Along with the long list of other studies they have conducted, now the Vera Institute of Justice has released a clearly written and concise summary of the evidence on whether and how much building prisons reduces crime and what choices we face in light of this evidence. The report--with the title of Reconsidering Incarceration: New Directions for Reducing Crime--suggests where it is headed, and it is directly relevant to California's prison crisis and imminent deadline for resolving various legal and organizational questions.
The study does a great service by wading through the various studies on the question of whether prisons reduce crime and presenting them in a way that does not oversimplify or overstate their findings.
As they point out,
The most salient question of all may be, Do the resources devoted to prison 'work' better to ensure public safety than if those resources were devoted to something else? Prisons are not the only way to fight crime. Policymakers could spend money on more judges, better staffed or equipped law enforcement, or better-trained probation and parole officers. They could invest, as this paper indicates, in other, non-criminal-justice areas shown to affect crime: education, employment, economic development, etc. The impact of incarceration on crime is limited and diminishing. The public's support for reactive crime control is also in decline. It is therefore fitting that we reconsider the continued emphasis on and dedication of resources to incarceration (p. 16).