Smaller, Certain Punishments

by Patrick Appel

Mark Kleiman writes about Hawaii's experimental HOPE program for felony probationers (a topic he discusses in greater detail in his forthcoming book). His thesis:

A solid body of social science and criminological research dating back to the eighteenth century tells us that behavior can be changed by punishment that is certain and swift even if it is not severe. Conversely, if punishments for wrongdoing are sporadic and delayed, increasing severity has only modest impact. That’s why quintupling the prison and jail population has failed to get us back to the crime rates of the early 1960s. (Averaged across major crime categories, current rates are about 250 percent of 1962 rates.) The importance of swift and predictable consequences is plain common sense, understood by every parent. But that lesson has not been incorporated into our corrections system.