More prisons are not the answer to America’s crime problems, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told the nation’s lawyers Monday.
“We will not focus exclusively on incarceration as the most effective means of protecting public safety,” Holder told the American Bar Association delegates meeting here for their annual convention. “Since 2003, spending on incarceration has continued to rise, but crime rates have flattened.”
Holder conceded that the massive build-up of prisons — a seven-fold increase over the past 40 years — probably has something to do with the crime rate dropping 40 percent since 1991.
“Today, one out of every 100 adults in America is incarcerated — the highest incarceration rate in the world,” he said. But the country has reached a point of diminishing returns at which putting even greater percentages of America’s citizens behind bars won’t cut the crime rate.
That’s in part because once people spend time in prison, they’re likely to keep engaging in the kind of behavior that sends them back to prison, he said.
“Most crimes in America are committed by people who have committed crimes before,” Holder said. “About 67 percent of former state prisoners and 40 percent of former federal prisoners are re-arrested within three years of release. If we can reduce the rate of recidivism, we will directly reduce the crime rate.”
Prisoners who undergo drug treatment and/or work training in prison are 16 percent less likely to re-offend after their release, he said.
Diverting non-violent drug offenders away from prison and into treatment programs, as New York State does, saves taxpayers money, better rehabilitates offenders and helps reduce the crime rate, Holder said.