America’s attitude toward crime is based on geography and personal experience. People living in Fargo, North Dakota worry less about crime affecting them personally than, say, people living in Oakland, California.
Most Americans don’t believe that criminals are congenitally hardwired to commit crimes. According to most people, the immediate causes of crime are illegal drugs and a lack of adequate deterrents. Thus criminals involved in the use, distribution, sale, and possession of illicit drugs should be locked away for lengthy periods of time. Harsher sentencing laws and harsher prisons serve to discourage future criminals is the general opinion.
Yet studies have demonstrated that neither longer prison sentences nor even the death penalty restrain crime. If the studies are correct, then perhaps the problem of crime needs to be re-evaluated and approached from a new and different direction, one that eschews deterrence as part of the solution.
A recent study by Dr. David Krus indicated two primary causes for crime: uneven distribution of wealth and family disintegration. The correlation between incarceration rates and the index of wealth distribution was .48. The correlation between incarceration rates and the index of family disintegration was .43. In other words, most criminals come from impoverished backgrounds and/or broken homes.
To determine whether or not his predictive model was correct, Krus searched for a laboratory in which to test it. He found it in Eastern European countries, many of which transitioned from socialism to capitalism almost overnight. This rapid change resulted in the redistribution of wealth in a disparate manner. If Krus’ model was correct, this redistribution of wealth should have been followed by a noticeable increase in incarceration.
In the Soviet Union – over a four-year period – incarceration rates rose by 108 percent, while the incarceration rate in the Czech Republic increased by 276 percent.
Krus’ predictive study leads to one inevitable conclusion. The most effective method to reduce crime is not longer sentences and harsher punishments, but rather the reduction of the existing gap between rich and poor, along with an increase in stabilized families.
Building more jails is not the answer. Not only are jails inordinately expensive, but they don’t solve the problem of crime.