MediaWatch: June 1991

Vol. Five No. 6

Panning the Prisons

NBC's John Chancellor used his May 15 Nightly News commentary to ridicule the idea of punishing crime. Chancellor queried: "Has any of this worked? The police and the prosecutors certainly have been filling up the prisons but violent crime is increasing. The rate of murder, robbery, rape and aggravated assault went up a full 10 percent last year. The overall crime rate has dropped only slightly, but not the crimes that kill and maim. Maybe we ought to think this out again. Doubling the number of people in prison hasn't made us any safer; maybe it's time to think about what causes criminals and what puts criminals on the streets. Time to do something about that. More police, prosecutors and prisons sounds reassuring, but it clearly hasn't worked."

The only problem is it's not true. Columnist Warren Brookes reported a Justice Department study found "While the violent crime victimization rate has fallen only slightly, the long upward trend in victimization of the 1960s and early 1970s has been stopped and reversed." Brookes quoted Justice statistician Patrick Langan: "What is clear is that, since 1973, per-capita prison incarceration rates have risen to their highest levels ever, while crime rates measured by the National Crime Survey have gradually fallen to their lowest level ever."