Right on Crime in the Washington Post: E.J. Dionne champions ROC’s advocacy for “community-based programs rather than excessive mandatory minimum sentencing policies and prison expansion.”
ROC policy analyst Vikrant Reddy: “The pendulum has swung too far from the ‘lock’em-up-and-throw-away-the-keys’ days; it’s time to pull it back.”
While New York isn’t exactly a beacon of liberty, it has been pursuing sensible criminal justice reform over the past few years. Reforms in 2009, for instance, softened mandatory sentences for non-violent drug offenders and promoted drug courts.
In a time of state-level penny pinching, the Empire State is moving ahead with the closure of several prison facilities. Governor Andrew Cuomo, the architect in a spree of prison closings, is now moving to shut the lights off at Chateaugay Correctional Facility in upstate New York. The governor’s promise to work, “very hard with communities that are going to face closings to come up with economic development” is being met with harsh criticism by the state correction union. The group accuses Cuomo of “balancing the budget on their backs,” and warns of drastic public safety ramifications.
What, though, does the evidence say on prison expansion and consolidation?
Research conducted by scholars Western, Wildeman, Manza, Braman, and others suggest that programs of mass incarceration carry large unintended consequences. Dr. Todd Clear, Dean of the School of Criminal Justice at Rutgers, finds that large-scale imprisonment results in, “broken families, weakened the social-control capacity of parents, eroded economic strength.”
Professor Joshua Page of the University of Minnesota takes the analysis a step further and links prison expansion to the power of state corrections unions. What we see in states such as New York and California is the growth of “financial resources, political acumen, and connections” amongst organizations such as CCPOA, and accompanying opposition to prison reform.
Though these embedded interest groups are fighting closures that will undo some of the damage associated with over-incarceration, the officers do have a point. Hundreds, if not thousands of state employees will have to find work elsewhere as a result of Cuomo’s closing crusade.
In the short term, assistance programs will be needed to transition areas affected by closings. In the long-term, however, funds will be saved by utilizing smart alternatives to incarceration like the HOPE system. It’s up to New York, already on the road to a better system, to examine cost-effective alternatives to mass imprisonment.
“October is Crime Prevention Month, and I am reminded that not long ago people spoke of the “Texas Model” as a purely punitive approach to criminal justice. Decades of steady prison growth consumed an ever-increasing percentage of the general budget. Even with the nation’s highest incarceration rate, Texas’ cities and towns were still plagued with violence and property crime. We were getting a very poor return on our investment in criminal justice and corrections.”
Following Marc Levin’s testimony before the U.S. Judiciary Committee, this Fox News story features Right on Crime, noting that “The project has since been part of recent, successful efforts in Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and South Carolina to reform their systems through such changes as reducing penalties for low-level drug possessions; expanding the use of time- and cost-efficient drug courts; using money once earmarked for prisons to improve law-enforcement strategies and expanding community-based programs for offenders, including treatment.”
ROC signatory Grover Norquist co-authors this Reuters op-ed with Patrick Gleason, in which they further discuss how U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is late to the party regarding criminal justice reforms, noting that “it has been Republicans in the states who are leading the way.”
“Consider Texas, where the smart-on-crime policy reform movement began in 2003, when the state’s Republican legislators passed a law mandating that all non-dealer drug offenders convicted for possession of less than a gram be sentenced to probation instead of jail time.
Recognizing the success of smart-on-crime reforms in Texas, other states have now followed [Right on Crime's] lead.”
In a recent press release, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has announced the publication of the 2012 Uniform Crime Report (UCR) statistics, the statistical aggregate of crime records from over 18,000 law enforcement agencies.
Overall, the United States has experienced a minor uptick in reported incidents of violent crime (.7%) from 2011, though these are still part of a marked decline when part of a 5-year (2008-2012: -12.9%) and 10-year (2003-2012: 12.2%) comparison. The rate of violent crime per 100,000 people in the US has dropped an insignificant five one-hundredths of a percent and was not reported. In the 5- and 10-year comparisons, the violent crime rate dropped a remarkable -15.6% and 18.7%, respectively.
Also, reported incidents of property crime have continued a decade-long decline, down .9% from 2011, 8.2% from 2008, and 14.1% from 2003. Commensurately, property crime rates have dropped 1.6% nationwide from 2011, 11.1% from 2008, and 20.4% from 2003.
Texas and California, the two most-populous states, have produced divergent trends in both violent and property crimes. While yearly incidents of violent crime in Texas have increased slightly (1.7%) from 104,734 in 2011 to 106,476 in 2012, the violent crime rate per 100,000 Texans has remained stationary. Conversely, California has experienced a 3.9% increase in incidents of violent crime and a corresponding 2.9% increase in the violent crime rate.
This contrast holds true in property crimes as well. Texas’ incidents of property crime have dropped 1.9%, nearly doubling the .9% decline nationally. The 2012 rate of property crimes in Texas has dropped 3.5% from that of 2011. In California, incidents of property crime have increased by 7.8% and the property crime rate per 100,000 Californians has increased by 6.8%. A substantial share of the divergence in percent change between Texas and California is likely due to the haphazard method in which the state began its justice realignment process.
This minor uptick in nationwide crime should not be seen as an “early warning” for policy makers. In 2005 and 2006, both incidents and rates of violent crime increased over the previous year. In 2007, the general downward trend resumed. Too often have minor deviations in crime measures been used to justify costly, ineffectual policy that has not likely contributed to public safety. Rather, this should be seen as an opportunity to explore implementing cost-efficient, evidenced-based reforms in states and regions that are experiencing these increases.
Methodological note: The UCR should not be considered the “catch-all” measure of crime in the United States and conveys less incident-specific information than do the other two official reporting systems, the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) and the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBERS), and covers only crimes brought to the attention of or discovered by the police. Notwithstanding, the UCR is the better tool for explaining macro-level trends in crime. Further, this post discusses the percent change in the number of incidents and crime rate, not the number of incidents or the rate per 100,000 people. Using percent change is a useful tool in measuring how incremental change (e.g., criminal justice policy, procedural change, etc.) might influence a macro-level time series.
You wouldn’t know it by tuning into your local news, but the notorious crime epidemic of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s appears to have passed. Property crime and homicide rates haven’t been this low in 30-40 years, and contrary to many predictions, crime has actually continued declining during the recession. You would never know it, though, from patrolling the battered streets of Detroit.
America has dealt with failing cities before, but Motor City presents unique challenges. Detroit has undergone massive depopulation since the belly-up of 2008, but the city still has far more residents to protect than Newark, Camden, or Baltimore. Moreover, the way that Detroit is populated creates many headaches for its policemen; the city is sparsely inhabited outside of “stronghold” neighborhoods like East English Village, Mexican Town, and Palmer Woods.
But it is in these middle-class districts that Manhattan Institute senior analyst George Kelling believes the renaissance must begin. Kelling, the author of the famous “Broken Windows” article that inspired a rethinking the NYPD’s tactics in the eighties, believes that letting crime seep into the last stable neighborhoods would trigger an exodus fatal to Detroit. Thus, according to Kelling, no stone should be left unturned: even petty crimes must be dealt with swiftly. Specifically, the crime guru urges zeroing in on, “public urination, prostitution, and other kinds of low level behaviors which are precursors to more serious crime.” Traffic enforcement is surprisingly important, as routine stops have nabbed many criminals. Certainly, there are many speeders out there who aren’t thieves or killers. A large subset of the criminal population, however, exhibit aggressive driving that is predictive of other behaviors. In a promising start, Michigan’s Department of Transportation has launched an initiative to identify offenders who are also lousy drivers.
With a steady, well-oiled machine devoted to safeguarding and expanding successful areas like Palmer Woods and Grandmont Rosedale, Detroit can hopefully join most of the rest of the United States in kissing sky-high crime rates goodbye.