(Graph.) Catching up on blogs, I saw two interesting posts from Andrew Sullivan’s guest bloggers. First up, Patrick Appel notes: “Will Legalizing Pot Double Use? We have no reason to think so…” and goes into a study about the legalization of pot.
70 minutes later, David Frum writes: “In the 1990s, the US achieved amazing success against crime, in large part thanks to a new willingness to send more criminals to jail longer. ‘Incapacitation’ is the technical term for this strategy, and it worked. But incapacitation occurs at a huge human and financial cost.”
These are two different people, but I sometimes see this from conservatives and libertarians: the idea that the Broken Windows approach to crime, especially in the 1990s, was a good move worth defending in retrospect, but that the laws criminalizing marijuana have got to go. Leaving aside the empirical dubiousness of the approach working, I question what people think Broken Windows did in practice?
From Harcourt and Ludwig’s Reefer Madness: Broken Windows Policing and Misdemeanor Marijuana Arrests in New York City, 1989–2000 (my bold):
By the year 2000, arrests on misdemeanor charges of smoking marijuana in public view (MPV) had reached a peak of 51,267 for the city, up 2,670% from 1,851 arrests in 1994. In 1993, the year before broken windows policing was implemented, a New York City police precinct made, on average, 10 MPV arrests per year; by 2000, the police precincts were averaging 644 MPV arrests per year—almost 2 arrests per day per precinct. These misdemeanor MPV arrests accounted for 15% of all felony and misdemeanor arrests in New York City in 2000. That same year, New York City marijuana arrests represented 92% of the total 67,088 marijuana-related arrests in the state of New York (Golub et al., 2007).
In addition, the pattern of arrests disproportionately targeted African Americans and Hispanics in relation to their representation in the resident population. Although both groups each represent about 25% of New York City residents, they compose 52% and 32% of MPV arrestees for 2000–2003, respectively. African-American and Hispanic MPV arrestees have also fared worse in the criminal justice system: They were more likely than their white counterparts to be detained before arraignment (2.66 and 1.85 times more likely, respectively), convicted (both twice as likely), and sentenced to additional jail time (4 and 3 times more likely, respectively) (Golub et al., 2007).
Part of the “Incapacitation” strategy Frum celebrates involved putting the maximum number of arrests and maximum penalties on marijuana smokers. A 2600% increase in New York, with significantly more detainment and jail time for minorities. Broken Windows isn’t about being harder on murderers. It’s about a radically more aggressive enforcement of minor misdemeanor laws, such as those surrounding marijuana, because by not enforcing those laws disorder will set in and increase the potential for future crimes. Today’s pot smoker is tomorrow’s hardened criminal.
That’s insane, but so is our criminal justice system. And of course, once one gets in the net of the criminal justice system, it’s that much harder to get out, and easier to sink deeper. I wonder if the open-minded conservatives and libertarians who read Andrew Sullivan see a contradiction here. There’s nothing that makes marijuana safer in 2010 than it was in 1994, nor any reason to believe people would be more or less of a public menace for using it. So wouldn’t pushing for marijuana decriminalization now mean that something was wrong with Broken Windows and Incapacitation in the first place?