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November 01, 2012

Nationwide drop in crime continues, FBI reports

The FBI’s annual Crime in the United States report released this month revealed that the estimated number of violent crimes in the United States declined in 2011 for the fifth consecutive year.

According to the report, the number of violent crimes reported to law enforcement between 2010 and 2011 fell 3.8 percent, and reported property offenses also dropped by 0.5 percent.

The FBI publication is a statistical compilation of offense and arrest data reported by law enforcement agencies voluntarily participating in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program. More than 18,000 city, county, university and college, state, tribal and federal agencies participated in the program in 2011.

The FBI released its statistics after the Bureau of Justice Statistics recently reported a 10-year low for incarceration rates and an overall decline in the prison population for the first time since 1972. The federal prison population, however, continues to rise and is operating at 40 percent over capacity. This threatens the safety and security of inmates and their access to education and drug treatment programs.

The decline in the overall prison population, primarily at the state and local level, has been attributed by experts to criminal justice reforms by the states that the ABA has long urged be followed by the federal government to help reduce federal prison costs and overcrowding.

They include  increasing the use of probation and expungement of convictions of low-level offenders, instituting a review process to accelerate supervised release eligibility, expanding time credits for good behavior, and restoring proportionality to drug sentencing.  

These reforms were among those highlighted in October at the ABA Criminal Justice Section’s Fifth Annual Fall Institute on Sentencing, Reentry, Juvenile Justice, and Legal Education.

The conference, which brought together more than 300 participants in Washington, featured a panel on “Over-criminalization and Over-Reliance on Incarceration.” Experts on the panel, who agreed that the government should expand use of alternatives to incarceration for minor offenses, also noted that even more serious offenses, including drug use and prostitution, have been addressed through other means such as drug treatment programs and mental health courts.

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