Pubdate: Tue, 28 Nov 2006
Source: Times Union (Albany, NY)
Copyright: 2006 Capital Newspapers Division of The Hearst Corporation


Prisons And Crime - New Data Show That Locking Up More Criminals
Doesn't Always Bring Down Crime Rates

It seems to be so self-evident, so intuitively correct: The more
criminals are locked up, and the longer they are held behind bars, the
more crime will decrease. That is the reasoning behind "get tough on
crime" laws in many states that are intended to keep offenders off the
streets for many years. But there's one problem with this reasoning:
It doesn't always pan out in the real world.

Take California as an example. It is known for the "Three Strikes and
You're Out" law that sends repeat offenders to jail for life once they
have been convicted of a third offense, even a petty one. But it
hasn't helped to reduce crime the way that advocates had said it
would. Instead, California has a 70 percent recidivism rate - a
statistic that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger acknowledges he must bring

Or take New York state. The 1973 Rockefeller Drug Laws mandated long
prison terms as a way of reducing drug crimes. But after more than 30
years, the laws have proven largely ineffective. Instead, alternatives
such as drug treatment programs and drug courts have helped offenders
stay on the right track and out of jail.

Or take New York City. A report by The Washington Post, reprinted in
Saturday's Times Union, shows there were 21,449 inmates in city
lockups in 1993; today, there are 14,129. Homicides, meanwhile,
declined 70 percent during the past 10 years. By contrast, the prison
population in Idaho soared by 174 percent during the same period,
while violent crime shot up 14 percent.

Why these counter-intuitive results? Some answers are well known. For
example, California's "Three Strikes" law resulted in prison
overcrowding, forcing many localities to release prisoners early to
avoid a crisis. The inmates were suddenly back on the streets, with
few support services to draw upon to help them readjust. Not
surprisingly, many of them turned again to crime.

The experience in New York City shows the wisdom of sensible programs
that help inmates stay out of prison once they finish their sentences.
Indeed, the Doe Fund, a New York City-based nonprofit organization
that provides job development services to the homeless and ex-inmates,
has just proposed a new plan to state lawmakers to combat recidivism.
It includes a $25 million wage subsidy program to motivate businesses
to hire ex-offenders and improved job training that will enable former
inmates to fit into today's changing workplace.

Sentencing reforms, drug treatment programs, ways to help ex-offenders
readjust to life on the outside: More and more, these approaches seem
to get results that "get tough" laws do not.
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