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.
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.