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Former NYC Corrections Chief Argues That Prison Does Not Work

When Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected California’s Deficit Terminator, few people anticipated that his tough-on-crime movie persona would translate into deep budget cuts for the state prisons. Except perhaps Michael Jacobson, a professor of criminology at the City University of New York Graduate Center and John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Jacobson has spent the last few years charting social and political developments that are poised to reverse this country’s incarceration boom, which accounts for more than two million imprisoned citizens. Speaking at a recent Hoffinger Colloquium, Jacobson drew on his upcoming book Downsizing Prisons: How to Reduce Crime and End Mass Incarceration (NYU Press, 2005), to argue that, contrary to popular belief, prison does not work. Jacobson cautions reformers about such structural impediments as public corrections unions interested in protecting jobs and privatized prisons interested in protecting market share. But in his view, the sure sign that U.S. sentencing policy is about to turn a corner came in the 2004 State of the Union address, when President George W. Bush endorsed offender reentry programs as a vital component of crime control: “Rehabilitation, redemption, and reentry are back on the policy drawing board.”