Criminal justice professionals have attempted to come up with a solution for the increasing prison population in the United States. Every year, practitioners in the criminal justice field must adjust to changes in policies and legal sentencing. Especially the legal changes, such as mandatory sentencing, truth-in-sentencing and the three-strikes-you-are-out law have provided criminals harsher and longer sentences but also contributed to the increase of the incarcerated. Literature review will show that imprisonment is not the sole solution for reducing crime, but that proactive policing also plays a crucial role. Certainty-oriented crime prevention strategies will help reduce crime successfully, while decreasing the housing of correctional clients. This paper will examine methods of crime prevention to reduce imprisonment and reduce crime. It will outline the need for a shift change to increased police visibility and policing efforts to outline deterrence and consequences of crime.
Mechanisms of crime prevention to reduce imprisonment
Criminal justice researchers, such as Joseph Rogers, make it clear that the rising prison population in the United States is an issue because it leads to the exhaustion of criminal justice resources. He further contends that imprisonment cannot be the only solution in reducing crime (Hancock & Sharp, 2004). Many criminal justice professionals would agree with him on the overcrowding of correction facilities, while others may argue that tough sentences would deter criminals from further illegal activities, and thus, reduce crime in the long run. Joseph Rogers suggest the approach of crime prevention coupled with a 'community return' to reduce imprisonment rates and crime. However, proactive policing plays also a crucial role. Additionally, certainty-oriented crime prevention strategies will help reduce crime successfully, while decreasing the housing of correctional clients.
Our society has experienced overcrowding of prisons since the 1970s. This had several roots. Changes in policy and legal sentencing contributed to the increase of prisoners who now have longer sentences. Mandatory sentencing, truth-in-sentencing and the three-strikes-you-are-out law have provided criminals harsher and longer sentences. The imprisonment rate has been rising the last decade. In 1973, the prison rate was 96 per 100,000 Americans, but by 2006, the number had increased to 497 per 100,000 (Clear, Cole & Reisig, 2009). It seems that there is no reduction in sight in the near future, unless criminal justice professionals admit to change, and a reform in the entire crime prevention approach.
Steven Durlauf & David Nagin (2010) elaborate on the topic of the reduction of imprisonment and crime. They suggest a focus on police efforts to outline deterrence and sanctions instead of long prison sentences and "severity-based policies", and thus, promote certainty-oriented, crime-prevention strategies (p. 14). Their empirical conclusions for policy view state that there is only a modest deterrent effect from already lengthy prison sentences, but there is substantial effect of increasing police visibility. In addition, specific deterrence does not prevent offending, but instead evidence suggests a possibility of criminogenic effect from imprisonment.
What works in regards to crime prevention and reduction of imprisonment?
One approach targets the community. Joseph Rogers reasons in his article The Greatest Correctional Myth, that criminality and delinquency are not unrelated to conditions and problems of other social institutions - family, economy, education, and government (Hancock & Sharp, 2004, p. 319). Concurring with this thought, Durlauf and Nagin (2010) point out "Early childhood development programs seem to be effective in reducing criminality" (p. 15).
The second method is deterrence."Would-be offenders might be affected little by the prospect of a 50% increase in sentence length, but greatly affected by a 50% increase in apprehension probability" (Durlauf & Nagin, 2010, p. 18). Furthermore, "the apprehension of active offenders also might deter would-be criminals by increasing their perception of the risk of apprehension and thereby the certainty of punishment" (p. 31).
In their research article Imprisonment and crime - Can both be reduced?, Durlauf and Nagin cite studies which conclude that increases in police presence and activity substantially decrease crime and vice versa (p. 32). This goes back to the contention that there must be a shift change on increased police efforts to outline deterrence and consequences of crime. For example, an experiment in Minneapolis concluded that mandatory arrest rules were effective in reducing domestic violence reoffending (Durlauf & Nagin, 2010, p. 33). However, other police tactics showed success as well. The example of the Pittsburgh Police Department in Cohen and Ludwig (2003) study explains the avert gun crime concept. "Patrols were relieved from responding to citizen request for service (911 calls) to work proactively to search illegally carried guns" (as cited in Durlauf & Nagin, 2010, p. 34). Cohen and Ludwig found that this police tactic was associated with significant declines in shots fired and assault-related gunshot injuries (p. 34). In general, hot spot policing and problem-oriented policing (POP) have been shown to successfully avert crime, and while hot spot policing gives special attention to targeting small geographic areas (e.g., blocks or specific addresses) that have high levels of criminal activity, POP has a different approach. In nature, POP is also a proactive approach to prevent crime. On an example of calls about drug dealing and vandalism in a neighborhood park, the method would be as follows: "collecting information, e.g. surveying neighborhood residents and park users, analyzing the time of day when incidents occur, determining who the offenders are and why they favor the park, and examining the particular areas of the park that are most conducive to the activity and evaluating their environmental design characteristics" (Center for problem oriented policing, 2011). Also, the example of Jersey City, New Jersey hot spot policing shows that "among the 20% of all disorder crime and 14% of crimes against persons, originated from 56 drug crime hot spots (Durlauf & Nagin, 2010, p. 34).
In conclusion, there are methodologies that have been cited by scholars such as Durlauf and Nagin, which conclude that there is relatively strong evidence that indicates that variation in the certainty of punishment has a large deterrent effect, particularly from the vantage point of specific programs that alter the use of police (Durlauf & Nagin, 2010, p. 37). The problem of rising prison population can be mitigated with a policy focus on certainty-based policies and crime prevention, such as POP and hot spot policing. Another factor in reducing imprisonment and crime is the renewal of a community system, a system that facilitates on building strong relationships but also on the education of citizens and inclusion of police in crime prevention strategies. For this to happen, policies must adjust back to a time where crime prevention received heightened attention.