Use those groups

Ever since the days of Cesare Beccaria, the 18th-century philosopher and death-penalty opponent, classical deterrence theorists had focused on credibly threatening individuals; Kennedy’s first innovation was to focus on increasing the legitimacy of law enforcement in the eyes of groups. “The legitimacy element has risen in my mind from being an important element of the strategy to the most important element,” Kennedy told me. Convinced that the best way to increase legitimacy was to enlist what he calls the “community’s moral voice,” Kennedy set out to deter the most dangerous young gang members by persuading their friends and neighbors to pressure them into obeying the law.

America has one of the largest prison populations in the world. How can we reduce it? This article offers several ideas, focusing mostly on courts being less capricious and more respectful. What I like the most, though, is focusing on groups of people. Humans are such social animals, conforming to social pressures, I would think this would be target A.

[Photo from]

[Update: Of course, using groups can backfire:

While social cues grease the wheels of interaction in subtle ways, they can also create hazards. In a gripping chapter on disasters, Vedantam describes the snap decisions made by employees of one brokerage firm in the south tower of the World Trade Center in the crucial minutes after the first plane hit on Sept. 11. The group on the 89th floor reached the consensus that they were not in danger — and perished. The group on the 88th floor ran for the stairs and survived. While everyone felt they were making autonomous decisions, the decisions were really made by the group. “Group decisions provide us with a signal,” Vedantam writes. “The details about individuals — who did what, who felt what, who thought what — is noise.” He cites another analysis, of response to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, in which two different groups escaped at different rates. What mattered wasn’t what floor the groups were on but how large they were. “Groups seek to develop a shared narrative as an explanation for what is happening,” Vedantam writes. “The larger the group, the longer it took to arrive at a consensus.” His conclusion? “People can undermine themselves — and reduce the overall survival rate — by trying to help one another.”

The point is that group pressure is very powerful – which I suppose the quote above illustrates.]


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