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Crime Rates Fall in the United States: An Opportunity to Reevaluate the Criminal Justice System

| Feb 16, 2015 | Criminal Law |

The rate of violent crime is dropping. New York City offers great insight into this reality. In 2014, 328 homicides were reported compared to a staggering 2,245 in 1990. According to the FBI, in 2010, the U.S. had experienced a 40-year low in violent crime. Experts offer numerous reasons for why crime is on the decline, including: more people are in prison than in the past, potential victims are protecting themselves better at home, and policing has become more disciplined by focusing on reducing crime as opposed to maximizing arrest numbers.

The strength and condition of the economy has often been associated as a key element that drives crime, focusing on the level of poverty and unemployment; however, upon close inspection these justifications may not be as accurate as was once believed. An anomaly in crime rates occurred during the Great Recession of 2008. As the national unemployment figure rose from five percent to approximately ten percent, crime rates fell. The FBI reported an eight percent drop in the nationwide robbery rate, as well as a reduction in auto-theft rates when compared to the year before.

The Complexity of Crime Rates

Some factors that affect crime rates are subtle. Take for example the amount of lead in children’s’ blood. Doctors contend that elevated levels of lead tend to make humans more likely to be violent and aggressive. Tests revealed that Americans’ blood-lead levels fell approximately four-fifths between 1975 and 1991. In 1974, the Environmental Protection Agency called for the oil industry to stop putting lead in gasoline, and lead paint was also banned for use in new homes. Research by the economist Jessica Wolpaw Reyes claimed that the fall in leaded fuel produced more than half of the decline in violent crime during the 1990’s in the United States.

Despite the drop in crime, more people are under some form of correctional system control than ever before. From the 1970s to 2009, due in part to changes in sentencing guidelines, the number of Americans in state or federal prison has quadrupled, totaling 1.5 million on any given day. These astounding figures have prompted intense study, citing both the economic and social consequences of sending so many people to prison. Locking up people who have not exhibited dangerous behavior, but rather they could not pay off a fine or were convicted of a drug crime calls into question the effectiveness of the system as it currently stands. Furthermore, over the last 40 years, U.S. taxpayers have spent trillions of dollars enforcing drug laws despite the fact that drug use has not declined. The system has disproportionately affected people of color and the poor, eroding chances at achieving a stable and prosperous life. Prison has not been proven as a useful rehabilitation for behavior, as two-thirds of prisoners will end up re-offending.

Consensus is growing among lawmakers and those in the criminal justice system with respect to mitigating the deeply-entrenched social forces that lead to crime. Solutions include working with high-risk children to enhance their quality of life, while simultaneously expanding mental health programs. In addition, creating systems that foster a positive community, such as drug treatment and affordable housing, cost less and have been proven to have a stronger record of success when compared to incarceration.

The advent of falling crime rates has ushered in a new era of thinking about the way we understand crime and the methods that are used to punish those within the criminal justice system. If you are currently facing criminal charges — whether they are a non-violent drug charge, or something more serious such as violent crime charges — contact Criminal Defense Attorney George F. Hildebrandt to discuss your case in confidence.

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