Crime and Justice Trends: the New York City Story, 1981-2018

In March 2019, Dr. Jeremy Travis, Executive Vice President of Criminal Justice at Arnold Ventures, (and founder and former co-director of the Data Collaborative for Justice), spoke at New York Law School about “Crime and Justice Trends: the New York City Story, 1981-2018.” He used DCJ data to highlight sharp declines in the number of arrests, pretrial admissions, prison sentence and probation rates, and arrests for drug charges in New York City over the years. Dr. Travis noted that these declines came after an “era of punitive excess” and that racial disparities continue to be a persistent feature of the criminal legal process in New York City. He concluded that additional reforms are needed to effectively and fairly address crime and safety, including reducing excessive sentences, adopting mechanisms for compassionate release, and creating trust between communities and the police.

Key findings from the presentation are summarized below.

Low Crime Rates

  • There has been a decrease (76%) in overall crime rates since 1990, which followed an increase (29.5%) of violent crime between 1984 and 1990.
  • Property crime has decreased by 87% between 1981 and 2017

Low Enforcement Rates

  • Both felony and misdemeanor arrests , in addition to criminal summonses and stops, fell following a period of high enforcement rates.

Low Incarceration and Supervision Rates

  • Pretrial admissions, probation sentences, prison sentences and parole violation have all decreased since the early 1990s-2000s. This trend in low incarceration and supervision rates comes subsequent to a sharp rise in each of these metrics.

The Consequences of Drug Enforcement

  • Both felony (434% ) and misdemeanor (1071%) drug arrests increased substantially between 1980 and 1989 and between 1980 and 2000 respectively. Both types of arrests fell between 1989 – 2017 and 2000 – 2017.
  • Probation sentences for drug charges increased 240.2% between 1984 and 1991, and decreased 87.7% between 1991 and 2017.
  • Prison drug sentences increased 583.9% between 1983 and 1991, and decreased 84.1% between 1991 and 2017. 

Persistent Racial Disparities

  • Despite a decrease in enforcement actions, incarceration rates, and enforcement of drug-related offenses, racial disparities persisted throughout the study period.
  • Felony arrest rates for young men (18-24) between 1990 and 2017 saw a greater decline for White (76.3%) men as opposed to Latino (68.7%) and Black (63%) men.
  • Prison sentences for young men (18-24) between 1990 and 2017 declined most significantly for White (87%) men as opposed to Latino (80%) and Black (74.5%) men.

View the full PowerPoint presentation on the left. A recording of the presentation can be found here.


View full video presentation here