Different National Contexts
By October 1995, when thirty scholars met to discuss crime and criminal justice at Stanford Law School, evidence of a new trend had been mounting for several months. In late July, the New York Times had heralded the "Mystery of New York, the Suddenly Safer City"1 and in mid-August it had given front-page coverage to the sharp drop in homicide rates across the U.S. during the first half of 1995. 2 By autumn, the steady downward trend in the homicide rate from its peak in 1991 seemed certain to continue through 1995. At year's end, attention had shifted from documenting to explaining what was an apparently consistent-and in some cases remarkable 3 -- decline in homicide in cities throughout the U.S.
Opinion on the reasons for this decrease is predictably divided. Criminal justice officials laud aggressive new forms of community policing and stricter sentencing. Criminologists cite changes in drug use and demographics, tempering these accounts with references to complex constellations of factors and "regression to the mean." While optimism has hardly waxed unchecked, among many practitioners and some scholars there is a growing, if cautious confidence that "something can work" in the effort to reduce criminal violence. Other observers, especially those who track age trends, are less sanguine. They see a new wave of violent crime on the horizon as age-specific homicide rates for teenagers continue to rise and thirty-nine million children begin to move into their teenage years over the