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December 23, 2013

"Can We Wait 88 Years to End Mass Incarceration?"

The title of this post is the headline of this new Huffington Post commentary by Marc Mauer and Nazgol Ghandnoosh of The Sentencing Project.  Here is how it gets started:

By many measures, there is growing momentum for criminal justice reform.  Changes in federal drug-sentencing policy, passed by Congress in 2010, will help to reduce sentence lengths and racial disparity.  We hear less "tough on crime" rhetoric and budget-conscious conservatives are embracing sentencing reforms.  The Attorney General has criticized aspects of the criminal justice system and directed federal prosecutors to seek reduced sanctions against lower-level offenders.

In light of this, one would think we should celebrate the new figures from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) showing a decline in the U.S. prison population for the third consecutive year.  This follows rising prisoner counts for every year between 1973 and 2010.  BJS reports that 28 states reduced their prison populations in 2012, contributing to a national reduction of 29,000.  Beset by budget constraints and a growing concern for effective approaches to public safety, state policymakers have begun downsizing unsustainable institutional populations.

The break in the prison population's unremitting growth offers an overdue reprieve and a cause for hope for sustained reversal of the nearly four-decade growth pattern.  But any optimism needs to be tempered by the very modest rate of decline, 1.8 percent in the past year.  At this rate, it will take until 2101 -- 88 years -- for the prison population to return to its 1980 level.

Other developments should also curb our enthusiasm.  The population in federal prisons has yet to decline.  And even among the states, the trend is not uniformly or unreservedly positive. Most states that trimmed their prison populations in 2012 did so by small amounts -- eight registered declines of less than 1 percent. Further, over half of the 2012 prison count reduction comes from the 10 percent decline in California's prison population, required by a Supreme Court mandate.  But even that state's achievement is partly illusory, as it has been accompanied by increasing county jail admissions.

Three states stand out for making significant cuts in their prison populations in the past decade: New York (19 percent), California (17 percent), and New Jersey (17 percent). The reductions in New York and New Jersey have been in part a function of reduced crime levels, but also changes in policy and practice designed to reduce the number of lower-level drug offenders and parole violators in prison.  But the pace of reductions in most other states has been quite modest.  Moreover, 22 states still subscribed to an outdated model of prisoner expansion in 2012.

December 23, 2013 at 06:21 PM | Permalink


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Property crime in Cali has gone up, since the lawyer loosing of all those criminals.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 24, 2013 4:21:05 AM

Every Catholic knows about Mass incarceration. Eighty eight years is out of our lifetimes. At least make it shorter. Cut out some of the Hail Marys.

Posted by: Liberty1st | Dec 24, 2013 12:02:25 PM

Just more lying lawyer propaganda.

Can we wait 88 years to get rid of the sicko lawyer rent seeking hierarchy to end the millions of violent crimes devastating our lawyer besieged nation? No. Arrest them now. Try them now. Execute them now. Once gone, do the same to their clients, the violent repeat offender, end crime, boost the econmy, cut health costs, shoot urban real estate values through the roof, end the siege of fear of every law abiding resident of our real incarceration nation, our cities.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 24, 2013 6:14:56 PM

The Sentencing Project projection does not acknowledge the unprecedented divergence in arrest and incarceration rate trends by age - projecting the incarceration rate decline for 18-19-year-olds over the last ten years would suggest that there could be zero prisoners in this age group ten years from now. See: http://www.ricknevin.com/uploads/It_Will_Not_Take_88_Years_to_End_Mass_Incarceration.pdf

Posted by: Rick Nevin | Dec 27, 2013 4:43:06 PM

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