A Sunday New York Times editorial on crime, 'Falling Crime, Teeming Prisons,' indirectly acknowledged (at last) the paper's blinkered liberal failure to connect the seemingly obvious idea that crime falls when more criminals are behind bars, as captured by a notorious headline on a September 28, 1997 "Week in Review" story by Fox Butterfield, "Crime Keeps on Falling, But Prisons Keep on Filling." As if the two trends were unrelated.
The idea is a recidivist in Times crime coverage, often under Butterfield's byline.
Senator Jim Webb, Democrat of Virginia, has a smart proposal to create a bipartisan commission to review the nation's troubled criminal justice system and offer recommendations for reform. The National Criminal Justice Commission Act would be a valuable first step toward reducing crime as well as punishment. Unfortunately, Senate Republicans derailed the bill recently, with some falsely claiming that it would encroach on states' rights.
As a means of controlling crime, America's prisons are notoriously inefficient and only minimally effective, often creating hardened criminals out of first-time offenders. The United States has 5 percent of the world's population, yet 25 percent of the world's prisoners. In the past generation, the imprisonment rate per capita in this country has multiplied by five. There are 2.3 million Americans in prisons and jails. Spending on prisons has reached $77 billion a year.
While crime has gone down notably, just 10 to 25 percent of the decline can be credited to the increase in imprisonment. The rest is from the waning of the crack epidemic, the aging of the baby boomers and other factors.
The editorial doesn't cite any research to back up the 'just 10 to 25 percent' claim.