Saturday, October 18, 2014

Prison Populations Declining in the United States

Excellent news reported in the Wall Street Journal for those opposed to mass incarceration in the United States.  Since 2009, prison populations have been on the decline in both the state and federal prison systems.  Relaxation of incredibly harsh drug sentencing policies as well as state leadership recognizing the economic consequences of imprisoning its citizens at never-before-seen levels, has resulted in a concomitant drop in prison populations across the country.

This drop in prison populations for the first time in over 35 years has resulted in some prisons built during the mass incarceration era to sit empty and many are "for sale."  The following tone-deaf statement by a Texas politician to the new trend in relaxing out-of-control drug sentencing policies reflects the reaction of some to the drop in prison populations: "'There’s a prisoner shortage,' said Mike Arismendez, city manager for Littlefield, Texas. 'Everybody finds it hard to believe.'"

According to the Wall Street Journal:  "The incarceration rate is declining largely because crime has fallen significantly in the past generation. In addition, many states have relaxed harsh sentencing laws passed during the tough-on-crime 1980s and 1990s, and have backed rehabilitation programs, resulting in fewer low-level offenders being locked up. States from Michigan to New Jersey have changed parole processes, leading more prisoners to leave earlier."

This trend is a positive step in the right direction, as the Corporate Justice Blog has railed against mass incarceration and U.S. carceral policies for many years.

1 comment:

  1. On February 17th, 2015, Attorney General Eric Holder claimed that Federal prison populations dropped for the first time in three decades. While it is disputable that this may have occurred prior to this year, it is indisputable that all data points to this continuing trend of good news. He made the case for sentencing reform and touted the Smart on Crime initiative that was developed while he was in office. That program discourages federal prosecutors from pursuing harsh minimum sentences for low-level, non-violent drug criminals. The drop may even grow stronger because of reform like the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, which sought to remove sentencing discrepancies between crack and powder cocaine-related crimes, and eliminated a five-year mandatory minimum sentence for crack possession. Also, the July 2014 decision to retroactively reduce sentences for individuals incarcerated on drug charges could potentially affect up to 50,000 federal inmates. Despite the drop in prisoners, federal prisons remain overcrowded. High-security and medium-security facilities are operating at 40 percent and 50 percent above capacity, respectively, according to the Bureau of Prisons. Accordingly, the industrialization and privatization of prisons will, likely, ensure that America's prisons continue to do a brisk business, regardless of what Mr. Holder's seemingly cheery news might infer.