Thursday, May 13, 2010

Audio: How NYC Ended Drug Violence Without Mega-Imprisonment

By David Downs
Thu, May 13, 2010 at 11:56 AM

This week, UC Berkeley's excellent audio series called The Criminal Justice Conversations Podcast features Boalt Law School Professor Frank Zimring talking about New York's historic 80 percent drop in crime and how it was accomplished. Zimring says: “The thing that is being missed about the lessons from New York City is that the two largest assumptions that have been driving crime policy in this country are probably the wrong way to go about things.”

The weekly Podcast hosted by criminal justice expert David Onek is a co-production of the Berkeley Center for Criminal Justice and the Berkeley School of Journalism. It features in-depth, 30-minute interviews with criminal justice experts that you won't hear anywhere on TV or god forbid, commercial radio. In the Frank Zimring interview (download mp3 here) the researcher notes that:

"Four-fifths of the crime rate in this large American city has disappeared in a two-decade period. The homicide rate in 2009 in New York City is 18 percent of what the homicide rate was in 1990. The robbery rate is 16 percent of what it was. And all the all-time award winner is auto theft ... The auto theft rate in New York City in 2009 is 6 percent of what it was in 1990. This is a substantial decline of a kind that no American city has ever experienced in the recorded history of crime statistics."

Berkeley Law School professor Frank Zimring with David Onek
  • Courtesy of UC Berkeley
  • Berkeley Law School professor Frank Zimring with David Onek


Zimring's takeaway lessons? Enough with the prisons, and stop lumping drug use with drug violence.

“Their incarceration rate is down 28 percent and their crime is down 80 percent. So we now know that you don't need mega-imprisonment policy to have substantial decline in crime. ... The second article of faith in America is that you can't get crime control without winning the war on drugs. But when you take a look at New York City's drug overdose death rate, and it's down 15 or 20 percent, but their drug killings are down 90 percent. All of a sudden you realize that drug violence and illegal drug use may be two different problems."

Zimring's prescription: keep good statistics, send police into the worst spots and keep them there, and break up open-air drug markets.

Upcoming Guests on The Criminal Justice Conversations Podcast with David Onek:

Anthony Batts, Oakland Police Chief

Kevin Grant, Street Outreach Coordinator, City of Oakland; Formerly Incarcerated Individual

Laurie Robinson, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice

James Bell, Executive Director, W. Haywood Burns Institute for Juvenile Justice Fairness and Equity

Susan Manheimer, San Mateo Police Chief; President, California Police Chiefs Association

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