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Shank and Gilchrest: Increasing the Peace Can Reduce the Debt

The austerity trends in the EU and the cost cutting measures in the U.S., however, undermine the ability of the public to reach these violence-reducing realities. And with poverty and inequality rates at record levels, leaders must think very carefully about anything that exacerbates this trend.

Second, on the reaction end: If we want to deal with violence in a way that does not increase the likelihood of more violence, we must radically rethink our reactionary policies. Incarceration is perhaps the best example (but recent wars also offer illustrations of trillions of taxpayer dollars spent with little violence reduction effect). The United States has the highest incarceration rates in the developed world, and they are only growing.

The wider effect of America’s incarceration rate on economic productivity is enormous: 70 percent of prisoners had jobs before going into prison, which equates to a serious hit on tax revenue. And yet, imprisonment is not substantially reducing violence. Not only is incarceration considered a badge of honor, with little deterrent effect, crime has also moved off the streets and into prisons (see the hundreds of thousands of cases of rape and assault), and nonviolent offenders — many of whom should be prosecuted in drug courts — become violent after even the briefest stints in jail.

The overall point here that politicians need to realize is that in the pursuit of available funds, there are untapped dividends available where they may least suspect it. Increasing the peace not only improves quality of life but the economy as well. Being tough on crime requires being tough on the causes of crime. Leaders on both sides of the Atlantic are indeed right: The time for radical reform is now; it’s just in a radically different direction that they’ve prescribed.

Former Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.) served nine terms in the House. Michael Shank is the U.S. vice president at the Institute for Economics and Peace.

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