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Downsizing Prisons: How to Reduce Crime and End Mass Incarceration Hardcover – February 1, 2005

8 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0814742747 ISBN-10: 0814742742

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Editorial Reviews


“Policy wonks, journalists, elected officials and students of criminal justice will find the arguments and data in this book worth grappling with.”
-New York Newsday

“Should be read by the public and used by policy makers. Essential.”

Downsizing Prisons explains not only why current incarceration policy is not working, but what we can do about it. Jacobson’s blueprint provides an overview of a pragmatic strategy that can reduce the size of our bloated prison system while improving prospects for public safety.”

-Marc Mauer,author of Race to Incarcerate

Downsizing Prisons offers an innovative approach to reducing the strain on America’s overcrowded prisons: namely, by fixing the dysfunctional parole systems in states around the country. . . . Jacobson’s book comes at exactly the right time.”

-Mother Jones

“There is a better path, and this book shows us how to find that new direction.”
-Los Angeles Times

Downsizing Prisons is an excellent, well-documented, and well-referenced case study. Jacobson is a seasoned policy practitioner who understands the fit of partisan, policy, and system politics. He has hands-on experience, understands what works, and knows first-hand the dysfunctional impacts of higher incarceration rates. He argues for more rational and effective cost-control approaches to crime control.”

-Public Administration Review

About the Author

Michael Jacobson has over twenty years of government service. He was formerly the commissioner of the New York City Departments of Correction and Probation and a deputy budget director for the City of New York, serving in the Koch, Dinkins, and Giuliani administrations. He is currently the Executive Director of the Vera Institute of Justice.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 292 pages
  • Publisher: NYU Press (February 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0814742742
  • ISBN-13: 978-0814742747
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #564,469 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By David Wellenbrock on February 3, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Jacobson was a budget director for New York City who then became the head of probation and later the head of corrections. He thus has considerable experience with the costs of incarceration and how those costs impact the rest of the government's budgets.

In this book he reviews the tremendous rate of increase of incarceration over the last three decades and the costs attendant to this policy. The increased use of mandatory minimum sentences, three-strikes legislation, and the vastly increased use of technical parole violations are identified as the major contributors to these increases. He then reviews how ineffective this has been in reducing crime. Then he makes the case for reducing the rate of incarceration.

His thesis is that for lower grade cases (property crimes; drug crimes; etc.), lengthy prison sentences are both ineffective and fiscally wasteful. He would divert significant resources from this incarceration to (a) more treatment in lieu of custody and (b) other social programs which are also fiscally strapped.

The budget crunch faced by states in recent years he believes provide an opportunity for changes: states simply cannot afford their prisons. Even Louisiana and Mississippi have recently passed legislation which reduce some prison terms.

The book seems to be generally aimed at polilcy-level people. It describes the sorts of legislation that would be necessary, delineates some of the general political forces which are at work and which must be met ('tough-on-crime' attitudes; the prison guards unions; private prison corporations mainly).
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By doug k on January 6, 2015
Format: Paperback
This is a book by a competent and articulate professional. The author makes a very solid argument for his case, nothing radical or brilliant but solid. Other books worth reading on criminal justice.

Alexander, Michelle, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, The New Press, 2010

Blackmon, Douglas A., Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II, Anchor; Reprint edition, 2009

Clear, Todd R., Imprisoning Communities: How Mass Incarceration Makes Disadvantaged Neighborhoods Worse (Studies in Crime and Public Policy), Oxford University Press, USA 2009

Clear, Todd R., The Punishment Imperative: The Rise and Failure of Mass Incarceration in America, NYU Press, 2013

Currie, Elliott, Crime and Punishment in America, Picador; First Owl Book Edition, 1998

Drucker, Ernest, A Plague of Prisons: The Epidemiology of Mass Incarceration in America, The New Press, 2011

Manza, Jeff, Locked Out: Felon Disenfranchisement and American Democracy (Studies in Crime and Public Policy), Oxford University Press, 2008

Mauer, Marc, Race to Incarcerate, The New Press, 2006

Petersilia, Joan, When Prisoners Come Home: Parole and Prisoner Reentry (Studies in Crime and Public Policy), Oxford University Press, 2009

Pettit, Becky, Invisible Men: Mass Incarceration and the Myth of Black Progress, Russell Sage Foundation Publications, 2012

Stuntz, William J., The Collapse of American Criminal Justice, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2011

Tonry, Michael H., Malign Neglect: Race, Crime, and Punishment in America, Oxford University Press, USA (January 19, 1995

Tonry, Michael H.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By BrooklynSociologist on January 8, 2013
Format: Paperback
Michael Jacobson, who counts Bernard Kerik as a friend, is an alumnus of Brooklyn College and he also attended the CUNY Graduate Center. His career path took from the New York Office of Management and Budget to the Commissioner of Probation here in New York City to the Commissioner of Corrections. His unique perspective or insight into the criminal justice system comes from his experiences as a policy maker in the Office of Management and Budget and during his time as Commissioner of Probation, Commissioner of Corrections and now as the head of the Vera Institute of Justice. Jacobson's basic premise is that it is not beneficial to public safety and public health to incarcerate large numbers of people as we do today. As he states his purpose is to, "make a substantive and political case so that policy makers can begin to reverse 30 years of prison growth in a way that protects public safety while ameliorating pressing problems of health care, education and deteriorating state budgets." He preaches "reallocation of resources" and "probation and parole reform."

Jacobson recounts how mass incarceration came to be in America. He starts off by making a case for the link between high-profile crimes and criminal justice policy making. Unlike other such areas high-profile crimes tend to lead to more punitive policy shifts in criminal justice arena, but this relationship between high-profile crimes and criminal justice policy obscures the roles of other mitigating factors such as social inequality. Another critique is that alternatives to incarceration and rehabilitation programs are underfunded when most convicted of a crime are not in jails and prisons but they are on parole or on probation.
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