More Justice Data Needed To Determine Crime Trends


Are the new FBI figures showing an increase in violent crime last year an indication of a trend? “For those who study crime, the answer is simple: We don’t know,” John Roman of the Washington, D.C.-based Urban Institute writes on “Even though information costs are dropping quickly, criminal justice data are harder than ever to find. Key sources, such as those tracking drug use patterns or describing each criminal incident, have been discontinued or underutilized.”

After noting that no one should read too much into one year’s data, Roman says that in the last 30 years, with the exception of 1987, “every time the crime rate changed direction, a new trend followed.” One plausible explanation for last year was that it was very hot. The “temperature aggression theory” holds that heat itself can spark violence. Last year ranked among the ten warmest years ever in 17 states, and among the top 15 in seven others. Nearly every Midwestern state made this list. However, in the South, where violent crime rates jumped, temperatures were moderate. While jails and prisons return four times as many ex-inmates to the streets than 25 years ago, there are only marginally more parole and probation officers to supervise them. Budgets for programs to ready inmates for life back home have been cut. As a result, ex-prisoners who received fewer services while incarcerated come home poorly supervised and less prepared to reintegrate — not a recipe for crime-busting, Roman says.


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