NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 4, 2006

Two federal reports released this fall support the common-sense argument that America is safer because more criminals are behind bars, says Investor's Business Daily (IBD).

  • The Justice Department reported that the total U.S. inmate population hit nearly 2.2 million at the end of 2005, with 1.5 million doing time in state and federal prisons and the rest in local jails.
  • All told, nearly 7 million people are in prison, in jail, on parole or on probation.

Imprisonment may be a blunt (and expensive) instrument for fighting crime, as its critics contend, but the numbers suggest that it's also highly effective, says IBD:

  • Since 1980, the incarceration rate in state and federal prisons has more than tripled -- from 139 to 495 per 100,000 Americans.
  • The latest "criminal victimization" survey, released in September, shows that violent crimes between 1980 and 2005 fell from 49.4 to 20.9 per 100,000 people over the age of 12.
  • Property crimes were cut by more than two-thirds, plummeting from 496.1 per 100,000 to 154.

The victimization report is arguably the best measure of real crime danger, because it covers crimes that go unreported as well as those on police blotters, says IBD.  It shows Americans to be at much less risk than they were in the 1970s or, for that matter, in the 1990s.  Coupled with last week's report on incarcerations, it presents a powerful statistical challenge to those who argue that tougher sentences haven't made us safer, says IBD.

Source: Editorial, "Putting Them Away," Investor's Business Daily, December 1, 2006.


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