(($9.50 - $7.25) / $7.25) * 100 = +31.03%
(($9.50 - $1.15) / $1.15) * 100 = +726.08%
Yet inside the four high-security prisons I’ve visited in Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland, common areas included table tennis, pool tables, steel darts, and aquariums. Prisoner art ornamented walls painted in mild greens and browns and blues. But the most profound difference is that correctional officers fill both rehabilitative and security roles. Each prisoner has a “contact officer” who monitors and helps advance progress toward return to the world outside—a practice introduced to help officers avoid the damage experienced by performing purely punitive functions: stress, hypertension, alcoholism, suicide, and other job-related hazards that today plague American corrections officers, who have an average life expectancy of 59.
This is all possible because, throughout Scandinavia, criminal justice policy rarely enters political debate. Decisions about best practices are left to professionals in the field, who are often published criminologists and consult closely with academics. Sustaining the barrier between populist politics and results-based prison policy are media that don’t sensationalize crime—if they report it at all. And all of this takes place in nations with established histories of consensual politics, relatively small and homogenous populations, and the best social service networks in the world, including the best public education.
"We consider a prisoner unfortunate. He is unfortunate in two ways—because he has done something wrong and because he is deprived of his liberty. Therefore we should treat him kindly, because of his misfortune, for otherwise he would become hard and bitter and would not be sorry he had done wrong."
"The biggest mistake that our societies have made is to believe that you must punish hard to change criminals," explained Oeyvind Alnaes, Bastoey's then-prison governor. "This is wrong. The big closed prisons are criminal schools. If you treat people badly, they will behave badly. Anyone can be a citizen if we treat them well, respect them, and give them challenges and demands."
That is what is so perplexing about power-law homeless policy. From an economic perspective the approach makes perfect sense. But from a moral perspective it doesn’t seem fair. Thousands of people in the Denver area no doubt live day to day, work two or three jobs, and are eminently deserving of a helping hand—and no one offers them the key to a new apartment. Yet that’s just what the guy screaming obscenities and swigging Dr. Tich gets. When the welfare mom’s time on public assistance runs out, we cut her off. Yet when the homeless man trashes his apartment we give him another. Social benefits are supposed to have some kind of moral justification. We give them to widows and disabled veterans and poor mothers with small children. Giving the homeless guy passed out on the sidewalk an apartment has a different rationale. It’s simply about efficiency.
We also believe that the distribution of social benefits should not be arbitrary. We don’t give only to some poor mothers, or to a random handful of disabled veterans. We give to everyone who meets a formal criterion, and the moral credibility of government assistance derives, in part, from this universality. But the Denver homelessness program doesn’t help every chronically homeless person in Denver. There is a waiting list of six hundred for the supportive-housing program; it will be years before all those people get apartments, and some may never get one. There isn’t enough money to go around, and to try to help everyone a little bit—to observe the principle of universality—isn’t as cost-effective as helping a few people a lot. Being fair, in this case, means providing shelters and soup kitchens, and shelters and soup kitchens don’t solve the problem of homelessness. Our usual moral intuitions are little use, then, when it comes to a few hard cases. Power-law problems leave us with an unpleasant choice. We can be true to our principles or we can fix the problem. We cannot do both.
BRUNDIN: Here's how Colorado's Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper puts it.
HICKENLOOPER: This is delivering what Secretary Arne Duncan, the secretary of Education, said is the most comprehensive set of reforms in the history of the United States, right? This is going to set Colorado as the national model in public education.
BRUNDIN: Amendment 66 is predicated on the belief that a child's zip code shouldn't determine the quality of his or her education. It targets money at the kids who need it. Hickenlooper explains that high-poverty districts like Denver would get up to 40 percent more money per at-risk student because they're costlier to educate.
HICKENLOOPER: And that money follows the kid. For the first time in the United States, if a kid drops out, the school stops receiving money from the district at that moment.
BRUNDIN: A big incentive, the governor says, for schools to keep students from dropping out. The driving force behind the measure is a young Democratic senator from Denver, Mike Johnston. He says districts with low property tax bases would get more state funding.
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