With More Criminals Behind Bars, Shouldn't The Crime Rate Fall?

One of the oldest theories in law enforcement says if you lock up enough criminals and keep them behind bars, the crime rate should go down.

But is the theory true?

Montgomery County has more people behind bars than ever before.

So what's going on in our streets?

Are the crime numbers falling?

The city jail has 390 people behind bars right now, which is about thirty percent over capacity, and the county jail is averaging 700, about double its capacity.  So with all these arrests happening, should the city see crime numbers drop?

"It's hard to tie the two things together," said Dr. Larry Spencer, a professor of criminology at Alabama State University.

In June 2006, Montgomery suffered two murders, 47 robberies, twelve assaults and 921 combined thefts and auto thefts.

In June 2007, Montgomery had one murder, a big jump in robberies with 73, twenty-four assaults, and a little more than a thousand combined thefts.

In July 2006, the city recorded two murders, 60 robberies, 21 assaults, and 917 combined thefts.

In July 2007, murders tripled to six, robberies fell slightly to 57 and so did assaults (20), and combined thefts were up about ten percent.

The city says overall crime is about the same and the numbers seem to support that.

That probably surprises most people, especially since the city started a new crime reduction team which made more than 200 felony arrests in the last few months and took thousands of pounds of drugs and dozens of guns off the streets.

You would think with so many people arrested, that would cause the crime rate to fall. But a police spokesman says...not so fast.

"If you're more active, more progressive, you're going to create more statistics because you're going to have more arrests," said Capt. Huey Thornton.

Professor Spencer says there's another reason the numbers haven't fallen.

"As soon as we lock one up, we have another one to replace that type of behavior," he said.

So, when should we expect to see those numbers fall?

Dr. Spencer says it isn't fair to judge MPD's latest crime reduction efforts after only a few months. He says criminologists like to look at trends for much longer periods, like a year or two.

But he also says even then, he doesn't expect to see a direct correlation between more people in jail and lower crime. That's something scientists have tried to establish for a long time, and haven't yet.

Dr. Spencer also says he was initially skeptical about the city's upcoming Crime Free Weekend.

Now, he says the city must see if the most creative ideas can put a dent in a growing crime problem.