Getting Out of the Mass-Incarceration Trap

Getting out of the mass-incarceration trap is hard. We currently have five times our historical incarceration rate and seven times the incarceration rate of most of Western Europe. We also have a frighteningly high rate of homicide and other violent crime, albeit only about half as high as it was twenty years ago.

To get back to our historical level, which would be a high level compared to the rest of the civilized world, we need to reduce the headcount behind bars by 80%. Pick five prisoners, and you need to let four of them out.

And no, you can’t do that by releasing innocent, harmless people. You need to release some seriously guilty and dangerous people. Which means you need to figure out a way to make them less dangerous that doesn’t involve putting them under lock and key.

Megan McArdle gets this right.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

Mark Kleiman

Mark Kleiman is a professor of public policy at the New York University Marron Institute.