McArdle on not being stupid about de-incarceration:
We’re hampered by the rampant perception that all we need is to wise up and stop incarcerating people for simply possessing drugs, something many of us feel shouldn’t be a crime at all and certainly shouldn’t merit prison time. At the event I attended, someone who has actually studied the matter closely pointed out what experts know and most journalists apparently don’t: Relatively few people are in prison for simple possession or for other minor crimes. The shock in the room was palpable.
Yup. As it turns out, the U.S. has a violence problem, and that violence problem drives the desire to build prisons, as anyone who was paying attention during the 1980’s and 1990’s, when the three-strikes, mandatory-sentencing laws were put in place, should remember.
So what is to be done?
We have the tools to incarcerate less — maybe not down to western European levels, but much less than we do. Those tools include “swift and certain” programs such as HOPE and 24/7 Sobriety, which use monitoring and small but immediate punishments to reduce the rate of reoffense. They also include GPS ankle monitors, which enable law enforcement to keep offenders off the streets during high-crime hours while still enabling them to be home with their families or commuting to a job.
This has a level of creepiness to it, in a Big Brother/Minority Report kind of way. But it’s still not as bad as prison. And if it works, we should take a shot at it. Otherwise, we should expect more of the same.