Saturday, January 28, 2012

How to Stop Urban Crime Without Jail Time

by Franklin E. Zimring

Wall Street Journal

January 28, 2012

Recently, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the latest crime statistics for New York City, numbers that capped what he called the "safest decade in recorded city history."

The dramatic drop in New York's crime rate has become a phenomenon that its citizens take for granted. Between 1990 and 2011, the homicide rate in the city dropped 80%, the robbery rate fell 83% and the burglary rate was down by 86%. Auto theft has been banished to the endangered-species list, with a current rate of about 6% of the 1990 level. Nor is this profound change just the wishful thinking of police statisticians; it has been confirmed by independent measures such as auto-insurance claims and data from other levels of government.

The rest of the country also experienced a decline in crime over the 1990s, but New York's was twice as large and has lasted twice as long. So what has the city done differently? Rather than focus on imprisonment, New York has hired more police officers and changed its policing strategy.

The results of this experiment contradict four decades of crime-control orthodoxy. Since 1971, the U.S. prison population has grown from just over 200,000 to 1.5 million. When adjusted for population growth, the rate of imprisonment has increased 400%.

This dependence on incarceration was linked to the belief that street crime is committed by persistent "high-rate" offenders who will continue to offend if they are not locked up. As the thinking goes, the police cannot prevent much crime because they can't be everywhere at all times. Persistent offenders will always find a place and a time to rob and assault.


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