Former New York City Corrections Commissioner says that the 2.2 million people in U.S. jails and prisons “reflects a public policy gone mad.” In a new book reviewed by Newsday, “Downsizing Prisons: How to Reduce Crime and End Mass Incarceration,” Jacobson, now head of the New York City-based Vera Institute of Justice, argues that, “Other ways can and should be found to punish as well as change behavior.”
He analyzes the 1990s crime declines in New York City and San Diego, which used different law-enforcement strategies but had similar results. As New York arrested more people, its daily jail population fell; felony arrests – which usually result in longer sentences – declined during Mayor Rudolf Giuliani’s “crackdown” era. It was the misdemeanor arrests, which some cops call “junk arrests,” that skyrocketed, sending more minor offenders through the system. Jacobson argues that the time has come for lawmakers to ignore the lobbying of corrections companies and corrections unions and begin downsizing prison budgets. Polls show the public is less fearful of crime, and state and local governments nationwide are in deep fiscal straits. New policies must be tailored to make sense locally and reassure the public that it will still be protected from the truly dangerous, Jacobson says.