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Reconsidering Incarceration, a new publication from the Vera Institute of Justice, has just been released March 8, 2007

Posted by FairSentencing in : Current News , trackback

Although crime is up in many American cities, lawmakers should think twice before raising penalties and extending prison sentences, advises a study released today by the Vera Institute of Justice. Reconsidering Incarceration
FBI reports of a 3.7 percent nationwide increase in violent crime in the first half of 2006–the largest annual increase in 15 years–may soon have lawmakers calling for tougher measures to protect public safety. However, after surveying the most recent research on the effectiveness of increasing incarceration to reduce crime, Don Stemen, director of research in Vera’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections, argues in Reconsidering Incarceration: New Directions for Reducing Crime that putting more people in prison may not be the most effective solution.
“Thirty years ago, prevailing wisdom was that sending people to prison was the best and only response to rising crime,” says Stemen. “But crime is a complex phenomenon, influenced by many factors. Incarceration is just one potential influence, and research shows that increasing incarceration isn’t the best or only way to reduce crime.”
Instead, Stemen’s research review suggests that policymakers consider investing in areas such as policing or education, which show equal or better correlation with lower rates of crime.
“It’s always reassuring when empirical evidence supports what one’s common sense suggests,” says David Keene of the American Conservative Union, the nation’s oldest and largest conservative lobbying group. “This study does just that for policymakers and others interested in the question of whether anything worth doing is really worth overdoing,” he says.
“The time has come for America to engage in a serious discussion to determine the best way to deal with incarceration,” agrees Richard A. Viguerie, chairman of American Target Advertising and a leading conservative voice. “The old ways have failed us.”
Little empirical study had been done to confirm or refute the effectiveness of incarceration in reducing crime rates when America began its historic reliance on prisons in the 1970s. Today, conversely, policymakers are faced with a large, complex, and sometimes contradictory body of research. By making sense of this information, Reconsidering Incarceration offers a clear, up-to-date understanding of what works best.
Highlights of the report include:

  • Over the past 35 years a 10 percent higher incarceration rate was associated with a 2 to 4 percent lower crime rate, according to the most reliable research.
  • Ever greater rates of incarceration have been subject to diminishing returns in effectiveness. In some neighborhoods with already high rates of incarceration, additional increases have correlated with even more crime than before.
  • Government investment in things such as more police, reducing unemployment, or raising education levels may be more cost effective in reducing crime. One national study found, for example, that a 10 percent increase in wages corresponded with a 12 percent drop in property crime and a 25 percent drop in violent crime.
“This report could not have come at a better time,” says Vera Director Michael Jacobson, who ran New York City’s jails and probation system for Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. “With crime rates going up in many parts of the country, calls for harsher penalties and more prisons are inevitable. Governors, legislators, and the public need to know that more prison doesn’t equal more public safety. You can effectively provide for public safety without overinvesting in prisons.”
Between 1993 and 2005, New York City’s violent crime rate fell 64 percent. During that time, the number of people sent to prison from the city likewise dropped 47 percent, and its jail population fell 27 percent. Similarly, New York State, which leads the 10 most populous states in violent crime reduction, experienced a 58 percent decline in violent crime between 1993 and 2005. Its incarceration rate also fell during that period by 7.9 percent.
“Removing violent repeat offenders from society obviously makes sense,” concludes David Keene, “but the idea of jailing virtually everyone who breaks our laws and throwing them into institutions that are little more than warehouse lock-ups quickly reaches the point of diminishing returns.”
A copy of Reconsidering Incarceration: New Directions for Reducing Crime, may be downloaded from Vera’s web site at www.vera.org/reconsideringincarceration or ordered from the Vera Institute of Justice at (212) 334-1300.
The Vera Institute of Justice is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing safety and justice, promoting fair and efficient policy and practice, and working with leaders of government and civil society to improve the systems people rely upon for safety, security, and justice. Vera is a founding member of the Altus Global Alliance.
Contact: Robin Campbell at (212) 376-3172 or rcampbell@vera.org
Learn more about Vera at www.vera.org.



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