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In fighting crime, spending smarter may be more key than spending more

Edward L. Glaeser mistakenly points to Attorney General Eric Holder’s altered Justice Department policy as a pendulum swing “from tougher to gentler justice” (“Police safety and sensitivity — for a price,” Op-ed, Sept. 5). Actually, Holder’s Smart on Crime initiative is a call to smarter law enforcement. Prosecution and jail time are costly and need to be focused on the offense and the risk the offender poses. Jailing low-level offenders, when proven, effective diversion programs lead to less crime, is — to put it mildly — just dumb.

Today, we incarcerate more Americans than any other country. In 2012, almost 1.6 million were imprisoned in the United States. In 1980, state and local jails spent $6.5 billion. Now, estimated spending exceeds $76 billion. This cost limits our ability to support health care, education, and jobs. It also limits our ability to spend more intelligently on law enforcement.

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Many states and communities recognize that there are better ways to reduce crime and curb runaway growth in incarceration spending. The Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a partnership of the Department of Justice, the Pew Charitable Trusts, and the Council of State Governments Justice Center, has worked with governors and legislators in 17 states to develop sentencing and corrections reforms that will save money and lead to increased investments in programs that reduce crime. Massachusetts should join.

Spending smarter may be more important than spending more. This isn’t so-called kinder and gentler law enforcement. It’s just a better use of our resources.

Michael F. Crowley


The writer was a criminal justice specialist with the White House Office of Management and Budget.

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