Claiming more money should go to police than to prisons and using the success of police crime fighting techniques, as reported in this article in the New York Times, seems to forget that the techniques only work if you have somewhere to incapacitate the arrested criminals.
Public safety is maintained by not only using the broken windows/CompStat policing methods pioneered by Police Chief Bratton in New York under Mayor Giuliani, but also the incapacitation prison provides in a criminal justice environment where virtually no rehabilitative programs currently being used show any significant long-term success when evaluated rigorously, as we note in our periodically updated rehabilitation post.
“Now that the United States has the world’s highest reported rate of incarceration, many criminologists are contemplating another strategy. What if America reverted to the penal policies of the 1980s? What if the prison population shrank drastically? What if money now spent guarding cellblocks was instead used for policing the streets?
“In short, what would happen if the rest of the country followed New York City’s example?
“As the American prison population has doubled in the past two decades, the city has been a remarkable exception to the trend: the number of its residents in prison has shrunk. Its incarceration rate, once high by national standards, has plunged well below the United States average and has hit another new low, as Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced recently. And crime in the city has fallen by more than 75 percent, almost twice as much as in the rest of the country.
“Whatever has made New York the safest big city in America, that feat has certainly not been accomplished by locking up more criminals.
“The precise causes of New York’s crime decline will be debated by social scientists until the Sun hits the Earth,” said Michael Jacobson, a criminologist who ran the city’s Correction and Probation Departments during the 1990s and is now the president of the Vera Institute of Justice, a criminal justice research group. “But the 50,000-foot story from New York is that you can drive down crime while decreasing your jail and prison population — and save a huge amount of money in the process.”
“New York’s singular success has attracted attention across the country from public officials whose budgets have been strained by the prison boom. The 2.3 million people behind bars in America, a fifth of the world’s prisoners, cost taxpayers more than $75 billion a year. The strict penal policies were intended to reduce crime, but they have led to a historic, if largely unrecognized, shift in priorities away from policing.
“The United States today is the only country I know of that spends more on prisons than police,” said Lawrence W. Sherman, an American criminologist on the faculties of the University of Maryland and CambridgeUniversity in Britain. “In England and Wales, the spending on police is twice as high as on corrections. In Australia it’s more than three times higher. In Japan it’s seven times higher. Only in the United States is it lower, and only in our recent history.”