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How New York City Reduced Mass Incarceration: A Model for Change?

NCJ Number
James Austin, Ph.D.; Michael P. Jacobson
Date Published
January 2013
28 pages
This report examines New York City's policing strategy that reduced its correctional population.
The New York experience provides two important lessons for efforts to reduce the national epidemic use of mass incarceration. First, changes in policy at the local level (especially police policy) can have a dramatic impact on all forms of correctional supervision and imprisonment. Thus, efforts that only focus on reform at the State level of government are incomplete and may not be as effective as those coupled with locally initiated reforms. Second, both incarceration and crime rates can be reduced. Thus, the argument that lowering prison and jail populations will trigger increases in crime rates is false. The declines in New York State's prison population as well as the New York City jail population are due largely to a reduction in the number of people being arrested for felony level crimes. Greater use of non-prison sanctions by New York City courts also contributed to the decline. The New York City and overall New York prison population decline would have occurred much sooner had the State legislature not been incentivized by the Federal government to adopt "truth-in-sentencing" laws that increased the length of imprisonment. These results show that policy changes at the local level can have a dramatic and lasting impact on State prison as well as jail, probation, and parole populations. Further, the decline in the State prison population was not initially associated with a decline in prison costs. In fact, the State prison budget increased significantly while the prison population declined. Only in recent years has the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) budget stabilized, and prisons begun to close. Tables, figures, and endnotes