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Maryland Fact Sheet:
What Caused the Crime Decline?
By Lauren-Brooke Eisen, Julia Bowling*
A new Brennan Center report, entitled 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.
New Report Findings
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
5percent of the world’s population, we have 25 percent of its prisoners.
Maryland’s prison population grew by three-fold from 1980 to 2006. Maryland spends more than 10
times as much on corrections as it does on education, spending $1.313 billion on corrections in
2013. Its prisons nearly reached their full capacity by 2010, though the prison population decreased
slightly in the last few years, to 21,335 by 2013.
At the same time, from its height in 1980 to 2013, crime in Maryland dropped by 53 percent. And
the national crime rate was also cut in half.
What caused this drop? Was it the explosion in incarceration? Or was it something else?
The report’s central findings:

Increased incarceration had a limited effect on reducing crime for the last two
decades: Increased incarceration had some effect, likely somewhere around 0-10 percent,
on reducing crime from 1990 to 2000. Since 2000, however, increased incarceration had an
almost zero effect on crime. Further, a number of states -- California, Michigan, New Jersey,
New York, and Texas -- have successfully reduced imprisonment while crime continued to
Other factors reduced crime: Increased numbers of police officers, some data-driven
policing techniques, changes in income, decreased alcohol consumption, and an aging
population played a role in reducing crime. In particular, this report finds that the policing

* Lauren-Brooke Eisen is Counsel and Julia Bowling is Research Associate at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. They
are co-authors of What Caused the Crime Decline?

technique known as “CompStat” is associated with a 5 to 15 percent decrease in crime. A
review of past research indicates that consumer confidence and inflation also likely
contributed to crime reduction.
Incarceration & Crime in Maryland
As illustrated in Figure 1, Maryland imprisons its citizens at a lower rate than the U.S. at large. As of
2013, Maryland imprisons 360 people per 100,000, compared to 498 for the U.S.
Reform efforts in Maryland have been slow. There have been attempts to shorten parole lengths
based on good behavior. In April 2014, Gov. Martin O’Malley signed legislation decriminalizing
possession of small amounts of marijuana. Two bills are currently pending in Maryland that would
reduce the state’s prison population. One would repeal mandatory minimum sentences for some
drug offenses. The other would increase parole eligibility for those serving life sentences.
Figure 1: Imprisonment Rates in Maryland and the U.S. (1980-2013)

As shown in Figure 2, as incarceration rose from 1988 (when Maryland had 14,000 prisoners), the
effectiveness of increased incarceration – adding new prisoners – steadily declined. By 1995,
imprisonment increased 53 percent to 21,453 prisoners, and effectiveness on crime declined to
essentially zero. The marginal effect on crime of adding more people to prisons remains at
essentially zero today.
This report’s findings support further reforms to reduce Maryland’s incarcerated population – and
show this can be achieved without added crime.


Figure 2: Effectiveness of Imprisonment on Crime in Maryland (1980-2013)

Policing & Crime
One policing approach, “CompStat,” which instills strong management and data-driven practices,
played a role in bringing down crime in cities where implemented. The introduction of CompStatstyle programs was responsible for a 5 to 15 percent decrease in crime in the 50 largest cities
CompStat was widely implemented in American cities starting in the 1990s. In Maryland, CompStat
was introduced in Baltimore in 2000.
Little analysis has been conducted on the effectiveness of how police fight crime. CompStat is one of
the most consistent, easily identifiable, and widespread policing techniques employed during the
time period under examination. Although different cities deploy it differently, the general objective is
the same: to implement strong management and accountability within police departments to execute
strategies based in robust data collection to reduce and prevent crime. Our research also found that
increased numbers of police officers also played a role in reducing crime.
Public and political pressure to effectively fight crime and improve public safety has been used to
justify incarceration despite the economic and human toll. This report finds that this “one-size fits
all” use of imprisonment to punish crime has passed the point of diminishing returns. In essence,
adding more and more people to prison is no longer producing the expected crime control benefits.
As state budgets grow tighter, government should invest in policies that achieve their intended goals.
Prioritizing modern, evidence-based criminal justice policies with record of success over costly and
ineffective over-incarceration seems to be the best way forward in Maryland and nationwide.