From Center for Community Alternatives:
It's widely known that the total number of individuals incarcerated in the United States has come down over the last several years. The question remains: What does this mean for the future? Have we turned the corner on mass incarceration, or is it just a brief head fake? In a fascinating new research report, Malcolm Young, provides informed answers to these questions based on rigorous research. He shows where the declines in incarceration have actually taken place over the past 18 years, where they have not, and what this suggests for the future. Mr. Young, who has led CCA's Project New Opportunities Program in Washington, D.C., is a prison reform attorney and activist.
In 2010, after nearly 40 years of unbroken increases, the United States experienced its first decrease in the total number of sentenced state and federal prisoners. With but one interruption in 2013, the national prison population continued to decrease through the end of 2016. Political leaders, criminal justice advocates, conference hosts and speakers, roundtable participants and foundation leaders were quick to celebrate these decreases and to credit favored programs and approaches for reversing long-running increases in prison incarceration.
A 7 May 2018 editorial in The Washington Post “Mass Incarceration no more?” expressed optimism: There’s good news on a subject usually associated with the social ill of the United States: incarceration. According to newly released Justice Department Statistics, the prison population fell 1.4% in 2016…. a decline of almost 7 percent since the prison population hit an all-time high…at the end of 2009.
But optimism is misplaced. At of the end of 2016 this nation was far from reducing prison populations at a pace that would end mass incarceration in the foreseeable future, if at all. Only a handful of states have significantly, seriously reduced prison populations. At the current rate of change in the nation as a whole, it will take decades to accomplish the goals announced by prominent reform organizations: a prison population under one million; a prison population half its present size.
The situation will not improve on its own. The prospects for a more rapid deincarceration are poor unless and until many more states deploy strategies that have been effective in the handful of states that are significantly reducing prison numbers.
The current situation is also indefensible. Mass incarceration is unnecessary, as the rest of the world demonstrates to be true. It’s like a disease that infects primarily the United States, except that were mass incarceration treated as a disease, few among us would tolerate a lackadaisical, 1% a year reduction especially when, as different states have proven, reductions at rates of -3%, 4%, -5% annually, and even higher, are well within reach of a government motivated to act.
In this report, I identify 13 states that have significantly reduced incarceration. I also identify 14 states that, while not yet having significantly reduced prison populations, have at times demonstrated a capacity for doing so. Looking ahead, perhaps ten of the 13 states that have been significantly reducing prison populations and four of those which have clearly shown some potential for doing so are likely to reduce prison populations sufficiently to contribute to a serious national decrease in prison populations
It is, I believe, important to know which states have been successful, and which have not. There is a great lesson in states with successes. Governors, state leaders and local officials have a choice: to reduce prison populations or not. The Washington Post Editorial Board was on point when it concluded its editorial with an admonishment: when it comes to the states reducing prison incarceration, “the numbers prove, they can do it.”
Find the link to Prisoners in 2016 and the Prospects for an End to Mass Incarceration here.