Incarceration Rate, Crime Drop Link Disputed

ByABC News
September 28, 2000, 4:10 PM

Sept. 28 -- Do crime reduction efforts like building more prisons really pay?

A new national study says that states with the biggest jumps in incarceration levels have not shown corresponding drops in crime, compared to states with smaller increases in their population behind bars.

It seems like the more we expand the prison system, the fewer benefits we get in terms of crime reduction, says Marc Mauer, one of the authors of the study released today by the Sentencing Project, a research group that advocates alternatives to incarceration.

The study says that between 1991 and 1998, the 20 states with the highest rise in prison population a 72 percent increase on average recorded a 13 percent reduction in crime. It says the 30 states with smaller rises in prison population averaging a 30 percent increase had their crime rates drop 17 percent.

While Texas, which led the nation in raising its incarceration rate 144 percent over the studys years, saw a significant drop in its crime rate of 35 percent, other large states showed similar drops with smaller rises in prison population. California, Massachusetts and New York all saw their crime rates decrease sharply during the years of the study.

The Sentencing Project study also says while prison population increased continuously nationwide between 1984 and 1991, crime rates fluctuated significantly.

The lack of correlation bolstered the claim that there is no strong relationship between imprisonment and crime, Mauer said.

Serious crime dropped 7 percent last year, continuing a trend that began in 1992.

An estimated 28.8 million violent and property crimes were committed last year, compared to 44 million in 1973 when the FBI first released its annual crime survey.

Mauer cites the improved economy, changes in the drug trade, new policing methods and demographic shifts as factors behind the drop.

Based on his own research, Richard Rosenfeld, a criminologist at the University of Missouri at St. Louis, says that perhaps 20 percent of the recent crime drop is due to increased incarceration.