May 16, 2011

As one who has also been a victim of a break-in, I am aware of the feeling of loss of security that Marc Fisher described in his May 15 Outlook piece [“My burglary was solved. Why is that so rare?”]. But Mr. Fisher’s call for officials to take such crimes seriously by “taking more burglars off the streets” illustrates a limited vision of what could be done to address these issues.

The primary reason that police and courts don’t have enough time to focus on property crimes is because of the enormous diversion of resources toward incarceration in recent decades. The 2.3 million people incarcerated in our prisons and jails represent a six-fold increase from the figure of 330,000 in 1972, and their incarceration costs taxpayers about $60 billion annually. While there is a growing consensus that this world-record rate of imprisonment is well past the point of diminishing returns for crime control, reductions in prison populations are only beginning to emerge in most states.

The fiscal savings that could be achieved by reducing unnecessary incarceration would free up more resources for police and courts and allow them to focus attention on crimes such as those suffered by the Fisher family. Perhaps more important, the money saved could also be used to support strengthening community-based resources that would aid in preventing such crimes in the first place.

Marc Mauer, Washington

The writer is executive director of the Sentencing Project.