Author to push his less crime, less punishment ideas in Seattle visit
Mark A.R. Kleinman, the author of a provocative book on crime control, "When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment," will speak in Seattle this week at a time the city is searching for a new police chief.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Mark A.R. Kleiman Town Hall
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: Town Hall, 1119 Eighth Ave. (Eighth Avenue and Seneca Street)
The event is free and open to the public.
As Seattle searches for a new police chief, the author of a provocative book on crime control offers this advice: "Ask every candidate his goals as police chief. If reducing crime is not number one, go to the next candidate."
But that doesn't mean Mark A.R. Kleiman, a UCLA professor of public policy and author of "When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment," believes the solution is arresting as many people as possible and throwing away the key.
Kleiman, who challenges long-standing assumptions on the left and right, is visiting Seattle to offer his prescription for cutting crime and prison numbers in half within a decade by using swift and certain punishment — though not necessarily with severity — to deal with criminals.
At the invitation of the Seattle City Council, Kleiman will speak and participate in a panel discussion at Seattle's Town Hall on Thursday night in a free event open to the public.
He also will spend time Thursday and Friday with community leaders, including Interim Police Chief John Diaz, who has sought the job; City Attorney Peter Holmes and the two co-chairs of the police-chief search committee.
In a telephone interview, Kleiman said over the past 25 years, the media, politicians and public have been unaware of those in law enforcement and criminal justice who had found better ways of dealing with crime.
"The problem is practices that work don't fit the slogans of either side," Kleiman said, arguing that citizens should demand effective practices.
The focus of Kleiman's book is dealing with those offenders who commit everyday crimes such a burglary, assaults and drug offenses — not the most violent and dangerous criminals sent away for long terms — with a special emphasis on upgrading the probation and parole system.
One of Kleiman's central examples of trying something different is a program launched in 2004 by a judge in Hawaii, who noticed that probationers facing long prison terms if they committed violations were still using drugs and breaking other rules because caseloads were too large and prisons too full to realistically take tough action.
The judge decided that clear rules and consequences were needed and developed a program called "Hawaii's Opportunity Probation with Enforcement," or HOPE. The program called for violators to receive shorter and swifter jail sentences — perhaps a week with escalating time for additional violations — instead of long prison terms. Paperwork was shortened to allow quick action.
At the outset, 35 probationers identified as chronic violators were given a clear warning about the program.
What happened next surprised observers: The violation rate dropped dramatically, easing the burden on the entire criminal-justice system as the probationers reacted to the real possibility of punishment, according to the book.
"They changed their behavior when it had consequences," Kleiman said.
Substituting that approach for random severity can be applied across the spectrum, such as lowering sentences to induce defendants to plead guilty so they serve their terms closer to the time they actually committed the crime, according to Kleiman.
Likewise, the police, instead of dispersing their resources, should carry out focused activities, including crackdowns on public drug markets and targeting offenders who commit a disproportionate amount of the crimes, Kleiman maintains.
When all offenders know there is a viable threat with real consequences, crime and its costs — monetarily and to the social fabric — will drop in the long run, according to the author.
Those surgical practices work better than so-called "zero-tolerance" policies that can't be enforced because there aren't "enough bodies" to deal with every crime, Kleiman said.
Long prison terms eat up cell space and have lost their stigma as they have become commonplace, lessening their deterrent value, he insists.
Instead, he recommends shifting budgets toward meaningful community-corrections supervision of those on probation or released from prison, especially because it is now possible through technology to trace the movement of offenders.
But while Kleiman doesn't believe in building more prisons, he also doesn't believe that fixing "root causes" is the answer, although he says social agencies and the education system can play a part.
Both need to do a better job of making crime-control part of their efforts, without diverting money to them from the justice system, according to Kleiman.
"When is the last time anybody asked the [school district] superintendent what the arrest rate is for his 11th-graders?," Kleiman said.
He also favors pushing back the start and end of the school day for middle- and high-school students to prevent after-school crime and to accommodate the biological clocks of teens, fully realizing it would require changes in extracurricular activities and routines of parents.
Police chiefs, Kleiman said, should want to catch criminals and reduce crime but be willing to base their enforcement decisions on what works and not broad statistics.
They also must love the department, relate to the cops but not tolerate misconduct, he added.
Kleiman's visit comes as Seattle officials prepare to announce the names of six to eight semifinalists for the police-chief job early next week.
Kate Joncas, president of the Downtown Seattle Association and one of the co-chairs of the search committee, said she has read Kleiman's book as part of an effort to learn best law-enforcement practices.
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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