Crime de­clines de­spite drop in im­pris­on­ment

Maryland Independent - - Community Forum -

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. This in­cludes Mary­land, which saw the im­pris­on­ment rate drop 11.9 per­cent at the same time as the crime rate dropped 22 per­cent.

Cal­i­for­nia ex­pe­ri­enced a sharp 25.2 per­cent re­duc­tion in im­pris­on­ment rates along with a 1.1 per­cent re­duc­tion in prop­erty and vi­o­lent crime rates.

“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 dimin- ish­ing 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 ser ving 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.

That Cal­i­for­nia’s ex­pe­ri­ence is in line with that of the rest of the countr y is sig­nif­i­cant given the range of re­forms the state has pur­sued in re­cent years.

In 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court found the state prison sys­tem over­crowded and un­able to pro­vide for ad­e­quate med­i­cal and men­tal health ser­vices, and or­dered Cal­i­for­nia to re­duce its prison pop­u­la­tion. State law­mak­ers passed AB109, known as “re­align­ment,” to com­ply with this re­quest, shift­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for non- se­ri­ous of­fend­ers to county jails.

Though crime slightly in­creased in 2012, there’s no ev­i­dence AB109 was par­tic­u­larly re­spon­si­ble for it, and crime then pro­ceeded to fall to all-time lows through­out the state in 2013 and 2014.

In 2012, vot­ers ap­proved Propo­si­tion 36, which re­formed “three strikes” laws, re­quir­ing a life sen­tence for a “third strike” be reser ved for se­ri­ous crimes. In 2014, vot­ers ap­proved Propo­si­tion 47. Prop. 47 re­duced a hand­ful of of­fenses from felonies to mis­de­meanors, con­tribut­ing to pop­u­la­tion de­clines in not only state prison but also county jails.

In 2015, crime in­creased statewide, both in raw num­bers and over­all rate. Still, both re­main a far cry from what they were in ev­ery pre­ced­ing decade. Ac­cord­ing to data from the Cal­i­for­nia Depart­ment of Jus­tice, the vi­o­lent crime rate in 2015 stood at 426 per 100,000 peo­ple; the num­ber was 439.3 in 2010 and 526.9 in 2005.

Sim­i­lar pat­terns hold for prop­erty of­fenses in Cal­i­for­nia, which is no­table con­sid­er­ing non­vi­o­lent of­fenses are what have been most im­pacted by re­forms. In 2015, the prop­erty crime rate stood at 2,620.4 per 100,000; it was 2,630.1 in 2010 and 3,321 in 2005.

As tempt­ing a so­lu­tion as in­car­cer­a­tion is, we have to keep in mind that in­car­cer­a­tion is a costly ven­ture that gen­er­ally fails to bring long-last­ing ben­e­fits.

De­spite a bud­get greater than $10 bil­lion, the state’s cor­rec­tion sys­tem has gen­er­ally failed to “cor­rect.”

We’ve ex­per­i­mented enough with mass in­car­cer­a­tion for more than enough time to learn that longer-term in­vest­ments in crime pre­ven­tion and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion are needed.

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