Crime and Justice in North Carolina:
 An Examination of 1984 - 1994 Data and Trends

The influx of drugs (especially crack cocaine), gang activity, increased availability of assault weapons, escalating incidents of domestic violence, and a more hostile and anxiety ridden teenage population have all been postulated to be the driving forces behind the new crime wave of the past decade. While it may be impossible to reach consensual agreement on the causes of the current crime epidemic, it is much easier to identify the economic, social, and psychological effects that crime has exerted on the nation as a whole.

The problem of crime, and its deleterious impact and negative consequences, has affected and influenced the nation's criminal justice agencies to an even greater extent. Rural and urban law enforcement agencies have extensively stretched their manpower and operational budgets, court dockets have expanded beyond manageable portions, and the nation's correctional population has experienced a tremendous quantitative and qualitative transformation. Unfortunately North Carolina's criminal justice system has not been immune to these consequences and has also experienced a significant level of strain and pressure on its workload activities and operational resources.

This report will briefly delineate a profile of crime and justice trends in North Carolina during the past decade. The state's reported crime rates will be contrasted with both the South's and the Nation's reported crime rates. Trend data will be presented with an emphasis on highlighting the activities of the state's criminal justice system and its major components. Arrest rates, court case filing rates, and incarceration trends will be discussed in an effort to illuminate the quantitative aspects of crime in North Carolina. Juvenile arrest and court data will also be discussed in an effort to provide criminal justice practitioners and policy makers with a general overview of how the current level of crime has specifically affected the juvenile justice system.

Reported Crime

North Carolina's Reported Index Crime Rate experienced a 39.6 % increase between 1984 and 1994 with the sharpest increase occurring between 1988 and 1992. Reported crime rates for the South and the Nation also experienced growth since 1984. This growth has not been as significantly pronounced as that reported in North Carolina. While 1994 national data are not yet available, the 1993 data reveal a 22% increase for the South and a modest 9% increase for the Nation since 1984 (North Carolina's reported crime rate grew 40.8% from 1984 to 1993). The state's reported crime rate surpassed the national rate in 1991 and has remained higher in each successive year.

Annual reported crime rates for North Carolina, the South, and the Nation have steadily declined since 1991. Despite these declining crime rates the rate of decline has been less pronounced for North Carolina. Consequently; if current trends continue the crime rate for the historically higher Southern states will dovetail with the state's rate producing a possible future scenario in which North Carolina has a higher rate of reported crime than the South and the Nation.

The dramatic increase in the state's reported index crime rate, since 1984, can be directly attributed to tremendous growth in the number of Reported Violent Crimes during the period of 1988 to 1992. During this brief period the state's violent crime rate experienced a 35.3% increase. While the violent crime rates of the Southern states and the Nation remain higher than North Carolina's, these regions only experienced respective increases of 25.4% and 18.9% from 1988 to 1992. North Carolina's reported violent crime rate appears to have leveled off after the peak period of 1988 to 1992 and has declined 4.3% in the past two years.

During the past decade Reported Robbery was the fastest growing violent crime in North Carolina with a 142% increase between 1984 and 1994. The robbery rate grew 72.6% from 1988 to 1992; a rate of growth which far exceeded the expanding growth in the robbery rates for both the South (15.5%) and the Nation (19.3%) during this period. This excessive growth has extensively propelled North Carolina's 1984 robbery rate, of 76.8 robberies per 100,000 citizens, to a rate of 186 robberies, per 100,000, in 1994. Consequently; the gap between the state's rate and the National rate has narrowed significantly over the past decade.

A significant rate of growth in the number of Reported Rapes has also closed the gap between the state's rate and the previously much higher rates of both its Southern neighbors and the Nation as a whole. The rate of reported rapes in North Carolina grew 52.5% over the past decade. This growth was 2.5 times larger than the rate of growth in the South and nearly four times larger than the National growth rate.

While robbery and rape were the state's two fastest growing violent crimes, during the last decade, Murder and Aggravated Assault rates also experienced excessive growth. Offense rates for aggravated assault and murder peaked in 1992 and 1993 respectively. The state's annual murder rate surpassed the National rate in 1988 and the Southern rate in 1993. The murder rate grew 42.3% from 1984 to 1994. The reported aggravated assault rate jumped 45% since 1984.

The rate of growth in North Carolina's Reported Property Crime exceeded the growth rates for both the South and the Nation over the course of the prior decade. The state's reported property crime rate swelled 37.6% from 1984 to 1993. During this same period the rate for the South increased 18.5% and the National rate experienced a slight 5.5% increase. Consequently; the state's rate of reported property crime has been higher than the National rate since 1991 and has closely approximated the Southern rate since 1992.

The state's higher and faster rate of growth for all property offenses has been driven by its Burglary and Larceny reporting patterns. From 1984 to 1993 the Reported Burglary rate increased 34% in North Carolina while declining 13% for the Nation and 1% for the Southern states. The state's burglary rates have consistently been higher than the Nation's since 1987 and the South's since 1990. The state's reported larceny rate grew 36.9% from 1984 to 1993 and surpassed the national rate in 1991. The Southern larceny rate grew a lower 22.3% from 1984 to 1993 and may drop below the state rate in the next year or two.

Motor Vehicle Theft is the only remaining property offense in which North Carolina's rate is significantly lower than both the National rate and the Southern rate. However; the rate of reported motor vehicle thefts in North Carolina experienced the greatest percentage of growth (62.6%) when contrasted with the South (61.7%) and the Nation (38.5%) during the period of 1984 to 1993. North Carolina's rate escalated from 182 thefts, per 100,000, in 1984 to 309.2 thefts, per 100,000, in 1994.


North Carolina's Total Arrest Rate expanded by 33.7% from 1984 to 1994. As with reported crime the most salient contributor to this rise was a substantial increase in violent crime. The combined arrest rate for the Part I violent crimes (murder, manslaughter, robbery, rape, and aggravated assault) grew 55.9% during the last decade; a decade in which the combined Part I property crime arrest rate (burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft) only increased 22.3%. In 1984 arrests for violent crimes constituted 26.2% of all Part I arrests; with property crime arrests constituting the remaining 73.8%. By 1994 this offense distribution had shifted with violent crime arrests constituting a larger 30.6% and property crime arrests contributing a lower 69.4%.

Growth occurred in the arrest rates for each specific Part I Violent Offense with the largest increase occurring for robbery which rose 92.9% from 1984 to 1994. The second largest increase occurred in the murder rate which escalated 53.4% during the last decade. Arrest rates for aggravated assault and rape increased 53.2% and 2.6% respectively.

During the peak period in which reported violent crime rates were high (1988-1992) arrest rates were correspondingly high for three of the four violent offenses. Arrest rates for murder grew 57% while robbery and aggravated assault arrest rates increased by 50% and 34% respectively. Rape arrest rates declined 5.3% from 1988 to 1992.

Arrest rates for the Part I Property Crimes experienced growth during the past decade; however the growth which occurred for each specific offense was much less pronounced than the growth which occurred for any specific violent offense. Where robbery arrests grew by 92.9%, the largest percentage of growth, among the property offenses, was a 25.3% increase in the larceny arrest rate. The burglary arrest rate experienced a 14.4% increase, while the arrest rate for motor vehicle theft climbed 7.7% over the course of the decade.

Noteworthy increases were also apparent for two other offenses. The arrest rates for Drug and Weapon Law Violations experienced a substantial amount of growth since 1984. The weapon arrest rate skyrocketed 115.7% while the drug arrest rate climbed 79.2%. The drug and weapon arrest rates grew 20.4% and 27.7% respectively during the trend high period of 1988-1992.

Superior Court Case Filings

The Superior Court Case Filing Rates, for both felony and misdemeanor offenses, expanded from fiscal year 1984/85 to fiscal year 1993/94 with the largest percentage of growth occurring within the felony offense category (felonies grew 81.5%, misdemeanors grew 15%). Felony filing rates increased each successive fiscal year from 1984/85 to 1992/93 with a tremendous amount of growth occurring during the violent crime period of 1988 to 1992. Filing rates swelled 43.3% during this high crime period.

Felony filing rates increased for each of the specific Part I Violent Offenses with the greatest percentage of growth being noted for robbery. The filing rate for robbery in fiscal year 1993/94 (56.63 cases per 100,000 population) represented a 134.3% increase over the filing rate in fiscal year 1984/85 (24.17 cases per 100,000). Substantial growth also occurred in the filing rates for assault (83.9%), murder (78.9%), and rape (62.7%).

The Filing Rate for burglary cases increased 87% from fiscal year 1984/85 to 1992/93, while the larceny filing rate declined 17.5% during the same period. The filing rate for controlled substances cases escalated significantly over the last decade with the 1984/85 filing rate (108.2 casesper 100,000 population) growing by 244.7% to the trend high mark of 372.9 cases per 100,000.

Incarceration Trends

The Prison Admission Rate grew 71.7% from 240.5 admissions, per 100,000, in 1984 to 412.9 admissions, per 100,000, in 1994. The admission rate experienced a steady 66.7% linear increase from 1987 to 1992 and has declined 8.4% since this sharp increase.

Growth in the admission rates varied considerably for each of the three major offense categories. The percentage of change for Public Order Crimes (112%) exceeded the amount of growth in the admission rates for Violent (69.6%) and Property (43.1) offenders. Annual admission rates for public order offenders, such as drug and weapon law violators, exceeded the annual admission rates for violent offenders each year during the excessively high violent crime era of 1988 to 1992.

An analysis of Prison Admissions by Sentence Length reveals a dramatic contrast in the sentences of those inmates admitted in 1984 and those admitted last year which may be indicative of the current and more strict sentencing philosophy. The proportion of inmates sentenced to six months or less has declined from 18.1%, of all new admissions in 1984, to 4.1% of the 1994 admissions. Inmates receiving sentences of six months to one year represented 17.7% of the 1984 admissions and a lesser 9.4% of the 1994 admissions. The proportion of inmates admitted for sentences of one to two years, and two to five years, remained relatively constant over the ten-year period; while the proportion of the new admit tee population, receiving ten years to life, grew from 7.7% in 1984 to 12.3% in 1994. The percentage of admit tees receiving life or death sentences experienced little change during this period.

North Carolina's Incarceration Rate has risen 33.9% since 1984 and has experienced a constant rate of growth since 1988. The number of individuals housed in the state's prisons grew from 306.9, per 100,000 citizens, in 1984 to 410.9, per 100,000, in 1994. The incarceration rate experienced an average annual increase of nearly five percent between 1988 and 1992. Since 1988 the rate has undergone a 33% increase, an increase nearly equal to the increase for the entire 1984 to 1994 period.

The relationship between Admission and Separation Rates has vacillated considerably since 1984. The admission rate remained slightly higher from 1984 to 1986; however in 1987 the two rates converged indicating an approximate 1:1 ratio between the rate at which inmates were admitted to prison and the rate at which they were released. The admission rate once again surpassed the separation rate in 1989 and demonstrated a consistently higher and faster rate of growth for the following three years. While both rates have declined since 1992 the ratio, or distance, between the two has moderately widened with the admission rate continuing to exceed the separation rate.

Juvenile Justice Trends

Violent Crime Arrest Rates for juveniles, and 16 and 17 year old youthful offenders, have experienced an exorbitant amount of growth since 1984. The violent crime arrest rate for youthful offenders swelled 189.9% during the past decade; a decade in which the violent crime arrest rate for juveniles superseded that of their 16 and 17 year old peers with an astounding increase of 221.8%. The rates for both offender groups climbed steadily between 1987 and 1994 with a 131.8% increase occurring in the juvenile rate and a 135% increase occurring in the violent crime arrest rate for 16 and 17 year olds.

Contrasted with the dramatically increasing violent crime rates the Property Crime Arrest Rates pale in comparison. Property crime arrest rates only increased 11.1% for the juveniles and 42.9% for the youthful offenders.

Drug and Weapon Violation Arrest Rates also expanded considerably between 1984 and 1994. The greatest growth occurred in the weapon violation arrest rates with a 678.8% increase for the juveniles and a 366.8% increase for the youthful offenders. Weapon arrest rates have demonstrated a strong linear increase for both groups since 1987. The juvenile drug arrest rate declined from 1984 to 1987, yet despite this decline still demonstrated a cumulative 170.3% increase from 1984 to 1994. The drug arrest rate for 16 and 17 year old youthful offenders grew from 5.1 arrests, per 1,000 16 and 17 year olds, to 14.2 arrests during the last decade. This represents a 178.4% rate of growth from 1984 to 1994.

The filing rates for both Delinquency Petitions and Adjudicatory Hearings experienced linear increases from fiscal year 1984/85 to fiscal year 1993/94. The petition filing rate grew from 23.9, in 1984/85, to 45.65 in 1993/94. While the petition filing rate increased by 91%, the filing rate for delinquency hearings grew a slightly lower 88.4%. The hearing rate in fiscal year 1993/94 (46.2 per 1,000 10 to 15 year olds) greatly surpassed the 1984/85 hearing rate of 24.5.

The Juvenile Training School Admission Rate, for teens between the ages of 10 and 15, has escalated 46.2% since 1984. While the prevalence of this rate continues to remain low (1.30 admissions, per 1,000 teens, in 1984; and 1.90 in 1994) the sheer number of admissions has grown significantly. Data for 1994 reveal a trend high 1,022 total youth school admissions. This represents a 41% increase over the number admitted in 1984 (N=725). This growth is surprising when considering that the 10 to 15 year old population declined 3.7% during this same period.


While it is difficult to determine the extent to which drugs, weapons, gangs, evolving citizen perceptions, and varying local enforcement priorities influence crime rates through an examination of annually aggregated system level data; the trend data presented in this report illustrate how the state's crime rates have risen and document the impact of this increase on the state's criminal justice agencies and their respective workloads. It is anticipated that by presenting a ten year trend analysis from a "systems" perspective the information in this report will serve as a springboard for stimulating system wide discussions on the causes of, and potential solutions for, crime in North Carolina. Consequently; timely, useful, and relevant information will be available for criminal justice planning and policy formulation.