The decline in crime rates is explored in ASA's magazine, Contexts

March 28, 2002

Skyrocketing violent crime rates obsessed Americans for decades. Over the past ten years, however, crime rates have been dropping. What has happened, and what can we learn?

The context and possible explanations for the recent decline in crime are explored in an article by Richard Rosenfeld, University of Missouri at St. Louis, in the inaugural issue of Contexts, the American Sociological Association's newest publication. Contexts, a quarterly publication with the touch and feel of a magazine, puts a real world perspective on sociological research making it accessible, diverse and timely.

In his article, "Crime Decline in Context," Rosenfeld observes that the decline in crime rates is significant, real, long-term, and deep enough to be labeled a trend. It is also pervasive, cutting across major offense categories and population groups. Focusing on data on criminal homicide in this analysis, Rosenfeld notes that homicide is currently lower than at any time since the 1960s.

Time trends differ for adult and youth homicides, providing important clues to the causes of the decline in crime. One of the more promising explanations for the increase in youth homicide rates is the violence in and around urban crack markets, and the proliferation of firearms on the streets of urban America connected to drug markets. As the crack epidemic crested around 1990, drug markets began to shrink and firearm homicides declined, especially in large cities and among young African-American males.

Explanations for declines in crime for the adult populations remain more elusive, although Rosenfeld says that what little we know suggests that it is driven in part by decreases in "intimate partner" homicides and by the explosive increases in incarceration since 1980.

Rosenfeld also briefly explores the possible effects of more aggressive policing, prison expansion, an improved economy, and firearms policies as contributing factors to overall crime declines. He concludes that lasting and deeper reductions in crime will require major reductions in chronic economic insecurity, social isolation, and alienation found in our nation's most violent communities.
Further information on Contexts can be found on its webpage at Media interested in a copy should contact Johanna Ebner, ASA Public Information Office, at (202) 383-9005 x320 or e-mail

American Sociological Association

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