U.S. Prison Decline: Insufficient to Undo Mass Incarceration
Date:  05-20-2020

Slow-Walking an End to Mass Incarceration Amidst Pandemic
From The Sentencing Project:

Although 44 states and the federal system have reduced their prison populations since reaching peak levels, the pace of reform has been slow to reverse nearly four decades of aggressive imprisonment growth that now exacerbates health risks during a pandemic. If we continue at this pace, it will take 65 years to cut the U.S. prison population in half, according to a new analysis by The Sentencing Project's Senior Research Analyst Nazgol Ghandnoosh.

U.S. Prison Decline: Insufficient to Undo Mass Incarceration finds that the federal government and all but six states had downsized their prisons by yearend 2018. Seven states—New Jersey, Alaska, Connecticut, New York, Alabama, Rhode Island, and Vermont—led the nation in reducing their prison populations by over 30% since reaching their peak levels. But two of these states, Alaska and Alabama, are poised to reverse some of this progress.

In twenty-five states, the reduction in imprisonment levels was less than 10%. Six states had their highest ever prison populations in 2018: Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin, Kansas, and Oregon.

While some critics have charged that decarceration would lead to rising crime, several states with the most substantial reductions in their prison populations outpaced the nationwide crime drop. Mass incarceration exacerbates the health consequences of the coronavirus pandemic because of unsanitary conditions of confinement and an inability to physically distance in detention facilities. A continued delay in ending mass incarceration will hasten many deaths among imprisoned people, corrections staff, and the broader communities with which they are connected. Expediting the end of mass incarceration requires ending the Drug War and scaling back sentences for all crimes—including violent offenses for which half of people in prison are serving time. Research shows that for most people the risk to public safety, even for those convicted of a violent offense, declines sharply as individuals “age out” of the high crime years of 15-24.

Read the report here.