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Serious Crime Down Again

For the sixth year in a row, serious crime rates fell during 1997, particularly in the Northeastern states, and big cities, according to recent Justice Department figures.

In a survey of 16,000 city, county and state agencies, the overall rate of serious crime fell by 4 percent. Violent crimes went down by 5 percent, with 9 percent decreases in murders and robberies. There was a lesser decrease for aggravated assault, a 2 percent drop, and rape is down one percent. Property crimes fell by 4 percent, car thefts are down 5 percent, and arson saw an 8 percent drop.

Cities with populations exceeding a million reported that both murders and robberies declined 11 percent. Cities of a half a million to a million in population report murders and robberies are down by 10 percent. In cities with populations of a quarter of a million to a half a million, murders are down 14 percent, and robberies by 10 percent.

In New York City, the overall number of crimes reported declined by 7 percent, from 382,555 in 1996, to 355,893 for 1997. Murders declined from 983 to 770, and robberies fell to 44,707 from the previous year total of 49,672. Rapes in New York City declined from 2,332 to 2,157.

Tougher sentencing and punitive policies aimed at prisoners do not appear to be the primary cause for these drops according to researchers.

On the contrary, according to studies by the Rand Corporation, ever- increasing prison populations may actually be hampering the goals of reducing crime.

According to the Sentencing Project, the current trends in declining crime rates follow on the heels of a seven year rise in crime from 1984 to 1991. These rises occurred in spite of a 77 percent escalation in prison populations during the same period. 1997 marked twenty-five consecutive years of increases in prison beds, a trend unprecedented in U.S. history. From a total prisoner population of just 200,000 in 1972, prisoners in state and federal prisons exceeded 1.2 million mid-year 1997. The increase of prisoners since 1990 (577,100) is greater than the total number of prisoners locked up in 1980 (501,886). America imprisons its citizens at a rate 5-10 times higher than most industrialized nations, and is now second only to Russia in per capita incarceration rates.

Sentencing Project, New York Times

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