A new study asserts that crime plummeted with the price of street drugs. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

It is thought that most crime in the United States is tied to drugs, either by people indulging in habits or trading in them. A paper from John Jay University suggests the crime rate lowers when drug prices drop.

The crime drop

In the early 1990s, crime, or at least the number of crimes committed, started to drop drastically. The effects were particularly noticed in large cities where crime rates were formerly high, most notably New York City. According to CBS, many in the law enforcement community feel, naturally, that it was “more effective policing.” However, a recent paper by anthropologists from John Jay University have a different take.

According to the Daily Mail, a recent report titled “More Drugs, Less Crime” asserts that the prices of harder street drugs, such as cocaine and heroin, have fallen through the floor since the 1980s, leading to criminals not having to commit as many crimes to secure their supply.

Reagan to thank

According to The Atlantic, a key factor was drug policy under the Reagan administration. Reagan’s policy was to target drug cultivation and step up enforcement, but it targeted marijuana over other drugs.
By focusing law enforcement efforts on marijuana, this allowed drug traffickers to increase heroin and cocaine exports.

The prices of heroin, crack and cocaine tumbled. In the mid-1980s, one gram of pure cocaine cost up to $460; by 2000, it had fallen to less than $200. Similar drops in drug prices were observed in heroin prices; in 1984, 0.4 grams of pure heroin cost $1,072; in 2007, the same amount cost $345.90, almost two-thirds less.

Along with the drop in cost was a drop in crimes. Assaults in New York City in 1988 were 966.9 per 100,000 people. In 2007, the assault rate was 332 per 100,000, a nearly identical decline.

Many competing theories

According to the report, the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated that 17 percent of state and federal prisoners had committed crimes to get money for drugs as of 2004. As the university report’s authors note, “there is a virtual industry” that explains why violent crime and property crime declined in the 1990s and into today. According to a 2009 article in the New York Daily News, the National Bureau of Economic Research found it was also tied to more and better psychotherapeutic pharmaceutical drugs being available, especially those that combat Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder. More people are medicated, in a better mental state and thus less likely to commit crimes.

University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt, co-author of the “Freakonomics” books, controversially asserted that legalized abortion in the 1970s led to more women whose children would be at the greatest risk of becoming career criminals having abortions. Thus, fewer children that would have been criminals were being born.


CBS: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-500202_162-57345479/analysts-better-policing-behind-cut-in-crime/

Daily Mail: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2077346/To-decrease-crime-Big-Apple-decrease-cost-hard-drugs-suggest-New-York-scholars.html

The Atlantic: http://www.theatlanticwire.com/national/2011/12/reagans-war-drugs-reduced-crime-unexpected-way/46466/

New York Daily News: http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/drugs-crime-health-reformers-worry-setting-back-pharmaceutical-innovation-article-1.388310

More Drugs, Less Crime (PDF – Requires Adobe Reader): http://www.jjay.cuny.edu/Wendel_Curtis_Hamilton_Dhondt_and_Riggs.pdf

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