The total number of inmates in state and federal prisons in the United States decreased by 1.7 percent in 2012, according to a new report issued by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. It is the third consecutive annual decrease, following three decades of growth.
During the preceding 30 years, the national prison population grew exponentially, from 307,276 prisoners in 1978 to a high of 1,615,487 prisoners in 2009. Since then, there has been a gradual reduction in the number of prisoners. The new BJS report estimates the current population at 1,571,013 inmates.
California accounts for the largest reduction in state prison numbers, with a reduction of 15,035 inmates in 2012. A good portion of this decrease is due to the state’s new public safety realignment, which diverts new admissions of “nonserious, nonsex, nonviolent offenders” from state prisons to local jails.
Such numbers are encouraging, but there is still much work to do before prison overcrowding is something of the past. Mandatory minimums, paired with the closing of facilities due to reduced budgets and increased maintenance costs, continue to result in prisons filled beyond capacity.
Sentencing reforms such as repealing mandatory minimums and alternative punishments for non-violent offenders would help continue the current trend of fewer prisoners. To learn more about prison overcrowding, and possible solutions, visit the Justice Fellowship website.