By Alan Greenblatt
When you think about crime, what do you picture? Probably the dark and scary streets of a crowded city. After all, cop shows always seem to be set in big cities.
But while violent crime is still a problem in urban areas, many of them are in fact safer now than they’ve been in decades. The violent crime rate in rural areas, meanwhile, has climbed above the national average for the first time in 10 years.
In Iowa, the overall violent crime rate rose by 3 percent between 2006 and 2016, but shot up by 50 percent in communities with fewer than 10,000 residents. Violent crime rates have doubled in rural counties in West Virginia over the past couple of decades, while tripling in New Hampshire. “Rural areas, which traditionally have had lower crime rates, have seen dramatic increases in incarceration rates,” says Jacob Kang-Brown, a senior research associate with the Vera Institute of Justice. “We see them now having the highest incarceration rates in the country.”
The explanations for this change are familiar ones. Not all rural areas are poor, but many have lost jobs as factories have closed and farming has become increasingly consolidated. Lack of employment has naturally led to increases in poverty, which is closely associated with crime. The opioid epidemic has hit rural America particularly hard, and methamphetamine remains a major problem in many small towns.