Thursday, June 9, 2011

Crime & Public Policy

It is the title of a new and magisterial book on criminal justice, co-edited by James Q. Wilson & Joan Petersilia, a copy of which I’ve just received and begun to peruse.

It should be in every criminal justice library.

The Crime Report interviewed one of the editors recently.

An excerpt.

"The latest edition of one of the country’s most authoritative criminal justice anthologies adds sex offenders, race and crime, and prisoner re-entry to its list of “hot topics.” Anthology co-editor Joan Petersilia explains why in a conversation with The Crime Report’s Ted Gest.

“Criminologist Joan Petersilia of Stanford Law School and political scientist James Q. Wilson of Pepperdine University have published the fourth volume of their widely praised series, “Crime & Public Policy” (Oxford University Press, 2011). The series, which first appeared in 1983, was designed, according to Petersilia, to draw on “the most comprehensive, sophisticated intelligent thinking that academics had to offer.”

“The new volume reflects some of the major changes in criminal justice policy and practice since the last edition in 2002. In an exclusive interview with TCR, Petersilia discusses some of those changes, in areas ranging from sentencing reform and policing to policies towards sex offenders.

“And she points out how far we still need to go in developing sound crime prevention policies, eliminating racial disparities, and pursuing evidence-based solutions in a political climate where “tough on crime” is still a vote-getter. Warns Peteresilia, “public policy goes awry when legislators react in a knee-jerk way. “

“The Crime Report: How does this work differ from other writings on criminal justice?

“JP: We wanted a volume that can be read by high-level policy makers. We asked each contributor to write, in no more than 30 pages, why their subject is important, the rigor of the evidence they have to draw on, what we should do once we know the evidence, and where bad policy is made because people are not paying attention to the evidence. We want a mayor or governor to be able to pick up the volume and trust what is in there.

“TCR: How did you organize the subject matter?

“JP: Some chapters are on the broader context, such as biology, crime causation, and international crime. Much of it is on the criminal justice system itself—policing, juvenile crime, sentencing, corrections. A third section is what you might call “hot topics”—what’s on the agenda now that people need help with. Among those topics in this volume are sex offenders, race and crime and prisoner re-entry. That last topic wasn’t even mentioned in the last volume.

“TCR: The previous volume was prepared about a decade ago. Did things change enough in most key areas to require revising every chapter?

“JP: Yes, in many areas. For example, Lawrence Sherman (of the University of Maryland and Cambridge University) rewrote the policing chapter to talk about “hot spots” policing, CompStat, and other new trends. Francis Cullen (of the University of Cincinnati) and Cheryl Lero Jonson (of Northern Kentucky University).did a total update on rehabilitation and treatment.”