Saturday, December 15, 2007

Lock 'em up

I never got a PhD, but I was in three different programs, in three different fields. In Quantitative Business Analysis at LSU, in Industrial Engineering/Management Science at Northwestern, and in Criminal Justice at Sam Houston State. I got a Master's degree at LSU before I went into their PhD program, then Northwestern gave me a Master's as a consolation prize when I left theirs.

So, I somewhat identify with Al Blumstein of Carnegie Mellon. Not in the sense of being anywhere near as successful in the academic world as he has been, he's a past president of Institute for Operations Research and Management Sciences (INFORMS) and of the American Society of Criminology (ACS)and past Dean of the School of Public Policy and Management at Carnegie-Mellon. The identification is just about the overlapping interests in Operations Research and Criminal Justice Policy.

I thought about this a little when I read this post about some things Blumstein has said and written about minimum sentencing. He's argued against it. And rightly so, mandatory minimum sentences is just a really stupid idea that originated with people like John Lott for whom simplistic ways of thinking is a religious experience.

What bothers me about Blumsteins position is that he seems to ignore the fundamental problem with our criminal justice policy -- the drug war itself. Optimally fine tuning the specifics of a corrupt and failed policy just isn't a good way to do operations research.

The drug war itself is why the United States prisons are overflowing, not mandatory minimum sentences. Mandatory minimums are bad, but the drug war is just terrible. I don't understand how any rational, honest person can support the drug war in any way.

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