Posts Tagged ‘Declining Violent Crime Rate’

Why still so many Americans in prison?

February 13, 2015


Why are there so many Americans in prison?  Why did the incarceration rate continue to rise even though the rate of violent crime went down?

I thought for a long time that the main reasons were that so many young men, especially black men, were imprisoned for nonviolent drug offenses, and that state laws required judges to impose long sentences even when the crimes were relatively trivial.

But John Pfaff, a Fordham law professor, has done an analysis indicating that, even if you fixed these two things, the U.S. prison population would only decline a little bit.

What then is the problem?  Pfaff said the increased prison population is due to zealous prosecutors.  In 1994, someone who was arrested faced a one change in three that a prosecutor would file felony charges.  By 2008, the odds of a felony charge were two in three.  Statistically, he said, this explains most of the increase.

It is not obvious what to do.  Prosecutors don’t a name for themselves, nor increase their chances of higher office, by exercising restraint.


Mass incarceration: A provocative new theory for why so many Americans are in prison by Leon Neyfakh for Slate.  (Hat tip to Mike the Mad Biologist)

The Imprisoner’s Dilemma by Oliver Roeder for FiveThirtyEight.  (Hat tip to  More statistics and analysis.  [Added 2/14/15]

The decline of ‘stop and frisk’ in NYC

September 23, 2014


I’ve written posts about the injustice (and also the uselessness) of singling out young black men for police harassment, often leading to arrests for trivial or arbitrary reasons.   So I’m pleased to read a report in the New York Times, illustrated by many fine graphics such as the one above, that this practice is on the decline.

Of course there can be reasonable grounds why a police officer might regard someone as a suspicious character.  But those grounds should consist of more than being young, black and scruffy-looking.

The decline in stop-and-frisk has NOT resulted in a rise in crime.   Violent crime continues to decline in New York City, as it does almost everywhere else in the United States.   The chart below is based on national figures.



‘Stop-and-Frisk’ Is All But Gone From New York by Mike Bostock and Ford Fessenden for the New York Times.

Crime isn’t up by Peter Moskos for Cop in the Hood.  (And a hat tip to Moskos for the New York Times link)

[Added 10/2/14]  Mayor Bill de Blasio campaigned on a promise to end stop-and-frisk in New York City.  He deserves credit for a promise kept.

Lead poisoning and violent crime

March 12, 2013

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Kevin Drum wrote a good article in Mother Jones about how you can do more to combat crime to reducing environmental lead than anything else.   Drawing in research by a HUD consultant named Rick Nevin and a Harvard graduate student named Jessica Wolpaw Reyes, he showed there is a strong between lead in the atmosphere and lead found in the blood of pre-school children, and the crime rates 23 years later.   This is true of different neighborhoods, different cities and different countries.

If there is some other cause, it would have to be some other factor common to all the different cities and nations.  The implication  is that all the crackdowns on crime, denials of due process and prison construction have had less impact on the crime rate than banning leaded gasoline.

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Despite the ban on leaded gasoline, there is still a lot of lead in the environment and, as Drum said, there would be a big benefit to cleaning it up—even though we might have to wait 23 years to see it.


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Click on America’s Real Criminal Element: Lead to read his article.  Then look at the charts below for evidence of the connection between crime and environmental lead.


In reality, murder and violent crime are declining

July 22, 2012

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Mass killings such as the one in Aurora, Colorado, are rare but horrible.  They take place against a background of a declining U.S. overall murder rate and a declining U.S. violent crime rate.   And the frequency of mass killings in the United States appears to have passed its peak.

Now I agree that statistics are no consolation if you or someone you love is a murder victim, and I know there are neighborhoods and communities in the United States where violence is a clear and ever-present danger.  But average middle-class Americans are less in danger of violent crime than they’ve ever been.

Click on The Declining Culture of Guns and Violence in the United States on the Monkey Cage web site for the statistics on the declining murder and violent crime rate.

Click on Horrifying But Rare for an article on rampage killings by Grant Duwe, director of research for the Minnesota Department of Corrections and author of Mass Murder in the United States: a History.