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National Study Shows Crime and Prison Populations Declining

Pennsylvania’s prison population grew 12 percent and crime decreased 23 percent, according to a new national report, between 2006 and 2014. (Marduk/Wikimedia Commons)
Pennsylvania’s prison population grew 12 percent and crime decreased 23 percent, according to a new national report, between 2006 and 2014. (Marduk/Wikimedia Commons)
June 20, 2016

HARRISBURG, Pa.- A new analysis shows Pennsylvania is out of step with most states that are reducing their crime rates.

Between 2006 and 2014, 27 states lowered their prison populations and saw their crime rates go down.

Crime decreased in Pennsylvania in that period too, but the prison population grew by 12 percent.

According to James Cullen, researcher with the Brennan Center for Justice, the research shows crime rates fell in all but three states, including those that put more people in prison.

"What that means is the states that are increasing incarceration are spending lots of money incarcerating people," he says. "They're making it hard for their economies down the future because these people are going to have more trouble working. They're adding all these costs, and what we're seeing is no real benefits."

In contrast, the report says New York's prison population declined by 18 percent and crime fell by 17 percent.

California reduced its incarceration rate by 27 percent with an equivalent drop in crime. And as Cullen points out, states like Texas and South Carolina have seen both rates go down as well.

"So, you're not just seeing a few states you often think of as at the forefront of reforms, but you're seeing states that you wouldn't think about not only reforming, but reforming and staying safe, too," says Cullen.

Two out of three states that increased their prison populations in the same time period, saw crime rates increase as well.

The 1994 federal crime bill gave funding to states to increase incarceration, and prison populations exploded. Cullen says the Brennan Center is proposing legislation it calls the Reverse Mass Incarceration Act.

"And the idea is the federal government portioning off $20 billion over 10 years, giving funding to states that are able to lower incarceration and crime," says Cullen. "And we know from history that states are going to respond to those incentives."

Cullen notes the Brennan Center analysis shows reducing crime and the prison population is not only possible, it's already happening.


Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA