OPINION | BUPD follows leads to better solutions

Before those of you who are under 21 grab hold of that red cup this weekend—or any time, really—consider this: Under Indiana law you could serve 60 days in jail and pay up to $500 in fines.

That is the maximum sentence for possession of alcohol by a minor in Indiana.

Whether it’s alcohol, marijuana or even a traffic violation on campus, how a perpetrator is treated depends on the discretion of the Butler University Police Department and student affairs. It also depends on the attitude of the perp.

Butler, via student affairs and BUPD, sets a shining example of a better kind of crime response.

By choosing education, alternative programming and community hearings instead of expulsions or jail time, they chart a course to a more compassionate and healthier system overall.

“Our role is making runs, education [and] good community-based solutions. We want to work with students and neighbors,” BUPD Police Chief Ben Hunter said. “My staff is told to be respectful.”

Last week, The Collegian reported in “Crime rates increased in Butler area in 2010” (Oct. 5) that higher rates were reported in eight of 17 types of crime last year.

However, it also was reported that Butler’s crime rate is relatively lower than other colleges in the state.

Both Dean of Student Life Irene Stevens and Dean of Student Services Sally Click said that Butler’s approach to crime resolution helps cause this lower rate and promotes a decline in crime overall.

I wholeheartedly agree.

While traditional American wisdom holds that offenders should be punished for their crimes, the simple truth is that prison sentences just don’t seem to be working and people reoffend often.

When the incarceration rate in this country is so high it’s refreshing to hear about justice programs that avoid labeling even more people as criminals.

As recently as 2009, prison populations accounted for 1 percent of
the adult population. One in every 100 adults was behind bars.

Since then, the U.S. Department of Justice reported that rates have fallen.

However, in a nation this large and especially one so strapped for cash, it’s clear the U.S. needs different solutions.

This is where Butler University comes into the picture.

No one on staff is trying to set national prison policy. BUPD isn’t making some idealistic statement about how the correctional system works or how it might be improved.

The university is setting a good example.

“Deterrence is generally ineffective; informal control is much stronger,” Katherine Novak, head of the sociology department, said.

That could include student hearings, and counseling programs, Novak said.

BUPD prioritizes community involvement in their work and defers a lot of “punishment” and response to student affairs instead of taking students and others downtown—literally.

Naysayers to this policy might say that this approach is soft on crime and that if the police give criminals room, they’ll just take more.

“Police crackdowns are not as effective as community policing,” Novak said.

In other words, being “tough on crime” doesn’t make life any easier for the community.

BUPD doesn’t substitute community involvement for enforcing the law of the land, either.

“The law is the law,” Hunter said.

Policy makers abroad, Indianapolis police and even students should be aware of these initiatives.

Butler’s strategies work, and as Bulldogs move on into the larger world they should carry this message of reform and rehabilitation with them.

If nothing else, punishing every single lawbreaker is expensive.

That’s not to say that there should be no penalty for crime.

At the same time, how many Americans can seriously say that underage drinkers, for example, should serve 60 days in jail?

No reasonable adult, that’s for sure.

If Bulldogs and citizens in general examined the justice system from this standpoint, perhaps we could save a bit of money on justice.

Most importantly, we might end up with a system that only focuses on crimes that actually harm the community.

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