The Prison Paradox

Despite two decades of declining crime rates and a decade of efforts to reduce mass incarceration, some policymakers continue to call for tougher sentences and greater use of incarceration to reduce crime.

It may seem intuitive that increasing incarceration would further reduce crime: incarceration not only prevents future crimes by taking people who commit crime out of circulation, but it also may dissuade people from committing future crimes out of fear of punishment. In reality, however, increasing incarceration rates has a minimal impact on reducing crime and entails significant costs.

There is a very weak relationship between higher incarceration rates and lower crime rates.