My Saturday night was spent reading Mark Kleiman’s excellent new book, When Brute Force Fails. The central argument Kleiman advances is that not only could we have less crime, but also less punishment, if we were to adopt some changes to crime control policy. He provides several examples of strategies that have worked and concludes the book with many recommendations for better crime control.
Kleiman’s use of the phrase crime control is important. This is not a book about criminal justice theory or of punishment theory. It is a straightforward policy tome that will appeal to both practitioners and a lay audience. There are no shibboleths here. No conservative calls for locking ’em all up and throwing away the key. Nor liberal root cause excuses. Kleiman does provide some perspective on root causes and how jail and prison help to foster some of these underlying pathologies.
The brute force alluded to in the title is our system’s current focus on severity. Kleiman argues that we would be better served (via reduced crime) by reorienting towards swiftness and certainty. There are, essentially, two values in punishment that we can tweak- severity and probability. We’ve chosen the former for the past forty years, with disastrous results- financial and social. By increasing the likelihood of punishment, we can deter more crime while incarcerating fewer people.
Kleiman backs his argument with specific examples of crime control policies that have worked. And the best feature of this book is its practical nature. There are so many good ideas in here that it ought to be required reading for all of our political leaders and public safety officials.
There are two other small things that stood out. Kleiman’s acknowledgments is one of the most generous pieces I have seen in quite some time. And I think that is indicative of his inherent good nature. In addition, when discussing the work of other scholars he is kind enough to provide biographical information, which is a great resource for nerds like me who will want to look further into these others’ works.
Without a doubt, this is one of the best policy books I have read in years. Most highly recommended.