Every weekday, I receive a useful summary of crime, policing, and justice news stories called Crime and Justice News, compiled by Ted Gest at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Considering that there are so many relevant articles from which to choose, Gest and his assistants do a good job of spotting national trends.
But, sometimes, reading through the report is singularly depressing, not only because crime is depressing, but because the trends in crime prevention that crop up regularly these days seem doomed to failure.
In yesterday’s Crime and Justice News, the first two stories on the list, taken together, are particularly grim:
Detroit Kids Say No-Snitch Culture Ingrained
Clergy and civic groups have joined Detroit’s new leadership in calling for an end to youth violence — specifically targeting the no-snitch culture that says it’s better, and safer, to turn a blind eye to criminal acts. Kids on the street are saying: Good luck, reports the Detroit News. “In this city, it’s come down to a combination of fear and I don’t care,” said Antonio Bolden, 15. “When it comes to the no-snitch thing, this city is too far gone.”
Chief County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said, “Without people telling what they know to law enforcement we would have anarchy in the streets.” Some say that’s already a good description of Detroit. . .
A Formula For Less Crime, Less Punishment
If punishments for wrongdoing are sporadic and delayed, increasing severity has only modest impact. That’s why quintupling the prison and jail population has failed to get us back to the crime rates of the early 1960s. So says public policy Prof. Mark A. R. Kleiman of UCLA in When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment, from Princeton University Press this summer. . .
There’s no need to explain why the “No-Snitching” article is depressing. But even though Kleiman’s research is well worth a read — he argues that immediate consequences and zero tolerance for infractions can make parole and probation highly effective and reduce the need for prison sentences — his theory doesn’t have a chance of working.
Not because, as some would argue, we are philosophically wedded to harsh, long incarcerations, but because precisely the opposite is true. Too many powerful people are so opposed to incarceration, particularly for drug crimes, that they will be no more willing to enhance probation and parole with threatened prison terms than they were to enhancing other types of sentencing.
The real problem is the power of the defense bar and the many ways they have devised to bankrupt the justice system. That’s where all the money went. You can spend all day jiggering the system at its edges, but if you don’t tackle the bloated, kleptocratic defense bar, with its stranglehold on procedure and evidence rules, you will accomplish nothing.
The other problem is dumbing down justice. Academicians can come up with wonderful plans, but by the time they get enforced, they don’t look the same anymore. We already have rules governing the behavior of people on parole, and often they simply get ignored. We already have minimum mandatory laws that are supposed to “weed out” the worst offenders, and judges ignore them. We already have a vast network of “community sentencing” and drug court options, and a lot of them are scams.
The only thing that guarantees that people will not re-offend during a certain time period is incarceration.
But anti-incarceration activism and the economic crisis are now working hand-in-hand to drive states to abandon crime-fighting and replace it with “job training” and “community outreach,” the money for which is showering down from federal deficit-spending largess, not scraped out of strained state and city budgets. All of which would be lovely if only it (a) actually worked and (b) didn’t instantaneously disappear into the voluminous pockets of political cronies.
Add to that, (c) nobody in high-crime communities labors under the illusion that serious and repeat offenders are actually removed from the streets now, so communities are already spiraling out of control. Fixing parole is a band-aid. Activists talk about the need to empty the prisons and overturn minimum mandatory sentencing, but in reality, it’s already done. The streets are already crawling with violent recidivists who are already getting a mere slap on the wrist for their seventh, or twenty-seventh offenses.
The Detroit News article has some interesting quotes from community members who are demanding more law enforcement and harsher sentencing — not less, as many experts propose. But then the reporter lays the blame for lax enforcement of laws and short prison terms at the feet of prosecutors and police, as if they are the ones who want to let suspects walk and felons plead down.
Where is the blame for the criminal bar, the defense attorneys, the pro-criminal judges — the real source of the culture of leniency?
Meanwhile, academicians and policy makers continue to insist that the only “solution” is to empty the prisons. I suspect they will win. Then we’ll all be back in 1993, with Detroit leading the way.
At least criminology will remain a growth profession.