Michael Jacobson: 'Putting more people in prison is not the way to tackle crime'

From a speech by the former Commissioner of the New York Department of Corrections, to the Crime and Society Foundation, at King's College, London

Share

As the United States passes the 2.1 million mark of the number of people in jail, it is especially interesting to see how the United Kingdom will deal with its own growing prison population, now at an all-time high of about 76,000.

As the United States passes the 2.1 million mark of the number of people in jail, it is especially interesting to see how the United Kingdom will deal with its own growing prison population, now at an all-time high of about 76,000.

In the US these days, it is almost impossible to find an academic or policy expert who thinks our policy of mass imprisonment is a good one. Surprisingly, there is strong consensus that we send too many people to prison, for too long and at great financial and social costs, with little payback in terms of public safety.

Most studies in the US have found that, over the last decade, the growth in imprisonment is responsible for somewhere around one fifth of the huge crime declines that have occurred in the country. In fact, New York City, which had the largest crime reductions in the United States over the last 12 years, with reductions in violent crime approaching 70 per cent, managed to achieve this while simultaneously reducing its jail population by 40 per cent and sending 60 per cent fewer people to prison.

As state prison systems continue to grow in size and expense, with doubtful benefits for crime reduction, the American public is also becoming more willing to make use of alternatives to prison, especially for drug offenders. In both California and Arizona, two of our toughest on crime states, public referendums mandating drug treatment in lieu of incarceration for tens of thousands of prison bound offenders passed overwhelmingly.

Prison is an expensive, incredibly punitive sanction that should legitimately be reserved for those who pose a threat to society. Its overuse drains resources from other essential areas of government. Public safety is not the sole provenance of the criminal justice system. Sound education, health care, environmental protection and social services also protect the public and promote long-term safety.

Many policy makers in the US have come to this conclusion rather late in the game. It will be interesting to watch whether UK policy makers take as long to come to the same conclusion.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: You will also work alongside their seasoned sa...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Property Manager

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you looking for your first step into...

Recruitment Genius: Mechanical Design Engineer

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This innovative company working...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Former Marks & Spencer boss Sir Stuart Rose  

So, the people who always support the Tories... are supporting the Tories? Has the world gone mad?

Mark Steel
Crofter's cottages on Lewis. The island's low population density makes it a good candidate for a spaceport (Alamy)  

My Scottish awakening, helped by horizontal sleet

Simon Kelner
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat