Intense public pressure for harsher treatment and sentencing of criminals has put record numbers of felons behind bars in California, but it has done little to alleviate the public's concern about personal safety.
Therefore, say authors of a major new UC study, policy makers should deal with the real source of public concern: violent crime.
With the prison system increasingly populated by felons convicted of non-violent offenses because of aggressive initiatives like the three strikes law, the study's authors urge policy makers to consider altering the crime policy that is proving cost-ineffective.
The report's recommendations were discussed Feb. 25 in a hearing by the Senate Criminal Procedure Committee and the Assembly Public Safety Committee.
The UC report, "Minimizing Harm as a Goal for Crime Policy in California," funded and published by UC's California Policy Seminar, aims to place the prevention of violent crime at the center of deliberations on crime policy as legislators face the need for a new set of decisions on the issues.
Project researchers recommend that the guiding principle of crime policy should be minimizing harm to California residents.
"We must recognize that citizens are most concerned about violent crime," said the study's project director, Boalt Hall Law Professor Edward Rubin.
"Because crimes like murder, rape, robbery, and assault produce the most harm, the resources available for criminal justice should be focused on preventing violent crime."
In addition, some prevention programs that focus on young children and young adolescents have proved effective. Properly designed intervention programs prevent crime at a lower cost per crime than does imprisonment. Such programs stop crimes before they occur rather than punishing people who have already done harm.
Finally, through alternative sentencing methods, non-violent criminals can be punished at less expense and more effectively (with less recidivism) than by incarceration.
Proposing a framework for policy makers' deliberations was the project's intent from the beginning. Convened by the policy seminar, a UC program that applies research to state policy concerns, the project's contributors consulted state decision makers and crime-victim groups. They also consulted fellow crime policy specialists to better understand the public outrage over crime that has driven the hardening of attitudes.