Thursday, January 26, 2023

Latest CCJ accounting of crime trends shows mostly encouraging news from 2022 about violent crimes (but not property crimes)

In this post last week, I flagged some of the encouraging 2022 homicide data drawn from this AH Datalytics webpage's "YTD Murder Comparison" Dashboard.  And I am now very pleased to see that the Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ) is continuing to do important and timely work on broader modern crime trends by continuing its on-going series of crime data reports under the heading "Pandemic, Social Unrest, and Crime in U.S. Cities."  The latest version of this report, titled "Pandemic, Social Unrest, and Crime in U.S. Cities: Year-End 2022 Update," was just released and this CCJ press release provides the data basic in its full heading: "Homicide, Gun Assault, Domestic Violence Declined in Major U.S. Cities in 2022 but Remain Above Pre-Pandemic Levels: New CCJ Analysis Also Documents a 59% Spike in Motor Vehicle Theft Since 2019, With Thefts More Than Doubling in 8 Cities."

The full report, which is based on "monthly crime rates for ten violent, property, and drug offenses in 35 U.S. cities in calendar year 2022," is available at this link.  Here are some of the "Findings" set forth on the report webpage:

January 26, 2023 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (7)

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

"From Causal Mechanisms to Policy Mechanisms: Why Did Crime Decline and What Lessons Can Be Learned from It?"

The newest issue of the American Journal of Criminal Justice has a bunch of new interesting articles on criminal justice reform.  The title of this post is the title of this article from the issue authored by John K. Roman.  Here is its abstract:

Criminology has not systematically identified the cause or causes of perhaps the most seminal event in crime and justice of the last half century: the crime decline of the 1990s. This paper uses a causes-of-effects analysis to infer the mechanisms of the crime decline.  This is not a purely academic exercise — there has been a large increase in violence, particularly gun violence at the beginning of the 2020s.  Identifying the mechanisms of the last crime decline can inform the development of contemporary strategies.  Here, two classes of crime decline causes are proposed: mechanisms that are endogenous to the criminal law system and mechanisms that are exogenous to it.  The latter class includes impacts of changes in macroeconomics, consumer behavior, and public interest policy where positive externalities that arose from those factors contributed to the crime decline.  A descriptive effect of causes analysis suggests that these exogenous mechanisms contributed disproportionately to the crime decline as compared to endogenous mechanisms. Further, consumer behavior and public interest externalities are well aligned with potential policy levers and particularly salient to current and future efforts to reduce crime and violence prospectively.  The analysis suggests that efforts to improve public safety require policies that fall outside of traditional criminal justice approaches.

January 25, 2023 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (3)

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Encouraging big-city homicide trends to close 2022 and start 2023

In this post at mid-year 2022, I flagged this AH Datalytics webpage's "YTD Murder Comparison" Dashboard that collects homicide data from police reports in nearly 100 big cities.  I noted in that post that, after significant increases in homicides throughout the US in 2020 and 2021, it was encouraging that the dashboard then showed that nearly two-thirds of big cities were reporting  homicide declines in 2022 relative to 2021 and that nationwide murders in large cities were down overall more than 2% at mid-year 2022.  Fast-forward six months, and there is more encouraging homicide data coming from big cities.

Specifically, with nearly all police data for 2022 collected, this dashboard as of this evening indicates that nearly two-thirds of all big cities reported that homicides wre down in 2022 relative to 2021 and that the total nationwide murders in large cities were down overall nearly 5% at by year end 2022.  Of course, these reported homicide declines for 2022 follow notably high homicide rates in many locales in 2021, and we still have a long way to go to get back to pre-pandemic homicide levels.

Still, these data are encouraging, and the downward trends in homicides in our nation's largest cities for all of 2022 may be carrying over to the start of 2023.  Specifically, based on the dashboard data and (linked) police reports, we see:

Chicago homicides down 13% in 2022 and down another 17% in first two weeks of 2023

Los Angeles homicides down 5% in 2022 and down another 39% in first two weeks of 2023

New York City homicides down 11% in 2022 and down another 12% in first two weeks of 2023

Philadelphia homicides down 9% in 2022 and down another 43% in first two weeks of 2023

Of course, these four very big cities are not fully representative of what may be going on with homicides nationwide as 2023 gets started, and homicide trends in the first two weeks of January could change in many ways in the weeks and months ahead.  Still,  these encouraging data reinforce my hope that surging homicides in 2020 and 2021 were mostly a pandemic era phenomenon and that lower homicide rates may soon be more common. 

January 18, 2023 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (22)

Tuesday, November 01, 2022

Interesting accounting of what we know about violent crime and voter concerns a week before Election Day 2022

In the first part of most election years, I tend to enjoy seeing early political commercials and commentary to get a flavor for how various policy issues are being framed and engaged by candidates and advocacy groups.  But, once we reach the homestretch in a major election year, I often start counting down the days to the election while growing ever weary of the non-stop political ads and chatter.  So, I am quite pleased we are finally just a week from Election Day 2022, and I am even more pleased about this interesting and timely new Pew Research Center piece titled "Violent crime is a key midterm voting issue, but what does the data say?".  Here is the start and numbered items from the piece (links from the original):

Political candidates around the United States have released thousands of ads focusing on violent crime this year, and most registered voters see the issue as very important in the Nov. 8 midterm elections. But official statistics from the federal government paint a complicated picture when it comes to recent changes in the U.S. violent crime rate.

With Election Day approaching, here’s a closer look at voter attitudes about violent crime, as well as an analysis of the nation’s violent crime rate itself. All findings are drawn from Center surveys and the federal government’s two primary measures of crime: a large annual survey from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) and an annual study of local police data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

1. Around six-in-ten registered voters (61%) say violent crime is very important when making their decision about who to vote for in this year’s congressional elections....

2. Republican voters are much more likely than Democratic voters to see violent crime as a key voting issue this year....

3. Older voters are far more likely than younger ones to see violent crime as a key election issue....

4. Black voters are particularly likely to say violent crime is a very important midterm issue....

5. Annual government surveys from the Bureau of Justice Statistics show no recent increase in the U.S. violent crime rate....

6. The FBI also estimates that there was no increase in the violent crime rate in 2021....

7. While the total U.S. violent crime rate does not appear to have increased recently, the most serious form of violent crime – murder – has risen significantly during the pandemic....

8. There are many reasons why voters might be concerned about violent crime, even if official statistics do not show an increase in the nation’s total violent crime rate.

November 1, 2022 in Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

A few crime and punishment stories from the campaign trail

Last month, I noted in this post that the 2022 election campaign has seen a lot more crime and punishment talk than we have seen in a long time.  Of course, this is partly of function of the fact that violent crime clearly has spiked since the COVID pandemic and the fact voters have clearly expressed concern about this spike

I have mentioned in few settings that, while crime and punishment talk has become more prominent this election cycle, seemingly few 2022 candidates are talking up expanding the death penalty or seeking to increase the number of death sentences and executions nationwide.  (This DPIC fact sheet highlights the modern capital punishment lows during the Trump/Biden years.)  But, as this partial round-up of recent stories shows, lots of other tough-on-crime ideas and talk are part of this cycle's political discourse:

From the AP, "Michels wants changes to Wisconsin parole system"

Also from the AP, "Zeldin’s crime message resonates in New York governor’s race"

From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "In final campaign stretch, Georgia candidates clash on crime"

From the Marshall Project, "Fetterman and Oz Battle Over Pennsylvania’s Felony Murder Law"

From the New York Times, "As Republican Campaigns Seize on Crime, Racism Becomes a New Battlefront"

From Politico, "The other issue driving the midterms"

October 25, 2022 in Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 20, 2022

"Violent Crime and Public Prosecution: A Review of Recent Data on Homicide, Robbery, and Progressive Prosecution in the United States"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new study looking at relationships between prosecutorial policies and crime. The full study is apparently not yet available, but this executive summary provides lots of details and also has this extended abstract:

What caused the sharp increase in homicide in dozens of major cities in the United States in 2020 is the source of acrid debate.  Most academic researchers have attributed the sudden increase in homicide to changes in the availability of guns, shifts in policing, and the pandemic’s aggravation of chronic strains in civil society such as homelessness, ill mental health, and drug abuse.  Others have hypothesized that the increase in homicide is the result of the election of prosecutors whose pledges to reform the system of criminal justice have discouraged the police from stopping and arresting emboldened lawbreakers.

We examined the most timely, reliable, and comprehensive set of data on homicide and robbery that was publicly available in the summer of 2022.  We took three different approaches to the analysis of these data: we pooled data from 65 major cities, conducted a statistical regression analysis of trends in violent crime as well as larceny in two dozen cities, and compared the incidence of homicide before and after the election of progressive prosecutors in Philadelphia, Chicago, and Los Angeles, cities where we are conducting on-going research on changes in criminal justice.  We have also compared trends in recorded crime across all counties in Florida and California since 2015.

We find no evidence to support the claim that progressive prosecutors were responsible for the increase in homicide during the pandemic or before it.  We also find weak evidence to support the claim that prosecutors of any broad approach to crime and justice are causally associated with changes in homicide during the pandemic.  We conclude that progressive prosecutors did not cause the rise in homicide in the United States, neither as a cohort nor in individual cities.  This conclusion echoes the findings of most of the research to date in this field.

This new piece in The Atlantic, headlined "What’s Really Going On With the Crime Rate?: Cities with progressive prosecutors may not exactly resemble the dystopian landscapes you’ve heard so much about," discusses this new study at some lengthy.

October 20, 2022 in National and State Crime Data, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Might the recent marijuana pardons by Prez Biden "make things worse for criminal legal reform"?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new Slate commentary by John Pfaff headlined "Biden’s Focus on Marijuana Is Part of the Problem." One should read the full lengthy piece to understand the full "hot take," but here are some excerpts (with my complaints to follow):

A bigger concern, though, is not just that the policy might accomplish very little, but that it might make things worse for criminal legal reform in the long run because it reinforces a false narrative about the causes of mass punishment in general and mass incarceration in particular.  It’s a narrative that shapes — or, better put, misshapes — policy.

Most Americans are deeply misinformed about why people are in prison.  A survey in 2017 found that solid majorities across the ideological spectrum agreed with the claim that a majority of people in U.S. prisons are there for drug crimes. That’s a far cry from reality: 14 percent of people in state prisons were locked up for drug offenses at the time, a number that has fallen since then.  (Those held in state prisons make up 90 percent of the nation’s incarcerated population.)  This misbelief likely contributed to the next two results from that survey: while majorities of liberals, moderates, and conservatives favored lesser sanctions for those convicted of non-violent crimes who posed little risk of reoffending, majorities of all three groups also opposed lesser sanctions for those convicted of violence who likewise pose little risk of reoffending.

We think we can decarcerate with easy choices.  We cannot.

Nationally, in 2019 almost 60 percent of all people in state prisons were convicted of violence; those convicted of just homicide or rape make up nearly 30 percent of the overall prison population....  If we released everyone held in state prisons convicted not just of marijuana crimes, nor just of drug offenses, but of all non-violent offenses combined, we would still have one of the world’s highest incarceration rates.  Unsurprisingly, this means that violent crimes are also at the heart of racial disparities in U.S. prison populations, as a recent study by the Council on Criminal Justice made clear.

Yet reforms continue to refuse to grapple with this reality.  A 2020 report by the Prison Policy Initiative found nearly 100 state reforms in recent years that had explicitly refused to extend the changes to those convicted of violence.  In some cases, the tradeoff between non-violent and violent crimes is explicit.  In 2016, Maryland’s Democratic legislature scaled back sanctions for non-violent crimes, but also increased punishment for violent offenses.  And just recently, California Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill to limit the use of solitary confinement, long viewed by behavioral scientists as torture, an indication of the lack of stomach for deeper reforms even among so-called progressive state leaders.

The inability to discuss crimes of violence remains clear in our current politics. Oz’s attacks on Fetterman on crime are now echoed in Wisconsin, where Republican Sen. Ron Johnson says Democratic challenger Mandela Barnes demonstrated “far greater sympathy for the criminal or criminals versus law enforcement or the victims.”  Anecdotal attacks about violent crime have already caused two different New York governors to roll back the state’s 2020 bail reform law, before it was even possible to assess its impact.  Even with new evidence suggesting reform did not contribute much if anything to rising crime in 2020, further rollbacks loom for 2023.  And Virginia recently amended a law that expanded the ability of people in prison to earn good time credits to expressly exclude those who were serving time for any crime of violence.

Meanwhile, as state prison populations fell nationwide by 15 percent from 2010 to 2019, Bureau of Justice Statistics data suggests that the number of people locked up for violence fell by just 1 percent; a separate analysis of the BJS data conducted by the Council on Criminal Justice estimated that the numbers confined for violence actually rose over that time, undermining the declines in drug and property cases.

Talking exclusively about drugs does little in the short-run and reinforces a narrative that appears to affirmatively undermine the sorts of difficult discussions we need to have about the ways we respond to violence.  There are things that Biden could have done, or at least done at the same time, that could have taken advantage of his bully pulpit.

He could have encouraged state and local governments to think about alternative ways to address not just crime, but serious violence.  Biden’s August 2022 Safer America Plan did include some funding for just this but that part of the plan was always secondary to the push to hire more police; it was even framed merely as a way to free up the police to focus more on violence....

He could have announced a push for a repeal of the PLRA or AEDPA, two Clinton era laws that continue to impose real costs on people held in prison or challenging potentially wrongful convictions.  Or, he could have pushed harder to amend the federal code to eliminate qualified immunity for police, or pushed state legislatures to pass such bills, about 35 of which have been proposed in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder only to almost all be thwarted by police union lobbying.  Such an approach could help improve police-community relations, which in turn could help address the single biggest challenge we face in reducing violence: the general unwillingness of victims of violence to contact the police.

It’s true that these are long-shot proposals.  But short of pardoning every single person in federal prison — an impossibility — nothing any president does will have a significant impact on the size and reach of a criminal legal system that is almost entirely driven by local politics, policies, and funding.  The president’s biggest power is his ability to shape the debate around criminal legal policy, not the policy itself.

Biden’s proposal here did nothing to shape that debate. There are lots of ways he could have taken steps to push the discussion in the direction it needs to go, but he disappointingly chose to highlight, once again, marijuana.  That choice will make it harder to move the reform discussion beyond where it has mostly been mired for the past decade.

I am a big fan of so much of Pfaff's work, especially his emphasis on "the numbers," but there is much about this commentary that just does not add up.  For starters, these World Population data of incarceration rates suggests that the US would easily fall out of the top 10 in incarceration rates if we cut our prison population 40% by releasing everyone held for non-violent offenses.  Pfaff has long been eager to say we must not ignore violent offenders when thinking about the problem of mass incarceration.  That is basically right, but dramatic decreases in our use of prison for non-violent offense would still make a very big impact AND his own commentary highlights why this is far more politically achievable than massive cuts to sentences for violent offenders.  (Indeed, there is good reason to hope and expect that much shorter and many fewer prison sentences for non-violent offenses would serve as an essential first step to laying the foundation for reducing the overall severity scale of all our punishments.)  

More generally, Pfaff claims there is an "inability to discuss crimes of violence," but I am seeing plenty of discussion (and political ads) about crimes of violence and especially murder having increased considerably over the last few years.  When violent crime has spiked — which it clearly has and which Pfaff does not discuss — and when many polls indicate many voters are troubled greatly by this spike — which they clearly have and which Pfaff does not discuss — one should not be surprised that politicians are responsive to voter concerns about violent crime in their actions and rhetoric.  Indeed, I think it notable (and encouraging) that some criminal justice reform efforts continue moving forward (at least for non-violent crimes) even when "tough on crime" political conditions seems to be prevalent.

And while I support various reforms to PLRA and AEDPA and qualified immunity, I am not aware of any significant research or evidence that such reform will reduce violence in our communities.  If there was such evidence, these reforms could and likely would become a central element of reform supported by politicians on both sides of the aisle.  There are all sort of good arguments for all sorts of criminal justice reforms, but wishing away the facts of increased violent crime (and increased voter concerns about violent crime) will surely "make things worse for criminal legal reform in the long run," much more than will Prez Biden granting blanket pardons to thousands of marijuana possession offenders. 

October 20, 2022 in National and State Crime Data, Offense Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Extended Final Call for Papers: "Drugs and Public Safety: Exploring the Impact of Policy, Policing, and Prosecutorial Reforms"

Drugs-and-Public-Safety_Call-for-Papers_for-social_new-date_1-1800x1005In this post a few months ago, I highlighted a new call for papers relating to an exciting event I am helping to plan on "Drugs and Public Safety Exploring the Impact of Policy, Policing, and Prosecutorial Reforms."  I am grateful we have already received a number of great proposals, and we have now  extended the closing date for proposals until the end of this month.  Here again is the call, which is available in full at this link:

The Drug Enforcement and Policy Center at the Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University and the Academy for Justice at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University are organizing a symposium titled “Drugs and Public Safety: Exploring the Impact of Policy, Policing, and Prosecutorial Reforms” to examine the public safety impact of marijuana and other modern drug policy reforms.  The conference is committed to exploring, from a variety of perspectives and with the help of a variety of voices, how to better understand and assess the relationship between drug reforms (broadly defined, including clemency policy and criminal justice reform) and public safety (broadly defined, with an emphasis on violent and serious crime).  [The conference will take place at Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ from March 14-16, 2022.]

Background

In 1996, California kicked off a new state-driven law reform era through a ballot initiative legalizing medical marijuana.  In subsequent decades, as dozens of states legalized marijuana use, various advocates, public officials, and researchers warned about the possibility of dire public safety consequences.  More drug crimes, more general criminality, more drugged driving, and all sorts of other public safety harms were often mentioned as the possible short- or long-term consequence of significant state-level marijuana reforms.

As of summer 2022, there are 37 states with robust medical marijuana regimes and 19 with full adult-use marijuana programs.  The continued support for state-level marijuana reforms seems to reflect, at least in part, the fact that so far, researchers have not documented direct connections between marijuana reforms and adverse public safety outcomes.  Though crime is a growing public concern given the rise in violent crimes in recent years, few advocates or researchers have documented clear connections or correlations between jurisdictions that have reformed their marijuana laws and increases in crimes.

As marijuana reforms have spread, so too has discussion of broader drug reforms such as decriminalization or legalization at both state and local level, as well as relief from drug-war excesses through clemency and expungement.  But given the increasing concern about violent crime, many advocates and lawmakers are wondering whether past and possible future drug policy reforms may be advancing or undermining the broad interest in creating safe and stable communities. As the country moves away from marijuana prohibition, a fully informed discussion of drugs, violence, and public safety is needed now more than ever.

Call for Papers

The symposium is soliciting papers from researchers to be included in the scholarship workshop.  Each paper will be assigned a discussant to provide feedback during the workshop.  The papers will be gathered and published in a symposium edition of the Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, a peer-reviewed publication in Spring of 2024.

Though proposed papers can and should look to explore the relationship between drug reforms and public safety in any number of diverse ways, the conference organizers are particularly interested in explorations of the impact of: (a) legalization of medical and/or adult-use marijuana, (b) drug decriminalization efforts, and (c) back-end relief efforts (e.g., clemency) — on crime and violence, the enforcement of criminal laws, and the operation of criminal justice systems.

Deadlines and Length of Paper

A proposed abstract of no more than 300 words are now due by October 31, 2022.  Abstracts can be submitted to Jana Hrdinova at hrdinova.1@osu.edu.  Accepted researchers will be notified by November 18, 2022.

Participants should plan to have a full draft to discuss and circulate by March 1, 2023.  Papers may range in length from 10,000 words to 25,000 words.  Final papers for publication will be due on August 1, 2023.

October 18, 2022 in Drug Offense Sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 06, 2022

Reminder on a call for papers for "Drugs and Public Safety: Exploring the Impact of Policy, Policing, and Prosecutorial Reforms"

As first flagged here a couple of months ago, the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center at the Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University and the Academy for Justice at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University are organizing a symposium titled “Drugs and Public Safety: Exploring the Impact of Policy, Policing, and Prosecutorial Reforms.” The deadline for the new call for papers for this event is approaching, so I wanted to provide another link to the full call here and also report the basics:

The conference is committed to exploring, from a variety of perspectives and with the help of a variety of voices, how to better understand and assess the relationship between drug reforms (broadly defined, including clemency policy and criminal justice reform) and public safety (broadly defined, with an emphasis on violent and serious crime).  [The conference will take place at Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ from March 14-16, 2022.]

Background

In 1996, California kicked off a new state-driven law reform era through a ballot initiative legalizing medical marijuana.  In subsequent decades, as dozens of states legalized marijuana use, various advocates, public officials, and researchers warned about the possibility of dire public safety consequences.  More drug crimes, more general criminality, more drugged driving, and all sorts of other public safety harms were often mentioned as the possible short- or long-term consequence of significant state-level marijuana reforms.

As of summer 2022, there are 37 states with robust medical marijuana regimes and 19 with full adult-use marijuana programs.  The continued support for state-level marijuana reforms seems to reflect, at least in part, the fact that so far, researchers have not documented direct connections between marijuana reforms and adverse public safety outcomes.  Though crime is a growing public concern given the rise in violent crimes in recent years, few advocates or researchers have documented clear connections or correlations between jurisdictions that have reformed their marijuana laws and increases in crimes.

As marijuana reforms have spread, so too has discussion of broader drug reforms such as decriminalization or legalization at both state and local level, as well as relief from drug-war excesses through clemency and expungement.  But given the increasing concern about violent crime, many advocates and lawmakers are wondering whether past and possible future drug policy reforms may be advancing or undermining the broad interest in creating safe and stable communities. As the country moves away from marijuana prohibition, a fully informed discussion of drugs, violence, and public safety is needed now more than ever.

Call for Papers

The symposium is soliciting papers from researchers to be included in the scholarship workshop.  Each paper will be assigned a discussant to provide feedback during the workshop.  The papers will be gathered and published in a symposium edition of the Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, a peer-reviewed publication in Spring of 2024.

Though proposed papers can and should look to explore the relationship between drug reforms and public safety in any number of diverse ways, the conference organizers are particularly interested in explorations of the impact of: (a) legalization of medical and/or adult-use marijuana, (b) drug decriminalization efforts, and (c) back-end relief efforts (e.g., clemency) — on crime and violence, the enforcement of criminal laws, and the operation of criminal justice systems.

Deadlines and Length of Paper

A proposed abstract of no more than 300 words are due on October 17, 2022.  Abstracts can be submitted to Jana Hrdinova at hrdinova.1@osu.edu.

Accepted researchers will be notified by November 18, 2022.

Participants should plan to have a full draft to discuss and circulate by March 1, 2023. Papers may range in length from 10,000 words to 25,000 words.

Final papers for publication will be due on August 1, 2023.

October 6, 2022 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Marijuana Legalization in the States, National and State Crime Data, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 05, 2022

Latest, but not greatest, FBI crime numbers show murders up in 2021, but overall violent and property crime down

This Time article, headlined "Homicides Continued to Increase in 2021, According to the FBI's Flawed Crime Report," highlights the challenges of reporting on the challenging latest crime data from the FBI.  (This Brennan Center Explainer, titled "Understanding the FBI’s 2021 Crime Data: Changes to the way the FBI reports national crime data may significantly complicate public understanding of recent crime trends," provides context.")   Here are the essentials from the Time piece:

The pandemic surge in violence continued across the U.S. in 2021, with homicides rising by 4.3% over the previous year, according to estimates from the FBI’s annual crime report, released Wednesday.  The estimated 22,900 murders and other killings last year would bring the nation’s homicide rate to 6.9 per 100,000 — the highest in almost 25 years. The 2021 increase is on top of the nearly 30% spike in homicides the U.S. experienced between 2019 and 2020.

However, the FBI report—the most comprehensive picture of crime rates and trends in the U.S. — comes with a giant asterisk this year. Because the FBI switched how it collects crime data from local law enforcement agencies, up to 40% of police departments — including major ones like the New York Police Department and the Los Angeles Police Department—are missing from the report.

As a result, the FBI used estimates to calculate national crime figures. The FBI’s range of estimates means that homicides, for instance, may have increased more than 4.3% in 2021, or may have actually decreased.

According to the FBI’s data, overall violent crime decreased by 1%, led by a drop in robberies.  Property crime decreased by 3.8%However, rape increased by 3.4%. Reported drug crimes also increased for all drug categories, except marijuana.  Methamphetamine saw the biggest jump, surging by 17.8%.

It is quite discouraging that the spike in murders in 2020 was apparently not only a one-year ugly reality.  But somewhat encouragingly, this AH Datalytics dashboard focused on murder in large cities suggests that murders are generally down nationwide nearly 5% in 2022 compared to 2021 in our larger cities.  So there is at least some basis to hope that 2021 represented a recent murder peak (assuming the FBI data is right that there was an increase in 2021).  

October 5, 2022 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, September 19, 2022

"What’s Dangerous Is America’s Lack of Crime Data"

The title of this post is the headline of this new opinion piece by Matthew Yglesias.  I recommend the full piece and here are excerpts:

Crime is on the political agenda in a big way this year, with Republicans zeroing in on it as their favorite topic now that gasoline prices are moderating.  Which naturally raises the question: Is crime rising?  To which the shocking answer is — nobody knows.  Not because anything unusual is happening, but simply because the usual state of America’s information on crime and policing is incredibly poor.

Contrast this state of affairs with the amount of data available on the US economy.  There are monthly updates on job creation, the unemployment rate and multiple indexes of inflation.  Commodity prices are publicized on a daily basis. Reports on gross national product come out quarterly, with timely revisions as more data comes in.  Policymakers benefit from a deeply informed debate, enriched by commentary from academics and other observers.

But on crime the US is, to a shocking extent, flying blind.  As a July report from the Brennan Center for Justice noted: “More than six months into 2022, national-level data on crime in 2021 remains unavailable.”...

The dearth of information is a problem not only for rigor-minded policymakers.  It also leaves the political arena open for manipulation by demagogues.  Since nobody actually knows in real time what’s happening, anecdotes can just stand in for made-up fears.  Since the very real murder surge of 2020 now has people primed to believe “crime is out of control” narratives, any particular instance of violence can be used to support that story....

By the same token, when murder really was soaring in 2020, it was easy for progressives to stay in ideologically convenient denial for far too long, since it was genuinely impossible to actually prove that it was happening until much later.  The people who dismissed the anecdotal evidence of rising crime were, in that case, mistaken. But the Republicans who are stoking fears of rising crime right now also appear to be mistaken.  And the lack of information about geographical patterns in murder trends means no one has much ability to assess what social or policy factors may be in play.

What makes this all especially maddening is that collecting this information in a timely manner shouldn’t be that difficult. Police departments know how many murders are committed in their jurisdiction. That information is stored on computers. It doesn’t need to be delivered to the Department of Justice via carrier pigeon. The DOJ should be given some money to create a system that can be easily updated by law enforcement agencies, and actually filing that information in a timely way should be a condition of receiving federal police grants.  A small team at the Bureau of Justice Statistics could have the job of phoning up departments who haven’t done it and “reminding” them to update the numbers.  And then the data could be released on a regular basis in a machine-readable form — the same way numbers for jobs, inflation, and other major economic statistics are.

Knowing what’s actually happening would not, by itself, solve America’s crime problems.  But successful efforts to reduce violence, such as the one in New York City in the 1990s, were driven by a commitment to rigorous measurement.  A serious federal investment in crime data collection is no panacea, and it’s not exactly a winning political slogan.  But it would be a huge boost to all kinds of crime-control efforts.

September 19, 2022 in Data on sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Traffic deaths continue to climb even as homicides seem to be declining in 2022

Amid persistent discussions and debates over public safety, I often notice that traffic harms do not garner the amount of attention or concern as traditional crimes.  This reality is on my mind again with the latest official news on traffic fatalities reported in this Hill article headlined "Road deaths rise further, hitting highest first-quarter level since 2002."  Here are excerpts:

Nearly 10,000 people died in motor vehicle crashes in the first quarter of the year, marking the largest first-quarter level since 2002, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced on Wednesday.

NHTSA projected 9,560 traffic fatalities in the first three months of 2022, the seventh consecutive quarterly increase, as Americans increased driving that was sharply reduced during the coronavirus pandemic. But the 7 percent increase in fatalities outpaced the 5.6 percent increase in total miles traveled on U.S. roads over the same period. “The overall numbers are still moving in the wrong direction,” NHTSA Administrator Steven Cliff said in a statement.

“Now is the time for all states to double down on traffic safety,” he said. “Through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, there are more resources than ever for research, interventions and effective messaging and programs that can reverse the deadly trend and save lives.”...

The NHTSA projected 29 states and Washington, D.C., to experience increases in traffic fatalities in the first quarter, while 19 states and Puerto Rico saw traffic deaths decline. Delaware recorded the highest increase out of any state, roughly a 163 percent jump from the same period the previous year. Connecticut, Virginia, Vermont, D.C., Hawaii, Nebraska and North Carolina all saw increases exceeding 50 percent....

The NHTSA previously released data showing that nearly 43,000 people were killed on U.S. roads last year, the highest annual level in 16 years.

For a little public safety context, the FBI reported "more than 21,500 homicides" in the US for 2020; we do not have an FBI number for 2021, but most reporting suggests there may have been over 22,000 homicides. But, encouragingly, this AH Datalytics webpage with a "YTD Murder Comparison" Dashboard collecting homicide data from police in nearly 100 big cities suggests homicides are not trending down in 2022.

Returning to the disconcerting roadway data, even with the recent pandemic-era spike in US murders, there are still nearly twice as many persons killed on the roadways than by homicides throughout the US.  And while its seems homicide numbers are starting to trend in a positive direction in 2022, traffic fatalities are still headed the wrong way.  

August 18, 2022 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (8)

Monday, August 15, 2022

Notable effort to link fighting climate change to fighting crime

I often preach to my students (and others) that any and every issue of public policy concern can and does become be a crime-and-punishment issue in some way.  As but one example, in recent years I have done a few posts highlighting connections between climate change concerns and crime concerns (see links below).  This new New Republic piece by Liza Featherstone connects these dots with new research under this full headline: "If Republicans Really Wanted to Fight Crime, They’d Support Climate Policy: Summer murders are a perennial problem that conservatives, despite their rhetoric, are uniquely ill-equipped to solve."  Here are excerpts (with links from the original):

We’ve known for years that violent crime increases during the summer months.  In the past, researchers weren’t always sure that it was because of heat, speculating that the summer vacation, with more young men up to no good, was the problem, or that spending time outside, as we do in warm weather, occasions more interaction, for better and for worse.  But newer research has made the links to heat waves much clearer, suggesting that without intervention global warming will lead to more murders.

Research shows that on average, violent crime increases by over 5 percent on days hotter than 85 degrees Fahrenheit compared to days below that threshold.  Studies mapping violent crime and weather in Los Angeles and Chicago show violence reliably rising with the temperature.  This effect has been found by different scholars and in countries all over the world.  A 2021 study using data from 159 countries from 1970 to 2015 even found that higher temperatures were associated with more deaths from terrorist attacksAn Australian study found that daily assault counts rose as the temperature rose, as did another study in Seoul, South KoreaFinnish researchers found that spikes in temperature explained about 10 percent of the variation in that nation’s violent crime rate.

Like many other problems associated with extreme weather, this one hits the poor hardest.  A study by University of Southern California researchers found that extreme heat was especially likely to exacerbate violence in low-income neighborhoods.

Prior related posts:

August 15, 2022 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (1)

Call for Papers: "Drugs and Public Safety: Exploring the Impact of Policy, Policing, and Prosecutorial Reforms"

Drugs-and-Public-Safety_for-social_draft-for-review_corrected-1800x1005I am pleased to highlight a new call for papers relating to an exciting event I am excited to be involved in helping to plan, "Drugs and Public Safety Exploring the Impact of Policy, Policing, and Prosecutorial Reforms." Here is the full call, which is available in full at this link:

The Drug Enforcement and Policy Center at the Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University and the Academy for Justice at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University are organizing a symposium titled “Drugs and Public Safety: Exploring the Impact of Policy, Policing, and Prosecutorial Reforms” to examine the public safety impact of marijuana and other modern drug policy reforms.  The conference is committed to exploring, from a variety of perspectives and with the help of a variety of voices, how to better understand and assess the relationship between drug reforms (broadly defined, including clemency policy and criminal justice reform) and public safety (broadly defined, with an emphasis on violent and serious crime).  [The conference will take place at Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ from March 14-16, 2022.]

Background

In 1996, California kicked off a new state-driven law reform era through a ballot initiative legalizing medical marijuana.  In subsequent decades, as dozens of states legalized marijuana use, various advocates, public officials, and researchers warned about the possibility of dire public safety consequences.  More drug crimes, more general criminality, more drugged driving, and all sorts of other public safety harms were often mentioned as the possible short- or long-term consequence of significant state-level marijuana reforms.

As of summer 2022, there are 37 states with robust medical marijuana regimes and 19 with full adult-use marijuana programs.  The continued support for state-level marijuana reforms seems to reflect, at least in part, the fact that so far, researchers have not documented direct connections between marijuana reforms and adverse public safety outcomes.  Though crime is a growing public concern given the rise in violent crimes in recent years, few advocates or researchers have documented clear connections or correlations between jurisdictions that have reformed their marijuana laws and increases in crimes.

As marijuana reforms have spread, so too has discussion of broader drug reforms such as decriminalization or legalization at both state and local level, as well as relief from drug-war excesses through clemency and expungement.  But given the increasing concern about violent crime, many advocates and lawmakers are wondering whether past and possible future drug policy reforms may be advancing or undermining the broad interest in creating safe and stable communities. As the country moves away from marijuana prohibition, a fully informed discussion of drugs, violence, and public safety is needed now more than ever.

Call for Papers

The symposium is soliciting papers from researchers to be included in the scholarship workshop.  Each paper will be assigned a discussant to provide feedback during the workshop.  The papers will be gathered and published in a symposium edition of the Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, a peer-reviewed publication in Spring of 2024.

Though proposed papers can and should look to explore the relationship between drug reforms and public safety in any number of diverse ways, the conference organizers are particularly interested in explorations of the impact of: (a) legalization of medical and/or adult-use marijuana, (b) drug decriminalization efforts, and (c) back-end relief efforts (e.g., clemency) — on crime and violence, the enforcement of criminal laws, and the operation of criminal justice systems.

Deadlines and Length of Paper

A proposed abstract of no more than 300 words are due on October 17, 2022.  Abstracts can be submitted to Jana Hrdinova at hrdinova.1@osu.edu.

Accepted researchers will be notified by November 18, 2022.

Participants should plan to have a full draft to discuss and circulate by March 1, 2023. Papers may range in length from 10,000 words to 25,000 words.

Final papers for publication will be due on August 1, 2023.

August 15, 2022 in Drug Offense Sentencing, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 02, 2022

Notable review of research on public safety and criminal justice reform from Arnold Ventures

This new webpage at Arnold Ventures explores in thoughtful ways the important question that it is title of the webpage: "What Does the Research Say About Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform?".  Here is an explanation of the effort (with emphasis in the original) along with the links to the research papers most focused on reform of the back-end of the criminal justice system:

As a philanthropy dedicated to improving lives by driving sustainable change to the justice system, the spike in homicides and the resulting political pushback by some against criminal justice reform led Arnold Ventures to reflect on the relationship between community safety and justice reform. Arnold Ventures’ programmatic work, from policing to pretrial justice to corrections, is built on the idea that reform and safety are not opposite ends of a spectrum, but can operate in tandem. 

That is why we turned to the experts to help us understand what the evidence says about the relationship between community safety, the justice system, and reform. We collaborated with eight scholars who have deep substantive and methodological expertise in their respective issue areas, and asked that they write discussion papers looking at the state of research around specific aspects of the criminal justice system. These papers each respond to two broad prompts. 

First, how does a particular aspect of the justice system advance or undermine community safety? 

Second, what is your summary or assessment of the evidence, and are there remaining research questions that need to be answered? 

The following six papers are the scholars’ independent and thoughtful reviews of the available evidence in response to those prompts:...

[Other papers looked at community-based, policing and pre-trial reforms...]

  • Dr. Jennifer Doleac (Texas A&M University) and Dr. Michael LaForest (Penn State University) discuss the limited empirical evidence of the effect of community supervision (probation and parole) policy and practice on community safety despite the scale of its use as a sanction for criminal behavior and alternative to incarceration. 
    Read the paper: Community Supervision & Public Safety
  • Dr. Daniel Nagin (Carnegie Mellon University) discusses how the current incarceration practices in the United States, particularly multi-decade sentences, are an inefficient use of public resources and are not shown by evidence to have a deterrent effect on crime. 
    Read the paper: Incarceration & Public Safety
  • Dr. Megan Denver and Ms. Abigail Ballou (Northeastern University) discuss how widespread post-conviction sanctions, restrictions, and disqualifications for individuals with criminal records and histories of justice system involvement can interact and accumulate in ways that are counterproductive to safety. 
    Read the paper: Collateral Consequences & Public Safety

These papers make a significant contribution to the public conversation as individual products, but they can also be read together as concluding: The evidence suggests there are real public safety benefits associated with the functions of the justice system.  At the same time, some of the current practices remain inefficient, produce serious harms, and operate in ways that are counterproductive to community safety.

August 2, 2022 in Data on sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Latest CCJ accounting of crime trends shows good news and bad news for first half of 2022

The Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ) is continuing to do important and timely work on modern crime trends through an on-going series of reports under the heading "Pandemic, Social Unrest, and Crime in U.S. Cities."  The latest version of this report, titled "Pandemic, Social Unrest, and Crime in U.S. Cities: Mid-End 2021 Update," was just released this week and is flagged in this new CCJ press release.  Here is an excerpt:

Murders and gun assaults in major American cities fell slightly during the first half of 2022, while robberies and some property offenses posted double-digit increases, according to a new analysis of crime trends released today by the Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ).

Examining homicides in 23 cities that make data readily available, the study found that the number of murders in the first half of the year dipped by 2% compared to the first half of 2021 (a decrease of 54 homicides in those cities). Gun assaults also fell, by 6%, during the first six months of this year compared to the same timeframe last year, while overall aggravated assault counts rose 4%. Robbery jumped by 19%....

In other findings, trends in most property crimes reversed from the first two years of the pandemic.  Residential burglaries (+6%), nonresidential burglaries (+8%), and larcenies (+20%) all rose in the first half of 2022.  Motor vehicle thefts increased (+15%) but that trend began during the early months of the pandemic.  The number of drug offenses fell in the first half of 2022 (-7%), continuing earlier pandemic patterns.

This CCJ webpage provides a link to the full report and a bit full overview of the report's methodology and key findings.  One can find plenty of heartening and disheartening data in the graphs and other information in this full report.  The recent decline in homicides and gun assaults still leave us a long way from the lower pre-pandemic rates of these harmful crime.  But the recent uptick in various property crimes still leave us well below the higher pre-pandemic rates of these crimes.  And there is still an extraordinary diversity of of crime patterns in cities large and small throughout the US.

July 28, 2022 in Gun policy and sentencing, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Homicides (perhaps) trending down through first half of 2022, including in big cities like Chicago, New York City and Philadelphia

With significant upticks in homicides and some other crimes reported in many areas throughout the US in 2020 and 2021(see background/complications here and here and here and here), it is not surprising that there is considerable concern in many quarters about crime policies and crime politics.  Still, anyone who follows crime trends knows they can often have an unpredictable and unexplained quality.  Against that backdrop, I have been watching closely the homicides being reported via police crime reports in various cities over the first half of 2022.  In particular, this AH Datalytics webpage provides a very helpful "YTD Murder Comparison" Dashboard that collects homicide data from police in nearly 100 big cities. 

Though the AH Datalytics page has some lags in the data and only has city data, I still think it notable as we approach the end of the first half of 2022 that this dashboard as of this morning indicates that nearly two-thirds of all cities are reporting that homicides are down in 2022 relative to 2021.  In addition, the cumulated data from all the cities tracked show that nationwide murders in large cities are down more than 2%.  Also notable are encouraging downward trends in homicides over the first half of this year in some of our nation's largest cities.  Specifically, based on (linked) police reports, we see: 

Chicago homicides down 11% (as of June 19)

Los Angeles homicides up 1% (as of June 25)

New York City homicides down 13% (as of June 26)

Philadelphia homicides down 10% (as of June 28)

(I could not find up-to-date homicide data from Houston and Phoenix.)  Of course, these four very big cities (and all the AH Datalytics cities) are not fully representative of what may be going on with homicides in every area nationwide.  Moreover, these reported homicide declines are on the heels of notably high homicide rates in many locales in 2021.  And a few mass shootings (or bad days) in these cities could erase the small homicide safety gains over the first half of 2022.  Still, with all these caveats, these encouraging data at least provide a basis for me to begin to hope that surging homicides in 2020 and 2021 were mostly a pandemic era phenomenon and that we may return to lower homicide rates before too long.  But, reiterating that homicide and broader crime trend often have unpredictable and unexplained qualities, it is certainly possible that six months from now the 2022 data could tell a very different story.

June 29, 2022 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 07, 2022

Some headlines and discussions of crime research catching my eye

Thanks to a number of forces, perhaps most notably rising homicide rates and recent salient mass shootings, crime is getting a lot of attention from media outlets big and small.  Valuably, some of this attention include reviews of research, and these piece in that vein recently caught my attention:

From Bloomberg by Justin Fox, "New York City Is a Lot Safer Than Small-Town America: Rising homicide rates don’t tell the whole story. When you dig deeper into data on deaths, you'll find the more urban your surroundings, the less danger you face."

From Phys.org by Oxford University Press, "New study shows welfare prevents crime, quite dramatically"

From Vital City by Jennifer Doleac & Anna Harvey, "Stemming Violence by Investing in Civic Goods: Evidence suggests that investments in summer jobs, neighborhood improvements and services can reduce crime."

From Vox by Miranda Dixon-Luinenburg, "How to prevent gun deaths without gun control: Can summer jobs and mental health care save lives?"

June 7, 2022 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (3)

Friday, June 03, 2022

"'Tough Talking' Sacramento District Attorney Presides Over Homicide And Violence Surge While 'Liberal' San Francisco Enjoys Major Decreases"

Image-fullNext week brings a high-profile recall vote on San Francisco's District Attorney Chesa Boudin, an election that many have come to view as a referendum on the progressive prosecutor movement. Because I consider all "movements" in the criminal justice reform space to be dynamic and erratic, I rarely think any one local vote itself reshapes the reform landscape.  But I still understand why this vote is getting considerable attention, and lots of politicians and pundits will surely see lots of lessons from the outcome of this interesting bit of local criminal justice democracy.  

Against that backdrop comes this notable new report from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice.  Here is the report's introduction:

San Francisco has seen major decreases in crime amid progressive reforms, while nearby Sacramento is seeing a homicide and violence surge under the leadership of a conservative prosecutor whose policies feature high rates of incarceration.  Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert has positioned herself as the state’s leading “tough-on-crime” candidate as she criticizes progressive San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin and seeks to unseat California’s reform-minded Attorney General Rob Bonta (Hooks, 2021; Schubert, 2022).  Yet DA Schubert’s tenure has coincided with increased homicide and violent crime, lesser declines in property crime, and above average rates of homicide and violent crime for urban Sacramento than in San Francisco.  Schubert’s “tough on crime” rhetoric and policies have not delivered lower or falling crime rates.

This analysis compares crime trends during Schubert’s conservative prosecutorial term in office (2015- present) with those of San Francisco’s progressive prosecutors (George Gascón and Chesa Boudin) during a key period in California’s criminal justice reform era.  If talking “tough on crime” and incarcerating more people actually reduced crime, we would expect to see a much bigger decline in crime and a lower crime rate in Sacramento than in San Francisco.  In fact, the opposite is the case. San Francisco has sustained larger crime declines and achieved lower rates of violent crime than the City of Sacramento since 2014.

The figure reprinted here is only one of a number of graphics from the report seeking to provide a broad view of crime rates and trends in two nearby (but very different) California cities. According to the report, the data show that "violent crime rates have risen an average of 9% in Sacramento while falling an average of 29% in San Francisco from 2014-2021, a period that spans the tenures of DA Schubert and San Francisco's progressive DA’s."  Here are some more data points from the report as highlighted on this CJCJ webpage:

June 3, 2022 in National and State Crime Data, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (14)

Monday, April 18, 2022

"A Welfare Analysis of Medicaid and Crime"

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

We calculate conservative estimates for the marginal value of public funds (MVPF) associated with providing Medicaid to inmates exiting prison.  Our MVPF estimates, which measure the ratio between the benefits associated with the policy (measured in terms of willingness to pay) and its costs net of fiscal externalities, range between 3.44 and 10.61.  A large proportion of the benefits that we account for are related to the reduced future criminal involvement of exiting inmates who receive Medicaid.  Using a difference-in-differences approach, we find that Medicaid expansions reduce the average number of times a released inmate is reimprisoned within a year by about 11.5%.

We use this estimate along with key values reported elsewhere (e.g., victimization costs, data on victimization and incarceration) to calculate specific benefits from the policy. These include reduced criminal harm due to reductions in reoffenses; direct benefits to former inmates from receiving Medicaid; increased employment; and reduced loss of liberty due to fewer future reimprisonments.  Net-costs consist of the cost of providing Medicaid net of changes in the governmental cost of imprisonment; changes in the tax revenue due to increased employment; and changes in spending on other public assistance programs. We interpret our estimates as being conservative, because we err on the side of under-estimating benefits and over-estimating costs when data on specific items are imprecise or incomplete.

Our findings are largely consistent with others in the sparse literature investigating the crime-related welfare impacts of Medicaid access, and suggest that public health insurance programs can deliver sizeable indirect benefits from reduced crime in addition to their direct health-related benefits.

April 18, 2022 in National and State Crime Data, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

New Third Way report details "The Red State Murder Problem"

The "center-left" think tank Third Way has this interesting new accounting of the increase in murders in 2020 in a new report titled "The Red State Murder Problem."  I recommend the full report and its linked data, and here is an excerpt:

The US saw an alarming 30% increase in murder in 2020.  While 2021 data is not yet complete, murder was on the rise again this past year. Some “blue” cities, like Chicago, Baltimore, and Philadelphia, have seen real and persistent increases in homicides.  These cities — along with others like Los Angeles, New York, and Minneapolis — are also in places with wall-to-wall media coverage and national media interest.

But there is a large piece of the homicide story that is missing and calls into question the veracity of the right-wing obsession over homicides in Democratic cities: murder rates are far higher in Trump-voting red states than Biden-voting blue states.  And sometimes, murder rates are highest in cities with Republican mayors.

For example, Jacksonville, a city with a Republican mayor, had 128 more murders in 2020 than San Francisco, a city with a Democrat mayor, despite their comparable populations.  In fact, the homicide rate in Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco was half that of House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy’s Bakersfield, a city with a Republican mayor that overwhelmingly voted for Trump.  Yet there is barely a whisper, let alone an outcry, over the stunning levels of murders in these and other places.

We collected 2019 and 2020 murder data from all 50 states.  (Comprehensive 2021 data is not yet available.)  We pulled the data from yearly crime reports released by state governments, specifically the Departments of Justice and Safety. For states that didn’t issue state crime reports, we pulled data from reputable local news sources.  To allow for comparison, we calculated the state’s per capita murder rate, the number of murders per 100,000 residents, and categorized states by their presidential vote in the 2020 election, resulting in an even 25-25 split.

We found that murder rates are, on average, 40% higher in the 25 states Donald Trump won in the last presidential election compared to those that voted for Joe Biden.  In addition, murder rates in many of these red states dwarf those in blue states like New York, California, and Massachusetts.  And finally, many of the states with the worst murder rates — like Mississippi, Kentucky, Alabama, South Carolina, and Arkansas — are ones that few would describe as urban. Only 2 of America’s top 100 cities in population are located in these high murder rate states.  And not a single one of the top 10 murder states registers in the top 15 for population density.

Whether one does or does not blame Republican leaders for high murder rates, it seems that Republican officeholders do a better job of blaming Democrats for lethal crime than actually reducing lethal crime.

Of course, one does not need to be a criminologist to notice that most "red states" with high murder rates are southern states, and lots of lots of research has identified relationships between higher temperature and and higher violent crime rates. It would be quite interesting (though probably challenging) to try to run these data by comparing states and cities with comparable climates.

Though one might temper reactions to this report with an eye on temperatures, this report still provide a useful reminder (1) that crime challenges are always dynamic nationwide regardless of the political concerns of the moment, and (2) that it will often be much easier for politicians than for data scientists to claim a link between crime policies and crime.

March 16, 2022 in National and State Crime Data, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (21)

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Latest Bureau of Justice Statistics' publication on "Criminal Victimization, 2020" suggests violent crime hit historic lows in 2020

One cannot do a google search on any criminal justice issue without seeing lots of pieces about a huge "violent crime spike" in 2020 and beyond.  Indeed, I have blogged more than a few times about various stories and data runs about significant increases in murders and gun assaults in 2020, and many stories talk up the "historic" nature of these crime increases.  We have also seen considerable policy fall out from the perceived significant uptick in violent crime, often in the form of criticisms of past criminal justice reform efforts or of the people seeking to continue to push reforms.

Against this backdrop, I was a bit gob-smacked to see the latest new Bureau of Justice Statistics' publication, titled on "Criminal Victimization, 2020 – Supplemental Statistical Tables "  Here is how it gets started (with some emphasis added):

The prevalence of violent crime in the United States declined from 1.10% (3.1 million) of persons age 12 or older in 2019 to 0.93% (2.6 million) in 2020.  Violent crime includes rape or sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault, and simple assault.  The percentage of persons who were victims of violent crime excluding simple assault also declined during this period, from 0.44% (1.2 million) to 0.37% (1.0 million).

In other words, according to this BJS data report, which is based on the National Crime Victimization Survey, it seems violent crime actually dropped about 20% in 2020 relative to 2019.  In addition, the chart that starts this report suggest that the 2020 violent crime rate in the United States was the absolute lowest that it have been in the last three decades.  In addition, there is. according to this document, good 2020 news on property crime as well (with emphasis added):

In 2020, 6.19% of households experienced one or more property victimizations (burglary or trespassing, motor vehicle theft, and other types of household theft), which was a statistically significant decline from the 7.37% of households in 2016.  The prevalence of burglary or trespassing declined 20% from 2019 (1.22%) to 2020 (0.97%).  There was a statistically significant decline in other types of household theft from 5.53% in 2019 to 5.17% in 2020.  The prevalence rate of motor vehicle theft did not differ significantly from 2019 (0.33%) to 2020 (0.32%).

Of course, as blogged here, back in September 2021, the FBI reported its different metrics of national crimes which indicated that "In 2020, violent crime was up 5.6 percent from the 2019 number. Property crimes dropped 7.8 percent."  (Helpfully, BJS has also recently published this new document titled "The Nation’s Two Crime Measures, 2011–2020," which helps explain a bit crime rate variation from different national metrics.)

Critically, the BJS report on victimization notes that the overall 2020 violent crime decline "was primarily driven by a decline in the prevalence of assault during this period."  Because so many more violent crimes are assaults and so relatively few are murders, we could experience a significant spike in murders in 2020 and beyond and yet still experience a significant overall decline in total violent crime thanks to declines in assaults.   Indeed, the data we have on 2020 murders being way up seems pretty sound, and murder is rightly the type of violent crime that we give disproportionate attention to in thinking through crime and punishment policies and practices.  Still, it is always nice to find some important silver data linings in dark crime data clould.

February 24, 2022 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (8)

Thursday, January 27, 2022

CCJ releases "Pandemic, Social Unrest, and Crime in U.S. Cities: Year-End 2021 Update"

Back in summer 2020, I noted here that the Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ) had launched an importantand impressive new commission titled the "National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice" and headed by two former US Attorneys General.  That commission has produce a number of important works (examples here and here and here), along with an on-going series of accounts of recent crime trends under the heading "Pandemic, Social Unrest, and Crime in U.S. Cities."  The latest version of this report, titled "Pandemic, Social Unrest, and Crime in U.S. Cities: Year-End 2021 Update," was released this week and can be accessed via this website.  Here is an overview:

This study updates and supplements previous reports by the Council on Criminal Justice on recent U.S. crime trends with additional crime data through the end of 2021. It examines monthly crime rates for ten violent, property, and drug offenses in 27 American cities. The crime data were obtained from online portals of city police departments that provided weekly updates for the period between January 2018 and December 2021.

The largest city in the sample is Los Angeles, with nearly 4 million residents. The smallest is Norfolk, VA, with 245,000 residents. The data are subject to revision, and not all cities reported data for each crime or for each week. Offense classifications also varied somewhat across the cities.

Findings:

  • The number of 2021 homicides in the cities studied was 5% greater than in 2020 — representing 218 additional murders in those cities — and 44% greater than in 2019, representing 1,298 additional lives lost.
  • Aggravated and gun assault rates were also higher in 2021 than in 2020.  Aggravated assaults increased by 4%, while gun assaults went up by 8%.  Robbery rates increased slightly after dropping in 2020.
  • Burglary, larceny, and drug offense rates were lower in 2021 than in 2020, by 6%, 1%, and 12% respectively.  Motor vehicle theft rates were 14% higher in 2021 than the year before.
  • Domestic violence incidents increased by nearly 4% between 2020 and 2021. But this result is based on just 11 of the 27 cities studied and should be viewed with caution.
  • In response to continuing increases in homicide and serious assaults, the authors conclude that police and policymakers should pursue violence-prevention strategies of proven effectiveness and enact needed policing reforms to achieving durable reductions in violent crime in our cities.

January 27, 2022 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Still more data linking recent surge in gun sales to recent surge in murders

This new Atlantic piece, authored by Jeff Asher and Rob Arthur, provides yet another set of data points detailing the possible connection between an increase in gun purchases and a consequent increase in murders. The piece's full title summarizes its themes: "The Data Are Pointing to One Major Driver of America’s Murder Spike: A massive increase in gun sales in early 2020 seems to have contributed to the recent rise in homicides." Here are excerpts from the start and end of the piece:

After murders in the United States soared to more than 21,000 in 2020, researchers began searching for a definitive explanation why. Many factors may have contributed, such as a pandemic-driven loss of social programs and societal and policing changes after George Floyd’s murder. But one hypothesis is simpler, and perhaps has significant explanatory power: A massive increase in gun sales in early 2020 led to additional murders.

New data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) suggest that that indeed may have been the case. According to the data, newly purchased weapons found their way into crimes much more quickly and often last year than in prior years. That seems to point to a definitive conclusion — that new guns led to more murders — but the data set cannot prove that just yet....

Right now, we know that gun sales rose dramatically starting in March 2020, and that murder—driven by gun murders—increased substantially a few months later. We have strong evidence that more people were carrying guns before murder went up in 2020, and the ATF data tell us that newly purchased firearms were used in more crimes than usual. It stands to reason that new guns helped feed 2020’s murder surge, though the data to confirm this conclusion remain agonizingly out of reach. The data aren’t perfect, but they’re strongly suggestive: More guns are behind America’s murder spike.

A few of many prior related posts:

January 11, 2022 in Gun policy and sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, December 09, 2021

More research to support notion that spike in gun sales contributed to spike in gun crimes

As detailed in a number of prior posts (some linked below), because guns crimes but not many other crimes have spiked since the start of the pandemic, I have figured the pandemic spike in gun sales likely had some role in our modern crime trends.  This new piece from The Trace, headlined "New Data Suggests a Connection Between Pandemic Gun Sales and Increased Violence," seems to provide further support for my (simplistic?) thinking here.  Here are excerpts:

In March 2020, as the first COVID-19 outbreaks rippled across the U.S., Americans flocked to gun stores.  In total, civilians purchased some 19 million firearms over the next nine months — shattering every annual sales record.  At the same time, shootings across the country soared, with dozens of cities setting grim records for homicides.

As the pandemic progressed, and gun sales continued to climb alongside shootings, researchers have puzzled over the connection between these two intersecting trends.  Was the surge in violent crime related to the uptick in guns sold last year? We may not get a definitive answer to that question for years, but fresh data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives provides some of the first evidence that a relationship exists.

ATF data shows that in 2020, police recovered almost twice as many guns with a short “time-to-crime” — in this case, guns recovered within a year of their purchase — than in 2019.  Law enforcement officials generally view a short time-to-crime as an indicator that a firearm was purchased with criminal intent, since a gun with a narrow window between sale and recovery is less likely to have changed hands.  Altogether, more than 87,000 such guns were recovered in 2020, almost double the previous high.  And almost 68,000 guns were recovered in 2020 with a time-to-crime of less than seven months (meaning they were less likely to have been purchased the previous year).

Put more plainly, thousands of guns purchased in 2020 were almost immediately used in crimes — some as soon as a day after their sale. That was the case of the 9mm Beretta pistol purchased by an Arlington man from Uncle Dan’s Pawn Shop and Jewelry in Dallas, according to police records.  Officers seized the gun from its owner during a drug arrest 24 hours later. In another example, a Laredo, Texas, man assaulted his mother, then opened fire on police with his Smith & Wesson M&P 15-22 rifle in July 2020.  The gun had been purchased at a Cabela’s in Ammon, Idaho, just three months earlier.

“Overall, I think we can say that the gun sale surge may have contributed to a surge in crime,” said Julia Schleimer, a researcher in the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis, after reviewing the ATF’s data....

Researchers interviewed for this story cautioned that the number of guns recovered and traced by law enforcement does not always indicate the amount of gun crime in a given year.  In other words, factors driving increases in the amount of short-time-crime guns in the ATF’s data may be separate from the factors contributing to gun violence.

Still, no sales bump compares to 2020, when gun buying soared to unprecedented heights, Schleimer said, substantially widening the pool of recently purchased guns that could potentially turn up at crime scenes....

Jim Bueermann, a former California police chief who serves as a senior fellow at the George Mason University Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy, said that while the new data may not provide conclusive evidence of a causal relationship between gun sales and gun crime, it does signal the importance of additional exploration.  “Data like this asks more questions than it answers, but this is a clarion call for criminologists to conduct research in this space.”

A few of many prior related posts:

December 9, 2021 in Gun policy and sentencing, Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (6)

Wednesday, December 08, 2021

"The Effects of College in Prison and Policy Implications"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new piece authored by Matthew G.T. Denney and Robert Tynes newly published in the journal Justice Quarterly. Here is its abstract:

Despite the policy relevance of college-in-prison, the existing research on these programs has important flaws, failing to address selection and self-selection bias.  We address an important policy question: what are the effects of college-in-prison program?  To do this, we provide the largest study published to-date of a single college-in-prison program. 

We analyze the effects of the Bard Prison Initiative (BPI) in New York, a liberal arts program that has offered college courses to incarcerated students since 2001.  By leveraging the BPI admissions process, we employ a design-based approach to infer the causal effect of participation in BPI.  We find a large and significant reduction in recidivism rates.  This reduction is consistent across racial groupings.  Moreover, people with higher levels of participation recidivate at even lower rates.  In light of these findings, we provide policy recommendations that support college-in-prison programs.

December 8, 2021 in National and State Crime Data, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 01, 2021

US Sentencing Commission issues new report on "Recidivism of Federal Firearms Offenders Released in 2010"

Cover_recidivism-firearms-2021The US Sentencing Commission has this week published some new findings from its big eight-year recidivism study of 32,000+ offenders released in 2010.  This new 98-page report is titled "Recidivism of Federal Firearms Offenders Released in 2010," and this USSC webpage provides this overview with key findings:

Overview

(Published November 30, 2021) This report is the second in a series continuing the Commission’s research of the recidivism of federal offenders. It provides an overview of the recidivism of federal firearms offenders released from incarceration or sentenced to a term of probation in 2010, combining data regularly collected by the Commission with data compiled from criminal history records from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). This report provides an overview of recidivism for these offenders and information on key offender and offense characteristics related to recidivism. This report also compares recidivism outcomes for federal firearms offenders released in 2010 to firearms offenders released in 2005. In the future, the Commission will release additional publications discussing specific topics concerning recidivism of federal offenders.

The final study group of 5,659 firearms offenders satisfied the following criteria:

  • United States citizens
  • Re-entered the community during 2010 after discharging their sentence of incarceration or by commencing a term of probation in 2010
  • Not reported dead, escaped, or detained
  • Have valid FBI numbers that could be located in criminal history repositories (in at least one state, the District of Columbia, or federal records)
  • Sentenced under §2K2.1, sentenced as armed career criminals or career offenders, or convicted under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)

Key Findings

  • This study observed substantial consistency in the recidivism of firearms offenders across the two time periods, 2005 and 2010, despite two intervening major developments in the federal criminal justice system: the Supreme Court’s decision in Booker and increased use of evidence-based practices in federal supervision.
  • Firearms offenders recidivated at a higher rate than all other offenders.  Over two-thirds (69.0%) of firearms offenders were rearrested for a new crime during the eight-year follow-up period compared to less than half of all other offenders (45.1%).
  • Firearms offenders and all other offenders who recidivated were rearrested for similar crimes. Of the firearms offenders who recidivated, assault was the most serious new charge for 25.9 percent of offenders followed by drug trafficking (11.0%). Similarly, of the all other offenders who recidivated, assault was the most common new charge (19.0%) followed by drug trafficking (11.4%).
  • Firearms offenders have higher recidivism rates than all other offenders in every Criminal History Category (CHC). Within most CHCs, this difference was about ten percentage points.
    • In CHC I, 39.7 percent of firearms offenders recidivated compared to 29.6 percent of all other offenders.
    • In CHC VI, 82.8 percent of firearms offenders recidivated compared to 72.9 percent of all other offenders.
  • Firearms offenders recidivated at a higher rate than all other offenders in every age-at-release grouping. Firearms offenders recidivated at over twice the rate of all other offenders among those released after age 59 (31.1% compared to 14.5%).
  • The recidivism rates for firearms and all other offenders were highly similar for both the 2010 release cohort in this report and the 2005 release cohort previously studied. In the 2005 release cohort, 68.1 percent of firearms offenders recidivated compared to 46.3 percent of all other offenders. Similarly, 69.0 percent of firearms offenders in the 2010 release cohort recidivated compared to 45.1 percent of all other offenders.

December 1, 2021 in Data on sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, November 22, 2021

"Prosecutorial Reform and Local Crime Rates"

The title of this post is the title of this relatively short empirical paper available via SSRN and authored by Amanda Agan, Jennifer Doleac and Anna Harvey. Here is its abstract:

Many communities across the United States have elected reform-minded, progressive prosecutors who seek to reduce the reach and burden of the criminal justice system.  Such prosecutors have implemented reforms such as scaling back the prosecution of nonviolent misdemeanors, diverting defendants to treatment programs instead of punishment, and recommending against cash bail for defendants who might otherwise be detained pretrial.  Such policies are controversial, and many worry that they could increase crime by reducing deterrent and incapacitation effects.  In this paper we use variation in the timing of when these prosecutors took office, across 35 jurisdictions, to measure the effect of their policies on reported crime rates.  While our estimates are imprecisely estimated, we find no significant effects of these reforms on local crime rates.

November 22, 2021 in National and State Crime Data, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 25, 2021

Notable survey results about violent crime perceptions and partisanship

This new release discusses the interesting (but not all that surprisng) results from an Axios/Ipsos poll conducted last week with a series of questions about perceptions of violent crime. Here are some of the details:

A new Axios-Ipsos poll finds that Americans’ concern about crime is high, but for most it is a more abstract than immediate concern.  For instance, three-quarters of Americans say they feel mostly or very safe when out in their communities, and among that one-quarter who report feeling less safe, only half cite crime as a major reason why (or about one in eight Americans).  However, a majority of Americans feel violent crime is on the rise since last year — which is broadly accurate — but also feel it is higher than observed 30 years ago — which is incorrect.  Potentially because concerns about crime are more abstract for most people, opinions about what to do about crime tend to fall along lines of national politics.  Democrats broadly support gun control and investment in social services while Republicans support a more armed populace and more spending on police....

There is some consensus on what steps could reduce gun violence and violent crime in the U.S. Just over six in ten (61%) Americans believe tighter gun laws would have an impact.

A large majority believe increased funding to police (70%) would curb gun violence and violent crime, while nearly as many (63%) also believe diverting police budget to community policing and social services would do this.

Over two thirds (68%) believe increased funding to social safety net programs would have an impact on combatting violent crime.

However, partisanship is central to what and who Americans believe is the cause of increased violent crime and which solutions would be most impactful.  Majorities of Republicans say Democrats in Congress (59%), reduced police funding (58%), and President Joe Biden (54%) are most responsible for increases in violent crime. Meanwhile, majorities of Democrats blame loose gun laws (54%) and rising gun sales (52%). 

When it comes to solutions, a majority of Republicans believe increased police funding (59%) would have a major impact on reducing violent crime compared to roughly a third of Democrats (31%).  Conversely, a majority of Democrats (63%) think tighter gun control regulations and increased funding to social programs that combat poverty (54%) would have a major impact on reducing violent crime — compared to 16% and 18% of Republicans, respectively.

The full poll is available at this link.

October 25, 2021 in Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 18, 2021

Bureau of Justice Statistics releases 2020 National Crime Victimization Survey data indicating over a 20% decline in violent victimization from 2019 to 2020

Crime data is always complicated, and the pandemic era adds a huge extra dimension to figuring out just what is happening with crime in the US and how policymakers should respond. The latest data report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics on crime victimization in 2020 seems to add another complicated piece to the complicated puzzle. Via an email I received this morning, here is some more interesting data:

Today, the Bureau of Justice Statistics released findings from the 2020 National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), which show a 22% decline in the total violent victimization rate from 2019 to 2020. The rate of violent crime dropped from 21.0 to 16.4 victimizations per 1,000 persons age 12 or older.

Violent victimization in the NCVS includes rape or sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault, and simple assault. It does not include homicide as the survey is based on in-person interviews with persons age 12 or older in a representative sample of households in the United States.

The decrease in violent victimization was driven primarily by a decline in simple and aggravated assault. The rate of simple assault fell from 13.7 to 10.7 victimizations per 1,000 persons age 12 or older from 2019 to 2020, while the rate of aggravated assault decreased from 3.7 to 2.9 victimizations per 1,000. The rate of violent crime, excluding simple assault, declined 23% from 7.3 to 5.6 victimizations per 1,000.

The rates of rape or sexual assault (1.2 victimizations per 1,000 persons age 12 or older) and robbery (1.6 per 1,000) in 2020 were not significantly different from the rates in 2019.

The rate of property crime victimization declined for the second year in a row, from 101.4 to 94.5 victimizations per 1,000 households from 2019 to 2020. The decline in property crime (burglary, residential trespassing, motor vehicle theft, and other types of household theft) during this period was due to decreases in the rates of burglary and trespassing. Burglary declined 19% (from 11.7 to 9.5 per 1,000), and trespassing declined 24% (from 5.5 to 4.1 per 1,000). From 2019 to 2020, there were no statistically significant changes in the rates of motor vehicle theft and other household theft.

The NCVS and FBI Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program measure an overlapping, but not identical, set of offenses, which leads to differences in estimates of crime between the two sources.  The NCVS interviews victims, while the UCR collects data on crime recorded by law enforcement agencies. Victims reported about 40% of violent victimizations and 33% of property victimizations to the police in 2020. Restricting the NCVS to violent crime reported to police, and excluding simple assault, offers a comparable measure to the UCR.  From 2019 to 2020, the rate of violent crime, excluding simple assault, that victims reported to police decreased 18%, from 3.4 to 2.8 victimizations per 1,000 persons age 12 or older.  During this same period, the rate of property crime that victims reported to police did not change significantly (31.2 property crimes per 1,000 households reported to law enforcement in 2020).  However, the rate of burglary reported to police by victims declined from 6.0 to 4.2 per 1,000 households from 2019 to 2020.

By comparison, the FBI reported an increase in violent crimes from 2019 to 2020 (3.8 to 4.0 violent crimes per 1,000 persons) and a decrease in property crimes (21.3 to 19.6 per 1,000).  The FBI also reported a decrease in burglary from 2019 to 2020 (3.41 to 3.14 per 1,000 persons).

The BJS report, Criminal Victimization, 2020 (NCJ 301775), was written by BJS statisticians Rachel E. Morgan, Ph.D., and Alexandra Thompson. The report, related documents and additional information about BJS’s statistical publications and programs are available on the BJS website at bjs.ojp.gov.

The accompanying summary report, The National Crime Victimization Survey and Uniform Crime Reporting program: A complementary picture of crime in 2020, was written by BJS statisticians Rachel E. Morgan, Ph.D., and Alexandra Thompson.

BJS also released a third-party report, National Crime Victimization Survey: Assessment of Outlier Weights (NCJ 302186), that was produced by RTI International for BJS under award number 2020-85-CX-K017 and is also available on the BJS website.

October 18, 2021 in National and State Crime Data, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 08, 2021

Council on Criminal Justice presents data on "Homicide Trends: What You Need to Know"

The quoted portion of the title of this post is the title of this helpful new data briefing on modern US homicide trends produced by the Council on Criminal Justice.  Here is how the presentation of data is introduced (with links from the original) along with the key six data observations:

Each fall, the Federal Bureau of Investigation aggregates and distributes annual crime data from law enforcement agencies across the country.  Many agencies now post their own weekly and monthly data online, permitting researchers, including those at the Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ), to analyze and report trends in closer to real time.

On September 27, the FBI released its year-end report for 2020.  The government’s figures largely mirrored what CCJ and Arnold Ventures reported in January based on a sample of 34 cities. Both reports, for instance, indicated that in 2020 homicide increased by nearly 30% over the year before.

This brief summarizes key takeaways based on the newly issued FBI report as well as historical and more recent data....

  1.  Violent crime, particularly homicide, increased in 2020. The increase has slowed in 2021 and levels remain below historical highs.... 
  2.  A greater share of homicides involved firearms in 2020....
  3.  The age of homicide victims and offenders remains relatively stable, although it declined slightly in 2020....
  4.  The percentage of Hispanic victims and offenders has decreased....
  5.  The homicide clearance rate declined significantly in 2020, continuing a downward trend that began in the 1970s....
  6.  The circumstances of homicides have grown increasingly unclear.

October 8, 2021 in National and State Crime Data, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 30, 2021

US Sentencing Commission releases big new report on "Recidivism of Federal Offenders Released in 2010"

Cover_2021-recidivism-overviewAs I have said repeatedly over the last three years, it is has been great to see that the US Sentencing Commission can continue to do a lot of needed and important data analysis even as its policy work it necessarily on hiatus due to a lack of confirmed Commissioners.  The latest example was released today in this form of this big new report titled "Recidivism of Federal Offenders Released in 2010."  This USSC webpage provides an overview of the report along with a bunch of "Key Findings," some of which are reprinted below:

Overview

This report is the first in a series continuing the Commission’s research of the recidivism of federal offenders. It provides an overview of the recidivism of federal offenders released from incarceration or sentenced to a term of probation in 2010, combining data regularly collected by the Commission with data compiled from criminal history records from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).  This report provides an overview of recidivism for these offenders and information on key offender and offense characteristics related to recidivism.  This report also compares recidivism outcomes for offenders released in 2010 to federal offenders released in 2005. In the future, the Commission will release additional publications discussing specific topics concerning recidivism of federal offenders. The final study group of 32,135 offenders satisfied the following criteria:

  • United States citizens;
  • Re-entered the community during 2010 after discharging their sentence of incarceration or by commencing a term of probation in 2010;
  • Not reported dead, escaped, or detained;
  • Have valid FBI numbers that could be located in criminal history repositories (in at least one state, the District of Columbia, or federal records).

Key Findings

  • The recidivism rate remained unchanged for federal offenders released in 2010 compared to offenders released in 2005 despite two intervening major developments in the federal criminal justice system: the Supreme Court’s decision in Booker and increased use of evidence-based practices in federal supervision....
  • For offenders who were rearrested, the median time to arrest was 19 months. The largest proportion (18.2%) of offenders were rearrested for the first time during the first year following release. In each subsequent year, fewer offenders were rearrested for the first time than in previous years. Most offenders in the study were rearrested prior to the end of supervision terms....
  • Assault was the most common (20.7%) offense at rearrest.  The second most common offense was drug trafficking (11.3%), followed by: larceny (8.7%), probation, parole, and supervision violations (8.1%), and administration of justice offenses (7.5%).
  • Combined, violent offenses comprised approximately one-third of rearrests; 31.4 percent of offenders were rearrested for assault (20.7%), robbery (4.5%), murder (2.3%), other violent offense (2.3%), or sexual assault (1.6%).
  • Similar to findings in its previous studies, the Commission found age and Criminal History Category (CHC) were strongly associated with rearrests....  Combined, the impact of CHC and age on recidivism was even stronger.  During the eight-year follow-up period, 100 percent of offenders who were younger than 21 at the time of release and in CHC IV, V, and VI (the most serious CHCs) were rearrested.  In contrast, only 9.4 percent of offenders in CHC I (the least serious CHC) who were aged 60 and older at release were rearrested.
  • Offenders sentenced for firearms and robbery offenses had the highest rearrest rates during the eight-year follow-up period, with 70.6 percent and 63.2 percent, respectively.  In contrast, offenders sentenced for fraud, theft, or embezzlement had the lowest rearrest rate (35.5%).

September 30, 2021 in Detailed sentencing data, National and State Crime Data, Offender Characteristics, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

"Toward an Optimal Decarceration Strategy"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper authored by Ben Grunwald now available via SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

With mounting support for dramatic criminal justice reform, the question is no longer whether we should decarcerate American prisons but how.  This question is far more complicated than it might seem.  We could cut the prison population in half, for example, by drastically shortening sentences.  Or we could reduce prison admissions.  Or we could do both.  And we could do either or both for countless combinations of criminal offenses.  Moreover, even when they reach the same numeric target, these strategies are not equivalent.  They would have vastly different consequences for both prisoners and the public and widely varying timeframes to take effect.  To pick among them, we need richer metrics and more precise empirical estimates to evaluate their consequences.

This Article begins by proposing metrics to evaluate the relative merits of competing decarceration strategies.  The public debate has focused almost exclusively on how we might decarcerate while minimizing any increases in crime and has, therefore, underappreciated the costs of prison itself.  We should consider at least three more metrics: the social harm of incarceration, racial disparity, and timing.  Next, the Article develops an empirical methodology to identify the range of strategies that would reduce the national prison population by 25, 50, and 75%.  Finally, it identifies the best performing strategies against each metric.

The results have several broader takeaways.  First, the optimal approach to decarceration depends heavily on which metrics we value most.  The results thus quantify a stark set of policy choices behind a seemingly simple objective. Second, the results confirm that, to dramatically shrink prisons, it is critical to decarcerate a substantial number of people convicted of violent offenses — a fact that may surprise the majority of Americans who believe people convicted of drug offenses occupy half of prison beds.  Finally, the results show that race-neutral decarceration strategies are likely to exacerbate rather than mitigate racial disparities.  Armed with the conceptual tools and methodologies developed in this Article, we can make more informed decisions about how to best scale down prisons, given our priorities and constraints.

September 29, 2021 in National and State Crime Data, Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 27, 2021

FBI releases 2020 crime statistics showing increase in violent crime and decrease in property crime

HighAs set out in this press release, headlined simply "FBI Releases 2020 Crime Statistics," we now have the FBI's accounting of US crime dynamics in the crazy year of 2020.  The basic 2020 story of violent crime up and property crime down has been widely discussed, but these "official" particulars still matter.  Here are highlights from the FBI press release:

For the first time in four years, the estimated number of violent crimes in the nation increased when compared with the previous year’s statistics, according to FBI figures released today.  In 2020, violent crime was up 5.6 percent from the 2019 number. Property crimes dropped 7.8 percent, marking the 18th consecutive year the collective estimates for these offenses declined.

The 2020 statistics show the estimated rate of violent crime was 387.8 offenses per 100,000 inhabitants, and the estimated rate of property crime was 1,958.2 offenses per 100,000 inhabitants.  The violent crime rate rose 5.2 percent when compared with the 2019 rate; the property crime rate declined 8.1 percent.

These and additional data are presented in the 2020 edition of the FBI’s annual report Crime in the United States.  This report is available as downloadable spreadsheets and topic pages about offenses, arrests, and police employee data reported by law enforcement agencies voluntarily participating in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program.

The UCR Program collects information on crimes reported by law enforcement agencies regarding the violent crimes of murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault, as well as the property crimes of burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson.  (The FBI classifies arson as a property crime but does not estimate arson data because of variations in the level of participation by the reporting agencies.  Consequently, arson data is not included in the property crime estimate.)  The program also collects arrest data for the offenses listed above and 20 offenses that include all other crimes except traffic violations.

Of the 18,619 federal, state, county, city, university and college, and tribal agencies eligible to participate in the UCR Program, 15,897 agencies submitted data in 2020. A high-level summary of the statistics submitted, as well as estimates for those agencies that did not report, follows:

  • In 2020, there were an estimated 1,277,696 violent crimes. When compared with the estimates from 2019, the estimated number of robbery offenses fell 9.3 percent and the estimated volume of rape (revised definition) offenses decreased 12.0 percent.  The estimated number of aggravated assault offenses rose 12.1 percent, and the volume of murder and nonnegligent manslaughter offenses increased 29.4 percent.

  • Nationwide, there were an estimated 6,452,038 property crimes. The estimated numbers for two of the three property crimes showed declines when compared with the previous year’s estimates. Burglaries dropped 7.4 percent, larceny-thefts decreased 10.6 percent, while motor vehicle thefts rose 11.8 percent.

  • Collectively, victims of property crimes (excluding arson) suffered losses estimated at $17.5 billion in 2020.

  • The FBI estimated law enforcement agencies nationwide made 7.6 million arrests, (excluding those for traffic violations) in 2020.

  • The arrest rate for violent crime was 147.9 per 100,000 inhabitants, and the arrest rate for property crime was 267.3 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), 6.3; robbery, 21.0; and aggravated assault, 116.8 per 100,000 inhabitants.

  • Of the property crime offenses, the arrest rate for burglary was 45.7 per 100,000 inhabitants; larceny-theft, 193.1; and motor vehicle theft, 25.5. The arrest rate for arson was 3.0 per 100,000 inhabitants.

  • In 2020, 13,377 law enforcement agencies reported their staffing levels to the FBI. These agencies reported that, as of October 31, 2020, they collectively employed 696,644 sworn officers and 309,135 civilians—a rate of 3.4 employees per 1,000 inhabitants.

September 27, 2021 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 19, 2021

"Crime, quarantine, and the U.S. coronavirus pandemic"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper authored by Ernesto Lopez and Richard Rosenfeld just published in Criminology & Public Policy.  Here is its abstract:

Research Summary

Prior research has produced varied results regarding the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on crime rates, depending on the offenses and time periods under investigation.  The current study of weekly offense rates in large U.S. cities is based on a longer time period, a greater number of offenses than prior research, and a varying number of cities for each offense (max = 28, min = 13, md = 20).  We find that weekly property crime and drug offense rates, averaged across the cities, fell during the pandemic.  An exception is motor vehicle theft, which trended upward after pandemic-related population restrictions were instituted in March 2020.  Robbery rates also declined immediately after the pandemic began.  Average weekly homicide, aggravated assault, and gun assault rates did not exhibit statistically significant increases after March.  Beginning in June 2020, however, significant increases in these offenses were detected, followed by declines in the late summer and fall.  Fixed-effects regression analyses disclose significant decreases in aggravated assault, robbery, and larceny rates associated with reduced residential mobility during the pandemic.  These results support the routine activity hypothesis that the dispersion of activity away from households increases crime rates.  The results for the other offenses are less supportive.

Policy Implications

Quarantines and lockdowns, although necessary to reduce contagious illness, are not desirable crime-control devices.  An object lesson of the coronavirus pandemic is to redouble effective crime reduction strategies and improve police–community relations without confining people to their homes.

September 19, 2021 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 09, 2021

Is California's overall crime rate really at its lowest level ever recorded?

Image-fullThe question in the title of this post is prompted by this new report from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice which is titled "California’s Crime Rate Falls To A Record Low In 2020; Counties With High Incarceration Rates Have More Crime And Worse Trends."  Here are excerpts from the report (cites preserved, click through for data and sources):

In the weeks leading up to the recall election of California Governor Gavin Newsom, crime has become a hot-button issue (David Binder Research, 2021; Gutierrez, 2021).  Unfortunately, rather than rationally analyzing crime, the press and some candidates and interest groups publicize anecdote-based claims featured in headlines such as, “California is seeing a crime surge,” or “San Francisco’s shoplifting surge” (Fuller, 2021; Walters, 2020).  While some press outlets have helped to correct such deceptive stories, fact checking typically comes after the damage is done (e.g., Neilson, 2021). The real trends in California crime contain reasons for both calm and concern (DOJ, 2021).

• California’s overall crime rate fell 6 percent in 2020, reaching its lowest level ever recorded.

Of the eight Part I felonies in the FBI’s index of crime, four increased from 2019 to 2020 and four declined.  Overall, the Part I crime index has fallen steadily over the last 20 years (including a 6 percent decline in 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic), with all eight index offenses showing declines during that period.  The state’s index crime rate in 2020 was the lowest ever recorded since the index was created in 1969.

• Homicide rates rose 31 percent in 2020 but remain below levels seen from 1968 through 2008.

California, then, is not experiencing an overall “crime surge.”  The state did, however, suffer a 31 percent increase in both homicide deaths and reported homicides in 2020 compared to 2019. However, rates remain well below levels for the entire 40-year period from 1968 through 2008, during the state’s “tough-on-crime” era. Homicide, though a rare crime, profoundly affects communities’ sense of safety.

• Low-incarceration counties have half as many homicides per capita as high-incarceration counties.

An examination of jail (BSCC, 2021), prison (CDCR, 2021), and crime data shows that counties with the lowest rates of incarceration also have lower rates of homicide and shoplifting—two offenses that have garnered the most media attention.  This counters an assumption by recall proponents, too often echoed uncritically in the press, that counties with progressive district attorneys have pursued policies they label “lenient” and “no-consequence” that are responsible for more crime (see Arango, 2021; Levenson, 2021; Stringini, 2021; Wallace-Wells, 2021).

September 9, 2021 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 08, 2021

BJS releases more notable new recidivism data, examining arrests over 10 years for state prisoners released in 2008

In this post from July, I flagged the Bureau of Justice Statistics' notable new report about the recidivism rates over five years for a set of state prisoners released in 2012. Today BJS released another new "special report" on recidivism, this one titled "Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 24 States in 2008: A 10-Year Follow-Up Period (2008–2018)."  Here is the introduction and "Highlights" from the first page of the report:

Among persons released from state prisons in 2008 across 24 states, 82% were arrested at least once during the 10 years following release.1 The annual arrest percentage declined over time, with 43% of prisoners arrested at least once in Year 1 of their release, 29% arrested in Year 5, and 22% arrested in Year 10.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) used prisoner records from the National Corrections Reporting Program and criminal history data to analyze the post-release offending patterns of former prisoners both within and outside of the state where they were imprisoned.  This report presents findings from BJS’s first study of prisoner recidivism over a 10-year period.  The study randomly sampled about 73,600 released prisoners to represent the approximately 409,300 state prisoners released across 24 states in 2008.  These states provided prisoners’ records and the FBI or state identification numbers that are needed to obtain criminal history data on the released prisoners.

These 24 states were responsible for 69% of all persons released from state prisons that year nationwide.

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • About 66% of prisoners released across 24 states in 2008 were arrested within 3 years, and 82% were arrested within 10 years.

  • The annual arrest percentage among prisoners released in 2008 declined from 43% in Year 1 to 22% in Year 10.

  • About 61% of prisoners released in 2008 returned to prison within 10 years for a parole or probation violation or a new sentence.

  • Sixteen percent of prisoners released in 2008 were arrested within 10 years outside of the state that released them.

  • Ninety percent of prisoners who were age 24 or younger at the time of release in 2008 were arrested within 10 years of release. A smaller percentage of those who were ages 25 to 39 (85%) and age 40 or older (75%) at the time of release were arrested within 10 years of release.

  • Seventy-five percent of drug offenders released from prison in 2008 were arrested for a nondrug crime within 10 years.

  • During the 10-year follow-up period, an estimated 2.2 million arrests occurred among the approximately 409,300 prisoners released in 2008.

A few of many prior recent related posts:

September 8, 2021 in National and State Crime Data, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 02, 2021

CCJ helpfully details "Recidivism Rates: What You Need to Know"

The Council on Criminal Justice has prepared this terrific new brief about recidivism rates building off the data collected and recently released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The brief was prepared by Nancy La Vigne and Ernesto Lopez, and I recommend the full online document. Here are some highlights (with links from the original):

The rate at which people return to prison following release is a key measure of the performance of the nation’s criminal justice system, yet national statistics on recidivism are rare.  The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) publishes them only every three years.  This brief summarizes the key takeaways from the most recent report, released in July 2021, and analyzes them in the context of previous findings.

1. The return-to-prison rate has dropped considerably.  People released from state prison in 2012 were much less likely to return to prison than those released in 2005. During the first year following release, 19.9% of the 2012 group returned to prison compared with 30.4% of the 2005 cohort.  The three-year prison return rate — the most commonly used measure — fell from about 50% to 39%. This 11-percentage point reduction persisted through the full five-year tracking period.

2. Rearrest rates remain stubbornly high.  The cumulative five-year rearrest rate of people exiting prison in 2012, at 71%, was six percentage points lower than that of people released in 2005 (77%).  The rate of rearrest for violent offenses was virtually unchanged, while rearrests for property offenses declined by three percentage points, rearrests for drug violations declined by six percentage points, and rearrests for public order offenses declined by four percentage points.

3. Most people are rearrested for public order offenses.  Public order offenses are the most common reason people are rearrested following release, accounting for 58% of 2005 releases who were rearrested and 54% of 2012 releases (Table 9, p. 9; Table 10, p. 10).  Public order is a broad category that includes offenses such as driving under the influence, disorderly conduct, and weapons violations.  The share of rearrests for weapons offenses remained relatively stable between those released in 2005 and 2012 (at 9.1% and 9.4%, respectively), as did rearrests for driving under the influence (from 9.3% to 8.7%)....

6. Criminal activity is not highly specialized.  People released in 2012 who had been serving a prison term for a violent crime were almost as likely to be rearrested for a property crime (28.9%) as a violent crime (32.4%) — Table 11.  Similarly, many people serving time for property crimes (29.6%) were rearrested for violent offenses (51.2%).  This aligns with prior research that suggests that most criminal behavior is not highly specialized and that labeling someone as “violent” or “non-violent” is overly simplistic.

7. Different metrics tell different stories.  Historically, the most common measure of recidivism has been the rate at which people return to prison within three years of release. Because there were long periods of time between national reports over the last few decades, it was commonly though that the three-year state prison recidivism rate was stagnant at about 50%.  That was the return rate of people released in 1994, a finding that wasn’t published until 2002.  It was another dozen years before the next report, in 2014, tracked recidivism of those released in 2005.  More recently, BJS has reported recidivism rates more frequently and has used different measures, including the rearrest rate. While the different measures have their strengths and weaknesses, it is important to compare apples to apples.  In this case, that means distinguishing headlines about rearrest rates that top 70% over a five-year period from three-year re-incarceration rates, which now have fallen below 40%.

September 2, 2021 in National and State Crime Data, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 29, 2021

"What's (Really) Driving Crime in New York"

The title of this post is the title of this interesting new short report produced by New Yorkers United for Justice (NYUJ), a coalition of criminal justice organizations. Here are parts of the introduction and conclusion:

A rise in certain categories of violent crime, most notably gun-related homicides and shootings, in New York State has created public concern and widespread speculation about its causes.  This publication examines possible causes for this uptick and debunks the assertions that New York’s criminal legal reforms — including the bail reform of 2018 — caused increases in these categories of crimes in our state.

The exceptional increase in homicides coupled with the decreases in other crime categories suggests that novel factors, rather than well-studied criminal justice reforms, are at work.  A careful look at the data, set in the context of national and world events, reveals that a complex blend of factors is likely at play — including the pandemic and its significant economic impacts, a drastic increase in gun sales, and the racial reckoning and discourse on policing that have contributed to a deterioration of police and community relations.

Furthermore, the increases in certain categories of crime in 2020 actually came on the heels of decades of steady downward trends in crime, both in New York and across the nation.  And the recent increases in homicides bring New York nowhere near the levels of homicides experienced in the early 1990s, when numbers peaked.  In fact, New York City’s 2020 homicide rates are lower than those of Houston, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles.

Some local opponents of criminal justice reform are pouncing on the increase in some crimes to stoke fear, slow progress, and double down on failed, outmoded policies.  And yet the increase in homicides — particularly those using guns — is national in scope, affecting communities big and small, and those that have instituted criminal justice reforms as well as those that have not.....

NYUJ’s review of the available crime data for New York State reveals the wholesale lack of a connection between recent upticks in certain categories of crime and recently adopted criminal legal reforms, such as pretrial reform.  Rather, similar upticks have been experienced across communities with varied criminal justice strategies, not just ones that have adopted reforms.

As discussed above, the most likely explanation for the crime data fluctuations is not a single explanation at all, but a confluence of conditions — from a once-in-a-century global pandemic and its attendant economic disruptions to a profusion of guns entering communities already on edge to strained relations between communities and law enforcement.  This toxic stew of factors has produced an environment of fear and mistrust.

Unfortunately, the complexity of this data is not readily apparent in many media reports.  As a result, there is a danger that policy decisions will be made based on unsupportable conclusions that defy consistent, longstanding evidence about what works to reduce crime and recidivism.  In presenting this information, NYUJ hopes to engage in a productive dialogue about what is driving the concerning crime numbers, what the existing data show, and the most effective policies indicated by the evidence.

A few of many prior recent related posts:

August 29, 2021 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

"Crime trends and violence worse in California’s Republican-voting counties than Democratic-voting counties"

The provocative title of this post is the title of this press release from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice promoting its new report titled "California’s Republican Counties Have Worse Crime Trends And Higher Violent Crime Rates Than Democratic Counties."  Here is much of the press release:

A report released today by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice finds that, compared to the 35 California counties that voted Democratic in the 2020 presidential election, the state’s 23 Republican-voting counties have higher rates of violent crime, including homicides.

For decades, Republican candidates and elected officials have demanded a “get-tough” approach to crime that generated more arrests, more imprisonments, and longer prison sentences.  As a result, a person is 58 percent more likely to be arrested and 41 percent more likely to be incarcerated in a Republican-voting county than in a Democratic-voting one.  Likewise, 12 of the 13 highest-incarceration counties vote Republican, while 16 of the 18 lowest-incarceration counties vote Democratic.

But have the hardline approaches pursued by Republicans officials actually reduced crime?  Just the opposite.  Republican-voting counties are seeing lesser declines in crime and higher rates of crime, particularly violent offenses and homicides, compared to their Democratic-voting counterparts.

The report finds:

  • Violent and property crime rates have declined most rapidly in Democratic-voting counties.
  • Homicide rates in Republican-voting counties are now 28 percent higher than in Democratic-voting counties.
  • The homicide death rate among White people in Republican-voting counties is on par with people of color in Democratic-voting ones, challenging widely held beliefs about violence in urban communities of color.
  • Republican-voting counties experience higher rates of drug, alcohol, and gun deaths than Democratic-voting counties, particularly among White residents.
  • Republican-voting counties pay less in state and local taxes per capita but rely more heavily on California’s costly prison system.

The gaps between urban/suburban-Democratic and exurban/rural-Republican California are widening, contributing to extremist politics and intractable divisions. Thirty years ago, the state’s cities experienced the worst economic hardships and highest rates of violent crime. Today, these issues have shifted to its exurbs, small towns, and rural areas.

California, like the rest of the country, suffered a major increase in homicide in 2020. This disturbing development has prompted calls by Republicans, and some Democrats, to roll back criminal justice reforms and reinstate tougher arrest and imprisonment policies. Yet these “get-tough” campaigns ignore an important reality – that Democratic-voting counties, which are more likely to embrace progressive reform, now see fewer violent crimes and homicides per capita than Republican ones.

I lack the empirical chops (and the time with the start of a new semester) needed to dig into the particulars of this report to assess its analysis. I do know that the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice is a progressive organization "whose mission is to reduce society’s reliance on incarceration as a solution to social problems."  And I would be eager to hear from certain persons at Crime & Consequences, which is located in California and has folks blogging here with a distinct set of criminal justice views, about their take on this notable new report.

A few of many prior recent related posts:

August 25, 2021 in National and State Crime Data, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

"Is New York’s Wave of Gun Violence Receding? Experts See Reason for Hope"

Just over a month ago, I was starting to look at summer crime data from various cities as I pondered in a post, "As we puzzle through gun violence spike, is it too soon to hope a decline is already starting?."  I highlighted in this subsequent post that mid-year homicide data was more encouraging in 2021 than in 2020 in some notable cities (though more discouraging in others).  I now see that the Gray Lady is on the beat with this new article that has the headline that I have used for the title of this post.  Here are excerpts:

[A]mid the drumbeat of reports of shootings, experts who study the issue say that recent gun violence data has shown a downward trend. This June and July saw considerably fewer shootings than those months in 2020, experts note, and the numbers have not reached the stark levels many feared they might.

Experts caution against drawing conclusions from limited data and note that the recent trends could still change. Shootings also remain significantly up from prepandemic levels. But after the toll of the past year, the preliminary numbers have offered reason for optimism.

“In April and May, all indications were that where we were headed was even worse than most of last year,” said Marcos Gonzalez Soler, who heads the mayor’s office of criminal justice. “I think that is a very different universe from where we are now.”

As New Yorkers emerged last summer following months of isolation during the pandemic’s peak, the city began to experience the worst gun violence it had seen in decades. Over June and July 2020, New York saw 448 shooting incidents, a Police Department statistic that tracks distinct instances in which one or more people are shot, rather than total victims. It was a spike in shootings that was driven at least in part, many experts believe, by the social and economic disorder that accompanied the pandemic.

This summer, as the city reopened, the number of shooting incidents in June and July dropped to 323. Mayor Bill de Blasio and the police commissioner, Dermot F. Shea, have both touted the lower summer monthly totals as a positive sign, and have pointed to the increase in gun arrests between this year and last. (The arrests dropped dramatically between 2019 and 2020.) Mr. Gonzalez Soler offered a broader reasoning, pointing to the city’s range of efforts to tackle the issue over the summer.

Experts caution that it can take years to learn why crime statistics change, and warn against comparing crime figures in one year with the previous year — and that is particularly true during the pandemic’s upheaval and frequent waves of change. But many have taken note of the swing. Jeffrey Butts, the director of the research and evaluation center at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, has been conducting analyses of quarterly shooting totals, comparing three-month periods between 2020 and 2021. The spike has appeared to be tapering off, even if gradually, across the past several times he has run the numbers, he said.

Mr. Gonzalez Soler said that he was “always skeptical” looking at the short-term trends in general, but “optimistic about the direction” the city has appeared to be moving in. Even as concerns remain, he noted several positive signs: New York saw homicides, for example, hover around a total similar to prepandemic levels over the past two months with 67 in 2021 — more in line with 2019 (64) than 2020 (100).

While experts say the current statistical trends are encouraging, shootings are still significantly up from 2019, when about 177 shootings were recorded in June and July. And regardless of the next few months, 2021 will end having taken a steep toll compared with the time before the pandemic, when fewer than 1,000 people were shot by year’s end. By Aug. 15, police statistics show more than 1,160 people had been shot in New York City this year....

Experts say it was always unlikely that the spike would vanish quickly: Individual shootings can fuel cycles of retaliation that lead to further gun violence and take time to break....

The shootings spike came after a period during which homicides in the city dropped to their lowest levels in more than six decades. The overall crime index — which tracks seven major crimes including murder, felony assault, rape and car theft — has also remained at its lowest level in decades because of declines in reports of burglary and robbery.

Even as gun violence has risen, it remains far below the city’s “bad old days” and peak levels of the 1980s and ’90s. Then, the city often reported annual homicide totals in the high 1,000s or low 2,000s. Last year’s end-of-year total was around 450; 2021 is on pace to finish near or below that number....

A clear view of where New York’s new baseline gun violence level may fall will not come anytime soon, experts say — particularly as the Delta variant fuels a rise in coronavirus cases and reopening efforts pause. “I think Delta’s going to interrupt any sort of simple narrative,” said John Pfaff, a law professor at Fordham University. “The pandemic’s already rebounding again,” he continued. “I think we have to wait until we really know we’re beyond the rebound before looking at what post-pandemic will look like.”

It’s also too early to pin down the root causes for the rise itself. Many experts who study gun violence and those who work in neighborhood groups on the issue believe the pandemic and its social and economic toll played a critical role.

But a variety of other factors may be part of the puzzle, including the rise in the volume of guns in New York and elsewhere during the pandemic and the breakdown of relations between communities and the police over the past year. And among the U.S. cities, large and small, that have seen spikes in gun violence during the pandemic, the causes are unlikely to be identical. For New York’s part, homicide rates remain below those of many smaller major cities including Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston. (That was also the case before the pandemic).

A few of many prior recent related posts:

August 24, 2021 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 02, 2021

In 2021, homicides are now down in Boston, Cincinnati, Chicago, Dallas, Jacksonville, Kansas City, New York City, St. Louis and ...

this post is intended to highlight that one can now mine data from this webpage, where AH Datalytics has compiled a "YTD Murder Comparison" for 73 cities, to now tell an encouraging story about US homicide trends.  Critically, though, here I am cherry picking data, as there are many more cities on the list in which homicides are up rather than down.  And, of course, given last year's significant homicide increases in most cities, having some decreases in homicide in some cities is not something to celebrate robustly.

Still, the trends are continuing to be encouraging. The latest NYC data through Aug 1, 2021, show a dramatic decline in homicides over the last month, which has now turned 2021 into a down year for homicides in Gotham City.  As I have noted before, on July 12 in this tweet, Jeff Asher noted that the "change in murder relative to last year is dropping in cities with data.  A few weeks ago it was +22%, last week it was +18%, now it's +16%."  And now, as of early August, Asher's data show we are down to a 13% year-to-date increase, providing further reason to be hopeful that the COVID-era homicide spike may already be ending.

If these encouraging trends continue, we could end up seeing declines in homicides nationwide by the end of 2021.  Still, every homicide is one too many.  And, like with the pandemic, it seems wise not to make too many bold predictions about what will happen next month or the month after that in cities or elsewhere (where we lack great real-time crime data).  That said, I think the recent data trends in a number of big cities provide an important counter to the homicide spike narrative that has been prevalent over the last year and that has risked derailing some criminal justice reform efforts.  

Prior recent related post:

August 2, 2021 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (7)

Thursday, July 29, 2021

BJS releases notable new recidivism data for 2012-released state prisoners

The Bureau of Justice Statistics released this notable new report about the recidivism rates over five years for a set of state prisoners released in 2012. The full title of the 34-page report is "Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 34 States in 2012: A 5-Year Follow-Up Period (2012–2017)." Here is the introduction and "Highlights" from the first page of the report:

Among state prisoners released in 2012 across 34 states, 62% were arrested within 3 years, and 71% were arrested within 5 years.  Among prisoners released in 2012 across 21 states with available data on persons returned to prison, 39% had either a parole or probation violation or an arrest for a new offense within 3 years that led to imprisonment, and 46% had a parole or probation violation or an arrest within 5 years that led to imprisonment.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) used prisoner records from the National Corrections Reporting Program and criminal history data to analyze the post-release offending patterns of former prisoners both within and outside of the state where they were imprisoned.  This study randomly sampled about 92,100 released prisoners to represent the approximately 408,300 state prisoners released across 34 states in 2012.  These 34 states were responsible for 79% of all persons released from state prisons that year nationwide.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • About 6 in 10 (62%) prisoners released across 34 states in 2012 were arrested within 3 years, and 7 in 10 (71%) were arrested within 5 years. „
  • Nearly half (46%) of prisoners released in 2012 returned to prison within 5 years for a parole or probation violation or a new sentence. „
  • Eleven percent of prisoners released in 2012 were arrested within 5 years outside of the state that released them. „
  • Eighty-one percent of prisoners age 24 or younger at release in 2012 were arrested within 5 years of release, compared to 74% of those ages 25 to 39 and 61% of those age 40 or older. „
  • During the 5-year follow-up period, an estimated 1.1 million arrests occurred among the approximately 408,300 prisoners released in 2012. „
  • Sixty-two percent of drug offenders released from prison in 2012 were arrested for a nondrug crime within 5 years. „
  • The annual arrest percentage of prisoners released in 2012 declined from 37% in Year 1 to 26% in Year 5. „ Of prisoners released in the 19 states in the 2005, 2008, and 2012 recidivism studies, the percentage arrested within 5 years declined from 77% of 2005 releases, to 75% of 2008 releases, to 71% of 2012 releases.

July 29, 2021 in National and State Crime Data, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

CCJ releases June 2021 update on "Pandemic, Social Unrest, and Crime in U.S. Cities."

noted here last summer that the Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ) had launched an important, timely and impressive new commission titled the "National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice" and headed by two former US Attorneys General.  That commission has produce a number of important works (examples here and here and here), and it helped produced a series of reports on recent crime trends under the heading "Pandemic, Social Unrest, and Crime in U.S. Cities."  The latest version of this report, called a June 2021 update, is available for download at this link.  Over at the CCJ website, one can find this press release titled "New Data Shows Homicide Rise Continues in U.S. Cities, but at Slower Rate," which provides this overview of the crime data and also details on additional CCJ work in this arena:

Murder counts in major American cities continued to rise throughout the first half of 2021, but the pace of the increase slowed from the first to the second quarter of the year, according to research released today by the Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ).

Examining homicide in 22 cities through the first six months of 2021, the study found that the number of murders was 16% greater than during the same period in 2020 — claiming an additional 259 lives — and 42% greater than during the first half of 2019, representing an additional 548 lives.  Gun assaults (+5%) and aggravated assaults (+9%) also were up during the first half of 2021 compared to the same time frame last year, while drug and most property crimes fell.

Even with the 2021 increase, the homicide rate for the cities studied was about half what it was for those cities at the peak of violent crime rates in the early 1990s (15 deaths per 100,000 residents in those cities versus 28 per 100,000 in 1993). Nevertheless, the study’s authors called for “urgent action” to address the spike in violence.

A new CCJ panel will investigate the causes of rising violence and help decisionmakers translate rigorous evidence and lived experience into effective policy and practice.  Launched this week, the Violent Crime Working Group includes 15 leaders from community violence intervention organizations, law enforcement, the public health sector, and academia. The group is chaired by violence-reduction expert Thomas Abt, a Council Senior Fellow....

Rates of other major offenses declined in the first half of 2021, the new data released today shows.  Robbery (-6%), residential burglary (-9%), nonresidential burglary (-9%), larceny (-6%), and drug offense (-12%) rates all fell from the same period in 2020.  Motor vehicle theft rates, however, were 21% higher in the first half of 2021 than the year before.

July 29, 2021 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

As we puzzle through gun violence spike, is it too soon to hope a decline is already starting?

German Lopez has this useful new piece at Vox headlined "Murders are up.  Crime is not.  What’s going on?".  I recommend the extended article in full and here are some excerpts (with my highlighting to help account for the optimism in my post title, and just a few of many helpful links retained):

Last year, the US saw the biggest increase in the murder rate in decades.  The estimated total number of homicides rose to levels not seen since the late 1990s, even as the overall crime rate declined.  So far, the spike has continued into 2021: Murders are up nearly 15 percent so far this year compared to the same period last year, based on data from US cities collected by crime analyst Jeff Asher.

That’s what we know. What we don’t really know yet is why....  Year-to-year fluctuations in crime and violence can and do happen. But the size of the murder spike has led to broader national attention.  The increase is now part of an ideological proxy war — leading to conflicting opinions even within political parties on what to do about the increase in murders, and plenty of finger-pointing over whether the pandemic, protests over police, or guns are to blame.

We don’t really know, with certainty, what’s behind the rise.  All three of those factors likely played a role.  And there may even be some unknown factor that researchers won’t notice for years; the theory that higher levels of lead in the environment caused higher crime and violence from the 1960s to 1990s took decades to get widespread national attention....

The increase in murder appears to be a uniquely American phenomenon.  While murder rates rose in some developed countries last year, like Canada and Germany, the increases are far below the double-digit spikes America is seeing. That’s especially notable because the United States already had a higher baseline of murders, after controlling for population.  Despite claims that Democratic mayors or progressive criminal justice policies are driving the increase, it also appears indifferent to the political party in charge: As Asher and criminal justice expert John Pfaff have shown, murder rates increased in cities run by Democrats and Republicans, progressive and not.

The good news is there is a lot more agreement among experts about how to bring down the spike than there is about what caused it.  But the best evidence suggests stopping murders in the short term will require more and better, though not necessarily more aggressive, policing — a controversial proposal on the left. “I know people don’t want to hear this, and I empathize with that,” Anna Harvey, a public safety expert at New York University, told me. “But at least as far as the research evidence goes, for short-term responses to increases in homicides, the evidence is strongest for the police-based solutions.”

The [murder spike] data is preliminary; final official numbers for 2020 will be out later this year.  But the findings have been backed by multiple sources, including the FBIAsherseparate reports from the Council on Criminal Justice, and the University of Pennsylvania–run website City Crime Stats.  A consistent finding in these analyses: The spike is truly national, showing up in every region of the country and most of the cities with available data.

Some other kinds of crime also increased, according to this early data, including shootings, aggravated assaults, and car thefts.  Still, violent crime in general went up at much lower rates, if at all, compared to murders, and overall crime declined, driven in part by a drop in the majority of property crimes.  The split between murder rates and crime rates might seem odd, but there’s good reason to believe the divergence is genuine and not an artifact of underreporting.  There were fewer opportunities to commit property crimes last year with businesses shut and people staying home....

Based on Asher’s analysis of major US cities, the murder spike has continued into 2021 but likely decelerated.  There also seems to be more variation: More cities, including Chicago, are reporting a decrease or at least no increase in murders so far this year....

The closest to a consensus I’ve been able to find in talking to experts about the cause of the murder spike: It’s complicated.  Experts have rejected some possibilities.  Given that murders rose in both Democrat- and Republican-run cities, as well as places that adopted criminal justice reforms and those that didn’t, partisanship and criminal justice reforms don’t seem to be a cause.  Three plausible explanations, none of which exclude the others, have come up repeatedly:

1) The Covid-19 pandemic....

2) The US protests over police brutality...

3) America’s gun problem....

Perhaps the best explanation: All of these factors played a role.  There are many ways all these explanations could have interacted.  As one example: Covid-19 and protests both fueled a sense that the social fabric was unraveling, and more people — particularly in the worst-off neighborhoods — felt they had to fend for themselves.  They equipped themselves with guns to act on their own if they felt a threat.  And this made any given conflict more likely to escalate to deadly violence.

I have been keeping a particular eye lately on this webpage in which Jeff Asher has compiled a "YTD Murder Comparison" for 73 cities.  On July 12 in this tweet, Asher noted that the "change in murder relative to last year is dropping in cities with data.  A few weeks ago it was +22%, last week it was +18%, now it's +16%.  Largely reflects cities entering the time last year when murder surged (murder is down in Chicago, for example)."  And, now of July 21, Asher's data shows we are under a 15% year-to-date increase, providing further reason to be hopeful that the homicide spike may already be ending. 

Of course, given last year's significant increases, just having little or no increases in murder is not something to celebrate robustly.  But if these encouraging trends continue and we end up seeing declines in homicides nationwide in the coming month, perhaps the criminology question could soon become what explains the end of the homicide spike starting in mid 2021 rather than what explains the spike starting in mid 2020.

July 21, 2021 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, July 05, 2021

Important perspectives as rising homicides garner ever more attention

In this round up of recommended reading, I noted the the New York magazine article titled, "Progressives Don’t Need to Downplay Rising Homicides."  I wanted to flag the article again in the separate post because I think this piece provides particularly useful perspectives on the ever-growing concerns about increased homicides in the US and about a variety of reactions thereto.  I highly recommend the piece in full (and its many links), and here I will spotlight just a few of many passages that merit attention (with some links from the original):

At our most peaceful, the United States is an exceptionally murderous nation.

In 2014, America recorded the lowest homicide rate in its history — and the highest homicide rate of any comparably prosperous country.  That year, Americans were more than three times as likely as Western Europeans to die by murder. Like most things in the U.S., this aberrantly high risk of homicide was not distributed equally.  Residents of Washington, D.C., were murdered at eight times the rate of those in Iowa.  Within the District, as in virtually all major U.S. cities, killing was largely quarantined to a select group of politically disempowered, economically dispossessed neighborhoods. Poor Black people did the bulk of the dying.

America’s distribution of violent death has changed little over the past seven years.  But the sum total has risen considerably. In 2019, the U.S. murder rate was about 11 percent higher than it had been in 2014.  We do not yet have an official body count for 2020.  But preliminary data suggests that, across major cities, homicides rose by an average of 30 percent last year — and then jumped another 24 percent through the first few months of this one....

The dismissive posture that many progressives adopt toward coverage of violent crime is motivated by inarguable insights: Americans routinely overestimate the prevalence of crime, a fact that is largely attributable to the media’s “if it bleeds, it leads” modus operandi.  Despite the homicide surge of the past two years, America’s murder rate remains far lower than it was in the 1990s, and mainstream coverage does not always convey this fact.  Even last year, the number of Americans killed by homicide (roughly 20,000) paled in comparison to those killed by more mundane, perennially under-covered social ills such as the tobacco industry (est. 480,000), air pollution (est. 100,000), or lack of health insurance (est. 45,000)....

Progressives aren’t going to get the media to ignore crime for the sake of social justice.  And we aren’t going to persuade the urban working class to disregard rising homicide.  Thus, our best bet for resisting a punitive turn in criminal-justice policy is to convince voters that our approach to public safety is more effective than the pro-carceral status quo.

Happily, the evidence that a progressive anti-crime agenda would outperform America’s traditional draconian one is quite strong.  Contrary to the wishful speculations of some pundits, the past year’s spike in homicide is not attributable to the rise of progressive prosecutors: Murder rates have risen no faster in cities with reformist district attorneys.

Meanwhile, criminological research suggests that:

• Long prison sentences do not deter crime, and are actually counterproductive for public safety.

• Investments in preschool and summer-job programs lower disadvantaged young people’s susceptibility to criminal activity.

• Community-based “violence interrupter” programs can preempt lethal violence.

• Raising wages for “low-skill” workers can reduce recidivism, and thus, pro-labor policies are anti-crime policies.

• If the Medicaid expansion is any guide, then increasing access to affordable health care in general — and free drug treatment in particular — can deliver immediate reductions in both violent and property crimes.

• Laws tightening licensing requirements for handgun purchases have yielded dramatic reductions in firearm homicide rates.

July 5, 2021 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

"The Puzzle of Clearance Rates, and What They Can Tell Us About Crime, Police Reform, and Criminal Justice"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper by Andrew D. Leipold that I just saw via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

Recent incidents of police violence have led to widespread reform efforts, from modest proposals to change police practices to dramatic attempts to slash funding or abolish the police entirely.  But largely ignored in the debate is a simple question — how well is law enforcement currently performing its core functions?  In particular, how good are the police at finding the perpetrator, arresting that person, and gathering enough evidence to start the matter through the criminal justice system?  Answering this question requires close attention to the familiar, but under-studied, metric of clearance rates.

Clearance rates measure the percentage of reported crimes that are “solved” by the arrest of a suspect and the filing of criminal charges.  But while these rates provide one valuable measure of police effectiveness, a closer look reveals both puzzles and qualifications, each of which raise important policy questions.  Using original compilations of data, this article begins by looking at the puzzles.  Clearance rates for violent and property crimes have been both quite low and amazingly steady for the last 40 years.  These figures are counterintuitive, because during that same period, crime first rose and then decreased dramatically; law enforcement personnel numbers increased, and then flattened; and the legal enforcement landscape appears to have tilted in the direction of the police and prosecution. E ach of these changes should have significantly affected the clearance rates, but even collectively, they did not.

The article then looks at possible explanations, and concludes that low and steady clearance rates are the product of relatively recent decisions about the role of police and the role of the justice system generally.  Beginning in the late 1990s, when our model would predict that clearance rates would begin to increase, resources were increasingly diverted from solving traditional violent and property crimes.  At the same time, a shift in law enforcement philosophy was gathering steam, one that prioritized crime prevention over crime clearance.  This choice was a sensible one, as most would prefer to have fewer crimes committed rather than a higher percentage of crimes solved.  But even these sensible choices have had important implications for crime victims, for criminal punishment schemes, and for the direction of police reform.

June 30, 2021 in National and State Crime Data, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Will any new sentencing issues be central to the new "comprehensive crime reduction strategy" soon to come from Prez Biden?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new lengthy CNN piece headlined "Concerns rising inside White House over surge in violent crime."  Here are excerpts:

A nationwide surge in violent crime has emerged as a growing area of concern inside the White House, where President Joe Biden and his aides have listened with alarm as local authorities warn a brutal summer of killing lies ahead.

Biden plans to address the spike in shootings, armed robberies and vicious assaults on Wednesday afternoon following a meeting with state and local officials, law enforcement representatives and others involved in combating the trend.  He hopes to dampen what has already become a cudgel for Republicans eager to run a "law and order" campaign in next year's midterm elections.

The President is poised to announce a comprehensive crime reduction strategy on Wednesday, officials said, in hopes of reducing gun violence and addressing the root causes of the spike.  He plans to sign executive actions with a particular focus on tamping down gun crimes, according to officials, while again calling on Congress to take steps to enact new gun control laws. He is also set to press Congress to confirm David Chipman as his nominee to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Across the country, the easing of pandemic restrictions paired with the onset of warmer weather has led to a troubling increase in crime, much of it involving guns.  After years of decreasing crime statistics, the homicide rate surged in major cities in 2020 and that trend appears poised to continue this year....

Already, the uptick is becoming a potent political issue for a President who worked over the past two years to carefully calibrate his approach to criminal justice, resisting pressure from the left to support defunding the police while justifying his role in writing major anti-crime bills from the 1990s.  Biden entered office with a mandate to his team on reducing gun violence, according to officials, and has been acutely aware that crime rates have been spiking over the past year.  The politics of the moment are further complicated by the prospect of bipartisan police reform legislation, which is slowly moving its way through Congress. 

The decision by the White House to devote an afternoon of the President's time to focus on the nation's rising crime rate underscores how serious the matter is being taken inside the West Wing.  The wave of violent crime is not only seen as an impediment to the economic recovery from the pandemic, but also as a potential political threat that could give Republicans an opening in their midterm election fight against Democrats.

Biden's aides have sought to put the numbers in context, noting the current upswing in crime began before he entered office. "There's been, actually, a rise in crime over the last five years, but really the last 18 months," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday....

White House officials hope to take steps that will better link federal law enforcement resources with state and local governments, according to people familiar with the matter. Biden's Justice Department has laid out a strategy for combating violent crime that includes embedding federal agents with local homicide teams and nationwide sweeps for wanted fugitives involved in violence.

That plan sought to de-emphasize the number of arrests and prosecutions, instead focusing on overall reductions in violent crime as a metric of success.  It also sought to improve community engagement and violence intervention programs in the hopes of preventing violence from taking root.  Biden's sweeping $2 trillion jobs and infrastructure proposal includes $5 billion to support community-based violence prevention programs, though the future of that proposal remains uncertain....

In the 1990s, the tough-on-crime stance was viewed as a prized accomplishment for Biden, who warned of "predators on our streets" who were "beyond the pale."  Yet a quarter-century later, his warm embrace of Clinton during a Rose Garden signing ceremony for the 1994 crime bill stirred controversy during his 2020 presidential primary.  Several candidates, including then-opponent Kamala Harris, criticized Biden for his role in the legislation, which she and other critics said led to an era of mass incarceration....

Today, the politics of crime legislation are less certain. A movement to "Defund the Police" has lost considerable steam inside the Democratic Party, amid rising crime rates across the country.  Biden has consistently been opposed to any such measures -- and avoided such language -- by refusing to accept the criticism from progressives during his presidential race.  Meanwhile, local law enforcement officials have begun placing greater emphasis on community intervention programs to prevent violence, a shift away from the style of policing embedded in the laws Biden helped pass.

This new press release from the Department of Justice, titled "Department of Justice Announces Formation of Firearms Trafficking Strike Forces to Crack Down on Sources of Crime Guns," starts this way:

Today, the Department of Justice announced it will launch five cross-jurisdictional firearms trafficking strike forces within the next 30 days to help reduce violent crime by addressing illegal gun trafficking in significant firearms trafficking corridors.  Tomorrow, the Attorney General will discuss with the President, law enforcement officials, and local and community leaders, this initiative, which, along with other measures, the Department of Justice is undertaking as part of the administration-wide comprehensive strategy to combat the rise in violent crime.

June 22, 2021 in National and State Crime Data, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 21, 2021

"Can Criminal Justice Reform Survive a Wave of Violent Crime?"

The question in the title of this post is the headline of this notable new commentary by John Pfaff in The New Republic.  The subheadline of the piece highlights its data-crunching themes: "An uptick in homicides across the country is getting blamed on reforms. That argument gets the data all wrong."  I recommend everything Pfaff writes in full, and here are excerpts from this very lengthy piece:

Even as the pandemic lockdown helped push down many crimes, last year saw an unprecedented spike in homicides nationwide, likely more than twice the largest previous one-year rise.  And given the retaliatory nature of lethal violence and the ongoing disruption from the pandemic, we should expect homicides to remain high in 2021 as well.  One study in Chicago, for example, found evidence that cycles of retaliation and counterretaliation meant that a single shooting was often the root cause of three, or sometimes 60, or once almost 500 subsequent shootings over the next few years.

How to stop this wave of violence is thus one of the most important policy questions for 2021, but asking it has rarely felt more fraught.  The surge in homicide comes at a moment when conventional responses to crime face more intense criticism than any time since the civil rights movements of the 1960s.  Reformers and activists across the country have spent the past decade campaigning to reduce our reliance on prisons, jail, probation, and even the police.  The changes we’ve seen may be less dramatic than what many advocates have hoped for, and certainly less dramatic than how many of their detractors describe them, but they both reflect and have nurtured a growing shift in popular views on crime control....

Perhaps the most important feature of last year’s rise in homicides is just how uniform it appears to be.  In 2020, homicides rose in 60 of the 69 major police departments noted above, and in almost all cases at a rate more or less proportional to homicides in 2019.  Any one city’s share of homicides was roughly the same as its share in 2019, just appreciably higher.  Unlike many previous periods, the spike was not the product of a few cities experiencing an especially bad year (in 2016, around 20 percent of the national increase in homicides was just due to Chicago), but of almost every city suffering in something close to unison.

One important upshot of this uniformity is that there is no evidence that cities with more progressive prosecutors experienced relatively worse outcomes than those with more conventional district attorneys.  In fact, two of the eight departments that reported declines in homicides — Baltimore City, Maryland, and St. Louis County, Missouri — are home to two of the country’s most high-profile “progressive prosecutors,” Marilyn Mosby and Wesley Bell.  Opponents of progressive prosecution are already invoking the homicide spike to push back against the movement, but the data simply do not back them up....

It is also important to note the inaccuracy of trying to pin rising homicides on efforts to “defund” the police.  In a December 2020 press conference, for example, Gregg Sofer, at the time the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas, tried to blame Austin’s rise in homicides on the city’s recent decision to cut police funding.  The problem?  Homicides had started to rise well before the cuts, in no small part because the budget in question did not go into effect until October 2020, so almost none of the proposed cuts would have occurred until 2021 at the earliest — and most of the 2021 cuts involve simply shifting which agencies are responsible for certain tasks....

If not progressive prosecution or defunding, what caused the surge in homicides?  It will be years before we have a clear answer, but the two leading explanations are the chaos wrought by the Covid pandemic and some product of the protests that have taken place against police violence.  (Other factors surely mattered, too, such as an unprecedented uptick in gun purchases.) Both theories are valid, but in complicated ways....

It is nearly impossible to understate the chaos of the past year and a half: not just an epochal pandemic that has caused mass death and brought once-in-a-generation economic devastation in its wake, but the fearmongering rhetoric of Donald Trump, the unsettling and still-unresolved insurrection of January 6, and widespread protests of the sort that risk scaring and unnerving white voters.  These are conditions that would push much of the public in a more punitive direction even absent any change in crime rates; add in the unprecedented spike in homicides, and demands for severity will grow even stronger, politically speaking.

The signs of that growing severity are widespread.  Even though prisons and jails have been leading hot spots for spreading the coronavirus — not just to the poor communities of color overrepresented in the prisons’ populations, but also to the more rural and white working-class communities where correctional officers tend to live — state prison populations barely budged, and early declines in county jail populations have been mostly undone.  Democrats and Republicans, governors and legislators and mayors: Almost no one was willing to reduce prison or jail populations.  The pandemic provided compelling political cover for releasing large numbers of people from prison; that so few took advantage is telling evidence of a deeper reticence toward real change....

Reform efforts will inarguably face tougher opposition in the years ahead.  The social and economic upheavals of Covid, like the emotional shock of 9/11, would likely have been enough on their own to shift many people’s attitudes on crime policy in a more punitive direction; the homicide spike of 2020, and its continuing fallout through 2021, all but guarantee such a move — especially for issues like police funding.  Conservative state legislatures show increasing interest in limiting the cuts that can be made by bluer cities, where support for reform may remain high.  But all these transformations do not mean that the defenders of the status quo are guaranteed a victory.  They are using the current atmosphere of fear to push hard against reforms, but they are also facing more effective and motivated opposition than at any other time recently, and support for reform still seems high in the communities that are most directly affected.  Meanwhile, there is little to no evidence linking the rise in homicides to the reforms that have actually been implemented, many of the reforms being fought for are designed to reduce violence immediately, and many may do so both more effectively and at a lower social and human cost than the status quo.  The politics may be turning toward the status quo, but the data are not.

These excerpts only capture a small slice of Pfaff's interesting discussion in this new piece.  But I find problematic and discouraging that he fails to note the latest encouraging data from the Vera Institute concerning declines in US prison populations.  Pfaff states here that "state prison populations barely budged" during the COVID pandemic, but this Vera report finds that the US prison population dropped by over 240,000 persons (17%) from 2019 to spring 2021.  This is much more than "barely budging," though I know many advocates were hoping to see even broader decarceration efforts during the pandemic.  Still, Figure 5 of the Vera report shows that nearly every state experienced at least 10% decline in its prison population during the pandemic and many states saw declines of 25% or more. 

As I noted when the Vera data was released earlier this month, the national prison populations according to this data is now the lowest it has been in over 25 years and the lowest per capital  rate in more than three decades.  Pfaff is right to wonder and worry about how increases in violent crime might impact recent reductions in mass incarceration, but I fear he tends to too often see the criminal justice reform story through the lens of violent crimes when it has so many other notable dimensions.  I believe many states (and the federal system) did a reasonable job reducing the number of less serious offenders subject to incarceration.  If we can continue to do that and only use incarceration for the most serious, violent offenders (and also allow persons subject to long terms to get sentencing second looks) we might have reason to be optimistic that the US will soon no longer be the world's leader in locking its people in cages.

June 21, 2021 in National and State Crime Data, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (4)

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Notable recent commentary on links between lead exposure and crime rates

Long-time readers may recall that I have long been intrigued by the (often under-discussed) social science research that suggests lead exposure levels may better account for variations in crime rates than just about any other single variable.  In an number of older posts (linked below), I have flagged some articles on this topic, and I have always been eager to note work by researcher Rick Nevin and others who have been eager to put a spotlight on the lead-exposure-crime-link evidence. 

This week, interestingly, I have seen not only some new work by Rick Nevin on this topic, but also by another notable empiricist.  Here are links to the new pieces:

From Jennifer Doleac via the Niskanen Center, "Research Roundup: Lead Exposure Causes Crime"

From Rick Nevin at Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, "Lead Exposure’s Link to Crime Should Shape Criminal Sentencing, Early Release"

From Rick Nevin at his website, "Why are prisons “getting Whiter”?"

I will close here by just quoting one paragraph from the start of the first of these pieces by Jennifer Doleac:

Below, I summarize the latest evidence on the effects of lead exposure on criminal behavior.  Given the tremendous cost of crime to society, investing more in lead remediation to protect children from the dangerous effects of this toxin would be an extremely cost-effective strategy to improve public safety, and one that deserves bipartisan support.

Some prior related posts from this blog:

June 16, 2021 in National and State Crime Data, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (0)