By Alex Mikulich, Ph.D.
In the last issue of JustSouth Quarterly, my article, “Stop Casting Stones: The Failure of Punitive Crime Policy,” focused on what does not work in criminal policing. A key point to remember about the failure of punitive crime policy is that getting “tough on crime,” through more arrests, more incarceration, harsher sentences, and imposition of the death penalty contribute to a “vicious cycle” of violence itself.
Punitive crime policy incorrectly assumes that formal social controls, like the police and the criminal justice system, are the most important levers for controlling crime. They are not.
The most important things influencing whether or not someone commits a crime concerns whether or not s/he thinks they are doing right or wrong and whether the community that s/he belongs to thinks a particular action is right or wrong. Scholars call this “informal social control,” and it works through both “internal” controls like conscience, internalized moral norms, etc., and “external” controls constituted by an individual’s primary relationships, including loved ones, families, friends, peers, and the community.