POLITICS
08/04/2014 12:14 pm ET | Updated Aug 06, 2014

Fewer People In Prison Could Actually Mean Less Crime (INFOGRAPHIC)

Safer streets don't require a burgeoning prison population, according to a new infographic released by the American Civil Liberties Union.

aclu info

In fact, as the infographic mentions, one study of 336,000 people in all 50 states found that longer sentences were associated with a 3 percent increase in recidivism. The subjects in the study were matched on various factors including criminal history and history of substance abuse.

"For years we’ve been told we need to aggressively incarcerate in order to have safer communities," Kara Dansky, senior counsel at the ACLU told The Huffington Post. "But in fact, many states have reduced incarceration while lowering crime rates."

Late last month, The Sentencing Project released a study with similar findings.

As HuffPost previously reported on that study:

The report points to New York, New Jersey and California as examples of how moving toward more lenient punishments for non-violent offenders is linked to lower rates of both violent crime and property crime. While the nation's state prison population shot up by 10 percent from 1999 to 2012 with violent and property crime dropping by 26 percent and 24 percent, respectively, New York and New Jersey each slashed their prison populations by 26 percent and saw crime drop a respective 31 percent and 30 percent during the same period.

But Joshua Marquis, who sits on the board of the National District Attorneys Association, said tougher sentences, like mandatory minimums and three strikes laws, have played a key role in crime reduction.

"It isn't the only thing responsible, but one thing that's played a role is that we are locking up the small subset of the population that commits most of the crime," Marquis said. "There is no question that that has driven the crime rate down."

Several studies have found that putting more people in prison has reduced the crime rate. However, as the infographic points out, most of the decrease is due to other factors, and there are diminishing returns (meaning that, as you lock up more and more people, the rate of the drop in crime becomes less and less).

But many researchers say the picture of how reductions in prison populations relate to crime is murky at best.

Stanford Law professor Robert Weisberg told NBC Bay Area that "there’s no clear evidence that reductions in prison population ... have led to increases in crime."

And Dansky adds, "There’s no consistent evidence that harsh sentences deter crime."

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