Should Criminal Justice Spending Shift From Corrections To Policing?


Scholars Daniel Nagin of Carnegie Mellon University and Steven Durlauf of the University of Wisconsin this week took their case to Capitol Hill that the level of imprisonment in the U.S. and the crime rate both might be reduced if some criminal justice spending were shifted from the corrections system to policing. Nagin spoke at a briefing sponsored by the Consortium of Social Science Associations. In a paper published in the latest issue of the journal Criminology & Public Policy (available only to members of the American Society of Criminology and other subscribers), Nagin and Durlauf contend that “in an era of reduced crime control budgets, policing should get a larger share of a smaller budget.”

The consortium assembled an expert panel to comment on the paper. William Bratton, former police chief of Los Angeles and New York City, said that police actions focused on crime prevention can reduce incarceration, especially for minority males. Former U.S. Attorney General Richard Thornburgh believes it would be difficult to translate the savings from cutting prison populations into more money for police in the current financial climate. Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson said the current experiments with “justice reinvestment” embody the Nagin-Durlauf thesis. Criminologist Lawrence Sherman of the University of Maryland and Cambridge University said it is now time for “offender management policing” in which police take on more probation and parole functions. Police could take part in diverting low risk offenders from the justice system, he said.

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