NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Crime Is Controllable

December 30, 1998

In the 1960s and 1970s, crime rates escalated. But since 1980 crime has fallen dramatically in the U.S. -- but not elsewhere. Why?

Experts say there has been no particular resurgence of American family values or morality to explain it. Rather, the answer is to be found in the stepped-up apprehension of criminals and by sentencing those convicted of serious crimes to significant prison terms. This is the course the U.S. has followed, while other countries continue to blame crime on society's woes.

  • American property crimes per household are now at just half the rate of 1980, according to the Crime Victimization Surveys.
  • Crimes of violence have also fallen, but much more slowly.
  • Meanwhile, the U.S. prison and jail population has grown to more than 1.7 million -- or about 1 percent of the adult population.
  • While it is true that black men are eight times more likely to be incarcerated than white men, poor blacks and inner-city residents have benefited the most from the greater imprisonment of persons committing serious crimes -- since they are most often the victims.

Criminologists report that policies of certain apprehension and strict punishment have demonstrated their effectiveness.

Source: Gary S. Becker (University of Chicago and the Hoover Institution), "How the U.S. Handcuffed the Crime Rate," Business Week, December 28, 1998.


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