Less crime and less punishment is possible

Professor Mark Kleiman

Putting repeat offenders behind bars, briefly and without hesitation, is a key factor in crime deterrence and when offenders on parole and on probation know this is the situation they are less likely to reoffend. 

According to leading US criminologist Professor Mark Kleiman, who will present a public lecture at Griffith University today, swiftness and certainty far outweighs severity in crime deterrence. 

“Delivering swift and certain sanctions is a great managerial challenge. But it can be done, especially with probationers and parolees. And when it is done properly, the results are dramatic.” 

“Two days behind bars works as well as six weeks, as long as the two days are imposed quickly and consistently,’’ he said citing the HOPE program in Hawaii where probationers who fail drug tests or other probation requirements are sent to jail within days of their hearings. 

Rather than spending weeks or months in jail, the offender is in jail for a few days and then released back to probation supervision. 

Since its establishment in 2004, the program has been so successful HOPE probationers are arrested less than half as often, for less serious crimes than those under traditional probation. 

“This program could provide the template for a workable alternative to mass incarceration and may be suitable in an Australian context as well.”

Dr Kleiman is Professor of Public Policy in the UCLA School of Public Affairs. His current focus is on reducing crime and incarceration by substituting swiftness and predictability for severity in the criminal justice system. As well as his academic work, Professor Kleiman provides advice to local, state, and national governments on crime control and drug policy.  

His books include: Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control; Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results and When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment. 

His latest book, Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (co-authored with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken), will be published in June by Oxford University Press. He edits the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis.