Thursday, November 5, 2015

America’s Prison Population Is Falling, but Too Slowly to Undo Decades of Growth

Here’s the good news: The number of prisoners in the United States dropped last year to its lowest point since 2005, a trend likely to continue following the release of about 6,000 inmates from federal prisons in the past few days.

And here’s the bad: The prison population still only dropped by 1 percent in 2014, to about 1.6 million. At this rate, we won't return to the incarceration rate the country had in 1994, before tough new legislation sent the prison population soaring, until 2027, according to Matthew Friedman at the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice.

Momentum is growing in Washington to tackle criminal justice reform. A group of about 130 police chiefs and prosecutors last month called to reduce the prison population; President Obama is increasingly focusing on criminal justice reform; and presidential candidates on both sides of the aisle have come out with their own proposals, in a striking reversal of the "tough on crime" rhetoric of past decades.

Reform has already had some impact. The total US prison population fell by 15,400 people last year, its second largest decline in 35 years, according to data released by the Department of Justice.


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