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Civitas: World calling Ken Clarke - prison reduces crime here too!

Kenneth Clarke, Secretary of State for Justice, has been claiming that crime fell in all developed countries in the 1990s and that it was not the result of increasing the prison population in the UK or elsewhere.

Most recently he repeated the claim on Newsnight on Tuesday 30th November.

When former Chief Constable, Tim Brain, argued that crime fell as a consequence of doubling the prison population from the mid-1990s onwards, Ken Clarke replied:

'I don't think it was caused by the prison population doubling; crime fell throughout the Western world over the years you were talking about including in places like Canada, the Netherlands and New York.'

Ken Clarke is mistaken.  As the following charts show:

  • Crime rates did not fall consistently across the Western world.
  • Where crime rates did fall, they were usually associated with higher incarceration rates just as was observed in England and Wales.
  • By contrast, significant reductions in prison populations tend to be associated with spikes in crime rates indicating that incarceration plays a role in preventing some crimes that would otherwise take place.

All statistics are taken from Eurostat, the European Union's statistics bureau. They compare the total number of crimes recorded by police with the number of individuals incarcerated for all years in which both figures are available and comparable.

Charts for all countries can be found

The negative observed correlations between crime rates and prison populations are far from universal.

Sometimes incarceration rates simply rise as a reaction to increases in crime (see
Switzerland as a highly probable example of that relationship).

However, we believe there are enough incidences of crime dropping in response to an increase in imprisonment to indicate that incarceration is one factor, amongst many others, that contributes to reducing crime.

Click HERE for full press release 

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