FBI Crime Report: Violent Crime Drops Most in Areas With Less Incarceration

The FBI crime report released today (referenced here with respect to marijuana) also shows a drop in violent crime. And, contrary to the notion often expressed by crime warriors that there is less crime because more offenders are locked up, this Justice Policy Institute factsheet (pdf) shows the opposite: Areas with lower incarceration rates experienced greater crime reductions.

The number of violent offenses reported to law enforcement fell 1.4 percent in 2007. Both violent and property crimes fell in three of the four regions of the country. Only the southern region experienced an increase in these two categories.


While jails and prison populations continue to grow, the growth rate slowed in 2007, coinciding with the drop in crime. From 2005-2006, violent crime increased slightly (1.9 percent) while prison and jail populations increased 2 and 2.5 percent, respectively.

As the growth rates of prisons and jails fell, so did the violent crime rate (down 1.4 percent), possibly indicating that lowering the number of people imprisoned can be an effective way to
increase public safety.

The policies of America, prison nation, don't work. It's time to get smarter, not tougher, on crime.

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  • Display: Sort:
    I'm having a hard time finding an intuitive cause (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by steviez314 on Mon Sep 15, 2008 at 06:20:55 PM EST
    and effect here.

    Coulld it be the reverse..that lower crime rates are just causing fewer incarcerations?

    Could the incarceration rate be lower because jails are overcrowded and there is more thorough decision making process going on as to which offenders should be jailed and which should not?  Then, if the less dangerous ones are offered a prison alternative, future crime rates might decline.

    sure they do. (none / 0) (#2)
    by cpinva on Mon Sep 15, 2008 at 06:44:37 PM EST
    The policies of America, prison nation, don't work.

    there is an entire set of industries supported by this, from construction through guards. prisons are major employers, in the areas they're located in, and the ripple effect on the local economies is tremendous.

    in short, lots of people are making lots of money from jailing lots of people.

    they don't work (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by Jeralyn on Mon Sep 15, 2008 at 07:14:06 PM EST
    in terms of reducing crime or making us safer. America cannot jail itself out of its crime problem. Smarter and different strategies are needed.

    In college 30 years ago, I did a minor thesis (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by steviez314 on Mon Sep 15, 2008 at 07:29:12 PM EST
    looking at the effects of prevention and punishment on crime rates, using econometric models of FBI data.

    I only looked at non-violent crimes, like burglary and larceny since they were not crimes of passion.

    I found that the length of possible prison sentence had very little effect on future crime rates.  However, I DID find that the risk of getting caught had a significant effect on reducing crime.

    I tried to make the case that prison money should instead be spent on police, and that at least for many property related crimes, a restitution and fine model would work better.


    I always thought (none / 0) (#5)
    by Steve M on Mon Sep 15, 2008 at 09:06:32 PM EST
    that it was the likelihood of punishment that mattered as far as deterrence goes, not the severity of punishment, but I'm not sure I really had anything to base that on, unlike yourself.

    It just seems like common sense to me that you can make the punishment as harsh as you want, but most criminals are still going to assume that they simply won't be caught.


    ok, from now on, (none / 0) (#6)
    by cpinva on Tue Sep 16, 2008 at 02:50:11 AM EST
    i need to come up with some kind of unique identifier, a "facetiousness" alert, if you will. :)

    by the way, crime absolutely does pay, contrary to dick tracy's oft state assertion. not for your garden variety schmoe of course, but certainly for everyone else involved.

    America cannot jail itself out of its crime problem.

    actually, we could do exactly that.assuming we're willing to devote the scarce, allocable resources necessary to accomplish it, along with the truly draconian sentencing policies (life for simple possession, let's say), required to permanently remove people from the streets.

    so yeah, we could that. is it a great idea? mmmmmmmmmmm, probably not, since it would basically require an entire set of guantanamo's, and people might start getting upset, when members of middle-class families are sent to them.