October 19, 2005
Parsing the latest crime stats
Earlier this week, as detailed in this CNN report, the FBI released its major crime report, Crime in the United States 2004. The good news, as CNN explains, is that the "U.S. violent crime rate declined 2.2 percent last year, continuing a decade-long downward trend in serious offenses," and "all major categories of violent crime in the United States declined in 2004, bringing the rates of the most serious offenses, including murders, rapes, robberies and assaults, to a level 32 percent lower than those reported in 1995." The FBI's website makes readily accessible many interesting features of the report, including this crime map and this crime clock.
I am hoping that many social scientists will parse this latest data for new insights about the relationship between crime and sentencing. As I mentioned late last year in this post, 2004 ought to be a uniquely rich and interesting time period for examining the relationship between sentencing policies and crime rates:
- On the death penalty front, as noted here, 2004 has given us the first execution-free month in a decade and in the last few years we have seen nationwide declines the total number of death sentences and in the total number of executions. And yet it appears that murder rates continue to decline even though we apparently are making less frequent use of capital punishment.
- In the non-capital sentencing arena, Blakely's impact on sentencing law and policy should, under rational deterrence theory, impact crime rates in the second half of 2004: rational criminals doing cost-benefit analysis should have realized that Blakely made it harder for some jurisdictions with constitutionally problematic guideline systems to impose long sentences. (Of course, especially for the most serious crimes, I do not think there are really any "rational criminals doing cost-benefit analysis.")
Because I do not have any economics or social science training, I can do no more than spotlight these issues and hope that other folks much smarter than me start giving these matters serious attention. Perhaps this latest data will capture the attention of the Freakonomics folks, who have previously brought distinctive perspectives to bear on questions of crime and punishment (including important insight in this recent post on the Bill Bennett brouhaha and this recent article on crack violence).
October 19, 2005 at 10:47 AM | Permalink
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