Fewer People In Prison Could Actually Mean Less Crime

It’s intuitive to think that fewer prisoners leads to more crime, because there are more criminals on the street. However, new information from the ALCU and The Sentencing Project suggest that locking fewer people up may actually lead to a reduction in crime.  Since 1990, our country has seen a 50% reduction in crime while prison populations have drastically increased. This seems to suggest that locking up criminals has had a positive impact on our crime rate, but evidence in three states suggests we can do even better.

Consider Massachusetts, Maryland, and Texas, three states committed to reducing prison populations. In each state, a 13-15% incarceration reduction has led to as much as a 38% reduction in violent crime, and as high as a 31% drop in property crime. In the same time period, the neighboring states of New Hampshire, West Virginia, and Arkansas have increased prison populations. In each of these three states, violent crimes and property crimes have risen, in some cases as much as 35%.

Nationally, it has been found that recidivism rates are almost halved when probation time is used as a substitute for prison time, and longer prison sentences have been shown to increase overall recidivism by 3%. With conflicting studies still showing that higher incarceration rates curb crime, the findings of these studies beg the question, is incarceration the only solution to crime in America?

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