Sunday, November 27, 2005

The Punishment Doesn't Fit the Crime

I would argue (and be correct in stating) that the punishments we have for drug offenses are grossly excessive. Setting aside the fact that prohibition is a mistake in and of itself, there are some obvious downsides to the lengthy sentences imposed on drug-related criminals, such as an increased prison population, large enforcement and judicial costs. But how do harsh sentences influence the behavior of people dealing drugs in the black market? I would argue that the excessive punishments only encourage additional violence in the drug underworld, and making them tougher will only create a stronger incentive for drug dealers, etc. to shoot when a potential bust arrives on their door. If they’re going away for a long, long time anyway, they have less to lose by being violently aggressive. They also have more to gain by keeping potential informants from squealing on them through intimidation or violence.

This all comes from Glen Whitman’s post on a drug-related execution in Singapore, where he references David Friedman’s argument from Law’s Order:

If you impose your legal system’s harshest punishment for a particular crime, you cannot impose any additional punishment to deter related crimes committed by the same person.

On the margin, this will scale down to punishments less severe than execution, and it should give lawmakers pause when considering the mandatory minimum sentences they’re eager to impose on drug crimes. They're likely making a bad idea (prohibition) even worse.


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