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Neighborhood-based strategies

Posted Feb 13 2009 5:25pm
I often hear arguments that the cost of incarceration makes it sensible to invest in individuals and service delivery systems to keep people out of prison.

This suggests that neighborhood-based strategies could be a very effective strategy.
Nationwide, an estimated two-thirds of the people who leave prison are
rearrested within three years. A disproportionate number of them come
from a few urban neighborhoods in big cities. Many states spend more
than $1 million a year to incarcerate the residents of single blocks or
small neighborhoods.


Some of Mark Kleiman's points from yesterday's post lead in the same direction:

5. We can help by shrinking our domestic markets. Offenders under
criminal justice supervision account for half of all hard-drug
consumption. Hawaii's Judge Steven Alm has shown that frequent testing
and swift, automatic, but relatively mild sanctions can sharply reduce
methamphetamine use among probationers. This is a cheap solution that
also actually shrinks the population behind bars by reducing both
probation revocations and arrests for new crimes. But it works only if
the authorities can organize themselves to deliver the sanctions.

Carefully adapted to local conditions, testing-and-sanctions can be
extended nationwide, to every probationer and parolee, and everyone
released on bail, who has an illicit-drug problem. The current practice
of forcing large numbers of drug users into treatment, with
incarceration as the alternative, wastes resources. Voluntary treatment
should be more broadly provided. Coerced drug treatment should be
reserved for those who don't respond to the threat of short jail stays.

...

8. Flagrant retail drug markets still devastate too many American
neighborhoods, especially poor urban areas where African-Americans and
Latinos live. Imprisoning half the young men in those neighborhoods is
neither useful nor just, but that's the result of routine street-level
drug enforcement. Since every dealer arrested makes room for a
replacement, we're just running on a treadmill. "'Drug kingpins,"' too,
are replaceable. We now keep 500,000 drug dealers behind bars at any
one time; there wouldn't be a significant rise in drug abuse if that
number were halved. There are smarter and less brutal things to do.

9.One practical alternative to routine drug law enforcement is to
break up markets with as few arrests as possible. This was an approach
first used in High Point, North Carolina, and is now being tried out in
dozens of places nationwide. Identify all the dealers in a market,
build cases against them, and warn all of them, simultaneously, that
they have a choice of stopping -- right now -- or going to prison. If
that threat is made convincing, most dealers quit and there's enough
capacity to arrest and imprison the rest. When all the dealers in a
neighborhood quit or get sent away at once, the market is gone, and a
little bit of enforcement will keep it from coming back. Committed
users still get their drugs, discreetly, but crime drops and the
residents get their streets back. Can this general approach work
elsewhere? Try to find out.

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