First, over at Corrections Sentencing, Michael writes that:
A new study suggests that too much money is wasted on low-risk crime targets. Both crime and prison populations could be reduced dramatically by focusing on the “power few” criminals who commit the most crime, according to Lawrence Sherman, Director of the Jerry Lee Center of Criminology at the University of Pennsylvania and Professor of Criminology at Cambridge University, UK.Then, in the Dallas Morning News, I find this item: "Man held in hundreds of Dallas County burglaries." Certainly focusing on suspects who police believe committed hundreds of similar crimes makes a lot more sense than some of the more random enforcement tactics police engage in, e.g., conducting "fishing expeditions" at traffic stops.
Using data across a wide range of research, Sherman shows that most crime is committed by a small fraction of all criminals, at a tiny fraction of all locations, against a tiny fraction of all victims, during a few hours a week. By focusing police, probation, parole, rehabilitation, security and prison resources on these “power few” units with the most crime, the study shows how society could stand a far better chance at crime prevention without raising costs.
“Billions of dollars in criminal justice costs are wasted each year on people and places with almost no risk of serious violent crime,” said Sherman, “while the high-risk targets receive far too little attention.” Citing rising homicide rates in Philadelphia since 2002, his research shows how more rehabilitation for a tiny number of offenders may have been able to prevent many of the murders.
The study shows that the key to making the most out of these extreme concentrations of crime would be to test prevention strategies aimed only at these few crime locations, times, situations, victims or offenders.
OTOH, this could be emblematic of a different problem - the periodic tendency for Dallas County to charge and convict innocent people. "I've been late paying my mortgage every month for the last three years," said the suspect. "If I broke into 200 homes, I wouldn't be in bankruptcy. ... I'm barely eating." Good point.
Whatever the truth of the charges against this one defendant, it struck me as interesting to read both of these items and realize the Dallas burglary case, if the fellow turns out to have done what police say he has, more or less exemplifies the empirical data and theoretical conclusions in the study described by Science Daily ("Less is more in fighting crime," Nov. 26).
In any event, prioritizing enforcement resources and incarceration space for more serious offenders makes enormous sense from a public safety perspective. I've never understood why the idea is often portrayed as such a radical thing - as former House Corrections Chair Ray Allen used to say, it's smarter to focus limited criminal justice resources on people who we're afraid of, not on those whom we're only "mad at."