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Why the Feds Can't Just Copy State Prison Population Reductions

In debating the Heroin Dealers Bonanza Act Smarter Sentencing Act, I hear one question again and again:   Since some states like Texas and Michigan have reduced their prison populations over the last few years and  have seen the decline in crime continue, why can't the federal prison system do the same?

Here's why.

1.  The increased use of  incarceration has accounted for about a quarter of the decline in crime.  What that means is that about three quarters of the decline is  attributable to other factors (things such  as hiring more police and improved and proliferating private security measures).  When three quarters of the factors responsible for the decrease in crime are still on-going, crime is very likely to continue to decrease.  What reducing the prison  population will do, by putting recidivist criminals back on the street, is slow the rate of the decrease.  And that is, in fact, what's  been happening.  As some large states have been marginally lowering their prison populations, crime has continued to decease, but at a slower rate.

Reasons 2 - 5 follow the break.

2.  Crime is a lagging indicator, and crime statistics lag even more.  Criminals generally do not return to crime and get caught immediately.  It typically takes several years.  And crime statistics  lag even further; the statistics available today reflect only what was the state of play two or three years  ago.
3.   To the extent we have more recent data, they come from California, the state laboring under the effects of the Plata decision, ordering it to make substantial cuts to its prison population.  Accordingly, and  because of its very large size to begin with, California has had a greater reduction in its prison population than any other state.  Result:  property crime is up, I believe by 7%.  See this post and this one from Kent.
4.  Even if prison reduction programs work for the states, they are not going to work for the feds.  The feds prosecute precisely the kind of drug gangs, and drug offenders, who are the most violent, the most entrenched, and the most prone to recidivism.  The kind of offender you see coming out of the county courthouse is a choir boy compared to what you see coming out of the federal courthouse.
5.  Finally, to the extent there is doubt about this question, who should have to bear the risk of that doubt?  The public, or drug dealers?

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