Some Modest Proposals to Reduce Crime
As I have said on many occasions, in many different ways, in this column and elsewhere, to seriously address the problem of crime in our society we need to first recognize that this is a complex issue, with many different variables at work. There are no simple solutions, no “magic bullets,” no cute sound bites that can make things better. What I offer here are ten things we absolutely must do if we are serious about reducing crime.
Ø End the war on drugs by treating drug abuse as a public health issue, rather than a criminal justice issue. We have spent literally more than a trillion dollars in the past 25 years and the latest research shows negligible results. If this means treating drugs like cocaine, heroin and marijuana like we do tobacco and alcohol (with many restrictions, taxes, regulations, etc.), then so be it. Use the money instead for treatment and prevention. Create more drug courts while expanding the treatment options provided.
Ø End mandatory sentencing and similar measures. With the money saved from not keeping so many people in prison for so long, we could create good alternatives, such as close supervision in the community combined with mental health and drug/alcohol counseling, education and job training programs, etc.
Ø Expand mental health services by creating what are known as “mental health courts” that are part of a growing trend in many cities (e.g., Portland, Oregon), since as many as one-third of all of those processed through the criminal justice system have been diagnosed with some form of mental illness.
Ø Focus on domestic violence more, including creating specialized courts and police services. There is more crime committed inside homes than on the streets.
Ø Do whatever it takes to address the growing problem of social inequality in this society. Virtually every urban area is experiencing what amounts to a depression, with high rates of homelessness (speaking of this, Las Vegas has one of the highest rates of homelessness in the country), unemployment, poverty-level wages among many workers, high dropout rates, etc. Perhaps a kind of “Public Works Program” like the WPA in the 1930s would be required. Maybe even a kind of “Marshall Plan” for the inner cities.
Ø Expand “head start” and similar programs for at risk youth. Those that are well-run and well-funded appear to be successful. While we are looking at delinquency prevention, do whatever we can to decrease the dropout rates.
Ø Speaking of reducing delinquency, one of the most successful programs is the Detention Diversion Advocacy Project (DDAP), begun in San Francisco in the early 1990s (go to my web site and click on the “Solutions” page). This kind of program should be operating in every major city.
Ø Expand programs for women offenders through what is known as “gender responsive strategies” (see the “Solutions Page” on my web site). As we all know, women are obviously different than men and when it comes to crime the same applies.
Ø Speaking of women, one of the horrible consequences (“collateral damages”) of rising incarceration rates (mostly because of the drug war) is that more than 2 million children are growing up with at least one parent in prison; in too many cases it is their mother (women are the fastest rising proportion of the prison population – again the drug war is to blame). In addition to creating alternative sentencing for women so they can spend more time with their children, make available more services for the children left behind, including more visiting privileges. Unfortunately, many women’s prisons are located many miles away from where the children live.
Ø Either begin or re-instate programs that provide health care, job training, welfare benefits, low-income housing, education, etc. The typical prisoner today has few marketable skills and little formal education – which is a main reason he or she is in prison.
Some who read this might wonder where the money will come from. Start with the $418 billion that has already been spent on the war in Iraq. Then there is the estimated $50 billion being spent on the drug war this year. Add to this the tax cuts that the Bush administration has given away, totaling about $477 billion, according to Citizens for Tax Justice (http://www.ctj.org/). This is more than $1 trillion. Need I say more?