Thursday, December 1, 2011
The verdict is indisputable after 20 years
One of the few nice things about growing old is historical perspective. It’s one thing to read about history. It’s another to live through it.
I vividly remember the skyrocketing crime of the early 1990s and the huge debate about how to battle it.
It was the high-point of the domination of mass mainstream media.
The verdict of the mass media was clear: Incarceration would not cure crime. Only education and rehabilitation could lower crime rates.
There were a few naysayers in the media, of which I include myself. We argued that it was simple. Lock the bad guys up and crime will go down.
Twenty years later, the verdict is indisputable. We were right. They were wrong. Locking them up works. Crime rates are about half today what they were 20 years ago.
In 1991, the national violent crime rate was 758 per 100,000 people. Jackson was a hotbed. Crime was simply out of control. Today, the violent crime rate is 403 per 100,000. Jackson has followed the trend.
The national murder rate in 1991 was 9.8 per 100,000. Today it is 4.8 per 100,000. The property crime rate in 1991 was 5,140 per 100,000. Today it is 2,941.
This is a phenomenal turnaround. It didn’t come cheap. As of 2006, a record 2.2 million Americans were behind bars, giving the United States - by far - the highest incarceration rate in the world. In comparison, China has the second highest number of prisoners.
China has 1.5 million prisoners despite a population four times greater than the U.S.
Put another way, the U.S. incarceration rate is 753 per 100,000. After the U.S., Poland has the second highest incarceration rate of 224 per 100,000.
Indeed, the United States contains 25 percent of all the prisoners in the world. Since 1990, the United States has doubled its number of imprisoned people. One in 50 American males are in prison or jail.
The cost is huge: about $60 billion. On the other hand, the savings are also huge. A criminal commits around 15 property crimes a year. If each property crime does $2,000 in damage, we are breaking even. When you factor in the psychological damage caused by a burglary, we are coming out ahead.
One study by the Connecticut Office of Legislative Research concluded that in 2008 the average cost to imprison a criminal was $44,165 annually compared to $165,000 in annual victim costs.
Jackson crime statistics are 4,479 per 100,000, about 50 percent higher than the national average. Mississippi as a whole has about 3,250 crimes per 100,000 - about six percent higher than the national average.
Like the nation, Mississippi’s incarceration rate has doubled since 1990. Unfortunately, Mississippi has seen crime rates drop about 25 percent - about half the national drop.
Incarceration works and crime is down. The naysayers were wrong. Providing safe streets is the most fundamental duty of government.
Now our goal should be to use GPS-based monitoring technology to punish criminals through less costly means than incarceration.
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