BANGOR, Maine — While U.S. military forces continue to be engaged in conflicts abroad, a survey of the home front by an international think tank finds that U.S. states have become more peaceful since 1995.

In a report released Wednesday, the Institute for Economics and Peace says Maine is the most peaceful state, while Louisiana is the least peaceful.

Maine was ranked first overall because it topped the list of states on three of the five per capita indicators: number of violent crimes, number of police officers, and incarceration rate, according to the institute. In the other two major indicators measured by the study, Maine ranked ninth in the country in the number of homicides per capita and 29th in the availability of small firearms.

“It is wonderful to get this great positive news about Maine when we have had so much negative attention lately,” said Ilze Petersons, program coordinator with the Bangor-based Peace & Justice Center of Eastern Maine, referring to recent national attention paid to Maine Gov. Paul LePage’s controversial decision to remove a labor-themed mural from a state office building.

Petersons also referred to the institute’s findings that peacefulness can pay dividends, reducing crime-related costs to society and also spurring economic activity and job creation.

“While the study counted only a few factors,  having this strong peaceful community, we can continue to work for budget priorities that can help with the other factors needed for peace and justice,” she said. “We can promote policies that value good paying jobs, health care, housing and safe and clean environment.”

“Peace translates into dollars and cents,” said IEP Founder Steve Killelea. “We have seen this in the findings of the 2010 Global Peace Index, where we found that a 25 percent reduction in global violence would free up $1.8 trillion  annually.”

The Australia-based institute defines peace as an absence of violence. The top three states were Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. Joining Louisiana at the bottom are Nevada and Tennessee.

The country’s overall peacefulness has increased 8 percent since 1995, primarily driven by a substantial decrease in homicide and violent crime, the report finds.

A state’s ranking strongly correlated with various socioeconomic factors, including the high school graduation rate, access to health insurance and the rate of infant mortality, according to the report. Maine’s graduation rate ranked 20th in the nation. Maine ranked sixth in access to health insurance and 15th in the rate of infant mortality.

Other findings from the report include:

  1. The total cost of violence per person in a state ranges from $656 in Maine to $2,458 in Louisiana. The USPI estimates that the economic effect of decreasing violence in states by 25 percent ranges from $126 million in Vermont to $16 billion in California.
  2. Regionally, Southern states were identified as being the least peaceful, while states in the Northeast were most peaceful. The peacefulness of states in the Midwest and West was about equal, with Midwest states being slightly more peaceful.
  3. Reductions in violence and crime to levels equal to Canada would yield an estimated $89 billion in direct savings, $272 billion in additional economic activity, and potentially create 2.7 million jobs.