The most severe law enforcement will achieve little if lower-class urban offenders can see no legitimate way to solve their problems or satisfy their aspirations. At the absolute best it could turn the criminals into a passive underclass which is forever dependent on welfare benefits. Even then the most energetic and ambitious members of this underclass would eventually be targeted by recruiters for organized crime or terrorist organizations.
Social improvements alone will be ineffective if the atmosphere of fear and hopelessness which pervades crime-ridden areas prevents local people from taking advantage of them, or if the improvement are sabotaged by those who have a stake in the existing situation (e. g. loan-sharks and gang-leaders). So we need a combination of: • Long-term measures to enable people to improve their own lives.
• Medium-term measures to mitigate the situation while the long-term measures are in progress, and to deal with the difficulties which a few people will continue to experience – it’s unrealistic to expect that we can solve all urban social problems completely. • Improved law enforcement to prevent the situation from getting worse and to give the locals confidence that their efforts will not be undermined by random crimes and will not be sabotaged by those who have a stake in the existing situation.
The term “law enforcement” needs further analysis, which I will supply in the next section. Law enforcement Overview of law enforcement This has three main components: • Policing • The legal system • Sentencing – in this essay I regard prison construction and operation as part of the infrastructure which supports sentencing. To save space I will not consider the legal system here, since the question specifically mentioned policing and sentencing (references to prisons and the death penalty) but not the legal system. Policing
To remove crime-induced fear and hopelessness and to discourage those who have a stake in the existing situation from sabotaging improvements I recommend the “New York” policing model (described by Griffith, 1999): • Zero tolerance for all crime, even minor vandalism. This will often deter offenders from “progressing” to more serious crimes. • Making senior local officers accountable for the performance of their units. • Information systems which enable officers at all levels to identify and respond to the highest-priority requirements.
To make it clear to local communities that this is for their benefit and not just an exercise in “aggressive policing”, local governments should: • Explain to local people the objectives of the project and the standards which are to govern police conduct. • Provide channels through which locals can easily raise and swiftly resolve issues, including any complaints about the behavior of the police. These channels must be conspicuously independent of the police. Sentencing In mild cases, e. g. minor vandalism and assaults, I recommend: • Community service sentences, where possible in forms which compensate the victims.
This also teach the offenders to get along with law-abiding members of their local communities and hopefully will encourage local people to see some good in the offenders. Some offenders should also be required to attend appropriate rehabilitation or training centers, to help them to manage their finances better or to stop using addictive drugs or to manage grievances without resorting to crime. We should probably reduce their community service workload a little to avoid seeing to punish these offenders more severely than other categories.
• Electronic tags which track offender’s movements, to deter against re-offending or evasion of community service. Tags will also make it easier to protect former teenage gangsters against threats and other pressures to re-join their old gangs, and in some cases it may also be helpful to provide with young offenders with panic buttons in case they are attacked by their old gangs or by rival gangs which regard them as easy targets. • Prison sentences (described below) for those who violate the terms of their initial sentences without overwhelmingly good reasons.
Prison sentences are necessary for serious crimes because the continued presence of serious offenders in their local communities will cause fear and therefore undermine attempts at longer-term improvements. In many cases, particularly for young offenders, work and education camps in sparsely-populated areas may be more suitable than traditional prisons: • Such camps would separate the offenders both from the social environments in which they turned to crime and from the company of hardened criminals.
• Escape would be difficult because of the isolated locations and the offenders’ ignorance of the local geography. • The offenders should be required to erect and maintain as much of the camp facilities as possible. This would both teach them they can only get comforts by working and provide a sense of achievement with each improvement in the camp environment. • There should be plenty of opportunities to earn privileges by work and by educational progress. • Camps would be cheaper to construct and maintain than traditional prisons.
I will explain at the end my views on the death penalty. Reducing teenage gangsterism Teenage gangsters desire higher status than they can acquire by legitimate means, and value the regard of their peers more highly than the opinions of adults. The youths are often born into sub-cultures which are at least partially alienated from the rest of our society by • Barriers such as poverty and discrimination. • Sub-culture values such as extreme machismo. Typical crimes include vandalism, assault and murder, and small-scale armed robbery.
In addition to their direct costs, these crimes often create an air of fear and hopelessness in the areas affected, which perpetuates the problem by persuading the next generation of teenagers that the only path to safety, status and prosperity is via gang membership. Remedial measures In the long term we must remove the motivation by providing accessible legitimate paths to higher status and prosperity: • Education which is comprehensible to the urban youths but enables them to earn status and wealth in legitimate ways.
For example it may initially have to be delivered in the local patois but it must aim to make students proficient in standard English so that they can enter higher levels of education and / or obtain better-paid jobs. • Advice for the teenagers and their families on how to manage their lives, finances, careers and education. • Access to resources such as books and the Internet. Public libraries are the most obvious way to provide these. We must also provide legitimate short-term outlets for teenagers’ ambitions and energies.
The most obvious one is sports, which will particularly appeal to the strongest, most competitive and most aggressive teenagers – the potential gang-leaders. I therefore suggest: • Facilities for those who wish to play various sports on a casual basis. • Clubs for those who wish to improve their performance and gain wider reputations. • Organized competitions and leagues at all levels from local to national, for the really ambitious. Reducing crimes committed because of financial crises Long term reduction in personal financial crises requires a fairly complex package including:
• Improved education to enable people to obtain better-paid jobs. • Advice on personal financial management. Hopefully these crises will eventually become less common, but they will probably never disappear completely, so there will always be a need for palliatives: • Cheap, quick, reliable legal advice for common types of case. • Inexpensive but not subsidized loans to enable people to survive these crises without resorting to crime. Repayment should where possible be secured by small deductions from the borrowers’ incomes (including any welfare benefits).
Credit unions (see ABCUL 2003) should be encouraged as they provide a sense of local involvement, control and responsibility. Reducing drug-related crimes There are at least two types of drug-related crime: • Those committed by addicts desperate for their next fix. • Those committed as a result of the mood-altering effects of some drugs. There are good reasons for believing that the War on Drugs is as unsuccessful as Prohibition was (The Economist 2001 a). About 10% of all arrests in the USA are for drug offenses and about 80% of that 10% are for possession, not for sale or manufacture (The Economist, 2001 b).
We need an objective review of drugs policy. This might well lead to legalization of some drugs (with regulation of their quality to minimize health risks), which would sharply reduce the prison population and, by lowering the retail price of legalized drugs, reduce robberies committed to finance purchases. The other long-term remedy is aggressive advertising about the dangers of specific drugs which are more harmful than alcohol and tobacco. This will of course have greater credibility if it follows an objective review of drugs policy.
We also need rehabilitation centers to help addicts and excessive users to give up their habits. Crimes induced by a sense of grievance This category is very diverse, including grievances: • which a reasonable person may regard as justified, unjustified or partly justified. • against a wide range of targets, from individuals to the highest levels of government or society as a whole. For as long as some areas are severely disadvantaged in incomes, jobs, schools, etc. there will be some grievances which are at least partly justified and should be at least mitigated by a combination of:
• economic redevelopment and improved education. • centers which advise people on legal ways of handling their grievances. This should not be limited to what is normally termed counseling but should include coaching in legal ways of influencing the behavior of and or / hitting back at the sources of grievances. The death penalty The death penalty for murder is arguably no more immoral than killing an enemy soldier in a war. But I oppose it because all legal systems are fallible, and it’s impossible to correct a miscarriage of justice after a person has been executed. Incorrect convictions have arisen in cases where:
• Judges misinterpret or misapply the law (e. g. Center on Wrongful Convictions 2004) • The defendant had poor legal representation (American University Law Review 1995 mentions cases where defense lawyers made procedural mistakes in capital cases). • Failure of the prosecutors to disclose information which might help the defense. • Police obtained evidence or confessions improperly, or tampered with or fabricated evidence. • Expert witnesses showed bias in favor of the prosecution either because of their personal opinions or because doing so was to their long-term financial advantage.
Unfortunately these miscarriages are not rare exceptions – Northwestern University School of Law’s Center on Wrongful Convictions found that In the quarter century between restoration of the Illinois death penalty and Governor George Ryan’s blanket clemency order, 289 men and women were sentenced to death in Illinois. Of those, 18 have been exonerated — a rate in excess of 6. 2%. (Center on Wrongful Convictions, 2005) The risk of miscarriages has probably risen after 9/11 because police and prosecutors will be under even greater pressure to close terrorist cases and other high-profile murders.
Conclusion The original question is flawed because it: • does not define the range of crimes with which it is concerned. • presents an “either-or” choice between stronger law enforcement and prevention, including social services and education, as ways of reducing crime. For the categories of crime reviewed here both improved law enforcement and preventive measure are needed – neither can succeed alone. I oppose the death penalty because justice systems have shown themselves to be too fallible in high-profile cases. References
ABCUL (2003), About Credit Unions accessed May 2005 from http://www. abcul. org/page/about/intro. cfm American University Law Review (1995), The Death Penalty in the Twenty-First Century accessed May 2005 from http://www. wcl. american. edu/journal/lawrev/45/death. html Center on Wrongful Convictions (2004) Pollock: Exonerated accessed May 2005 from http://www. law. northwestern. edu/depts/clinic/wrongful/exonerations/Pollock. htm Center on Wrongful Convictions (2005) The Death Penalty accessed May 2005 from http://www. law. northwestern.
edu/depts/clinic/wrongful/deathpenalty. htm Griffith, Gareth (1999), Zero Tolerance Policing accessed May 2005 from http://www. parliament. nsw. gov. au/prod/parlment/publications. nsf/0/796C90ABE8349FDFCA256ECF0008CE11 The Economist (2001 a), Stumbling in the dark (about drugs policy) accessed May 2005 from http://www. economist. com/surveys/displaystory. cfm? story_id=706591 The Economist (2001 b), Collateral damage (of the War on Drugs) accessed May 2005 from http://www. economist. com/surveys/displayStory. cfm? story_id=708550