Mark was as imaginative in his efforts to improve criminal justice as he was in drug policy. For decades, there has been a pervasive and fundamental problem with the probation system that supervises millions of Americans. Probationers were rarely punished for their first few violations, which encouraged them to become still more careless. Then, quite suddenly, without any explanation, they were sent off to serve substantial jail or prison sentences. It was a psychologically naive, ineffective system that probationers thought unfair. “Swift, certain, fair” was Mark’s summary of his own approach to fixing the problem. He proposed that anyone who violates probation conditions—for example, failing a drug test—should receive a prompt but modest punishment, applied in a way that meets our common understanding of fairness. He propounded this idea for 20 years before the Obama administration started to experiment with versions of it. The first experiment, in Hawaii, was very successful; the results of later experiments were mixed, as is oft the case with policy innovations that are hard to implement in a consistent way.
Posted on by Kelly Smith