Over at Crime and Consequences, Kent Scheidegger has this intriguing post on the connection between incarceration and crime rates. Expanding on a graph that I presented depicting crime rates vs. incarceration rates from 1978 to 2006, Kent goes one better and shows crime rates vs. prisoners back to 1960. The correlation is striking -- as the nation cut back on prisons, crime rates went up; as the nation invested in prisons, crime rates went down.
More important, Kent lays out the astute point that the number of prisoners per capital is a meaningless statistic. What we really want to know is the number of prisoners per crime -- something that critics of our nation's high incarceration rate have been loath to discuss.