Critic: Belafonte Shouldn’t Blame New York For U.S. Mass Incarceration


At last week’s inauguration of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Harry Belafonte misspoke when he said that New York “alarmingly, plays a tragic role in the fact that our nation has the largest prison population in the world,” write New York Times columnist Jim Dwyer. In truth, he says, “New York is one of the first states to significantly reduce its entire correctional population,” and “this drop was driven exclusively by declines in New York City’s correctional population,” according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.

“New York City sending fewer people into the justice system reduced mass incarceration in the entire state,” the study found. In 2012, the city's incarceration rate was 30 percent below the nation's. Over the past decade, the city's rate dropped by a third, while the national rate increased by 3 percent. Dwyer notes that despite “all the stopping and frisking that went on over the last decade” in the city, hardly any of the people who were stopped and frisked wound up being arrested, so those stops did not add much to the national prison or jail population. A de Blasio spokesman said Belafonte was trying to convey “that our state and our nation's drug laws, as well as broken policies like the overuse of stop-and-frisk and low-level marijuana arrests, contribute to a national tragedy of overincarceration.”

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