Would Shifting Aid from Prisons to Police Reduce Crime Further?


Can the U.S. follow New York City’s lead and do what the Vera Institute’s Michael Jacobson summarizes as “drive down crime while decreasing your jail and prison population — and save a huge amount of money in the process”? The New York Times explores that issue. The U.S. is “the only country I know of that spends more on prisons than police,” said criminologist Lawrence Sherman of the University of Maryland and Cambridge University in Britain. Since 1990, nearly 35 percent of criminal justice spending has gone to the prison system, while the portion spent on local policing has fallen to slightly more than 30 percent.

Experts say “hot-spot policing” is the best explanation for the crime drop in New York City. The most controversial part of the hot spot strategy is stopping and frisking hundreds of thousands of people each year. “The million-dollar question in policing right now is whether there are ways to get the benefits of stop-and-frisk without the collateral costs,” said Jens Ludwig of the University of Chicago Crime Lab. He found benefits from the tactic — a decline in gunshot injuries — in an experiment with the Pittsburgh police. Ludwig and Philip Cook of Duke University calculate that nationwide, money diverted from prison to policing would buy at least four times as much reduction in crime.

Comments are closed.