Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Post-conflict development in America

One of the hardest parts of providing a successful development project in a post-conflict area is how to help the people move past the conflict and begin rebuilding their lives. This is the story in Africa at least, where truth commissions and forgiveness is billed as an important step toward rebuilding the country.

Why, though, do we not do the same in America? From the DOJ, the U.S. prison population is exploding:


The U.S. is not a developing country, and we are not overcoming a recent civil war, but the magnitude of this is huge.

From my own research, I have found that all of the growth of the U.S. economy in 2002 was in fact from increased military and correctional spending. Once we take out the real spending increases for broad security, U.S. GDP and GDP growth no longer looks as good as we had thought back when we thought we were doing well. In fact, we lose about one-fifth of our economic growth we thought we had during the Bush administration.

This is not money we need to be spending. No matter what your political beliefs are, I think we can all agree that if we can find a cheaper way to ensure our domestic and international security, we would be much better off.

A new book by Sunny Schwartz, reviewed in the New York Review of Books, may give us a way out. The U.S. relies on punishment of offenders, but a new method, called restorative justice,
is based on the concept prevalent in more traditional societies that offenders must also try to repair, as far as possible, the harm they have caused others. In order to do this, offenders must first confront what they have done, and then make amends to their families, their communities, and, if possible, their victims as well.
Not to simplify too much, but this sounds a lot like a truth commission for U.S. inmates. I like the idea a lot, and I hope the evaluation cited in the article generalizes to a larger population. I also hope this is the beginning of the a new trend where the U.S. stops trying to tell the world to do one thing, while we in fact do the opposite.

1 comment:

Tim S said...

The U.S. spends approximately $120 billion every year on policing and about $50 billion on prisons. What in your opinion, is the most optimal way to minimize crime in this country.

We all know that more policing can reduce crime. But this is somewhat paradoxical because crime has gone up. I wonder if this can be attributed to the rise of ethnic gangs and the omnipresence of drug dealers at the Mexican borders. Love the blog btw, keep it up.