Crime rates in the United States are almost back to their 1965 levels. The incarceration rate, however, remains many times higher today than it was several decades ago. Getting back to the 1965 level would require a dramatic 80 percent drop. Mark Kleiman thinks it’s doable. What’s more, he thinks the US can bring its incarceration rate down while continuing to lower crime rates. For Kleiman, the path to a low-crime and low-incarceration equilibrium begins with reforms to parole — shifting from inefficient systems that arbitrarily hand down harsh and expensive punishments to systems where violations are met with punishment that is swift and certain but far less severe.
As Kleiman points out, several US jurisdictions have successfully put the “swift, certain, but not severe” ethos to work:
More self-control means less recidivism, less incarceration, and a less expensive criminal justice system. Kleiman’s entire article, published in The Washington Monthly is well worth reading.