New York City famously cut crime drastically during the 1990s. In a new study, NYU's Brennan Center for Justice notes that this achievement took place at the same time that the city's prison population declined -- a point against a tough law-and-order approach to crime-fighting in other U.S. cities.
Cime has gone down: This graph shows the FBI Unified Crime Report (UCR) Index for NYC versus New York State. Crime went down steeply in New York City during the '90s:
Yet the New York City jail population began declining in 1991, and fell below that of the state along with the city's crime level.
The report notes that a significant factor in drop in the prison population was a NYC program that changed sentencing for drug offenses. The result was that the number of people in prison for drugs throughout the state dropped steeply.
This took place at the same time that the national trend was going the other way, with the overall level of prisoners rising nationally:
The study's authors, James Austin and Michael Jacobson, conclude that non-prison sanctions played a role in making New York City safer. But they end the study with what they think is the strongest possible takeaway from the data: "the argument that lowering prison and jail populations will necessarily trigger increases in crime rates are patently false."