Paul Krugman mentioned the other day that one of the most welcome trends of the past 15 years has been the turnaround in the once-inevitable-seeming collapse of urban America into Escape From New York-style dystopia. As Krugman says, I think we don’t know exactly what was responsible for the turnaround. But clearly on some level the issue is that it turns out that crime control can be done better and can be done worse, and it’s something we’ve gotten better at.
In his excellent book When Brute Force Fails Mark Kleiman talks a great deal about an innovate program out of Hawaii called HOPE that could make us even better at it. The way this works is that instead of relying on a mix of brutal, expensive incarceration and nearly useless parole, we try to actually make parole work. Offenders spend less time in jail, and instead face a version of fairly intensely supervised parole where they need to engage in regular drug testing, and if they flunk they a brief, quick, certain punishment of a few days in jail. It seems to work well, it’s much cheaper than traditional prison, and it’s a good deal more humane to boot. And according to Adam Serwer, Mitch Daniels wants to bring it to Indiana, which is excellent news.