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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Can More Police Equal Fewer Prisoners?

Eric Bailey reports on an intriguing conundrum in today's LATimes, will federal stimulus money channeled to state law enforcement frustrate the state's declared policy of reducing its prison population by sending yet more low level offenders to prison?  Of course the law professor's answer is "it depends."  It depends on how those police officers view their job.  If, as many now do, they view themselves as "door men" to the carceral system, charged with moving people efficiently into the justice system, more police can mean more prisons.  If instead, police apply distinctive strategies to try and use force deployments to deter and prevent crimes, they can diminish crime without adding to prison populations.  New York is an exciting example.  During the height of Mayor Giuliani's "quality of life" campaign during the late 1990s, police arrested thousands of young people involved in minor misconduct.  Jail populations went up some, but not too much because most cases were resolved with either short sentences or dismissals.  Prisons, in contrast, began a population decline that has continued for a decade.

In California, unfortunately, it looks more like the first case scenario, with big money going into drug interdiction and enforcement efforts.  What we need almost as much as a new state strategy for corrections, is a new local strategy for police.  Despite having a progressive and educated population, the Bay Area has not been at the forefront of such efforts.  With new police chiefs just appointed in San Francisco and Oakland, let's hope change is on the way.

Posted by Jonathan Simon on August 18, 2009 at 04:13 PM | Permalink

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Maybe less imprisonment, but fewer prisons.

Posted by: Chris | Aug 18, 2009 5:31:19 PM

Point taken

Posted by: Jonathan Simon | Aug 18, 2009 7:07:00 PM

"If, as many now do, they view themselves as "door men" to the carceral system, charged with moving people efficiently into the justice system, more police can mean more prisons. If instead, police apply distinctive strategies to try and use force deployments to deter and prevent crimes, they can diminish crime without adding to prison populations."

What does that even mean? At the most, it assumes that the police have much choice in how they operate, when, in fact, they have little.

Posted by: justme | Aug 18, 2009 11:52:18 PM

What I had in mind though were police departments rather than individual officers. While I consider myself a skeptic as to how easy NYPD's success can be replicated, the New York crime decline (and prisoner decline) underscores what can be accomplished by getting policing right.

Posted by: Jonathan Simon | Aug 19, 2009 12:37:16 AM

California is so far from this a 'less prisons' scenario that its not even funny. Any more funding to increase LEO numbers in California will only further the militarization of a police state. There is too much money, too many hands in the pie, and too many politicians dependent upon votes and campaign funding from specific interests. Without a complete overhaul of the entire criminal justice machine, from laws to sentencing to prisons to parole, the only thing restricting the machine is money. Put it this way: If California had unlimited funds under the current law & order mindset, there would be no prison overcrowding. There would be twice as many prisons, replete with all the necessary personnel to staff them, and the support network of police officers, prosecutors, judges, courthouses and jails would be expanded as well.

Until people can realize and understand that this tough on crime rhetoric is only a means of instilling fear for the sole purpose of accumulating power and wealth, nothing will change.

Posted by: Jack | Aug 24, 2009 11:33:29 AM

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