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

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

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US  

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Robert Fisk
 

Next they'll say an independent Scotland can't use British clouds...

Mark Steel
Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed