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
- Almost Half Of Federal Prisoners Held For Drug Crimes (prisonreformmovement.wordpress.com)
- US Has 330,000 Drug Offenders in Prison (prisonreformmovement.wordpress.com)
- One way to trim the budget: Prison reform (prisonreformmovement.wordpress.com)