One of the more bizarre, yet overlooked exchanges during last Thursday's presidential debate was when both Trump and Biden seemed to attack each over who supports letting more criminals out of prison. Rather than debating how to lower rising crime rates, they both seemed to buy into the premise of record high incarceration, especially among blacks. They likely were unaware that the Bureau of Justice Statistics had just released a report showing the entire premise of their debate was outdated. The incarceration rate has long since plummeted, and not surprisingly, crime is rising in numerous parts of the country.
Just hours before Thursday's debate, the DOJ's Bureau of Justice Statistics released its 2019 report on the prison population and revealed astounding statistics you will never hear in the media or from the mouth of pro-criminal politicians. Among the most startling findings was that the combined state and federal prison imprisonment rate is the lowest it's been since 1995.
Contrary to those who think we have record incarceration, the imprisonment rate actually peaked in 2009 and has been going down every year since. Over the past decade, the portion of U.S. residents who are in prison has dropped 17% overall. Shocking anyone who listens to liberal politicians in both parties decry the incarceration of "people of color," the imprisonment rate has actually plummeted 29% among black residents (32% among black adults) and 24% among Hispanic residents. Do you know what that means? According to the BJS, "In 2019, the imprisonment rate of black residents was the lowest rate in 30 years, since 1989."
Remember, this report does not capture the numbers from this year, when states unprecedentedly released well over 100,000 prisoners because of the coronavirus and declined to initially incarcerate countless other new offenders who would have been locked up under normal circumstances. Thus, the current incarceration rate is likely much lower.
Moreover, recent laws abolishing bail, making it harder to land convictions, early release, and numerous parole programs have created a cascade of leniencies throughout the system that will likely drop the numbers precipitously in the coming years – even if none of the additional leniencies being advocated for are successfully implemented.
Accordingly, the dishonest politicians are promoting these new ideas as if we have record incarceration, while the public is unaware of the fact that the incarceration numbers have already plummeted. How many Americans know that the black incarceration rate is the lowest it has been in three decades?
Nearly every dead body discovered in places like Chicago, increasingly including children, by the way, is someone whom the media now calls "a person of color." Why is crime suddenly going up after years of decreasing? Well, likely for the same reason why it went down beginning in the mid-1990s after years of increasing. The crime rate works inversely with the incarceration rate. And the people who pay for these jailbreak policies most are not those who live in gated communities. When authorities release criminals, regardless of their identity, those who live in predominantly African-American neighborhoods will pay the price in blood.
Why are so many Chicago neighborhoods a shooting gallery every weekend? The Illinois incarceration population has plummeted by 52% since fiscal year 2013. Why are New York subways becoming magnets for violence? NYPD subway arrests plummeted by 80% and summonses dropped by 95% in August compared with the year before. The city and state have engaged in unprecedented prison releases over the past year. The number of shooting incidents in the city increased 127% in September over the same period last year.
It doesn't take a forensic criminologist to discover the culprit and connect the cause and effect. With reversed incarceration levels to those of the high-crime era of the early 1990s, it's not hard to see why crime will begin rising to those levels again. Many cities are already experiencing homicide rates not seen since, you guessed it, the early 1990s – before we began "mass incarceration." What we "benefit" in reduced numbers in prison, we ultimately pay for with increased dead bodies on the streets.
The reality is, with few exceptions, there are no "first-time, low-level" offenders sitting in prison, and there weren't even during the peak of incarceration last decade. So many violent repeat offenders get off with a slap on the wrist.
Those who ultimately make it to prison are generally the worst offenders. The reality is that what drives America's relatively high incarceration rate, particularly among black criminals, is not nebulous crimes, but violent crimes, which will be borne disproportionately by black victims of crime. According to this new BJS report, among sentenced state prisoners at year-end 2018, a larger percentage of black (62%) and Hispanic (62%) prisoners than white prisoners (48%) were serving time for a violent offense. And the bulk of those in there for other crimes were previously locked up for violent crimes or were incarcerated for violating the terms of probation on prior underlying crimes that were violent or high-level.
Also, there were nearly twice as many black prisoners as white prisoners serving time for murder in state prisons, even though white people are five and a half times greater in population. A higher percentage of white prisoners than black prisoners were serving time for drug and property offenses. Just 3% of black prisoners were locked up because of drug possession convictions, but nearly all of those were likely pled down or had a serious prior rap sheet.
It's incontrovertibly clear that what is driving the higher black incarceration rate (which itself is at a three-decade low) has nothing to do with drugs or vague crimes. It's the sort of crimes that destroy black neighborhoods in this country. Crime in these neighborhoods is worse than ever, and the overwhelming majority of black residents want a strong police presence. Which, yes, in a functioning system, will lead to more incarceration. But it will also lead to better deterrent and more lives saved.Republicans should provide those voters with a real contrast rather than playing follow-the-leader with Democrats who have promoted failed weak-on-crime policies for decades.