Malcolm Young: There's Hope to End Mass Incarceration, But Not in the Numbers
Date:  05-06-2019

With the continuing average decrease of -1.4% over the last three years, the prison population won't fall below one million until at least 2042
From Malcolm Young, Founding Project Director, of Project New Opportunity:

The Vera Institute has released People in Prison in 2018, the criminal justice research and policy organization’s second annual tally of state and federal prisoners. The second report documents a -1.3% decrease in state and federal prisoners in 2018, an apparent improvement over the -1.0% decrease Vera documented for 2017. For the states, the rate of decrease almost doubled, from -.7% to -1.3%.

We’re fortunate to have the Vera reports because the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJA), which for decades provided a consistent annual analysis of state and federal prison populations has just today released its report for 2017 and is not expected to produce a report for 2018 until early 2020. But even with the apparent improvement in state rates, anyone committed to ending mass incarceration can’t be cheered by the numbers now before us.

Almost one year ago, I analyzed BJA data to conclude, first, that at the -1.4% average decrease over the most recent three years, 2014 to 2016, America’s total prison population wouldn’t fall below one million until 2042. At that rate, it would take 50 years, until 2068, to reduce the number of prisoners by half.

Mine was not the most pessimistic projection: The Sentencing Project estimated a 75 year wait before prison populations would be halved.

What I found then was that more rapid deincarceration isn’t happening because, while the majority of states stopped increasing prison populations, only a handful of states and, from 2012 to 2016 the federal system, succeeded in significantly decreasing prison populations. Just seven states (California, New York, New Jersey, Michigan, Connecticut, Maryland and Illinois) were responsible for 2/3rds of the collective decrease in state prison populations between 2000 and 2016. California alone, acting under orders from the United States Supreme Court, was responsible for almost one in three ( 29.6%) of the decreases in America’s prison populations in these years. Continue reading >>>