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New Jersey 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 147 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 5
percent of the world’s population, we have 25 percent of its prisoners.
In New Jersey, the prison population grew by 359 percent from 1980 to 1999. The crime rate in
New Jersey is about 22 percent lower than the national average. Yet the state’s prisons hold a higher
portion of drug offenders than any other state. Since its peak in 1999, New Jersey has reduced the
number of prisoners to 23,452 by 2013. New Jersey spent $1.511 billion on corrections in 2013.
At the same time, crime in New Jersey dropped by 66 percent from its height in 1980 to 2013. And
the national crime rate was 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, including California, Michigan,
New Jersey, New York, and Texas, have successfully reduced imprisonment while crime
continued to fall.
Other factors reduced crime: Increased numbers of police officers, some data-driven
policing techniques, changes in income, decreased alcohol consumption, and an aging

* 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?

population played a role in reducing crime. In particular, this report finds that the policing
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 New Jersey
As illustrated in Figure 1, New Jersey imprisons its citizens at a lower rate than the U.S. at large. As
of 2013, New Jersey imprisons 252 people per 100,000, compared to 496 for the U.S.
In 2010, Gov. Jon Corzine signed a reform to end mandatory minimums associated with drug free
school zones, and establish parole and probation as alternative options. In 2013, Gov. Chris Christie
and former Gov. Jim McGreevey jointly announced programs for mandatory treatment instead of
mandatory jail time for some substance-dependent offenders. In 2014, New Jersey passed a
bipartisan package of legislation to reduce pre-trial detention, and has begun planning the reform
implementation. The multi-year process may include introduction of risk assessments and a pretrial
services unit in the court system.
Figure 1: Imprisonment Rates in New Jersey and the U.S. (1980-2013)

As shown in Figure 2, as incarceration rose from 1980 (when New Jersey had 5,884 prisoners), the
effectiveness of increased incarceration – adding new prisoners – steadily declined. By 1995,
imprisonment increased 359 percent to 27,066 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 New Jersey’s incarcerated population – and
show this can be achieved without added crime.

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Figure 2: Effectiveness of Imprisonment on Crime in New Jersey (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
nationally.
CompStat was widely implemented in American cities starting in the 1990s. Our report only looked
at the 50 most populous cities in the United States that implemented Compstat. There may be cities
in New Jersey that utilize Compstat-style practices.
Increased numbers of police officers also played a role in reducing crime.
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.
Conclusion
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 New Jersey and nationwide.
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