Crime and Consequences points us to a British study finding that robbers frequently enjoy the work they do. Not news to anyone who's read Jack Katz's Seductions of Crime (17 years old now) or Paul Cromwell's anthology, In Their Own Words: Criminals on Crime (4th edition), just as eye-opening now as when they first appeared. These books have greatly shaped my own predispositions about policy effectiveness in criminal justice, almost as much as Sampson and Laub's work on "life-course criminology" which similarly looks in depth at individual offender behavior, something economists and commentators don't find helpful. For one thing, these books put the lie to the "economic" explanation for crime. These offenders do get benefits from their behavior, but, until you read their own accounts of what those benefits are, you don't know that their calculus is so broad and "one size fits none" that it's virtually worthless for creating deterrents. Surprise for our high recidivism rates and for the studies finding their desistance being based so much on things government can't control. The other thing is that these works alert you to the chasm between the incentives of offenders and the incentives of those designing the punishments for them. You and I? The threat of 5-10 years in prison is serious. Hell, 5-10 minutes is enough for most of us. I'd be talking "seconds." But we're not them. They do crimes for reasons, like keeping up a "party" lifestyle, that are apparently shocking to folks like the guys who did this study, that don't translate into our law-abiding worlds easily. I've often thought that, if you really want to do effective punishments, they shouldn't be done by legislators or crim just practitioners--they should be done by former or even current offenders. You don't think they wouldn't get their jollies doing something like that? Then it sounds like you should read the British study. . . . In our daily theft from Doug Berman at Sentencing Law and Policy, we find a Reason critique of the "crime-free zone" concept some policy types typically are buying into before thinking through the consequences. I'm sure he won't mind if I borrow a couple of the things he cites from the article:
Across the country, politicians are eager to draw magical circles of protection they claim will banish evil and keep children safe. It's an easy, cheap way of opposing what everyone opposes and supporting what everyone supports. But the resulting crazy quilt of drug-free, gun-free, and molester-free zones is ineffective, sometimes counterproductive, and frequently unjust....
It's doubtful that zoning laws like these have ever or will ever protect a single child from drug addiction, gun violence, or sexual assault. But they do give children a valuable lesson in the hazards of political grandstanding. . . .
Prawfsblawg has been silent for a while on the need to pull law and other disciplines together on policy study in a single school, but they've got a nice post up right now on how that's an idea that some of the top schools are considering for a "new generation" of innovation in legal training. Specifically, Vanderbilt is apparently forming a law and econ Ph. D. program (just what we need, another incursion from a discipline that colonizes others without having its own house in order). Of course, Boalt has had a law and social policy degree for a while now. Despite my antipathy for the economics emphasis (I swear, some of my best friends know people who are economists), these are at least steps in the right direction. My interests, though, are in a program that understands that law isn't separate from the other elements that come together in criminal justice, so it can incorporate criminology, complexity theory, cognitive science, and the ethics of corrections, including the "techno" kind in a holistic way. That's apparently something that will require development from outside a law school and overcome the turf protection of the other disciplines. A U of MD crim program, or maybe those at Rutgers or Penn, would be good possibilities, but no one's clued in yet. It couldn't be that I'm completely off my rocker . . . .