Sunday, December 02, 2007

Money, Meet Mouth

When you go off the deep end on a topic like I did here, you sorta owe people an outline of what you would recommend as an alternative when you argue for more aggressive policy promotion. One problem the "what works" reports always face is that, in the spectrum of policy arguments, they are always placed at one end opposite the Cliff Clavens who never let a bad idea get bogged down by reality. In practical politics, the reports become one of the anchors at each end of the spectrum, making the inevitable "split the difference," "moderation in all things" approach move too far away from what the research shows. What the reports need is a Malcolm X to make Dr. King look like the moderate, not the radical. There needs to be an aggressive, pro-reality policy agenda actively pushed that makes the compromises closer to what the reports indicate. Compromises of sense with nonsense . . . well, you do the math. (Or look at current laws and their impacts.)

So here are some ideas for what that agenda should look like. It would have to be promoted with emphasis on the long-term reduction of crime and victimization, not costs alone; on being tough, not just smart (since people aren't praying for brains to come along when they're afraid of victimization); and on recognizing that we can't just tell people to lock up those we're afraid of, not mad at, when whacking people we're mad at is one of the reasons people support criminal justice policy in the first place. Basically, the agenda focuses on two elements--removal of some inmates to other punishments AT NO DECREASE TO PUBLIC SAFETY to free up bedspace for more violent and habitual offenders and greater use of evidence, feedback, and practitioner accountability in corr sent policymaking and practice.

For removal of inmates without endangering public safety, we would:
  • decriminalize amounts of pot clearly for use and not sale, at the same time freeing up drug unit resources to go after clear drug dangers like coke, heroin, meth, alco . . . sorry, couldn't do that because we know from Prohibition that that would just create a self-defeating, counterproductive system that would empower and enrich all kinds of bad guys. It would be stupid to repeat that mistake.
  • place a moratorium on sending juveniles to adult systems and pump more and better dollars (maybe from our reduction of pot forces) into implementing the clear research about what's effective and has high payoff in reduced victimization in this area rather than keep treating juv just like a poor stepchild called upstairs to haul ashes.
  • mandate pharmaceutical and bioengineered treatments for substance abusers, including second-time DUIs, which should counter any claims that this is a touchy-feely approach to these issues since letting the TECHNOCORRECTIONS nose under the net even more should scare the he-l out of everybody even though it's coming whether we like it or not.
  • develop full-scale and refined risk assessment instruments (like LSI-Rs and recid stats for similar offenders) upfront for judges at sentencing (even if most judges don't have a clue how much better this would be than the average PSI right now) to separate low risk from moderate and high risk offenders, with prohibitions on sending low risks to prison (which research has shown is like sending juvies to adult) and concentrating on specific criminogenic problem areas of the higher risks (who also have the higher crime reduction payoffs that don't get nearly enough resources because we spend them on low risks). (And, again, if you think this is touchy-feely, listen to defense counsel yell about applying profiles and actuarial stats to their clients.)

For the greater use of research and feedback, we should:

  • require COMSTAT-like management tools in both law enforcement and probation & parole, particularly to identify and target "hot spots" for aggressive community policing, both the arrest and the community-building aspects of it, to focus resources most effectively and to allow greater accountability of those officers. (And it wouldn't hurt to put a lot of the reduced corrections funding that comes from this agenda into more cops on the street and working with these communities.)
  • empower civilian community review boards as agents of community values rather than practitioner values, heavy on experts in corrections, criminology, and public administration (NOT fellow attorneys), to oversee prosecutor and defense practice and complaints about them and to act as mandatory auditors when corr sent policies and programs have high profile failures in order to fix appropriate and professional responsibility and to offset demands for shotgun "remedies" that sound tough on talk radio or when high on oxycontin but most often damage far more than they protect.
  • mandate impact statements for all new corr sent-related legislation, including impacts of the proposed law on ALL components of the crim just system and on specific race and ethnic groups, and requiring that all proposals detail projected bedspace and other resource needs and where that funding will come from in the state treasuries before they can be passed.
  • create restorative justice coordinating councils in every county to coordinate restorative justice efforts on behalf of crime victims and fund Innocence Project activities in the state to investigate inappropriate practitioner behavior and recommend effective restorative efforts on behalf of wrongly convicted citizens.
  • here's my usual, sorry--enact sentencing commissions as envisioned originally by Marvin Frankel, that is, bodies that have the ability to set sentences subject to oversight by elected officials by extraordinary majorities to take the volatile and irrational policy area away from policymakers who have demonstrated inability to function as anything other than just short of lynch mobs in state after state, just as the nation did when it removed monetary policy from majority rule insanity and put it in a permanent body overseen by elected officials, making it both democratic in a republican sense and constitutional, despite the claims of barroom opponents.

Well, there you have it. I've put my money where my mouth is (it's obviously been a slow weekend, although I can recommend "Enchanted" if you haven't seen and don't want your brain tested). See how debate about any or all of these creates a new playing field within the boundaries of which the current "radicals" and far anchors in the discussions can suddenly have credibility and room for compromise more to their liking? You can do better, I suppose? I'd like to see that. Really. I would. Feel free to use the comments to give it a try.

(I'll take full credit for any ideas that make the cover of TIME.)

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