National Imprisonment and Crime Rates Continue Dramatic Long-Term Decline


A new study by the Pew Charitable Trusts reports that from 2010 to 2015, the nation’s imprisonment rate fell 8 percent, while the rate of serious crime declined 15 percent. In 31 states, both rates were reduced at the same time.

Researchers evaluated data from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program and from crime victim surveys that collect information on crimes not reported to police. Pew found that violent and property crime rates have fallen by more than half since peaking in 1991, returning to levels not seen since the late 1960s, and nearly every state experienced a reduction in crime.

Crime rates fell faster in the states with larger decreases in incarceration rate. Over the same period, 35 states reduced their imprisonment rates, led by California, which cut its incarceration rate by 25 percent. In the 10 states with the largest drops in imprisonment, the crime rate fell an average of 14.4 percent, compared with 8.1 percent in the 10 states with the biggest growth in imprisonment.

The report observes that the latest findings reinforce the conclusion that the imprisonment rate “has long since passed the point of diminishing public safety returns.” 

Crime dropped faster in 2015 in states with larger prison declines.