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What Every Policymaker Should Know About Imprisonment and the Crime Rate



What Every Policymaker Should Know About Imprisonment and the Crime Rate




Through the interaction of many factors, the number of Americans in prison has quadrupled during the past 20 years. The cost of this trend is very high, and taxpayers are promised by legislators and policymakers that their money is buying less overall crime and thus a safer society. An analysis of relevant research, however, shows that incarceration apparently has no significant effect on violent crime rates and a marginal impact on property crime rates. One reason for this minimal impact of incarceration on crime rates is that a variety of economic and social factors outside the control of the criminal justice system contribute to crime rates. Second, demographics indicate that overall crime rates tend to rise and fall with the number of males in the crime-prone 15-to 24-year-old age group. Third, the criminal justice system deals with only a small fraction of crimes committed. Fourth, the criminal justice system is incapable of accurately identifying high-risk offenders early in their criminal careers. Fifth, the threat of longer prison sentences does not deter violent crime, since most violent crime is committed impulsively, often under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Finally, for some crimes, especially drug crimes, new recruits quickly replace those incarcerated. Given these facts, policymakers should invest in a variety of correctional strategies, including effective intermediate sanctions, drug treatment, community policing, and other programs and policies. Violent offenders, however, must be incarcerated for as long as they present a danger to the community; still, an effective attack upon crime must address a range of factors that contribute to crime in our communities

Bibliographic Citation

Campaign for an Effective Crime Policy: National Institute of Justice, Washington, D.C. (1995)


corrections effectiveness
corrections statistics
crime control policies