The curious case of the fall in crime

Crime is plunging in the rich world. 

There is no single cause of the decline; rather, several have coincided. Western societies are growing older, and most crimes are committed by young men. Policing has improved greatly in recent decades, especially in big cities such as New York and London, with forces using computers to analyse the incidence of crime; in some parts of Manhattan this helped to reduce the robbery rate by over 95%. The epidemics of crack cocaine and heroin appear to have burnt out.

The biggest factor may be simply that security measures have improved. Car immobilisers have killed joyriding; bulletproof screens, security guards and marked money have all but done for bank robbery. Alarms and DNA databases have increased the chance a burglar will be caught. At the same time, the rewards for burglary have fallen because electronic gizmos are so cheap. Even small shops now invest in CCTV cameras and security tags. Some crimes now look very risky—and that matters because, as every survey of criminals shows, the main deterrent to crime is the fear of being caught.

Many conservatives will think this list omits the main reason crime has declined: the far harsher prison sentences introduced on both sides of the Atlantic over the past two decades. One in every hundred American adults is now in prison. This has obviously had some effect—a young man in prison cannot steal your car—but if tough prison sentences were the cause, crime would not be falling in the Netherlands and Germany, which have reduced their prison populations. New York’s prison population has fallen by a quarter since 1999, yet its crime rate has dropped faster than that of many other cities.

via Crime: The curious case of the fall in crime | The Economist.

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