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ANNOUNCER: Brought to you in part by ADM, feeding the world is thebiggest challenge of the new century, because by the time this babyis old enough to vote, the world will have nearly two billion newmouths to feed. ADM, supermarket to the world. Additional fundingis provided by the John M. Olin Foundation, the Lilly Endowment, theLynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, and the Smith RichardsonFoundation.

(Musical break.)

MR. WATTENBERG: Hello, I'm Ben Wattenberg. The last ten yearshave seen a major drop in American crime rates. Some criminologistsargue that locking up more criminals and giving them longer sentenceshas a lot to do with that trend. Others disagree. But either way, agrowing number of experts across the ideological spectrum arebeginning to worry that America has too many prisoners. Our prisonpopulation will soon crack the two million mark. That's enough, theysay, maybe more than enough. Well, how many prisoners are too many? What risks come with a prison population that's too big? How aboutone that's too small? To sort through the conflict and consensus areMorgan Reynolds, the director of the Criminal Justice Center at theNational Center for Policy Analysis in Dallas; Sally Satel, a seniorassociate at the Ethics and Public Policy Institute and author ofDrug Treatment: The Case for Coercion; and Alfred Blumstein ofCarnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, and the director of theNational Consortium on Violence Research. The topic before thishouse, are there too many prisoners, this week on Think Tank.

(Musical break.)

MR. WATTENBERG: America seems to be winning its fight againstcrime. In recent years, serious violent crime is down. Propertycrimes are way down. New York City, once one of the murder capitalsof the world, has seen its homicide rate fall by a stunning 77percent. At the same time, and perhaps not coincidentally, theprison population has been rising rapidly, and the incarceration ratein America has gone way up. Unless policies change, the total prisonpopulation is projected to rise well into the future. Should we beworried about sending so many people to jail? The prominentcriminologist John Diullio (sp), a hard line pioneer, thinks so. Ina controversial article in the Wall Street Journal, Diullio arguesthat two million prisoners are enough, and that we should aim forzero prison growth. Some criminologists stress the heavy financialburdens that high incarceration rates place on society. The cost ofhousing so many inmates continues to rise. This money, it is pointedout, could be used for drug treatment, job placement, or betterpolicing. Critics also worry about the effect of locking up so manythousands of young men, many of them minorities, many of themparents, and many of them on drug charges. And they say that drugtreatment and rehabilitation might prove more effective and morehumane. Others argue we can't and should not put a price cap or anumerical cap on the overall safety of society. They maintain thatdrug offenses are serious offenses, and that drug offenders are oftenrepeat offenders or violent offenders. What's more, they argue thata failure to punish criminal activity adequately breeds a climate oflawlessness that takes a very heavy toll on society. Lady,gentlemen, thank you for joining us. Let's go around the room, juston a very simple opening question with a very simple short answer. Do we have too many prisoners, Al?

MR. BLUMSTEIN: Yes, indeed. For 50 years, the United States hadan incarceration rate of about 110 per 100,000. In the last 25years, it has shot up four times that. So, we're over 450 per100,000. So, if we could get along through a period of considerabledisruption with about a quarter of the incarceration rate, we oughtto find ways to do it.

MR. WATTENBERG: Sally, too many prisoners?

MS. SATEL: To the extent that many of these people are primarilydrug addicts, and have committed crime, non-violent crime in theservice of perpetuating an addiction, I think we can treat theseindividuals other ways and divert them from incarceration.

MR. WATTENBERG: Morgan, you're the hawk, along with me.

MR. REYNOLDS: Well, I could play hawk here. Two million is justan arbitrary number, in a sense. I think we do need to debate this. But if we're going to have criminal laws, let's enforce them. Otherwise, we need to change the criminal laws. We can, of course,modify various kinds of things, but basically people -- we need toget the incentives right here. We can't allow mayhem and chaos. Ifwe're going to have -- most of us would agree that our moralstandards, kind of the texture of the population has eroded, so thediminution of these internal restraints really puts more reliance onexternal restraints. So, that's what we're -- we're just reaping thewhirlwind here.

MR. WATTENBERG: Al, let me ask you a question. I assume Morganwould maintain that because we have more people in prison, that's whywe have less crime. Do you agree with that?

MR. BLUMSTEIN: Yes. In the recent years, we've had less crime,and we've had more incarceration. But in the previous seven years,we've had more incarceration and more crime. It's too simplistic anotion to just watch one aggregate number with another.

MR. WATTENBERG: That could be explained by a lag time. I mean,by saying, the message finally got out.

MR. BLUMSTEIN: That's one factor, but the incapacitation doesn'thave a lag issue. And I agree with incapacitation. I think when youlock up somebody who is going to kill your sister, that's going toprotect your sister. But the big growth in incarceration over thelast 15-20 years has been of drug offenders. And drug offendersengage in crimes that incapacitation doesn't work on. That is,there's a dynamic market out there. When you lock up a drug seller,if the demand is out there, the market finds a replacement.

MR. WATTENBERG: Would you extend that to a drug offender whocommits violent crimes?

MR. BLUMSTEIN: If he commits violent crimes, we ought to lock himup for committing the violent crime. The fact that he's a drugoffender, and the fact that some drug offenders commit violent crimedoes not say, therefore, we ought to lock up all drug offenders.

MR. WATTENBERG: Could we establish one thing, am I correct insaying that except for the rare outliers, people in the United Statesare not put in jail for use of drugs, they're put in jail fortrafficking in drugs?

MR. BLUMSTEIN: To a large degree, that's right.

MR. WATTENBERG: And we can present --

MR. BLUMSTEIN: Possession is the dominant charge, but usuallypossession of a large enough quantity with the presumption of intentto sell, or being a transporter.

MR. REYNOLDS: I disagree with Al, I think, in terms of theexperience we had between the mid-'70s and the late '80s. There,while we did start to accelerate the growth of the prison populationbecause of capacity constraints and other factors, really theexpected days served per predatory --

MR. WATTENBERG: Capacity time constraints of the prison system.

MR. REYNOLDS: Of the prison system. The point is that reallywhile we did increase the numbers incarcerated, the sentences servedactually shortened. And you got no increase in expected time servedper offense. And really it wasn't until the mid-'80s that we reallystarted to get a handle on that, and start to really make the justicesystem matter.

MR. WATTENBERG: But that's after this truth in sentencing becameboth a federal law on violent crime.

MR. BLUMSTEIN: That's one of the factors. Truth in sentencing isa very recent law.

MR. REYNOLDS: That's true, yes.

MR. BLUMSTEIN: But it has been a --

MR. WATTENBERG: Four or five years old, and it has coincided withsome of the sharpest drops.

MR. BLUMSTEIN: It hasn't had very much effect yet, because thepeople who got sentenced would have been in prison anyway. So,there's a real lag between the passage of that act, the incentives itoffers. But it is the case that sentences have been going up rathersteadily.

MR. WATTENBERG: For violent criminals.

MR. BLUMSTEIN: For all kinds of crime. The biggest growth, afactor of 10 in the last 15 years, has been for drug offenses. Theynow represent 23 percent of state prisoners, and 60 percent offederal prisoners.

MR. WATTENBERG: But state prisoners outnumber federal prisoners,what, 10 to 1, 20 to 1?

MR. BLUMSTEIN: Ten to one, roughly.

MR. WATTENBERG: So, you still have a criminal -- just, again, toput it all in perspective, a criminal justice system that is between70 and 75 percent not dealing with drugs.


MR. WATTENBERG: What I'm trying to get at is, the big argumentnow with this two million mark, and do we have too many prisoners,seems to focus on this drug situation. The non-violent drug use ofpeople who are traffickers, not users. Sally, what should we doabout that? I mean, that's your field.

MS. SATEL: Well, if you mean traffickers in large volumes, again,that's a criminal justice issue. But if you're talking aboutpossession and, as I said before, the criminal addict, the person whowouldn't be involved in crime much or at all if not for the drugproblem, I am a big fan of an institution called Drug Courts. Wehave about 400 of them in the country. They started in Miami in 1989with the crack explosion, basically because the jails wereoverwhelmed and the courtrooms were clogged, and this was a way todivert people from jail. And, how this works, it's really quiteenlightened because it takes what you might call the moral model,which is this is a behavioral problem, and the medical model, whichis we're going to treat addiction like a disease, and it brings themtogether. And the way it does this is by offering the offender achance to have the charges dropped if he will complete a drugprogram. Now, in the past, certainly diversion to drug treatment isnot new, but in the past the judge has sent the person off, never sawhim again, he fell through the cracks. His probation officer wasn'twatching. Drug courts are much, much more surveillant. They addictmeets with the judge at least weekly at first, and then monthly. It's at least a year-long program. And there are what's calledgraduated sanctions, which are key, from Psychology 101, which is tosay that if the person is noncompliant in some way, gives a positiveurine, misses a session, doesn't follow through, there is a swift anda certain sanction. Not severe, meaning the person could spend onenight in jail, something like this. And the data thus far are veryencouraging.

MR. WATTENBERG: The data prior to this, the general word on thestreet was, drug rehabilitation doesn't work.


MR. WATTENBERG: I mean, that's what it used to be.

MS. SATEL: Actually, I'll tell you. This kind of statement getsme in trouble with my profession, but it's true. Drug treatmentdoesn't work that well. The dropout rates are enormous. And youwere disagreeing or agreeing with that?

MR. REYNOLDS: I'm agreeing.

MS. SATEL: But as a social investment, drug treatment is alwayshelpful. A person commits less crime and uses less drugs whenthey're in treatment. But if they don't complete it, they are likelyto relapse, and the dropout rates are huge without leverage.

MR. WATTENBERG: But what Sally is saying, Morgan, is that theyhaven't worked much, insofar as they work they're all right. Butnow, if you couple treatment with coercion and muscle, it will workmuch better. Do you buy that?

MR. REYNOLDS: I don't have any confidence in that. I would bemore radical, and maybe Al and I agree in this proposition, and thatis that the federal government should cease and desist in its war ondrugs. Maybe the Senator George Akins (sp) solution, declare victoryand leave. We ought to leave it -- because the collateral damage hasbeen immense, and this has been the whole wedge for federalizing somuch of criminal law and prosecution, which I consider to be adisaster in wearing my libertarian hat. Now, I'm much moresympathetic with respect to state and local governments in terms ofwhat they want to do with respect to drug laws, or illicitcommodities.

MR. WATTENBERG: Hold on. Everybody is smiling because you'vestepped on the land mine which I was going to try to avoid by askingonly a very simple question of you all. But let me ask that first,and then we can continue. In one word, do you approve ofdecriminalizing drugs?

MR. BLUMSTEIN: I would hate to see cocaine on supermarketshelves.

MR. WATTENBERG: I take that as a no. You are againstdecriminalization.

MR. BLUMSTEIN: I am against the intense pursuit of drug -- thedrug war, through incarceration as the primary response. I thinktreatment makes so much more sense. It think here are a variety ofthings that can be done. What we've got is a simplistic solutionthat is incarceration. And that's the one we've got to think harderabout.

MR. WATTENBERG: But, you are not for solving it the way Morganand Milton Friedman and some others would by making it legal, ordecriminalizing it?

MR. BLUMSTEIN: I think making it legal opens too many doors todisaster.

MS. SATEL: No, but what I --

MR. WATTENBERG: You're against decriminalization?

MS. SATEL: Yes, but why I was smiling was because put it on theshelves tomorrow, you'll need more treatment than we have now. Andthat's what I'm focusing on, is how to make that treatment succeed,whether you have the most liberal regime, or highly prohibitionary. You're going to have people -- I deal with the casualties, and theonly way for these people - not the only way, but by farstatistically, a way for them to complete treatment, and dataoverwhelmingly shows that if you finish treatment you have a muchbetter chance of remaining abstinent.

MR. WATTENBERG: Much better chance, what are the magnitudes?

MS. SATEL: Well, actually there was a good study on PhoenixHouse, which is a residential community, and this is long term, ayear to 2 years, but after 5 years 90 percent were drug -- 90 percentwere working, and 70 percent were drug free.

MR. REYNOLDS: Don't you agree that people have to bottom out,that rehabilitation is fundamentally a self-reform?

MS. SATEL: No, that's -- I think that's intuitive, but it's acommon myth. People think that you've got to want to get better intreatment. The manual that Ben referred to, Drug Treatment, The CaseFor Coercion, put out by AEI, I wrote that to amass all the data wehave showing that actually if you compel people to be in treatment --ideally you want to give them a choice. I mean, the choice is you goto treatment or you lose your job, you go to treatment or you go tojail, you go to treatment or you lose your public housing. I mean, Idon't want to throw nets over people and drag them in, unless they'regravely disabled. But, when people come into a treatment system thatway, through EAP, through their employer, the data are consistentthat they do better, largely because they stay longer.

MR. WATTENBERG: What about the children of these 2 million peoplein prison. By, say, going from 1 million to 2 million, have wehelped the overall social fabric in this country? These are for themost part young kids living without fathers in their homes?

MR. BLUMSTEIN: I'm relying on this a lot lately, but there's muchruin in the nation. The obvious way to change -- sure, there's a lotof collateral damage here, again. There's at least one childdependent for every person in jail or prison, and it's been estimatedas high as 7 million, by the Department of Justice recently. But,here's one remedy that would really do wonders, I believe, and thatis we need a lot more real wage job opportunities for thoseincarcerated. This is mostly a win-win-win thing, but if you go intoany jail or prison the overwhelming feeling is of idleness. Thisisn't a new idea, but what we've got to do is get this going on amass scale, productive scale, and only private enterprise can reallydo it.

MR. WATTENBERG: Real jobs in prison?

MR. BLUMSTEIN: Real jobs, real jobs, 40 hour a week type.

MR. WATTENBERG: We're not talking chain gang? Not chain gang,making big rocks into little rocks?

MR. BLUMSTEIN: No, that's completely unproductive and expensiveand nonsense?

MR. WATTENBERG: What do you think of that?

MR. REYNOLDS: I think we used to talk about the prison system asthe correction system. We used to think about rehabilitation. Thewarehousing function has driven out all of the efforts atrehabilitation, and getting --

MR. WATTENBERG: But, again, as with drugs, there was very littleevidence -- I mean, sure everybody would say, hey, you train a guy tobe a machinist or a computer whiz, and he goes out and lives happilyever after. But, the evidence sort of came in that it didn't look sogood.

MR. BLUMSTEIN: They didn't have very good evidence on that issue. What they had was various kinds of rehabilitative technologies. Andnone of those technologies were shown to be good. So what we endedup doing is scrapping all of our efforts at providing a better basisfor reintegration into society.

MR. WATTENBERG: What about the effect of these 2 million peoplein prison on racial relations in America. About half areAfrican-American?

MR. REYNOLDS: Half are African-American.

MR. WATTENBERG: It's about five times disproportionate --

MR. REYNOLDS: About seven times.

MR. BLUMSTEIN: No, four times. Just 12-1/2 percent of the U.S.population and they're 50-51 percent of the --

MR. REYNOLDS: The incarceration rate of African-Americans isabout seven times that of whites. And one-third of black males intheir 20s are under the control of the criminal justice system, inpart because of the emphasis on drugs --

MR. WATTENBERG: But, the majority of those are probation orparole?

MR. BLUMSTEIN: The majority of those are probation. The chanceof a black male getting into prison at some time in his life is 29percent estimated by the Justice Department. And Morgan mentionedsomething about incentives matters. One of the incentives is thestigmatizing effect of being sent to prison. When large numbers ofpeople in your peer group get to prison we've seriously diminishedthe effect of that stigma.

MR. REYNOLDS: But, that's changed lately, you've got to agree. The role model of somebody in an orange jumpsuit whining for mamabehind bars kind of glosses off that. And actually, it's turned downin terms of how much admired criminals are. You aren't so tough, andyou're spending a lot more time than you were in the late '80s, whereit was a revolving door. In Texas alone, we reached a bottom wherepeople were serving -- the releasees were serving 16 percent of theirsentences. Now, it's 45 percent. That makes a huge difference. It's impacting.

MR. WATTENBERG: This is the sentencing aspect of it, right?


MR. WATTENBERG: And what is the figure that I have seen, is thatfor a violent criminal out on the streets is likely to commit onaverage about 14 or 15 violent crimes per year?

MR. BLUMSTEIN: Right, predatory felony type of crime, not drugs.

MR. WATTENBERG: So if you keep a violent criminal in for one moreyear on his sentence you have eliminated in theory 14 or 15 violentcrimes.

MR. REYNOLDS: So there's a social payoff.

MR. BLUMSTEIN: And all you need is social damage of about $4000each to make it pay handsomely.

MR. REYNOLDS: I'd be surprised if --

MR. WATTENBERG: But, there's a lot of leverage there of keeping aviolent criminal in prison.

MR. BLUMSTEIN: It depends on whether he's going to continue beingviolent, and robberies are one kinds of things, assaults within thefamily are other violent crimes. That's just too gross and glossy anumber.

MR. WATTENBERG: Well, neither of those are tea parties, robberyor assault.

MR. BLUMSTEIN: I'm just saying --

MR. WATTENBERG: They still come under the big V word for violent.

MR. BLUMSTEIN: I'm suggesting that a lot of assaults arerelatively less serious --

MR. REYNOLDS: Look, we have about 10 million violent crimes ayear --

MR. WATTENBERG: Which one would you prefer?

MR. BLUMSTEIN: I don't prefer any of them, but I'm not sure thatkeeping everybody who's engaged in violence in prison, that averagemay be -- whatever that average is, there are some who do an awfullot of it, lots of people --

MR. REYNOLDS: But, what you don't appreciate, Al, is that whenyou incarcerate you're sending the right message. And you're gettinga lot less of it.

MR. BLUMSTEIN: We've always been incarcerating violent felons.

MR. REYNOLDS: We're enjoying a kind of -- a pro-civility kind ofeffect, even though we've got in a sense a debased, decaying, moralculture.

MR. WATTENBERG: Al, the argument was, there was much less of apunishment effect than there had been. And as we increased thepunishment effect, crime went down.

MR. BLUMSTEIN: Over the last 30 years or so, murder rates hasoscillated, but have been phenomenally flat between 8 and 10 perhundred thousand, and it's only in the last few years that we'vebroken below that. It's only in the last -- it's in the last twoyears that we've broken below that flat rate, despite the fact thatfor the last 25 years we've been increasing incarceration at 6 to 8percent a year exponentially.

MR. WATTENBERG: All right. Let's go around the room once, veryquickly. Let's make believe it's 10 years from now, where are wegoing to be on the so-called 'war on crime,' Morgan Reynolds?

MR. REYNOLDS: We're going to be in better shape, despite thegrowth of the young male population. The basic reason is the publichas had it, the politicians, everyone gets the message, andincarceration is the favored sanction of the moment. I'm for variousreforms that we can't go into here. But, it's because of thepolitical undertow, people are going to pay their taxes toincarcerate.

MR. WATTENBERG: Sally Satel, it's the year 2010, where are wegoing to be in this argument?

MS. SATEL: I think we're going to be more enlightened about howto deal with the non-violent drug offender. And I think we may alsoextrapolate some other lessons about leverage and use them in othersocial institutions, as well, for expectations about addicts livingin public housing, and getting other public goods.

MR. WATTENBERG: Al Blumstein?

MR. BLUMSTEIN: I think we have benefited enormously in recentyears from the strength of the economy, the availability of jobs atthe top, and the bottom, from the dropping of the crack epidemic of anumber of years ago, and we've benefited enormously from that. Ithink that we will continue to benefit unless things start turningaround. And the clouds I see on the horizon, and number one, theeconomy turning sour, number two, the degree to which we drive peopleout of welfare, and they resort to crime to substitute for welfare,and I think that things are looking good at the present time. Thedanger is if we get a new drug epidemic.

MR. WATTENBERG: Would you describe yourself as a so-called rootcauses devotee? Is that what you're saying, it's poverty, it's lackof jobs?

MR. BLUMSTEIN: No, that's a serious question. Any of theselabels are too simplistic. I think there are important effectsdeterrent and incapacitative effects of incarceration.

MR. WATTENBERG: Thank you, Morgan Reynolds, Al Blumstein, andSally Satel. And thank you, for Think Tank, I'm Ben Wattenberg.

ANNOUNCER: We at Think Tank depend on your views to make our showbetter. Please send your questions and comments to New River Media,1150 Seventeenth Street, Northwest, Washington, D.C. 20036, or emailus at thinktank@pbs.org. To learn more about Think Tank, visit PBSOnline at www.pbs.org. And please let us know where you watch ThinkTank. This has been a production of BJW, Incorporated, inassociation with New River Media, which are solely responsible forits content. Brought to you in part by ADM, feeding the world is thebiggest challenge of the new century, because by the time this babyis old enough to vote the world will have nearly 2 billion new mouthsto feed. ADM, supermarket to the world. Additional funding isprovided by the John M. Olin Foundation, the Lilly Endowment, theLynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, and the Smith RichardsonFoundation.

(End of program.)


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