The National Research Council Tells Us to Reduce Incarceration Rates May 1, 2014Posted by geoff in News.
“Incarceration doesn’t reduce crime (significantly)” is a cyclic liberal mantra that emerges every 5 or 10 years as they try to convince us that good old fashioned “lock ’em up” approaches are antiquated and ineffectual. This week we get to hear from the National Research Council and their voluminous report
The report, commissioned by the National Institute of Justice and the MacArthur Foundation, assess nearly every facet of America’s “historically unprecedented and internationally unique” rise in incarceration since the 1970s. It synthesizes years of evidence on crime trends, on causes driving the growth in prisons, and on the consequences of all this imprisonment. It argues that the U.S. should revise its current criminal justice policies — including sentencing laws and drug enforcement — to significantly cut prison rates and scale back what’s become the world’s most punitive culture.
Having said that, they then show you this chart:
Boy howdy, it sure looks like as more offenders are imprisoned (green line), crime tapers off and then falls. And when the increase in incarceration rate stops, improvement in homicide and burglary rates stops (I suspect new technology is why motor vehicle thefts continue to drop). It must have pained the WaPo author to include that chart in her article.
I think we’d all agree that correlation doesn’t equal causation, but that’s is one of the clearest correlations you’re likely to find in this data. [Gun ownership would be another one.] The WaPo author tries, very weakly, to refute that correlation:
Since the 1990s, crime has generally fallen, but this does not necessarily mean that crime fell because of increases in incarceration. A number of other changes in society — and in policing tactics — have taken place over the same time.
The increase in incarceration may have caused a decrease in crime, but most studies suggest that this effect is small or uncertain. If strict prison policies are meant to be a deterrent to repeat offenders, there’s also little evidence in the literature that the experience of being in prison discourages people from re-offending.
Let me just say this about that. Something we’re doing is obviously working. Why mess with it?
This is not to say that we should ignore the root causes of crime or rehabilitation of criminals so that they can reenter society. But I don’t think you should start paring back incarceration rates when progress on those fronts is very iffy, and when we have data like this staring us in the face.
If you want to try to add something like rehabilitation programs to the mix, fine. But don’t change what ain’t broke.