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New Study Challenges ‘Myth’ That US Has A Mass Incarceration Problem

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Prison reform advocates have repeatedly pushed the notion that the U.S. has a mass incarceration problem, but a soon-to-be released Heritage Foundation study casts doubt on that claim.

Left-wing proponents of criminal justice reform claim that masses of individuals, including an unfair rate of minorities, are languishing in America’s country’s prisons, but they do not take into account the vast number of crimes that go unsolved or the number of criminals who avoid jail time, according to the report. The data show that any mass release of the U.S. prison population would result in a high number of individuals convicted of violent crimes being put back into American communities.

“The idea that the United States unjustly targets and imprisons non-violent persons and innocent minorities is nothing more than a scare tactic from the pro-crime lobby,” Zack Smith, a Senior Legal Fellow at The Heritage Foundation and co-author of the report, said to the Daily Caller News Foundation. “The reality is, the United States faces a crime epidemic, where American communities are no longer as safe due to Soros-backed prosecutors and soft-on-crime policies pushed by the mainstream media and Leftist politicians,” Smith continued.

The Heritage study was largely conducted by compiling crime data provided by the Department of Justice and other available criminal statistics over the years.

Liberals, including former president Barack Obama, have pushed a talking point about the U.S. having only 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of the world’s prison population, which suggests that the American justice system is overly jailing people.

Van Jones — who served as a special adviser in the Obama administration and has since positioned himself as a high-profile voice in the criminal justice reform community — launched #cut50, a campaign with the explicit goal of slashing the U.S. prison population by half within a decade.

Organizations opposed to law enforcement have utilized the narrative of over-incarceration to wage a campaign to release a mass number of individuals from prison, according to the Heritage study. The Brennan Center for Justice, for example, issued a study calling for a 39% reduction in the U.S. prison population and the American Civil Liberties Union has called for a 50% reduction in state prisons and jails in order to “drive down racial disparities in incarceration.”

The study’s authors, however, argue that the proponents of the mass incarceration “myth” largely ignore the millions of crime victims across the U.S. and overcount individuals being “incarcerated.”

In 2015, there were 15,696 homicides in the U.S., the study noted. That number was more than all of the European Union, Canada, Australian, Japan, and New Zealand combined.

The number of U.S. homicides marked a rate of 4.9 murders per 100,000 people.

In addition to the higher crime rates taking place in the U.S., the authors noted how there is a “yawning gap” between the number of crimes known to victims and the number of perpetrators caught, tried, convicted and sent to prison.

There were 16,425 instances of murder known to police in 2019, according to crime data from that year cited by Heritage. However, only 8,033 people were admitted to prison for the crime.

In a more dramatic example of the inequity of the crime-to-prison pipeline, there were 1,019,490 claims of aggravated assault by victims in 2019, but only 55,268 people were admitted to prison for those crimes.

While almost of half of murderers were caught and imprisoned, fewer than 6% of those who committed rape, robbery, or aggravated assault met a similar fate, according to the interview of victims in crime surveys and other data reviewed by Heritage.

The study takes aim at the definition many use for mass incarceration by including everyone involved in the criminal justice system, even those not in physical detention.

Many critics of the justice system overcount those in incarceration by including all criminal defendants, even those out in the community on probation or parole, according to Heritage. Only about one-third of criminal defendants in the U.S. are incarcerated in prison or jail, while two-thirds are free on probation or parole, according to Department of Justice statistics.

As for those who have been incarcerated, the vast majority are serving time in state prisons, according to the study. Those convicted of violent crimes — such as murder, manslaughter, rape sexual assault or aggravated assault — make up nearly 63% of all state prisoners, according to 2022 statistics.

With such a high rate of incarcerated individuals convicted of heinous crimes, the authors ask if it makes sense to conduct a mass release of U.S. prisoners.

“Since 62.9 percent of prisoners are there after having been convicted of a violent offense, who, exactly, does the Brennan Center or ACLU suggest should be freed from prison?” the report asks. “All felons not convicted of murder, manslaughter, or rape? Or maybe even some of those individuals?”

“This report debunks the pro-criminal, anti-victim claim that the United States is locking up too many people and the only solution is to release dangerous criminals back onto the streets,” Cully Stimson, a senior legal fellow at Heritage and a co-author of the study, said to the DCNF. “The proponents of this outrageous narrative are attempting to divide the country along racial lines and ignoring a serious, national crime problem that has worsened under the Biden Administration.”

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