The subject of crime is one that always interests me. Wearing my journalist hat I tend to look at specific crimes rather than the bigger picture. Sometimes it is better to step back, to lose the focus on people like Casey Anthony, or Conrad Murray and take in the the whole forest not just a single tree.

On TV we keep hearing about severe jail overcrowding. yet in the next segment someone reassures us that crime rates are dropping.

This makes little sense, surley if crime is down, jail populations should be down?

A while back I had the good fortune to talk at length with Alan Kalmanoff about the jail side of the equation. His California based group the ILPP has studied jail over crowding and indeed helped a number of cities eradicate the issue. He maintains that the problem is not crime, but the speed at which justice is dispatched.

My good friend and some might say cynical attorney Mannie Barling sees the problem in a very cold light. Overcrowding has led to a new form of justice. A four year sentence for some crime will probably result in a one night stay in Hotel Bologna and then they are out.

What is the bigger picture? Yesterday the FBI released their report on crime stats for the first half of 2011. It makes for interesting reading.

  • The occurrence of all four offense types in the violent crime category decreased—murder was down 5.7 percent; rape dropped 5.1 percent, robbery fell 7.7 percent, and aggravated assault declined 5.9 percent. And it didn’t matter what region of the country you lived in—decreases in each category were seen in the Northeast, Midwest, South, and West.
  • Overall violent crime declined in all six city population groups and metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties, with most violent crime offenses showing decreases. There were some upticks: murder in cities with populations between 500,000 and 999,999 (up 1.2 percent); murder in cities with under 10,000 people (2.6 percent); rape in cities of 1 million or more (1.0 percent); rape in cities of 500,000 to 999,999 (6.7 percent); and rape in cities of 250,000 to 499.999 (0.1 percent).
  • Like violent crime, all offense types in the property crime category showed decreases—burglary (down 2.2 percent), larceny-theft (4.0 percent), and motor vehicle theft (5.0 percent). And like violent crime, these declines occurred in all four regions of the country. All three property crime types fell in all six city population groups and in metropolitan counties. Just one exception in non-metropolitan counties—larceny-theft was up 0.5 percent.
  • Arson, which declined 8.6 percent overall, also saw individual decreases in all four areas of the country and in every population group.

It all sounds good. But what does it really mean?

Explore the information and you decide.

Simon Barrett

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