…crime rates in America, after rising sharply through the 1960s into the early 1970s, began leveling off in 1972 and stayed level for the two decades following—nobody quite knows why. It was not until crime rates had already leveled off that incarceration rates began their steady, year-by-year climb. Between 1972 and 1992, while the population of America’s prisons grew and grew, the crime rate as a whole continued at the same level, unchanged.
The incidence of violent crimes during that tell-tale period is revealing. The homicide rate in the US remained steady at around 10 per 100,000 from 1972 to 1992, in spite of the four-fold increase in incarceration (from about 100 to 400 per 100,000), while the rates of robbery, rape, and aggravated assault actually went up by more than 50 percent.
The review quotes Loïc Wacquant…
to ask whether America deals with its problems of poverty and race by building new jails rather than urban housing. And, indeed, huge imprisonment costs do siphon money away from more indirect forms of crime control, like New York City’s federally funded Ten-Year Plan for better housing and more available homeownership. During the decades of our recent jailing spree, for example, federal funds available for the Ten-Year Plan have dropped from $55 billion in 1980 to less than $15 billion today, while funding for prison construction and maintenance continue to grow.