One Comparison Sums Up America’s Disjointed View Of Crime


Publish Date:
May 18, 2016
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The U.S. puts a lot of money toward the criminal justice system on both the state and federal level, but when it comes to law enforcement jobs there is a clear distinction.

Compared to other countries, the U.S. employs a higher percentage of correctional officers than it does police officers, according to a recent report released by the White House. If priorities are evaluated by money, America has made incarceration a priority over community policing.

ATTN: spoke to Stanford Law Professor and Co-Director of the Stanford Center for Criminal Justice Robert Weisberg about criminal justice spending. He said that a major part of criminal justice reform isn’t hiring less corrections officers necessarily, but hiring more police officers to deter crime and help keep people out of prison.

“We’re at the point where a dollar spent on a police officer is more valuable than a dollar spent on prisons, but I think it’s really about the number of people in prison,” he said. “The implication is that if we have more prisoners than we have more prison guards.”

But why would spending more on police officers help the U.S. spend less money on crime?

Weisberg said that putting money into crime prevention measures, such as hiring more police officers to stop and deter crime is more cost effective than incarcerating people for long prison sentences. Crime is at the lowest levels it’s been in years and he credits much of that to police.

“Crime in the United States is a small fraction of what it was in the 1990s,” he said. “We need more police and better, more organized policing, like using technology for better management to put police in the highest crime neighborhoods.”

Weisberg said that police brutality is a separate issue.

“I don’t think having more cops or more cops in particular areas necessarily increases the risk of police brutality,” he said.

It’s an issue of training and effective hiring. “It could also be argued that hiring a lot of cops in a short period of time could lead to poor training and then issues could arise from that,” he said.

Weisberg said that there are significant populations of people serving long sentences who are no longer dangerous to society, and they’re not all non-violent offenders. He said that the Obama administration often calls publicly for non-violent drug offenders to be released from prison, but in reality that population’s release would not significantly decrease incarceration rates.

“The president is significantly mistaken,” Weisberg said. The U.S. should consider releasing prisoners who committed a violent crime when they were young adults but are no longer dangerous to the outside world, he said. Violent crime is statistically a young man’s game. Most violent crimes are committed by people under 30, according to the Stanford Criminal Justice Center.

The center studied 860 convicted murderers in California who made parole in 1995. Over the next 15 years only five of them, about 1 percent, committed felony crimes and none of them committed “life-term” crimes.

“Society needs to decide if it’s more important to keep people in prison for the rest of their lives or spend less money on prisons,” Weisberg said.

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