John DiIulio Calls for a “Zero Prison Growth” Federal Crime Bill
As a sort of follow-up to my earlier post on the complex relationship between incarceration and crime rates, I thought I’d link to this commentary by John DiIulio, the Penn political science professor who, of course, was President Bush’s first director of faith-based programs (he resigned after a brief tenure). DiIulio points out that, even though crime in the U.S. has declined since the early 1990s, it’s still higher than it was 50 years ago — and I’d add that the U.S. has long had rates of violent crime higher than any other Western country. Moreover, as DiIulio notes, the decline in crime has not been costless — to the contrary it has come at great cost to our liberty:
Since crime climbed on to the federal policy agenda in the early 1960s, successive government wars on crime and drugs have sacrificed once-sacred civil liberties. Today, nearly 2.5 million Americans live behind prison gates while tens of millions more live in gated communities. We reflexively practice crime-avoidance behaviors that forsake personal freedom to live as and where we would truly like. We spend billions a year on a private-security industry that profits from our crime fears, and we spend billions more on a recession-proof prison-industrial complex. Measured by the number of persons sentenced to a year or more in state or federal prisons per 100,000 citizens, the imprisonment rate was about 100 in 1960 and still under 150 in 1980, but it broke 200 in 1985, 300 in 1991, 400 in 1995, and 500 in 2006. More than 6 million still-living Americans have spent a year or more behind prison bars. Yet we are not safer–and do not feel safer–than our grandparents did a half-century ago.
DiIulio calls for “a new federal crime bill that will help us punish smarter (not harder) and target resources on at-risk youth so that they do not become adjudicated juveniles, predatory criminals, or incarcerated adults.” He then makes several specific recommendations, including investing in jobs for released prisoners, repealing federal mandatory minimum drug sentences, and legalizing marijuana. His proposed title for the bill: “The Zero Prison Growth, Youth Violence Prevention, and Compassionate Drug Policy Act of 2010.” Readers: What do you think?