Number of New Yorkers Behind Bars Hits Record Low, Bloomberg Says

By Jill Colvin on December 20, 2012 4:35pm 

 Mayor Michael Bloomberg Speaks at the Department of Corrections Graduation at Lehman College on Dec. 20, 2012.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg Speaks at the Department of Corrections Graduation at Lehman College on Dec. 20, 2012.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

THE BRONX — New York City is on pace to have the fewest people behind bars since the 1980s, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Thursday.

Through November, an average of 12,125 New Yorkers were being held in jails and prisons on an average day — the fewest since 1986 — and down 32 percent since 2001, Bloomberg said.

”Unlike many other places in this country, we have not cut crime by locking more people up,” Bloomberg said during remarks at the Department of Correction graduation ceremony at Lehman College Thursday morning. “We’ve cut crime... by preventing crime from occurring.”

The drop was especially apparent among young people. The number of juveniles incarcerated dropped 45 percent between 2006 and 2010, with an average 733 juveniles being held in detention — less than any time since 1983, he said.

Bloomberg credited the drop on a combination factors, including "proactive strategies designed to prevent crimes from occurring,” such as the NYPD impact zones, which send large numbers of police officers to crime hot spots.

He did not specifically mention stop-and-frisk, but the administration has frequently cited the controversial strategy as its top crime-preventing tool.

He also pointed to new juvenile justice programs, such as home-based alternatives to detention centers, and more social and community services available inside jails, including counseling and education opportunities so that prisoners can earn degrees and learn job skills that can help keep them after they're released.

“We want to incarcerate those people who are dangerous to society and we want to find alternatives where we really can help those people who may have fallen off the bus once,” he said, adding the goal is to make jail “more than just holding tanks where offenders simply bide their time until their released, only to re-offend later.”

Bloomberg cited numbers that show the number of people re-arrested after committing a crime has dropped 14 percent over the past 10 years — a sign, he said, that intervention is working.

City Councilman Jumaane Williams, a frequent critic of Bloomberg's policing strategies, commended the drop in incarcerations, which he said represents a major step forward.

“I think that’s the direction that we definitely need to be going," he said, “The lock-'em-up strategies of the past haven’t worked."

Still, he said that he was still frustrated by the city's reliance on Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly's reliance on stop-and-frisk as one of their primary strategies to prevent crime and keep guns off the street.

JoAnne Page, the president of The Fortune Society, a non-profit that advocates for prison alternatives and has helped about 3,000 men and women returning home from prison, said that the numbers were proof that locking people up isn't always the best option.

“It destroys lives. It destroys communities. And it costs a tremendous amount of money,” she said, noting that the group's prison alternative services cost about $10,000 a year, versus up to $60,000 to keep someone in a city jail.

Back in 2001, the city's incarceration rate was 13 percent higher than the national average. In 2011, it was 27 percent lower, Bloomberg said.

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