West Virginia, the Only State to See a Rise in Crime over 18 Years, also has Greatest Increase in Imprisonment Rate
Twenty years ago, President Bill Clinton signed the 1994 Violent Crime Control Act, which paid for more police and prosecutors, but at the same time imposed tougher sentences and incentivized the construction of more prisons.
And crime has fallen in every state but one: West Virginia. There, despite a 195% increase in the imprisonment rate, the crime rate climbed by 6% between 1994 and 2012, according to research from Pew.
The Pew report suggests several reasons for the general drop in the crime rate nationwide, and increased incarceration is only one of them. Other possibilities include a drop in the use of crack cocaine, the fact that Americans carry less cash than they used to because of the prevalence of ATM cards, an improving economy, the aging of the population and even a decrease in exposure to lead, such as in lead paint and gasoline.
In fact, the statistics would show that an increase in imprisonment wasn’t predictive at all of a state’s relative decline in crime rate. New York’s imprisonment rate dropped 24% and its crime rate fell 54%. At the other end of the scale, Idaho increased its incarceration rate by 103% and its crime rate fell almost as much as New York’s, 46%.
Jeremy Travis was at the 1994 bill signing and joined the Clinton Justice Department. But now he sees some of the bill’s provisions as a mistake. “We now know with the fullness of time that we made some terrible mistakes,” Travis, now president of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, told Carrie Johnson of NPR. “And those mistakes were to ramp up the use of prison. And that big mistake is the one that we now, 20 years later, come to grips with. We have to look in the mirror and say, ‘Look what we have done.’”
To Learn More:
Prison and Crime: A Complex Link (Pew Charitable Trusts)
Factors Contributing to the Crime Decline (Pew Charitable Trusts)
20 Years Later, Parts Of Major Crime Bill Viewed As Terrible Mistake (by Carrie Johnson, NPR)
The Growth in Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences (by Jeremy Travis, Bruce Western and Steve Redburn, National Research Council of the National Academies) (pdf)
As Marijuana Legalization Spreads in Some Parts of U.S., Some States Use Federal Grants to Crack Down Harder (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov)
Sentencing Reform Reduces Prison Population without Increasing Crime (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
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