Reducing Jail Populations Does Not Increase Homicide Rates


Maya Szilak
Former Resident Senior Fellow, Criminal Justice and Civil Liberties


The current rise in homicide rates is unrelated to and not caused by reductions in jail population.

Using alternatives to arrest and jail to address low-level offenses does not increase crime, but can enhance public safety and health by reducing recidivism and curtailing the spread of COVID-19, while limiting unnecessary costs to taxpayers.


In an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, lawmakers and criminal justice agencies used a variety of reforms to reduce jail admissions and average lengths of stay—the two key factors that drive jail populations.
These reforms led to a 24 percent decrease in jail populations nationwide between 2019 and 2020. Prison populations also declined by 9 percent during this period. Jails typically house offenders who are awaiting trial or who are sentenced to terms of less than one year, while prisons house offenders sentenced to terms longer than one year.

Some reforms included reducing arrests for low-level offenses through citations and diversion-to-treatment services; eliminating cash bail for nonviolent offenses; expanding pre-trial release mechanisms such as home
monitoring; suspending detention for “technical” parole and probation violations; reclassifying some nonviolent crimes as non-jailable offenses; and allowing offenders to earn good conduct credits toward early release.

While COVID-19 continues to devastate jails, a national decline in COVID-19 cases coupled with a rise in homicides have heralded a return to “business as usual” detention practices in some jurisdictions, and a repudiation of current best practices that treat arrest and jail as tools of last resort. Consequently, jail populations rose 13 percent from June 2020 to March 2021.

Evidence indicates, however, that the rapid rise in homicides is unrelated to recent criminal justice reforms. Indeed, reducing reliance on arrest and jail for low-level offenses can enhance public safety and health, while saving taxpayer dollars.

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