Smart on Crime

Via Hit and Run comes this excellent article by Fox Butterfield in the New York Times: With Cash Tight, States Reassess Long Jail Terms.

In the past year, about 25 states have passed laws eliminating some of the lengthy mandatory minimum sentences so popular in the 1980’s and 1990’s, restoring early release for parole and offering treatment instead of incarceration for some drug offenders. In the process, politicians across the political spectrum say they are discovering a new motto. Instead of being tough on crime, it is more effective to be smart on crime.

Finally, a new motto: Smart on Crime. We need to hope that it takes root, and do everything we can to promote it.
For decades, we have watched politicians trying to one-up each other in being tough on crime.

Politician A: “I’m tough on crime.”
Politician B: “I’m tougher on crime. My opponent is actually soft on crime”
Politician A: “I’m toughest on crime. I’ve just proposed a bill to increase…”
Politician B: “My opponent’s bill isn’t as tough on crime as my new bill…”

By the time they’ve finished comparing penises, some pot smoker’s getting extended jail time, and we’re paying for it.
We’re buying new prisons; we’re paying for incarceration at a cost of around $24,000 per year per inmate; we’re facing the devastation in families and communities; we’re paying for bloated enforcement regimes; we’re paying in lost rights; in some cases, we’re paying with our lives.
And all because some politicians are afraid to appear flaccid.
But maybe, just maybe, we can convince them that “smart” is sexier than “tough,” and if politicians learn to be smart on crime, we could have some positive changes, because they’ll soon learn that:

  • Putting away non-violent drug offenders isn’t being smart on crime.
  • Spending more on drug enforcement than drug treatment isn’t being smart on crime.
  • Locking up medical marijuana users isn’t being smart on crime.
  • Jailing glass pipe makers isn’t being smart on crime.
  • One-size-fits-all sentencing minimums isn’t being smart on crime.
  • Having the largest prison population in the world isn’t being smart on crime.

Tell your elected officials that you want them to be smart.

[Update: Talk Radio Refugee has more on this.]
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