Expert: Cut Imprisonment, Crime Through Justice Spending Shifts


The level of imprisonment in the United States and the crime rate both might be reduced if some criminal justice spending could be shifted from the corrections system to policing, argues criminologist Daniel Nagin of Carnegie Mellon University. Speaking Thursday in San Francisco at the American Society of Criminology’s annual meeting, Nagin said there is “scant evidence” that the nation’s high imprisonment rate is a major deterrent to criminals, and some incarceration may increase crime exposing inmates to hardened criminals.

More spending on good crime prevention programs by police could stop lawbreaking before it happens, Nagin said. He acknowledged that policing should not be so aggressive that it “antagonizes the community.” Two criminologists criticized some of Nagin’s arguments. Michael Tonry of the University of Minnesota said he was skeptical that giving more resources to police officers would lead to a reduction in crime. He warned of potentially “profound costs,” such as an increase in racial profiling. Another critique was offered by Peter Reuter of the University of Maryland, who said that more enforcement of drug laws, which are responsible for 22 percent of U.S. incarceration, is unlikely to deter drug dealing. Tougher anti-drug enforcement may lead to higher prices of illicit drugs and more crime among dealers, Reuter said. Papers by the three criminologists will be published in a future issue of the journal Criminology & Public Policy.

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