ResearchQuestion: Do High Incarceration Rates Lead to Reduced Crime?
Therelationship between incarceration and crime has been an importantissue for the American public and policymakers. The crime rates inAmerica had been falling for the past decade recently, however, insome parts of the country, crime rates have started inching up onceagain (Reimanet al., 44).Although it may be a little early to label this as a trend,communities are calling for more incarceration and tougher sentences.However, there is not much empirical evidence that supports thenotion that prisons and jails represent the best way of combatingcrime (Reiman et al., 57).
Currentresearch on this subject presents contradictory and confusinginsights for policymakers. Sophisticated analysis seconds partiallythe assertion that increasing rates of incarceration have somemeasurable effect on crime reduction (Raphael13).On the other hand, analysts have a unanimous opinion regardingincarceration rates and crime. Increasing the incarceration rateswill lead to the prevention of fewer crimes than what was achieved inthe past incarceration increases, therefore indicating the decliningeffectiveness of incarceration in reducing crime (Raphael 23). On theother hand, however, communities and politicians still seeincarceration and tough sentences as the ultimate solution for therising cases of crime.
Thereis, therefore, the policy question of whether high incarcerationrates offer the most effective strategy for reducing crime. TheUnited States started implementing the expanded incarceration policyin the 1970s to determine its effect on crime rates (Binswangeret al., 43).In fact, between 1970 and 2005, there was a 630% percent increase inthe number of prisoners in the country. Nearly 3% of the entirepopulation has spent time in jail, accounting for about 5.5 millionAmericans (Binswangeret al., 56).Therefore, the obvious is has the experiment delivered the desiredresults? Is incarceration the best way of enhancing public safety?
Thereason why I have identified this issue is the persisting complaintsabout the extremely high incarceration rates in the United States. Infact, the US government has started doing away with private prisonfacilities because of the increasing concerns over the highincarceration rates (Aizeet al., 16).Black as well as Hispanic communities, on the other hand, havecontributed to more than 45% of the prison population, despite beingthe minority in the country (Aizeet al. 24).There is, therefore, an urgent need to discuss and address thisissue, with the aim of not only reducing the discriminativeincarceration rates but also mitigating crime.
Inthis study, the dependent variable is crime rates in the US. It iseasy to measure crime rates in a concrete manner because of therobust data collection strategies in the justice and policedepartments. Data on crime is registered through the National CrimeVictimization Survey (Mauer23).The survey is meant to gather information household property crime aswell as nonfatal property crime in the US. This survey measuresaccurately the number and types of crimes committed during aparticular year.
Crimesaffecting individuals are estimated by dividing the reported numberof victims of crime with the total number of the population.Additionally, we can base the prevalence rate out of 100 this simplymeans the percentage of the population that have been victims ofcrime in a particular period (Mauer34).The NCVS measures violent crimes for example sexual assault, rape,robbery, aggravated assault and simple assault. This data includesboth attempted and concluded crimes, therefore providing objectiveinformation about the prevalence rate. This variable is measured atthe ratio level since the prevalence of crime is measured from zero.
Inthe study, the independent variable is the incarceration rate sin theUnited States. It is possible to measure this variable in a concretemanner because of the reliable data available from the justicedepartment. This variable is measured at the ratio and nominal level.The National Prisoner Statistics program is the body charged with thecollection of prisoner statistics in the country (Ball45).The NPS collects data from collection facilities, both state andfederal. The NPS aggregates the data in nominal units such as race,sex, type of facilities i.e. private or public, noncitizens, and ageof prisoners as well as system capacity (Ball54).Each year, the NPS releases data regarding the number of prisonersreleased from the facilities as well as the number of new admissions.Additionally, the Federal Justice Statistics program augments furtherthe data available for research.
Theunit of analysis in my research design is the country. This isbecause the research question assesses if federal incarcerationaffects crime rates in any way. Therefore, the country serves as theunit of analysis in that the research design will look at the impactsof incarceration on crime rate at the country level. Studying theimpacts of incarcerations on crime at a national level can be a goodindicator of the real facts on the ground, as a representative samplecan be used to construe the effect countrywide.
Instudying this research question across the country as a unit ofanalysis, I would use the observational research design as opposed tothe experimental research design. In experimental research, designresearchers assign treatments to some randomized subjects to studytheir behavior. However, the observational research design helps theresearcher to observe the research subjects without actually doinganything (Pickard95).Therefore, this mode of research would fit my study because I wouldonly have to interact with people and look at recent statistics onincarceration and crime rates. In that regard, among the four typesof observational research design, I would use the observer asparticipant type. This is because the participants would recognize meas a researcher and understand my research goals thus helping me toplay a neutral role of just observing and recording information(Howell219).
Asnoted above, the dependent variable for the study is crime rates. Assuch, other factors affecting this variable include poverty, childneglect, and unemployment (Bothos,John and Stelio 47).Poverty is the lack of sufficient economic resources and is among themajor drivers of crime in the United States. Poor people resort tocrime as a means to find money to fend for themselves and theirfamilies. Poverty as an absolute variable can be measured in anordinal scale because it is a non-numeric variable. Child neglectentails deficits in meeting a child’s basic needs, material andemotional (Bothos,John and Stelio 47).Again, this non-numeric variable can be measured using the ordinalscale. However, the number of child neglect cases per unit time orarea can be quantified. The last variable is unemployment.Unemployment affects crime rates in the sense that the more thenumber of unemployed individuals the higher the rate of crime(Bothos,John and Stelio 47).The rate of unemployment is a numeric variable and is measurableusing the interval scales. Poverty and unemployment are closelyrelated variables, but they affect crime rates independently.
Thefirst independent variable is federal incarceration rates followed bypoverty, child neglect and unemployment. The following hypotheses canbe drawn:
Hypothesis 1: High rates of federal incarceration reduce the rates of crime in the United States.
Previously,high rates of crime in the U.S have been countered with highincarceration rates. Increased prison sentences have been found toreduce crimes as individuals try to avoid falling into the justicesystem.
Hypothesis 2: High rates of poverty increase the rate of crime in the United States.
Thishypothesis is true because poverty is multifaceted and can affectcrime in a multitude of ways. For instance, poverty can lead tostress, which in turn can trigger an individual to commit a crime.Again, poverty is often associated with an inferior level ofeducation and access to low-quality jobs and schools among otherthings. This decreases the opportunity cost of crime and raising theprobability of youths spending time in streets and associating withgangs.
Hypothesis 3: child abuse and neglect make them be caught up in the criminal justice system, which drives crime rates up.
Childmistreatment takes many practices such as physical and emotionalabsence of a child and the inability to meet their basic needs. Suchdeficiencies may depress children motivating them to engage in minorfelonies. This traps them in the justice system when they are youngand grow with the habit as they mature, consequently, raising therates of crime.
Hypothesis 4: The rate of unemployment has a positive correlation with the rate of crime in the United States.
Thishypothesis implies that unemployment leads to crime. This is ideallytrue because most unemployed cases are linked to high rates ofpoverty, low levels of education, and perhaps drug abuse. Thus,unemployed people have no means to income, and the only way they canfend for themselves is through criminal activities. This ultimatelyaffects the rate of crime positively.
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