The likelihood of arrest leading to conviction for a violent crime has increased, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics says in a report out today. The conviction rate for violent felonies–murder, rape, robbery, and assault–jumped from 23 percent in 1994 to 31 percent in 2004. The report is based on nationwide data of convicted felons’ sentences in state courts. The number of felony convictions in state courts increased by 24 percent in the ten years starting in 1994. More than 1 million adults were convicted of felonies in 2004.
The report helps answer a common question in criminal justice circles: why does the nation’s population of prison and jail inmates keep rising as the rate of reported crime is falling. One element is the tougher sentencing laws enacted in the last few decades, but another is that the justice system is becoming more efficient. The average sentence of defendants in violent crimes sent to prison in 2004 was 92 months, or almost 8 years. Fewer than 1 percent of convicted felons were sentenced to life terms. Among other findings, the report said that women accounted for slightly more than one quarter of property offenders and 18 percent of drug offenders; men accounted for 90 percent of violent offenders.