Where Have All the Criminals Gone?

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First, the good news (and it's mostly good news): Crime rates continue to drop nationwide, with both murder and robbery rates now at their lowest levels since the late 1960s. The overall violent crime rate — the total number of assaults, robberies, rapes and murders per 100,000 people — is now 566, just a little above where it was in 1985, the last year before crack became a popular (and murderous) activity. Guns were still responsible for the majority of murders (64.9 percent) but that figure represents a continued downward trend, dropping from 67.8 percent in 1997.

With all those good numbers, the only danger now seems to be in getting out of the way of those stampeding to take credit. It's all due to prisons, claimed the GOP, citing their legislation encouraging longer prison sentences and claiming that this keeps criminals off the streets and acts as a considerable deterrent. Others point to the strong economy and say that in a nation where seemingly everybody's little brother is in on a hot IPO, now more than ever crime doesn't pay. And demographers say it's simply the fact that there are now fewer young men, the group statistically most likely to be committing crimes.

It's certainly demographics that provide the only bit of bad news. A new bulge of young, potentially criminal boys is fast approaching their teenage years. Opinion is divided on whether this will produce a new round of criminals — or just guys who will produce new record Pokemon scores.