Report: US Crime Rate Drops 45 Percent Since 1990, But Incarceration Rate Jumps By 222 Percent

Image via Shutterstock

A recent report published by the Hamilton Project, an economic policy initiative of the Brookings Institution, highlighted some recent trends in crime and incarceration in the United States, and one statistic stands out amongst the crowd.

While crime rates have dropped 45 percent in the US since 1990, incarceration rates have taken an opposite turn—increasing hugely by 222 percent. The memo points out that considering that more than 700 out of 100,000 people are likely to be incarcerated, it might be time for both policymakers and crime scholars to reconsider whether the “social costs of incarceration exceed the social benefits,” especially for nonviolent criminals.

The “historically unprecedented level” of incarceration rate in the United States points to bigger problems in our society, the memo points out. Besides the huge expense of paying for the cost of maintaining both state and federal prisons — on average, it cost more than $29,000 to house an inmate in a federal prison, and more than 90 percent of the $80 billion the US on corrections expenditures in 2010 were at the state and local levels—the Hamilton Project memo gives light to the social implications incarceration has on individuals.

This high incarceration rate can have profound effects on society; research has shown that incarceration may impede employment and marriage prospects among former inmates, increase poverty depth and behavioral problems among their children, and amplify the spread of communicable diseases among disproportionately impacted communities (Raphael 2007). These effects are especially prevalent within disadvantaged communities and among those demographic groups that are more likely to face incarceration, namely young minority males.”

The United States incarceration rates were significantly higher in 2012 than those of Canada’s and Mexico’s incarceration rates, which were 118 and 210 per 100,000 respectively. “Indeed, mass incarceration appears to be a relatively unique and recent American phenomenon,” the memo states, lending one of the main factors for this may be the high rates of violent crimes committed in the U.S. compared to other countries.