Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Special needs criminals

The average IQ of an inmate is about 87. Since 75 is usually considered mental retardation, there are a lot mentally retarded persons in prisons. Even the average prisoner is borderline retarded.

Prisoners are a special needs population.

Hold that thought. Now, readers with children on the "explosive" spectrum, raise your hand if you have not contemplated your future adult child behind bars. Ahh, as I expected. No hands are raised.

We know some of our children don't respond normally to near term consequences - much less long term consequences. They pretty much only respond to immediate consequences and rewards. The future, for them, is a foreign land.

People studying prisoners, have come to similar conclusions from a different direction ...
Economic View - A Smarter (and Cost-Efficient) Way to Fight Crime -

LAW enforcement policy in the United States rests implicitly on the “rational actor” model of traditional economics, which holds that people take only those actions whose benefits exceed their costs.

This model says that crime will be deterred if the expected punishment is strong enough — a prediction that has not been borne out in practice...

Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy at the University of California, Los Angeles, says there is a better way. In a new book, “When Brute Force Fails,” he argues that instead of making punishments more severe, the authorities should increase the odds that lawbreakers will be apprehended and punished quickly.

... most criminals are not the dispassionate rational actors who populate standard economic models. They are more like impulsive children, blinded by the temptation of immediate reward and largely untroubled by the possibility of delayed or uncertain punishment.

The evidence suggests that when hardened criminals are reasonably sure that they will be caught and punished swiftly, even mild sanctions deter them. But not even the prospect of severe punishment is effective if offenders think they can get away with their crimes...

... Experimenters have found, for example, that even long-term alcoholics become much less likely to drink when they are required to receive a mild electric shock before drinking. Many of these same people were not deterred by their drinking’s devastating, but delayed, consequences for their careers and marriages...
Mr. Kleinman advocates a particular policing strategy that is effectively designed for a special needs population. The idea is to concentrate resources to increase the probability of capture for a targeted subgroup. The theory is this group will respond to the probability of capture -- perhaps even if the actual punishments are less severe (hence less costly). They will then change their behavior, which frees up resources to target the next sub-group (dynamic policing).

Reducing criminal behaviors is one outcome that police, wardens and parents can all agree on.

In the meantime, and in the hope of avoiding outsourcing grown child housing and care responsibilities to the penitentiary, it's useful to think about that punishment/probability of detection equation when trying to change the behavior of special needs children.

It's not the intensity or duration of the consequences that we should be thinking about, it's ensuring a high probability that any misdemeanors will be rapidly detected. The focus is on vigilance ...

No comments: