Thirty-two states reduced both their imprisonment and crime rates over the past five years, according to a Pew analysis of crime data released by the FBI on Monday, November 10. With the national imprisonment rate down 6 percent from its peak in 2008 and the crime rate falling 16 percent over the same period, these trends provide further evidence that states can lower imprisonment and reduce crime at the same time.
“States are continuing to defy the common assumption that crime would keep shrinking only if prisons kept expanding,” said Adam Gelb, director of Pew’s public safety performance project. “The numbers show that we can have less crime and less incarceration, and that fact is really starting to sink in with voters and elected officials from across the political spectrum.”
Pew’s analysis calculated five-year changes in each state’s imprisonment and crime rates, as measured by the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the FBI, respectively. According to the study, states that reduced their imprisonment rates between 2008 and 2013 saw a greater average decline in their crime rates (13 percent) than states that increased imprisonment during those years (11 percent average decline in crime).
The analysis also found that the 10 states with the largest decreases in imprisonment rates (California, Hawaii, Rhode Island, Colorado, Connecticut, New Jersey, Alaska, South Carolina, Maryland, and New York) reduced their crime rates by an average of 13 percent. In comparison, the 10 states with the largest increases in imprisonment reduced crime by an average of 8 percent.
Nationally, the crime rate (both violent and nonviolent offenses) fell by 16 percent over the five years studied while the imprisonment rate declined 6 percent, from 506 sentenced prisoners per 100,000 U.S. residents in 2008 to 478 per 100,000 in 2013. Only three states saw increases in their crime rates during that period.
In the vast majority of states that cut their crime rates, imprisonment rates varied considerably, underscoring the complex relationship between incarceration and crime. Texas, for example, reduced its imprisonment rate by 10 percent while reducing its crime rate by 18 percent. Nebraska, in contrast, increased its imprisonment rate by 6 percent while reducing its crime rate by 10 percent.
1 E. Ann Carson, Bureau of Justice Statistics, “Prisoners in 2013,” Table 5, 6, http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/p13.pdf.