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When Brute Force Fails:
How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment
Mark A. R. Kleiman

One of Economist's Best Books of 2009

Paper | 2010 | $24.95 / £16.95 | ISBN: 9780691148649
256 pp. | 6 x 9 | 9 line illus.

eBook | $24.95 | ISBN: 9781400831265
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Introduction [PDF]

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The Reality-Based Community Blog

Since the crime explosion of the 1960s, the prison population in the United States has multiplied fivefold, to one prisoner for every hundred adults--a rate unprecedented in American history and unmatched anywhere in the world. Even as the prisoner head count continues to rise, crime has stopped falling, and poor people and minorities still bear the brunt of both crime and punishment. When Brute Force Fails explains how we got into the current trap and how we can get out of it: to cut both crime and the prison population in half within a decade.

Mark Kleiman demonstrates that simply locking up more people for lengthier terms is no longer a workable crime-control strategy. But, says Kleiman, there has been a revolution--largely unnoticed by the press--in controlling crime by means other than brute-force incarceration: substituting swiftness and certainty of punishment for randomized severity, concentrating enforcement resources rather than dispersing them, communicating specific threats of punishment to specific offenders, and enforcing probation and parole conditions to make community corrections a genuine alternative to incarceration. As Kleiman shows, "zero tolerance" is nonsense: there are always more offenses than there is punishment capacity. But, it is possible--and essential--to create focused zero tolerance, by clearly specifying the rules and then delivering the promised sanctions every time the rules are broken.

Brute-force crime control has been a costly mistake, both socially and financially. Now that we know how to do better, it would be immoral not to put that knowledge to work.

Mark A. R. Kleiman is professor of public policy at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is the author of Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results and Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control.


"One way to make apprehension and punishment more likely is to spend substantially more money on law enforcement. In a time of chronic budget shortfalls, however, that won't happen. But Mr. Kleiman suggests that smarter enforcement strategies can make existing budgets go further. The important step, he says, is to view enforcement as a dynamic game in which strategically chosen deterrence policies become self-reinforcing. . . . It is an ingenious idea that borrows from game theory and the economics of signaling behavior. . . . Revolutionary."--Robert H. Frank, New York Times

"Mass incarceration was a successful public-policy tourniquet. But now that we've stopped the bleeding, it can't be a permanent solution. . . . [I]t requires a more sophisticated crime-fighting approach--an emphasis, for instance, on making sentences swifter and more certain, even as we make them shorter; a system of performance metrics for prisons and their administrators; a more stringent approach to probation and parole. (When Brute Force Fails, by the U.C.L.A. law professor Mark Kleiman, is the best handbook for would-be reformers.)"--Ross Douthat, New York Times

"'Big cases make bad laws' is a criminological axiom, and one with which Mark A. R. Kleiman agrees, in When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment. Kleiman blames big cases and bad laws for another distinctive feature of American life: 2.3 million people are currently behind bars in the United States. . . . At what point, Kleiman wonders, will incarceration be a greater social ill than crime? He proposes, for lesser offenders, punishments that are swift and certain but not necessarily severe: a night in jail, instead of a warning, for missing a meeting with a parole officer, say, and ten nights the next time."--Jill Lepore, New Yorker

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Table of Contents:

Acknowledgments xi
Introduction e How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment 1
Chapter 1: The Trap 8
Chapter 2: Thinking about Crime Control 16
Chapter 3: Hope 34
Chapter 4: Tipping, Dynamic Concentration, and the Logic of Deterrence 49
Chapter 5: Crime Despite Punishment 68
Chapter 6: Designing Enforcement Strategies 86
Chapter 7: Crime Control without Punishment 117
Chapter 8: Guns and Gun Control 136
Chapter 9: Drug Policy for Crime Control 149
Chapter 10: What Could Go Wrong? 164
Chapter 11: An Agenda for Crime Control 175
Notes 191
Bibliography 207
Index 227

Subject Areas:

  • Law
  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Sociology

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For customers in the U.S., Canada, Latin America, Asia, and Australia

Paper: $24.95 ISBN: 9780691148649

For customers in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and India

Paper: £16.95 ISBN: 9780691148649


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