What we can learn from the U.S. about fighting crime

Winnipeggers are no strangers to the debate over what to do about crime. Since most of this blog’s traffic comes from Winnipeg and southern Manitoba, I hardly need to recount the details of the problems we’ve had this summer with homicides in the city’s troubled North End, including the killing of an innocent guest at a wedding social that was sprayed with gunfire.

Whenever a violent crime shocks the city, there is no shortage of discussion in the city’s newspapers and on talk radio about what to do about crime.

What has always struck me as odd about the debate is that few people ask why Winnipeg had 34 homicides in 2004 while Oslo, Norway — with a similar population — only had eight homicides.

After all, if you’re dealing with a problem, it’s only logical to learn whatever you can about those who seem to be doing things right.

Perhaps lacking in curiousity, many commentators suggest that we look south of the border for answers, such as tough sentencing laws that have resulted in 360 California crooks getting life sentences for shoplifting, and reinstatement of the death penalty. While there might be a case to be made that locking murderers up for a long time prevents them from victimizing civilians, it’s kind of like deciding that it would be a good idea to close the barn door only after the horse is long gone.

In other words, waiting until someone becomes a criminal before you do something about it is not an effective crime-fighting strategy.

Nonetheless, there is something valuable that we can learn from the U.S. It’s that education reduces crime.

Take a look at the chart below. In the upper right hand corner, you have a bunch of states that have higher rates of high school graduation and lower homicide rates, in both cases in comparison to the 50-state median.

In the lower right hand corner, you have another bunch of states that have both poorer high school completion rates and higher homicide rates.

There are only a handful of states that are exceptions to this rule.

Minnesota Nice: The relationship between homicide and high school completion rates in the U.S. Neighbouring Minnesota, with its well-educated population, does well. North Dakota's okay, too. Louisiana just plain sucks.

Minnesota Nice: The relationship between homicide and high school completion rates in the U.S. Neighbouring Minnesota, with its well-educated population and lower homicide rate, does well. North Dakota's okay, too. Louisiana, in the lower right corner, just plain sucks.

You can see the strong relationship between high school completion rates and murder rates. In fact, a quick regression analysis shows that every one-percent increase in the high school graduation rate cut a state’s homicide rate by an average of 0.483 per 100,000. Forty-four percent of the difference in homicide rates between states could be explained by differences in the high school completion rate.*

If the U.S. were to raise its high school completion rate by just one percentage point, it could expect 1,200 to 1,700 fewer homicides per year.

Education’s crime-fighting abilities have long been known, but rarely mentioned in the newspaper and talk-radio debates.

“Enriched early childhood programs appear to reduce future crime, and in the long run they are the most effective way to reduce crime –- far more effective per dollar than additional expenditures on police or incarceration,” two researchers from the University of Chicago wrote  in 2005.

“If the number of high school dropouts [at age 20] was cut in half, the government would reap $45 billion via extra tax revenues and reduced costs of public health, of crime and justice, and in welfare payments,” four researchers concluded in a 2007 publication.

The difference that an educated population makes can be seen in the difference between safer areas of Winnipeg such as North River Heights**, where only one percent of 25-64 year olds had not completed high school in 2006, and rougher areas like the area of the North End bordered by Main, Salter, Burrows and the CPR main line, where 42 percent of 25-64s had never finished high school.

* – Calculation excludes D.C., which is an outlier due to its high homicide rate and its lack of rural areas. If I include the District, then I can conclude that every one percentage point increase in the high school graduation rate reduces the homicide rate by 0.495 per 100,000 and that such an improvement in high school graduation rates would result in 1,000 to 2,000 fewer homicides per year.

** – Between the Assiniboine River, Kingsway, Waverley and the train tracks.


About theviewfromseven
A lone wolf and a bit of a contrarian who sometimes has something to share.

4 Responses to What we can learn from the U.S. about fighting crime

  1. Fat Arse says:


    Excellent observations. The inverse relationship between matriculation and murder is salient & one that our government’s should be addressing in a more proactive manner. In our Manitoba context this would seem to point to the need for a new, dynamic, and more concerted effort to keep our disadvantaged/underclass pupils in school at all costs. Regrettably, we seem to be failing short.

  2. Nice work. The relationship between the two is even stronger than I would have anticipated.

    It’s also a breath of fresh air compared to the tired arguments that a tough-on-crime is the only solution to crime — it eludes me why proponents of those arguments aren’t open to any and all reasonable solutions that the evidence suggests works.

    Keeping young people in school may not be the only solution to crime, but I agree 100% with Fat Arse — it should be the goal of an concerted effort in Manitoba.

  3. theviewfromseven says:

    Thanks, Fat Arse and Prairie Topiary, for your comments!

  4. cenejactort@gawab.com says:

    yeh right.. great post, Thank You

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