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Study Finds Crowding Jails Fails To Substantially Reduce Crime

A new study shows Louisiana remains number one in the world for the amount of people per capita it sends to prison. Experts find it’s an expensive and relatively ineffective way to reduce crime.

Louisiana locks up one in every 75 adults — nearly twice the national average. And the United States has 5 percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of its prisoners.

Lauren-Brooke Eisen is counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University Law School.  Economists and criminal justice researchers examined data from 40 years from all 50 states, and the 50 largest cities.

She says filling prisons to fight crime isn’t good financial policy.

“It costs about $30,000 to $40,000 a year to send someone to state prison in the United States. And that’s equivalent to sending someone to Harvard for a year," she said. "We’re not seeing the benefit for this enormous cost. Prison really should be the punishment of last resort.”  

The study found that from 1980 — when Louisiana had almost 9,000 prisoners — the effectiveness of adding more inmates steadily declined. By 2000, imprisonment increased four-fold and the effect on crime reduction declined to essentially zero.  

The report notes a 40 percent drop in the Louisiana crime rate during the two decades following 1993. But it credits improved police management, more leeway for judges in sentencing, alternative punishments and early release of elderly prisoners.

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