According to a January 2013 study by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law, the JFA Institute and the Vera Institute of Justice, New York is one of the first states in the nation to significantly reduce its entire correctional population – including citizens out on probation and parole.
In “How New York City Reduced Mass Incarceration: A Model for Change?,” criminologists report that New York City’s incarceration rate was 30% below the rest of the nation’s. Given the NYPD’s horrible reputation for unlawful stop-and-frisk practices, this stat may seem unlikely to some.
The New York Times’ Jim Dwyer has a possible explanation:
Think about this: Hardly any of the people who were stopped and frisked wound up being arrested, so those stops did not add to the national prison or jail population. The people weren’t doing anything wrong. Their blamelessness — the very fact that they couldn’t be locked up — helped to expose the folly of the stop-and-frisk program, and to persuade a federal judge that it was being unconstitutionally practiced.
The New York City study aimed to analyze the connections – if any – between decrease in crime, decrease in the correctional population, and sharp increase in controversial police practices that devote less resources toward capturing felons, and a lot more energy toward low-level arrests.
In the New York Times article, Dwyer also pointed out that a staggering 87% of those low level arrests (misdemeanor marijuana) are of blacks and Latinos. However, these arrests usually result in summons and not actual incarcerations.
The study – which uses data from 1985-2009, before NYC’s stop-and-frisk practices really took off – takes a hard look at New York’s model of criminal justice reform, and leaves us with some difficult questions concerning police practices and their costs/benefits.
New York and other American states still have a long way to go in ending mass incarceration. Even if these low-level arrests do not result in incarceration, they still may impact the arrestee’s chances of future employment, and possibly even access to education. We need holistic, systemic reform to reduce the widening net of mass incarceration into all facets of an ex-offender’s life.