NCPA Study: Lower Crime Rates Show Crime Less Profitable as Criminals Can Now Expect More Time Behind Bars


Washington, D.C. (October 18 , 1999) -- The serious crime rate dropped almost seven percent nationwide in 1998, reaching a 25-year low. One major reason is that the likelihood of going to prison for a crime and staying there has continued to increase, a trend that began in the early 1980s, says the fourth annual report on Crime and Punishment in America released by the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA).

"We are taking the profit out of crime," said Morgan Reynolds, director of the NCPA's Criminal Justice Center and author of the annual report. "Most offenders are not mentally deranged and most crimes are not irrational acts. With the likelihood of spending time behind bars increasing, crime has become more costly to criminals."

Reynolds uses "expected punishment" to measure the potential cost to a criminal of committing a crime. Expected punishment is defined as "the length of time in prison a typical criminal can expect to serve per crime, given the probabilities of being apprehended, prosecuted, convicted and sent to prison."

Since last year's report:

  • Expected punishment for people who commit murder has increased by almost five months.
  • Expected punishment for rape or aggravated assault has increased by three days.
  • Expected punishment for a robbery has increased by seven days.
  • There was no change from last year for burglary.

Among the good news is some bad. Reynolds found that despite the drop in crime due to the continued rise in a criminal's "expected punishment," the time a criminal can expect to spend in prison is still amazingly low. For example, on the average:

  • For every murder committed, a criminal spends only three-and-a-half years in prison.
  • For every act of rape, a criminal spends only 128 days behind bars.
  • For a robbery, a criminal spends only 59 days behind bars.
  • For an aggravated assault, a criminal spends only 18 days behind bars.
  • For a burglary, a criminal spends only 9 days in prison.

"If we are to succeed in achieving an even lower crime rate, we must continue to take the profit out of crime," said Reynolds.