The 464-page report found little evidence that this increase in incarceration has been the primary reason for the reduction in crime over the past decade. Commissioned by the National Institute of Justice and the MacArthur Foundation, the report took two years to prepare.
Most of the increases in incarceration were the result of get-tough policies on drug offenses, the report states, as well as “three-strikes” laws and “truth-in-sentencing” provisions that limited the amount prison officials could reduce prison time for good behavior or other factors. This combination has led to a much larger impact on poor and ethnic communities, where large portions of the young male population is in jail or prison.
The report notes that there has been very little research or discussion into setting guiding principles for when incarceration should be used and the benefits it should provide. The national debate should not only focus on punishment, but on whether the punishment is proportional to the crime committed, and the long-term consequences for the communities that are impacted by inordinate rates of incarceration, the report’s authors recommended.
The Police Foundation has sponsored a number of research projects into the effects of incarceration and its value in deterring crime. A 2003 study titled “Mapping for Community-Based Reentry Efforts” provided tools for police departments to become involved in breaking the cycle of recidivism. A 2004 report, “Drugs and Crime Across America” surveyed police chiefs and found that many were already looking for alternatives to jailing drug offenders. And in 2008, Dr. David Weisburd, the Foundation’s Science Policy Advisor, presented an Ideas in American Policing lecture on “Place-Based Policing” that highlighted how communities can reduce crime through prevention policies rather than incarceration.
The NRC report: “The Growth of Incarceration in the United States,” is available for download or online reading at National Academies Press, www.nap.edu.