Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A fresh take on mass incarceration

Slate has a fantastic interview with John Pfaff, a Fordham Law School professor who conducted a deep dive into the crime data to overturn some commonly held assumptions about the main factor driving the increase in mass incarceration over the last 20 years:
What appears to happen during this time—the years I look at are 1994 to 2008, just based on the data that’s available—is that the probability that a district attorneys file a felony charge against an arrestee goes from about 1 in 3, to 2 in 3. So over the course of the ’90s and 2000s, district attorneys just got much more aggressive in how they filed charges. Defendants who they would not have filed felony charges against before, they now are charging with felonies.
I had always assumed drug policy was the main culprit--certainly the marijuana legalization folks push that narrative. If this claim holds up, it will imply a wicked problem. If screwed-up political and institutional incentives of district attorneys are to blame, there are no simple or easy legislative solutions (not to say drug reform is easy).

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