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New York Post

 

Emptying NY Prisons

March 12, 2013

By Heather Mac Donald

Surprise NYPD achievement

Foes of New York City’s proactive style of policing struggle mightily to downplay its most obvious benefit: the largest crime drop on record, concentrated overwhelmingly in minority neighborhoods. Now they have a new challenge: ignoring the fact that assertive NYPD policing also lowers the prison population.

A new study from two top liberal criminologists, Michael Jacobson and James Austin, suggests that that the way to decrease incarceration without increasing crime is through more law enforcement, not less.

For over a decade, New York state’s prison population has dropped, while crime in New York City has dropped even more. Meanwhile, the national prison tally continued to rise, leveling off only recently.

The cause of the drop in incarceration, Jacobson and Austin find in their report (co-sponsored by the JFA Institute, the Vera Institute of Justice and the Brennan Center for Justice) ,was the NYPD’s shift to "broken windows" policing — paying attention to low-level misdemeanor offenses such as marijuana possession, trespassing and vagrancy.

Misdemeanor arrests in New York City have risen over the past two decades, driving an overall increase in arrests — but felony crime, and hence felony arrests, has dropped, so that far fewer people get sent to state prison. (Prisons house only felony, not misdemeanor, offenders; jails take in both.) And the number of jail inmates and convicts under parole and probation supervision in the city also fell.

Why did the entire correctional population fall, while arrests rose? Because police officers now interact with the crime-prone population sooner rather than later. Instead of waiting for a felony to happen and making an arrest, cops now nab offenders for less serious crimes, which at most sends them to jail for a few days or weeks, but which interrupts the arrestees’ more serious criminal activities.

Some examples: The NYPD has been patrolling public housing for trespassers, who commit a large share of public-housing violence. Arresting a trespasser for loitering in a stairwell may avert a sexual assault in that same stairwell; the trespasser at most will be sent to Rikers Island jail for trespassing, rather than to a prison upstate for rape.

A gang member spraying his tag in enemy territory today could well be shooting a rival tomorrow; if you can get him off the street for graffiti, you’ll reduce violence — and send one less felon to prison.

The NYPD’s embattled policy of "stop, question and frisk" also aborts greater predation, though Jacobson and Austin steer clear of this even more controversial topic. Questioning someone who’s acting as a lookout for a burglary may not yield an arrest, since there is not enough evidence of a crime in progress, but that intervention will likely avert a break-in. And the increased chance of getting stopped and questioned on reasonable suspicion of a crime has deterred gun-carrying among criminals, by their own admission.

Misdemeanor admissions to Rikers Island rose over the past two decades, but felony admissions dropped even more, so the overall jail count decreased. The NYPD still sends huge numbers of people to jail — more than 100,000 a year — but many are released in a week or two.

Incarceration may still be a factor in the New York City crime drop, however. State felony prison sentences rose over the last 15 years and are now among the nation’s highest. That longer average sentence keeps violent offenders off the streets, during which time they cannot commit new felonies.

But even shorter deprivations of liberty can also lower the crime rate, if the response to an infraction is swift and sure, as the late James Q. Wilson counseled. Besides interrupting more serious criminal activity, intensive misdemeanor enforcement and proactive street stops send the message to criminals and law-abiding residents alike that the police are watching.

The Jacobson-Austin report poses a painful dilemma for the anti-incarceration, anti-policing lobby. These critics haven’t just attacked NYPD tactics like stop-question-and-frisk as race-based harassment; they’ve also crusaded against America’s "epidemic" of incarceration. Prison is, in the words of best-selling author Michelle Alexander, the "new Jim Crow" — i.e., an effort to resegregate the country.

If broken-windows policing is an alternative to long prison sentences, anti-incarceration advocates should (in theory) revise their portrayal of policing’s costs.

NYPD critics typically focus exclusively on the alleged victims of proactive policing — the people stopped on suspicion of criminal activity or arrested for misdemeanor offenses — and ignore its most obvious beneficiaries: law-abiding residents of low-income neighborhoods. Now it turns out that even those alleged victims of proactive policing benefit from it. A strong police presence keeps individuals involved in "street life" from triggering the most severe penalties of the law.

New York has shown that effective policing revitalizes cities and saves lives. Increasing evidence shows that policing can also transform the entire criminal-justice system.

Original Source: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/emptying_ny_prisons_8PL0WTPxwgcD206YcoblpK

 

 
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