Criminal Deterrence: A Review of the Literature
Last but not least, we survey a completely different idea with respect to changing the sanctions regime. While sentence enhancements and three-strikes laws are designed specifically to increase sanction severity across either the intensive or the extensive margin or both, it is possible to imagine simultaneously making one margin harsher and the other one less harsh. This is the premise underlying swift-and-certain sanctions regimes (Hawken and Kleiman 2009 and Kleiman 2009). The idea of swift-and-certain sanctions arises from the notion that myopic individuals are unlikely to be responsive to long sentences but may be highly responsive to short sentences if they are issued with near certainty. In recent practice, Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement (HOPE) program is the canonical example of swift-and-certain sanctioning in action. In an effort to address chronic recidivism among probationers, Hawaii First Circuit Court Judge Steven Alm recognized that punishments for violating the terms of probation were fairly unlikely and, if meted out, tended to occur in the distant future. Moreover, the sanctions were typically harsh and, as such, costly. Judge Alm and his collaborators put into practice a program that addressed probation violations with immediate but light sanctions—typically ranging from warnings to spending up to a week in jail. Probationers were intensively monitored, with any violations resulting in a sanction. In a banner finding, Hawken and Kleiman (2009) find that individuals assigned at random to HOPE, as opposed to business as usual, were 55 percent less likely to be arrested for a new crime, 72 percent less likely to use drugs, and 53 percent less likely to have their probation revoked than those on regular probation. In a similarly promising related study, Kilmer et al. (2013) found that a swift-and-certain program in South Dakota targeted towards persistent alcohol-involved offenders appears to have had extraordinarily large effects in counties that received the program.
As shown in Blumstein and Nagin (1978), if the magnitude of either the elasticity of crime with respect to p or f is less than 1, then the decline in the crime rate associated with an increase in p and f will not be sufficiently large to avoid an increase in the incarceration rate. The key then is to determine whether there are policies that satisfy this inequality or, in the absence of such policies, identify policies that decrease severity but have large elasticities with respect to p. In our view, swift-and-certain sanctions regimes such as that motivated by HOPE and visible police presence are two such policies that seem especially promising.
Second, while evidence is building that swift-and-certain sanctions can deter offending at dramatically lower costs for both society and offenders, the idea requires additional testing. In particular, the conditions under which such programs work and the degree to which they are replicable and scalable remains unknown. It has been suggested that the success of such programs often depends on the existence of effective leaders and an unusual degree of cooperation among local policy makers. Moreover, swift-and-certain sanctioning only works if offending can be reliably detected in the first place.