Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Locking more people up does not lead to safer communities

The latest information from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) and the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR)— the leading crime and prison data sources for the country—shows that locking more people up does not lead to safer communities, wrote Marc Schindler is the Executive Director of the Justice Policy Institute at The Crime Report.
The Justice Policy Institute (JPI) compared the UCR crime rate and the BJS incarceration rate from 2002 and 2012. The data reveals a nation divided.
The 2012 data was released in the summer and fall of 2013. Twenty four states experienced falling crime and incarceration rates, while twenty three states experienced rising incarceration rates and falling crime rates. Only three states experienced rises in both (including West Virginia, which coupled a 7 percent increase in crime with a 51 percent increase in its incarceration rate).
Some numbers stand out as signs that states can opt for smarter and safer justice policies:
  • Many states that saw falling incarceration rates saw large drops in crime: the ten states that decreased their incarceration rate by 10 percent or more saw crime drop at an average rate of 24.1 percent,
  • States that increased their incarceration rate saw much smaller drops in crime: the fifteen states that increased their incarceration rate by 10 percent or more saw, on average, only an accompanying, 12.8 percent drop in crime, much lower than the national average, 20.26 percent, decrease in crime for the same period.
The data shows that Virginia experienced a 25 percent drop in crime, and 2 percent drop in its incarceration rate.  Other Southern states saw a much bigger drop in incarceration, and a drop in crime.
JPI’s report Virginia’s Justice System: Expensive, Ineffective, and Unfair, as well as its follow up study, Billion Dollar Divide, recommends that states like Virginia follow the lead of these other Southern states, and reconsider and review their sentencing laws, practices and policies, reduce the collateral consequences of criminal convictions and introduce more effective public safety and drug policies. Such steps can and should be taken by the states whose incarceration rate has increased or only minimally declined over the past decade.
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