There is a correlation between a decrease in both crime and imprisonment, according to a Tuesday report from the The Brennan Center for Justice.
The study traces statistics in all 50 states between 2006 and 2014 because “bipartisan criminal justice reforms generally began around 2007,” according to the authors, Lauren-Brooke Eisen and James Cullen.
Their findings show that national imprisonment fell 7 percent and crime fell 23 percent, yet there was only a decrease in the number of prisoners in 28 of the 50 states. Every single state but South Dakota also saw crime decrease.
States in the South, in particular, “have seen some of the largest decreases in imprisonment. Yet, they also remain the largest incarcerators in the country. Mississippi, for example, reduced imprisonment by 10 percent but still has the nation’s 5th highest incarceration rate.”
A great deal of states with the most significant drops in crime also saw their incarcerated populations dwindle. Larger states, like California, Texas and New York saw imprisonment rates reduced by 27 percent, 15 percent and 18 percent, respectively, while all three states saw crime reduction of over 15 percent each.
America’s incarceration rate is still relatively high, as “even states with moderate imprisonment rates for the United States (between 350-500 per 100,000 people) are high compared to other western democracies.”
In their closing remarks on the report, Eisen and Cullen concluded that “the story varies from state to state,” but that “some state have made marked progress to cut their prison populations, while others continue to over-rely on incarceration.
In a separate, but similar report by the Brennan Center for Justice, Dr. Oliver Roeder and Julia Bowling join Eisen to add that, “Imprisonment and crime are not consistently negatively correlated.” In other words, an increase in imprisonment does not necessarily lead to a decrease in crime. “This contradicts the commonly held notion that prisons always keep down crime,” the report deduced.
Roeder, Eisen, and Bowling were sure to note that “these trends reveal a more complex relationship, consistent with the existence of sharply decreasing marginal returns to incarceration.”