IT WAS APPROPRIATE that Judge David L. Bazelon should have offered the first major critique of the proposals made recently by Chief Justice Warren E. Burger to deal with crime in this country. The two men have clashed repeatedly and bitterly during the past two decades over questions of crime and punishment. The matters on which they disagree lie at the heart of any discussion of how, in the long run, the crime problem in America can be solved.
The view of the chief justice is that the best weapon available against crime is the "deterrent effect of swift and certain consequences." From that, his anti-crime program flows automatically: More police to catch criminals. Immediate jailing of many of them. Quick trials, brief appeals and sure punishment. With all that, he would link massive changes in the prison system to give criminals a chance to reform themselves.
To Judge Bazelon, deterrent measures are in large part a myth so far as they influence the behavior of those who commit most of the crimes that terrorize communities -- muggings, rapes and robberies. The people who do those things, he believes, do not fear prison but, rather often regard a term served as a badge of honor demonstrating in their world that they are what they seek to be: tough and mean. In his view, crime can be reduced in the long run only by attacking the conditions that breed it -- poverty, prejudice, poor housing, inadequate education, insufficient food and, most important of all, bad family environments.
What interests us is not the revival of this debate -- Burger versus Bazelon represents schools of thought that have been at war for years -- but whether there is some common ground on which public policy can be built. That's because the historical evidence suggests neither view is completely right nor completely wrong.
In the short run, the focus has to be on the administration of justice. The system, whatever is ultimate goal, isn't working when less than one out of every 10 crimes is solved, when judges handle 100 cases a day (as they do in New York) and when the jailers are running out of room in which to put people. Nor is the system working satisfactorily when cases drag on for months before trials and appeals drag on for years before decisions. Whether the ultimate solution to crime is scaring people out of committing it (the Burger thesis) or educating and counseling and enticing them out of it (the Bazelon thesis), a part of the solution must be a more efficient apparatus for catching and convicting those who still commit crime.
For the moment, that is where the debate about crime control should concentrate -- not on the long-term solution (about which there is not going to be any consensus) and not on the highly controversial proposals of the chief justice for much more pretrial detention and much less post-trial review. There is enough in between to keep the thinkers and planners busy. If those who run the system and those who provide the money for it would look at those problems, they could find -- with a little give on both sides -- some solutions. It is even possible that the results of such short-term fixes might provide better evidence than we now have as to what the long-term answers should be.