I could not help but be struck by the juxtaposition of today's two major crime and punishment stories. The first, which Kent has covered, is the Supreme Court's decision that overcrowding in California's prisons has caused constitutionally unacceptable conditions, and therefore prisoners by the thousand must be released from this overstuffed system.
The second, which oddly is getting less coverage, is that this same overstuffed system continues to produce remarkable reductions in the crime rate. This maintains a trend -- which not coincidentally developed over the last two decades of "incarceration nation" -- in which crime has dropped to the lowest level in fifty years.
What this means, specifically, is that, in the era of "incarceration nation," thousands fewer of our fellow citizens have been beaten, robbed, raped, swindled and yoked than was the case in the "compassionate" era of the sixties and seventies.
What is even more remarkable is that last year's dramatic crime reduction came at a time of continuing economic hardship and high unemployment. This is most strange, since, as we have been lectured for years, it's economic hardship that produces crime (as opposed to, say, the nature of society's response).
No normal person thinks that prisoners should be deprived of baseline medical care; they can't be, period. But we know now (as if we didn't before) that imprisoning people who commit crime produces less crime. We therefore also know that releasing them will produce more crime -- and the more released, the more crime is coming. Refusing to acknowledge this fact is just flat-out dishonest.