The Brennan Center for Justice
This is a common topic for researchers and a wide range of explanations have been offered: increased incarceration; expanded police forces; an ageing population; employment rates – even legalised abortion. The Brennan researchers sensibly conclude that there is no one cause for such a widespread, dramatic change.
This report adds three new components to the debate about why crime has fallen so dramatically:
- A much more rigorous analysis of the effect of incarceration on crime reduction.
- Analysis of 14 major theories of crime reduction, including the effect of theories on each other.
- The first national empirical analysis of the police management technique known as CompStat
The report makes three central findings which are discussed in turn below.
Sending more people to prison doesn’t reduce crime
As most people know, the United States imprisons a much higher proportion of its population than any other democracy – the US has 5% of the world’s population but 25% of its prisoners.
The Brennan report found that incarceration has been declining as an effective crime control tactic since before 1980. Since 2000, the effect on the crime rate of imprisoning more people has been essentially zero. Incarceration has accounted for less than 1% of the decline in property crime this century and has had little effect on the drop in violent crime over the past 24 years. In fact large states including California, New York and Texas have all reduced their prison populations while crime has continued to fall.
CompStat does help reduce crime
The report concludes that CompStat (the data driven policing system first introduced in New York in 1994 which analysed crime patterns and directed police resources to hot spots before crimes were committed) has played an important role in bringing down crime in cities. The Brennan Centre analysed the 50 largest cities in the US and found that CompStat-style programmes were responsible for a 5 to 15% decrease in crime (an increase in the number of police officers also played an important role).
A] number of other social, economic and environmental factors are also identified as playing a role in the crime drop. New analysis undertaken by the report’s authors idntified the ageing population, changes in income and decreased alcohol consumption as factors reducing crime.A review of past research indicated that consumer confidence and inflation also seem to have contributed to crime reduction.
If we apply the findings of the Brennan report to the current state of criminal justice in this country, we come to two depressing conclusions.
- Imprisoning more people has no effect on reducing crime; yet we lock up more people for longer periods of time.
- Increasing the number of police does reduce crime, yet we are making the largest cuts in the numbers of police in modern history.
I’d be interested to hear your views on the most effective ways to reduce crime, please use the comments section below.