Does more imprisonment lead to less crime?

Statistics show that it doesn’t

One of the arguments behind Proposition 6, the “Safe Neighborhoods Act: Stop Gang, Gun, and Street Crime” initiative on the Nov. 4 ballot, is that increased imprisonment leads to reduced crime. But does it really? Here’s a breakdown on the rates of imprisonment versus crime rates by age from 1994 to 2006. As it shows, imprisonment rates have dropped for those younger than 25, and so have crime rates. In contrast, imprisonment rates have risen dramatically for those over 40, as have crime rates.

Rates <18 18-24 25-39 40-49 50+
Imprisonment -76% -6% +15% +87% +146%
Violence -41% -26% -31% -2% +11%
Felony -45% -16% -22% +20% +47%

In addition, despite popular belief, the state’s fastest-growing prison population during the 12 years between 1994 and 2006 has been non-Hispanic whites over the age of 30, as this table shows:

  White Hispanic Black Asian
Imprisonment rate +27% +12% 2-4 0%

Sources: California Criminal Justice Statistics Center; California Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilitation