Violent Crimes

Violent Crime Research Paper
Sherry Myers
11/09/00
1

Nothing does more to tear our families apart than violent crime, guns, gangs, drugs, and the fear that walks alongside those terrors. Violent crime and victim rights have become a major concern for most citizens in the United States of America. Statistics indicate a decline in violent crimes in our country and an increase in our national prison population. Released prisoners commit most violent crimes. Gun control legislation, reform programs, victim rights awareness, and other programs are abundant in our country, but do little to alleviate violent crime. In this paper I will try to present the liberal and conservative views on this issue as well as my own views.
Violent crime is a complex problem and can only be responded to in complex ways. "Quick fix" solutions to the problem are likely to be misguided.
There was a decline in crime during the 1990s. Our country enjoyed seven years of declining crime for the period 1991-98, the most recent data available. During this period crime declined by 22% and violent crime by 25%. These are welcome developments, particularly following the surge of crime and violence of the late 1980s. This decline occurred during a time when the national prison population has increased substantially, rising from 789,60 in 1991 to 1,252,830, a 59% rise in just seven years and a 47% increase in the rate of incarceration, taking into account changes in the national population (Mauer 21-24).
Many observers have drawn a simple correlation between these two trends. Putting more offenders in prison caused the reduction in crime. The Sentencing project has just completed a study that examines this issue in great detail and concludes that any such correlation is ambiguous at best. In examining the relationship between incarceration and crime in the 1990s the picture is complicated by the seven year period just prior to this, 1984-91. In this period, incarceration also rose substantially, at a rate of 65%. Yet crime rates increased during this time as well, by 17% nationally. Thus we see a continuous rise in incarceration for fourteen years, during which crime rose for seven years, then declined for seven years. This does not suggest that incarceration had no impact on crime, but any such connection is clearly influenced by other factors. A comparison with other nations is instructive in this regard. The United States incarcerates its citizens at a greater rate than any other nation and at a rate 5-8 times that of most other industrialized nations. This differential is in part due to a higher rate of violent crime in the U.S. and in part to more severe criminal justice policies. The reasons why other industrialized nations have less violent crime than in the U.S. is clearly not because they lock up more offenders and thereby reduce crime. We could debate the various factors that contribute to our high level of violence but a failure to incarcerate is clearly not one of them (Mauer 21-24).
In order to analyze the decline in crime in the 1990s in greater detail the project team examined the relationship between imprisonment and crime at the state level from 1991 to 1998. The reason for doing so is that national trends often obscure substantial variations among the states in the degree to which imprisonment is utilized as a response to crime. During the seven year period, for example, Texas led the nation with a 144% rise in its rate of incarceration. Maine increased its prison population by just 2%. The national average increase in the rate of incarceration was 47% (Mauer 21-24). The statistics are significant and they are gratifying. We must be honest, too many families, and too many communities, still live in fear. Violent crimes may be at their lowest levels in a generation, but even a single crime is one too many.
Even if statistics indicate a decline in violent crime, citizens are still concerned about becoming a victim of a crime. Our children cannot reach for their dreams if they are ducking for cover. We cannot restore a sense of community and decency if people are afraid to walk in any neighborhood, if they feel they have lost the public spaces that are rightfully theirs. A parent struggles to pass on the right values in a culture that practically screams out that chaos and cruelty are cool. A good parent