Why we can’t legislate change when it comes to reducing crime…

“The State of Indiana is poised to increase the prison time one must serve for murder and other violent crimes. New [guidelines will] raise the bar starting July 1, requiring violent criminals to serve at least 75 percent of their sentences. The current code has become notorious for allowing inmates to be released after serving just 50 percent of their sentences.”

There’s no data to say that “time behind bars” reduces the likelihood that someone will recommit a similar violent offense.  This is not reducing crime and making “the world a safer place.”

I have TWO CONCERNS with the news coverage on these upcoming changes, and some thoughts on what could be truly effective change…


CONCERN #1:  On the TV news piece on this new legislation, local police were interviewed and one officer stated “with these new sentencing guidelines, 25% more criminals will be off the streets.”

While that statement is mathematically precise, it is really saying nothing other than an answer to a simple (but meaningless) mathematics equation related to a body-count –

Q: how many people having been released early from prison would be on the ‘public streets’ at any given time?  

A: Yes, if they are in prison 25% longer, then it stands that at any given time, there would now be 25% less “on the streets…”

While that’s factually accurate, so what?

There is no data to support that leaving someone in prison longer will make a difference other than keeping more prisoners in prison than we do now!

These sentencing guidelines DO NOT

    • improve the overall effectiveness of our prison system, thus
    • improve our ability to “reform” someone, thus
    • reduce recidivism rates, thus
    • make the public streets safer

All we’ll be  doing is keeping 25% more people “on the other side of the prison wall.”

There is no data to support that leaving someone in prison longer will make a difference other than spending more taxpayer money than we do now!

These sentencing guidelines DO NOT

    • affect more or better change in an individual
    • improve public safety

The bottom line:  The streets are not 25% safer…we’ve just “delayed the inevitable,” and done so at a cost.

Did you know that it costs the same to house someone in prison for a year as it does to send someone to Harvard for a year!

The scarier bottom line: it’s a pretty steep cost for NO RESULT!


CONCERN #2:   On the news coverage on this new legislation specific cases are mentioned where violent crimes occurred and the suspects had been released early from prison.

    • In this online article, it described a three month span in a given city, where three murders occurred allegedly by convicted murderers (e.g. repeat offenders), and that two of these were released early from prison (both at ~50% of their full sentence).
    • In one case mentioned on TV,  the main suspect was released 3 months early from jail.

While these are are factually accurate descriptions, worse than meaningless statements, they are making dangerous implications that quite honestly are both unfounded and scary.

In other words, SO WHAT?

By tying the new guidelines to “actual cases,” without any other comparators, we’re being led to believe that there is historical evidence or actual proof that these guidelines

    • will REDUCE crime (because we can show that more time, less crime).
    • will PREVENT crime (because the threat of harsher sentences will keep people from committing crimes in the first place)


From the online article, all we know is that in a given time frame in one city, three murders occurred.  All we know is the recidivism rate for those three former prisoners is 100%.

Are we to believe that individuals are twice as likely to commit another violent crime if they’re released early?  NO!

Are we to believe that twice as many violent crimes are committed by repeat offenders who are released early?  NO!

From this sampling in the online article, we know nothing about about the new guidelines impact on recidivism…nothing about prison itself’s impact on recidivism…nothing about prison as a deterrent to crime!

    • Where there other convicted murderers in that city who served time who didn’t commit another murder (non-repeat offenders)?  We don’t know…
      • So we can’t draw any conclusions about the effectiveness of prison time on recidivism. 
    • Assuming there were, what ratio of those those non-repeat offenders served a partial sentence vs. full sentence?  We don’t know…
      • So we can’t draw any conclusions about the new sentencing guidelines on recidivism (e.g. was it better than 2:1?)
    • Were there other murders that occurred in that same time frame,  just not by former convicted murderers?  We don’t know…
      • So we can’t draw any conclusions about the effectiveness of prison in general on prevention!

And, if these were the ONLY three murders in the city at that time, then still all we sill know is the recidivism rate for those three former prisoners is 100%.

    • We can’t even say that prison time doesn’t reduce crime…we can’t draw any conclusions!

From the TV report, we know even less.  All we know, is the main suspect was released early from jail.

Are we to believe that had he not been released early, he wouldn’t have committed another violent crime?  NO!

All the data on recidivism would say that the individual would be just as likely to commit another similar violent crime…just 3 months later.


In these new stories, the reporters are implying that the guidelines would have changed the outcomes of recent deaths by shooting.  But there is no data to support this.

They are just ‘playing on our emotions” to lead us to believe that this simple solution will have an impact on crime.  It won’t.


IN CONCLUSION:  spending money “to keep doing the same thing for longer” with no data to support better results is DANGEROUSLY MISLEADING. It’s also the definition of insanity – banging your head against the same wall, expecting different results.


BUT while it’s great for me to point out the uselessness of their mathematically precision and the danger of their stories that play on our emotions,


Instead of spending more money on  longer sentencing, we should spend that money in one of two ways:

    • reactively speaking, research better ways to help someone learn not to repeat a given undesirable behavior (i.e. recommit a similar crime)…which really means finding better things for that person to do with the same time interval…outside of prison!  This addresses criminal recidivism (and it probably involves us in community, not the government, to find the answers…)
    • proactively speaking, research solutions to address issues like poverty, substance abuse, child abuse, and social intolerance which lead to someone growing up to commit a violent crime….which really means finding ways to keep people out of prison in the first place.  This addresses crime prevention (and it probably involves us in community, not the government or schools, to find the answers…)


These are not simple solutions – we can’t just legislate change, throw money at the problem or lock people up and hope the problem solves itself.  We must get involved, and fundamentally “shift the conversation.”

Which is why you probably won’t like my answers…

…which is precisely why our legislators try these solutions.

They appear simple, keep the public happy, and get them re-elected.  

But they do NOT fundamentally adrress the problem with a better solution!

And, our legislators are NOT to blame!  We’re the ones at fault…because we fall for it!

But just because something is hard, doesn’t mean it’s not the right thing to do!

Published by


I see life as full of possibilities and the world full of beautiful people possessing unique and often untapped talents. I’m a learner and connector, seeking ways to leverage the abundance in this world through strong community.

One thought on “Why we can’t legislate change when it comes to reducing crime…”

  1. A friend did make the following point:

    “There is some good in the new sentencing law though— diversion of low level offenders from DOC. Unfortunately the prosecutors won on the longer sentencing issue.”

    Diversion for low level offenders is an example of better options…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s