U.S. violent crime rates are lower than they have been for four decades, and prisons’ impact as a crime deterrent “is minimal at best,” the Vera Institute of Justice says in two new briefing papers aimed at countering the “political rhetoric and unfounded assumptions” it says too often influence criminal justice policy.
Summarizing crime trends, Vera says that “some media reports and public commentary” wrongly conclude that “violent crime increases in a few cities equal a sweeping national problem.”
It declares that, “Recent increases in crime rates have been concentrated mostly among gun-related homicides in a few neighborhoods in a few major cities, where violent crime rates were already persistently high.”
In Vera’s view, “Over-generalization from partial-year data on homicides in a small sample of major U.S. cities led to premature conclusions being drawn about a nationwide reversal of the general decline in violent crime.”
Such reports were “unfounded,” the institute says, adding that today’s relatively lower crime rates are “not a cause for complacency; some of our communities are experiencing significant increases in violent crime.”
On the prison issue, Vera says that, “increased incarceration has no effect on violent crime and may actually lead to higher crime rates when incarceration is concentrated in certain communities.” The institute suggests that policymakers should adopt “crime reduction strategies that seek to engage the community, provide needed services to those who are criminally involved, and begin to address the underlying causes of crime.”