- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 12, 2002

From 1970s thru the early 1990s, when crime made New York City an essentially unlivable battle zone, the "root-causers" and knee-jerk rationalizers at the New York Times could always be counted on to explain the "bigger picture." Fox Butterfield, the paper's current correspondent for national criminal-justice and prison-policy issues, keeps the liberal flame burning. Meanwhile, the rest of society figured out how to begin solving the problem. To wit, if we locked up more and more predators for longer and longer periods of time, we would eventually reduce crime.

In 1970, the population of state prisons stood at about 175,000. By 1999, there were nearly 1.2 million state prison inmates, reflecting an increase of nearly 600 percent. During the same period, the rate of violent crime increased from 396 (per 100,000 population) in 1971 to 758 in 1991, before beginning its decline. By 1999, the violent crime rate had dropped to 525 (per 100,000 population). The national murder rate (per 100,000 population) increased from 8.6 in 1971 to 10.2 in 1980, before beginning to decline. By 1999, it was 5.7. The rate of forcible rape more than doubled from 20.5 in 1971 to nearly 43 in the early 1990s, before declining to less than 33 by 1999.

During the same period, the rate of property crime (such as burglary, larceny/theft and motor vehicle theft) also soared; and then it plunged. In 1971, for example, there were less than 3,800 property crimes (per 100,000 population). By 1980, the rate of property crime peaked at more than 5,300. In 1999, that rate had once again fallen below 3,800. The rate of burglaries alone fell from nearly 1,700 in 1980 to less than 800 in 1999.

In the face of these statistics, Mr. Butterfield of the Times recently cited a new report revealing that "the rate at which inmates released from state prison commit new crimes" the recidivism rate "rose [by 5 percent] from 1983 to 1994," when it reached 67.5 percent. That's the percentage of state prison inmates who committed at least one new serious crime within three years of having been released in 1994. Mr. Butterfield also quoted University of California at Irvine Professor Joan Petersilia, a supposed expert on parole, who inexplicably concluded, "The main thing this report shows is that our experiment with building lots more prisons as a deterrent to crime has not worked."

Admittedly, the recidivism problem is worsened by the insufficient measures to prepare and then monitor parolees. But that is no reason not to imprison the predators in the first place. The evidence is irrefutable: The expansion of state prisons has significantly contributed to the dramatic reduction in the rates of violent and property crime.

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