NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Restoring The Criminal Justice System

November 10, 1999

Some media analysts confess themselves bewildered by the dramatic decline in rates of serious crime -- which now stand at their lowest level in nearly two decades.

While factors such as more police officers and greater economic opportunity certainly have played a role, criminal experts such as Morgan Reynolds of the National Center for Policy Analysis say the paramount reason crime is down is the increasing likelihood that miscreants will wind up in prison and stay there.

That was not the case when crime rates soared in the 1960s.

  • Between 1960 and 1970, serious crimes reported to the police nearly tripled -- from 1 million to 2.9 million.
  • But new convictions for serious crimes and burglary actually fell -- from 40,000 to 37,000 in 1970.
  • The probability of being locked up for committing a serious crime plunged from 3.6 per 100 serious crimes to only 1.3 per 100 by 1970.

Then in the 1980s and the 1990s, the nation got fed up and began getting tough on criminals. Reynolds uses the concept of "expected punishment" to measure "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."

  • Between 1980 and 1997, expected punishment for murder and rape nearly tripled.
  • For robbery it increased 70 percent, while for aggravated assault and burglary it more than doubled.

Source: Pete du Pont (National Center for Policy Analysis), "When the Profit Is Taken Out of Crime," Washington Times, November 10, 1999.


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