BJS: Bureau of Justice Statistics

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Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS)
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Crime and Justice in the United States
and in England and Wales, 1981-96

Convictions per 1,000 population


Murder conviction:  populations

Rape conviction:  population

Robbery conviction:  population

Assault conviction:  population

Burglary conviction: population

Motor vehicle theft conviction: population

To the chart data

Notes on figures 19-24: Data compiled by courts nationwide (State, Federal and juvenile courts in the United States; juvenile and adult courts in England) formed the basis for the conviction rate, defined for all offenses except rape as the number of persons convicted during the year per 1,000 population age 10 or older. (Age 10 is the minimum conviction age in England. No U.S. minimum exists, but rarely do juvenile court referrals involve children under age 10 (25,000 out of 1.5 million cases in 1994 according to Loeber and Farrington, 1998, page 24.)) For rape, the conviction rate is the number of convictions per 1,000 male population (ages 10 or older), since rape is almost exclusively a crime committed by males. In the United States, convicted juveniles were defined as adjudicated delinquents, excluding those dismissed or transferred to adult court. (Transferred juveniles who were convicted as adults in adult court were included in State court cases.) Since 1986, national conviction data in the United States have been compiled every 2 years. National conviction data in England are compiled annually. However, for comparability, English convictions are shown for years in which crime victim surveys were conducted. U.S. convictions are shown for all years in which national data exist or were estimated. Convictions for vehicle theft in the United States are conservatively estimated. Crime definitions for the graphics are given in Notes on figures 5-10.

Depending on the circumstances, a person charged in the United States with a serious crime can be prosecuted in a State court, a Federal court, or a juvenile court. Likewise in England (including Wales), depending on the circumstances, the case can go to the Crown Court, a magistrate court, or a juvenile court (a specialized magistrate court).

U.S. Federal courts treat persons 18 years of age and older as adults. In the vast majority of States, a defendant is considered an adult once he or she reaches the age of 18; in a small number of States, age 17 is the beginning of adulthood; in a few States it is age 16. In England, adulthood in the eyes of the law begins at age 18. Before 1992, it was age 17.

In both countries, a juvenile charged with or previously found delinquent of a serious crime can be prosecuted in the adult court rather than the juvenile court. In America, State and Federal laws define special circumstances in which adult prosecution of a juvenile is automatic (for example, a juvenile charged with murder, rape, or armed robbery), and circumstances in which such prosecution is at the discretion of either the juvenile court or the prosecutor. English law requires that all juveniles charged with homicide be prosecuted in the Crown Court (the adult court) rather than the juvenile court (called the youth court in England). If the crime is not a homicide but is one that is punishable by at least 14 years confinement for an adult (for example, household burglary), or the crime is carried out with an adult accomplice, the English juvenile court, at its discretion, can commit the juvenile for trial in the Crown Court. Commitment for trial in the Crown Court is distinguished from commitment for sentencing in the Crown Court. When a juvenile is convicted in the English juvenile court but the magistrate believes the juvenile deserves a longer sentence than the maximum that the juvenile court can impose (12 months), the juvenile can be committed to the Crown Court for sentencing. In such a case the maximum sentence the Crown Court can impose is 2 years.

The total number of convictions (juvenile and adult combined) in the United States is not directly comparable to the English total because the U.S. population is far larger than the English population. Naturally the United States has more convictions: it has roughly five times more people than England. A more meaningful comparison is between conviction rates per 1,000 population, a measure that takes into account the difference in population size.

The U.S. conviction rate per 1,000 population is higher than England's for murder, rape, and robbery. Is that because the United States has higher rates of victimization from murder, rape, and robbery? Or because the criminal justice system in the United States is more likely than the English system to catch and convict murderers, rapists, and robbers?

  • The higher U.S. conviction rate for murder is explained entirely by the higher U.S. murder rate. According to the most recent statistics on crime (1996) and the justice system (1994 in the United States, 1995 in England), the U.S. murder rate is nearly six times the English murder rate (figure 5). Correspondingly, the U.S. murder conviction rate per 1,000 population is nearly six times England's (.059 versus .010) (figure 19).

  • The higher U.S. conviction rate for rape is attributable both to the higher U.S. police-recorded rape rate and to a United States criminal justice system that catches and convicts rapists at a higher rate than England's system. According to the most recent statistics on crime (1996) and the justice system (1994 in the United States, 1995 in England), the U.S. police-recorded rape rate is three times England's (figure 5), but the U.S. rape conviction rate is over eight times England's (.212 versus .025) (figure 20), indicating that a rape in the United States is more likely to lead to conviction than one in England.

  • The higher U.S. conviction rate for robbery cannot be attributed to a higher U.S. robbery victimization rate since, according to the latest figures, the U.S. robbery victimization rate is lower than England's. Instead the reason for the higher U.S. robbery conviction rate is that the English criminal justice system is less likely than America's to catch and convict robbers. According to the most recent statistics on robbery victimization (1995) and the criminal justice system (1994 in the United States, 1995 in England), the English robbery victimization rate is 1.4 times the U.S. rate (figure 1), but the U.S. robbery conviction rate is nearly 3 times England's (.30 versus .11) (figure 21), indicating that a robbery in the United States is more likely to lead to conviction than one in England.

    The English conviction rate per 1,000 population is higher than the U.S. conviction rate for assault, burglary, and motor vehicle theft. Is that because England has higher rates of victimization from assault, burglary, and motor vehicle theft? Or because the criminal justice system in England is more likely than the U.S. system to catch and convict assaulters, burglars, and motor vehicle thieves?

  • The higher English conviction rate for assault is attributable to a higher English assault victimization rate, not to different performance by the English justice system. According to the most recent statistics on assault victimization (1995), the English assault victimization rate is 2.3 times the U.S. rate (figure 2). However, according to the most recent conviction statistics (1994 in the United States, 1995 in England), the English assault conviction rate is 1.4 times the U.S. assault conviction rate (.61 versus .44) (figure 22), indicating that an assault in England is less likely to lead to conviction than one in the United States.

  • The higher English conviction rate for burglary is attributable to a higher English crime rate for burglary, not to different performance by the English justice system. According to the most recent statistics on burglary victimization (1995), the English burglary victimization rate is 1.8 times the U.S. rate (figure 3). However, according to the most recent conviction statistics (1994 in the United States, 1995 in England), the English burglary conviction rate is 1.1 times the U.S. burglary conviction rate (.78 versus .73) (figure 23), indicating that a burglary in England is less likely to lead to conviction than one in the United States.

  • The higher English conviction rate for motor vehicle theft is attributable to a higher English crime rate for motor vehicle theft, not to different performance by the English justice system. According to the most recent statistics on motor vehicle theft victimization (1995), the English motor vehicle theft victimization rate is 2.2 times the U.S. rate (figure 4). However, according to the most recent conviction statistics (1994 in the United States, 1995 in England), the English motor vehicle theft conviction rate is 1.6 times the U.S. conviction rate (.34 versus .21) (figure 24), indicating that a motor vehicle theft in England is less likely to lead to conviction than one in the United States.

    Have conviction rates per 1,000 population been rising or falling in each country?

    From 1981 to the latest year of conviction data (1994 in the United States, 1995 in England) --

    • The U.S. murder conviction rate rose steeply (.045 in 1981 rising to .059 in 1994), while the English rate rose modestly (.009 in 1981 rising to .010 in 1995) (figure 19). Unlike the rise in the U.S. conviction rate, the rise in the English conviction rate is linked to an increase in the country's murder rate.
    • The U.S. rape conviction rate rose sharply (.099 in 1981 rising to .212 in 1995), while the English rate rose comparatively modestly (.015 in 1981 rising to .025 in 1995) (figure 20). Unlike the rise in the U.S. conviction rate, the rise in the English conviction rate could partly be explained by an increase in the country's rape rate, although the increase in the English rape rate (more than 5 times) was far higher than the modest increase in the rape conviction rate.
    • Both the U.S. (.28 in 1981 rising to .30 in 1994) and the English (.10 in 1981 rising to .11 in 1995) robbery conviction rates increased slightly (figure 21). The U.S. conviction rate modestly rose while the robbery victimization rate fell. In England, by contrast, the conviction rate rose modestly while the robbery victimization rate soared.
    • The U.S. assault conviction rate rose sharply (.16 in 1981 rising to .44 in 1994), while the English rate fell sharply (1.12 in 1981 falling to .61 in 1995) (figure 22). The rise in the U.S. conviction rate was accompanied by a decline in the assault victimization rate. By contrast, the decline in the English conviction rate was accompanied by a steep rise in the assault victimization rate.
    • Both the U.S. (.97 in 1981 falling to .73 in 1994) and the English (1.69 in 1981 falling to .78 in 1995) burglary conviction rates fell, and the English rate fell more than the U.S. rate (figure 23). The falling English rate was accompanied by a steep rise in the burglary victimization rate. The falling U.S. conviction rate was accompanied by a steep decline in the burglary victimization rate. However, the conviction rate decline was less steep than the victimization rate decline, indicating that the risk of burglary conviction was actually rising in the United States during the period.
    • The U.S. motor vehicle theft conviction rate rose sharply (.07 in 1981 rising to .21 in 1994), while the English rate fell sharply (.83 in 1981 falling to .34 in 1995) (figure 24). The rising U.S. conviction rate was accompanied by a stable victimization rate for vehicle theft. By contrast, the falling English conviction rate was accompanied by a rising victimization rate for vehicle theft.

    Chart data - in spreadsheets
    Figure 19 Figure 20 Figure 21
    Murder Rape Robbery

    Year
    United
    States

    England
    United
    States

    England
    United
    States

    England
    1981 0.0448 0.0089 0.0994 0.0153 0.2829 0.0951
    1982
    1983 0.0407 0.0089 0.0999 0.0148 0.2412 0.0922
    1984
    1985
    1986 0.0520 0.1760 0.2747
    1987 0.0098 0.0200 0.1009
    1988 0.0485 0.1709 0.2337
    1989
    1990 0.0579 0.1953 0.2984
    1991 0.0101 0.0249 0.1089
    1992 0.0622 0.2321 0.3247
    1993 0.0104 0.0213 0.1140
    1994 0.0589 0.2120 0.2967
    1995 0.0101 0.0249 0.1147
    Figure 22 Figure 23 Figure 24
    Assault Burglary Motor vehicle theft

    Year
    United
    States

    England
    United
    States

    England
    United
    States

    England
    1981 0.1626 1.1201 0.9725 1.6916 0.0738 0.8286
    1982
    1983 0.1872 1.1334 0.9966 1.5966 0.1071 0.6755
    1984
    1985
    1986 0.2641 0.8256 0.1746
    1987 1.0374 1.2312 0.5897
    1988 0.2544 0.7563 0.1985
    1989
    1990 0.3663 0.8253 0.2528
    1991 1.0240 1.0370 0.5138
    1992 0.4157 0.8376 0.2450
    1993 0.8371 0.9011 0.3760
    1994 0.4374 0.7300 0.2135
    1995 0.6095 0.7849 0.3432


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