NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton wants to put you in jail and make sure you stay there. Well, only if you’re a bad guy. Good guys—you’re OK. No worries. Bad guys—get your naughty butts to the slammer.
“There are people in our society, I’m sorry, they’re criminals. They’re bad people. You don’t want to put them in diversion programs; you don’t want to keep them out of jail. We need to work very hard to put them in jail and keep them there for a long time, because they’re a danger to the rest of us, and that’s the reality,” he said on “The John Gambling Show” on A.M. 970.
“We can’t lose sight of the fact that we have a hardcore criminal population in this city of several thousand people who have no values, who have no respect for human life,” he said.
“They have a role to play, the social service programs,” he continued. “We need a degree of balance, and I think unfortunately it’s been tipping too much on the side of... letting them out.”
The big strong man was apparently moved to give this firm condemnation of bad people and hardcore criminals after a shooting in Red Hook that left a pregnant woman in critical condition and her unborn baby dead. That shooting is a tragedy, and Bratton is right that the perpetrator should go to jail and stay there for a long time.
But New York City’s streets are not filled with drive-by baby killers, and neither are its jails. There are roughly 10,000 held at Rikers Island, which houses the large majority of the prisoners in New York City’s correction system, and many of them are ordinary people whose lives were ruined by drug arrests. According to a 2013 Gotham Gazette op-ed, 2,300 or so of those inmates might be drug offenders at any given time, and 1,200 might be people convicted of other misdemeanors. These, by and large, are the people that Bratton’s “diversion programs” are fighting to keep out of jail.
As has been shown over and over, long sentences for drug offenders are not only inhumane, they’re less effective than addiction treatment in preventing future crimes. After New York State began sending many more of its drug offenders to treatment, recidivism dropped. Thirty-six percent of those given treatment were arrested again, compared to 54% of those who went to jail or got probation, a Vera Institute of Justice study found.
But Bill Bratton doesn’t care about helping people to recovery, or about the truly horrific conditions facing anyone who’s sent to jail in NYC. Especially after his police force publicly turned on him and Mayor Bill de Blasio this year, he mostly just cares about looking like a tough guy.