Incarceration Rates Not Correlated to Crime

Emily Badger and Christopher Ingraham: “Incarceration rates have risen steeply in the United States over the last 20 years, a period of time that also covers a precipitous decline in crime. These two facts … don’t necessarily mean that the one trend has driven the other.”

A recent study by the Pew Charitable Trusts analyzing “state-level data also reinforce the idea that increases in the local prison population don’t predict decreases in crime very well.”

“The scatter plot below, which does not include local jail populations, shows the relationship between the change in incarceration rate between 1994 and 2012 in each state, compared to the change in its crime rate over the same period of time. Nationwide, the crime rate declined by 40 percent during this time, as the imprisonment rate rose by 24 percent. Notably, though, some of the states with the steepest declines in crime — New York, New Jersey, California, Maryland — actually decreased their imprisonment rates.”

“If anything, this picture suggests a narrative that runs counter to the common view that more prisoners lead to less crime: To the extent that there is any trend here, it’s actually that states incarcerating more people have seen smaller decreases in crime.”

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