Report: Both crime rate and prison populations declined in 2011
Published: December 2nd, 2012
OKLAHOMA CITY – The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reports that state prison populations declined almost 2 percent in 2011, even as the violent crime rate nationwide fell 3.8 percent. Right on Crime, a national coalition advocating alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenses, cheered the result in a statement from Brooke Rollins of Austin, Texas.
In comments sent to CapitolBeatOK, Rollins – who runs the Texas Public Policy Foundation – said, “Now more than ever, it is imperative that we encourage policies that put dangerous, violent offenders behind bars, and appropriately rehabilitate and supervise non-violent, low-risk offenders so state prisons can more efficiently keep citizens safe, while easing budgetary pressures on state governments.”
The BJS trend-line encouraged reform activists, including those in Oklahoma. Nationally, violent crime declined in 2010 and 2011 and is down 15.5 percent since 2002; property crimes dipped 0.5 percent and is down 19.9 percent since 2002.
The BJS report, “Correctional Populations in the United States,” was released November 29.
Implementation of Oklahoma’s justice reinvestment initiative (JRI) began this year, just as national data bolstered the underlying concept: shifting resources from incarceration of non-violent offenders into proven treatment and intervention strategies, including better use of local law enforcement material, mental health beds for offenders more in need of care than imprisonment, and other strategies.
Former House Speaker Kris Steele of Shawnee, a leading advocate of reform, led the drive for JRI. He envisions that over several years incarceration rates may “bend” flat rather than continuing the staggering increases of recent decades. Since the end of his last legislative session, Steele has been guiding, along with Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater, a bi-partisan effort to press Corrections and other state departments to implement needed changes in policies and process.
In Texas, where conservatives formed an effective bipartisan reform alliance in 2005, incarceration rates have declined and costs have dropped in recent years.
In November, Oklahoma voters gave constitutional approval to one justice reinvestment idea when they comfortably approved State Question 762, which takes the governor out of pardon-and-parole decisions for non-violent offenders.
Nationally, the push for reform from leading conservatives provoked an analysis in the current issue of The Washington Monthly (November/December 2012). Reporters David Dagan and Stephen M. Teles concluded that conservative “operatives have decided that prisons are a lot like schools: hugely expensive, inefficient, and in need of root-and-branch reform. Is this how progress will happen in a hyper-polarized world?”
Their story pointed to the leadership of former U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese III and Pat Nolan (of Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship), as well as former House Speaker Newt Gingrigh, tax reduction activist Grover Norquist, former Education Secretary Bill Bennett, former U.S. Attorney Asa Hutchinson, writer John DiIulio, and others who have pressed reforms along the lines of those fashioned in Texas.
Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, commented, “[R]eligious conservatives have increasingly come to see prisoners as people worthy of compassion and capable of redemption. ‘These people have committed crimes, but they’re still human beings … Can we help them restore what’s left of their lives?”