"Random Draconianism" and the Problem with Prison

Posted by Andrew Price

Have you thought about the problems with our prison system? I have. And so has Mark Kleiman, a professor at UCLA's public policy school.

Kleiman's point is that the way we punish people now—imposing inconsistent, expensive, and harsh prison sentences—is a profligate waste of money and doesn't create the right incentive structure to actually reduce crime. His recent interview with ReasonTV is a good distillation of his excellent book, When Brute Force Fails. If you're remotely interested in this issue, the video below is well worth the seven minutes.

I agree with him about just about everything, but I have one bone to pick. Just because voters think they want vengeance, that doesn't mean it's what's good for them. There are all sorts of emotional and physical impulses (the desire to fight at a bar, or just grab an attractive person of the opposite sex, or eat potato chips, or smoke cigarettes) that we recognize we're better off suppressing. And there's evidence that vengeance is similar. Victims of crime often seem to get a more meaningful resolution from apologies, and cultivating forgiveness lowers blood pressure and greatly reduces the risk of heart disease.

And that's to say nothing of the philosophical problems with retributive justice. Even if victims really do want vengeance, that doesn't mean it's moral.

Via Boing Boing