Coverage of Pew Prison Study Stinks

by CLIFF KINCAID April 15, 2011
 
In language designed to alarm viewers, the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric reported on Wednesday night that the U.S. has the world’s largest prison populationmore than two million people behind barsand that a Pew study says it is costing states more than $50 billion a year. But what Couric and national correspondent Jim Axelrod failed to point out is that more prisons have equaled less crime.
 
In other words, the policy is working. This is something that state governments are doing right.
 
Axelrod’s story on the CBS News website is linked to an Associated Press account which is headlined, “Despite large increases in spending on corrections, many commit crimes within three years of prison release.” This would seem to suggest that these criminals ought to be serving longer prison terms because they cannot be rehabilitated. Instead, Axelrod proposed more spendingnot on prisonsbut on “drug treatment and general education degree programsplus help transitioning back into society…”
 
So we are supposed to let the criminals back out on the streets and coddle them even more, in the hope that they will not commit more crimes. This means, of course, that the money saved on prisons will not be truly saved. Instead, it will be spent on the George Soros approach of “alternatives to incarceration” recently reflected in an NAACP report that was extremely flawed and completely ignored the cost of handling illegal alien criminals.   
 
A Federation of American Immigration Reform study, “The Fiscal Burden of Illegal Immigration on United States Taxpayers,” estimates state and local costs associated with handling illegal alien criminals at $8.7 billion a year (with an additional $7.8 billion worth of costs being borne by the federal government).
 
The Pew study does not suggest saving money on prisons by cutting back on illegal immigration. It proposes cutting back on prisons, period. However, its rationale is questionable. It says, “This high price [spending on prisons and corrections] would be more than defensible had it yielded proportionate improvements in public safety.” This seems to suggest that the money has somehow been wasted. But it then goes on to say, “In fact, the crime rate has been falling since the early 1990s, and is now at its lowest level since 1968. Prison expansion certainly contributed to this trend.”
 
So building more prisons and putting criminals in them has worked. But Pew seems determined to avoid this conclusion by then commenting, “The most sophisticated research gives prison growth credit for one-quarter to one-third of the crime drop during the 1990s.” (emphasis added).
 
It is a matter of opinion whether such research is sophisticated or not. Some might call it dangerously misleading.
 
However, liberal California Governor Jerry Brown is one of those “sophisticated” thinkers. He has proposed a budget that reduces the number of criminals going to prison. Rina Palta, who covers criminal justice issues, explains, “The current budget calls for less restrictive supervision for a whole host of lower level crimes. That means that fewer crimes carry the penalty of state prison, fewer people getting out go under the strict supervision of state parole, and those that violate parole would likely not go back to prison for the violation.”
 
But Todd Gillam of the Parole Agent Association of California has written in response, “There is no other plausible outcome to this bill, but increased crime.” This is the viewpoint being ignored by the major media as various news organizations hype the new Pew study that apparently lies behind the Jerry Brown approach.
 
The Pew Center has been on a campaign against prisons. Back in 2008 it released a report, “One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008,” which attempted to shock the public with the claim that, “for the first time in history, more than one in every 100 adults in America are in jail or prisona fact that significantly impacts state budgets without delivering a clear return on public safety.”
 
No clear return on public safety?
 
Professor Paul Cassell commented at the time, “The Pew Center claims that we are not really getting anything in return for the moneys spent on prisons. But curiously, despite the claim that this expenditure is ‘failing to have a clear impact either on recidivism or overall crime,’ the study never attempts to assess the impact on overall crime.”
 
He cited a graph showing that “significant increases in spending on prisons has coincided with significant reductions in crime. Of course, proving causality would require a more sophisticated analysis. But it would be remarkable to think that the prison growth has had nothing to do with the fact that violent crime rates have reached their lowest point in recent years, according to the Dept. of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics.”
 
In a June 22, 2008, column that carried the title, “More Prisons, Less Crime,” columnist George Will drew the obvious conclusion: “For many reasons, including better policing and more incarceration, Americans feel, and are, safer.” But The New York Times, he noted, has had a history of failing to recognize the relationship between more prisons and less crime. He cited the following “amusing” Times headlines:
 
·         “Crime Keeps on Falling, But Prisons Keep on Filling.” (1997)
·          “Prison Population Growing Although Crime Rate Drops.” (1998)
·          “Number in Prison Grows Despite Crime Reduction.” (2000)
·         “More Inmates, Despite Slight Drop in Crime.” (2003)
 
This New York Times mentality of not recognizing reality seems to be at work in the coverage of the Pew study.
 
FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributing Cliff Kincaid is the Editor of Accuracy in Media, and can be contacted at cliff.kincaid@aim.org.
 

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