Rewiring the System

The Wire's Ed Burns offers three solutions for the inner cities


Ed Burns is co-creator of HBO's critically acclaimed series The Wire, which just concluded its fifth and final season, and co-producer of Generation Kill, a forthcoming HBO miniseries based on journalist Evan Wright's book about the first stages of the war in Iraq. Burns, a Vietnam veteran, is a former police officer and public school teacher. An outspoken critic of the drug war, the growth of prisons, and the structure, incentives, and organization of police departments, Burns listed three reforms that would improve the criminal justice system when he spoke with Reason in February.

1. End drug prohibition. "I'd definitely decriminalize drugs."

2. Change priorities. "We need to stop warehousing people in prisons. Nonviolent offenders should be let go. On the front end, we need to find ways to give these kids more opportunities so they can be competitive, so they aren't slinging dope on the corners."

3. Stop the numbers game. "If a big-time dealer is a '1,' and a low-level crack user is a '1,' who do you think is going to get the bulk of police attention? The easier guy. It's easy to hit the corners and round guys up. We should focus police attention on serious crimes, and stop measuring success by the number of guys we put in jail."