A recent Pew Center study purports to show that, for the first time in U.S. history, more than one of every 100 adults is in jail or prison. This ratio would put the U.S. far ahead of such police states as Russia and China. Heritage Foundation criminal justice analyst David Muhlhausen responded: “Public safety is the number one priority of state and local governments. Incarcerating serious and violent criminals reduces crime and our incarceration policies are partially responsible for the large reduction in crime since the early 1990s.” To put these number in perspective, consider:

  • According to the National Association of Budget Officers, including federal assistance, states spend on average 3.4% of total expenditures on prisons compares to 21.5% on Medicaid and 10.4% on higher education.
  • According to a 1994 study by Steven Levitt For each prisoner released from prison, fifteen additional crime occur.
  • According to a 1997 study using national data from 1930 to 1994, a 10 percent increase in the total prison population is associated with a 13 percent decrease in homicide.

Muhlhausen adds: “”We need to be smarter. We’re not incarcerating all the people who commit serious crimes. But we’re also probably incarcerating people who don’t need to be.”