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

Incarcerations per 1,000 population

Murder: incarceraton population Rape:  incarceration population
Robbery:  incarceration population Assault:  incarceration population
Burglary:  incarceration population Motor vehicle theft:  incarceration population

To the chart data

Notes on figures 37-42: Sentencing data compiled by courts nationwide (courts are identified in Notes on figures 19-24) formed the basis for the incarceration rate, defined for all offenses except rape as the number of persons sentenced to incarceration during the year per 1,000 population (age 10 or older). For rape, the incarceration rate is the number of convicted rapists sentenced to incarceration during the year per 1,000 male population (age 10 or older). Incarceration is defined in Notes on figures 31-36. More details on the conviction data for the graphics is given in Notes on figures 19-24. Crime definitions for the graphics are given in Notes on figures 5-10.

The total number of convicted offenders (juvenile and adult combined) sentenced to incarceration in the United States is not directly comparable to the English total because of the vast difference in the number of people that live in the two countries. Naturally the United States incarcerates more people than England (including Wales): far more people live in the United States. A more meaningful comparison is between incarceration rates per 1,000 population, a measure that takes into account the difference in population size.

The U.S. incarceration rate per 1,000 population is higher than England's incarceration rate. Is that because the United States has higher crime rates? Or because the criminal justice system in the United States is more likely than the English system to catch and convict criminals? Or because convicted criminals in the United States are more likely to be incarcerated?

  • The higher U.S. incarceration rate for murder is explained entirely by the higher U.S. murder rate. According to the most recent statistics on the murder rate (1996) and the justice system response (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 incarceration rate per 1,000 population is nearly six times England's (.056 versus .010) (figure 37).

  • The higher U.S. incarceration rate for rape is attributable both to the higher U.S. police-recorded rape rate and to a United States criminal justice system that is more likely than England's to catch and convict rapists. 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 6), but the U.S. rape incarceration rate is seven times England's (.175 versus .024) (figure 38), indicating that a rape in the United States is more likely to lead to incarceration than one in England. However, the higher U.S. incarceration rate for rape is not a function of a higher probability of an incarceration sentence being imposed following a conviction.

  • The higher U.S. incarceration 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 incarceration rate is that the United States criminal justice system is more likely than England's to catch, convict, and incarcerate robbers. According to the most recent statistics on crime (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 incarceration rate is 3 times England's (.23 versus .08) (figure 39), indicating that a robbery in the United States is more likely to lead to incarceration than one in England. This is largely because a robbery in the United States is more likely to lead to a conviction.

  • The higher U.S. incarceration rate for assault cannot be attributed to a higher U.S. assault victimization rate since, according to latest figures, the U.S. assault victimization rate is lower than England's. Instead the higher U.S. assault incarceration rate is due to the higher rate at which the United States justice system catches, convicts, and incarcerates assaulters. According to the most recent statistics on crime (1995) and the criminal justice system (1994 in the United States, 1995 in England), the English assault victimization rate is 2.3 times the U.S. rate (figure 2), but the U.S. assault incarceration rate is 1.7 times England's (.27 versus .16) (figure 40), indicating that an assault in the United States is more likely to lead to incarceration than one in England.

  • The higher U.S. incarceration rate for burglary cannot be attributed to a higher U.S. burglary victimization rate since, according to latest figures, the U.S. burglary victimization rate is lower than England's. Instead the higher U.S. burglary incarceration rate is attributable to the higher rate at which the United States justice system catches, convicts, and incarcerates burglars. According to the most recent statistics on crime (1995) and the criminal justice system (1994 in the United States, 1995 in England), the English burglary victimization rate is 1.7 times the U.S. rate (figure 3), yet the U.S. burglary incarceration rate is 1.4 times England's (.43 versus .30) (figure 41), indicating that a burglary in the United States is more likely to lead to incarceration than one in England.

  • The higher U.S. incarceration rate for motor vehicle theft cannot be attributed to a higher U.S. vehicle theft victimization rate since, according to latest figures, the U.S. vehicle theft victimization rate is lower than England's. Instead the higher U.S. burglary incarceration rate is attributable to the higher rate at which the United States justice system catches, convicts, and incarcerates vehicle thieves. According to the most recent statistics on crime (1995) and the criminal justice system (1994 in the United States, 1995 in England), the English motor vehicle theft victimization rate is 2.2 times the U.S. rate (figure 4), yet the U.S. vehicle theft incarceration rate is 1.2 times England's (.12 versus .10) (figure 42), indicating that a motor vehicle theft in the United States is more likely to lead to incarceration than one in England.

    Have incarceration rates per 1,000 population been rising or falling in both countries?

  • With the exception of the burglary incarceration rate, incarceration rates per 1,000 population have been rising in the United States. In England, incarceration rates per 1,000 population have been rising slightly for murder, rape and robbery; showing no clear trend for assault; and declining sharply for burglary and motor vehicle theft. However, the sharp decline for burglary and motor vehicle theft appears to have ended in the early 1990's.

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

    • Both the U.S. murder incarceration rate (.042 per 1,000 population in 1981 rising to .056 in 1994) and the English rate rose (.008 in 1981 rising to .010 in 1995) (figure 37). Unlike the rise in the U.S. incarceration rate, the rise in the English incarceration rate occurred because of an increase in the country's murder rate.
    • The U.S. rape incarceration rate rose sharply (.082 per 1,000 male population in 1981 rising to .175 in 1994), while the English rate rose comparatively modestly (.014 in 1981 rising to .024 in 1995) (figure 38). Unlike the rise in the U.S. incarceration rate, the rise in the English incarceration rate occurred partly because of a marked increase in the country's rape rate. The contrast between the modest increase in the incarceration rate and the marked increase in the crime rate indicated that the risk of incarceration following a rape in England was decreasing.
    • Both the U.S. (.22 in 1981 rising to .23 in 1994) and the English (.07 in 1981 rising to .08 in 1995) robbery incarceration rates rose slightly (figure 39). Unlike the rise in the U.S. incarceration rate, the slight rise in the English incarceration rate was accompanied by a soaring robbery victimization rate. The contrast between the slight increase in the incarceration rate and the marked increase in the crime rate indicated that the risk of incarceration following a robbery in England was decreasing.
    • The U.S. assault incarceration rate rose sharply (.10 in 1981 rising to .27 in 1994), while the English rate rose slightly (.15 in 1981 rising to .16 in 1995) (figure 40). Unlike the rise in the U.S. incarceration rate, the slight rise in the English incarceration rate was accompanied by a steep rise in the assault victimization rate. However, the rise in the English incarceration rate (figure 40) was far less steep than the rise in the English assault rate (figure 2), indicating that risk of incarceration for English assault was falling during the period.
    • Both the U.S. (.52 in 1981 falling to .43 in 1994) and the English (.49 in 1981 falling to .30 in 1995) burglary incarceration rates fell, with the English rate falling more than the U.S. rate (figure 41). The falling English incarceration rate was accompanied by a steep rise in the burglary victimization rate, indicating that the risk of incarceration after a burglary was falling in England. The falling U.S. incarceration rate was accompanied by a falling burglary victimization rate. However, the incarceration rate decline was less steep than the victimization rate decline, indicating that the risk of incarceration for burglary was actually rising in the United States during the period.
    • The U.S. motor vehicle theft incarceration rate rose sharply (.04 in 1981 rising to .12 in 1994), while the English rate fell sharply (.21 in 1981 falling to .10 in 1995) (figure 42). The rising U.S. incarceration rate was accompanied by no clear trend in the victimization rate for vehicle theft. By contrast, the falling English incarceration rate was accompanied by a rising victimization rate for vehicle theft. Therefore, the risk of incarceration after a motor vehicle theft was decreasing in England and increasing in the United States.

    Chart data - in spreadsheets
    Figure 37 Figure 38 Figure 39
    Murder Rape Robbery

    Year
    United
    States

    England
    United
    States

    England
    United
    States

    England
    1981 0.0422 0.0076 0.0817 0.0137 0.2215 0.0700
    1982
    1983 0.0384 0.0077 0.0821 0.0140 0.1917 0.0712
    1984
    1985
    1986 0.0487 0.1451 0.2125
    1987 0.0091 0.0192 0.0798
    1988 0.0454 0.1409 0.1873
    1989
    1990 0.0543 0.1597 0.2432
    1991 0.0090 0.0237 0.0761
    1992 0.0597 0.1899 0.2626
    1993 0.0097 0.0201 0.0794
    1994 0.0564 0.1748 0.2332
    1995 0.0095 0.0236 0.0767
    Figure 40 Figure 41 Figure 42
    Assault Burglary Motor vehicle theft

    Year
    United
    States

    England
    United
    States

    England
    United
    States

    England
    1981 0.1001 0.1463 0.5224 0.4906 0.0370 0.2066
    1982
    1983 0.1167 0.1679 0.5558 0.5306 0.0553 0.1614
    1984
    1985
    1986 0.1580 0.4782 0.0856
    1987 0.1976 0.4281 0.1204
    1988 0.1560 0.4552 0.0963
    1989
    1990 0.2238 0.4889 0.1305
    1991 0.1566 0.2901 0.0726
    1992 0.2499 0.5041 0.1333
    1993 0.1494 0.2663 0.0862
    1994 0.2714 0.4343 0.1172
    1995 0.1646 0.2997 0.1015


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