According to the most recent CDC figures, Louisiana has the highest homicide rate of any state, at 11.7 per thousand. Mississippi is close at 11.4, with Alabama the third highest state at 8.1 homicide deaths per 100,000 people. Three states are over 7 (Missouri, Arkansas, and South Carolina), nine states top 6, and seven states show a rating of 5 or more. Three states stand at 0 (New Hampshire, Vermont, and North Dakota) and the other half of the 50 states range from 1.6 to 4.7.
In the same year, 2014, Puerto Rico’s homicide rate was 18.5. It fell to 16.3 in 2015, according to calculations by InSight Crime. Accurate figures are hard to come by, since the population is falling too quickly to allow stable calculations, but it’s clear that the numbers are still much higher than those in the 50 states. They’re higher than the rates in Mexico and a number of Latin American nations, too.
What does this have to do with statehood?
We can’t say that the United States mainland is extremely safe — look at Louisiana and Mississippi — but we can say that every state is safer than Puerto Rico when it comes to homicide.
One big reason is that Puerto Rico is appealing to the drug trade. Pedro Pierluisi, the outgoing Resident Commissioner for Puerto Rico, worked hard to get law enforcement to pay more attention to Puerto Rico, but it remains an easy entry point to the mainland U.S. with less federal funding and law enforcement attention than the border with Mexico. The United States is responsible for protecting Puerto Rico from organized crime. Since Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory, though, the United States is not required to provide the same level of protection that it would for a state. Since Puerto Rico has limited voice in the federal government, there is not as much pressure to protect the Island as there is to protect border states.
Another big reason is poverty. Homicide levels are generally higher in the poorer states than in the richer ones. Puerto Rico, largely because of its position as a territory, has a higher poverty level than any state. All territories which have become states have seen significant economic improvement. There is no reason to think that Puerto Rico would not gain the same benefits from statehood. Economic improvement is likely to improve the homicide rate for Puerto Rico. Pre- and post-statehood homicide rate data for U.S. territories that have become states is simply not available, but economic data is. The difference in economic position for states and territories, and the correlation between poverty and homicide rates in the U.S. are strong enough that it is logical to connect Puerto Rico’s homicide rates with poverty. The economic benefits of statehood could save many lives.