Filling Jails Doesn't Cut Crime

Study concludes that longer sentences don't make streets safer
By Marcia Greenwood,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 20, 2007 6:23 AM CST
The gymnasium at San Quentin State Prison is filled with nearly 400 double-bunked inmates because of crowded conditions. But locking up more criminals than any other nation in the world hasn't made the...   (Associated Press)

(Newser) – Getting tough on criminals through longer prison terms—at an annual cost of tens of billions of US taxpayer dollars—hasn't made a major impact on crime, concludes a study released yesterday. The US prison population has increased 800% since 1970—giving the nation has the world's highest incarceration rate—but the crime rate is equal to that in 1973, researchers reported.

The report by the JFA Institute, a Washington criminal justice institute, recommends shorter sentences, earlier parole, alternative punishments, and decriminalizing recreational drugs—steps it said would cut the prison population in half and save $20 billion a year, without boosting crime. In response, the Justice Department cited findings that about 25% of the violent-crime drop in the 1990s can be attributed to increases in imprisonment.