Downsizing Prisons: How to Reduce Crime and End Mass Incarceration

Downsizing Prisons: How to Reduce Crime and End Mass Incarceration

Downsizing Prisons: How to Reduce Crime and End Mass Incarceration

Downsizing Prisons: How to Reduce Crime and End Mass Incarceration


"There is a better path, and this book shows us how to find that new direction." - Los Angeles Times "Downsizing Prisons offers an innovative approach to reducing the strain on America's overcrowded prisons: namely, by fixing the dysfunctional parole systems in states around the country.... Jacobson's book comes at exactly the right time." - Mother Jones

"Policy wonks, journalists, elected officials and students of criminal justice will find the arguments and data in this book worth grappling with." - New York Newsday

"Should be read by the public and used by policy makers. Essential." - Choice

"Downsizing Prisonsexplains not only why current incarceration policy is not working, but what we can do about it. Michael Jacobson's blueprint provides an overview of a pragmatic strategy that can reduce the size of our bloated prison system while improving prospects for public safety." - Marc Mauer, author of Race to Incarcerate

"A very timely book, offering a unique and important perspective on a topic of widespread concern." - David Garland, author of The Culture of Control

"In this excellent book, Michael Jacobson addresses one of the most important problems facing our society today, our bloated prisons. He traces their growth, the unintended consequences of this excessive punitive development and examines 'the new reality' of managing the hundreds of new, overcrowded prisons. He also demonstrates that this expansion has done nothing to reduce crime." - John Irwin, author of The Felon

"Michael Jacobson's excellent book combines the hands-on experience of a seasoned policy practitioner with a researcher's keen sense of the political and economic climate in which criminal justice policy is formed." - Bruce Western, co-editor of Imprisoning America: The Social Effects of Mass Incarceration

"Downsizing Prisonsis an excellent, well-documented, and well-referenced case study. Jacobson is a seasoned policy practitioner who understands the fit of partisan, policy, and system politics. He has hands-on experience, understands what works, and knows first-hand the dysfunctional impacts of higher incarceration rates. He argues for more rational and effective cost-control approaches to crime control." - Public Administration Review

Over two million people are incarcerated in America's prisons and jails, eight times as many since 1975. Mandatory minimum sentencing, parole agencies intent on sending people back to prison, three-strike laws, for-profit prisons, and other changes in the legal system have contributed to this spectacular rise of the general prison population. After overseeing the largest city jail system in the country, Michael Jacobson knows first-hand the inner workings of the corrections system. In Downsizing Prisons, he convincingly argues that mass incarceration will not, as many have claimed, reduce crime nor create more public safety. Simply put, throwing away the key is not the answer.


On March 15, 1995, while I was the Commissioner of Probation for the City of New York, I was appointed by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani also to run the New York City Department of Correction—the largest city jail system in the United States. Indeed, for the next year and a half, I ran both the city's Probation and Correction Departments. Afterward, for two years, I ran only the much-larger Correction Department, until leaving in 1998 to become a full-time academic at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

I think it is fair to say that, until that time, none of my friends or relatives would have predicted—even to the day I was appointed—that I would one day run all the jails in New York City for Mayor Giuliani. I am the son of socialist parents and earned my Ph.D. in sociology in 1985 for the sole purpose of finding a comfortable academic job from which I could write and teach about urban sociology and criminology, my specializations in graduate school. How I went from a full-time graduate student in sociology to Probation and Correction Commissioner is a rather long, convoluted, and ultimately pretty boring story. Suffice it to say that while in graduate school in the late 1970s, a summer internship in the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety tempered my interest in academia to the point that a government junkie was born. a succession of criminal justice system jobs led to a full-time position in the New York City's Office of Management and Budget (OMB), where I spent almost a decade from 1983 to 1992.

It is probably worth a moment to talk about this particular job, not only because it helped shape and hone my interest in budgets and finance but also since much of what I learned at omb forms the basis of this book. I wound up in the budget office after Michael Smith, then the head of the Vera Institute of Justice, suggested I apply there to head the unit that oversees many of the city's criminal justice agencies. Frankly, I thought it an odd suggestion, since I considered myself a budding social scientist, albeit inside rather than outside government. Besides, as . . .

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