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‘Tough on Crime’: Effective or Folly? (Law Student Essay Competition)
By Carol Celestine
Law Student Essay Competition columns.
“Tough on crime” or “smart on crime”? That is the question. “Tough on crime” is a policy buzzword that is regularly bandied about to secure elections and appointments1 and (ostensibly) to protect the public at large2 from unknown and innumerable criminal elements. However, despite all the promises of a safer society, “tough on crime” initiatives have been spectacular disappointments.3 Society is being tough on crime when it should actually be getting smart on crime. Residents in communities of color are often the ones paying “tough on crime’s” high price — often with their freedom.4
The main distinction between a “tough on crime” approach to law enforcement and a “smart on crime” approach is the focus of each. Tough on crime approaches have a retributive, ex post focus that essentially begins and ends with imprisonment: a determination of guilt is made and punishment is mechanistically meted out without regard for the conditions of defendants before the offense or after th
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