The Relationship Between Incarceration and Crime Decline: A Case Study of New York City, 1993-2000

Michael Jacobson, John Jay College of Criminal Justice

This paper will present research on how the amount and type of incarceration changed from 1993-2000 when violent crime declined by over 50% and homicides were reduced by almost 70%. During this period, New York City experienced twice the national rate of crime decline. There has been substantial debate about the causes of New York City's crime decline during the 1990's and much speculation on the role of the police, demographics and the changing nature of drug use and drug markets in contributing to the decline. However, there has been little attention focussed on any role that increased incarceration might have played in the decline. Increased incarceration has been frequently cited as one of the factors that has helped to drive down national crime rates. An examination of rates of incarceration before and during New York City's decline, offers no evidence that the increasing use of prison or jail contributed in any way to the City's dramatic crime decline. In fact the decline in the City's crime rate was accompanied by significant reductions (over 50%) in the numbers of people sent to prison from New York City and the City's jail system experienced huge declines in its average daily population. Though New York City had twice the rate of the national crime decline, its overall use of incarceration has gone in the opposite direction from the national trend.

(Return to Program Resources)

Updated 05/20/2006