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New Hamilton Study Report Details Benefits of Reduced Incarceration

The Hamilton Project, a non-partisan organization based in California that studies the relationship of incarceration to crime rates and its broad impacts on society, has published a new study that puts forward several new theories on how to continue to still reduce crime while reducing the incarceration rate. It draws comparisons between prison reform efforts in Italy and California, and how the lessons learned in both places might be applied to prisoner reduction.

In the case of Italy, the national legislature, under pressure from the Catholic Church and many social organizations, passed an almost blanket three-year sentence reduction that covered all but the most violent or organized crime figures.  In that instance there was a slight increase in crime, which the Hamilton group feels can be attributed to the non-selective nature of the prisoner release.  However, after a brief increase in crime, rates began to level off, and then dropped slightly.

In California, which was compelled by court action to reduce its prison population to relieve overcrowding, the result was slightly different, but also beneficial.  Overall prisoner counts dropped almost 20,000, resulting in considerable cost savings.  Crime rates also increased, but noticeably less than in Italy, and then began to decline.  Both Italy and California have enjoyed considerable savings and budgetary relief from their reductions in the prison population.

After an intensive study of data not only from these two entities, but also from other states, the authors came to the conclusion that although crime rates do drop if the incarceration rate increases, as those incarceration rates increase beyond a certain point, there is virtually no change in the crime rate.  Society thus receives few tangible benefits from increasing the rate of incarceration, especially when societal damage from broken families is factored in.  The challenge comes in finding individual solutions that reduce both rates, and are fiscally productive.

Their suggestions in this area have already been stated elsewhere:  ending mandatory minimum sentences, giving judges more sentencing discretion to take into account the individual characteristic of defendants, and rolling back the length of sentences that have skyrocketed since the mid-Eighties. However, by drawing comparisons between Italy and California’s experience, the authors of the Hamilton Project study have brought free-market analytical expertise to that not only is the reduction of prisoner populations necessary  to reduce social dislocation, but also makes fact-based, money-saving sense and is in society’s best interests.
Source:, May, 2014.

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