Smart on crime: Why reforming criminal justice is now a Conservative issue
May 21, 2012
from the article in The Economist:
....It is not only in Britain that criminal-justice reform has become a right-wing issue. The Right on Crime initiative, a creation of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a think-tank, counts leading Republicans such as Newt Gingrich and Jeb Bush among the fans of its campaign to divert more offenders from prisons to non-custodial sentences. Half of all American states voted to reduce the use of custody last year.
There is plenty of room for relaxation in punitive America, which locks up almost one in 100 people (England and Wales put away fewer than one in 500). But similar forces are at work in both places. Fiscal pressure is mounting. Overall crime rates are falling. And stubborn reoffending rates suggest that some things are not working.
Prisons are one of them.
....In fact community disposals are a mixed bag. Some, such as the Intensive Alternative to Custody (IAC) operated in Manchester, require a lot of both offenders and supervisors. The results seem good: as of November, only 18% of the Manchester participants had had their IAC orders revoked for further offending. Other programmes push offenders to engage with their victims and try to make restitution: such “restorative justice” may reduce recidivism by as much as 14 points. Many, though, are poorly designed and enforced. Voters tend to take a dim view of their efficacy—though some polls suggest they do not rate prison much either.
....Will the reforms work? There are three worries. The first is that the politically driven insistence on making community sentences highly punitive may also make them less effective at getting offenders to confront and root out the causes of their offending. A few may even prefer watching television in prison. A second is that, in making justice swifter and involving victims and communities in sentencing, the government may be short-selling offenders’ right to the due process of law.
The third worry is that the reforms involve a large bet on payment by results before there is clear evidence in Britain or elsewhere on how to make it work in criminal justice. To the extent that the approach brings better providers of services into the mix, it must be right. Experience suggests, however, that getting criminals to go straight is neither easy nor cheap, whether it is done in prison or in the community. Only by focusing on more than cutting costs will this bold experiment succeed.