How bad is crime in Mississippi?
The real answer might surprise you.
Crime is an important social issue. Criminal acts can spread fear, destroy our sense of justice, lead to impoverishment, and even end lives. Policymakers have an obligation to consider serious solutions that address this issue in Mississippi.
But to address any issue, it’s first important to understand the scope and scale of the problem. That includes answering an important question: Just how bad is crime in Mississippi? Statistics from the FBI shine a light on violent crime in Mississippi and how it compares to other states.
Violent Crime Rates
Mississippi’s violent crime rate in 2020 was 27 percent lower than the national average.
In fact, violent crime in the state has remained consistently below the national average over the last decade. It was also lower than all other states in our region.
The homicide rate in Mississippi is notably higher than most other states, with most homicides concentrated in the City of Jackson.
The sheer number of homicides in the Capital City skews Mississippi’s data. Jackson accounted for less than 6 percent of the state’s population in 2020 but more than 50 percent of all homicides.
This was part of a national trend, where all states experienced homicide spikes in 2020. Homicide, a subset of the overall violent crime rate, jumped 66 percent in Mississippi over the three year period of 2017-2020, almost three times the national rate of increase.
In 2019, the violent crime rate in Mississippi was 3 percent lower than it was in 2010, but the spike in 2020 resulted in an 8 percent increase for the decade. It is too soon to tell if this is a trend or a blip on the otherwise downward trend in crime that began almost three decades ago.
What’s causing this?
Some have claimed that this recent spike in violent crime is due to justice reforms passed into law in recent years, but the evidence does not support that claim. All states experienced homicide spikes in 2020, and almost all experienced an increase in the broader measure violent crime. This includes states that implemented justice reforms similar to those passed by Mississippi and those that did not. In fact, the two states in our region that had the highest increase were states that did NOT pass these reforms.
The data makes clear that while Mississippi’s experience with increased violent crime is not unique, Mississippi’s homicide rate is notably higher, rising more quickly, and primarily focused in the city of Jackson.
How can we fix it?
Too often, common beliefs and understandings of criminal activity can be shaped by anecdotes that don’t always line up with reality. Sensational news stories that emphasize extreme or uncommon criminal acts can warp impressions of how frequently these things actually take place. That’s why it’s important to examine the actual data to understand the true scope of violent crime in Mississippi. Without taking the time to evaluate data, policymakers risk making subjective or uninformed decisions which could backfire and create unintended consequences.
Research clearly shows there are effective ways to reduce violent crime:
- Properly fund local law enforcement, making sure that funding is used to attract, pay well, and properly train officers
- Focus limited resources, including prosecutors’ time, on the most serious offenses
- Address mental health and addiction issues at the community level
- Provide reentry services aimed at life skills, work skills, and treatments for addiction and mental health
In response to the crime increases of the 1990s, many states adopted a “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” approach that proved to be both costly and ineffective. By focusing on targeted, evidence-based solutions, policymakers can avoid the mistakes of the past, make Mississippi a safer place to live, and do so at a lower cost to taxpayers.
To learn more about the actual state of crime in Mississippi, and proven solutions to reduce crime, check out Empower Mississippi’s latest report here.