Reducing Jail Populations Does Not Cause an Uptick in Violent Crime: Studies

Researchers say they've debunked speculation that criminal justice reform fueled rising crime rates during the pandemic

Mar 24, 2023 at 11:17 am
The St. Louis County Jail in Clayton. - DANNY WICENTOWSKI
The St. Louis County Jail in Clayton.

As COVID-19 began its rapid spread throughout the country three years ago, jails across the country implemented strategies to reduce their populations to mitigate the virus’ spread. As violent crime and homicides started to increase after the start of the pandemic, speculation circled that these reforms were the cause. 

But two new reports say that’s not the case at all. Research from the CUNY Institute for State & Local Governance and the JFA Institute indicate there’s no relationship between jail reforms, such as reducing jail population, and increases in violent crime. 

Researchers combed through data from 23 cities and counties across the U.S., including St. Louis, to come to this finding.

Nationwide during the pandemic, most individuals released while awaiting trial were not rebooked into jail. And it was “extremely rare” for people released from jail pretrial to get rebooked for a violent charge. 

St. Louis County followed this trend, according to the reports. Out of the 4,013 people released on pretrial status in St. Louis County from March through October 2020, only 19 percent were rebooked in the next six months. 

Of the percentage of people rebooked, only 1 percent was due to violent crime. This statistic holds from before the pandemic — since 2015.

What does this mean for St. Louis? It suggests the city and county can reduce the use of jail without putting the public at increased risk. 

“The data is clear. We can reduce the use of jail, the harm of unnecessary incarceration, and the number of people in jail without compromising public safety, ” Laurie Garduque, director of criminal justice at the MacArthur Foundation, said in a statement. “We cannot accept false narratives that blame reforms to the criminal justice system for increases in crime.”

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