Murders in El Salvador tumbled 56.8% in 2022 amid a widespread crackdown on gang violence, the government said on Tuesday, extending a sharp drop in killings in a nation which for years had one of the world’s worst murder rates.
Authorities registered a total of 496 homicides last year, down from 1,147 in 2021, Defense Minister Francis Merino said.
That works out to a rate of 8 killings per 100,000 residents in 2022 — less than a tenth of El Salvador’s murder rate back in 2015. Reuters notes that the 2022 “numbers are a sharp drop from a peak of 103 killings per 100,000 residents in 2015.”
El Salvador’s current homicide rate is not much different from America’s. In 2020, the U.S. had a homicide rate of about 7 per 100,000 residents.
Some big cities in the U.S. are now more dangerous than El Salvador. Philadelphia had more than 500 homicides last year, more than El Salvador, even though El Salvador has more than four times as many people as Philadelphia.
The decline in murder in El Salvador is apparently due to criminals being incarcerated at higher rates than in the past. “The reduction in homicides is a result of the state of exception, because that number of criminals is no longer on the streets harming the population,” Merino said.
In the current crackdown on crime, “more than 60,000 people have been imprisoned — 1% of the entire population,” reports Ioan Grillo at Unherd. By contrast, the U.S. incarcerates only a fraction of 1% of its adult population. Since El Salvador and Turkmenistan have substantially higher incarceration rates than the U.S., claims that the U.S. incarcerates a higher fraction of its people than any other country are no longer true.
El Salvador is incarcerating more criminals and holding them longer. Longer sentences keep dangerous people locked up so they can’t get out and harm law-abiding people. Studies of countries with short jail sentences have found that letting criminals out early increases the crime rate, making longer sentences a good investment.
Studies have found that most violent crimes are due to repeat offenders, who often are released over and over again to commit more crimes. In a Swedish study, 291 individuals were each convicted of at least 25 violent crimes. The highest observed was 80 violent crime convictions for one man. Offenders are able to commit these crimes because of a revolving-door justice system that lets many offenders out quickly to commit more crimes. Killings have increased in Baltimore, where most killings are committed by people who previously were convicted of a serious crime, but who are no longer in jail due to their past lenient sentence.
Criminal-justice expert Michael Rushford says that longer sentences make inmates less likely to reoffend when they finally are released, citing a study released by the U.S. Sentencing Commission. Studies of two California laws indicate that longer sentences also deter some crimes, by making it more costly to commit a crime. Thus, letting inmates out of prison early can increase the crime rate, even when the inmate being released is no longer dangerous.
El Salvador’s successes in detaining large numbers of criminals have come at a cost, the suspension of certain constitutional rights. As Reuters reports, a “temporary state of emergency” was imposed last year, “suspending certain constitutional rights in order to combat the notorious Barrio 18 and MS-13 gangs…Rights groups have raised questions about alleged abuses during the state of emergency, including possible arrests of innocent people.”
Courtesy of Liberty Unyielding (“Homicide drops in El Salvador to rate similar to United States”)
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