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Most States Reduce Incarceration, Still See Crime Drop

The majority of states have cut prison populations and also have seen a drop in crime rates. (Wikimedia Commons)
The majority of states have cut prison populations and also have seen a drop in crime rates. (Wikimedia Commons)
June 20, 2016

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Many states that have reduced their prison populations are seeing their crime rates go down, too, according to a new report by the Brennan Center for Justice.

In the 1990s, getting tough on crime led to a rapid rise in the number of people incarcerated. Now, with more than 2 million people behind bars, the United States has the largest prison population in the world.

But according to researcher James Cullen, the Brennan Center’s analysis of data from 2006 to 2014 shows reversing that trend doesn't increase crime.

"Not only is it possible for states to lower incarceration and crime, but actually most states are already doing it,” he states. “And that's important because it really shows us a pathway forward to solving mass incarceration."

The report says 27 states have reduced both incarceration and crime rates. In West Virginia, the prison population went up by 18 percent, but the overall crime rate fell by about 20-percent. However, violent crime increased.

California reduced its incarceration rate by 27 percent with an almost equal drop in crime. And as Cullen points out, similar results have been achieved in states such as Texas and South Carolina.

"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," he points out.

The report says 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.

"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,” he explains. “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.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV