Sunday, September 29, 2013

Smart on Crime


Over the past couple of weeks, Mark Kleiman, UCLA professor and author of When Brute Force Fails, has been on my mind a lot.

First, Phil Bowen and the Centre for Justice Innovation helped facilitate a series of meetings in London for Mark.  Part of the Centre's mission is to serve as a conduit between the US and the UK, bringing new ideas in criminal justice reform from one country to the other.   Mark has some ideas about how to use swift, certain, and relatively mild sanctions to promote more effective community supervision of offenders.  Phil pitched in to help ensure that Mark's ideas reached both local and national policymakers in England.

Following his trip to London, Mark participated in a roundtable discussion at the Vera Institute of Justice alongside a handful of other academics and non-profit types, including me.  In my preparation for that meeting, I stumbled across an essay that Mark had written for the Democracy Journal entitled "Smart on Crime." Of all the things I've read by Mark, this is probably my favorite.  As anyone who has spent time with Mark knows, he is a big personality who takes delight in provocation.  He is also a deft writer who knows how to turn a memorable phrase.  He brings all of these qualities to bear in "Smart on Crime." The whole essay is worth reading, but here are a handful of excerpts that I particularly liked:
The debate over criminal-justice policy often seems to take place between the disciples of Michel Foucalt and the disciples of the Marquis de Sade, with the Foucaldians winning the academic debate even as the sadists mostly get their way in the real political world.
Why do some people keep committing crimes, to their own evident disadvantage? Because they're present-oriented and impulsive...If you're looking for a single "root cause" of crime, look no further: The cause is bad decision-making by offenders.
As Machiavelli warned...a reluctance to punish comes naturally with good-heartedness, but those unable to overcome that reluctance are as unfit to rule as those who have no such reluctance to begin with.  
I don't always agree with Mark, but I always learn something from listening to him and reading his work.