Projecting Crime Rates and Incarceration Impact in the US
In 2017, the Foundation commissioned three criminologists to create statistical models for forecasting US crime rates. HFG also asked them to examine the impact on crime of potential policy shifts intended to reduce the US’s high rate of incarceration.
James Austin, Todd Clear, and Richard Rosenfeld created two forecasting models, one for violent crime and one for property crime. These proved very accurate in accounting for past trends, and were then applied to projecting crime rates through 2021. As well, the researchers projected the effects on crime of substantially reducing the rate of imprisonment. They conducted similar analyses for two states, using state-level variables to develop predictive models for crime in Illinois (2020) and Florida (2021).
In a follow-up to the 2020 national report, Austin and Rosenfeld (2023) employed a slightly different modeling method to generate national crime forecasts through 2025. The most recent years include the social and economic disruption caused by the COVID pandemic, spiking inflation, and civil unrest following the murder of George Floyd by police—a period marked by a dramatic increase in US homicide.
As they had done in applying the original models in the state-level reports, the authors applied the newer models at a lower geographic level, this time to cities: Chicago (through 2025), Los Angeles (through 2026), and New York (through 2026). As in all the 2020 and 2021 reports, the authors paid special attention to the possibility of safely reducing the US imprisonment rate.
Though the forecasts for the US as a whole and for the states and cities included in the project varied somewhat, the projections in all cases were either a slight increase or no increase in violent crime. Property crime was projected to decrease in the nation as a whole as well as in Chicago but to increase slightly in New York and Los Angeles.
In all cases, the projected effect of substantially reducing the prison population was a very slight slowing of the projected drop in crime or a very slight increase. A thorough consideration of such a slight potential reduction in public safety requires weighing it against the considerable costs of imprisonment to both those incarcerated and the communities from which they come.
Though not all of the factors that influence crime rates can be intentionally altered by legislation and criminal justice policy, some can, and it is hoped that policymakers might find these forecasts and the method used to produce them informative in crafting policy relevant to reducing crime.
In this report, authors James Austin and Richard Rosenfeld forecast very modest increases in violent crime and then a flattening trend by 2025 as well as a continuation of the longstanding decline in property crime. They use their forecasting models to project the effect of decreasing the nation’s declining rate of imprisonment by an additional 20%. Such a policy decision, they conclude, would not lead to significantly higher crime rates.
This report examines the effects of a small set of factors on violent and property crime rates in Chicago. The authors used a statistical model to forecast crime rates through 2025. Both violent and property crime are forecast to drop through 2025. In addition, the report finds that were Illinois to reduce its imprisonment rate by 25%, the effect on Chicago’s rate of violent crime would be negligible. No association was found between imprisonment rates and property crime.
In this report, the authors used statistical models to forecast crime trends through 2026. Violent crime is forecast to decline through 2026, while property crime is expected to rise modestly in the same period. The analysis also finds that if California imprisonment rates were reduced by 20%, the effect on crime in Los Angeles would be minimal.
The Future of Crime in New York City and the Impact of Reducing the Prison Population on Crime Rates
The authors of this report created statistical models to forecast violent and property crime rates in New York City through 2026. The forecast for violent crime is a slight decrease each year through 2026, while the forecast for property crime shows slight yearly increases. The projected impact on New York City’s violent crime rate of reducing the state imprisonment rate by 25% would be minimal.
The American public, like citizens elsewhere, care about current and future levels of crime and the factors that drive them. Policymakers, who can greatly influence such factors, often lack knowledge from careful studies on the causes and control of crime to guide their decisions. HFG commissioned three leading criminologists to address this deficit by developing a predictive model of national violent and property crime rates. Applying the model, they find that crime is projected to decrease in the U.S. over the next five years.
Florida has benefited from the national drop in crime that began in the early 1990s. Its growth in incarceration also paralleled the steady national imprisonment rise of the last forty-five years. Policy makers would benefit from defensible projections of future trends in crime, and especially from estimates of the effect that further reductions in the number of people in jail and prison might have on those trends. The authors of this study developed quantitative models of the effects of various demographic and economic factors, as well as the imprisonment rate, on Florida’s past crime rates. They then used these models to project crime trends into the 2020s.
Illinois is one of several states where prison populations are declining. As state policymakers, prosecutors, and courts consider alternatives to incarceration, what is the risk to public safety? The authors of this study conclude that Illinois crime rates, which have been on the decline since the 1990s, will continue to decline in a fluctuating pattern, with moderate year-to-year changes. This will be true even if Illinois reduces its prison population by an additional 25%.