Mark Kleiman on Drugs, Crime, and Incarceration

+ Richard Hahn

America does incarceration unlike any other place on the planet, with rates higher than even the most repressive totalitarian regimes. Yet the purpose of our modern carceral state is not simply to punish the offender, but also to heal him, and in that sense it has failed. Since 1960, the number of people under custodial supervision in this country has risen to an unsustainable level – unsustainable in terms of both fiscal and social costs. Prisons have become great revolving doors, churning through the same disadvantaged communities and leaving generations of men and women to serve life sentences “on installment plans.”

In a recent Singularity Bros podcast, Professor Mark A.R. Kleiman, Director of the Crime and Justice Program at the Marron Institute, examines the social history of violent crime in the United States and describes his plan for how governments can make incarceration less costly, less cruel, and more beneficial to offenders and the communities to which they return. And, it turns out that the answer is not as simple as it appears. Kleiman contends that, instead of instigating a massive evacuation of prisons to bring populations down to historical levels, a move that would negate the potential for structured self-improvement while under supervision, more work should be done to improve and expand the process of reentry into communities, giving former offenders better chances of success in the real world.

Kleiman also pokes holes in the notion that the decriminalization of drug use would meaningfully reduce incarceration rates and argues passionately for federal intervention into the legalization of cannabis. On commercialization of the drug he says: “If we were thinking seriously about cannabis policy we would be thinking about how we can develop customs and habits of temperate use, but we’re not doing that, and the industry isn’t interested.” Without the political will in Washington to curb state laws that indirectly promote problem cannabis use, a serious public health problem could be only a few years away.

In a discursive conversation, Kleiman also touches on the potential therapeutic and spiritual benefits of psychedelics, the limitations of artificial intelligence, and the future of work.

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