Violent Crime Rates Fall, But Incarceration Rates Still High

By Alfonso Serrano Sep 25, 2018

Murders decreased slightly in 2017 following substantial spikes in violent crime the previous two years, according to data released yesterday (September 24) by the Federal Bureau of Investigation‘s (FBI) Uniform Crime Reporting Program.

The violent crime rate last year dipped by 0.9 percent over 2016 figures, with murder and manslaughter rates dropping 0.7 percent and overall violent crimes decreasing 0.2 percent.

The FBI figures coincide with a report released this week by the Brennan Center for Justice, which show that the 2018 murder rate in major U.S. cities is projected to drop by 7.6 percent compared to last year. The numbers represent a reversal of a dramatic rise in violent crime in 2015 and 2016, driven by murder rate spikes in big cities like Chicago, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

"Crime declined nationwide last year, consistent with our earlier analyses of 2017 data in the nation’s 30 largest cities," Ames Grawert, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, said in a statement. "That’s the good news. The bad news is that even while crime is falling, the number of Americans incarcerated remains near-record highs."

Multiple studies show that Black and Latinx people bear the brunt of mass incarceration in the United States, with Blacks incarcerated at five times the rate of Whites. In a handful of states—Iowa, Minnesota, New Jersey, Vermont and Wisconsin—Black people are incarcerated at 10 times the rate of their White counterparts.

Like its adult counterpart, the juvenile criminal justice system teems with racial imbalance. While Black youth represent less than 14 percent of all youth under 18 years of age nationwide,  43 percent of boys and 34 percent of girls in juvenile prisons are Black, according to a report from the Prison Policy Initiative

"Congress and states should back commonsense sentencing reform that would correct grave injustices in the way we sentence and incarcerate," Grawert continued in the statement.

A bipartisan prison reform measure, the First Step Act, sailed through the House this summer. The bill aimed to reduce recidivism rates and better prepare incarcerated people for life after prison. But the measure met resistance among Senators who criticized the bill for its lack of sentencing reforms. Both Democrats and Republicans in the Senate have argued that mandatory minimum sentences have bloated the criminal justice system with nonviolent offenders. 

They say that the First Step Act, in its current form, does not do enough to address that. In an open letter written in May, several Democratic Senators labeled it a step backward.

“Our federal prison population has grown by over 700 percent since 1980, and federal prison spending has climbed nearly 600 percent,” they wrote. “The largest increase in the federal prison population is nonviolent drug offenders, and this problem is made worse by inflexible mandatory minimum sentences.” 

In August, Senator Chuck Grassley, (R-Iowa), who has championed sentencing reform, said President Donald Trump would back a criminal justice reform measure after midterm elections.