Over the past five years the crime rate has steadily declined in New York City. Meanwhile, the city’s incarceration rate has decreased, too.
“New York’s crime rate has gone down more quickly and more steeply than the rest of the country and we are the model for low crime in this nation,” declared then-New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg at a December 20, 2012 Department of Correction graduation ceremony. “But unlike the rest of the country, the number of people we are incarcerating has also gone down. Some people say the only way you stop crime is to incarcerate. We have proven that to be untrue: successfully preventing crime and breaking cycles of criminal activity can save thousands from a life of cycling through the criminal justice system.”
In 2001, the New York City (NYC) crime rate was 13 percent higher than the rest of the nation. Between 2001 and 2010, however, major felonies fell 32 percent in NYC while the rest of the country saw a decrease of only 13 percent.
The New York Police Department (NYPD) announced a “new record-low” level of violent crime in 2015 compared to the previous year. Overall, the number of arrests declined 13 percent – to 333,115 arrests – by the end of 2015 compared to 2014 arrests. NYC also experienced a decline in drug possession arrests for the third year in the row, which could partially be attributed to the city’s new marijuana policy announced in November 2014. There were over 10,000 fewer arrests for marijuana possession in 2015 compared to the previous year and less than half the marijuana-related arrests compared to 2011.
“As we end this year, the City of New York will record the safest year in its history, its modern history, as it relates to crime,” said NYPD Chief William J. Bratton, according to an article published by the Daily Intelligencer on December 27, 2015.
Yet between 2001 and 2011, NYC’s incarceration rate dropped 32 percent while the national rate increased 5 percent. From 2006 to 2010 the city’s jail population fell from 14,241 prisoners to around 12,000. The number of detainees in NYC’s jail system reached 9,674 by the end of 2015.
Not everyone is convinced these statistics mean less crime is being committed. Some critics even suggest the NYPD might be doctoring reports and re-categorizing violent crimes as lesser crimes to ensure the numbers continue to plummet, in order to make the police department look good.
“I would like to see an outside body, somewhere, taking a look at this. [My] concern is it’s become business as usual now, with the Police Department and its really creative accounting at this point,” retired police captain John Eterno told the New York Times.
On the other hand, NYC officials credit effective crime prevention efforts and social justice programs for the declines in both crime and incarceration rates.
“Policing strategies that reduce crime have the added benefit of dramatically reducing incarceration in New York City,” said John Feinblatt, Mayor Bloomberg’s Chief Policy Advisor. “This was not foreordained. Instead it is the result of stopping crimes before they happen, and keeping those who would have been convicted of those crimes out of jails, productively engaged in their communities.”
The city has implemented several Alternatives to Detention programs for juvenile offenders, such as community-based afterschool supervision programs and Intensive Community Monitoring. After launching those initiatives, NYC saw a 23 percent drop in juvenile re-arrest rates. Since 2007, the Juvenile Justice Initiative has provided intensive evidence-based services to youth who otherwise would be serving time in an institutional setting; the program has seen a 10 percent drop in re-arrests and a 29 percent decrease in arrests for violent felonies among participants. The city also offers a network of felony drug courts that provide adult drug and property offenders with judicially-monitored, treatment-based alternatives to incarceration.
“The innovative programs we are putting in place, such as ABLE – which helps incarcerated youth to make better decisions – and other programs focusing on adult inmates, both behavioral programs, promise to make measurable difference in institutional conduct and recidivism rates,” said then-NYC Correction Commissioner Dora Schriro.
Transitional services for released offenders play a key role in reducing recidivism. NYC’s Center for Employment Opportunity’s Transitional Job Program serves ex-prisoners who are returning to the community, and program participants are reportedly less likely to be convicted of a crime and re-incarcerated than non-participants.
“Getting out is hard, staying out is harder,” admitted former NYC Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs. “We will continue working together to break down the barriers that impede a newly-released individual from succeeding, and we will work with communities throughout the city to ensure safety as well as support the success of community members when they come home.”
The declining crime and incarceration rates in New York City serve as just one example that crime rates can be reduced without increasing prison or jail populations.
Sources: Mayor’s Press Release (Dec. 20, 2012); www.scoc.ny.gov; www.nymag.com; www.nytimes.com
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