Do more prisoners mean less crime?

New York City’s crime rates have gone down, and yet fewer inmates are in jail. What gives? According to this New York Times article, the Big Apple has been focusing on treatment and rehabilitative programs “intended to help deter the return of former prisoners to jail.”  The results have been noticeable: there has been a 32% decrease in the city’s incarceration rate from the past decade’s. The city’s incarceration rate is 27% lower than the national rate.

The data in New York City shows that incarceration rates are not necessarily tied to crime rates. The prevailing notion of justice is that incarceration will stop crime. This doesn’t seem the case here. We should dismantle the simplistic belief that just locking away criminals will solve the problem.

The New York Times has attributed the city’s success to a proliferation of rehabilitative programs for prisoners.  According to the Pew Center on the States, over 40% of offenders return to prison within three years. With policies that bar recently released prisoners from public housing and employment, it is certainly difficult to stay out of crime. Programs that teach inmates job skills and policies that allow inmates to reenter society keep released prisoners out of jail.

The city should be applauded for its efforts. It has, as Mayor Michael Bloomberg remarked, “proven that… successfully preventing crimes and breaking cycles of criminal activity can save thousands from a life of cycling through the criminal justice system.” We can only hope that these kinds of policies become implemented on a federal level.

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