ACCORDING TO CONVENTIONAL criminological wisdom, crime can be significantly lowered only by eliminating its “root causes”: poverty, inequality, and racism. Policing, in this view, can only respond to crime after the fact by making an arrest; preventing crime from occurring in the first place lies in the domain of economic and welfare policy. What makes New York such a powerful natural experiment is that it is, in all respects but one, Zimring shows, nearly the same city as it was in 1990, when its homicide rate was five times higher. The previously assumed drivers of crime—poverty, income inequality, drug use—have not diminished; and family breakdown—conservatives’ preferred root cause—has worsened.
This has parallels to the debate on the child abuse green paper currently happening. Rather than focus on what law changes the Government can make to help lower child abuse rates, many are saying that there is nothing you can do unless you address poverty and/or income inequality.
They are wrong.
Stephen further blogs:
The only element of the reform I saw not touched on in the review is the contribution of the NY courts. They cooperated. Justice became much more swift and certain. They provided 24 hour a day sittings to get rid of delays and backlogs. Instead of declining to sentence because Rikers Island city jail complex was full, they sentenced anyway and left it to the prison authorities to handle the consequences. When I was there a prison system designed for 14000 had over 20000 prisoners. The drop in crime has cured that. The muster is now generally comfortably below the design capacity. But as stressful as it must have been for all concerned, I’m sure if we asked the thousands of offenders who were saved from being murdered had the lawlessness of the 1990’s continued, the hardships of the peak imprisonment period were a small price to pay.
New Zealand used to be the opposite. Rather than have the level of offending determine the prison population, the authorities would let the capacity of the prison system determine sentencing. The Government made changes to bail and parole laws so we would not have over-crowding in prisons!
I recommend people read the full book review.