Putting Them Away

Controlling Crime: Two federal reports released this fall support the common-sense argument that America is safer because more criminals are behind bars. On Thursday, the Justice Department reported that the total U.S. inmate population hit nearly 2.2 million at the end of 2005, with 1.5 million doing time in state and federal prisons and the rest in local jails. All told, nearly 7 million people are in prison, in jail, on parole, or on probation…..But if imprisonment is a blunt (and expensive) instrument for fighting crime, the numbers suggest that it’s also highly effective. Since 1980, the incarceration rate in state and federal prisons has more than tripled — from 139 to 495 per 100,000 Americans. According to another federal report, per capita crime rates have fallen over the same period by comparably sharp amounts. The latest “criminal victimization” survey, released in September, shows that violent crimes between 1980 and 2005 fell from 49.4 to 20.9 per 100,000 people over 12. Property crimes were cut by more than two-thirds, plummeting from 496.1 per 100,000 to 154.