Crime and Punishment Policy – Mark Kleiman UCLA

As I mentioned awhile back, Mark Kleiman guest blogged about crime and punishment policy at the libertarian/conservative blog Volokh Conspiracy. Kleiman recently posted policy recommendations. Kleiman takes a more liberal stance on crime policy, which earned him some criticism from some of the readers (his response to them is here). He divides his conclusion into nine policy areas:

  1. general and budgetary
  2. policing
  3. prosecution, courts, and sentencing rules
  4. institutional corrections
  5. community corrections
  6. juvenile corrections
  7. drug policy
  8. guns
  9. social services and other non-punitive anti-crime measures

After reading through all of them, I found the following to be the most interesting:

Institutional corrections

  • 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.
  • Mine recent releasees for detailed information on prison conditions, using interviewers who are not Corrections Department employees.

One of the biggest causes of recidivism is lack of job skills. If you get convicted of a crime at 18, serve ten years and then are released, what are your job prospects? You have no education, no marketable skills, and a criminal record. Your options are getting minimum wage, painful physical labor, or criminal activity. And this is after you paid your debt to society. Prisoners used to be able to get bachelor’s degrees while in jail, but there was a surge of ill-will towards people paying their debt to society which reduced that substantially. Prisoners are rarely able to get even a GED. While I can understand the feelings of those wishing to deny prisoners any kind of benefit, it is disturbing just how far people are willing to take it.

As for the second point, prison conditions are so much worse than people think (and people think they are really bad), but asking employees of the institution how it is doing is not a move that makes a lot of sense. If it is your job to keep order, you’re obviously going to say things are going great. Prisoners are a much better source of that information. I understand they may be angry, but I cannot imagine it is that difficult to separate the true stories from the fictitious ones. It is as simple as tracking what people say and seeing what comes up repeatedly.

Community Corrections

  • Focus on employment.

See my above comment about employ-ability and recidivism.

Drug policy

  • Expand the availability of drug treatment.  End the prejudice against substitution therapies in diversion programs and drug courts.

This has worked wonders in Portugal.


  • Aggressively trace crime guns back to their last lawful transfer.

This is so important. Gun owners need to responsible. If your gun gets stolen, report it stolen. If you don’t and someone commits a crime with it, you should be held criminally liable.

Social services and other non-punitive anti-crime measures

  • Start middle school and high school later in the day, and end them later.

I have argued for this since I was in school. It doesn’t make sense to release kids before they have any options for supervision. The burden either falls to the schools (keep them entertained until at least 5pm) or the community (often police). The short school day stems from a belief that students would go crazy if they were over-educated. It was also a time when kids worked to earn money for their families, so spending a long time in school would be detrimental to financial well-being. Luckily, we have child-labor laws now. More time in school would have so many benefits, it seems ridiculous that we don’t already have longer days. We could hire more teachers, give students more specialized attention in the subjects they struggle in, save parents money on childcare services, justify (to those who argue against it) higher teacher pay, and reduce crime.

You can read all parts of the series here.


About Sylvia Fredericks

Second-Year MPA student at the La Follette School for Public Affairs (University of Wisconsin - Madison)
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