Did Reducing Imprisonment in the 1960s Increase Crime?
February 11, 2015, 05:30 PM
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Screenshot 2015-02-11 17.58.41 The graph above is one of many from an Atlantic article arguing that increasing imprisonment from 1980 onward didn’t have much impact of the big drop in crime from the mid-1990s onward:
What do the numbers say? Did this explosion in incarceration cause the crime decline? It turns out that increased incarceration had a much more limited effect on crime than popularly thought. We find that this growth in incarceration was responsible for approximately 5 percent of the drop in crime in the 1990s. (This could vary from 0 to 10 percent.) Since then, however, increases in incarceration have had essentially zero effect on crime.
This may, or may not, be true, but it looks a lot more persuasive if you leave off your graphs America’s huge experiment with reducing imprisonment relative to the growing numbers of crimes in the 1960s and early 1970s. Here’s my graph from 2005 showing the rate of imprisonment and the rate of homicide (the most reliably reported crime statistic):

by Steve Sailer, 2005

If you add the homicide rate and the imprisonment rate together, you get the Crime Misery Index (modeled on the Economic Misery Index of the 1970s adding inflation and unemployment together). It’s quite possible that reducing incarceration at this point would reduce the overall Crime Misery Index, but we can’t begin to have any kind of productive discussion on that without liberals first admitting how badly they screwed up when they were in charge of the criminal justice system in the 1960s and 1970s. Seven years ago in VDARE, I used the occasion of a family friend barely surviving a home invader’s attempted murder of her to ask the question: with all the improvements in technology, why hasn’t crime fallen further?