With Crime At Lower Levels, Debate Continues On Role Of Incarceration


As U.S. crime rates continue to be much lower than they were in the 1990s, there are contentious debates about what should come next, says the New York Times. Among the big questions: How far can incarceration be reduced without endangering safety? Where is the proper line between aggressive, preventive policing and intrusive measures that alienate the law-abiding? William Otis, a former federal prosecutor, argues that while many factors account for falling crime, harsher justice surely played a significant role. “When people are incarcerated they are not out on the street to ransack your home or sell drugs to your high school kid,” he said.

Jeremy Travis, president of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, says that, “The policy decisions to make long sentences longer and to impose mandatory minimums have had minimal effect on crime. The research on this is quite clear.” Higher imprisonment might explain from 10 percent to, at most, 25 percent of the crime drop since the early 1990s, said Richard Rosenfeld, a criminologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Given how poorly trends in crime have been foreseen, there is no guarantee crime rates will not rise again. There is wide agreement on measures outside the criminal justice system that could foster further declines or blunt any rise, said Daniel Nagin of Carnegie Mellon University. Enriching the early childhoods of high-risk children, expanding drug treatment programs and offering more mental health services are prime examples.

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