Monday, September 14, 2020

Bureau of Justice Statistics reports encouraging crime declines in release of results of 2019 National Crime Victimization Survey

As reported in this press release and as fully detailed in this 53-page report, the Bureau of Justice Statistics has just published the results from its annual survey of households about their experiences with crime. Notably, most other reports about crime rates are based on crimes reported to police, but this annual survey in different: "TheNCVS is the nation's largest crime survey and collects data on nonfatal crimes both reported and not reported to police." Here are some of the statistical highlights via the press release:

After rising from 1.1 million in 2015 to 1.4 million in 2018, the number of persons who were victims of violent crime excluding simple assault dropped to 1.2 million in 2019, the Bureau of Justice Statistics announced today. Statistics on crimes that have occurred in 2020, during the coronavirus pandemic, are being collected now and will be reported next year....

The rate of violent crime excluding simple assault declined 15% from 2018 to 2019, from 8.6 to 7.3 victimizations per 1,000 persons age 12 or older.  Among females, the rate of violent victimization excluding simple assault fell 27% from 2018 to 2019, from 9.6 to 7.0 victimizations per 1,000 females age 12 or older.  Violent crimes other than simple assault are those that are generally prosecuted as a felony.

From 2018 to 2019, the portion of U.S. residents age 12 or older who were victims of one or more violent crimes excluding simple assault fell from 0.50% to 0.44%, a 12% decrease.  There were 880,000 fewer victims of serious violent or property crimes (generally felonies) in 2019 than in 2018, a 19% drop. From 2018 to 2019, 29% fewer black persons and 22% fewer white persons were victims of serious crimes.  Victims of serious crimes are those who experienced a serious violent crime or whose household experienced a completed burglary or completed motor-vehicle theft.

This year, BJS provides new classifications of urban, suburban and rural areas, with the goal of presenting a more accurate picture of where criminal victimizations occur. Based on the NCVS’s new classifications, the rate of violent victimization in urban areas declined from 26.5 victimizations per 1,000 persons age 12 or older in 2018 to 21.1 per 1,000 in 2019, a 20% decrease from 2018 to 2019.

Nationally, rape or sexual assault victimizations declined from 2.7 per 1,000 persons age 12 or older in 2018 to 1.7 per 1,000 in 2019. Across all crime types, victimizations reflect the total number of times people or households were victimized by crime. Based on the 2019 survey, less than half (41%) of violent victimizations were reported to police. The percentage of violent victimizations reported to police was lower for white victims (37%) than for black (49%) or Hispanic victims (49%).

In 2019, there were 5.4 million total violent incidents involving victims age 12 or older. The portion of violent incidents involving black offenders (25%) was 2.3 times the portion involving black victims (11%), while the portion involving white offenders (50%) was 0.8 times the portion involving white victims (62%) and the portion involving Asian offenders (1.0%) was 0.4 times the portion involving Asian victims (2.3%).

The 2019 survey found that an estimated 12.8 million U.S. households experienced one or more property victimizations, which include burglaries, residential trespassing, motor-vehicle thefts and other thefts. The rate of property crime declined 6% from 2018 (108.2 victimizations per 1,000 households) to 2019 (101.4 per 1,000).

This decline in property crime was partly due to a 22% decrease in burglary from 2018 to 2019 (from 15.0 to 11.7 burglary victimizations per 1,000 households). Moreover, the rate of burglary victimization declined to the lowest level since the NCVS was redesigned in 1993.

In addition to being eager to celebrate this report of important crime declines in 2019, I am tempted to highlight that the FIRST STEP Act became law at the very tail end of 2018 and was in effect for all of 2019.  I do not want to seriously claim, based only on this data, that there is likely a cause-and-effect relationship between modest federal sentencing and prison reforms in December 2018 and national crime declines in 2019.  But I still think it quite notable given that some prominent critics of criminal justice reform loudly called part of the Act a "foolish ... jailbreak that would endanger communities" or regularly asserted that this "leniency legislation inevitably would lead to more crime."  As long-time students of crime and punishment know well, it is almost impossible to make simple and accurate predictions about what kinds of sentencing legislation will or will not end up having an impact (positive or negative) on crime.

September 14, 2020 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, National and State Crime Data, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

New research details uptick in domestic violence calls to police in early COVID period

I noted a few weeks ago that the Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ) — which is a favorite new organization in part because they asked me to take a close look at the 1994 Crime Bill's sentencing provisions and because they recently produced a great report urging criminal justice reforms — has launched an important and impressive new commission to assess the impacts of COVID-19 on the criminal justice system (basic details here).  Today via that CCJ commission comes new research on domestic violence calls for service.  This six-page research brief, authored by Profs Emily Leslie and Riley Wilson,  is titled "Sheltering in Place and Domestic Violence: Evidence from Calls for Service during COVID-19," and here is its overview:

The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has pushed people to spend more time at home, amidst increased uncertainty and soaring unemployment rates.  The best available evidence tells us that these conditions have the potential to increase domestic violence (Lindo et al., 2018; Card and Dahl, 2011).  News outlets around the world reported increased reports of domestic violence as the pandemic spread globally during Spring 2020.

We use data on calls for service to the police from 14 large American cities to compare domestic violence calls before and after the pandemic began in the United States, relative to trends during the same period in 2019.  The pandemic led to a 7.5% increase in calls for service during March, April, and May.  The biggest increase came during the first five weeks after widespread social distancing began, when domestic violence calls were up 9.7%.  State-mandated stay-at-home orders and school closures came later, suggesting the increase was not only a response to shelter-in-place policies.  The increase came across a broad range of demographic and socioeconomic groups, and includes households without a recent history of domestic violence calls.

August 18, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 17, 2020

"COVID and Crime: An Early Empirical Look"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper authored by David Abrams and just posted to SSRN. Here is its abstract:

We collect data from over 25 large cities in the U.S. and document the short-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on crime.  There is a widespread immediate drop in both criminal incidents and arrests most heavily pronounced among drug crimes, theft, residential burglaries, and most violent crimes.  The decline appears to precede most stay-at-home orders, and arrests follow a similar pattern as reports.  We find no decline in homicides and shootings, and an increase in non-residential burglary and car theft in most cities, suggesting that criminal activity was displaced to locations with fewer people.  Pittsburgh, New York City, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Washington DC and Chicago each saw overall crime drops of over 35%.  There was also a drop in police stops and a rise in Black detainee share in Philadelphia, which may reflect the racial composition of essential workers. Evidence on police-initiated reports and geographic variation in crime change suggests that most of the observed changes are not due to reporting changes.

August 17, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

New poll highlights how quickly many have rising concerns about rising crime

Watching live television these days in central Ohio means seeing lots of campaign ads, and those now running most often are the Trump campaign's ads claiming crime will surge if Joe Biden were elected.  Seeing all these ads (and noticing that we no longer hear Prez Trump going after Biden for his support of the tough 1994 Crime Bill), I keep thinking the Trump campaign must have some internal polls indicating that crime and fear messages will play well with many voters across the political spectrum. 

Now, via this Hill piece headlined "Poll: Majority say they are concerned about rising crime in US cities," I see there is a public poll highlighting how many are really concerned about rising crime.  Here are excerpts:

A majority of Americans say they are concerned about rising crime in U.S. cities, according to a new Harvard CAPS/Harris poll released exclusively to The Hill on Monday. Seventy-seven percent of respondents say they are concerned that crime is rising in the nation’s cities, while 46 percent of respondents said they were concerned about rising crime in their own communities.

"At the same time they see an increase of violence and crime and are concerned that prosecutors are not prosecuting the crimes — they blame the protests and the high unemployment when asked what is responsible for the spike in violence," said Harvard CAPS/Harris polling director Mark Penn. "They also single out social media for being used to coordinate violence and in their view not doing much to curb it."

A New York Times analysis published earlier this month showed that overall crime down is done 5.3 percent in 25 large U.S. cities in relation to last year.  Violent crime was down 2 percent, according to the findings. However, murder in the same 25 cities is up 16.1 percent compared to 2019, according to the Times.  New York's homicide rate for the first half of 2020 is up 23 percent over 2019, according to the city's police department.

New York police reported 205 citywide shooting incidents in June 2020, compared to 89 in June 2019, marking a 130.3 percent increase.  Burglary in the city also increased, with 1,783 incidents reported in June 2020 compared to 817 in June 2019. In Chicago, homicides rose 39 percent between the last week of June and the first week of July of this year, according to the city's police department.

The development come as calls to defund police departments amid nationwide protests over racial injustice grow louder. The Trump administration, in turn, has touted a staunch "law and order" message.  President Trump announced last week that he would send federal law enforcement officers into Chicago and Albuquerque, N.M., as part of his crackdown on what he has called an unchecked surge of violence in Democratic-run cities....

The Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll online survey of 1,932 registered voters was conducted on July 21-23.  It is a collaboration of the Center for American Political Studies at Harvard University and The Harris Poll.  The Hill will be working with Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll throughout 2020. Full poll results will be posted online later this week.

Notably, this prepared testimony of Attorney General William Barr for today's scheduled House Judiciary Committee hearing also makes such of rising crime and the need for "law and order."  This polling confirms my suspicion that we will be hearing a lot more on these topics in the next three months as a big election approaches. 

July 28, 2020 in National and State Crime Data, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 27, 2020

"Decarceration and Crime During COVID-19"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new online report from the ACLU.  Here is how the short report gets started:

COVID-19 presents an enormous risk to those in carceral facilities and their surrounding communities. Since the pandemic began, more than 50,000 people in prison have tested positive for the coronavirus, and over 600 have died. These infections and deaths were largely preventable, as we demonstrated in April by working with academic partners to build an epidemiological model that illustrated the deadly threat of COVID-19 in jails. In response to this crisis — and in many localities, only after substantial public pressure and threats of litigation — some governors, sheriffs, and judges made the decision to shift detention policies to prioritize protecting the lives of those who live and work in jails and prisons. Some states and localities reduced low-level arrests, or set bail to $0 for certain charges. Others released a small subset of incarcerated people who were nearing the end of their term or were most vulnerable to the disease — sometimes under court order.

While no jail system has gone far enough, county jails and state prison systems across the U.S. have taken differing levels of action, allowing for a unique opportunity to explore the relationship between decarceration and crime in the community. To explore this, the ACLU’s Analytics team looked for data on jail population and crime in locations with the largest jail and overall populations. We were able to find reported data on both from 29 localities. (Crime data more recent than May was not readily available during analysis.)

Nearly every county jail that we examined reduced their population, if only slightly, between the end of February and the end of April. Over this time period, we found that the reduction in jail population was functionally unrelated to crime trends in the following months. In fact, in nearly every city explored, fewer crimes occurred between March and May in 2020 compared to the same time period in 2019, regardless of the magnitude of the difference in jail population.

We found no evidence of any spikes in crime in any of the 29 locations, even when comparing monthly trends over the past two years.  The release of incarcerated people from jails has saved lives both in jails and in the community, all while monthly crime trends were within or below average ranges in every city. 

July 27, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, National and State Crime Data, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 20, 2020

"Crime Has Declined Overall During The Pandemic, But Shootings And Killings Are Up"

The title of this post is the headline of this new NPR piece, and here are excerpts:

Across the country, we've seen massive change brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, including a dramatic drop in the overall crime rate. David Abrams, a University of Pennsylvania law and economics professor, has been keeping an eye on numbers across the country. The website he created details what's been happening with crime in more than 25 major cities during the COVID-19 crisis. "People have reacted to the pandemic in all sorts of ways in decreasing economic activity," Abrams says. "They stopped going to work, they stopped driving their car. They stopped walking around the city, and crime also stopped."

Baltimore, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Chicago all have witnessed a drop of more than 30%. Violent crimes such as aggravated assaults and robberies also fell substantially. That wasn't true of homicides and shootings though. In some cities, there's a troubling rise compared with last year.

Shauntavius Sims, 35, lives in a Chicago neighborhood that has been plagued by gun violence. That reality makes the news of an overall drop in the crime rate irrelevant. "Seem like it got worser to me. Just yesterday, I saw it behind my house," Sims says, as the sounds of firecrackers — not guns — filled the air. "Some boys just came and shot while me and my baby was in the back. Like every day, it's constantly on the news. Every day, it's something."

There has been a surge of homicides over recent violent weekends, and several children have been shooting victims. It's that type of tragic crime news in Chicago and other cities such as Houston, Cincinnati and Fresno, Calif., that's gotten the most attention.

Even though the numbers are tragic, Abrams says it's difficult to determine any trend in murder or other crimes over a short time span. He says for a more accurate statistical count it takes comparing what takes place from year to year over a longer period of time. "When you look at the homicide data and compare it to levels over the past five years," he says, "we didn't see any significant impact because of the pandemic."

Even so, University of Chicago professor Jens Ludwig, the head of the university's Crime Lab, says it's a big puzzle why shootings and murders haven't dropped while other crimes have. "Murders make up far less than 1% of the crimes in these cities," Ludwig says, "but murder is so damaging to families and communities, and I don't think we have a great understanding of why they haven't declined."...

There's more positive news when it comes to drug crimes. They plummeted by more than 60% compared with previous years, according to Abrams' website. Arizona State University criminologist Ojmarrh Mitchell says there are several reasons why. "First, drug crimes are measured by arrests, not citizen reports to police," Mitchell says. "During a pandemic, police aren't necessarily employing the pro-active police tactics and practices that typically result in discovering drugs."

The pandemic seems to be driving a lot of the reduction in crime, including home burglaries. But in commercial spaces, there's been a bump in burglaries, up by almost 30% on average across the cities examined.

Abrams says there was also a dramatic jump in car theft in Philadelphia, with increases as well in Denver, Los Angeles and Austin, Texas. Baltimore was the only city that saw a substantial decline. "So if people are leaving cars on the street, they have no need to use them," he says. "They aren't checking on them as frequently. There's also just less foot traffic around and fewer people to observe. I think that makes for more attractive targets for would-be thieves."

Prior related posts:

July 20, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Highlighting the link between crime and criminal justice reform efforts

Charles Lane has this new Washington Post commentary that serves as a reminder of the reality that criminal justice reformers always need to keep an eye on crime trends.  The headline captures the pieces themes: "The declining violent crime rate has been a win for criminal justice reform. A reversal would be a loss."  Here are excerpts:

Since 1994, Americans have grown less hawkish on law enforcement: Support for “tough” measures — such as the death penalty or mandatory minimums — has fallen to levels not seen in almost 50 years, according to an innovative index of “punitive sentiment” first published in 2013 by political scientist Mark D. Ramirez of Arizona State University.

For several years, in fact, U.S. public opinion has been receptive to new approaches based less on policing and incarceration, and more on social services and rehabilitation.  In 2016, only 45 percent of Americans considered crime policy “not tough enough,” according to Gallup.  Public reaction to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody in May simply accelerated the preexisting trend.

And why is the public less punitive? This brings us to the second lesson of recent history: Punitive sentiment tends to move in tandem with the actual level of crime.  Public support for harsh measures rose with violent crime rates in the 1970s and 1980s, then came down as the violent crime rate declined over the past quarter-century.

Ramirez identifies political leadership as a key variable: Punitive sentiment grew in the ’70s and ’80s as part of a broader racial backlash, including demonization of alleged black offenders, that white conservative politicians deliberately stoked.

Also, the public generally tends to believe the worst about crime, usually telling pollsters that it is growing even when official data show the opposite....

We may be experiencing a real-world test of these dynamics right now, in the sense that President Trump came to office railing against crime as if nothing had changed since the 1980s, when he took out newspaper ads decrying “roving bands of wild criminals” and calling for society to “unshackle” cops “from the constant chant of ‘police brutality.’ ”

Yet punitive sentiment kept on moving down during Trump’s presidency, along with the violent crime rate. (Ramirez’s 2013 article used opinion poll data collected between 1951 and 2006.  In an email, he supplied an update showing trends through 2019.) In backhanded acknowledgment of this, Trump leavens his calls for shooting rioters and jailing statue-topplers with boasting about his signature on the First Step Act, which reformed federal sentencing and modestly reduced incarceration.

An important point for reform is to deny Trump and other opponents any basis — either in rhetoric or in reality — for reigniting fear of crime.... It is also why the recent upsurge in shooting deaths in cities such as Chicago, Atlanta and St. Louis is such an urgent issue, in human terms but also politically. Trump is already trying to exploit it.

The past two-plus decades of declining violent crime was one of the best things that ever happened for the cause of criminal justice reform. A reversal of that progress could be one of the worst.

July 14, 2020 in Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, July 11, 2020

"State Violence, Legitimacy, and the Path to True Public Safety"

The title of this post is the title of this new commentary authored by David Kennedy that was one of my very favorite reads this week.  The piece is mostly about police reform and is quite lengthy, but its worth the time (and even a re-read).  Among the many virtues of the piece is the reminder that if — I fear I should say when — we see a considerable spike in crime in the coming months, increased criminality may well primarily reflect decreased trust in law enforcement by the community, not decreased activity by law enforcement in the community.  (I recall making in this post a less-eloquent version of this important point five years ago as there was on-going debate about crime spikes after Ferguson.)   Here is an excerpt:

The protest movement represents core American values and deserves broad bipartisan support.  It is no threat to our efforts to prevent crime and violence; indeed, it represents an opportunity to make those efforts much more successful.  That is because it can support the emergence of a fundamentally better way to produce public safety.  The evidence from the scholarly literature suggests that the more legitimate the law and the police are in the eyes of America’s communities, the less we will actually have to use them.  And while “law and order” has traditionally been a platform for the political right, this goal — using the state’s coercive power no more than absolutely necessary — is one that conservatives should find easy to embrace. In a very real way, more legitimacy in the realm of policing means less government.

Legitimacy is a core element in democracy: the belief of the people in the institutions of government and their power to set rules and gain compliance.  When people think of the law and of policing, they think of the power of the courts, jail and prison, of the gun and the badge.  In fact, that power is trivial compared to voluntary compliance with the law. Most of the time, people do not need to be threatened by the state in order not to kill, rape, and rob.  Most people know that when the law says not to do terrible things, the law is right; when they are tempted, they believe that the law has the standing to say, Don’t.  Scholars like Tom Tyler point out that even criminals obey the law most of the time: They buy groceries, stop at red lights, and seldom kill the people they’re mad at.  Policing research shows very clearly that as legitimacy goes up, violence goes down, voluntary compliance with the law goes up, people call 911 when they need help, and the like.  When legitimacy goes down — as after incidents of police violence — research shows that Black communities withdraw from the police and violence goes up.  

Contrary to what many think “high crime” Black communities are deeply law-abiding.  Research shows that residents in the most troubled areas of those communities have a very high regard for the law, want their neighbors to obey the law, want to be safe, and even want to have good relationships with the police.  But they don’t trust the police, don’t think the police respect them, don’t think the police share their values, think the police are biased, and don’t trust the police to govern themselves.  

Scholars have long characterized this as “legal cynicism“: belief in the law, but not in its institutions, especially the police.  More recently, scholars like Monica Bell have gone beyond this to a profoundly more dire — and in my experience, more accurate — notion of “legal estrangement.”  Bell reminds us that more than 50 years ago, the Kerner Commission found that “police have come to symbolize White power, White racism, and White repression.”  Those beliefs are driven by hundreds of years of history and collective memory and experience, present treatment and mistreatment by police, and the vicarious experience of the endless series of police killings.  “Much literature has shown that, regardless of how trust is measured or conceived, African Americans, particularly those who are poor or who live in high-poverty or predominantly African American communities, tend to have less trust not only in the police, but also in other governmental institutions, in their neighbors, and even in their intimate partner relationships in comparison to other racial and ethnic groups in the United States,” Bell writes.  “Most discussions of African American distrust of the police only skirt the edges of a deeper well of estrangement between poor communities of color and the law — and, in turn, society.” 

This is not about every officer or all officers.  Policing is full of — and in my personal experience dominated by—good and frequently amazing people who do often extraordinary work under unimaginable circumstances. I have had former public defenders come into my organization, hating the police.  Yet as they get to know the officers we work with, they’ve taken me aside to say, “This is really weirding me out; I like them.”  That’s not the point. The point is not the tired argument about good officers and bad officers, or “bad apples” or the lack thereof.  It is that the institution of policing has been ungovernable.  Officers do terrible things, and nothing happens.  Departments make terrible choices — Let’s “protect” communities by swamping them with officers and stopping everybody who moves — and there’s no way to stop them.  Disrespect is rampant — in many cities, the single most frequent complaint is officers cursing the public — and nothing happens or changes.  The Supreme Court of the United States creates case law that makes it nearly impossible to hold officers accountable for killings and shootings.  Cities, pressured by the political clout of police unions, give away the powers that would let chiefs fire officers they know are toxic and make departments reinstate the officers they have managed to get rid of.  Police union heads sully the names of Black men killed by their members and get reelected.  No institution is perfect; doctors kill patients all the time.  But when a doctor kills through gross malpractice, the head of his hospital doesn’t throw a press conference to talk about how the dead man had a criminal record and really deserved it. 

Prior related post:

July 11, 2020 in National and State Crime Data, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 06, 2020

Puzzling though crime data, practically and politically, in the crazy year that is 2020

This new New York Times piece discusses the latest crime data as we head into the back half of 2020.  The piece's full headline captures its themes: "It’s Been ‘Such a Weird Year.’ That’s Also Reflected in Crime Statistics: In large cities across America, murders are up sharply, while other violent crimes have decreased."  Here are excerpts:

The national numbers for murder and other types of violent crime rarely move in opposite directions. But this is no ordinary year.

Overall crime is down 5.3 percent in 25 large American cities relative to the same period in 2019, with violent crime down 2 percent.

But murder in these 25 cities is up 16.1 percent in relation to last year. It’s not just a handful of cities driving this change, either. Property crime is down in 18 of the 25 sampled cities, and violent crime is down in 11 of them, but murder is up in 20 of the cities....

Homicides usually rise in the summer, which coincided this year with many people emerging from pandemic lockdown. In one recent weekend in Chicago, 14 people were killed and at least 106 people were shot, the most in eight years. And as The New York Times reported recently: “It has been nearly a quarter century since New York City experienced as much gun violence in the month of June as it has seen this year.” (On Sunday night, the city reportedly had nine killings in the previous 24 hours.)

An additional 17 cities provide year-to-date murder data. Murder is up 21.8 percent in all 36 cities with 2020 data through at least May, with 29 of those cities seeing an increase this year relative to last year.

How often do murder and other types of violent crime move in opposite directions? There have been only four years since 1960 (1993, 2000, 2002 and 2003) when murder increased but overall violent crime decreased nationally, and the increase in murder was small in each of those years. The average absolute difference between the national change in murder and violent crime since 1990 has been just 2.2 percent, so a big increase in murder nationally while violent crime falls is almost unheard-of.

But this year has been distinct in many ways, because of the pandemic and because of the protests and civil unrest after the death of George Floyd in police custody. Jerry Ratcliffe, a professor of criminal justice at Temple University and host of the Reducing Crime podcast, has cautioned against comparing crime figures in one year with the previous year. This year’s upheaval may be even more reason to be cautious.

Identifying the trend in murder statistics is relatively easy. Understanding why it is happening and what can be done about it is much harder. Phillip Atiba Goff, co-founder and C.E.O. of the Center for Policing Equity, points to increased domestic violence as one possible cause of the increase in murder. “The first explanation that I have is that this comes from people being locked inside (during quarantines) and a lack of social services,” he said. “All those things are things that we would expect to lead to higher rates of violence. That’s speculation, though. I have no evidence that that’s the right thing other than the rise in calls for domestic violence.”

Mr. Ratcliffe agrees that increased domestic violence may be playing a role. He also hypothesizes that “Covid-19 could have reduced the market and opportunities for recreational drug use/dealing, which puts stress on the drug markets and increases violence.”

“If that is one of the causes, then we might see those tensions ease as lockdowns are relieved,” he said.

Jennifer Doleac, associate professor of economics and director of the Justice Tech Lab at Texas A&M, said: “People are worried about increasing domestic violence, and that could certainly lead to increases in homicide. Any kind of crime where most of it is between strangers or requires people being out and about would be down, and homicide is usually between people who know each other, so it might be affected differently.”

It’s plausible that the increase in murder this year might reflect a trend that began before the pandemic got underway. A review of the percent change in murder in 10 cities before coronavirus struck (generally defined as through February or March) and those cities’ most recent June update for the year so far shows a worse year-to-date percent change in eight of them, suggesting that the trend may have accelerated over the last few months....

Some research suggests that a loss of trust in law enforcement can cause citizens to be reluctant to contact the police, and people may be more likely to take justice into their own hands to resolve disputes.

It’s important to keep the rise in historical perspective. Murder in New York was up 25 percent compared with last year as of June 14, but that total was the same one the city had in 2015. Murder is up 22 percent in Chicago, but it’s down 6 percent from where it was at this time in 2017. Murder is up 42 percent in New Orleans, but a year ago murder was its lowest point there in almost half a century.

“These numbers do not tell a story that supports any ideological side of the debate around policing,” Mr. Goff said. “What it supports at most is a need for rigorous curiosity about a vital issue.” Ms. Doleac also says it is too early to draw any firm conclusions: “This is such a weird year in so many dimensions, and it’s going to take us a while to figure out what caused any of these differences in crime. It is perfectly reasonable to think the first half of this year may not tell us what the rest of the year will look like.”...

“The reality is that we just don’t know” what’s driving the change in murder, Mr. Goff said, “and it’s not a straightforward process to figure it out.”

Notably, Prez Trump already has released a campaign ad seeking to tie police reform efforts to increased crime. If homicide numbers keep going up and up in big cities like New York and Chicago, I would expect the Trump campaign to continue to try to stoke up fear of crime and continue to claim that he is the only "law and order" candidate.  That political playbook worked pretty well for Richard Nixon in 1968 and for George H.W. Bush in 1988, and the next few months will show if it can work for Donald Trump.

One final macabre observation: as I reflect on crime data circa July 2020, I am finding that the COVID pandemic skews my perspective on some of the numbers.  These crime data on New York City reports 176 murders in roughly the first six months of 2020 compared to 143 murders during the same period in 2019.  While that is a troubling 23% increase in NYC murders for the first half of the year, it is still well less than half of the 500+ daily deaths from COVID that NYC experienced in early April. Though there are lots of problems with comparing data on homicides and COVID deaths, I am finding that the grim COVID death data that we are all still processing make even elevated homicide numbers look not quite as frightening.  Of course, a global pandemic should not make us complacent about crime, but I am still struck by how the reality and reactions to crime is always going to be contextual and contingent.

Prior related posts:

July 6, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, National and State Crime Data, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 26, 2020

"COVID-19 and Homicide: Final Report to Arnold Ventures"

The title of this post is the title of this very interesting new empirical paper that I can across yesterday. The 13-page work is authored by Thomas Abt, Richard Rosenfeld and Ernesto Lopez.  Here is its summary:

Did crime rates decline in response to the actions taken to address the COVID-19 pandemic?  Several reports have suggested that they did, in the United States and other nations (e.g., Jacoby, Stucka, and Phillips 2020; Mohler, Bertozzi, Carter, et al. 2020; Police Executive Research Forum 2020; Semple and Ahmed 2020).  Some cautioned that crime was not falling at the same pace everywhere, however, and in some US cities it was rising (Dolmetsch, Pettersson, Yasiejko 2020). These accounts are typically based on small samples of cities and brief time periods.

By contrast, the current study, to our knowledge the largest to date, compares monthly homicide rates in 64 US cities during January through June of 2020 with the previous three-year average homicide rates during the same months. We focus on homicide because it is the most serious and reliably measured criminal offense.  We find that, compared with the previous three-year average, homicide rates decreased during April and May of 2020.  Not all cities experienced a homicide decline, however, and the decreases during April were roughly twice as large as those in May.  With few exceptions, we did not find sizable differences between the cities in which homicides dropped and those where they rose.  We conclude by discussing several reasons why homicide rates in US cities might increase over the next several months.

June 26, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, National and State Crime Data, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, June 07, 2020

"The Effects of Parental and Sibling Incarceration: Evidence from Ohio"

The title of this post is the title of this lengthy empirical paper recently posted to SSRN authored by Samuel Norris, Matthew Pecenco and Jeffrey Weaver.  Here is its abstract:

Every year, millions of Americans experience the incarceration of a family member.  Using 30 years of administrative data from Ohio and exploiting differing incarceration propensities of randomly assigned judges, this paper provides the first quasi-experimental estimates of the effects of parental and sibling incarceration in the US.  Contrary to conventional wisdom, parental incarceration has beneficial effects on children, reducing their likelihood of incarceration by 4.9 percentage points and improving their adult socioeconomic status.  We can also reject large positive or negative effects of parental incarceration on academic performance and teen parenthood.  Sibling incarceration leads to similar reductions in criminal activity.

June 7, 2020 in National and State Crime Data, Offender Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

With reopenings, might coming months bring big crime spike (and will modest jail and prison releases be blamed)?

The question in the title of this post is my pessimistic first thought in response to this optimistic New York Times article headlined "A Pandemic Bright Spot: In Many Places, Less Crime." Here are excerpts from the lengthy piece:

The absence of people during the coronavirus pandemic has produced a rare payoff in Fargo and most American cities — a steep drop in major crimes.  “The dynamics of street crimes, of street encounters, of human behavior are changing because people are staying home,” said Philip M. Stinson, a former police officer turned criminal justice professor at Bowling Green State University.

Crime, say those who study it and those who fight it day to day, requires three things — a perpetrator, a victim and an opportunity.  With tens of millions of Americans off the streets, would-be victims and opportunities for crimes have vanished, causing a drop in the number of perpetrators committing infractions.  The dip in crime is compounded by the fact that some police departments have been hampered by quarantines, or have made fewer arrests to limit interactions or to avoid filling the jails.

Arrests in Chicago, where the Cook County jail became one of the nation’s largest-known virus hot spots, were down more than 73 percent during roughly the initial month of the lockdown, said Deputy Chief Thomas Lemmer of the Chicago Police Department.

Crime did not entirely disappear, of course, and some of the worst offenders remained undeterred.  Homicides in numerous cities remained flat or even rose. Burglaries of commercial properties and auto thefts have often multiplied, as criminals exploited shuttered stores and unattended cars.

Young men, considered the most violent demographic, have adopted a certain swagger in many places, police officers and criminologists said. With fewer witnesses around and with the police less likely to stop them, they feel less vulnerable to being caught. The men also find it easier to track down rival drug lords or gang leaders, who are mostly sheltering at home like everyone else.

In Las Vegas, where police said crime fell more than 22 percent during the initial two months of the lockdown, the Strip area, with its crowded nightclubs and bars, had traditionally had its problems with crime. Since it was largely devoid of tourists for weeks, crime migrated to some residential streets....

History indicates that hard times often reduce crime.  Chicago showed a marked drop in murders in 1918, when America faced the devastating Spanish flu, according to records analyzed by Leigh Bienen, a law professor at Northwestern University. After 293 killings in the city in 1917, the number fell to 260 in 1918 before rising to 345 the following year. The flu might not have been the only factor, she said.  Yet other municipalities also reported a decrease.

Crime rates similarly fell during the Great Depression that started in 1929, as well as during the 2008-9 recession, said Richard Rosenfeld, a criminologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. “That runs contrary to common perception that as misery spreads, crime rates should go up,” Dr. Rosenfeld said. “When there are fewer potential victims on the streets, there will be few potential crimes, regardless of the increases of the level of economic distress or misery.”...

For the month ending on May 17, most major crimes in New York City were down 21 percent from the same period last year, according to department statistics, although murders were unchanged, burglaries were up, and car thefts jumped almost 68 percent.  There were no clear patterns across all cities, according to Christopher Herrmann, a professor of law and police science at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Murders this year were up 14 percent in Philadelphia and 85 percent in Nashville but fell 2 percent in Baltimore and 11 percent in Atlanta.  Nashville was a rare city with increased crime over all....

Besides crime, many police departments reported that they are dealing with a higher number of drug overdoses and suicidal callers.  Police officers in Kalamazoo, Mich., responded to one overdose in December, said David Boysen, assistant chief for public safety.  In April, there were 26, and two of those people died.

One drop in crime statistics may actually be worrisome: Some cities indicated a decrease in both domestic abuse and child abuse calls.  The police in those cities said they suspected that abuse was actually more prevalent, given that most people are stuck at home.  But with no teachers to spot bruises in the classroom, and nowhere for people to escape their abusers, such crimes were less visible, they said.

With the country gradually reopening, experts wonder whether crime will rebound to its previous levels, as perpetrators and victims interact again.  Large American cities last experienced a sustained slide in crime for some 13 years after 1992, said Wesley G. Skogan, a professor emeritus at Northwestern University who studies police programs, calling the reasons “one of the great mysteries of the end of the 20th century.”

Dr. Herrmann, of John Jay College, has a paper set to be published this fall detailing how crime fell near a Bronx subway station during its reconstruction.  It took about two weeks after the station reopened for the numbers to rebound to previous levels, he said, but the post-lockdown rise will likely be slower because people are still hesitant about going outside.

Still, police officers are bracing for what happens next. “I don’t know what the future holds,” said Chris Bailey, assistant chief at the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department. “It makes me a little nervous from the crime perspective.”

It is nice to hear that crime has mostly been down during the pandemic, and this reality is especially notable because pre-pandemic crime rates were already relatively low (historically speaking).  But, in addition to highlighting how mixed (and mysterious?) the latest crime numbers are, I wanted this post to flag the real possibility that a crime spike could be coming soon.

Around this time of year under normal circumstances, crime tends to spike because of warmer weather.  This Governing article, looking at lots of crime data from a few years ago, reports: "On average, monthly crime for seven major offense types increased nearly 10 percent between June and August from the rest of the year."  In 2020, the we will have the coming usual summer crime spike combining with more people emerging from lockdown combining with police forces and other crime-fighting infrastructure returning to more normal operations.  These realities lead me to worry about a big crime spike over the next three months, particularly if and when compared to the crime decline over the last three month.

A crime spike is inherently bad for everyone, particularly victims.  But a crime spike in summer 2020 may also create extra challenges for criminal justice reform advocates eager to see decarceration efforts continue to gain momentum.  As this recent post from Michael Rushford at Crime & Consequences highlights, opponents of criminal justice reforms will be quick to try to pin any and all uptick in crimes on any and all decarceration efforts.

Prior related posts:

May 26, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Another window on the mixed realities of US crime in our new COVID era

The Washington Post has this new article reporting on new research on pandemic-era crime realities.  The full headline provide a summary: "Amid pandemic, crime dropped in many U.S. cities, but not all: Houston and Denver saw big increases in violent crime, while San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York City saw big decreases." Here are the particulars from the article:

With fewer people on the streets, and more in their homes, some big U.S. cities saw significant decreases in crime during the pandemic, according to statistics from 30 large and midsize cities and counties gathered by the Police Executive Research Forum.  Some saw spikes in violent crime and auto theft, however, and police said closed businesses were more frequently targeted for burglaries.

The Washington-based think tank compared crime statistics from March 16 to April 12, the outset of the coronavirus shutdown, with the same period in 2019.  Of the 30 jurisdictions, 18 saw decreases in violent crime — murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault — as the pandemic hit the United States, which included a 33 percent drop in San Francisco, a 25 percent drop in New York and a nearly 25 percent decline in Los Angeles.

Washington and Baltimore both saw an 8 percent decrease in violent crime. Prince George’s County, Md., the only suburban Washington jurisdiction in the study, experienced a 24 percent drop in violent crime in the month after the coronavirus crisis struck.  But 12 cities saw increases, which included a 21 percent jump in Denver and a nearly 12 percent increase in Houston. Austin and Nashville were among the cities that saw smaller rises in violent crime.

Homicide numbers were mixed — deaths increased in nine cities, decreased in nine cities, and 12 reported no change.  Slayings in Los Angeles dropped from 31 during that period in 2019 to 16 in 2020, but homicides in Nashville during that period rose from four to 14.  Homicides in Baltimore rose from 20 in those weeks last year to 23 this year. In Washington, they went down, from 11 to 10.

Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the research forum, said he and a number of police chiefs he had spoken to think “the pandemic has not dramatically altered traditional patterns of gang warfare, drug-related violence, and individuals using guns to settle personal disputes.  These serious, deeply entrenched problems continue to drive much of the violence in our communities.”...

As always with crime statistics, it is worth noting that these are only one month’s worth of numbers, and the number of crimes, particularly homicides, can randomly fluctuate and are best assessed over longer periods to detect true trends. But the first month of the pandemic created unprecedented changes in American society, and it will be interesting to see whether some of the dramatic crime shifts in that month continue during the stay-at-home period and beyond.

Property crimes, for example — burglary, larceny and auto theft — declined dramatically, with 25 of the 30 jurisdictions reporting drops in the March-April period this year. Baltimore saw a 43 percent decrease, Washington a 36 percent decrease and San Francisco a 46 percent decrease. Larcenies dropped in 28 of the 30 jurisdictions, the forum’s data show.

It figured residential burglaries would plummet, as more people were staying home during the day.  But Wexler said police chiefs report business burglaries are surging as thieves target shuttered establishments and fewer cleaning crews are working in office buildings at night.  He said commercial burglaries drove the overall burglary rate up nearly 44 percent in Seattle, 41 percent in Denver and 17.5 percent in New York. Total burglaries fell 23 percent in Washington and 36.5 percent in Baltimore.

Another side effect of the pandemic — people not driving their cars nearly as much — may have contributed to some spikes in auto theft. Auto thefts increased in 16 of the 30 jurisdictions, including a 59 percent rise in Austin and a nearly 26 percent rise in Salt Lake City. Auto thefts in Baltimore dropped nearly 35 percent, and the District saw a 2.5 percent drop.

Police have been less busy during the pandemic, the statistics show. Twenty-nine of the 30 jurisdictions reported declines in calls for service. Only Prince George’s County, with a 3.4 percent rise, showed an increase, and Chicago saw a 25 percent drop in calls. Washington and Baltimore saw approximately 20 percent fewer calls for service.

Arrests plummeted, too, as police joined the effort to incarcerate fewer people during the outbreak. Only 22 jurisdictions provided arrest data for the month, but 18 were down for Part I crime; for lesser Part II crimes, arrests were down in all reporting jurisdictions. Boston police arrested 66 percent fewer people for serious crimes, while authorities in Miami and Chicago arrested 61 percent fewer people and 53 percent fewer people, respectively. Washington saw 44 percent fewer Part I arrests, and Baltimore had 36.5 percent fewer Part I arrests.

Wexler said police officials wonder whether the drop in arrests, as well as a pullback on community policing because of social distancing, will eventually lead to more crime. Traffic enforcement has been scaled back dramatically, Wexler said. In New York City and the state of California, police have expressed frustration about repeat offenders being released back to their communities, where they could possibly swiftly reoffend.

Police are also on alert for increases in crimes related to the pandemic’s effect on unemployment, family financial troubles and domestic violence. “That doesn’t mean that the factory workers or retail clerks who lose their jobs today will become the burglars or bank robbers of tomorrow,” Wexler said. “But the desperation that comes with this level of economic hardship could impact domestic violence, child abuse and other types of crime.”

Prior related posts:

May 19, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Reviewing some more national and local accounts of (mostly declining) crime rates during a pandemic

In this post last week, I complained about a Bloomberg headline blaring that "Some Crimes Are Spiking in America’s Major Cities," even though the bulk of the data reviewed in the article detail that crime was down considerably in a number of cities.   Today I can flag this recent CBS News piece that reviews mostly positive crime news with a very positive heading "Miami goes seven weeks without a homicide for first time since 1957."  Here are excerpts:

From February 17 until April 12 of this year — a total of seven weeks and six days — Miami had no reported homicides, according to police. In 1957, the city went 9 weeks and 3 days without any reported homicides. In 1960, a period of 6 weeks and 5 days passed without a homicide.  According to the Miami police, other crimes have also decreased.  The department said the decrease has extended to domestic violence calls.  But Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina told The New York Times he is concerned incidents of domestic violence and child abuse may be underreported during the order. 

Crime is also down in Baltimore since Maryland issued its own stay-at-home order, CBS Baltimore reports. Although criminal incidents in the city still continue on a daily basis, assault, carjacking, robbery and shootings have all gone down since the order was implemented.  When compared to the same time last year, common assaults in Baltimore went down 34%, aggravated assaults went down 17%, and shootings dropped by 8%.

Los Angeles similarly reported that violent crime and property crimes are down compared to last year, according to CBS Los Angeles.  Within a 9.73% drop in violent crime overall, homicides in particular were down 21%.

The same, unfortunately, cannot be said of Chicago. Despite a stay-at-home order in the city, robberies and shootings were up in the last week, according to CBS Chicago.  Police responded to 19 shootings Tuesday night, six of which were homicides.  That means shootings were up 42% from the same week last year, according to data analyzed by the station.  "We're fighting the pandemic, and we're fighting the epidemic," said Tony Raggs with the Alliance of Local Service Organizations.  "The epidemic being violence."

In Los Angeles, the drop in violent crime has been marred by an increase in domestic violence calls.  According to Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, deputies responded to about 8% more domestic violence calls between mid-March and mid-April, when compared to last year.

A quick search of headlines via Google news produces similar crime tales, mostly positive but not entirely, from places other than big cities.  Here is a sampling:

From upstate Florida: "Coronavirus: Crime in Volusia, Flagler and St. Johns edges down during quarantine"

From central Kentucky: "Increase in violence in Louisville another deadly side effect of COVID-19"

From downstate Missouri: "Crime rates see slight dip during COVID-19 quarantine: Vehicles continue to be rifled for cash, valuables"

From upstate New York: "Shutdown leads to decrease in crime"

From central Rhode Island: "Violent crime in Providence down 53% during pandemic"

From eastern Texas: "Crime rates in Texarkana are steady due to COVID-19"

From central Wisconsin: "Crime Trends Change During COVID-19 Restrictions"

Prior related posts:

April 26, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, April 19, 2020

With data showing significant "overall decline in crime," headline still blares "Some Crimes Are Spiking"

800x-1Among the virtues of blogging for me is a deeper appreciation for the responsibilities and the challenges of effective journalism.  And these days especially, I am disinclined to attack the press.  But I just cannot help but saying "AARRGGHH" in this space while reporting on this notable new Bloomberg piece about crime in cities in the early COVID era. 

The piece details that, generally speaking, crime is down in major cities.  But you would not get that from the piece's headline, which now blares "Some Crimes Are Spiking in America’s Major Cities."  Aggravating headline aside, the piece is an interesting review of original data, and here are excerpts:

Amid empty streets and shuttered shops, crime rates in some of the biggest U.S. cities have dropped -- with a few exceptions. 

Car thefts and store robberies are spiking in some municipalities even as crime overall -- especially violent offenses -- dropped in 10 of the 20 most populated cities, more than halving in San Francisco alone. according to a Bloomberg News analysis of data from 10 major cities.

“It’s just a reflection of reduced opportunities for these kind of events,” said Daniel Nagin, a criminologist and professor of public policy at the H.J. Heinz School of Public Policy and Management at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. “In the case of murders, these often occur in public places in bars and things like that. With those kinds of activities shut down there’s less social interaction.”

Car theft is one exception, at least in some places. In New York it’s surging, up 49% for the week ended April 12 as compared to the same period a year earlier. It's risen 53% over the past month and more than 63% year to date. Police have increased patrols in areas of the city where car thefts are common. Car theft was the only major crime to show an increase in Los Angeles, rising 11.3% for the 28 days ending April 11 from the previous period.

Burglaries are also on the rise in New York, up 26% year-to-date as compared to the same period in 2019. In the week ended April 12, they more than doubled in the southern half of Manhattan, where many stores are now unoccupied. Burglaries jumped almost 34% in Denver in March amid a growing number of break-ins at marijuana dispensaries. In Philadelphia, burglaries were down 6.7% overall, with residential break-ins falling 25% as more people stay home, but unoccupied businesses were hit hard, with commercial burglary rising 71%....

Each of the 10 major cities that provided data are showing a decline in rapes and sexual assaults, with San Francisco posting the biggest drop -- more than 50% -- as compared to the same period a year earlier. Kubrin said, however, that these numbers aren't a reliable indicator because the crime is notoriously under-reported, in part because of reluctance by victims to go to the police.

For the most part, murders are on the decline, and in cities showing a rise the numbers are low to begin with. A 25% increase in Austin, for example, is the result of one additional homicide, with the number rising from four to five.... Most cities are showing a decline in assaults, following the trend in other violent-crimes categories.

Prior related posts:

April 19, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 05, 2020

What can and should we really learn from crime data in the midst of a pandemic and lockdowns?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by two new articles spotlighting declines in crime amidst our crazy times: from The Hill, "Crime rates drop across the nation amid coronavirus"; from USA Today, "Crime rates plummet amid the coronavirus pandemic, but not everyone is safer in their home."  Here are some excerpts from this second piece:

Crime rates plunged in cities and counties across the U.S. over the second half of March as the coronavirus pandemic drove millions of residents to stay inside their homes.  Police logged dramatically fewer calls for service, crime incidents and arrests in the last two weeks of March than each of the previous six weeks, a USA TODAY analysis of crime data published by 53 law enforcement agencies in two dozen states found.  The analysis is among the largest studies measuring the impact of the coronavirus on crime and policing.

Massive drops in traffic and person stops — as much as 92% in some jurisdictions — helped drive sharp declines in drug offenses and DUIs.  Thefts and residential burglaries decreased with fewer stores open and homes unoccupied, and some agencies logged fewer assaults and robberies. Bookings into each of nearly two dozen county jails monitored by the news organization fell by at least a quarter since February.

At the same time, calls for domestic disturbances and violence surged by between 10% and 30% among many police agencies that contributed data. Several also saw upticks in public nuisance complaints such as loud noise from parties.  The Baltimore Police Department, for example, received 362 loud music complaints in the last two weeks of March, nearly matching its total for all of February.

The trends reflect both a purposeful reduction in police activity and officer-initiated stops and the impact of stay-at-home orders that have closed huge swaths of Main Street and pushed people into their homes and out of traditional crime hotspots, such as bars, clubs and social events....

The study compared weekly totals between Feb. 2 and March 28.  Reporters analyzed daily calls for service and incident data published by 30 local police and sheriff’s agencies that range from those covering big cities like Dallas to small communities like St. John, Indiana.  Analysis of arrests drew from inmate logs at nearly two dozen county jails in six states, which local USA TODAY Network newspapers already track daily.

Many police departments say they are intentionally arresting fewer people to avoid the potential spread of coronavirus in jails.  Police in Delray Beach, Florida, are reducing proactive policing, such as drug busts.  In nearby Gainesville, Florida, officers are increasingly issuing summons instead of making arrests for minor offenses, Police chief inspector Jorge Campos said. “It’s not that we’re not enforcing (the law),” Campos said.  “It’s that we’re finding alternative ways of dealing with the issue rather than make physical arrests.”...

In the counties reviewed by USA TODAY, the average week included about 300 DUI bookings.  Now, it’s at about 100.  Senior citizens arrests are about a sixth of what they were in February.  Several police departments also recorded significant drops in drug, narcotics and alcohol crimes — some of the most common ways people land in jail in America, according to FBI data.  Such incidents over the second half of March fell 76% in Denver; 87% in Providence, Rhode Island; and 45% in Seattle, the epicenter of the nation’s first major coronavirus outbreak, data shows.

Drug charges often result from traffic stops....  But such stops have ground to a near halt in some regions across the country in the last two weeks.  In Cincinnati, police logged an average of 384 traffic stops per week before mid-March but 39 per day after — a 90% drop.  In Santa Monica, California, traffic stops fell from 182 a week to 14.  They fell 79% in Baltimore and 46% in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

In many regions, the traffic-stop declines dovetailed with fewer DUI incidents, which likely tanked after bars closed, Seattle police spokesman Patrick Michaud said.  Police in Virginia Beach, Montgomery County and Seattle each recorded fewer than half as many DUIs in the second half of March compared to previous weeks on average.  “There are just less crimes of opportunity when the opportunity all but disappears because everyone is spending time indoors,” said Michaud, adding that residential burglaries also have decreased in Seattle in recent weeks.

This article highlights how changes in citizen behavior (driven in part by shutdowns) are part of this new crime data story, but it also reveals how changes in police behavior also account for new criminal justice realities. I am hopeful (but not really optimistic) that the positive aspects of changes in both citizen and police behavior might persist after the pandemic passes.

Prior related post:

April 5, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Rounding up some tales of crime amidst COVID lockdowns

I have seen a number of recent headlines discussing crime realities as we complete another week of shuttered cities battling the coronavirus.  Here is a sampling from major news sources:

From the Associated Press, "Coronavirus-related crimes are on the rise"

From the Chicago Tribune, "Chicago joins New York, Los Angeles with drops in crime as coronavirus and shelter order take hold"

From the Los Angeles Times, "Coronavirus restrictions caused crime to fall sharply, LAPD and sheriff report"

From The Marshall Project, "As Coronavirus Surges, Crime Declines in Some Cities"

From the Philadelphia Inquirer, "Despite concerns of lawlessness, Philadelphia crime drops in first week of social distancing"

From the Wall Street Journal, "Coronavirus Pandemic Changes Policing, Including Fewer Arrests: As crime falls, police focus on keeping social order, enforcing social distancing"

From the Washington Post, "New York City’s crime rate plummets amid coronavirus shutdown"

March 28, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 27, 2020

"Does Bail Reform Increase Crime? An Empirical Assessment of the Public Safety Implications of Bail Reform in Cook County, Illinois"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper authored by Paul Cassell and Richard Fowles now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

Recently bail reform issues have been in the news across the country, as concerns about fair treatment of defendants and possible public safety risks from expanding pretrial release have collided.  These issues involve important empirical questions, including whether releasing more defendants before trial leads to additional crimes.  An opportunity to investigate this public safety issue has developed in Chicago, our nation’s second largest city.  There, the Office of the Chief Judge of the Cook County Courts adopted new bail reform measures in September 2017 and reviewed them empirically in May 2019.  Cook County’s Bail Reform Study concluded that the new procedures had released many more defendants before trial without any concomitant increase in crime.

This article disputes the Study’s conclusions.  This article explains that, contrary to the Study’s assertions, the new changes to pretrial release procedures appear to have led to a substantial increase in crimes committed by pretrial releasees in Cook County. Properly measured and estimated, after more generous release procedures were put in place, the number of released defendants charged with committing new crimes increased by 45%. And, more concerning, the number of pretrial releasees charged with committing new violent crimes increased by an estimated 33%.  In addition, as reported by the Chicago Tribune, the Study’s data appears to undercount the number of releasees charged with new violent crimes; and a substantial number of aggravated domestic violence prosecutions prosecutors dropped after the changes, presumably because batterers were able to more frequently obtain release and intimidate their victims into not pursuing charges.  These public safety concerns call into question whether the bail “reform” measures implemented in Cook County were cost-beneficial.  And because Cook County’s procedures are state-of-the-art and track those being implemented in many parts of the country, Cook County’s experience suggests that other jurisdictions may similarly be suffering increases in crime due to bail reform.

February 27, 2020 in National and State Crime Data, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Preliminary FBI reports indicate considerable drops in murder and other violent crimes as well as in property crimes in first half of 2019

As summarized effectively in this Crime Report piece, headlined "Violent, Property Crime Reports Fell In 2019’s First Half," the the FBI has just reported some very encouraging crime data.  Here are the basic details:

All categories of violent crime offenses decreased between the first half of 2018 and the first half of 2019, for an overall decrease in violence of 3.1 percent, the report says.  This includes murder, down 3.9 percent, robbery, down 7.4 percent, rape, down 7.3 percent and aggravated assault, down .3 percent.

Property crime also declined during the same period, including burglary, 11.1 percent lower, motor vehicle theft, 6.7 per cent lower and larceny theft, 4.2 percent lower.

It was the third consecutive year of reported crime declines in the first half of the year.  In 2016, all violent crime categories increased compared with the first half of 2015.

The FBI called the data preliminary. Its final report for 2019 is not expected until September.  In that month, the bureau also plans to issue a preliminary report for the first half of 2020.

Federal sentencing fans know that the first half of 2019 was also the first months in which the federal FIRST STEP Act was applicable.  Though I would not be inclined to assert that enacted of that Act somehow contributed to the crime drop, I am inclined to celebrate the fact that opponents of the FIRST STEP Act cannot use early 2019 crime data to contend that the Act somehow made the nation less safe.

I also find intriguing the regional FBI data that shows that all regions except the South experienced bigger crime declines than the national average. My sense is that, in rough terms, fewer Southern states have embraced various criminal justice reforms (including marijuana reform) than states in other regions. Again, these data in no way prove that various criminal justice reforms (including marijuana reform) makes us more safe, but it does seem to help undercut any claims that these reforms make us less safe.

January 23, 2020 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 10, 2020

"The Trouble with Crime Statistics: It’s surprisingly hard to say what makes crime go up or down"

The title of this post is the title of this extended New Yorker piece authored by Matthew Hutson. I recommend the full piece, and here is an excerpt:

Given the high stakes of the question, it’s tempting to take sides: either legalizing pot leads to more crime or it doesn’t.  And yet the truth may be unknowable.  “We do not have a good mechanism in place for tracking why a person commits crime,” Timothy Tannenbaum, a sheriff’s lieutenant in Washington County, Oregon, told me.  “I’m not sure most of the data you seek is available.”  In an e-mail, the spokesman for Sheriff Joseph McDonald, of Plymouth, Massachusetts, cautioned that “it’s often hard to identify marijuana as either the cause or the deterrent for criminal conduct.” I brought all these responses to David Weisburd, a criminologist at George Mason University. “The sheriffs raise an important question,” Weisburd said.  In his view, marijuana’s effects on crime are likely to remain hazy; in fact, the effect of pretty much anything on crime is rarely crystal clear.

Certainly, we know a few things about what causes and prevents crime.  The “Handbook of Crime Correlates,” from 2009, a reference book compiled by three criminologists, lists more than a hundred demographic, economic, relational, institutional, cognitive, and biological risk factors; in aggregate, they suggest that young men in hard times find trouble.  A 2015 report from the Brennan Center for Justice identifies a dozen plausible explanations for the major decline in crime that unfolded across America from 1990 to 2010 — among them, more police officers, a decline in alcohol consumption, a stronger economy, and the adoption of CompStat, a statistics-based approach to managing police departments, pioneered by the N.Y.P.D.  But each of these factors can explain only a few per cent of the broader change.  After analyzing a hundred and sixty-nine criminology studies published from 1968 to 2005, Weisburd found that, on average, each study — despite combining many variables — could explain only a third of a given change in crime.  A 2018 report in the Annual Review of Criminology concluded that the findings in one out of ten crime studies couldn’t be replicated, and that another fifteen per cent were only partially replicable.

“The world is complicated,” Weisburd said.  Many people are sure that they know how to reduce crime.  They urge the adoption or repeal of laws based on that conviction.  But crime and crime statistics are more mysterious than they seem.

January 10, 2020 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Encouraging new data on reduced arrests for low-level offenses (while national crime rates continue to decline)

This new Wall Street Journal article gets my week off to an encouraging start.  The full headline of the piece sets for the essentials: "Arrests for Low-Level Crimes Are Plummeting, and the Experts Are Flummoxed: Data collected from U.S. cities revealed declines in driving and alcohol-related violations, disorderly conduct, loitering and prostitution." Here are excerpts:

Major police departments around the country are arresting fewer people for minor crimes, according to a growing body of criminal justice data. New statistical studies show a deep, yearslong decline in misdemeanor cases across New York and California and in cities throughout other regions, with arrests of young black men falling dramatically.

New York City’s misdemeanor arrest totals have fallen by half since peaking in 2010, with rates of black arrests sinking to their lowest point since 1990. The arrest rate for black men in St. Louis fell by 80% from 2005 to 2017, a period that saw steep declines in simple assault and drug-related offenses. In Durham, N.C., arrest rates for blacks fell by nearly 50% between 2006 and 2016.  While racial disparities in enforcement persist, researchers say they are surprised by the downward misdemeanor trend, which pushes against ingrained assumptions about overpolicing in urban areas.

At the moment, experts can only speculate about what’s behind the decline.  It is expected to be the subject of more study that could yield better understanding in the future. Some say the falling arrest rates signal a fundamental shift in crime prevention. The shrinking misdemeanor system, they say, is evidence that police departments are pulling back on sweeping quality-of-life enforcement and focusing instead on “hot spots,” neighborhood strips and streets with clusters of gun violence and gang activity.

The decline, some experts say, could also be driven by technologies like the internet and mobile phones that help to keep social interaction off the streets and inside homes. The growing decriminalization and legalization of marijuana has also contributed, they say.  “The enforcement powers of the police are being used far less often,” said Jeremy Travis, a former president of John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan. It is a “very deep reset of the fundamental relationship between police and public.”

Millions of Americans are swept into the misdemeanor system every year, but only recently have scholars sought to dig into the numbers of low-level crime. Criminal data and research have focused on violent felonies like rape and murder and more serious drug-dealing offenses, while statistics on misdemeanors have been notoriously inconsistent and spotty.

Historically, few jurisdictions made it possible to track how many people were arrested for crimes like turnstile jumping, disorderly conduct, marijuana possession, shoplifting, trespassing, drunken-driving and fist fight assaults.  Federal investigations into policing practices in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore, and scrutiny of aggressive policing tactics like “stop-and-frisk,” helped to raise the visibility of misdemeanor justice and its impact on poor minority communities.  Most defendants charged with petty offenses serve little or no time behind bars but pay court fines and fees or get their cases conditionally dismissed.

Researchers saw misdemeanors as another unchecked, racially unbalanced police power creating barriers to housing, employment and education.  With millions of dollars in grants, a network of scholars led by John Jay collected data from several cities and released reports over the past year.  Other studies revealed similar patterns.  A December report by the Public Policy Institute of California found that misdemeanor rates in California declined by close to 60% between 1989 and 2016.  Los Angeles police made 112,570 misdemeanor arrests in 2008 and 60,063 by 2017, largely driven by declines in driving and alcohol-related offenses, according to John Jay’s research network.

A forthcoming paper by law professors at George Mason University and the University of Georgia also found sizable arrest declines in rural Virginia, San Antonio and other jurisdictions.  Other indications include shrinking caseloads reported by the National Center for State Courts and arrest tallies by the Federal Bureau of Investigation showing steady declines in disorderly conduct, drunkenness, prostitution and loitering violations....

Compared with the felony system, misdemeanor enforcement is much less sensitive to actual crime rates and more influenced by changing political and cultural winds, says Alexandra Natapoff, a University of California-Irvine law professor.

In addition to the great news that we are finally gathering better data on misdemeanor systems, it is even greater news that we are using it less. In this post some months ago, I spotlighted LawProf Alexandra Natapoff's terrific book highlighting how much harm and punishment can come with the misdemeanor process.  And, though not mentioned in the WSJ article, I think it critical to note that the reduction in low-level arrests has come at the same time as a great reduction in violent and property crimes over the last decade (details here on latest FBI crime data).  I think we all ought to hope and aspire for a world with less crime and less punishment, and that seems to be what we are starting to achieve in recent years.

October 6, 2019 in Data on sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

"Association of Prior Convictions for Driving Under the Influence With Risk of Subsequent Arrest for Violent Crimes Among Handgun Purchasers"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new research authored by multiple researchers appearing in JAMA Internal Medicine.  Here is its abstract:

Importance  Alcohol use is a risk factor for firearm-related violence, and firearm owners are more likely than others to report risky drinking behaviors.

Objective  To study the association between prior convictions for driving under the influence (DUI) and risk of subsequent arrest for violent crimes among handgun purchasers.

Design  In this retrospective, longitudinal cohort study, 79 678 individuals were followed up from their first handgun purchase in 2001 through 2013. The study cohort included all legally authorized handgun purchasers in California aged 21 to 49 years at the time of purchase in 2001. Individuals were identified using the California Department of Justice (CA DOJ) Dealer’s Record of Sale (DROS) database, which retains information on all legal handgun transfers in the state.

Exposures  The primary exposure was DUI conviction prior to the first handgun purchase in 2001, as recorded in the CA DOJ Criminal History Information System.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Prespecified outcomes included arrests for violent crimes listed in the Crime Index published by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault), firearm-related violent crimes, and any violent crimes.

Results  Of the study population (N = 79 678), 91.0% were males and 68.9% were white individuals; the median age was 34 (range, 21-49) years. The analytic sample for multivariable models included 78 878 purchasers after exclusions.  Compared with purchasers who had no prior criminal history, those with prior DUI convictions and no other criminal history were at increased risk of arrest for a Crime Index–listed violent crime (adjusted hazard ratio [AHR], 2.6; 95% CI, 1.7-4.1), a firearm-related violent crime (AHR, 2.8; 95% CI, 1.3-6.4), and any violent crime (AHR, 3.3; 95% CI, 2.4-4.5). Among purchasers with a history of arrests or convictions for crimes other than DUI, associations specifically with DUI conviction remained.

Conclusions and Relevance  This study’s findings suggest that prior DUI convictions may be associated with the risk of subsequent violence, including firearm-related violence, among legal purchasers of handguns.  Although the magnitude was diminished, the risk associated with DUI conviction remained elevated even among those with a history of arrests or convictions for crimes of other types.

October 1, 2019 in National and State Crime Data, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 30, 2019

New FBI crime data for 2018 reports encouraging crime declines in all areas except rape

In addition to celebrating a certain kind of new year, this morning I am also celebrating the release of the FBI's crime data for 2018 showing notable declines in nearly all crimes relative to 2017. This Marshall Project piece sums up the data story in this full headline: "New FBI Data: Violent Crime Still Falling: 2018 drop extends decades-long trend, but rapes rise for sixth straight year." Here are a few particulars from this piece:

FBI data released Monday suggests that the violent crime rate in the U.S. remains on a decades-long downward trend, falling by 3.9 percent in 2018. Overall, the violent crime rate has plunged by more than 50 percent since the highwater mark of the early 1990s.

The drops came across categories of violent offenses, including murder, non-negligent manslaughter and robbery, and property crimes like burglary, larceny and vehicle thefts, while aggravated assault numbers remained about flat. The rate for rape bucked this trend however, up slightly for 2018, and in each of the last six years....

The overall numbers, recorded by police departments across the country and compiled annually by the FBI, are welcome news for crime researchers like Ames Grawert, who closely monitored an uptick in violence in 2015 and 2016 .“That's a really good sign that the long term trend towards greater safety is not in fact reversed, and that we’re moving past whatever happened in 2015 and 2016,” said Grawert, senior counsel with the Brennan Center for Justice, a research institute at New York University’s School of Law. “It’s a reminder that two years isn’t a trend, and two years doesn’t break a trend.”

This main FBI chart has all the essential data going back to 1999, and I am drawn to the positive news in the property crime arena as well as in the violent crime numbers.  The data show not just a record low rate of property crimes in 2018 for the period of the last two decades, but also a record low total number of property crimes even though there are roughly 55 million more persons in the US now than back in 1999.  

Of course, the rates and numbers of murders and other violent crimes in the US are still higher than what is reported in many European nations, and so we ought not pat ourselves on the back too much.  Still, reduced crime rates are always justify celebration, and criminal justice reform advocates should be sure to not for skeptics that we are still experiencing continued reductions in all sorts of crimes at a time when all sorts of sentencing reform are being implemented or considered.

September 30, 2019 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

BJS releases "Criminal Victimization, 2018" reporting increase in violent victimization and decrease in property crime victimization

The federal government collects and reports on crime data in two essential ways: though the uniform crime reporting system run by the FBI (details and publications here) as well as through the Bureau of Justice Statistics' National Crime Victimization Survey. The latest crime data from BJS appear in this new publication titled simply "Criminal Victimization, 2018." Along with this full report, BJS has provided some data highlights via a Press Release and a Summary, and here are excerpts from the one-page summary:

The longstanding general trend of declining violent crime in the United States, which began in the 1990s, has reversed direction in recent years, based on findings from the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), one of two major sources of crime statistics in the United States. Meanwhile, the long-term decline in property crime has continued in recent years.

After declining 62% from 1994 to 2015 (the most recent year in which a 1-year decline was observed), the number of violent-crime victims increased from 2015 to 2016, and again from 2016 to 2018. Among U.S. residents age 12 or older, the number of violent-crime victims rose from 2.7 million in 2015 to 3.3 million in 2018, an increase of 604,000 victims. This overall rise was driven by increases in the number of victims of rape or sexual assault, aggravated assault, and simple assault.

From 2015 to 2018, the portion of U.S. residents age 12 or older who were victims of violent crime increased from 0.98% to 1.18% (up 20%) (see figure).  Over that span, the portion of white persons age 12 or older who were victims of violent crime increased from 0.96% to 1.19% (up 24%), the portion of males who were victims rose from 0.94% to 1.21% (up 29%), and the portion of females who were victims rose from 1.03% to 1.16% (up 13%).....

There was no statistically significant 1-year change in the number of violent-crime victims age 12 or older from 2017 to 2018; however, the number of violent incidents (the number of specific criminal acts involving a victim) rose from 5.2 million to 6.0 million.  Based on the 2018 survey, the offender was of the same race or ethnicity as the victim in 70% of violent incidents involving black victims, 62% of those involving white victims, 45% of those involving Hispanic victims, and 24% of those involving Asian victims....

While violent crime rose in recent years, property crime fell, as the portion of households that were victims of property crime fell from 7.99% in 2014 to 7.27% in 2018, while the portion that were victims of burglary dropped from 1.27% to 1.07%.

September 10, 2019 in National and State Crime Data, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Study suggests outdoor community service especially effective at reducing recidivism

The harms of solitary confinement and other extreme form of indoor isolation in correctional settings have been widely documented.  But this recent study, titled "The Effect of Horticultural Community Service Programs on Recidivism" and authored by Megan Holmes and Tina Waliczek, spotlights the potential benefits of outdoor community programming for justice-involved individuals.  Here is it abstract and final paragraph:

The average cost of housing a single inmate in the United States is roughly $31,286 per year, bringing the total average cost states spend on corrections to more than $50 billion per year. Statistics show 1 in every 34 adults in the United States is under some form of correctional supervision; and after 3 years, more than 4 in 10 prisoners return to custody. The purpose of this study was to determine the availability of opportunities for horticultural community service and whether there were differences in incidences of recurrences of offenses/recidivism of offenders completing community service in horticultural vs. nonhorticultural settings.  Data were collected through obtaining offender profile probation revocation reports, agency records, and community service supervision reports for one county in Texas.  The sample included both violent and nonviolent and misdemeanor and felony offenders.  Offenders who completed their community service in horticultural or nonhorticultural outdoor environments showed lower rates of recidivism compared with offenders who completed their community service in nonhorticultural indoor environments and those who had no community service.  Demographic comparisons found no difference in incidence of recidivism in comparisons of offenders based on gender, age, and the environment in which community service was served. In addition, no difference was shown in incidence of recidivism in comparisons based on offenders with misdemeanor vs. felony charges.  The results and information gathered support the continued notion that horticultural activities can play an important role in influencing an offender’s successful reentry into society....

Results of this study found those who completed any type of community service had less incidence of recidivism compared with those completing no community service. Results also found that offenders who completed their community service in horticultural or nonhorticultural outdoor environments showed lower rates of recidivism compared with offenders who completed their community service in nonhorticultural indoor environments and those who had no community service. When possible, community service options should be made available to those on probation or parole and include the opportunity for exposure to nature and the outdoors.  Past research (Latessa and Lowenkamp, 2005) found within correctional facilities that rates of recidivism were not affected from standard institutionalized punishment alone. However, basic adult education programs were an effective and promising method for lowering rates of recidivism among adult offender populations (Cecil et al., 2000).  Therefore, participating in horticultural programs on being released from prison or while on probation for the continuation of vocational and/or cognitive-behavioral training championed with community service could provide a sense of meaning and purpose to the individual, which could prove helpful for a successful transition back into society.  Future studies should investigate further the impact of the role of horticulture in the results of this study by comparing nonhorticultural outdoor, horticultural outdoor, and horticultural indoor activities as community service options in a similar study on the impact of recidivism.

September 8, 2019 in National and State Crime Data, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

"The short-run effects of marijuana dispensary openings on local crime"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new empirical article authored by Jesse Burkhardt and Chris Goemans. Here is its abstract:

The recent legalization of marijuana in several states has led to increased public interest regarding the effect of legalization on crime.  Yet, there is limited empirical evidence relating the legalization of marijuana use and distribution to criminal activity.  This paper uses a difference-in-differences design to estimate the effect of marijuana dispensary openings on local crime rates in Denver, Colorado. 

We find that the opening of dispensaries actually decreases violent crime rates in above median income neighborhoods, an important finding in light of increased political debate surrounding legalization.  We also find robust evidence that non-marijuana drug-related crimes decrease within a half-mile of new dispensaries but do not simultaneously increase within a half-mile to mile of new dispensaries, with one possible explanation being that legal marijuana sales and hard drug sales are local substitutes.  Finally, in line with previous research, we find that vehicle break-ins increase up to a mile away from new dispensaries.

Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform

August 6, 2019 in Marijuana Legalization in the States, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 03, 2019

"Consequences of mental and physical health for reentry and recidivism: Toward a health‐based model of desistance"

The title of this post is the title of this recent Criminology article authored by Nathan Link, Jeffrey Ward and Richard Stansfield. Here is its abstract:

During the last few decades, criminologists have identified several adult roles and statuses, including employment, positive family relations, and economic stability, as critical for promoting successful reintegration and desistance.  Very few researchers, however, have investigated the conditions that serve to bring about these transitions and successes crucial for behavior change.  As a complement to a burgeoning amount of literature on the impact of incarceration on health, we emphasize the reverse: Health has important implications for reentry outcomes and reincarceration.

Informed by multiple disciplines, we advance a health‐based model of desistance in which both mental and physical dimensions of health affect life chances in the employment and family realms and ultimately recidivism.  Investigating this issue with longitudinal data from the Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative (SVORI) and structural equation models, we find overall support for the health‐based model of desistance.  Our results indicate several significant pathways through which both manifestations of health influence employment, family conflict, financial problems, and crime and reincarceration.  The findings highlight the need for implementation of correctional and transitional policies to improve health among the incarcerated and avert health‐related reentry failures.

August 3, 2019 in National and State Crime Data, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 29, 2019

"The Effect of Public Health Insurance on Criminal Recidivism"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new empirical paper recently posted to SSRN and authored by Erkmen Giray Aslim, Murat Mungan, Carlos Navarro and Han Yu. Here is its abstract:

The prevalence of mental health and substance abuse disorders is high among incarcerated individuals.  Many ex-offenders reenter the community without receiving any specialized treatment and return to prison with existing behavioral health problems.  We consider a Beckerian law enforcement theory to identify different sources through which access to health care may impact ex-offenders' propensities to recidivate, and empirically estimate the effect of access to public health insurance on criminal recidivism. 

We exploit the plausibly exogenous variation in state decisions to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.  Using administrative data on prison admission and release records from 2010 to 2016, we find that the expansions decrease recidivism for both violent and public order crimes.  In addition, we find that the public coverage expansions substantially increase access to substance use disorder treatment.  The effect is salient for individuals who are covered by Medicaid and referred to treatment by the criminal justice system. These findings are most consistent with the theory that increased access to health care reduces ex-offenders' perceived non-monetary benefits from committing crimes.

I think the punchy way to pitch these findings would be to say that Obamacare reduces crime and limiting or eliminating Obamacare risks increasing crime.  Very interesting (though not all that surprising for folks who think through issues at the intersection of criminal justice and health care access).

July 29, 2019 in National and State Crime Data, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 14, 2019

Brennan Center "final analysis" reports notable crime drops in major cities for 2018

This week the Brennan Center released this new data analysis of 2018 murders and crime rates in 30 major US cities under the titled "Crime in 2018: Final Analysis."  This short report, authored by Ames Grawert and Cameron Kimble, is summarized on this webpage in this way (with links from the original):

In this final analysis of crime rates in 2018, we estimate that rates of violent crime, murder, and overall crime declined in the 30 largest American cities, with significant declines in murder. The data in this report are collected directly from local police departments. The FBI’s final 2018 data, covering the entire United States, will be released in September. 
 
The data reported here refine an initial Brennan Center report released in September, Crime and Murder in 2018: A Preliminary Analysis, which concluded that “increases in the murder rate in 2015 and 2016 were temporary, rather than signaling a reversal in the long-term downward trend” in crime and violence.  A December update reached the same conclusion, showing rates of crime, violent crime, and homicide all declining. These continuing declines indicate that, while increases in crime in 2015 and 2016 merit further study, they did not signal the start of a new “crime wave.” 
 
Updated Tables 1 and 2 support conclusions similar to the Brennan Center’s September and December reports, and now include complete data through the end of the year:
 
Murder: The 2018 murder rate in the 30 largest cities is estimated to have declined by 8.0 percent since 2017.  This finding indicates that the major-city murder rate will approximate 2015 levels but remain above 2014’s low point.
 
Modest declines in most cities explain this decrease.  The murder rate in Chicago, which increased significantly in 2015 and 2016, declined by nearly 12 percent but remains roughly 40 percent above 2014 levels.  Baltimore, another city that continues to struggle with violence, also saw its murder rate decline by 9.1 percent.  While Las Vegas saw its murder rate decrease significantly, by more than 40 percent, part of this decline is attributable to the mass shooting at the Mandalay Bay Resort, which led to an unusually high homicide total in 2017.
 
Some cities saw their murder rates rise in 2018, such as Washington, DC (35.6 percent) and Philadelphia (8.5 percent).  These increases suggest a need to better understand how and why murder is increasing in some cities.  New York City’s murder rate also increased, but by less than 1 percent, making it essentially the same as the 2017 rate. 
 
Crime: The overall crime rate in the 30 largest cities in 2018 is estimated to have declined slightly from the previous year, falling by 3.5 percent. If final FBI data track these findings, crime will have again reached a record low, driven by declining rates of property crime.
 
Violent Crime: The violent crime rate is also estimated to have declined, falling by 4.0 percent from 2017.
 
Estimates of crime and violent crime are based on data from 25 of the nation’s 30 largest cities; estimates of murder include data from 26 cities. The Brennan Center’s previous report on crime in 2018 is available here, and a report studying crime trends from 1990 to 2016 is available here

June 14, 2019 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Critically reviewing how the Bureau of Justice Statistics has reviewed its sex offender recidivism data

Last week I blogged here about the Bureau of Justice Statistics' press release providing highlights of this big report titled "Recidivism of Sex Offenders Released from State Prison: A 9-Year Follow-Up (2005-14)."  A helpful reader made sure I did not miss this notable new piece by Wendy Sawyer over at Prison Policy Initiative reacting to these documents.  This posting is fully titled "BJS fuels myths about sex offense recidivism, contradicting its own new data: A new government report reinforces harmful misconceptions about people convicted of sex offenses. Here's our take on how to parse the data."  I recommend the piece in full, and here are excerpts:

A new report released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics should put an end to this misconception: The report, Recidivism of Sex Offenders Released from State Prison: A 9-Year Follow-Up (2005-2014), shows that people convicted of sex offenses are actually much less likely than people convicted of other offenses to be rearrested or go back to prison.

But you wouldn’t know this by looking at the report’s press release and certain parts of the report itself, which reinforce inaccurate and harmful depictions of people convicted of sex offenses as uniquely dangerous career criminals.  The press release and report both emphasize what appears to be the central finding: “Released sex offenders were three times as likely as other released prisoners to be re-arrested for a sex offense.” That was the headline of the press release.  The report itself re-states this finding three different ways, using similar mathematical comparisons, in a single paragraph.

What the report doesn’t say is that the same comparisons can be made for the other offense categories: People released from sentences for homicide were more than twice as likely to be rearrested for a homicide; those who served sentences for robbery were more than twice as likely to be rearrested for robbery; and those who served time for assault, property crimes, or drug offenses were also more likely (by 1.3-1.4 times) to be rearrested for similar offenses. And with the exception of homicide, those who served sentences for these other offense types were much more likely to be rearrested at all.

The new BJS report, unfortunately, is a good example of how our perception of sex offenders is distorted by alarmist framing, which in turn contributes to bad policy. That this publication was a priority for BJS at all is revealing: this is the only offense category out of all of the offenders included in the recidivism study to which BJS has devoted an entire 35-page report, even though this group makes up just 5% of the release cohort. This might make sense if it was published in an effort to dispel some myths about this population, but that’s not what’s happening here.

Prior related post:

June 6, 2019 in Detailed sentencing data, National and State Crime Data, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

Saturday, June 01, 2019

Another notable study spotlighting a now ubiquitous technology to help explain the great crime decline

One of many major mysteries in this modern history of US crime and punishment is just why crime rates rose so dramatically in the 1970s and 1980s and then the fell dramatically in the 1990s and 2000s. Lots of folks have lots of data to support lots of ideas, and this recent Atlantic piece by Alexis Madrigil, headlined "The Collapsing Crime Rates of the ’90s Might Have Been Driven by Cellphones," provides perhaps another piece of the story.  Here are excerpts from the piece (with a few links preserved) that provides a nice review of the state of this debate:

It’s practically an American pastime to blame cellphones for all sorts of societal problems, from distracted parents to faltering democracies. But the devices might have also delivered a social silver lining: a de-escalation of the gang turf wars that tore up cities in the 1980s. The intriguing new theory suggests that the arrival of mobile phones made holding territory less important, which reduced intergang conflict and lowered profits from drug sales.

Lena Edlund, a Columbia University economist,  and Cecilia Machado, of the Getulio Vargas Foundation, lay out the data in a new National Bureau of Economic Research working paper. They estimate that the diffusion of phones could explain 19 to 29 percent of the decline in homicides seen from 1990 to 2000.

“The cellphones changed how drugs were dealt,” Edlund told me. In the ’80s, turf-based drug sales generated violence as gangs attacked and defended territory, and also allowed those who controlled the block to keep profits high.  The cellphone broke the link, the paper claims, between turf and selling drugs. “It’s not that people don’t sell or do drugs anymore,” Edlund explained to me, “but the relationship between that and violence is different.”

Edlund and Machado used Federal Communications Commission data on cellular-infrastructure deployment and matched it against the FBI’s (admittedly spotty) database on homicides across the country. They demonstrated a negative relationship that was even stronger for black and Latino populations. The title of their paper suggests that a crucial aspect of understanding declining crime has been hiding in plain sight for years: “It’s the Phone, Stupid: Mobiles and Murder.”

Their theory is the latest entry in a series of attempts to explain the components of the long-term decline in crime that began in the early 1990s. The rise and fall of crime in the late 20th century (and into the 21st) is one of the great mysteries of social science. No one has come up with an explanation that fully—and incontestably—accounts for the falling crime rates. Many have tried, and shown substantial initial results, only to have their findings disputed.

Edlund and Machado are not the first to suggest that phones could have played a role in the decline.  Among others, the criminologists Erin Orrick and Alex Piquero were able to show that property crime fell as cellphone-ownership rates climbed.  The first paper on the cellphone-crime link suggested that phones were an “underappreciated” crime deterrent, as mobile communications allow illegal behavior to be reported more easily and quickly.

But cellphones are far from the only possible explanation.  Any measurement that was going up in the ’90s correlates with the decline of violence.  Thus, there are probably too many theories out there, each with limited explanatory power.   One commonsense argument that’s been made is that certain police tactics (say, stop-and-frisk or the “broken windows” approach) or the explosion of incarceration rates must have been responsible for the decline, but most careful reviews have found little evidence to suggest that they had more than a marginal impact.

The University of New Haven criminologist Maria Tcherni-Buzzeo published a review of the contending theories in 2018 that found no fewer than 24 different explanations for why crime began a multi-decade decline in the early 1990s, through economic times good and bad, in different countries and cities, under draconian policing regimes and more progressive ones.

Every theory has its proponents and detractors.  For example, the economists Steven Levitt and John Donohue proposed (and doubled down on) the idea that legalizing abortion reduced crime rates by cutting down on the number of unwanted pregnancies and children born into situations that make them more likely to fall into criminal life. Tcherni-Buzzeo described the theory as “thoroughly debunked by empirical research” in a 2018 book chapter looking at the theories behind the crime decline. Yet Levitt and Donohue’s most recent research, published as a working paper this month, contends they were even more right all along than they’d thought, and that the “cumulative impact of legalized abortion on crime is roughly 45 percent, accounting for a very substantial portion of the roughly 50–55 percent overall decline from the peak of crime in the early 1990s.”

June 1, 2019 in National and State Crime Data, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Bureau of Justice Statistics releases "Recidivism of Sex Offenders Released from State Prison: A 9-Year Follow-Up (2005-14)"

The Bureau of Justice Statistics has this new press release providing highlights of this big new report titled "Recidivism of Sex Offenders Released from State Prison: A 9-Year Follow-Up (2005-14)." Here are excerpts from the press release:

State prisoners released after serving time for rape or sexual assault were more than three times as likely as other released prisoners to be re-arrested for rape or sexual assault during the 9 years following their release, the Bureau of Justice Statistics announced today.  Released sex offenders represented 5% of prisoners released in 2005 and 16% of post-release arrests for rape or sexual assault during the 9-year follow-up period.

The BJS study tracked a representative sample of prisoners released in 2005 in the 30 states that were responsible for 77% of all state prisoners released nationwide and examined their arrests through 2014.  An estimated 7.7% of released sex offenders were arrested for rape or sexual assault during the 9-year follow up period, versus 2.3% of other released prisoners.

While rape and sexual assault offenders were more likely than other released prisoners to be arrested for rape or sexual assault, they were less likely than other released prisoners to be arrested for other crimes. About two-thirds (67%) of released sex offenders were arrested at least once for any type of crime during the 9 years following their release, compared to about five-sixths (84%) of other released prisoners.  Almost all prisoners who were re-arrested (96% of released sex offenders and 99% of all released offenders) were arrested for an offense other than a probation or parole violation.

This is BJS’s first recidivism study on sex offenders with a 9-year follow-up period. Fewer than half of released sex offenders were arrested for any crime within the first 3 years of release, while more than two-thirds were arrested within 9 years.  About 3 in 10 released sex offenders were arrested during their first year after release.  About 1 in 5 were arrested during their fifth year after release, and nearly 1 in 6 were arrested during their ninth year....

Overall, half of sex offenders released from prison had a subsequent arrest that led to a conviction.  However, sex offenders were less likely than all released prisoners to have a new arrest resulting in a conviction.  Within 3 years of release, 28% of persons released after serving a sentence for rape or sexual assault had an arrest that led to a conviction, compared to 49% of all released prisoners. At the end of the 9-year follow-up, 50% of sex offenders and 69% of all released prisoners had a new arrest that led to a conviction.

Sex offenders were more likely than other released prisoners to receive longer sentences and to be granted unconditional releases from prison.  The median sentence length for sex offenders was 60 months versus 36 months for all state prisoners released in 30 states in 2005.  About 32% of sex offenders were granted an unconditional release and not placed on parole, probation or some other form of community supervision. About 26% of all released prisoners were granted an unconditional release.

BJS also has created this one-page summary of the report.  In short form, this report details that sex offenders released from state prison in 2005 were less likely to be arrested for any offense than other released prisoners, but they were more likely to be arrested for a sex offense than other released prisoners.  And, as I have said before based other data from this BJS set, recidivism rates for everyone released from state prison in 2005 have been depressingly high.  It is worth emphasizing, though, that these data are focused on prisoners released back in 2005, a time when there was relatively little interest in prison rehabilitation programming or in aiding prisoner reentry.  I am hopeful that recent state reforms on these fronts might be now producing lower recidivism numbers, but only time will tell.

May 30, 2019 in Detailed sentencing data, National and State Crime Data, Offender Characteristics, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

FBI reports on encouraging crime data from the first half of 2018

This FBI press release, titled "Preliminary Semiannual Crime Statistics for 2018 Released; Report Shows Overall Crime Declined in First Half of Last Year," provides heartening news about recent crime trends.  Here are the basics from the release:

Preliminary statistics show declines in both violent crime and property crime in the first half of 2018 when compared to statistics from the first half of the previous year, according to the FBI’s Preliminary Semiannual Uniform Crime Report, released today.

The report contains data from more than 14,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide that voluntarily submitted crime data to the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program. The report showed nearly all offenses in the violent crime category declined. Robbery offenses decreased 12.5 percent, murder and nonnegligent manslaughter offenses decreased 6.7 percent, and aggravated assault offenses declined 2 percent.  Rape (revised definition), however, increased 0.6 percent.

When comparing data from the first six months of 2018 with the first six months of 2017, all property crime categories showed a decrease. Burglaries were down 12.7 percent, larceny-thefts decreased 6.3 percent, and motor vehicle thefts declined 3.3 percent.

The full Crime in the United States, 2018 report will be released later this year.

The data follow reports from last year that the first-half of 2017 crime data also reflected a decline in most categories of crime. This FBI table providing year-to-year trends of the last four years provides a little more context for this latest data.  It is especially encouraging to see violent crime move down significantly after increases in 2015 and 2016 and a small decline in 2017.  And the continued huge decline in property crime remains remarkable.

February 26, 2019 in National and State Crime Data, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 14, 2019

"The Dark Figure of Sexual Recidivism"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper authored by Nicholas Scurich and Richard John now available via SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

Empirical studies of sexual offender recidivism have proliferated in recent decades. Virtually all of the studies define recidivism as a new legal charge or conviction for a sexual crime, and these studies tend to find recidivism rates on the order of 5-15% after 5 years and 10-25% after 10+ years.  It is uncontroversial that such a definition of recidivism underestimates the true rate of sexual recidivism because most sexual crime is not reported to legal authorities, the so-called “dark figure of crime.”

To estimate the magnitude of the dark figure of sexual recidivism, this paper uses a probabilistic simulation approach in conjunction with a.) victim self-report survey data about the rate of reporting sexual crime to legal authorities, b.) offender self-report data about the number of victims per offender, and c.) different assumptions about the chances of being convicted of a new sexual offense once it is reported.  Under any configuration of assumptions, the dark figure is substantial, and as a consequence, the disparity between recidivism defined as a new legal charge or conviction for a sex crime and recidivism defined as actually committing a new sexual crime is large.  These findings call into question the utility of recidivism studies that rely exclusively on official crime statistics to define sexual recidivism, and highlight the need for additional, long-term studies that use a variety of different measures to assess whether or not sexual recidivism has occurred.

February 14, 2019 in Data on sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (13)

Monday, February 11, 2019

Acting AG Whitaker makes the case that "law enforcement works"

Today in Washington, DC, Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker delivered these remarks to the National Sheriffs’ Association’s Winter Conference. The structure and specifics of what he had to say is quite similar to the message delivered by former AG Jeff Sessions in similar settings in years past, and here are notable excerpts speaking to federal enforcement efforts:

In the last fiscal year, the Justice Department charged the greatest number of violent crime defendants since we started to track this category more than 25 years ago.  We broke the previous record by nearly 15 percent.  We also charged more than 15,000 defendants with federal firearms offenses, which is a record. We broke that record by a margin of 17 percent.

Last year we charged more illegal aliens with illegal entry than ever before.  In fact, we charged 85 percent more defendants with illegally entering America than we did in the previous year. And we increased the number of felony re-entry prosecutions by more than 38 percent.

All of these efforts that I’ve mentioned are adding up — and they’re bringing down the crime rate in counties all across America. In September, the FBI released final crime statistics for 2017. They showed that the violent crime rate and the homicide rate both went down after two years of increases under the previous administration.

For 2018, one estimate projects that the murder rate in our 30 largest cities declined by 7.6 percent.  That is usually a good indicator of what is happening nationwide.

And as this crowd knows well: when you lock up gang members and violent criminals, you also have an impact on drug crime.  In fiscal year 2018, the Department of Justice charged six percent more drug defendants than in the year before.  We prosecuted 36 percent more opioid defendants than the previous four-year average. We increased heroin prosecutions by 15 percent and oxycontin prosecutions by 35 percent.  We have broken records for fentanyl prosecutions two years in a row.

More importantly, drug overdose deaths may have finally stopped rising. According to preliminary data from the CDC, fatal overdoses stopped rising in September 2017 — and then decreased by two percent through April 2018.

This is preliminary data, but it is still encouraging. As our efforts have shown over these last two years, law enforcement works.

I am very pleased that there is a projected significant decline in the murder rate and also that overdose deaths may be decreasing. I am not sure it is sound to attribute these positive developments to stepped up federal prosecutions, but I am sure that we should all celebrate the very fact that there are good crime and overdose data to "spin" in various possible ways.

February 11, 2019 in Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, National and State Crime Data, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 21, 2018

Bureau of Justice Statistics releases results of the 2017 National Crime Victimization Survey

As reported in this press release and as fully detailed in this 30-page report, the Bureau of Justice Statistics has just published the results from its annual survey of households about their experiences with crime.  Here is how the survey is exampled in these documents: "The NCVS collects information on nonfatal violent and property crimes against persons age 12 or older, whether or not these crimes were reported to police, from a nationally representative sample of U.S. households. Respondents are asked about the number and characteristics of crimes they have experienced during the prior six months." And here are the statistical basics via the press release:

There was no statistically significant increase from 2016 to 2017 in the number of residents age 12 and over who had been victims of violent crime during the prior six months, while there was a statistically significant increase from 2015 to 2017. The overall number of victimizations that occurred, reflecting the total number of times people were victimized, did not increase significantly over either a 1- or 2-year span.

These 2017 findings follow a statistically significant increase in the number of victims of violent crime from 2015 to 2016.

From 2016 to 2017, trends were mixed among individual crime types. The rate of robbery victimizations rose from 1.7 per 1,000 residents age 12 or older in 2016 to 2.3 per 1,000 in 2017. Meanwhile, the burglary rate dropped from 23.7 victimizations per 1,000 households in 2016 to 20.6 per 1,000 households in 2017. In the NCVS, robbery is defined as theft or attempted theft directly from a person by force or threat of force, and burglary is the unlawful or forcible entry or attempted entry of a residence or other non-commercial structure, such as a garage or shed.

The portion of U.S. residents age 12 or older who had been a victim of violent crime during the prior six months increased from 0.98 percent in 2015 to 1.14 percent in 2017. This 2-year rise in the prevalence of violent crime was driven primarily by an increase in simple assault (which is generally non-felony assault).

For the second straight year, the number of victims of violent crime was higher than in 2015. The number of persons age 12 or older who had been victims of violent crime rose from 2.7 million in 2015 to 2.9 million in 2016 (up 9 percent from 2015) and 3.1 million in 2017 (up 17 percent from 2015). The 2-year increase in the number of violent-crime victims was 455,700.

From 2016 to 2017, the portion of persons victimized by violent crime increased among females, whites, those ages 12 to 17, those age 65 and over, and those who were divorced or had never been married. The portion of Asians victimized by violent crime, however, decreased. From 2015 to 2017, the portion of persons who were victims of violent crime increased among males, whites, those ages 25 to 34, those ages 50 to 64, those age 65 and over, and those who had never been married.

Overall, property crime decreased from 2016 to 2017, falling from 118.6 victimizations per 1,000 households to 108.4. This decrease followed an increase in property crime the previous year, from 110.7 victimizations per 1,000 households in 2015 to 118.6 in 2016.

Based on the 2017 survey, about 45 percent of violent victimizations and 36 percent of property victimizations were reported to police. The percentage of rapes or sexual assaults that were reported to police rose from 23 percent in 2016 to 40 percent in 2017.

I think it fair to say that this metric determined that violent crime ticked up a bit in 2017, but not as much as in prior years, and property crime during the same period trended downward.

December 21, 2018 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, December 20, 2018

"California transformed its justice system. But now crime is up, and critics want rollbacks"

La-1545291924-l4bgfb9fvx-snap-imageThe title of this post is the headline of this notable new Los Angeles Times article that merits a read in full. Here is the first part of the piece:

Over the last decade, California has led the nation in reducing its prison population. The state has shortened sentences and diverted some offenders to the counties for incarceration and supervision, transforming California’s criminal justice system into what supporters hope will become a humane model around the country.

But amid the changes, crime has increased in recent years, sparking debate about the causes and giving ammunition to those leading a new effort to roll back some of the reforms.

An analysis by the Marshall Project and the Los Angeles Times found that California’s crime rates remain near historic lows, but overall crime spiked in both 2012 and 2015, the years that immediately followed two major statewide measures aimed at decreasing the number of people in prison. Those jumps were mainly driven by increases in property crimes, particularly thefts from motor vehicles.

After decades of mirroring national downward trends in violent crime, California saw a 12% increase from 2014 to 2017, while the violent crime rate in the other 49 states together increased only 3%, the analysis showed. In 2014, California voters approved a ballot measure that reduced sentences for many low-level drug and property crimes. California’s property crime rate fell slightly in the last two years, but remains 2% higher than it was in 2014. By contrast, the rate of property crimes in the rest of the nation has dropped by 10% over the same period.

There is no simple explanation. Crime trends vary dramatically from county to county. Thirty-one of the state’s 58 counties saw an increase in violent crime last year, while 22 saw an increase in property crimes. The rest stayed flat or declined. What single factor can explain the fact that violent crime went up 6% last year in Los Angeles but fell 6% in Sacramento?

There also have been large differences in the way counties spent the billions in state money allocated to implement the new measures. Some focused on building jails, others on recruiting and deploying police, and still others experimented with collaborative courts and reentry programs.

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To complicate matters, specific crimes come with their own caveats. Reports of rape have increased nationally since 2013, for example, but sexual assaults have traditionally been underreported, and part of the increase stems from the FBI’s decision to broaden its definition of rape in 2013. (The Marshall Project and Times data analysis excluded rape.) Reports of aggravated assaults in California also have increased, but part of that increase is likely due to underreporting from 2005 to 2012 by the Los Angeles Police Department.

California’s criminal reform revolution began in earnest in 2011 after the U.S. Supreme Court approved a cap on the number of inmates in prison. Lawmakers responded by passing Assembly Bill 109, known as realignment, which lowered the prison population by shifting the burden to the counties to house and supervise thousands of inmates convicted of crimes that the law categorized as nonviolent and nonserious.

Three years later, California voters approved Proposition 47, which turned drug use and most theft convictions from felonies to misdemeanors. In 2016, voters overhauled the state parole system by backing Proposition 57, which gave thousands of inmates the chance to earn an earlier release from prison.

The undeniable result of all these measures is that people are on the street today who would have been locked up in previous years. Critics of the reforms argue that they have created a permissive climate that makes policing harder and weakens the deterrent effect of a possible prison sentence.

“There’s no accountability,” said Assemblyman Jim Cooper (D-Elk Grove). “People know they can get away with things. That’s contributed to it. That’s really been a big source of frustration. No one’s going to jail anymore.” Cooper, a retired Sacramento County sheriff’s captain, has been a leading voice in a coalition of prosecutors and law enforcement groups pushing back.

A statewide initiative that will appear on the 2020 ballot would reverse some provisions of Proposition 47, toughen supervision of parolees and disqualify some prisoners from early release.

Backers of the proposed rollback argue that the state’s drug courts, intended as an alternative to criminal courts, are seeing fewer people because prosecutors can no longer force someone into treatment with the threat of a felony. (Some counties, including San Diego, have reported decreases in drug court participation since Proposition 47, but no statewide figures are available.) Those who favor toughening the law also claim counties are struggling to supervise offenders with violent criminal records.

Supporters of the prison downsizing measures dispute any link between the new laws and an increase in crime. They argue that using 2014 as a baseline — the year with the fewest crimes reported in the state since the 1960s — unfairly skews any analysis. “To look at it from a year-to-year basis is very short-sighted,” said Michael Romano, the director of the Three Strikes Project at Stanford Law School who helped write Proposition 47. “We really have had a sustained downward trend over the past decade or two.” He said it’s unlikely any single factor led to an increase in crime, but rather a combination of issues, such as poverty and unemployment, in different counties throughout the state.

Californians for Safety and Justice, a group that co-authored Proposition 47, points out that several states saw larger increases in violent crime than California from 2016 to 2017. (An analysis by The Times and the Marshall Project found 20 states with larger increases in violent crime rates.) They note that none of the recent laws changed penalties for violent crimes.

In 2013, the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California found that the first major prison downsizing law, realignment, had no effect on violent crime, but did lead to an increase in auto thefts. In 2016, a prestigious social science journal reached a similar conclusion. Under realignment, people convicted of auto theft, a nonviolent felony, usually serve shorter sentences in their local jails and are released under local supervision.

Two studies published this summer — one by a UC Irvine criminologist and another by the Public Policy Institute of California —found no link between Proposition 47 and increases in violent crime. Both noted a possible link between the initiative and increases in larceny, particularly thefts from motor vehicles, although the Irvine study found those links too tenuous to conclude Proposition 47 was to blame.

After national crime data for 2017 released this fall showed California departed from the national trend — violent crime in California ticked up slightly while it fell slightly across the 49 other states taken together — researchers said they planned to revisit the question of a link between Proposition 47 and violent crime. California’s robbery rate jumped 14% from 2014 to 2017; the rest of the country saw a 7% drop. “It is troubling and deserves more attention,” said Magnus Lofstrom, policy director of corrections at the Public Policy Institute of California.

In addition to praising the work of this article, I wanted to flag the possibility that the stories of crime in California might get even more complicated and unclear if and when we get complete data for 2018. The recent Brennan Center report indicates crime is down in 2018 in some major California cities and that murder is down a lot in all big California cities. If these numbers hold true throughout the state reform advocates will have some important data to push back on the claim that reform rollbacks are needed to enhance public safety.

UPDATE The day after running this general story about an uptick in California crime, the Los Angeles Times followed up with this more encouraging local tale under the headline "Crime once plagued San Joaquin County, but now its jail has empty beds. Here’s what it did right."  The unsurprising take-away is that how and how well a jurisdiction implements criminal justice reform impacts how well criminal justice reform works.

December 20, 2018 in National and State Crime Data, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment, State Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Brennan Center releases its latest (encouraging) accounting of crime in 2018

Ames Grawert and and Cameron Kimble at The Brennan Center have produced this new report titled "Crime in 2018: Updated Analysis."  Here is how it gets started:

In September, the Brennan Center analyzed available crime data from the nation’s 30 largest cities, estimating that these cities would see a decline in crime and murder in 2018. Our report, Crime and Murder in 2018: A Preliminary Analysis, concluded that crime and murder in 2018 are again declining nationwide, continuing the historic downward trend.

This analysis updates the September report and finds that, where data were available, rates of crime, violent crime, and murder in major American cities are estimated to decline through the end of 2018.  However, murder rates in some cities remain above 2015 levels, demonstrating a continued need for evidence-based solutions to violent crime....

• Murder: The 2018 murder rate in the 30 largest cities is estimated to decline by nearly 6 percent. Large decreases this year in Chicago and San Francisco, as well as moderate decreases in other cities such as Baltimore, contributed to this decline.  The murder rate in Chicago — which increased significantly in 2015 and 2016 — is projected to decline by 18.1 percent in 2018.  The murder rate in San Francisco is estimated to fall by nearly 27 percent. Baltimore’s 2018 murder rate is projected to decline by 7.4 percent.

Some cities are projected to see their murder rates rise, including Washington, D.C. (by 39.5 percent), and Houston (by 22.6 percent).  Further study is needed to better understand the causes of these rises.

• Crime: The overall crime rate in the 30 largest cities in 2018 is estimated to decline slightly from the previous year, falling by 1.8 percent.  While this conclusion is based on preliminary data, if the trend holds, the crime rate will fall to its lowest since at least 1990.

• Violent Crime: Violent crime rates are projected to decline in the majority of the 30 largest cities through the end of 2018.  Overall, the violent crime rate is estimated to decrease by 2.7 percent, continuing a downward trend from 2017.

Estimates of crime and violent crime are based on data from 22 of the nation’s 30 largest cities; estimates of murder include data from all 30 cities. While the estimates in this report are based on early data, previous Brennan Center reports have correctly estimated the direction and magnitude of changes in major-city crime rates.

December 18, 2018 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 17, 2018

Should Senator Cotton and any others fretting about crime after passage of the FIRST STEP Act focus a lot more attention on crime risks presented by climate change?

The question in the title of this post is my (slightly tongue-in-cheek) way of highlighting a recent research paper published in GeoHealth linking warmer winters to more violent crime.  This paper, which I saw thanks to this post at The Crime Report, is authored by Ryan D. Harp and Kristopher B. Karnauskas, and it is titled "The Influence of Interannual Climate Variability on Regional Violent Crime Rates in the United States."  Here is its abstract and plain language summary:

Abstract

While the impact of climate on regional geopolitical stability and large‐scale conflict has garnered increased visibility in recent years, the effects of climate variability on interpersonal violent crime have received only limited scientific attention.  Though earlier studies have established a modest correlation between temperature and violent crime, the underlying seasonality in both variables was often not controlled for and spatial heterogeneity of the statistical relationships has largely been overlooked. Here a method of spatial aggregation is applied to the United States, enabling a systematic investigation into the observed relationships between large‐scale climate variability and regionally aggregated crime rates.  This novel approach allows for differentiation between the effects of two previously proposed mechanisms linking climate and violent crime, the Routine Activities Theory and Temperature‐Aggression Hypothesis.  Results indicate large and statistically significant positive correlations between the interannual variability of wintertime air temperature and both violent and property crime rates, with negligible correlations emerging from summertime data. Results strongly support the Routine Activities Theory linking climate and violent crime, with climate variability explaining well over a third of the variance of wintertime violent crime in several broad regions of the United States.  Finally, results motivate the development of observationally constrained empirical models and their potential application to seasonal and potentially longer‐term forecasts.

Plain Language Summary

Higher wintertime temperatures lead to higher crime rates across several broad regions of the United States.  We combined more than 30 years of climate and crime data from five U.S. regions with similar climate and found a very strong relationship between temperature and both violent and property crime, particularly in the winter.  That milder winters–when people are more apt to be out and about compared to harsh winters–see that higher levels of crime provides support to a theory that simply increasing the number of interactions between people is likely the primary driver of this climate‐crime connection.

December 17, 2018 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 28, 2018

"Mass incarceration isn’t always the issue. Uneven incarceration is."

Title of this post is headline of this recent Washington Post commentary by Charles Lane.  Here are excerpts (with a little cursory commentary to follow):

“Mass incarceration” update: It peaked during the years 2007-2008 and has been quietly but consistently falling ever since. The U.S. prison and jail population that equaled 760 out of every 100,000 people in each of those two years had declined by the end of 2016 to 670 per 100,000, according to the Justice Department.

Does that 11.8 percent drop represent meaningful progress? Well, compared with what? If the standard is the low-violent-crime, low-incarceration norm enjoyed by the United States’ peer nations in Western Europe and Japan, the progress here looks modest at best.  Germany, for example, had an incarceration rate of 76 per 100,000 in 2016, and a murder rate of 1.18 per 100,000, according to the United Nations. 

Yet the United States is clearly headed in the right direction: We have managed to halt and reverse ever-growing incarceration rates, including, crucially, for black men, whose numbers in prison have fallen by about 98,000 since 2009, according to the Pew Research Center. The overall incarceration rate is now at a 20-year low, Pew reports.

Meanwhile, violent crime, despite a troubling uptick in 2015 and 2016, has not reverted to the out-of-control rates of the late 1980s and early 1990s.  According to FBI data released last month, the 2017 U.S. murder rate was 5.4 per 100,000, roughly quintuple Germany’s, but still about half what it was in 1991.

In one significant respect, however, the problem in the United States may be underincarceration.  As a Post team reported in June, murder goes all but unpunished in large areas of numerous U.S. cities, with impunity concentrated in heavily minority areas where police-community relations are at their worst and gang intimidation at its strongest. In Baltimore and Chicago, The Post report noted, police “solve so few homicides that vast areas stretching for miles experience hundreds of homicides with virtually no arrests.”

And because no one seriously questions that murderers and other violent offenders should be imprisoned (indeed, 54 percent of the state prison population is serving time for violent offenses, not drug offenses or other nonviolent crimes), these data imply that, for some U.S. jurisdictions, mass incarceration is not the issue, but rather something possibly more corrosive: uneven incarceration. Minority communities experience a criminal-justice system that simultaneously over- and under-enforces the law....

Despite recent decreases, the United States still incarcerates more people, in absolute numbers and as a share of our population, than any other nation on Earth. This statistic is nothing to be proud of.

Considered in proper context, though, it reflects not only historic social and racial inequalities, and punitive attitudes, but also the fact that the United States is the only large nation on Earth with both a functioning criminal-justice system and a fairly high level of violent crime.

The goal of criminal justice should not be any particular level of incarceration, high or low, but rather fair, consistent and effective enforcement focused on the most repugnant and most socially destabilizing crimes.  We’re not there yet, but compared with the recent past, we are doing better.

I commend this commentary for noting that "we are doing better" on crime and punishment in the US, while also noting that we also still have way too much violent crime and way too much prison punishment in our nation.  These realities should call for, especially after the last few days of hate-fueled crimes, some real soul-searching about what makes America less than great on these metrics.  I certainly have some thoughts on some factors that I think fuel these realities (e.g., disparities, drugs, guns, leadership), but what I think is most important is that any and everyone concerned about either crime or punishment give real thought to the progress we are making and how far we still have to go even when merely compared to any comparable nation.  

October 28, 2018 in National and State Crime Data, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 19, 2018

"Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs, Opioid Abuse, and Crime"

A helpful colleague made sure I did not miss this interesting working paper with the same title as this post and authored by Dhaval Dave, Monica Deza and Brady Horn. Here is its abstract:

The past two decades have witnessed a substantial increase in opioid use and abuse in the United States.  In response to this opioid epidemic, prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) have been implemented in virtually all states.  These programs collect, monitor, and analyze prescription opioid data with the goal of preventing the abuse and diversion of controlled substances.  A growing literature has found that voluntary PDMPs, which do not require doctors to access PDMPs before prescribing controlled substances, have had little effect on opioid use and misuse. However, PDMPs that do mandate access have been found to be effective in reducing opioid misuse and other related health outcomes.

In this paper we study the broader impact of voluntary and mandatory-access PDMPs on crime, and in the process inform the causal link between prescription opioid abuse and crime. Using information on offenses known to law enforcement and arrests from the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR), combined with a difference-in-differences empirical strategy, we find that voluntary PDMPs did not significantly affect crime whereas mandatory-access PDMPs have reduced crime by approximately 3.5%.  Reductions in crime are largely associated with violent crimes, particularly homicide and assault.  Also, we find evidence that young adults experienced the largest decrease in crime, which is consistent with prior work that also finds relatively larger declines in prescription opioid abuse for this group.  Overall, these results provide additional evidence that prescription drug monitoring programs are an effective social policy tool to mitigate the negative consequences of opioid misuse, and more broadly indicate that opioid policies can have important spillover effects into other non-health related domains such as crime.

October 19, 2018 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Attorney General Jeff Sessions boasts about federal prosecutors now "running up the score against the criminals"

As of September 27, 2018, the federal prison population was reported at 181,726, the lowest level in more than a dozen years.  But this new speech that Attorney General Jeff Sessions delivered today in Utah suggests it may be only a matter of time before this population is heading up again.  Here is an excerpt that leads me to this view:

Forging new relationships with local prosecutors and building on existing relationships will ensure that the most violent offenders are prosecuted in the most appropriate jurisdiction. Our goal is not to fill up the courts or fill up the prisons.  Our goal is to reduce crime, just as President Trump directed us to do.  Our goal is to make every community safer — especially the most vulnerable....

Our prosecutors in Utah are running up the score against the criminals.  They charged 29 percent more defendants in 2017 than they did in 2014.  That includes 64 percent more drug trafficking defendants, 44 percent more violent crime defendants, and 40 percent more illegal re-entries....

In 2018, the Department of Justice prosecuted more violent criminals than in any year on record.  At the same time, we charged the highest number of federal firearm defendants in history.  Fully 41 percent more gun defendants were prosecuted in fiscal year 2017 than they were just five years before.

This past year we broke our own record — and it wasn’t even close.  Over the last fiscal year — October 1 of 2017 up to September 30, 2018 — the Department of Justice brought charges against 15 percent more violent crime defendants than we did in the previous, record-breaking year.  That’s 20 percent more violent crime defendants than we charged in fiscal 2016.

We also charged nearly 20 percent more firearm defendants than we did in 2017 and 30 percent more than we charged in 2016.  We’ve been so tough on illegal guns that we’re actually getting attacked in the press for it — if you can believe that.

Here’s what the critics don’t understand: we are going after violent felons.  We are targeting the most dangerous people in the most violent areas who have guns....

Law enforcement pays dividends — because when we have safer streets, businesses are more likely to invest and create jobs, property values go up, and the people we serve are more likely to flourish.  And so we are going to keep up this pace.  We are going to keep supporting Utah’s state and local police.  We’re going to keep arming them with the tools, resources, and expertise that they need to protect the people of this city and this state.

October 3, 2018 in Data on sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (4)

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Noting some worrisome trends in latest official FBI crime data

The folks at Crime & Consequences have two recent posts spotlighting some notable state-specific trends in the latest FBI crime data.  As noted in this post from last week, the FBI reported that violent crimes in the US appeared to "decrease 0.2 percent in 2017 when compared with 2016 data" and that property crimes also "dropped 3.0 percent" in 2017.  But, for fans of sentencing reforms and/or marijuana reform, these two posts at C&C suggest a different tale:

Crime in the United States and California, 2008-2017 by Kent Scheidegger

Excerpt California and United States [had] violent crimes rates falling in tandem prior to Realignment.  That bill took effect in October 2011, so 2011 is mostly a pre-Realignment year.  We would expect effects to show up in later years.  There is a bump in 2012, while the national number is flat, followed by a drop the year after that. Beginning in 2015, California's violent crime rates have been above the national rate to a larger extent than previously.  Overall, the California rate averaged 9% above the national rate before Realignment and 12% above since Proposition 47....

So what degree of proof would we say the simple comparison above establishes that California's soft-on-crime legislation has increased crime?  In terms familiar to lawyers, is it "proof beyond a reasonable doubt"?  Certainly not.  "Preponderance of the evidence."  No, I wouldn't claim that.  "Probable cause"? Arguably.  "Reasonable suspicion"? Certainly.

UCR Data Raises Concerns by Michael Rushford

Excerpt:  Looking at significant recent changes in state criminal justice policy, states which have legalized recreational marijuana and states which have engaged in major sentencing reform to reduce sentences were more likely to have suffered increases in violent crime that those who have not.   

Of the nine states and the District of Columbia which have legalized recreational marijuana six had increases in violent crime.  The increase in Vermont, which legalized recreational marijuana in July, was the highest at 21.4%, with Colorado coming in second at 7%.  Of the legalized marijuana states and DC, six had significant increases in homicide, with Vermont not reporting.  Massachusetts' increase was 27.5%, with Alaska's was 19.5%, followed by Nevada (17.8%), Washington (16%), Colorado (15.3%), and Maine ((14.5%).  All nine legalized marijuana states had increases in rape, with Vermont (28.2%), Maine, (14%), and Nevada (10.5%) in double digits.

Of the eight states which have enacted the most significant reforms to reduce sentences, seven had increased violent crime, and five had increases in homicide.  Three of these states had double digit increases in homicide lead by Arkansas (18.3%), and followed by Washington (16%) and Hawaii (11.5%).  

One of these posts stresses the important point that "correlation does not prove causation." But it is at least worth nothing that some are eager to note certain correlations.

September 30, 2018 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 24, 2018

Official FBI crime data for 2017 reports violent and property crime in decline in United States

Early markers hinted that crime was back to declining in 2017, after violent crime had increases in 2015 and 2016 in the United States.  This official FBI press release provides these basics on the latest official FBI data:

After two consecutive years of increases, the estimated number of violent crimes in the nation decreased 0.2 percent in 2017 when compared with 2016 data, according to FBI figures released today. Property crimes dropped 3.0 percent, marking the 15th consecutive year the collective estimates for these offenses declined.

The 2017 statistics show the estimated rate of violent crime was 382.9 offenses per 100,000 inhabitants, and the estimated rate of property crime was 2,362.2 offenses per 100,000 inhabitants. The violent crime rate fell 0.9 percent when compared with the 2016 rate; the property crime rate declined 3.6 percent.

These and additional data are presented in the 2017 edition of the FBI’s annual report Crime in the United States. This publication is a statistical compilation of offense, arrest, and police employee data reported by law enforcement agencies voluntarily participating in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program....

Of the 18,547 city, county, university and college, state, tribal, and federal agencies eligible to participate in the UCR Program, 16,655 agencies submitted data in 2017. A high-level summary of the statistics submitted, as well as estimates for those agencies that did not report, follows:

  • In 2017, there were an estimated 1,247,321 violent crimes.  The estimated number of robbery offenses decreased 4.0 percent, and the estimated number of murder and nonnegligent manslaughter offenses decreased 0.7 percent when compared with estimates from 2016.  The estimated volume of aggravated assault and rape (revised definition) offenses increased 1.0 percent and 2.5 percent, respectively.
  • Nationwide, there were an estimated 7,694,086 property crimes.  The estimated numbers for two of the three property crimes showed declines when compared with the previous year’s estimates.  Burglaries dropped 7.6 percent, larceny-thefts decreased 2.2 percent, but motor vehicle thefts rose 0.8 percent.
  • Collectively, victims of property crimes (excluding arson) suffered losses estimated at $15.3 billion in 2017.
  • The FBI estimated law enforcement agencies nationwide made 10.6 million arrests, (excluding those for traffic violations) in 2017.
  • The arrest rate for violent crime was 160.7 per 100,000 inhabitants; the arrest rate for property crime was 388.7 per 100,000 inhabitants.
  • By violent crime offense, the arrest rate for murder and nonnegligent manslaughter was 3.8 per 100,000 inhabitants; rape (aggregate total using the revised and legacy definition), 7.2; robbery, 29.3; and aggravated assault, 120.4 per 100,000 inhabitants.
  • Of the property crime offenses, the arrest rate for burglary was 61.7 per 100,000 inhabitants; larceny-theft, 296.0; and motor vehicle theft, 28.2. The arrest rate for arson was 2.8 per 100,000 inhabitants.

As I have said in the past and will say in the future, reports of declining crime rates is something that everyone should celebrate while continuing to consider how we can continue to do better both with crime and punishment.  As reported here last week, data from the Brennan Center suggests we are continuing to do better on crime issues in 2018.  Given that the latest prisoner statistics suggesting continued declining prison populations through 2017 and 2018 — e.g., as of September 20, 2018, the federal prison population was reported at 181,800, down more than 5% from the reported population of 192,170 in 2016 and down almost 20% from the 219,298 federal prisoners reported in 2013 — it seems we may be finding ways to have less reported crimes and less prison punishment. 

September 24, 2018 in National and State Crime Data, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 21, 2018

Spotlighting ever-increasing overdose casualties amidst the last four decades of the war on drugs

F2.largeA new article in Science presents some notable data and observations about drug overdoses over the last 40 years in the US.  This article by six public health researchers is titled "Changing dynamics of the drug overdose epidemic in the United States from 1979 through 2016." Here is its full abstract:

INTRODUCTION

The epidemic of substance use disorders and drug overdose deaths is a growing public health crisis in the United States.  Every day, 174 people die from drug overdoses. Currently, opioids (including prescription opioids, heroin, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and its chemical analogs) are the leading cause of overdose deaths.  The overdose mortality data can reveal the complex and evolving dynamics of drug use in the United States.

RATIONALE

Reports on the U.S. drug overdose epidemic tend to focus on changes in yearly statistics. Improved understanding of the long-term dynamics of the overdose epidemic may aid in the development of more effective epidemic prevention and control strategies.  At present, there are no reliable methods to forecast the likely future course of the epidemic. We focused on deaths from overdoses as a relatively reliable metric of the epidemic because all deaths are required to be reported in all U.S. states and territories using the standardized International Classification of Diseases.  In an effort to understand the epidemic dynamics and perhaps predict its future course, we analyzed records of 599,255 deaths from 1979 through 2016 from the National Vital Statistics System where unintentional drug poisoning was identified as the main cause of death.  We examined the time course of the overall number of deaths; the contributions of individual drugs (prescription opioids, heroin, synthetic opioids like fentanyl, methadone, cocaine, methamphetamine) to the overall curve; changes in the populations most affected by each drug as measured by demographic factors of age, sex, race, and urbanicity; and changes in the geographic distribution of deaths due to each drug as measured by the county of residence of each decedent.

RESULTS

The overall mortality rate for unintentional drug poisonings in the United States grew exponentially from 1979 through 2016.  This exponentially increasing mortality rate has tracked along a remarkably smooth trajectory (log linear R2 = 0.99) for at least 38 years (left panel). By contrast, the trajectories of mortality rates from individual drugs have not tracked along exponential trajectories.  Cocaine was a leading cause in 2005–2006, which was overtaken successively by prescription opioids, then heroin, and then synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. The demographic patterns of deaths due to each drug have also shown substantial variability over time.  Until 2010, most deaths were in 40- to 50-year-old persons, from cocaine and increasingly from prescription drugs. Deaths from heroin and then fentanyl have subsequently predominated, affecting younger persons, ages 20 to 40 (middle panel).  Mortality rates for males have exceeded those for females for all drugs. Rates for whites exceeded those for blacks for all opioids, but rates were much greater among blacks for cocaine.  Death rates for prescription drugs were greater for rural than urban populations. The geographic patterns of deaths also vary by drug. Prescription opioid deaths are widespread across the United States (right panel), whereas heroin and fentanyl deaths are predominantly located in the northeastern United States and methamphetamine deaths in the southwestern United States. Cocaine deaths tend to be associated with urban centers. The online manuscript provides many details of the patterns of mortality in these data.

CONCLUSION

The U.S. drug overdose epidemic has been inexorably tracking along an exponential growth curve since at least 1979.  Although there have been transient periods of minor acceleration or deceleration, the overall drug overdose mortality rate has regularly returned to the exponential growth curve.  This historical pattern of predictable growth for at least 38 years suggests that the current opioid epidemic may be a more recent manifestation of an ongoing longer-term process.  This process may continue along this path for several more years into the future. Paradoxically, there has been substantial variability with which specific drugs have become dominant in varying populations and geographic locales.  This variability all but negates the possibility of confident predictions about the future role of specific drugs.  Indeed, it is possible that a future overdose epidemic may be driven by a new or obscure drug that is not among the leading causes of drug overdose death today. Understanding the forces that are holding multiple subepidemics together onto a smooth exponential trajectory may be important in revealing, and effectively dealing with, the root causes of the epidemic.

Critically, this article makes no effort to suggest any link between overdose data and modern criminal law enforcement efforts described as the "war on drugs." But I still find remarkable that these data in the article start with a relatively low overdose rate right before the Reagan Administration kicked the war on drugs into high gear. If preventing or reducing deaths from drug overdoses is one goal of the the drug war, this article spotlights just how poorly we have been doing on this particular front of the war over the last four decades.

Recent prior related post:

September 21, 2018 in Data on sentencing, Drug Offense Sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Brennan Center reports on encouraging 2018 crime data based on preliminary data from largest 30 US cities

The folks at the Brennan Center for Justice have this notable new report, titled "Crime and Murder in 2018: A Preliminary Analysis," which finds that "across the cities where data is available, the overall murder and crime rates are projected to decline in 2018." Here is more from the start of the short and heartening report:

This report analyzes available crime data from police departments in the 30 largest U.S. cities.  It finds that across the cities where data is available, the overall murder and crime rates are projected to decline in 2018, continuing similar decreases from the previous year.  This report is based on preliminary data and is intended to provide an early snapshot of crime in 2018 in the 30 largest cities. This data will be updated in later reports.

Declines in homicide rates appear especially pronounced in cities that saw the most significant spikes during 2015 and 2016.  These findings directly undercut claims that American cities are experiencing a crime wave. Instead, they suggest that increases in the murder rate in 2015 and 2016 were temporary, rather than signaling a reversal in the long-term downward trend....

Murder: The 2018 murder rate in these cities is projected to be 7.6 percent lower than last year.  This estimate is based on data from 29 of the nation’s 30 largest cities. This murder rate is expected to be approximately equal to 2015’s rate, near the bottom of the historic post-1990 decline....

Overall Crime: At the time of publication, full crime data — covering all Part I index crimes tracked by the FBI — were only available from 19 of the 30 largest cities. (Past Brennan Center reports included, on average, 21 cities.) In these cities, the overall crime rate for 2018 is projected to decrease by 2.9 percent, essentially holding stable. If this estimate holds, this group of cities will experience the lowest crime rate this year since at least 1990.  These findings will be updated with new data when available.

This report does not present violent crime data because the authors could not collect sufficient data by the time of publication.

September 20, 2018 in Data on sentencing, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 13, 2018

"Can We Downsize Our Prisons and Jails Without Compromising Public Safety? Findings from California's Prop 47"

The title of this post is the title of this new article in Criminology & Public Policy authored by Bradley Bartos and Charis Kubrin. Here is its abstract:

Research Summary

Our study represents the first effort to evaluate systematically Proposition 47's (Prop 47's) impact on California's crime rates.  With a state‐level panel containing violent and property offenses from 1970 through 2015, we employ a synthetic control group design to approximate California's crime rates had Prop 47 not been enacted.  Our findings suggest that Prop 47 had no effect on homicide, rape, aggravated assault, robbery, or burglary.  Larceny and motor vehicle thefts, however, seem to have increased moderately after Prop 47, but these results were both sensitive to alternative specifications of our synthetic control group and small enough that placebo testing cannot rule out spuriousness.

Policy Implications

As the United States engages in renewed debates regarding the scale and cost of its incarcerated population, California stands at the forefront of criminal justice reform.  Although California reduced its prison population by 13,000 through Prop 47, critics argue anecdotally that the measure is responsible for recent crime upticks across the state.  We find little empirical support for these claims. Thus, our findings suggest that California can downsize its prisons and jails without compromising public safety.

The authored of this research also have this new commentary in Governing headlined "The Myth That Crime Rises as Prisons Shrink: California's dramatic reduction in its prison populations hasn't compromised public safety." Here is an excerpt:

Approved by the voters in 2014, Prop 47 was controversial from the start. It downgraded the lowest-level non-violent drug and petty-theft crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. Critics warned that the measure would embolden would-be criminals as felony arrests throughout the state plummeted.  After Prop 47 went into effect in 2014, lowering prison populations by 13,000, that controversy only escalated.  Soon law-enforcement officials were calling for the measure to be repealed.  They blamed rising crime rates on Prop 47.

But the science doesn't support the assertion that Prop 47 is to blame. We recently published a study that was the first effort to systematically evaluate Prop 47's impact on crime in California.  Our research found that the proposition had no appreciable impact on crime in the year following its enactment.

September 13, 2018 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, National and State Crime Data, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (2)

Saturday, August 25, 2018

"Explaining Misperceptions of Crime"

The title of this post is the title of this paper I saw earlier this summer via SSRN which I have been meaning to post.  The paper is authored by Jane Esberg and Jonathan Mummolo and here is its abstract:

Promoting public safety is a central mandate of government.  But despite decades of dramatic improvements, most Americans believe crime is rising — a mysterious pattern that may pervert the criminal justice policymaking process.  What explains this disconnect?  We test five plausible explanations: survey mismeasurement, extrapolation from local crime conditions, lack of exposure to facts, partisan cues and the racialization of crime. 

Cross-referencing over a decade of crime records with geolocated polling data and original survey experiments, we show individuals readily update beliefs when presented with accurate crime statistics, but this effect is attenuated when statistics are embedded in a typical crime news article, and confidence in perceptions is diminished when a copartisan elite undermines official statistics.  We conclude Americans misperceive crime because of the frequency and manner of encounters with relevant statistics.  Our results suggest widespread misperceptions are likely to persist barring foundational changes in Americans’ information consumption habits, or elite assistance.

August 25, 2018 in National and State Crime Data, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

Friday, August 03, 2018

Interesting new data suggesting important recent recidivism reduction

Changing-State-of-Recideivism_chart_650px_v1The folks at Pew have this interesting and important new data analysis under the title "The Changing State of Recidivism: Fewer People Going Back to Prison: Data show the number returning 3 years later is down by nearly a quarter." Here is the heart of the data:

The share of people who return to state prison three years after being released — the most common measure of recidivism — dropped by nearly a quarter over a recent seven-year period, according to an analysis by The Pew Charitable Trusts of federal Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) data on prisoners released in 2005 and 2012.

Pew analyzed publicly accessible data from the 23 states that reported reliable prison admissions and release data to BJS from 2005 through 2015.  Among prisoners released in 2005, 48 percent returned to prison by the end of 2008. By comparison, among those released in those states in 2012, 37 percent had at least one new prison admission by the end of 2015.  That translates into a drop of 23 percent. The states included in the analysis accounted for about two-thirds of those released from state prisons nationwide each year.

Longer-term recidivism also fell.  Prisoners released in these states in 2010 were 13 percent less likely than the 2005 cohort to return to prison at least once by the end of the fifth year after release.  Included in these numbers are people sent back to prison for a new crime or for violating the terms of their post-prison supervision....

Pew undertook this research to compile and make public the most current multistate data on recidivism trends. The BJS national report on state prison recidivism released in May 2018 presents nine years of data on people released from 30 states in 2005, but it includes no information on prisoners released since then.

To obtain more recent data, Pew researchers used publicly available administrative numbers that BJS collected from states for the National Corrections Reporting Program.  State prisoners are assigned unique identifiers, enabling researchers to track when they are released and whether they return to prison — except in cases in which a prisoner is released in one state and readmitted to prison in another.  Pew analyzed data from the 23 states that consistently reported prison admissions and releases every year from 2005 to 2015.  The cohorts ranged from 392,000 to 458,000 released prisoners....

Reducing recidivism improves public safety, reduces taxpayer spending on prisons, and helps formerly incarcerated people successfully resume family and community responsibilities.  But a lack of data has complicated efforts to understand the aggregate effects of myriad federal, state, and local efforts to reduce reoffending. This analysis shows that meaningful improvements in recidivism are occurring.

August 3, 2018 in National and State Crime Data, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, July 22, 2018

More old-school, tough-on-crime talk and thinking from Attorney General Jeff Sessions

Attorney General Jeff Sessions delivered these remarks today at the 2018 Summer Conference for the Prosecuting Attorneys' Council of Georgia.  Much of what he said will sound familiar to those who have followed his public speeches, but today I was really struck by a certain logical disconnect in some of his standard rhetoric.  Here are excerpts, with bold added to highlight key passages for follow-up comments:

From the early 1990s until 2014, the crime rate steadily came down across the country.  But from 2014 to 2016, the trends reversed.  The violent crime rate went up by nearly seven percent. Robberies went up. Assaults went up nearly 10 percent.  Rape went up by nearly 11 percent. Murder shot up by more than 20 percent!...

We’ve got to get back on track. We must take these recent developments seriously and consider carefully what can be done about them.  Yielding to these trends is not an option for America and certainly not to us in law enforcement.  We have clear goals. From day one — I plainly stated our goal at DOJ — reduce crime, reduce homicides, reduce prescriptions, and reduce overdose deaths!...

We’ve got to be smart and fair about who we put behind bars and for how long.  This is not mindless “mass incarceration”.  But prison does play a role.  Two months ago, the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics released a report on the recidivism rate of inmates released from state prisons in 30 states.

This is the longest-term study that BJS has ever done on recidivism and perhaps the largest. It was designed and started by the previous administration.  The results are clear and very important — historic importance. The reality is confirms what experienced professionals like yourselves have seen.

The study found that 83 percent of 60,000 state prisoners released in 2005 were arrested again within nine years.  That’s five out of every six.

The study shows that two-thirds of those — a full 68 percent — were arrested within the first three years.  Almost half were arrested within a year — one year – of being released. The study estimates that the 400,000 state prisoners released in 2005 were arrested nearly 2 million times during the nine-year period — an average of five arrests each.

Virtually none of these released prisoners were arrested merely for probation or parole violations: 99 percent of those arrested during the 9-year follow-up period were arrested for something other than a probation or parole violation.

In many cases, former inmates were arrested for an offense at least as serious — if not more so — as the crime that got them in jail in the first place.  It will not surprise you that this is often true for drug offenders. Many have thought that most drug offenders are young experimenters or persons who just made a mistake.  But the study shows a deeper concern.

Seventy-seven percent of all released drug offenders were arrested for a non-drug crime within nine years.  Presumably, many were arrested for drug crimes also. Importantly, nearly half of those arrests were for a violent crime.  Sometimes arrests lead to treatment, drug courts — often the problem is more serious.

Recidivism is no little matter.  It is a fact of life that must be understood.  But overall, the good news is that the professionals in law enforcement know what works in crime. We’ve been studying this and working on this for 40 years.

As any prosecutor in this room can tell you, when a criminal knows with certainty that he is facing real time, he is a lot more willing to confess and cooperate with prosecutors. On the other hand, when the sentence is uncertain and up to the whims of the judge, criminals are a lot more willing to take a chance.

Our goal as prosecutors is not to fill up the courts or fill up the prisons.  Our goal is not to manage crime or merely to punish crime.  Our goal is to reduce crime in America....

Law enforcement is crime prevention.  When we enforce our laws, we prevent new crimes from happening.  As prosecutors, we have a difficult job, but our efforts at the federal, state, and local levels have a real impact.  With every conviction we secure, we make our communities safer.

A blog post is an imperfect forum to work through all the particulars of AG Sessions' speech.  But his extended discussion of the BJS recidivism data (which concerns only state prisoners) suggests that modern prisons — at least in the late 1990s and early 2000s — functionally operated to make a lot of criminals worse, which in turn suggests that sending more people to prison would be a recipe for making ever more aggravated criminals.  Of course, this is what "professionals" generally know: time in prison tends to be criminogenic.  As Professor Mark Kleiman puts it, brute force often fails and we ought to seek to (and likely can) achieve less crime with less punishment.  

Put another way, the BJS recidivism data suggest we were doing something quite wrong with our prison policies even as crime was dropping from the early 1990s until 2014.  And yet the tenor of this speech, and what seems to be AG Sessions' general disaffinity for any federal criminal justice reforms, suggest AG Sessions is ever eager to embrace and champion all the policies and practices that contributed to modern mass incarceration despite evidence that those "old-school" policies and practices produce startling recidivism rates.

The significant crime spike that preceded AG Sessions coming in to office will seemingly always serves as a foundation and justification for him to promote and justify ever more federal prosecutors bringing ever more federal prosecutions.  But, as the title of this post hints, his old-school talk and thinking is tired and tiring, and likely disserves his presumably genuine commitment "to reduce crime in America."

July 22, 2018 in National and State Crime Data, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (22)