Crime declines despite drop in imprisonment

Published Jan 11, 2017 at 4:00pm

As national imprisonment rates continue to fall, so, too, does crime, according to data collected by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Between 2010 and 2015, the national imprisonment rate declined 8.4 percent while property and violent crime rates fell a combined 14.6 percent. During this time period, 31 states saw reductions in both crime and imprisonment.

“The lack of a consistent relationship between the crime and imprisonment trends reinforces the findings of the National Research Council and others that the imprisonment rate in many states and the nation as a whole has long since passed the point of diminishing public safety returns,” Pew’s fact sheet on the data explains.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the United States closed out 2015 with the lowest prison population since 2005, with just over 1.5 million prisoners. Of those in state prisons, just over half, 53 percent, were serving sentences for violent offenses as of yearend 2014, the last year for which data is available. In federal prisons, nearly half are serving time for drug offenses.

Nationwide, crime remains at historic lows. As Pew notes, even after a significant uptick, the violent crime rate at the end of 2015 remained half of what it was in 1991. The national property crime rate has similarly declined more than 50 percent since 1991.

As tempting a solution as incarceration is, it may well be that incarceration is a costly venture that often fails to bring long-lasting benefits.