Bernie Sanders is unique among Democratic presidential candidates as an early critic of mass incarceration. His criminal justice reform plan is his map for how he’d do something about it. The proposal covers a variety of issues, including reeling back long prison sentences, ending cash bail, improving oversight of police, boosting public defenders, legalizing marijuana, and banning private for-profit prisons (6% of prison population). So if criminals are let go, is a new American crime wave coming?
According to a 2018 report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), nearly 2.2 million adults were held in America’s prisons and jails at the end of 2016. That means for every 100,000 people residing in the U.S. approximately 655 of them were behind bars. More than 1.3 million people are held in state prisons, about 300,000 in federal prison, while more than 600,000 people are behind bars in one of the country’s 3,000+ local jails.
Incarceration causes have been a political football. For example, African-Americans comprise only about 12% of the total U.S. population, they represent 33% of the federal and state prison population – racism? Some have said that the “war on drugs” is responsible for mass incarceration – but this is only about 12% of the incarcerated population. Nearly two-thirds of all inmates in the local jails were not convicted, awaiting trial – targeting the poor who cannot afford bail – but the assumption here is that the prosecutions are largely wrong? Recidivism is also an issue, it averages around 40%. Some believe that recidivism shows that if you enter the criminal justice system, there is likely some character flaw that affects society negatively.
Then there is the elephant in the room – incarceration rates versus crime rates. The correlation is clear, as incarcerations went up, crime went down. For sure some will dispute this claim, correlation does not necessarily mean causation. So logic could dictate that if you reduce incarceration rates, crime will go up. Not putting criminals in jail or releasing prisoners early (parole, which to date has been tough), may cause crime to go up.
Then there is another issue that has affected crime rates. The Ferguson Effect – is the idea that increased distrust of police following the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri – has led to an increased crime rate in major U.S. cities. This is the idea that police are afraid to go after criminals in minority communities because of the fear of being accused of racism. This could explain recent crime rates that have started to increase.
News Forecasters does not want to push an agenda on whether incarceration is a good strategy for society to solve its crime ills, we merely are reporting on the effects of potential implemented policies and what would be the likelihood of whether these effects will change crime rates. Will a plan such as Bernie Sanders to resolve mass incarceration be implemented? Well, even Republican President Trump has endorsed bi-partisn prison reform. There is a political push on both sides of the political aisle to do something about mass incarceration rates.
The bottom line is, News Forecasters believes crime rates are going up. In fact, we feel that crime rates could get back to 1980 rates in the next 5 to 10 years. For many of the reasons already cited in this article, but in addition, society is becoming more dysfunctional – a subject for another article.
A video presentation of this subject: