From the NYTimes:

“Many Americans have come to believe, wrongly, that keeping an outsized chunk of the population locked up is essential for sustaining a historic crime drop since the 1990’s. In fact, the relationship between imprisonment and crime control is murky. Some portion of the decline is attributable to tough sentencing and release policies. But crime is also affected by things like economic trends and employment and drug-abuse rates.”

In a separate but related article, economist Lew Rockwell seems to be arguing that in fact imputation (people become what they are called) occurs in prison (the kind we don’t want) and that is why people so often go back to jail:

“And the communities in which they exist in these prisons consist of other unvalued people, and they become socialized into this mentality that is utterly contrary to every notion of civilization. Then there is the relentless threat and reality of violence, the unspeakable noise, the pervasiveness of every moral perversity. In short, prisons are Hell. It can be no wonder that they rehabilitate no one. As George Barnard Shaw said, “imprisonment is as irrevocable as death.”

At its root, this debate is all about how people change. It is another fascinating example of what we’ve always thought to be true and effective (i.e. punish the criminal, make them an example and they won’t do it again and their friends won’t be tempted to do it either) not working and in fact the opposite being true. The truth is, when people have jobs they tend not to commit as much crime. And while it may be a stretch to call this an instance of grace working out what the law cannot accomplish, it is definitely grace and not the law (or stronger law) that works in these situations, and I’m not the first to say it (I’m probably the last).