The Wrong Way to End Mass Incarceration

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The decline in the U.S. prison population has amounted to only five percent in five years primarily because most reforms focus on the wrong causes, Fordham University law Prof. John Pfaff writes in the Wall Street Journal. Reforms have aimed at reducing sanctions for people convicted of nonviolent drug crimes, but fewer than 16 percent of state prisoners are there for drug offenses. Ending mass incarceration means locking up fewer people who commit violent acts and to incarcerate those we do imprison for less time, Pfaff says.

Isn’t this how we’ve kept the crime rate down for so long? Not likely, Pfaff contends, writing that “long prison sentences provide neither the deterrence nor the incapacitation effects that their proponents suggest.” Many inmates are kept behind bars long past their likely phase of committing violence. Prison is likely one of the least efficient approaches that we have to fighting crime, compared with things like better policing tactics and cognitive behavioral therapy, Pfaff maintains. His essay is adapted from his book, “Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration and How To Achieve Real Reform,” which will be published Feb. 7.


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