In the early 1990s, with violent crime at record levels and public alarm growing, federal and state lawmakers responded with new policies that sent more offenders to prison for longer periods. The federal Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, in particular, made sweeping changes to U.S. correctional policy by imposing longer prison sentences for federal crimes and encouraging states to implement similar penalties. Two decades later, the nation's prison population has soared and crime has fallen to levels not seen since the 1960s.
The Pew Charitable Trusts' public safety performance project interviewed nine leading scholars about the relationship between imprisonment and crime. Although they tackle the question from different perspectives, these experts agree that the relationship between imprisonment and crime is complex and that a number of other factors are at work in the nation's crime decline.