Crime and Punishment: a Tenuous Link

October 20, 1989

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There are twice as many people in prison today as there were in 1980. The nation's prisons are filled beyond capacity, and pressures are mounting to build more. But the cost is enormous, and many criminologists say putting more people in jail may not be a very effective way to fight crime. After all, despite this decade's apparent crackdown, crime still seems to be out of control.

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“If you sell drugs, you will be caught. And when you're caught, you will be prosecuted. And once you're convicted, you will do time.” With that tough, straightforward formula, President Bush vowed Sept. 5 in his first major television address, that he would help make America's neighborhoods safe from drug criminals. As he did in his speech last May outlining his administration's crime-prevention plan, the president stressed certainty of punishment and adequate prison cells as the keys to fighting crime. To assure that there will be enough prison cells to house the mounting numbers of new felons entering federal prisons, Bush has proposed $1.5 billion in new prison construction, almost doubling the capacity of the overcrowded federal system.

Criminal justice experts, however, are skeptical that Bush's emphasis on arrest and imprisonment will have much effect on drug crime. “The presumption here is, ‘If we crank up the sanctions, we'll scare the drug dealers off the street,’ “says Alfred Blumstein, dean of the School of Urban and Public Affairs at Carnegie-Mellon University. “[But] when you consider the sanctions dealers are facing from their competitors, which is capital punishment without due process, anyone who is deferrable is probably off the street [already].”

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Apr. 12, 2019  Bail Reform
Oct. 19, 2018  For-Profit Prisons
Mar. 03, 2017  Women in Prison
Jan. 10, 2014  Sentencing Reform
Sep. 14, 2012  Solitary Confinement
Mar. 11, 2011  Downsizing Prisons
Dec. 04, 2009  Prisoner Reentry
Apr. 06, 2007  Prison Reform
Jan. 05, 2007  Prison Health Care
Sep. 17, 1999  Prison-Building Boom
Feb. 04, 1994  Prison Overcrowding
Oct. 20, 1989  Crime and Punishment: a Tenuous Link
Aug. 04, 1989  Can Prisons Rehabilitate Criminals?
Aug. 07, 1987  Prison Crowding
Nov. 25, 1983  Prison Overcrowding
Feb. 26, 1982  Religious Groups and Prison Reform
Jun. 18, 1976  Criminal Release System
Mar. 12, 1976  Reappraisal of Prison Policy
Oct. 20, 1971  Racial Tensions in Prisons
Oct. 13, 1965  Rehabilitation of Prisoners
Oct. 09, 1957  Prisons and Parole
May 02, 1952  Penal Reform
Jan. 30, 1937  The Future of Prison Industry
May 08, 1930  Prison Conditions and Penal Reform
Crime and Law Enforcement
Drug Abuse
Sentencing and Corrections