The Danger of ‘Over-Punishment’

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Photo by Adam Quirk via Flickr

Laurie Garduque

Laurie Garduque

It is a “dangerous misconception” to believe that releasing jail inmates because of the pandemic is increasing crime, Laurie Garduque of the MacArthur Foundation writes in the Washington Post.

Garduque cites a JFA Institute report concluding that new reform strategies have reduced jail populations while not affecting crime.

“Over-punishing people at low risk of committing more crimes turns them into people at high risk of committing more crimes,” Garduque says.

It’s also a myth that protests for racial justice are causing a crime increase, she adds.

Violent crime rates fell from 2019 to 2020 in more than half of the 25 largest U.S. cities.

Attorney General William Barr has said reform efforts are “pushing a number of America’s cities back toward a more dangerous past.”

But Garduque counters that research has shown that “tough” methods are a waste of resources.

Tactics such as stop-and-frisk and the overuse of jails are discriminatory and do not keep communities safe, she writes.

Rather than being “tough on crime,” investing in the needs of the community is more effective, she says.

Regarding reports of crime up this year in many places, Garduque says, “Year-to-year crime stats do not paint the most accurate picture; trends over decades do.”

She points out that the current spike in certain crimes — for example, the recent jump in homicides in cities —ignores the fact that overall crime, including violent crime and homicides, is significantly lower than in the 1980s and 1990s.

An uptick or downturn in one year doesn’t necessarily signal a larger trend, says Garduque,

Noting that some policymakers hesitate to embark on criminal justice reforms because they seem too new, nuanced or radical, she writes that cities and counties have been implementing tested, data-driven reforms that keep communities safe while reducing the overuse of jails.

This includes bail reform, which has not been found to increase crime, according to a Chicago study.

Additional reading:  Detroit Chief says COVID-19 Jail Releases Boost Crime

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