Thursday, February 01, 2007

Even Bigger Than Little Hoover

Man, what an exciting few days for corr sent. The Sup Crt tells CA it has to follow the Bill of Rights, the Little Hoover Commission there tells state policymakers across the nation, not just CA, to grow up and get smart, and now Vera tells everyone, as definitively as functioning brains can handle, what’s smart and what isn’t:

Although crime is up in many American cities, lawmakers should think twice before raising penalties and extending prison sentences, advises a study released today by the Vera Institute of Justice. . .

Instead, Stemen's research review suggests that policymakers consider investing in areas such as policing or education, which show equal or better correlation with lower rates of crime. . .

"It's always reassuring when empirical evidence supports what one's common sense suggests," says David Keene of the American Conservative Union, the nation's oldest and largest conservative lobbying group. "This study does just that for policymakers and others interested in the question of whether anything worth doing is really worth overdoing," he says. . .

"The time has come for America to engage in a serious discussion to determine the best way to deal with incarceration," agrees Richard A. Viguerie, chairman of American Target Advertising and a leading conservative voice. "The old ways have failed us."

Highlights of the report include:
Over the past 35 years a 10 percent higher incarceration rate was associated with a 2 to 4 percent lower crime rate, according to the most reliable research.
Ever greater rates of incarceration have been subject to diminishing returns in effectiveness. In some neighborhoods with already high rates of incarceration, additional increases have correlated with even more crime than before.
Government investment in things such as more police, reducing unemployment, or raising education levels may be more cost effective in reducing crime. One national study found, for example, that a 10 percent increase in wages corresponded with a 12 percent drop in property crime and a 25 percent drop in violent crime.

Between 1993 and 2005, New York City's violent crime rate fell 64 percent. During that time, the number of people sent to prison from the city likewise dropped 47 percent, and its jail population fell 27 percent. Similarly, New York State, which leads the 10 most populous states in violent crime reduction, experienced a 58 percent decline in violent crime between 1993 and 2005. Its incarceration rate also fell during that period by 7.9 percent.

"Removing violent repeat offenders from society obviously makes sense," concludes David Keene, "but the idea of jailing virtually everyone who breaks our laws and throwing them into institutions that are little more than warehouse lock-ups quickly reaches the point of diminishing returns."

I’m almost giddy. You cannot overstate the importance of this report. It's the equivalent of the IPCC report on global warming coming out Friday. No hope that the prison harm deniers will accept the results, but voters and taxpayers with sense should start demanding better because there’s no excuse now for the waste and inefficiencies that we’re incurring. When Viguerie and Keene, two long-time leading lights of American conservatism, are supporting this, we can finally dispense with the “oh, you’re just a wussy liberal” thing. This is confirmation of what we're always saying here. For the same amount of money you spend on prisons, you will get more public safety and fewer crime victims from alternative punishments. Or, alternately, you can get the same public safety for less money from those alternatives. Like the global warming deniers, this won't convince the prison harm deniers, but it’s reality. Now it's up to us to deal.

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