Criminologists talk a lot about the pendulum swing between “tough on crime” strategies and those that rely more on human services than punishment. These swings are evident in legislation, and other policy measures. We are seeing it now at the Vermont Statehouse: a swing back to the “tough on crime” approach. Being tough on crime means a few different things. On the surface, it seems like a reasonable response; of course we don’t want to be “tolerant” of crime. But what it means in practice is costly laws passed in response to (understandably) fed-up and worried constituents, without sufficient thought to the long-term consequences, and more importantly, what the existing evidence-base shows to be effective.
I appreciate the constituents’ worries and the legislators’ desire to be responsive. But there is clear evidence that as states increase investments in criminal legal apparatuses, they reduce investment in human services/welfare. And naturally, as we divest from human services, and funding that would raise those most in need, we see more social problems in the form of houselessness, untreated mental illness and substance use disorder. (more…)