In a scholarly work on the new policing methods being currently used, the author makes the argument that many police departments nowadays are implementing policies that make neighborhoods look safer without actually addressing the root causes of crime. These police departments often do this by enforcing civility laws and ordinances prohibiting certain behaviors in, and types of people from, certain areas of communities. This is often sold to the public as a way to keep communities safer without incarceration, but the author argues that it actually increases incarceration through the greater number of violations that could result in jail time.
There are two real life examples of how communities are offered the illusion of safety vs. true safety. The first is the slew of state laws imposing residency restrictions on sex offenders, a practice discussed in more detail in a 2006 NYT article on sex offenders. These laws often involve compelling sex offenders to live long distances from where children might be present, such as parks and schools, leaving many with few places to live. As a result, the often end up in places where law enforcement can rarely monitor them thoroughly. The second example is the practice by employers of preforming criminal background checks on employees, which many say is unfair to those who happen to have a criminal record but want a second chance to lead better lives, and will make it more difficult for them to find employment, thus increasing the temptation of recidivism among ex-cons. This is described more in depth by the McClatchy-Tribune’s Criminal background check feature story.
A question worth exploring is how to balance the need for safe communities and businesses with the idea that all deserve a second chance to start over.