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When Brute Force Fails

When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment

Mark A. R. Kleiman
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    When Brute Force Fails
    Book Description:

    Since the crime explosion of the 1960s, the prison population in the United States has multiplied fivefold, to one prisoner for every hundred adults--a rate unprecedented in American history and unmatched anywhere in the world. Even as the prisoner head count continues to rise, crime has stopped falling, and poor people and minorities still bear the brunt of both crime and punishment.When Brute Force Failsexplains how we got into the current trap and how we can get out of it: to cut both crime and the prison population in half within a decade.

    Mark Kleiman demonstrates that simply locking up more people for lengthier terms is no longer a workable crime-control strategy. But, says Kleiman, there has been a revolution--largely unnoticed by the press--in controlling crime by means other than brute-force incarceration: substituting swiftness and certainty of punishment for randomized severity, concentrating enforcement resources rather than dispersing them, communicating specific threats of punishment to specific offenders, and enforcing probation and parole conditions to make community corrections a genuine alternative to incarceration. As Kleiman shows, "zero tolerance" is nonsense: there are always more offenses than there is punishment capacity. But, it is possible--and essential--to create focused zero tolerance, by clearly specifying the rules and then delivering the promised sanctions every time the rules are broken.

    Brute-force crime control has been a costly mistake, both socially and financially. Now that we know how to do better, it would be immoral not to put that knowledge to work.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3126-5
    Subjects: Political Science, Sociology, Law

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xxiv)
  4. Introduction How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment
    (pp. 1-7)

    Engineers have a sardonic saying: “When brute force fails, you’re not using enough.” For three decades, in the face of the great crime wave that started in the early 1960s, we have been trying to solve our crime problem with brute force: building more and more prisons and jails. Recently, the crime problem has diminished—though the downtrend stopped around 2004—but we still have a huge crime problem, to which we have now added a huge incarceration problem: there are now 2.3 million people behind bars at any one time, and that number continues to grow.*

    Is there an...

  5. 1 The Trap
    (pp. 8-15)

    How did we get where we are? If we look back half a century, the United States had much less crime and much less punishment than it has today. What went wrong? What has gone right since 1994? And where do we go from here?

    Starting about 1963, crime began to rise quickly after a long plateau at historically low levels.¹ Demography explains part of that change: in 1963, the first wave of the post-war Baby Boom generation reached the age of seventeen, which meant that the oldest Boomers were entering their prime crime-committing years. Even had age-specific crime rates...

  6. 2 Thinking about Crime Control
    (pp. 16-33)

    To think clearly about crime-control policy, we need to weigh the gains from reducing crime, and the threat of crime, against the costs—in money, in liberty, and in suffering—of crime-control efforts. That weighing requires us to consider how much damage crime now does.

    By contrast with illicit drug abuse—where three decades of study have convinced me that, aside from the link with crime, there is much less to the problem than popularly supposed*—crime has been a badly underestimated problem (more so among scholarly experts than among ordinary citizens or elected officials), especially in terms of the...

  7. 3 Hope
    (pp. 34-48)

    Three very different programs point to the practical possibility of having less crime and less punishment, while spending no more money than we now spend on the criminal-justice system and doing only things we already know how to do. All illustrate the simple principle that the more credible a threat is, the less often it has to be carried out.

    Judge Alm had a problem. Probation officers were sending him reports of probationers—on probation for all manner of felonies from burglary to auto theft, from sexual assault to drug dealing—who were continuing to use methamphetamine, Hawaii’s number-one problem...

  8. 4 Tipping, Dynamic Concentration, and the Logic of Deterrence
    (pp. 49-67)

    How could we design a crime-control strategy that reduces crime using as little actual punishment as possible?* To illustrate the underlying logic of the problem, imagine an offender who is fully rational in the economic sense of that term: capable of choosing from among alternative courses of action the one that best serves his preferences. Some of the implications of that simple model will be reinforced if we consider the imperfectly rational behavior characteristic of actual human beings; others will need to be qualified. For example, the imaginary rational actor will break a rule if and only if the (perceived)...

  9. 5 Crime Despite Punishment
    (pp. 68-85)

    The conservative diagnosis of the crime problem—that we had, and have, too much crime because an inadequate enforcement and punishment mechanism means that crime pays—leads naturally to the prescription that we should continue building prisons until crime no longer pays.

    Superficially, the low punishment-to-crime ratios of the 1970s—an expected punishment of less than five days per burglary, for example—supported that diagnosis. But if that were indeed the problem, it ought to have been solved by now. With a crime rate that is 30 percent lower now than it was in 1980 and an incarceration rate three...

  10. 6 Designing Enforcement Strategies
    (pp. 86-116)

    Those who design and execute criminal-justice policies must allocate limited capacities to investigate, adjudicate, and punish, distributing these capacities across offense types, offenders, and locations. One goal of their decision-making and operations ought to be to minimize the sum of the suffering and economic loss caused by crime, including the suffering imposed by the enforcement and punishment machinery and the cost of running that machinery.

    Of course, that is not and should not be the sole consideration; the demands of justice—justice to offenders, justice to actual and potential victims, and justice to their communities—will sometimes overrule the calculation...

  11. 7 Crime Control without Punishment
    (pp. 117-135)

    Since punishment is costly to inflict and painful to undergo—painful both for the person punished and for those who care about him—why not shift the emphasis of the crime-control effort from punishment, and the associated activities carried out by the agencies of criminal justice, to ways of reducing crime that do not involve hurting people? The epic political defeat suffered over the past generation by the advocates of “soft” rather than “tough” approaches to crime control should not make us forget that this is a perfectly straightforward, common-sense question to ask. Given a choice between two equally effective...

  12. 8 Guns and Gun Control
    (pp. 136-148)

    Firearms are used by some people to damage themselves and to threaten or damage others. Otherwise, there would be no such topic as firearms policy. Firearms are also used for recreation and, more urgently, for self-defense. Otherwise, firearms policy would be easy.

    Speaking crudely, there are three approaches to reducing crimes committed with guns; these might be called broad acquisition policies, tailored acquisition policies, and use policies. Broad acquisition policies aim to reduce the prevalence of gun possession. Tailored acquisition policies aim at reducing access to firearms, and especially handguns, specifically by those whose personal characteristics and histories suggest a...

  13. 9 Drug Policy for Crime Control
    (pp. 149-163)

    Discussions about crime control inevitably turn to the subject of drugs. No one doubts that drugs and policies to control them are linked to non-drug crime: to all the varieties of theft, assault, and offenses against public order. But the precise nature of those links remains obscure, and what best to do about them remains controversial.

    That is true partly because making seriously informed conjectures about the effects of alternative drug policies is exceptionally difficult,* but largely because the political forces around drug control put a premium on ideology and symbolic politics rather than on outcomes; facts and analyses are...

  14. 10 What Could Go Wrong?
    (pp. 164-174)

    Imagine that it is ten years from now; a number of the ideas in this book have been tried, with results somewhere between disappointing and disastrous. What went wrong? I can think of several possibilities; others, of course, I have not yet thought of.

    The project of arranging for swift and certain sanctions for selected combinations of offense, offender, and location, in hopes that the additional cost of doing so will be largely or entirely transient because the rates at which the targeted offenses are committed will fall, depends for its success on ease of detection. As long as there...

  15. 11 An Agenda for Crime Control
    (pp. 175-190)

    What, then, is to be done? What follows is a bare checklist; the balance of the book provides the supporting argumentation for the general approach and some of the specific policies. This list of recommendations is exemplary rather than exhaustive. In some cases we already know enough to know what to do; in other cases, the next step is to develop and rigorously field-test programs that ought to work based on what we think we know. Not every recommendation applies to every jurisdiction; the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and local conditions—social, budgetary, and institutional—vary...

  16. NOTES
    (pp. 191-206)
    (pp. 207-226)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 227-231)