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by Peter Moskos

November 29, 2012

Incarceration numbers down

A BJS report reports the number of state and federal prisoners decreased last year by 17,264. This has been called a small step in the right direction (since there's no reason the US should lead the world in incarceration rate and numbers).

But what I haven't heard, and it seems relevant, is that this decrease can wholly be accounted for by the Supreme Court ordered reduction of prison overpopulation. This has resulted in a 25,000 inmate decrease in the California prison system. And it means that prisoner population in the non-court-ordered rest of the country actually increased by some 7,000. (Local jail numbers are down 30,000 nationwide, or 45,000 if one excludes California.)

So while I'm happy to see a reduction in unnecessary incarceration. This isn't actually a step in the right direction. Because a step implies some sort of trend, where the next step will be in the same direction. California prisons still have another 7,000 prisoners to rehouse. Meanwhile, back in the other 49 states, we're still walking in the wrong direction.

[The California jail population increased 15,000. By my math, that means that 10,000 California prisoners are now on the street, without any huge increase in crime. The cost savings of not incarcerating 10,000 California prisoners is roughly $472,000,000.]

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