According to the lecture, crime rates in the United States have been steadily decreasing since the 1990s. After being temporarily elevated during the 1970s and 1980s, crime rates fell approximately 45% between 1990 and 2012 (Brown, 2018). There are three potential explanations for this downward trend. Firstly, although it may seem counterintuitive, it has been confirmed that crime rates decrease during periods of economic recession. Secondly, falling birth rates and a lower percentage of males in the population contribute to crime decline since men account for 80% of violent crime arrests (Brown, 2018). There is a controversial theory that the invention of contraception and the legalization of abortion were responsible for over 50% of falling crime rates. Thirdly, the “lead hypothesis” states that the decreased use of this dangerous neurotoxin reduced impulsivity, aggression, and propensity toward criminal behavior (Brown, 2018). Lower levels of crime in the U.S. within the last 30 years are attributable to the economic depression, a shift in demographics, and decreased use of lead.
According to the lecture, it is arguable whether increased incarceration rates explain the decline in crime rates. Other peer nations experienced the same decline in crime during the same period without the increase in the prison population (Brown, 2018). States with harsher incarceration policies did not experience faster declines in violent crime rates (Brown, 2018). Furthermore, the U.S. imprisonment rate kept climbing even after the total crime rate fell. Firstly, this occurred because the government pursued a “tough on crime” legislative policy that punished minor offenses that would have previously been classified as misdemeanors with harsh prison sentences. Secondly, care for the mentally ill shifted from inpatient psychiatric institutions to either outpatient programs or no sustained treatment at all (Brown, 2018). Government policy and deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill explain the rising incarceration rates despite falling crime levels.
Brown, Jessica. (2018). CrimIntro, DE1 [Video]. YouTube. Web.