New “For the Record” Series Presents Evidence on Justice Issues

New York, NY—It has never been easier to access information on command—but is it the truth? In an era of constant news churn and rapid social-media dissemination, headlines often reveal competing narratives about public safety, immigration, and justice. In order to improve understanding on justice issues currently elevated in public debate, a new series of briefs from the Vera Institute of Justice research department provides journalists, policymakers, and the public with distilled evidence on various topics. The series, For the Record, launches today with two initial publications:

  • The Prison Paradox: More Incarceration Will Not Make Us Safer outlines how the effectiveness of incarceration as a tool for addressing crime is minimal at best, and has been diminishing for several years. Furthermore, increased incarceration has no demonstrated effect on violent crime and in fact may increase crime. Policymakers seeking to increase public safety should invest in more effective and efficient strategies, such as crime prevention and community corrections.
  • Measuring Public Safety: Responsibly Interpreting Statistics on Violent Crime details recent media coverage that falsely reported a nationwide increase in violent crime and describes common pitfalls when interpreting statistics on violent crime. The brief confirms that despite statements from many media outlets and public officials to the contrary, violent crime remains near its lowest point in decades nationally. However, in a few cities where violent crime rates were already persistently high, a rise in gun-related homicides concentrated in a few neighborhoods demonstrates the need for locally tailored crime prevention and law enforcement strategies.

“After several years of reform, the U.S. now has fewer people behind bars and is experiencing sustained improvements in public safety,” said Jim Parsons, vice president and research director at Vera. “To maintain and build upon this progress, it is essential that policies at the local, state, and national levels are based on the latest evidence. Fortunately, we now have a substantial body of research to draw upon in these areas. We hope that the briefs in this series make that evidence easily accessible to journalists, policymakers, and people who seek to understand today’s most pressing justice questions. In doing so, they will better inform decisions that affect not only the millions of individuals who come into contact with our justice systems each year, but our nation as a whole.” By incorporating some original analysis as well as academic sources, each brief provides necessary context for understanding an issue; a nuanced discussion of relevant research; common misperceptions and areas of debate; and additional resources and key texts.   Facts highlighted in the briefs released today include:

  • In 2000, the incarceration rate was 270 percent higher than it was in 1975, and the U.S. was spending $25 billion more annually on public safety. But the violent crime rate was nearly identical to the rate in 1975.
  • In the last 15 years, 19 states have reduced both incarceration rates and crime rates. New Jersey had the largest decrease in incarceration rates—37 percent—and also experienced a 30 percent drop in crime rates.
  • The few jurisdictions that are experiencing clearly unusual, significant increases in violence—together representing 2.8 percent of the U.S. population—are facing hyper-localized crimes that are specific to particular times, places, and crime types.  
  • Out of the 10 cities highlighted in a New York Times article for large increases in homicide counts in the first half of 2015, only four experienced continued increases in 2016.
  • Aggregated across the 65 major cities in Vera's sample, the average rates for robbery, aggravated assault, and overall violent crime declined between 2014 and 2016.

Additional briefs in the forthcoming weeks will outline the effectiveness of various approaches to drug use, the relationship between immigrants and low crime rates, and the unwarranted racial disparities that exist throughout the criminal justice system.
The series can be found on Vera’s website at:

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