Washington — Putting more people in prison doesn't automatically result in less crime, says an organization that advocates alternatives to incarceration. The study by The Sentencing Project acknowledged that the connection comes into play quite often, but it says that's not automatically the case.
The private group based its findings, released Thursday, on an analysis of crime statistics from 1991 to 1998 from the FBI's Uniform Crime Report. During that period, overall U.S. crime decreased by 22 percent, the study said. During the same time frame, the number of state and federal prisoners across the country rose by a half, to more than 1.2 million.
However, the Sentencing Project said, much of the reduction in crime rates is due to the expanding economy, changing demographics and new approaches to policing, among other factors.
Rising incarceration rates in some states didn't bring about a commensurate drop in crime, the group said in its report, "Diminishing Returns: Crime and Incarceration in the 1990s."
The FBI statistics show many states where the rates of incarceration rose saw large reductions in crime, the Sentencing Project acknowledged. But, the group said, the numbers also show crime rates fell steeply in a few states with much smaller increases in prison population.
For instance, in Texas the number of prisoners per 100,000 people rose 144 percent from 1991 to 1998, a rate of incarceration that led the nation. However, the group said, Texas saw a 35 percent drop in crime among the highest of the 50 states.
But Massachusetts also saw a 35 percent drop in crime, while its incarceration rate rose by only 21 percent, said the group, which drew its conclusions from an analysis of prison populations and crime rates.
"What this shows us is that continuing to build and fill prisons is a limited strategy in responding to crime, and that the fiscal cost and the social cost may be too great to bear, given that we have better approaches to dealing with these problems," said Marc Mauer, the group's executive director.