America’s prison population is shrinking. But will it last?

by Brad Plumer

For decades now, social scientists and criminologists have been railing against America’s sky-high incarceration rate. There are 1.5 million adults in state and federal prisons around the country, and many experts believe the costs now vastly outweigh the benefits.

So at first glance, this December report from the U.S. Justice Department looks like encouraging news. After years of relentless increases, the number of adults in state and federal prisons has finally started dropping, declining slightly in 2010 and then falling 0.9 percent in 2011 (or 15,023 fewer prisoners):


Why the decline? As the report details, about 70 percent of the state-level drop was due to California. Back in 2011, the state legislature passed new laws to shrink the prison population in response to a court order. As a result, California slowed down the rate of admissions and had 15,000 fewer prisoners by the end of the year. (Here’s an analysis from the ACLU on the ups and downs of California’s policy—many would-be prisoners are now being placed instead in county jails or shifted to post-release programs.)

But it wasn’t just California. Twenty-five other states also saw their prison populations drop slightly, with New Jersey, New York, Florida, and Texas each shedding at least 1,000 state prisoners. In general, states appear to be locking up fewer drug offenders and focusing more heavily on violent offenders, the report said.

The picture is very different at the federal level, however. Federal prisons actually added 6,409 new inmates in 2011, an increase of 3.4 percent. That was driven by yet another steep rise in drug sentencing — drug offenders now make up nearly half of the 198,000 federal inmates. So far, Congress hasn’t felt the same budget pressures that states have to thin out its prisons.

Continue Reading @ Washington Post



2 thoughts on “America’s prison population is shrinking. But will it last?

  1. The article addresses California realignment which is nothing more than a shuffling game to county facilities, which are now ( and they already were) over crowded. There in fact has been a decrease in numbers nationwide.


  2. This is where they are wrong. Prison counts are NOT going down or being reduced. The prison population is not shrinking. That’s what the system wants people to think. What the prisons are doing is loading up bus fulls of prisoners and transferring them to other facilities and during that time “out” they take a count of prisoners in and yes it looks as if that prison has a lower population. Those outsourced inmates are still in the system but just not being counted during transit. It can cost up to $300.00 per inmate for the state to place them on a bus, with guards to transport. Some prisons move 40 to 50 inmates at a time.They are even moving them farther away from family making it a hardship for both family and inmate for continued regular visits. The state knows how many are incarcerated. To get an accurate count, It can simply be achieved just by a statewide prison lock down for one week. they must stop the herding of inmates and take a full count not when some are being bused to other facilities.


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