Crime -- both property crime and violent crime -- is down to its lowest level in 40 years, especially in America's biggest cities, according to newly released data from the FBI's annual Uniform Crime Report. The data was collected from January through December 2010 and breaks out metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas as well as cities of various sizes. For the fourth year in a row, there has been yet another substantial decline in crime: 5.5 percent fewer murders, forcible rapes, robberies, and aggravated assaults were reported in 2010 than in 2009; property crimes fell by 2.8 percent over the same period and reported arsons dropped by 8.3 percent. "In all regions, the country appears to be safer," reports the New York Times. "The odds of being murdered or robbed are now less than half of what they were in the early 1990s, when violent crime peaked in the United States."
It was thought at the peak of the crime wave that crime was one of those socially intractable problems that we’d all have to suffer through and couldn’t do much about. A good portion of the decrease in crime isn’t of anyone’s direct doing—demographics looks like a positive for falling crime rates—but then again a lot of the lower crime rate is the result of deliberate efforts.
So we should keep this in mind when people argue that seemingly-intractable problem X is actually intractable and we shouldn’t try to do anything about it. Chances are if you try hard enough and pay a high enough price, the problem can be solved. The question is always whether the burden is too heavy and the price too high, and in this case you ought to have serious reservations. The problem is our overcrowded prison population (about which it’s worth reading Dahlia Lithwick on the Supreme Court’s decision, and also this Los Angeles Magazine feature from 2009 on the prison population of LA for demonstrations of exactly how bad the situation is for convicts). The result is inhumane conditions for prisoners, who as a consequence of prison become unemployable and often acquire debilitating health conditions, particularly mental health conditions. This is bad for them and it’s bad for the country, to have a huge semi-permanent population of violent sufferers. And as with so much, we lead the world—by far—in prisoners. Solve a problem and you get a new one.