New Yorkers Behind Bars

Monday, January 06, 2014

jail cell prison cell (TunnelBug/flickr)

Michael Jacobson, director of the CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance, professor of sociology at the CUNY Graduate Center, and former head of the Vera Institute and NYC correction commissioner from 1995 - 1998, looks at how incarceration rates have changed in NYC, both pre-trial and post-sentencing.



Michael Jacobson

Comments [17]

Sheldon from Brooklyn

Art and RJ, I am rather surprised that you took my sarcasm so literally. So, I will apologize to the writers of the communist manifesto, for connecting their somewhat coherent document to a well-meaning but nevertheless, unfocused rant on a very serious topic by an aging actor.

Jan. 06 2014 09:37 PM
art525 from Park Slope

Dear Sheldon, I agree with RJ. The minute you toss out accusations of communism your argument loses all credibility.

Jan. 06 2014 03:29 PM


Re what @RJ was talking about:
Here's a great radio story about Officer Adrian Schoolcraft, who served in Brooklyn, and observed the corruption caused by Compstat and quotas for Stop and Frisk:

Here's a link to the original Village Voice series:

Jan. 06 2014 11:38 AM
Karla Fisk from Inwood, Manhattan

To continue to talk about great reductions in felonies in NYC is erroneous and irresponsible. What we have is great reductions in felonies reported by NYC police. That is something completely different. In every precinct, use of Compstat (with no transparent random auditing system) creates heavy incentives for precinct commanders to reduce their crime stats by any means possible. This has led systemic NON-reporting of felonies by NYPD officers and systemic downgrading of felonies to misdemeanors. This is happening in every precinct in the city. My husband personally experienced NYPD officers called to the scene of an assault attempting to leave without even writing a report. A man in Inwood Hill Park attempted to violently rape a woman several years ago. This was attempted rape, NOT misdemeanor assault, and the man escaped and was on the loose. The officer who interviewed the victim wrote the attempted rape up as a lesser crime, NOT as felony sexual assault/attempted rape. You may have heard of this at the time, because the victim was outraged and spoke to journalists and city officials she knew. This kind of non-reporting and down-grading reported crime is happening in every precinct in the city. IN FACT, outside of murder rates, we have no real idea what the rate of felony crime in our city really is. And this so-called reduction in crime has been used to justify "Stop and Frisk". This is a natural consequence of using Compstat (without random, surprise audits) as the most influential means of evaluating a precinct commander's performance. We need a transparent, truly random auditing system of Compstat statistics. Otherwise, those statistics cannot be trusted.

Jan. 06 2014 11:30 AM
RJ from prospect hts

Belafonte is not dealing with a so-called communist manifesto--and that's an easy label to throw on someone to cause others to dismiss his statements before even hearing them. He's giving the context that so very very rarely gets made when politicians tout their alleged achievements and the mechanisms they achieve them by.

If you disagree with the specifics of what he's saying, please address them. Throwing around "communist manifesto" debases any debate that is essential.

Jan. 06 2014 11:22 AM
RJ from prospect hts

Adrian Schoolcraft is a police officer who taped his commanders instructing officers to downgrade types of crimes people were arrested for and dissuading others from even filing complaints, in order to prove themselves under the COMPSTAT data reduction program. So overall data on the kinds of crimes committed in this city are distorted; Schoolcraft was not the only one, but when it was discovered by his superiors, he was put into a psychiatric facility where it took over a week for his family to find him. There's a book by Rayman, who first reported it in the Village Voice.

Sorry for the shorthand below; I wanted Brian to address it since he has before and this is an appropriate context. Unfortunately he chose not to.

Jan. 06 2014 11:15 AM
PJ from Bklyn

When I just came to this country I was watching TV. The cop went to this house, told the man to remain seated, he stood up and they took him to jail. I was shocked that people could be jailed so easily. As it turns out they can be for even less.

Jan. 06 2014 11:14 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

I'm not sure why Belafonte feels the need to recite the communist manifesto every time he gives a speech theses days, I put it down to old age perhaps.

There is no doubt that the, for profit, criminal justice system has an interest in locking non-violent people (poor, of color) up unnecessarily - nationwide.

However, stop and frisk arrests aside, it seems that the Bloomberg admin. has indeed made an effort to decrease local incarceration rates.

Mr Belafonte's message would be better received, if he would avoid conflating these separate facts.

Jan. 06 2014 11:12 AM
Sara from Brooklyn

How effective are Alternative to Incaceration programs in impacting incarceration rates over time? I work in a substance abuse program with many people who are there as result of accepting the program in place of incarceration.

Jan. 06 2014 11:11 AM
Amy from Manhattan

I'd like to hear Mr. Jacobson comment on allegations that the police have been pressured to write up crimes as less serious than they are, incl. felonies as misdemeanors. Also, there's been a report that people who've been subjected to stop-&-frisk are less likely to report crimes, which could also cause crime statistics to look better than the real numbers. (Sorry I don't have time to look up the sources, but I hope Mr. Jacobson has heard about these.)

Jan. 06 2014 11:11 AM
RJ from prospect hts

There has been a widespread characterization of people as criminals that has contributed to a cultural perception of who is a criminal and what is a crime. It isn't--in an artist like Belafonte, who has a long history of following such issues--just a numbers game: It's an image, a vision. The hundreds of thousands stopped and frisked, the impoverished squeegee people stopped, creates a "culture" of who is a criminal and who deserves incarceration. It contributes to the national story of incarceration--who deserves it and why and the massive national incarceration. And the loss of their rights--voting, employment, etc. And it has *not* included the financial services industries criminals who cause massively more harm to poor, working, and middle-class people than the occasional one-on-one mugger.

Jan. 06 2014 11:10 AM
Charles from Tribeca

Bill Clinton ran for election with a promise to add one million additional police. Didn't he give Rudy Giuliani federal dollars to hire 20,000 additional police twice? Did crime drop nation wide under President Clinton? Shouldn't President Clinton get the credit for the crime drop?

Jan. 06 2014 11:09 AM

If the number of people in prison is lower is the number on probation or other parts of the system higher??

Jan. 06 2014 11:08 AM
Anne from Harlem

To what degree is crime going down because there are more cameras around than there were a decade ago?? And in a densely packed city like NYC, more cams per sq ft means less crime………???

Jan. 06 2014 11:06 AM
MichaelB from Morningside Heights

@RJ: I can't forget the Adrian Schoolcraft case, because I don't remember it!

Please provide at least SOME insight into what your point is, because based on your previous comment, I don't have a clue as to what you are getting at.


Jan. 06 2014 11:03 AM


Ask him "How many people are "in the system"?" not just "how many people are in in prison or jail".

I don't have the time to call this in.

Jan. 06 2014 11:02 AM
RJ from prospect hts

Don't forget the Adrian Schoolcraft case. The distortion of the descriptions of the kinds of arrests has been widespread--don't forget Graham Rayman's book!

Jan. 06 2014 11:01 AM

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