Rethinking the politics of crime
It is fair to say that many American criminal justice officials live in fear of finding themselves in a similar position to Crispin Blunt: out on an island, on the wrong side of the “tough on crime” debate. This understandable fear has broad consequences for the field of criminal justice. Among other things, it creates a risk-averse environment where both policymakers and practitioners are reluctant to challenge the status quo and test new ideas.
This is a problem that Aubrey Fox and I examine in our new book Trial and Error in Criminal Justice Reform: Learning from Failure (2010: Urban Institute Press). The central argument of the book is that criminal justice officials should adopt a lesson from the field of science, embracing the trial-and-error process and talking more honestly about how difficult it is to change the behavior of offenders and reduce chronic offending in crime-plagued urban neighborhoods.
Is this the end of the war on crime?
....Some states and localities are also starting to invest in restorative justice models, putting offenders to work to repair the damage they caused the community rather than simply warehousing them in prisons.
Father George Horan, co-director of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles's Office of Restorative Justice, has spent a lifetime watching youngsters do stupid things and, as a result, ruin their lives. He has seen generations of kids graduate from being troubled children to hardened prisoners. And he has grown increasingly cynical about the ability of penal institutions to solve ingrained social problems. Far better, he has come to believe, to sit nonviolent offenders down with their families, teachers, peers, even victims, and force them to come to terms with the consequences of their actions.
UK restorative justice pre-election special report from Restorative Justice Consortium
from RJC's April e-Bulletin:
In the first televised election debate the party leaders were asked how they will make our country a safer place to live and work. Nick Clegg, Leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: “What I’ve seen in my city of Sheffield is that you get these youngsters not when they have done serious crimes, when they are first starting to get into trouble to face their victims, explain why they have done what they have done to their victims, apologise for what they’ve done, make up for what they have done in the community, cleaning up parks and streets. It has a dramatic effect on their behaviour. I want to change people’s behaviour before they become the criminals of tomorrow.” (ITV Player 19mins:16sec)
Tough on crime but short on logic
Promises beget price tags.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has revealed very little about the cost of the crime crackdown his government has begun and plans to extend in this session of Parliament.
The Department of Public Safety has estimates of the growth of the prison population but the minister, Peter Van Loan, refuses to make them public, citing cabinet confidentiality. The government has projections of the cost of imposing mandatory minimum sentences for drug offences, meting out longer jail terms and beefing up police forces. But it hasn't made them public.
Even in secrecy-obsessed Ottawa, however, some information gets out.
This month, Correctional Service Canada released its spending estimates for the coming fiscal year. They showed a 43 per cent increase in capital expenditures on penitentiaries.
In 2010-11, the government expects to spend $329.4 million on prison infrastructure. Last year's jail-building budget was $230.8 million. To put these numbers in perspective, Correctional Service Canada spent $88.5 million on prison construction when Harper took office four years ago.
Locking up non-violent youths costs millions and does little to reduce crime
Whilst much of our work focuses on unnecessary imprisonment, we also champion alternatives to custody which have the potential to offer young people, and the communities they come from, a better deal. This is where restorative justice, a way of resolving conflict and repairing harm by bringing the offender and the victim together through closely managed ‘conferences’ or meetings, comes in.
The case for restorative justice, or restorative approaches as it is also known, has been building on the ground for some time now, with many schools and residential children's homes around the country using restorative practices to great effect as an alternative to traditional forms of punishment and conflict resolution.
True community policing means restorative justice
Community Policing has become one of those "assumed good things" that we all are supposed to support. But what do we mean by community policing? Does it mean we should be happy with just having a police officer at a community meeting, or on the street? Is a beat cop the whole story? Is there a role for the community beyond being informants?
My view of Community Policing has to do with merging community values and existing statues. Local communities need to be involved in helping community youth become aware and understand what is acceptable and what is not.
Economic analysis of interventions for young adult offenders
This report summarises an economic analysis of alternative interventions for young adult offenders. It concludes that, for all offenders aged 18-24 sentenced in a Magistrate’s court for a non-violent offence1 in a given year:
- Diversion from community orders to pre-court RJ conferencing schemes (following a police triage service in which police officers make an immediate assessment of the need and likely benefit from a community intervention) is likely to produce a lifetime cost saving to society of almost £275 million (£7,050 per offender). The costs of RJ conferencing are likely to be paid back within the first year of implementation. During the course of two parliaments (10 years), implementation of such a scheme would be likely to lead to a total net benefit to society during this period of over £1 billion.
- Diversion from custody to community orders via changes in sentencing guidelines is likely to produce a lifetime cost saving to society of more than £12 million (£1,032 per offender). The costs of changing sentencing guidelines are likely to be paid back within three years of implementation. During the course of two parliaments (10 years), implementation of such a scheme would be likely to lead to a total net benefit to society during this period of almost £33 million.
- Diversion from trial under adult law to trial under juvenile law following maturity assessment is likely to produce a lifetime cost saving to society of almost £5 million (£420 per offender). The costs of maturity assessments are likely to be paid back within five years of implementation. During the course of two parliaments (10 years), implementation of such a scheme would be likely to lead to a total net benefit to society during this period of almost £473,000.
'Pizza thief' walks the line
From the Los Angeles Times article by Jack Leonard:
If he ever returns to prison, Jerry Dewayne Williams knows he'll probably never get out.
To stay clear of trouble, he has left behind the Compton neighborhood where police knew him and cut ties with friends from wilder days. Once a hard partyer, the 43-year-old says he prefers the company of a mystery novel or a "Law and Order" episode on television.
Williams is one of more than 14,000 felons who, under California's three-strikes law, face a possible life sentence if they commit another felony. But few, if any, grasp the reality of that threat better than Williams.
The world is not as it should be: Punitiveness as a response to societal change
....As a policy, three strikes does a lot more than provide harsher punishment. It also takes discretionary authority away from the judiciary, who traditionally have had the flexibility to vary sentences in response to judgements about the nature of crime, the victim and the offender. In the United States, studies showed a long-term trend toward increasing skepticism and lack of confidence in the legal authorities. This in turn had led to:
- A tendency to ignore judicial orders and the law;
- Greater tolerance of vigilantism or extralegal behaviour of citizens;
- Jury behaviour which nullifies the law.
Conservative criminal justice policy and restorative justice
....[I]f we win the election, we will be missing a great opportunity if we do not seize the moment to move Restorative Justice to a much higher place on the agenda of criminal justice reform.
It‟s very simple: if I become the Prisons Minister, I will be a strong advocate and supporter of RJ.