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Controlling Crime: Reducing Incarceration

Award Information

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Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2011, $248,712)

Crime and crime control provide a rich field of study for psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, political scientists, and economists. Crime and crime control measures also impose enormous social costs, and the problem of how to minimize the sum of those costs has great practical importance and, sometimes, great political salience.

The level of confidence among criminologists that they can provide useful advice about crime control ebbs and flows. When belief in the capacity of crime control measures to influence crime levels recedes, the maxim "do no (or at least less) harm" seems attractive, and the primary advice on offer is "avoid moral panic." But at least since the emergence of problem-solving policing, the original Beccarian project of reducing at once the suffering caused by crime and the suffering caused by punishment has enjoyed resurgence. The resulting research effort has not been narrowly "practical": scholars working with practitioners have begun to elaborate new theories about the dynamics of crime and crime control. But the practical implications are potentially profound: it seems conceivable that there could be a return not only to the relatively low crime rates of the 1950s but also to the historical level of incarceration documented by Blumstein (120-140 per 100,000) as opposed to the current levels (700-800 per 100,000, and much higher in some sub-populations). This would require dealing with the two salient facts about the last forty years: the explosive growth of illicit drug consumption, drug dealing, and drug law enforcement on the one hand and of incarceration on the other.

Over a one year period as a Visiting Fellow at NIJ, the Principal Investigator will further both the scientific and the policy-analytic parts of the enterprise, addressing two large-scale questions: the relationship of the drug abuse and drug abuse policy to crime and crime control policy, and the prospect of a revolution in community corrections that would be comparable in scope and importance to the revolution in policing that started with Herman Goldstein. With the help of collaborators and the advice of NIJ staff and others in the field, the Principal Investigator will aim to complete a book-length document on each topic.

Each of the two proposed phases of the work - on drugs and crime, and on community corrections - will be completed in approximately one calendar year. The Principal Investigator will spend 4 - 5 months in residence. The first half of the year will be spent preparing a full draft of the monograph, presenting chapters - at the rate of about one chapter per month - to seminars for NIJ staff and others in the Washington D.C. area. Each of the resulting manuscripts - as revised following criticism from seminar attendees and others - would form the basis of a one-day or two-day conference including leading scholars and practitioners. The final deliverable will be a manuscript ready for publication as an academic book.


Date Created: September 19, 2011