Thursday, November 13, 2014

Less Prison but No More Crime

As the great crime wave and associated fear of crime have faded across the US,states have been reducing their prison populations. A study by the Pew Public Safety Performance Project found that those states that reduced their prison populations the most had, on average, bigger drops in crime. This does not show that reducing prison time reduces crime, since the causality might run the other way, but it certainly shows that there is no simple equation by which longer sentences lead to less crime.

1 comment:

G. Verloren said...

Putting aside the small minority of genuinely mentally ill criminals...

Crime is, and always has been, about desperation and misery. People who are happy and have their needs met don't commit serious crimes, because they have no reason to. If you have everything you need to get by, what motivation do you have to take the sorts of personal risks and cause the sort of harm to others intrinsic to crime?

It's people who are unhappy and who are in need that turn to crime, because at a certain point it becomes easier than the alternatives. The more miserable you are and the fewer options you have (or even just THINK you have), the more reasonable crime seems in comparison. No one steals a big screen television or mugs someone for their wallet at knife point unless it's the easier alternative to getting the things they want (or even just THINK they want).

A big part of the factor is hope, or the lack thereof. When you have hope for your own future, you're less willing to do harm to others - but when you have little hope to speak of, when your actions seem pointless and your life meaningless, it becomes a lot easier to justify doing things you know are harmful to others.

On that note, I have to wonder if maybe part of the reason crime is down since the Cold War era is because the world seems more hopeful - not having the spectre of imminent nuclear holocaust looming over you at all times probably makes for a less desperate, miserable culture on the whole.

When the bombs might drop and the world might end at any day, it made sense for people to be shallow, greedy, materialistic, hedonistic, and self absorbed. If the end is nigh, why not do whatever it takes to enjoy yourself while you still have time? Hit a line of cocaine! Sleep with anything that moves! Make as much money as you can as fast as you can, and blow it all on fast cars, trendy fashions, and consumer electronics!

Fast forward thirty years, and crime has been steadily dropping since the Berlin Wall fell. Now, of couse, that alone isn't the only factor involved - but it seems like it might be a major one, no?