The fear cycle

Alex Himelfarb considers the state of crime policy in this country.

In her 1997 study of public opinion and perceptions of crime in the U.S., Katherine Beckett showed that fear of crime did not lead public policy, it was the other way around. Tough on criminals policy creates the perception that rising crime is a serious problem, that we ought to be afraid. And the inevitably escalating government action simply continues to feed those fears.  Breaking the cycle is very hard. California’s current governor tried to pass bizarre legislation tying prison spending to education spending as something of an admission that he was helpless to do anything about the shift of scarce resources from health, education and welfare to prisons.  His frustration is understandable – California spends 45% more on prisons than on higher education.  This is not a path we want to follow.

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