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Looking for a little peace? Look to Maine, not Louisiana

Arricka Nowland, left, and Brian Lessels cross country ski on a snow covered street during a storm on March 1 in Portland, Maine. The northeasternmost state ranked No.1 in terms of
Arricka Nowland, left, and Brian Lessels cross country ski on a snow covered street during a storm on March 1 in Portland, Maine. The northeasternmost state ranked No.1 in terms of/

In the pursuit of peace, the crashing Atlantic waves hold more promise than the bayou.

A new study ranking American states and cities for "peacefulness" puts Louisiana on the bottom of the heap,  while Maine, tucked away in the northeast corner of the country, is rated No. 1.

The 2012 U.S. Peace Index, produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace, a nonprofit nonpartisan research organization with offices in Sydney Australia, New York and Washington, D.C., considered five factors in its rankings: the number of homicides, number of violent crimes, the incarceration rate, number of police department employees and the availability of small arms.  

It also offers an assessment of the benefits of peace, and the costs generated by violence.

In Maine, violence and violence containment cost taxpayers roughly $1,300 per person in 2011, the study said, compared to the average of $3,260 across the country.

If all the states had the same level of peacefulness as Maine, the total savings to the country would surpass $274 billion, according to the report.

"What is absolutely clear from the index," said Steve Killelea, founder and CEO of the institute, "is that peaceful states perform better across a range of economic, health, education and community factors. They have higher high school graduation rates, lower poverty, better access to basic services, higher labor force participation rates, higher life expectancy and less single parented families. Even social capital – like volunteerism, civic engagement, trust, and group membership — is higher in more peaceful states."

IEP, which also does a global peace index each year, showed that the most peaceful metropolitan area was Cambridge-Newton-Framingham in Massachusetts, while Detroit-Livonia-Dearborn in Michigan was the most violent, followed by New Orleans-Metairie-Kenner in Louisiana.

Some rankings have remained consistent — including that of Louisiana, which has been 50th among the states for two decades, according to the study.

Interactive map of 2012 state rankings

But Wyoming, which saw declines in homicides and violent crimes, climbed to 17th most peaceful, up from 23rd in 1995. Arizona plummeted into the bottom five least peaceful because of rising murder rates.

The report showed encouraging trends — with homicide rates across the nation falling by 50 percent since 1991, and a reduction in violent crime rates in 42 states during the same period.

"What the USPI shows is that over the past 20 years, America has become substantially more peaceful, witnessing a significant reduction in direct violence," said Killelea.

Experts attribute the decline in violence to a range of factors, said Killelea, including better policing, an aging population, rising socioeconomic standards and the use of private security, to name a few.

But the homicide rate in the United States remains much higher than in countries that are similar in socioeconomic terms, he said.

This difference appears to be related to the availability of guns in the United States, said Killelea. He noted that while the rate of violence in the United States is about 30 percent higher than in Canada, the homicide rate in the United States is about 400 percent higher.

"We’re not making any moral judgments on this," said Killelea. "But the availability of guns is associated with higher levels of homicide."

And even with declines in violence, its costs to the United States remain high, he said.

"To highlight the size of the problem, if all of the people who were incarcerated were contained in one city it would be the fourth-largest in the U.S.," he said.

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