25 July 2006

Minor Property Crime.

The best way to stop minor property crimes is not to impose draconian sentences on the people you do catch, which is extraordinarily expensive and often disproportionate to the severity of the offense. Long sentences stop recidivism, for the duration of the sentence, but tend to encourage recidivism after release since ex-cons have a hard time finding gainful employment that would provide an alternative to beinig a career criminal. And, long sentences rarely discourage someone who doesn't think that they'll get caught. The better approach is to devote a greater share of criminal justice resources to investigating crimes like this one, where there is evidence that could lead to a conviction.

Triage principals force police departments to prioritize the most serious crimes, like murders, rapes, aggravated assault and armed robberies, for serious investigations. Less serious crimes, like burglaries and car thefts, often receive only cursory investigations (unless you are the police chief, in which case the CSI crew finds the fingerprints and DNA evidence necessary to identify the perp). Most white collar crimes, petty thefts, and other minor offenses pretty much result in convictions only when a case is handed to police tied up in a bow, or the police witness the criminals in the act.

In the short run, with resources fixed, this makes sense. Society can survive having car thieves on the loose more easily than it can serial rapists and murderers. It would take a massive investment of resources to do serious investigations of most felony property crimes. But, that investment would pay off, by making a life of crime a far more risky proposition than it is today.

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