By Eddie Burkhalter, Appleseed Researcher
A recent report by the nonpartisan, nonprofit Council of State Governments (CSG) found that overall crime, including violent crime, across the U.S. and in Alabama, has been on the decline.
The report’s findings undercut the pervasive narrative of surging crime used to frighten communities and support mass incarceration. But as CSG’s data shows, as prison populations have declined, so has crime.
The CSG report, which used crime data reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, also supports Alabama appleseed’s own research that showed overall crime is decreasing.
Appleseed is committed to educating policymakers as to the importance of using research, data, and evidence-based practices to tackle Alabama’s toughest challenges. As we head into the 2023 legislative session, we will continue to lift up nonpartisan research, such as this, to help craft informed decisions about public safety.
The CSG report notes that the violent crime rate between 2019 and 2021 fell in 25 states and increased in just four. Additionally, law enforcement agencies in 21 states failed to report sufficient crime data to the FBI to draw a conclusion on crime rates in 2021.
In states that didn’t report enough data to make a determination on changes in crime through 2021, researchers for the report looked at data through 2020.
In Alabama, which is among the 21 states with insufficient 2021 data, the overall violent crime rate between 2019 and 2020 fell by 12 percent, according to the report. Aggravated assaults dropped by 6 percent and robberies by 33 percent. Rapes fell by 32 percent while homicides increased by 12 percent. Gun violence remains concerning in several Alabama cities, but there is no evidence that fear of long prison sentences or harsh punishment is stemming the problem. Alabama has some of the nation’s harshest sentences, including the death penalty, yet gun violence persists.
The decrease in overall crime is mirrored in the decrease of incarcerated Alabamians, and a drop in the number of people serving prison sentences for violent crimes, according to the report.
In Alabama, “There were 15,189 people in prison for violent offenses at the end of 2020, comprising 60 percent of the total prison population,” the report reads. “Since 2010, the number of people in prison for violent offenses decreased by 10 percent. During that same period, the number of people in prison for nonviolent offenses decreased by 32 percent.”
Just 52 percent of law enforcement agencies reported their full data to the FBI’s National Incident-Based Reporting System for 2021, which the bureau had used alongside the older Uniform Crime Reporting Program until changing fully over to the new system last year.
Among Alabama’s agencies that did not report 2021 data are some of the largest, including the Huntsville Police Department, which covers a jurisdiction of 202,884 people, and the Montgomery Police Department, which covers a jurisdiction of 197,755 residents.
Additional, Alabama-specific crime data can be found at crime.alabama.gov, a collaboration between the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) and the University of Alabama’s Culverhouse College of Business, Institute of Data and Analytics. The website documents the steady decline in Alabama crime from 2005 to 2019 (the most recent year a full data set is available.)