For many reasons, including better policing and more incarceration, Americans feel, and are, safer, says conservative columnist George Will. If crime revives as a political issue, he says, it will be through liberal complaints about something that has reduced the salience of the issue — the incarceration rate. Will contends that any such revival would be awkward for Barack Obama. Obama has said that “more young black men languish in prison than attend colleges and universities.” Actually, there are more than twice as many black men ages 18 to 24 in college as there are in jail, says Will.
He quotes Heather MacDonald of the Manhattan Institute as saying that from 1999 to 2004, violent offenders accounted for all of the increase in the prison population. MacDonald cites studies of charging and sentencing that demonstrate that the reason more blacks are disproportionately in prison, and for longer terms, is not racism but racial differences in patterns of criminal offenses. Will quotes social scientist James Q. Wilson as saying that 10 years of scholarly studies “have shown that states that sent a higher fraction of convicts to prison had lower rates of crime, even after controlling for all of the other ways — poverty, urbanization, and the proportion of young men in the population — that the states differed. A high risk of punishment reduces crime. Deterrence works.”