Safer Communities and Fewer People Behind Bars

Before he started singing with muppets, John Oliver showed us a lot of boxes of Cheerios. This was in the second minute of his epic rant on the state of the U.S. criminal justice system last week.

Varieties of Cheerios – from "Frosted" to "Fruity" – are the only thing that's expanded as quickly as the number of people we throw behind bars, according to Oliver. He attributes this boom in incarceration to doing away with a mental health system, to excessively long sentences, and to a War on Drugs that has failed to impact drug use and forced millions under correctional control.

He's right. For years we've been told that in order to have safe streets, we need to aggressively incarcerate large swaths of the population. But that simply isn't true. Many people end up behind bars for reasons that have very little to do with public safety.

And that's why we're continuing to see the crime rate fall even as we begin to cut unnecessary incarceration. It's happening in state after state.

Click here for the "Want Safer Communities?" Infographic

This is good news: We can cut crime and protect communities while ending our overreliance on incarceration. Our new infographic shows just some of the states that have successfully lowered their crime rate and brought down their incarceration levels. It's possible to do both. And for the health of our communities, it's time for the rest of the states to catch up.

The trend of higher incarceration leading to higher crime shouldn't surprise us. We know that the rapid expansion of our criminal justice system reached a fever pitch over the last 40 years. We know that far too many things can land you behind bars, things like homelessness or drug addiction or mental illness. And we know that courts have been meting out irrationally long sentences, like 50 years for stealing a $35 rack of ribs.

When we remove people from their communities for reasons that have no business being crimes, too often for decades on end, subject them to dangerous and dirty prisons, and then send them back home where they will face barrier after barrier in their attempt to find a job or housing, it hardly sets people up for success.

Not only that, but putting millions of people behind bars does real harm to families, to our communities, to our states' budgets, to our economy, and to the hope of eradicating institutionalized racism. The list goes on.

So next time someone tries to tell you that stuffed prisons make our streets safer, send them this link. We all want to live in safe communities, and to do so we must insist that our criminal justice policies actually enhance safety and not just the illusion of it. The truth is that mass incarceration undermines safety and it's time to make it a thing of the past.

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Anonymous

This makes no f'ing sense at all. I was the victim of two violent crimes, in one I was raped and they were found "not guilty bc not enough evidence places their guilt beyond the shadow of a doubt" and in the other I was shot three times in the back, died twice on my way into the Trauma 1 unit and have never been able to do what I was doing before it happened.
No link is going to tell me we should keep a rapist in our community so he can do it to someone else; and someone who shoots other people can LEGALLY and without alerting authorities to it buy another gun and use it in another crime.
The guy who shot me and the teller of my bank was on probation when he did it. One of the other robbers, who was with the guy who shot me, was on probation for robbing an armored truck. He ALSO obtained his weapons legally and without anyone noticing until they used the weapons to rob a bank.
The "people" at the NRA are vile, filthy creatures who tell outright lies every time their mouths move but oh well.

As to the subject of incarceration, I hope that everyone who doesn't care enough to do anything to decrease violent crime ends up as a victim of a violent crime.
I'm totally finished with trying to explain what crime does to a person upon whom it's visited, and I don't believe this releasing of prisoners is going to remain in effect for only those with drug charges that have nothing to do with violent crime. But for the record, people who sell dangerous chemicals (like heroin and cocaine) to other people ARE being violent to the people in question.
I worked for years on the ambulance and have watched more than a score of patients die from heroin, cocaine and PCP overdoses. Even people on too much meth amphetamine have proven themselves to be dangerous. One guy on too much meth ran his car into another driver's vehicle and seriously injured all the occupants of the car. Not to mention put everyone on the road in that area in danger of becoming a statistic.
I can't even beLIEVE that people calling themselves intelligent enough to graduate from Ivy League schools with Law degrees DON'T know drugs and driving or selling drugs to addicts creates explosive situations in which multiple numbers of people become either injured or dead.

Anonymous

Illinois prisoner Paul Modrowski keeps a blog about his life in prison: paulmodrowski.blogspot.com

James P.

9/11 first became the telephone number for police assistance in 1968.
By the 1980's, 9/11 was the number to call for police help nationwide.
In 2001, a man named O[s]ama gave 911 new significance.
We Americans quickly elected a chief executive named O[b]ama.

Perhaps a future executive who agrees with the author about the importance of reducing incarceration rates will give 911 further meaning. Hopefully, someday, America's police officers will be legally barred from making any arrest unless a civilian has dialed 9/11 on a telephone first.

Anonymous Mothe...

Mother of two facing up to 10 years in New Jersey for presenting concealed
carry permit from PA after a traffic violation. loosing her children,felony on
the record? VS super star jock knocking his girlfriend/wife unconscious, dragging her from elevator limp,caught on security camera.His crime ok
for reversion no recorded charge.Baltimore Ravens vs Mother,no record
legal permit,presented without being questioned when stopped,ignorant
of NJ law not honoring other state Shineen Allen facing 3 to 10 years.
Injustice.,Abuse,mockery of the law.I know you have negative views of
the right to carry but you need to react to this outrage.

JetRanger

This Group the ACLU has become nothing more than a Racist bunch of Low Life Attorneys who are "Criminal Coddling" pathetic low life Trash, Advocating for this type of Atmosphere in communities across this country !

The ACLU is Dispicable to say the least and people are starting to wake up to their Ill Mentality and the ACLU's Twisted Idealogy they represent !

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