Saturday, June 23, 2007

Grits En Fuego

Grits for Breakfast has a nice linky post up that includes a couple of posts re-emphasizing my old analogy of corr sent policy advocacy often being nothing more than rain dancing. Not sure if you remember, but basically it goes like this: 4 states in a drought, one tries rain dancing, one prayer, one cloud spraying, and one nothing. All get rain. The rain dancers claim victory, as do the prayers and sprayers. All 3 are full of it, clearly, but who challenges them in their state, especially if they're loud and in your face enough? Same with our corr sent policy people, one claiming incarceration brought down crime, another "broken windows" enforcement, another treatment and diversion, another does nothing (Canada for those of you who wonder). Crime comes down roughly the same in all 4, yet the incarceration people and the others declare victory for their method. Huh?

Well, Grits has found several stories today showing just how ephemeral our corr sent policy efforts are, basically showing that there's a lot of bluster and not much direct impact to show. First, he finds a report in the Texas Monthly indicating that two states, TX and CA, that went drastically different directions with their incarceration of juveniles in recent years saw basically the same impact on crime rates. Then he finds that story we posted on earlier on adult drug use (non-marijuana) and a note that the small percentage of admitted users still amounts to 15 m. hard drug users out there last year. How's that War on Drugs workin' out for us, huh? Other than the impact it's nevertheless had on our prison populations and the rest of our public safety budget that's suffered to fund that ginormous failure?

As I've said before, crime and crime rates seem to flow to nonlinear patterns and rhythms that are only marginally influenced by specific human policies. Given our scarce resources and how putting more into one interconnected area means less for the others, such as more into prisons means less into law enforcement and prosecution, more into drug offenders means less into violent or habitual offenders, this isn't really surprising, but it seems outside the realm of comprehension for most corr sent policymakers. (Maybe we should send all of them copies of the recent The Social Atom, which explains the whole concept generally for about everything humans do.) The best we can do is really just a containment approach with some efforts at structuring the channels for the flows resulting from our interactions, which requires us to understand and tolerate the inevitable ebbs and flows with something resembling maturity. But that is a profoundly conservative view, I realize, and practitioners who reckon themselves "heroic" and constituents who demand salvation despite reality and human history can't handle it. So we will keep getting the rain dancers, who will "be successful" during the periods of ebbs and blame someone else during the flows, and still be throwing dollars away at all these patent remedies until we just can't find another dollar to throw.

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