Mass incarceration no factor in crime drop

JAZELLE HUNT | 6/22/2015, 10:47 a.m.
The crime rate has been steadily decreasing for 25 years, but mass incarceration has had very little, if any, impact ...
Orleans Parish Prison in New Orleans. Creative Commons

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – The crime rate has been steadily decreasing for 25 years, but mass incarceration has had very little, if any, impact on the decline, according to a report from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.

The 134-page study, titled “What Caused the Crime Decline?,” found that when other variables are controlled for, increasing incarceration had a minimal effect on reducing property crime in the 1990s and no effect on violent crime.

The report continued, “In the 2000s, increased incarceration had no effect on violent crime and accounted for less than one-hundredth of the decade’s property crime drop.”

Some states with large Black populations, such as Michigan, Texas, New York and California, even reduced their prison populations during the crime decline with no adverse effects. Texas, for example, has decreased its imprisonment rate by 15 to 25 percent since 2000; at the same, both property crime and violent crime have dropped about 20 to 30 percent.

The NYU report examines the significance of several most-likely factors in the crime decline, such as increased police numbers, gun laws, unemployment, drug use and more. Growth in income, decreased alcohol use and the aging population were the three most important factors in the crime decline that the researchers could verify. Together, they were responsible for up to 25 percent of the drop in both violent and property crime.

Inflation and consumer confidence had some effect on property crime over the last 25 years to a lesser (and harder to prove) degree. In the 90s, but not the 2000s, decreased crack use, legalized abortion and decreased lead in gasoline also possibly had some effect on both property and violent crime, according to the research.

Police departments were the wildcard.

On one hand, a rise in officer recruitment was responsible for up to 10 percent of the overall crime decline in the ‘90s, though that effect has worn off over the last decade. Law enforcement’s CompStat approach, which uses data and technology to analyze local crime and direct attention and resources accordingly to reduce it, also appeared to have a positive effect on the nation’s 50 most populated cities; overall, it has been responsible for a 5 to 15 percent drop in crime where implemented.

But in city-by-city analysis of CompStat, its impact varies. In Oakland, California, for example, crime had increased 36 percent during the year before CompStat was introduced. During the year after, crime was down 4 percent. In Philadelphia, crime had increased 14 percent in the previous year, and another 8 percent the year after CompStat. In a more current example, New York’s crime rate fell during the NYPD slowdown in the wake of protests against the choking death of Eric Garner. But Baltimore is experiencing its deadliest month in 15 years since the Baltimore Police Department’s slowdown following the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody.

Further, the police are often a gateway to the criminal justice system and the first link in the chain of mass incarceration.