NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 8, 2008

In April 2008, Washington, D.C., with 18 murders, was 20 percent deadlier than April 2007.  Several cities around the country, including Chicago and Philadelphia, endured similar mini murder waves during the same period, says the Wall Street Journal.  Leading criminologists worry whether this signifies the beginning of a trend -- or evidence of an unnoticed one.

What is most troubling to people who study crime is that there is no simple explanation for this rise:

  • There are the usual reasons -- the economy, poverty, gangs and crews, and the availability of firearms.
  • But there is one that has been little explored: the migration of the prison culture back to the streets.
  • Nearly 700,000 convicts a year return home, some may be bringing prison culture with them.

Violence turns on a central currency within prisons: respect.  Disrespect can lead to lethal responses, says David Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.  For instance: 

  • There are now many people on the streets who live by a prison code, as the prison population has ballooned to 2.2 million from 330,000 in 1980.
  • The result is that while the overall murder rate has dropped for years, it has been inching up in the black community in recent years.
  • African-Americans make up only 13 percent of the nation's population, but more are killed in the United States than any other racial group, accounting for 49 percent of all murder victims, according to Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics.

Source: Gary Fields, "Murder Spike Poses Quandary," Wall Street Journal, May 6, 2008.

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