NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Myths About Crime

January 15, 1996

Facts and figures about the state of violent crime and punishment in the United States explode many of the prevalent myths.

Myth: Violent crime is going down. Despite recent dips in the overall crime rate, violent crime rates remain at historic highs, and more than 10 million violent crimes were committed in 1993.

Myth: The threat of violent crime is exaggerated. An American is more than twice as likely to be a violent crime victim as to be injured in a car accident, and as likely to be murdered as to die from AIDS.

Myth: Most violent crimes against whites are committed by blacks. In 1993, only 18 percent of the 8.7 million violent crimes against whites were committed by blacks, while about 80 percent of the 1.3 million violent crimes against blacks were by blacks.

Myth: Revolving door justice is rare. Barely one criminal is imprisoned for every 100 violent crimes, and about one in three violent crimes is committed by someone on probation, parole or pretrial release.

Myth: Prisons are full of first-time drug offenders. Since 1974 more than 90 percent of all state prisoners have been violent or repeat offenders. Between 1980 and 1993, the number in state prisons for violent crimes grew by 221,000, 1.3 times the growth in imprisoned drug offenders (most of whom have long criminal histories).

Myth: Persons on probation and parole pose little threat. In 1991, 45 percent of state prisoners were on probation or parole at the very time they committed their latest crimes, and while free, they committed at least 218,000 violent crimes, including 13,200 murders and 11,600 rapes.

Myth: Because of mandatory sentencing, most prisoners now do long, hard time. Despite mandatory laws, between 1985 and 1992, the average maximum sentence declined about 15 percent, from 78 months to 67 months, and in 1992, the actual time served by violent felons was 43 months.

Myth: More violent juvenile felons are being handled like adults. In 1991, about 51,000 male juveniles were held in public juvenile facilities, a third of them for violent crimes. However, in 1992 alone there were over 110,000 juvenile arrests for violent crimes.

Source: John J. DiIulio Jr. (Manhattan Institute), "Ten Truths About Crime," Weekly Standard, January 15, 1996.


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