NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Violent Crime

January 1, 1996

Violent crime continues to be a serious problem in the United States despite reports of a decline in the overall crime rate. In 1993 1.9 million violent crimes were reported to the police, but a survey of victims finds that the actual number of violent crimes was 10.8 million. The American people basically are correct in their perceptions that not enough criminals are incarcerated, typical criminals are responsible for a large number of crimes and building more prisons is worthwhile.

Revolving-door justice is a reality:

  • About one-third of all persons arrested for a violent crime (murder, rape, robbery, assault) are already on probation, parole or pretrial release.
  • The vast majority of convicted criminals are not incarcerated.
  • Barely one criminal goes to prison for every 100 violent victimizations.
  • And most violent prisoners serve less than half their sentence behind bars before being released.

Surveys of prisoners show that most of them are violent or repeat criminals.

  • More than 90 percent of state prisoners have committed one or more violent crimes or served a previous sentence to incarceration or probation.
  • Even most "nonviolent" prisoners have long adult and juvenile criminal histories.
  • Prisons do cut crime. Millions of violent and property crimes are averted each year by keeping criminals off the streets. Prisoners released early are responsible for tens of thousands of crimes annually.
  • For every dollar it costs to keep the typical prisoner behind bars, society saves $2.80 in social costs from crimes averted.
  • Violent crimes committed in a single year will cost Americans about $426 billion.
  • Tripling the prison population from 1975 to 1989 may have reduced violent crime by 10 to 15 percent below what it would have been, preventing a conservatively estimated 390,000 violent crimes in 1989 alone.

Source: "The State of Violent Crime in America: First Report of the Council on Crime in America," January 1996, New Citizenship Project, 1150 Seventeenth Street, N.W., Suite 510, Washington, DC 20036, (202) 822-8333.


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