The falling U.S. crime rate is the most important social trend of the past 20 years, says Washington Post columnist Charles Lane. Citing the “psychological payoff,” Lane says that “only 38 percent of Americans say they fear walking alone at night within a mile of their homes, according to Gallup, down from 48 percent three decades ago.
Government, through targeted social interventions and smarter policing, has helped bring down crime rates, says Lane. That helps confirm the “liberal worldview,” but contrary to liberal belief, incarcerating more criminals for longer periods probably helped reduce crime. Contrary to conservative doctrine, crime rates fell while Miranda warnings and other legal protections for defendants remained in place. What's most striking about the crime decline is how little we know about its precise causes. Take the increase in state incarceration. Lane says, “This phenomenon is probably a source of success in the war on crime — and its most troubling byproduct. But increased imprisonment cannot explain all, or most, of the decline: Crime rates kept going down the past two years, even as the prison population started to shrink.”