seek.

New Jersey could reduce its prison population by 25 percent by 2021. But to do it, it would have to take the politically fraught step of cutting in half the effective sentences for violent offenders.

In other words, the real debate over how to deal with criminals has hardly begun.

The low-hanging fruit on this issue seems to be in Kentucky, Missouri, and Texas most of all.  But keep in mind another point: to the extent prison overcrowding eases, many judges will be giving longer sentences to many of the more violent offenders.


Instead of relying solely on drug war reform, we could simply imitate the countries with the most successful recidivism reduction rates - i.e. Norway.

If we built prisons like the famed Haldane prison and provided the resources that help successful reintegration into society, we could make life much better for not only for the guards and prisoners, but all of us in society who have to live with ex-convicts after they leave.

If you have a criminal record (dont most employers in US demand it, before hiring anyone?), can you even find a "legal" job at all?

It is very often requested and in general a record is a barrier, but it depends on the state. Some states prohibit asking about arrest records if no conviction or allow requests about criminal records only if they directly relate to the job. I think a handful only allow asking about more serious types of crimes, like felonies.

Also, they looove to check people's credit scores before hiring. Not sure if that is common in other countries.

Well, in Germany, a Führungszeugnis is often part of getting a job, particularly one involving money (cashier) or certain responsibilities (like civil service jobs). However, the employer is not allowed to access this information, only the person involved can request their 'police record' (a not very good translation, as this most definitely includes court records)
(German only -;jsessionid=ACC65F0161EDF1F63F95403859735254.1_cid386#faq5504818

However, credit scores for employees is not common (though Schufa and similar credit bureaus are a concept). However, Schufa information would not be considered relevant in most cases where a potential employer is judging a future employee, and thus not available. Only the most cynical German thinks this is honored in the breach, of course. But then, Germans tend to be pragmatic, not cynical.

Germany is actually very nice to former criminals. In Germany, you can devote your youth to violently attacking police officers and eventually become the Foreign Minister of the country. After all, what are a few Molotov cocktails among friends? The burn victims might disagree, but who cares about them?

There should be rewards to being a law-abiding citizen. Employers should be able to favor people without criminal records in hiring. If you you want to encourage the employment of people with criminal records, allow employers to pay them less for some probationary period or make it easier for employers to fire people with criminal records.

Problem is most crimes are committed by young people, who are not good at valuing the future - they have way too high discount rates. Most people grow out of this by 25 or so.

But if you tag-for-life someone based on their 19-yo self, it is likely that information is of much less value when they are 30 and entering their most productive years.

Employers know their job better than we do. If somebody with a criminal record 20 years old will really make just as good an employee as someone without, the employer will hire him, because not to hire him is to reduce profits.

Would be great to see some employer data on this. I'm not familiar with the evidence.

I'd guess most employers are just maximally risk averse on hiring because they can be and have never really measured the impact. Lawyers may be running that process more than any other division at a company.

Employers do know their specific business better than outsiders, but that doesn't mean they are rational, without bias (including irrational ones), or make smart decisions. See Enron or Blockbuster Video - to give two examples.

Who cares if they are episodically 'irrational'? That's no excuse for extending a franchise to lawyers to second-guess their business decisions. Merchants and manufacturers may be 'irrational'. Unlike the legal profession, they are not systematically predatory.

The problem with hiring someone with a conviction is that if the employee happens to offend again on the job (especially sexually or violently), the employer might be sued or at least have bad press because "they should have known better before hiring that person".

Eric, employers are a lot less efficient than you think. Employees don't hire who they think gives the company greatest odds of success. They don't want to hire someone who is more competent than they are, and they aren't going to hire someone who they'll be blamed for performing poorly. If a hire with a criminal history performs poorly, who do you think is going to get blamed? Even if they were the best candidate for the job.

If your employee violently attacks someone while on the job and you have a business which is actually worth something significant, your business will be sued. But, nowadays, you can deflect such a lawsuit with: "Don't blame me. I didn't build this. Sue Obama."

@Art Deco - I wasn't suggesting that because employers are not always rational, that they should lose their current autonomy and powers. I was just disagreeing with Eric, whose comment seemed to say that employers would never do anything irrational - that employers would never not hire someone based on non-economic factors.

@Art, I am saying that this whole process is likely already being outsourced to the lawyer class who are worried about "potential liability," rather than the folks who could actually estimate the true risks and benefits of opening jobs to people with something on their criminal record.

The Warden of Angola prison in Louisiana calls it 'criminal menopause.'

'Employers should be able to favor people without criminal records in hiring.'

Well, at least at WT Woodson, back in the late 1970s, an ability to pay for over 20,000 dollars damage (spray painting 'sheep' on various doors, trashing the planetarium - why yes, didn't your high school have a planetarium? - and other vandalism) meant that no criminal record existed to blemish the sort of people that Woodson was proud to send along to the university careers their high GPA and PSAT/SAT scores earned them.

And yes, I am certain that the sort of people capable of creating such damage in their high school senior year were favored over those with a 'criminal record.'

Your father should have thrown you out of the house.

>There should be rewards to being a law-abiding citizen.

Like not being in jail?

You mean I do not go to jail not having done anything? Why, thank you very much.

Knowing that being convicted or even being arrested for a crime will hurt one's job prospects likely discourages some criminal behavior. That is a side benefit of employers' reluctance to hire criminals that I would like to keep.

I believe this was considered "freedom" by the standards of Soviet Russia.

Art, that's exactly right in just the same sense that "there should be a reward for being a law abiding citizen is wrong". A more correct statement is that there should be a *punishment* for being a law-breaking criminal. An heck, even that is only true for some laws.

The positive "reward" for being a citizen of any kind is that you get to partake of the fruits of human society.

"Knowing that being convicted or even being arrested for a crime will hurt one’s job prospects likely discourages some criminal behavior. That is a side benefit of employers’ reluctance to hire criminals that I would like to keep."

This hypothetical benefit has to be weighed against the numerous costs. When ex-cons can't find work, they are more likely to end up on welfare, commit crimes or associate with criminals to earn money in the underground economy, and consequently wind up back in prison on a parole violation or from fresh criminal charges. Additionally, if they have any fines or restitution to pay, they won't be able to pay it with no source of income. And failure to pay fines means people often wind up back in jail at the expense of taxpayers.

About 1% of the U.S. adult population is currently in prison. The percentage who have been convicted of crimes is likely much higher. Having such a large proportion of working age adults effectively excluded from formal employment has all kinds of (to me, anyway) obvious social and economic costs.

Or buy the Nullarbor from Australia, build a fence round it, and ship all the convicts there. Predation should reduce the number of inmates to a sustainable level.

That would work great, but only if all sentences are life sentences. Not sure I'd want someone who survived that milieu back among the sheep in society.

People back in the 1960s were talking rehabilitation and it consistently failed.

So rehabilitation, the general concept, was discussed and implemented "in the 1960s" and failed (according to you) - so no need to ever try anything involving rehabilitation again? Should readers just take your conclusive statement, that has no evidence backing it up, on this topic and accept it as fact?

We should not undertake 'rehabilitation'. Leave the criminal population to make their own choices given the matrix in which they live.

Or you could change the matrix in which they live, by providing them opportunities to learn useful skills

You mean they were not given 12 years of gratis schooling?

You could improve secondary education, emphasizing vocational instruction. The thing is, most of the defendant and convict population are of an age where they've already been through secondary education. There are also community colleges of course.

You could also improve the quality of life in the neighborhoods into which they are released. Of course, that requires more vigorous law enforcement, which people who chuffer about 'mass incarceration' dislike.

Young people today are quite ignorant about the history of the past 50 years.

Time, aging, and a satisfactory social network can rehabilitate people. So can punishment. "Good judgment comes from experience, which comes from bad judgment".

This is a good argument for caning kids and then letting them go. Not so good for keeping people locked up. And it probably doesn't work *at all* on people older than 30.

Rehabilitation is something that happens relatively often, though--lots of people get out of prison and don't ever come back. What's not clear is what we can do to improve the chances that a prisoner will not end up back in prison for some other crime when we release him. The one thing that's pretty sure to work is letting the criminal age a bit, since most crimes are done by young men. There aren't a whole lot of 50 year old muggers.

I'm volunteer for one of those "failed" rehabilitation programs that teaches courses to prison inmates so they can earn an AA. And the men who finish our program have only a 20% recidivism rate versus a 60% recidivism rate in the general prison population.

If that's what failure looks like, I'd hate to see your standards for success.

And maybe it's time to update your "facts" before you mindlessly repeat them again:

Unless all inmates are required to finish the program, the fact that those who finish the program don't reoffend much may prove nothing at all. It could just be that inmates who are less likely to reoffend anyway are the ones who take advantage of the program.

Even something that identifies inmates that are unlikely to reoffend is better than no information at all for the purposes of parole.

Easy, make completion of those types of programs a key to unlocking significantly early parole. Cut down on prison population, people learn non-criminal skills; its a win-win.
Also, on the enforcement side, studies show that what matters for criminals is swift and certain punishment, not length of sentence. 8 years vs 4 years doesn't matter. If you can lock them up, improve them so they have a non-criminal option, and let them know the state is watching (parole), it makes sense to get them out of prison early.

A 20% recidivism rate means that a fifth of your 'graduates' not only commit a crime, they are discovered, taken to a trial and are convicted. Given that all three of those steps are not certain, it means the actual number of crimes is a lot more than one crime each for one fifth.

E.g., if one crime in two is traced to a person and one traced crime in two leads to a trial and one trial in two leads to a conviction, then only one in eight crimes committed by a graduate of the program leads to a conviction and an entry into the 20% figure. That figure means that there's a whole lot of crimes committed by the graduates.

To me, the background 60% rate means that prison makes the imprisoned more criminal than they were and the 20% rate means that your program may be interesting as an experiment but is still a failure at solving the problem because it doesn't rehabilitate enough.

To me, the background 60% rate means that prison makes the imprisoned more criminal than they were

At best, you've forgotten that individuals have a trajectory with vectors which do not originate in their imposed circumstances. You've also forgotten that the prospect of conviction sorts the population not convicted and influences them.

I can understand the skepticism, but I do think this program significantly improves the lives of the inmates involved. You'd be surprised about how much certain "skills" like showing up to class, turning in work on time, and doing a complete job matter. But they do! And as much as those things seem automatic to those of us who are not prison inmates, "skills" like that matter a lot to them. In fact, if I were to say anything about students in this type of situation, it's that they're much, much, much, (again, much) better and more thoughtful students than those you'll see at even a high quality research university. Seriously, they're so engaged and critical, it puts students at high-end, selective research universities to shame. And if it's merely signalling, well, it's one helluva a way to signal, because these guys are some of the best students you could teach in any subject.

That would probably be effective, but not satisfy the public's desire for "justice" aka retribution.

I dont see why the criminal justice system has to be only one thing or the other. Why not rehabilitate those we see as redeemable, and sequester those who are not?

Because the state is not your mother or your pastor and counselors and social workers are notable for being ineffective and often inane.

The work of the state is to punish. Leave ministerial functions to the philanthropic sector.

If we could find a way to do this well, it would be worthwhile. However, the most important part of that kind of program is some kind of effective feedback, so that the people deciding whom to let out of prison learn from their mistakes.

One idea I've toyed with (but I don't know how well this would work): We can use actuarial tables to say how much money we expect to spend keeping each inmate locked up for the rest of his sentence--you could think of each inmate having a price tag attached based on his age, health, and length of remaining sentence. Based on that, imagine if we set some kind of price for re-offending, based on the crime. (Maybe murder is a million dollars, armed robbery or rape are $500K, etc.) Now, let some private insurance companies get into the business of, effectively, taking bets on paroling people. Based on the expected cost for the rest of my sentence and the risk of my re-offending, it will make sense for the insurance company to take that bet--they get the savings from not having me locked up, but if I reoffend, they have to pay a big chunk of money back to the state.

I'm not sure that would work, but it does seem to avoid the problem with parole boards who have no particular skin in the game and mostly don't even know how well they've done in their prior choices.

You're asking the parole board the wrong question.

The utility of parole is that it gives the convict some incentive to respect the rules of the prison. Speculating on the probability of future offenses is a conduit to the dystopian practices which C.S. Lewis skewered in That Hideous Strength Making use of parole to regulate the prison census is unjust and indolent.

Have the warden compile a dossier of offenses, replace the identifying information with code numbers, and forward the dossier to a parole jury consisting of prison system employees working at institutions other than the one the convict is at.

@Art Deco: "Leave ministerial functions to the philanthropic sector."

...which is of insufficient size, scale, organization, and commitment to achieve any significant results or even meaningfully manage the problem.

Your worldview made sense decades ago when religious participation, larger and more tightly bonded families, and robust local community and volunteer service organizations were the norm. Thing is, those days are over. Delegating ministerial functions--not just rehabilitating criminals, but in general--from the state to civil society won't improve things or even sustain the status quo. Due to the continuing secularization of the culture, decline in church attendance, decline in family size, decline of participation in local community in general, etc., etc., etc., there isn't enough civil society left to do the job.

The philanthropic sector, such as it is, is an inadequate and insufficient substitute for the state.

…which is of insufficient size, scale, organization, and commitment to achieve any significant results or even meaningfully manage the problem.

What problem? People are released from prisons. Some of them return, some do not. If you fancy that social workers and allied tradesmen employed by public agencies have much effect on the course of the convict's history. I'm in the bridge-vending business.

The work of the state is to promote the general welfare, and in an efficient manner as possible. If that means punishment, ok, but rehabilitation and an early release from prison promotes the end goals better than warehousing humans, that is what they should do.

No, it does not. At best, it turns the convict into an object of manipulation by the helping professions. At worst, it's effective only for employing the helping professions. Time to close the books.

"Because the state is not your mother or your pastor,,,,"

Then why is it trying to tell me what to do all the time?

There is no justice without retribution.


I don't really agree with this. Punishments need to be unpleasant enough to deter future crimes, but beyond that point, I think extra suffering of prisoners is just pure loss.

Probably the most important feature of prisons is that they keep a lot of violent criminals locked away from the rest of us, long enough that a lot of them more-or-less age out of violent crime, since casual violent crime works a lot better for a 20 year old than for a 60 year old.

Good luck designing a selling a sentencing schedule based on utilitarian calculus.

Nonsense. In some cases this may be true, but in the context of criminal justice the ultimate goal of building a better, healthier society should be given priority--not the primitive instinct to get revenge.

Civilized vengeance is an aspect of a good society.

If anything, we might need to seriously consider the reinstitution corporal punishment.

Whipping a carjacker and publicly shaming them might be more effective than a prison sentence. It also costs a lot fewer resources.

Prison is a theoretical concept. Pain is real and immediate.

The public shame factor is the largest deterrent to criminal behavior for most middle class people. If no one is watching and could ever catch me, I might be tempted to steal from strangers. The humiliation and loss of social status that would result from being caught is what stops me.

I think this should be chanted, as a slogan: "No justice, without redistribution! No justice, without redistribution!"

Er, wait, I have been channelling some Rawls. Thought I was over that. I meant, "No justice, without retribution!"

Joking aside, see also the fine book "Forgiveness and Mercy", which is a debate between the philosophers Murphy and Hampton.

If we built prisons like the famed Haldane prison and provided the resources that help successful reintegration into society, we could make life much better for not only for the guards and prisoners, but all of us in society who have to live with ex-convicts after they leave.

Hey, Rocky, haven't we been in this town before?

If only we could fill our prisons with Norwegian offenders

This is the correct response.

Why can't we fill Norwegian prisoners with our offenders?

This is a joke, I think. But has anyone tried it? Ship our worst to Norway and see what they can do with them.

yes. it was only half serious.

more serious question: would the US offenders in Norwegian prisons merely be rehabilitated _to live successfully in Norway_ ?

i.e. once they returned to the US, maybe whatever they learned in Norwegian rehabilitation facilities wouldn't quite work for them because it's different here ?

It's silly to compare an entirely different country with different culture and demographics and assume its just due to the penal system. In the US recidivism is significantly higher among minorities, gang members, drug and weapon offenders, and young people. Norway is a whiter and younger society, it has much less of a gang culture, and much fewer drug and weapon offenders. All of those things are factors that have nothing to do with the penal system.

In fact if you want to reduce recidivism, there is a very simple solution. Sentence based on age of release instead of years in prison. A 25 year old has an extremely likelihood of committing another crime when released. Recidivism is drastically at younger ages that age, probably because testosterone remains high. But I'd argue that incarceration purely driven by rehabilitation instead of justice, quickly gets you to some wacky conclusions. For example murderers and rapists have significantly lower recidivism rates (for any type of crime) than drug and property criminals. Should they get shorter sentences?

In fact if you want to reduce recidivism, there is a very simple solution.

An acquaintance who works in criminal justice recently told me there are a fair number of crimes prosecuted as "violent" which one might not think fit into that category. The example used was a drug addict stealing someone's wallet or entering a home to steal something. My takeaway was that even if no weapon is used or physical violence actually threatened, some (most?) states will consider those violent crimes. Does that ring true to anyone here who knows more about the topic?

And conversely, how many of those "sent to prison for drug crimes" really did exactly what they were sentenced for, nothing more?

If I remember right, perhaps as many as 95% of convictions are plea bargains. For which the actually important crime need not be the one the prosecutor offers you. (The cops caught you with drugs in your pocket, but don't want to expose the informant who knows where you put the gun. Etc.)

This always seems like a thorn in these statistics about how much of the prison population is locked up for victimless crimes, or things which would go away if we legalised dope.

I assume that the statistics cited above don't count all of those people who are in prison for crimes caused by illegal drugs ,such as mugging,robbery,burglary,murder,assault,etc but not officially termed as "drug crimes"

No, why would they? The crimes were not 'caused' by illegal drugs. A bag of weed does not have an opposable thumb. The crimes were 'caused' by people who were also engaged in the drug trade doing what comes naturally to them (burgling homes, knocking over convenience stores, and beating people up).

Not weed, of course. Cocaine and heroin. Maybe meth.

Jan, Art's argument works for any of those.

Let's make breathing air a felony, then we can rely on prosecutorial discretion to only charge those who deserve the punishment

I'm not trying to claim it's a good system.

But it's what generates these statistics about who's in jail for what crime, and my point is that these may not be very accurate.

Or conversely, drug dealers being convicted on weapons charges when they were only intended to be used in self-defense. Anyway, I don't think the justice system should be based on theoretical crimes that the inmate was never convicted of. People accept plea bargains because they could be punished severely for actually asking for a jury trial. Prisons are full of people who were never actually proven beyond a reasonable doubt in court that they actually did anything wrong.

Prisons are full of people who were never actually proven beyond a reasonable doubt in court that they actually did anything wrong.

No, they were never proven guilty in an adversarial process. That does not mean the police do not have adequate proofs. The plea agreement is negotiated in the context of the incriminating evidence the authorities do have. Go to school with Alan Dershowitz, "Every once in a while you get an innocent client...."

Fine then. If the authorities think people are guilty of some serious crime, let them charge the the accused with that crime and prove the charge to the satisfaction of a court using fair procedures and rules of evidence.

Such treatment is after all, one of the fundemantal rights that the United States is duty bound to uphold for all of her citizens.

Burglary is not a violent crime. Robbery is. Larceny is not. I woudl guess that if the pickpocket grabs and runs--- so the victim knows he's been there--- that might count as robbery--- but if it was stealthy, then it doesn't. Or, maybe robbery requires actual confrontation and implicit or actual threat--- probably that's true, since I doubt pickpocketing gets a long sentence like robbery does.
One thing behind the small impact of non-violent crimes is that they get short sentences. One murderer adds 40 man-years; one drug dealer plea bargained down might add just 1 man-year.

Here is how FBI crime statistics categorize it:

"In the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, violent crime is composed of four offenses: murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. Violent crimes are defined in the UCR Program as those offenses which involve force or threat of force."

Robbery is taking something with the use of force or threat of force. Aggravated assault similarly involves the use of force or threat with a lethal weapon. Theft or burglary are property crimes.

I thought these definitions varied quite a bit across the states though

Jan, you are correct that states vary in how crimes are defined. But when the various law enforcement agencies report to the FBI, they use the UCR definitions and not state laws. (The UCR definitions are quite a bit less granular for one thing.) In some states there are dedicated UCR program staff, in others there's not, but in all cases the FBI reviews the submissions for accuracy and adherence to the UCR standards.

Because of the FBI efforts, crime comparisons between states is quite a bit more trustworthy than, say, crime comparisons between countries.

How many violent offences are caused by the war on drugs -- e.g. turf wars?

Absolutely zero. There are plenty of black markets which operate peacefully.

Could you give some examples of high-risk and high-margin black markets that operate peacefully?

There was a healthy market for marijuana and mushrooms on my college campus. Dealers did not shoot each other over territory. Same w/ some old hippies I know.

The idea that gangbangers will start using spreadsheets and paying sales tax if we legalize drugs is pure fantasy.

So your example is...the drug market? I think I see a flaw there...
Actually, the key issue is that violence would not be tolerated on campus the way lower level drug use is tolerated. When that approach is applied to the streets - when the cops essentially tell the gangs they are not going to be focused on them unless they start dropping bodies - it drives down the violent crime rate.
Surprise; people respond to incentives!

High risk? There ain't a university cop in the entire country who's going to kick down the dorm room door of some kid selling tabs of acid to frat boys.

Another related and often-heard fantasy is that, if we legalize drugs, the violence associated with its manufacture, distribution and sale will just evaporate.

But gangs and cartels have a powerful tool at their disposal: violence. They're not going to sit back and watch their livelihood disappear just because we can buy dope from Whole Foods and WalMart now.

On the contrary. Gangs will continue using violence, but they will use it to make money in other ways (e.g. kidnapping and extortion).

Al, there's a big difference between policing victimless crimes like selling drugs and crimes like kidnapping and extortion.
AG, sure there are peaceful black markets, but I had the impression that the drug market is in general not one of them.

I'd say alcohol prohibition is an anecdote where legalisation reduced violence -- with some of the violent crime generated during prohibition redirected to other things, but a net reduction.

I asked the question expecting that someone had already written a paper with a figure...

None. Violent offenses are caused by people who are willing to engage in violence. They do so for amusement, out of rage, and for gain. That the gain incorporates the trade in street drugs is incidental.

Then lets rephrase that: given that some people are willing to engage in violence, to what extent would ending the war on drugs change their incentives (the gain) such that they would engage in less violence?

You're describing the police.

Time to raise the social status of non-violent drug offenders.

The drop in crime rates since the 1990s is awesome. Our inner cities are livable again! I credit many things including locking up more criminals. We should be trying to lock up even more criminals not letting them out.

Btw, I read this which credits the drop in crime to CODIS and dna testing. It also looked at the returns on investment of crime fighting tools.
What do you think?

I would wager the DNA testing accounts for much of the drop in the frequency of forcible rape.

"The drop in crime rates since the 1990s is awesome."

Absolutely. And do-gooders and some politicians want to reverse it.


It involved employing police officers and prison guards, whose success embarrased them and whom they despise. It also involved punishing members of their selected mascot groups, which they cannot tolerate either.

Once you understand that public order was never their goal, their behavior makes sense. Their actual goal was personal self-aggrandizement.

Because they're a public sector union, California Democratic politicians like Jerry Brown enjoy the support of the state prison guard unions.

"The powerful prison guards union supported Brown during last year's race for governor, and some political observers have suggested the contract is political payback - an accusation the governor denied. "

We may have maxed out on the number of black and brown criminals we can lock up though. The Times has a fine piece about a man locked up three weeks for possession of a straw.

Will society let us lock up all these white heroin addicts up and down the east coast? They're the reason everyone is talking about reform now.

Everything is about race to you Andre? Try opening your mind a little.

Almost everything to do with our criminal justice system, yes. Open your eyes a little.

"The Times has a fine piece about a man locked up three weeks for possession of a straw."

Yes, a poster child for criminal justice "reform".

"Tomlin had served two short stints in prison on felony convictions for auto theft and selling drugs in the late ’80s and mid-’90s"

"The rest of the file contained Tomlin’s criminal history, which included 41 convictions, all of them, save the two decades-old felonies, for low-level nonviolent misdemeanors — crimes of poverty like shoplifting food from the corner store. "

41 convictions including two felonies! [All waived away by the "fine piece" as old or "crimes of poverty".]

If he had not committed at least 41 crimes! [only the ones where he got caught] before, he would have had no bail and no sob story in the Times.

The writer of this "fine piece" thinks bail as little as $250 is an 8th Amendment violation.

The "fine piece" is just typical liberal pearl clutching.

The whole article was about people pleading guilty to crimes they didn't commit since they would be in jail even longer due to the lack of bail if they didn't take the deals. Did you get to the part where they people who got assistance with their bail had a single digit conviction rate?

The system is inventing crime for statistical purposes and libertarians on an econ blog are yelling for more, along with most republicans. And of course it's never about race...

After living in London for several years I found my tolerance for criminal rehabilitation rather thin. The high level of menace and thuggery - from teens rampaging through malls to being spat on, to having to protect people on trains and walking a gauntlet of thugs itching for trouble outside a Tesco among many many examples of BS - is more than I'm willing to tolerate in my life.

Drug crimes are mostly harmless life choices in my opinion. But a propensity for violence is probably going to be repeated.

I've lived in Singapore for a while now and the absence of menace - for my wife and kids - is not something I would give up easily.

"Criminal rehabilitation" is a jobs program for the helping professions.

Because endlessly imprisoning people regardless of whether they need to be housed by the state for 15+ years isn't a jobs program for state prison guards? Are you really that naive?

Drug crimes are mostly harmless life choices in my opinion.


An opinion characteristic of a man who thinks of 'drug crimes' a stock brokers snorting cocaine.

The UK has short sentences and weak punishments, well except for people who defend themselves..

So, you get the behavior you describe. The current "reform" movement here wants to make us more like the UK.

The problem is that some drug crimes are stockbrokers snorting coke, or guys with messed-up backs who got hooked on oxycodone and are now buying it on the black market, or teenagers smoking pot. And some is really nasty violent gangs having a gunfight over who gets to sell drugs on a particular street corner. Blending those all together seems like it loses a lot of nuance.

My favorite kind of drug crime is the kind reported by Sam Quinones in the NY Times earlier this year: foreign heroin dealers hanging around US methadone clinics trying to convince people to stop their methadone treatment and get back on heroin.

No victims in that scenario...

Dude where the hell did you live?

In Brixton, the only drug dealers I ever noticed were near McDonalds rather than Tesco, and they were perfectly civilised. They did not interact with me at all unless I initiated it, and that was only ever a bit friendly eye contact which never even resulted in spoken words, let alone commerce.

Sounds like London resembles many cities in North America, during the 70s and (maybe) 80s. I was slightly too young to notice the menace and thuggery that characterized those decades, which is something one notices more once one has a spouse and kids.

"Cutting the prison population" is a social goal only for Mr. Eckholm and his ilk. A criminologist interviewed by Morton Kondracke a generation ago offered a concise explanation of this tendency: "liberals want to give people things". They are also advocates of the social work and mental health industries. Mr. Eckholm is properly ignored and social workers properly discharged from their positions and stripped of their occupational status.

A more sensible social goal is to seek the optimum balance of expenditure between police, courts, and prisons. Where is the bang for the buck at this time?

"“Cutting the prison population” is a social goal only for Mr. Eckholm and his ilk."

Darn right. Its the elites versus the ordinary person.

People want safe streets and to be secure in their house and everyday life.

Personally, if we have to imprison twice the number we do now, I could not care less.

At a certain point, after seeing friends, family members and/or other loved ones incarcerated for some non-violent offense, and after seeing their ability to participate in the real economy pretty much eliminated because of a felony conviction, I started to look at the matter a bit differently.

Mr. Al, over 600,000 people are released from state prisons every year. They do not disappear into the ether (nor, generally onto the disability rolls either).

Sure. But many of these people would be able to participate in the real economy at a more productive level than they actually do. (Of course, that's just my own perception based on the people I know in this situation.) The opportunities are not there for them.

" forward the dossier to a parole jury consisting of prison system employees working at institutions other than the one the convict is at."

Correct me if I'm wrong but isn't a position as a prison guard one of the tastiest of occupational plums? Shouldn't state prison systems scour the grads of rural high schools for class leaders that can succeed as screws? Many high schools have classes just to prepare those with basement SAT scores for life behind bars with the keys, don't they? It seems that a few years as a "corrections officer" usually leads to bigger things in business, government and politics, too. Why aren't colleges jumping on the corrections bandwagon, like they did with LBJ's social worker gap?

" More than 400 people were executed in Singapore, mostly for drug trafficking, between 1991 and 2004. Statistically, Singapore has one of the highest execution rates in the world relative to its population, surpassing Saudi Arabia"

Ray Rice punched out his fiancée in Atlantic City and received probation, due to a strong presumption under New Jersey law that everyone is entitled to one free brtutal assault.

There's a new technology angle to this discussion: Modern surveillance technology probably makes it a lot easier to do a lot of automated supervision of parolees with tracking bracelets. The next generation of those might have continuous location tracking, audio recording, and automated monitoring for interesting sounds (gunshots, screams), as well as automated analysis of the location data (here's where the three parolees got together in the same room for three hours; here's where this parolee showed up at the liquor store just as it was being robbed).

I expect if we massively decrease the number of people in prison, we'll massively increase the number under constant technological supervision, with removal of the tracking bracelet being a guaranteed one-way trip back to prison. You can imagine surveillance technology to note when someone with a tracking bracelet walks into your shop, or even something that locks the door and tells them they're not welcome.

And once we've established its efficacy on parolees, we can start rolling them out to the population in general. Heck, it could be as simple as installing a mandatory app on our iphones (which will also be mandatory). Real excited about the future, guys!

This article approaches the problem backwards - it assumes that there is some appropriate number of people to have in jail at any given time, and that we should start letting people out until we've reached that number . But the number they've chosen is just completely arbitrary.

I wonder what % of violent offenders currently in prison had been in prison previously for a non-violent offense. The problem with the drug war isn't just that we put non-violent offenders in jail, but also that it cultivates a gang culture which leads people to commit violent offenses (either to protect their property rights in the absence of state protection, or because their previous arrest record keeps them out of legitimate jobs and makes it profitable to steal).

Prisons as colleges of criminality:
"Rather than deterring crime, incarceration made them far more likely to return, the study by Anna Aizer of Brown University and Joseph Doyle Jr. of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology concluded."
"Reilly Morse, president and CEO of the Mississippi Center for Justice, said in his nonprofit's work with the state's at-risk youth, they have found that locking up youth for minor offenses turns them into 'offenders in training.'"

Hey, Rocky, haven't we been in this town before??


I'd be more impressed with the people who made this complaint and the studymeisters if any of them suggested reducing the quantum of social contact between convicts by placing them in small individual cells and having them spend the bulk of their day in solitary confinement.

Some commented suggested that we use temporary blindness instead of prison for some violent offenders. When the sentence/parole is up, sight is restored.

In their sightless state they aren't likely to cause much trouble, and just need to be monitored enough to ensure they don't pay someone to reverse the blindness.

I like it. A neck-locking GPS collar, with attached helmet that blocks forward viewing. Hygiene and chafing will be a problem. Or you can make it a VR helmet and have some clockwork-orangish fun.

God's flock needs to be protected from the evil machinations of the devil's henchmen.

Mandatory vasectomy and hysterectomy for first time serious violent offenses (home invasion, assault with deadly intent, etc.)

Mandatory execution for repeat violent offenders, with property seizure of immediate family in restitution.

Poor, poor criminals, my heart aches for them. Oh wait, sorry not sorry. Let them rot in hell.
I stick up for the innocent people just trying to live their lives and not be molested by these sons of bitches.

For some level of analysis, drug possession is the only drug crime you should consider. But that's only because at the state policy level, you can't eliminate the trade in illicit drugs. But if you are looking at things from a national level and want to eliminate the street distribution of heroin and other things, there are straightforward ways of doing this (mostly just give the drugs to people who really want them). At that point, you have to take into account all of the reduction in violent crime that would result by removing the incentive for gangs to fight over territory and, later, the impact of many more youths not being raised in communities governed by said gangs. I don't know how you'd estimate this ahead of time exactly. My opinion is that the long term result would be far greater than what is suggested here.

You're too cute. George Will once wrote a column where he posited we eliminate theft by instituting 'monetary therapy' in the form of giving every sufferer a stipend of $30,000 per year.

If you go to the calculator site (, the NJ baseline is already projected to go from 23,336 in Dec 2012 to 17,425 in Dec 2021. To me, it seems misleading when Eckholm states that "Cutting in half the number of people sent to prison for drug crimes would reduce the prison population at the end of 2021 by only 3 percent". The 3% reduction is on top of that already baked in 25% reduction in the baseline case. So is NJ hopeless or have we (I live in NJ) already implemented reforms that are/will be dropping the incarcerated population?

The vast majority of crime comes from a very specific demographic: Poor, high-testosterone, alienated, young men.

The only solutions that work involve removing them from that demographic.

Give them an outlet for their testosterone (military, contact sports)
Give them a pro-social higher calling where they are respected (military, church, marriage)
Put them in prison until they are older (brutal, but highly effective)
Put them in a situation that comes with respect and income (marriage and a high-t job)

Unfortunately the social service system is run by people who are diametrically opposite to poor, high-t, alienated young men. They don't, and probably never will, understand the motivations of criminals, and keep proposing solutions that work well for social service workers (mostly involving sitting still for hours at a time and being agreeable).

The military is loath to take anyone with much of a criminal record and much of the slum population fails the psychological tests anyway. The attempt of the Army ca. 1966 to recruit and train young men below the 11th percentile on those tests came a cropper.

The military is understandably reluctant to take on those who do not fit the psychological, physical, or cognitive profile they are looking for. Soldiering is a demanding job, and not all are up to it.

That being said, I know young men who fit the demographic I mentioned above, joined the military before they got in any trouble with the legal system, and have said that the military turned their life around.

It's one of the few institutions that seem to be able to reach young men. The Mormons also seem very good at turning out well-socialized young men via the missionary system (even if they have trouble retaining young men in their faith)

As to the military or Mormon missions taking on men after they get into trouble, that would seem more complicated.

I discovered a way to reduce incarceration rates.

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