New York Fact Sheet: What Caused the Crime Decline?

New York spent $2.918 billion on corrections in 2013. At the same time, crime in New York dropped from its height in 1980 to 2013 by 68 percent.

February 12, 2015

What Caused the Crime Decline? examines 14 different theories for the massive decline in crime across the country over the last two decades. It provides a rigorous empirical analysis conducted by a team of economics and criminal justice researchers on over 40 years of data, gathered from all 50 states and the 50 largest cities.

Over the past 40 years, states across the country have sought to fight crime by implementing policies to increase incarceration. The result: The United States is now the largest jailor in the world. With 5 percent of the world’s population, we have 25 percent of its prisoners.

In New York, state imprisonment climbed steadily in the 1980s and 1990s, due in part to Gov. Nelson Rockefeller’s 1973 “Rockefeller Drug Laws”. These laws aimed to combat rising drug use and crime by limiting judicial discretion in sentencing and enacting mandatory minimum penalties. New York’s prison population rose steadily, peaking in 1999 at 72,584 inmates. In the last decade, the state has reversed the trend, and cut its number of prisoners to 53,550 by 2013. New York spent $2.918 billion on corrections in 2013. At the same time, crime in New York dropped from its height in 1980 to 2013 by 68 percent. And the national crime rate was cut in half. 

What caused this drop? Was it the explosion in incarceration? Or was it something else?

New York Fact Sheet: What Caused the Crime Decline? by The Brennan Center for Justice