Will A Rising Crime Rate Hamper Drive To Reduce Mass Incarceration?


The violent crime increase in the first half of 2015 reported by the FBI this week is a lot less worrisome when you remember that the nation’s violent crime rate is still roughly half what it was two decades ago, says NPR. Police Chief Robert Handy of Huntington Beach, Ca., tells NPR that people are used to the new normal of lower crime rates, something he believes was achieved with the “Broken Windows” approach to policing. Handy and some other California police chiefs are unhappy with a 2014 state ballot measure that reduced penalties for small-scale crimes. A year into that change, police point to localized spikes in crime as an argument against the reform. In Los Angeles County, the Association of Deputy District Attorneys posted an opinion piece this month titled, “Is Prison Overcrowding Actually a Bad Thing?”

The bipartisan movement to shrink the prison population is keenly aware that any increase in the national crime rate — or even the impression of an increase — could threaten their efforts. A newly formed group of police executives was deliberate when it named itself “Law Enforcement Leaders To Reduce Crime & Incarceration.” The assumption is that there won’t be political support for reducing incerceration without continuing reductions to crime. Revamping the justice system will be messy, and reformers admit in private that it might be hard to avoid localized, passing spikes in the crime rate and that even small increase nationally could endanger their mission to cut the total of 2.2 million behind bars.

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