Beginning in the 1990s, crime rates began a steady three-decade long decline that ended coincidently with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, writes criminologist Daniel Nagin of Carnegie Mellon University in a new set of papers published by Arnold Ventures about "the relationship between community safety, the justice system, and reform."
No one has yet provided anything close to a convincing explanation for the interruption of the great crime drop, Nagin says, noting that homicide and auto theft rates increased, while robbery and larceny rates declined still further from their pre-pandemic levels, and the trend in burglary rates remained unchanged.
Without a clear understanding of why some crime types increased as others decreased and still others remained unchanged, sharp shifts in policy are not justified, Nagin contends.
In the past, spikes in crime, or horrific crime incidents, have prompted draconian increases in punishment severity, increases which were not grounded in solid science surrounding their effectiveness. Nagin hopes that mistake will not be repeated.
He worries that the homicide spike might trigger still further unwise policy changes escalating sanctions for violent crime. Increases in already long sentences cannot be justified based on either their deterrent or incapacitation effects.
Such policy responses have resulted in a dramatic increase in the representation of lifers in U.S. prisons, with no material return in imp