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Illinois Study: Crime Rate not Tied to Prison Population Levels

The study begins: “Illinois is one of several states considering how to reduce its prison population amid the pandemic and calls for an end to mass incarceration. In recent years the state has taken steps to reduce its prison population through judicial discretion, bail reform, and diversion programs.” It states that crime rates have been on the decline since the 1990s and predicts a continual trend in the decline over long periods, although year-to-year trends may not reflect the same.

The study used data compiled by the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, which includes murder, rape, burglary, and car theft. Information was gathered from 1960 to 2020 and then compared to corresponding incarceration rates as well as demographic, economic, social, and criminal justice sectors. It was determined that crime rates continued to decline even as Illinois entered a period of prison reform and population reduction. It states that factors such as teen pregnancies, unemployment, inflation, and education affect crime rates more than the increase or decrease in the prison population.

The study notes that property crime tended to increase slightly over short periods of time with regard to prison reduction, but those increases vanished over longer periods. In addition, violent crime rates were not affected by prison population rates.

The study said there were certain unpredictable factors that affected overall crime rates, such as the increase in gun violence happening nationwide in response to police brutality incidents. However, these factors should not dissuade lawmakers in Illinois from working to end mass incarceration; they should not be influenced by unpredictable, short-term factors. “Crime policy reforms tend to be driven by short-term changes in crime rather than the long-term trends,” states the report. “Yet in the short-term, crime is relatively volatile.”

The study advises that reforms begun in 2015 by former Governor Bruce Rainer to reduce prison populations should be continued with a focus on releasing those convicted of serious crimes who have already served a substantial portion of their sentences and who no longer represent a risk of recidivation. 


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