South Carolina has the nation’s fifth-highest violent crime rate, with an apparent relationship between lower income and less education and higher crime rates, according to a new study and a justice policy expert.
In its analysis, 24/7 Wall St. said South Carolina had nearly 559 violent crimes per 100,000 residents, ranking behind only Tennessee, Nevada, Alaska, and New Mexico.
“Though it has been transforming itself into a hotbed of manufacturing, with companies such as Boeing and BMW opening manufacturing facilities, South Carolina has the nation’s fifth highest violent crime rate,” 24/7 Wall St. said. “Its murder rate of 6.9 per 100,000 is the fifth worst in the country. Its aggravated assault rate is the third worst. Roughly 25 percent have bachelor’s degrees, among the nation’s lowest figures.”
South Carolina’s 18.3 percent poverty rate is the ninth worst in the country, and well above the U.S. average of 15.9 percent, 24/7 Wall St. said in its study.
24/7 Wall St. said the apparent relationship between income, education and crime rates has been well documented, “although identifying the cause and effect is still a matter of debate.”
“Of the 10 states with the highest rates of violent crime, eight have lower rates of adults with bachelor’s degrees, and most of them had median income levels below the national figure in 2012,” 24/7 Wall St. said.
There is no “silver bullet” or simple remedy, said John Roman, a senior fellow in justice policy at the Urban Institute, which investigates and analyzes U.S. social and economic problems and issues.
A large part of the solution rests with “fixing places” by locating jobs in poor areas and finding ways to help residents gain needed skills, he said.
“Over the last couple of decades, the criminal justice system has been focused on trying to fix people and it has become apparent that we’re only going to get so far with that model,” Roman said. “Even if you can help somebody overcome a whole bunch of problems that led them to be criminal, if they’re going back to a place where crime is the social norm, it’s not reasonable to think they’ll be successful.”
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Earlier this year, the head of the South Carolina Department of Corrections told The Greenville News that the number of inmates in state prisons was going down, saving taxpayers money, but violent offenders made up two-thirds of the prison population, posing an increasing challenge to officials who manage the penal system.
William Byars Jr. said sentencing reform had helped reduce the prison population at a time of tight financial budgets by offering alternatives such as probation and short sentences for nonviolent offenses.
The increase in violent offenders, however, was challenging corrections officials to rehabilitate and care for them and keep youthful inmates from returning to prison, said Byars, a former Family Court judge and former director of the Department of Juvenile Justice.
Byars retired Sept. 30 as head of corrections.
Earlier this month, Sgt. Jennings Autrey of the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office said that while the county’s violent crime increased last year, the broader trend was for numbers to go slightly up and down over the last five years.
In identifying the 10 states with the highest rates of violent crime per 100,000 residents, 24/7 Wall St. used estimated populations and crime incidents from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, which measures incidents of eight types of violent and nonviolent crime for 2012.
24/7 Wall St. calculated the incidence of the four types of violent crime per 100,000 persons for that year: murder, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault. In addition to crime data, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed income, poverty and education statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey for 2012, the most recent available year.
“While violent crime rose just under 1 percent nationally in 2012, the trend for the past 20 years has been steady decline,” 24/7 Wall St. said in its study. “Crime peaked in the late 1980s, fueled by the crack cocaine epidemic. Beginning in the early 1990s, crime began to decline. Although the exact cause remains unclear, experts have pointed to factors such as better policing, demographic changes, higher incarceration rates, a drop in cocaine use and the introduction of a variety of social programs.”