In fact, reported statistics indicate that those rates soared between the 1950s and 1960s as the civil-rights movement won its major legislative victories.
Efforts to blame society for crime and to focus on rehabilitation thus failed dismally.
Briefly, the social theory of crime postulates that crime results from unfortunate social circumstances that few are able to overcome.
This view also holds that the actual apparatus of the criminal-justice system — police, prisons, and courts — does little to diminish crime.
Punishing people for the harm they inflicted on society was seen as a barbaric practice, since society itself was responsible for crime.
Insofar as the justice system offered answers, it was to rehabilitate criminals through schooling, counseling, and labor.
Rather, the best way to reduce crime is to address the underlying social problems that are crime's "root causes." As members of the 1967 Presidential Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Criminal Justice put it: "Warring on poverty, inadequate housing and unemployment, is warring on crime." Strong adherents of the social theory of crime had little use for the four classic functions of the corrections system — deterrence, incapacitation, retribution, and rehabilitation — that scholars in the field had long emphasized.
Imprisonment was needed to incapacitate the truly dangerous, of course, but that did not describe most criminals.
Just as conservatives once led the way toward the tougher sentencing rules and other policies that increased imprisonment rates, they should lead the way in sensibly shrinking the prison population.
Reform of America's correctional system does not require abandoning a single conservative principle or returning to disproven and, frankly, disastrous policies that blamed society as a whole for crime and resulted in too few people held accountable for their misdeeds.
Today, the United States has roughly 5% of the world's population and nearly a quarter of its inmates.