Do Prisons Make Us Safer?
Date:  06-25-2019

New research shows that prisons prevent far less violent crime than you might think
From David J. Harding’s article in Scientific American:

One person is sentenced to state or federal prison every 90 seconds in the United States, amounting to almost 420,000 per year. The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world. We incarcerate for multiple reasons, including justice and punishment, but one of the main justifications is public safety. Putting individuals convicted of crimes, especially violent crimes, in prison is thought to make the rest of us safer.

But how much safety does all this imprisonment actually buy us? A study I recently published with colleagues shows the answer is very little, especially in the long-term.

There are good reasons to think prisons might prevent crime. The experience of imprisonment could deter someone from committing crimes to avoid prison in the future. Prison might provide opportunities for rehabilitation, such as drug and alcohol treatment, education, or counseling. And, at the very least, someone who is in prison cannot commit a crime in the community, an effect criminologists call “incapacitation.”

Yet there are also good reasons to believe that prisons might actually increase crime. The harsh prison environment could exacerbate mental health problems, make people more prone to aggression, or make them cynical and distrustful of the legal system. Prisons could isolate prisoners from friends and family who might help them find jobs eventually. Or prisoners may learn from other prisoners how to be better criminals. Continue reading >>>