5 Ways States Can Reduce Violent Crime
Solve more violent crimes to increase accountability and deter future violence.
Why: The number of violent crimes solved by law enforcement continues to decline. In 2022, there was no arrest in 63 percent of violent crimes reported to law enforcement. To provide safety and justice, we must first identify and apprehend the people committing violent crime to be able to hold them accountable and improve public safety.
Research is clear that the certainty of getting caught—not the severity of punishment—is what can deter crime.1 This means that a dollar spent on increasing the likelihood of being arrested for committing a crime does far more to reduce crime than a dollar spent to incarcerate someone longer.
What: States can help solve more violent crimes with targeted support and assistance. Through grant funding, states can support focused-deterrence policing strategies that work with the people and places most at risk of crime and victimization. Other efforts states can support include the following:
- Identifying agencies with low solve rates to offer training and assistance
- Reducing detective caseloads
- Improving turnaround times at state crime labs for processing evidence
- Increasing engagement with witnesses and victims
How: Arkansas, New York, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania are among several states that have established grant programs to help law enforcement address violent crime. Ohio recently invested $10 million in crime labs to reduce forensic evidence backlogs and speed up investigations.2 Utah established a statewide cold case unit in 2018 to help solve more homicide cases.3
Make data-driven investments in violence prevention.
Why: Roughly half of violent crimes are never reported to law enforcement. Prevention offers the highest return on investment, but those returns take time to come to fruition.4 That’s why it’s critical that states develop and regularly invest in a wide range of prevention programs that have been proven to effectively reduce violence.
Every state has communities that are disproportionately impacted by violent crime and often historically under-resourced. Research has shown that targeted, evidence-based investments in these communities can prevent violent crime and reduce victimization.5
What: Develop and fund a statewide crime prevention strategy. As part of the plan, use data to focus evidence-based violence prevention efforts in communities most impacted by violent crime. This can include increasing social and public health services, supporting culturally responsive violence reduction programs, and improving neighborhood infrastructure.
How: At the direction of the legislature, researchers in Washington State compiled the available evidence on crime prevention programs to identify the most cost-effective ones. The state uses the findings to guide investments. Your state can as well: https://www.wsipp.wa.gov/BenefitCost.
Address trauma to prevent trauma.
Why: Trauma is a cycle. It shapes peoples’ responses and can perpetuate offending and victimization.6 Ensuring that individuals experiencing trauma are connected to relevant support and resources is critical to breaking the cycles of violence. Building trust between communities and the justice system requires the system to be responsive to the needs of people who experience victimization.
What: Ensure adequate resources are available to meet the immediate needs of victims through emergency financial assistance programs. Invest in victim compensation programs to reduce processing times, expand eligibility, and remove administrative barriers. Take past trauma into account at sentencing, while people are in custody, and while they’re on supervision. And invest in reducing and addressing trauma and improving well-being for staff in law enforcement and corrections.
How: New Mexico sets aside funding for victim service programs to help victims of violent crime in emergency situations where health or safety are at risk and other resources are unavailable to meet immediate needs.7 Missouri reduced the administrative burden for victims applying for reimbursement for eligible expenses and allowed victims who receive medical forensic exams to qualify for the program without additional law enforcement involvement. Iowa, Massachusetts, and Washington State set aside grant funding for crime victim services through community organizations by and for historically marginalized populations to serve people not currently accessing emergency services.
Since 2001, 12 states have developed trauma recovery centers focused on addressing the needs of underserved crime survivors. People who receive services from a trauma recovery center are more likely to cooperate with prosecutors to solve crimes, see improvements in their mental health and quality of life, and receive comprehensive services in a cost-effective way.
Commit to a statewide recidivism-reduction goal.
Why: While nationally, recidivism rates are declining, 70 percent of people released from prison are still re-arrested within 5 years.8 Across the country, states lack sufficient reentry services and supports to help people successfully and sustainably reintegrate back into their communities. People who have been incarcerated also face extensive barriers to employment, and these challenges disproportionately impact people of color.
What: Set ambitious statewide recidivism-reduction goals. Convene agency leadership from corrections, health, education, social service, and economic and workforce development to develop a recidivism-reduction plan and commit to how each agency can support the state in meeting these goals.
How: Through the national Reentry 2030 initiative, Alabama committed to reducing recidivism by 50 percent by 2030 led by the state’s Commission on Reentry, which includes 15 participating agency partners.9 Missouri has similarly committed to eliminating barriers to reentry and employment upon release with one goal being to ensure 85 percent of formerly incarcerated people are employed within 30 days of release.10
Safety and justice deserve better data.
Why: You can’t fix what you don’t measure. Data on crime, arrests, backlogs, and punishments are hard to get. And despite an increasing focus on improving reentry outcomes, only half of states report data on outcomes for the millions of people sentenced to probation supervision. In addition, racial inequities usually accumulate as people proceed further into the system. This means that bringing data together from across justice agencies is critical to diagnosing what is exacerbating disparities.
What: Collect, analyze, and report data as aggressively as the issues demand.
How: Enlist your state in joining the Justice Counts initiative, a nationwide coalition of state and local agencies adopting a common set of metrics to provide key insights on system trends, operations, and outcomes across all criminal justice sectors.
Get your state’s Criminal Justice Data Snapshot to begin identifying and understanding key trends across decision-making points in your system. These snapshots include data from over 75 sources on crime, arrests, corrections populations, reentry, and recidivism.
Background: The CSG Justice Center identified these five strategies by relying on three sources:
1. Our work in 30 states analyzing justice systems and designing solutions for policymakers
2. A review of research on what works to reduce crime
3. State and local leaders from across the country who serve on our advisory board
How can leaders get started on diagnosing their state’s violent crime challenges?
- Download your state’s violent crime report.
- Get connected with our nonpartisan analysts and justice experts. We are here to help you unpack your state’s data and dig deeper into strategies to improve community safety. Contact Madeleine Dardeau at [email protected].
1 National Institute of Justice, “Five Things About Deterrence,” June 5, 2016, accessed November 29, 2023, https://nij.ojp.gov/topics/articles/five-things-about-deterrence.
2 Mike DeWine Governor of Ohio, “Governor DeWine Launches Ohio Crime Lab Efficiency Program to Eliminate Backlogs, Decrease Testing Turnaround Time,” news release, April 27, 2022, https://governor.ohio.gov/media/news-and-media/governor-dewine-launches-ohio-crime-lab-efficiency-program-to-eliminate-backlogs-decrease-testing-turnaround-time-04272022#:~:text=As%20part%20of%20Governor%20DeWine’s,and%20decrease%20evidence%20processing%20time.
3 “Criminal Identification (BCI),” Utah Department of Public Safety, accessed January 19, 2023, https://bci.utah.gov/coldcases/.
4 Steve Aos et al., The Comparative Costs and Benefits of Programs to Reduce Crime (Washington, Washington State Institute for Public Policy, 2011), https://www.wsipp.wa.gov/ReportFile/756/Wsipp_The-Comparative-Costs-and-Benefits-of-Programs-to-Reduce-Crime-v-4-0_Full-Report.pdf.
5 Jennifer Doleac and Anna Harvey, “Stemming Violence by Investing in Civic Goods,” Vital City, March 2, 2022, accessed December 1, 2023, https://www.vitalcitynyc.org/articles/stemming-violence-investing-in-civic-goods.
6 National Institute of Justice, “Early Childhood Victimization Among Incarcerated Adult Male Felons” (Washington DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice, 1998), https://www.ojp.gov/pdffiles/fs000204.pdf.
7 New Mexico Emergency Assistance Fund Guidelines, January 6, 2021, accessed December 1, 2023, https://www.cvrc.state.nm.us/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Emergency-Assistance-Funds-Guidelines-FFY2021.pdf.
8 Council of State Governments Justice Center analysis of Bureau of Justice Statistics Recidivism of Prisoners Released data in 34 states in 2012.
9 Matthew Estes, “Alabama Joins Reentry 2030 Initiative; Commits to Slash Recidivism in Half by Decade’s End,” Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Parole, October 6, 2023, accessed December 1, 2023, https://paroles.alabama.gov/2023/10/06/alabama-joins-reentry-2030-initiative-commits-to-slash-recidivism-in-half-by-decades-end/.
10 “Missouri Department of Corrections Director Updates on Reentry 2030 National Initiative,” Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce, accessed December 1, 2023, https://www.springfieldchamber.com/2023/07/17/missouri-department-of-corrections-direct-updates-on-reentry-2030-national-initiative/.