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Experts Predict Future Decline of Violent Crimes



In the latest HFG Report, Forecasting US Crime Rates and the Impact of Reductions in Imprisonment: 1960–2025, James Austin and Richard Rosenfeld project that violent crime will increase modestly in the near future and then flatten, while the property crime rate will continue its longstanding decline. They also found that higher incarceration is associated with lower crime—but only to a limited degree. And, more important, they found that other factors, such as manufacturing employment or the population’s proportion of young people, combine to have a greater influence on crime than does incarceration.


In 2016, the imprisonment rate was 450 per 100,000 population. By 2020, it had dropped to 358 — a 20% decline. The nation’s total crime rate, as measured by both the UCR and the NCVS, continued its long-term decline during that five-year period. Property crime declined by 20%, though the UCR violent crime rate showed a small increase in 2020 and a very large increase in homicide.


The increase in violent crime was coterminous with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and its disruptions as well as widespread social unrest in the form of protests against police violence. In summary, the sizeable reduction in imprison- ment of recent years was accompanied by a continuation of the long-term decline in property crime and a slight rise in violent crime. Substantially downsizing the prison population did not unleash a crime wave.


State legislators and corrections officials could forecast trends in crime and then appraise the probable effects of new sentencing and corrections policies on public safety. Local decision makers could do the same with respect to the jail population and, in some places, the probation population. Most important, jurisdiction-specific models would ground the national conversation more realistically at the levels that matter most: state and local criminal justice policy.


About 90% of the prison population is produced by state-level prison policy. While national-level analyses are useful for illustrative purposes, policy-relevant crime projections would, ideally, be based on data available at the state and local levels.

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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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