Justice Update: Majority of States Cut Both Crime and Incarceration

June 16, 2016

Majority of States Cut Both Crime and Incarceration

A new Brennan Center analysis shows that 27 states reduced both the rates of crime and imprisonment over the last 10 years. Nationally, imprisonment dropped 7 percent and crime dropped 23 percent from 2006 to 2014, the most recent year of data.

Some states that had the largest drops in their prison populations also experienced the largest reductions in crime. For instance, South Carolina reduced its prison population by 18 percent, while violent crime dropped 38 percent, the largest fall off in the country. Populous states, such as California, Texas, New York, and New Jersey, all reduced their prison populations by more than twice the national average, while crime in these states fell by a minimum of 15 percent. 

In two states, North Dakota and New Hampshire, both the imprisonment rate and the crime rate increased.

“An increase in imprisonment does not always correlate to a decrease in crime, or vice versa,” Brennan Center Senior Counsel Lauren-Brooke Eisen and researcher James Cullen wrote in the fact sheet.

The new resource updates points originally outlined in the Brennan Center’s Reverse Mass Incarceration Act, a policy proposal that would spur nationwide cuts in imprisonment. It was profiled last week by The Atlantic and The Daily Caller.

A separate Brennan Center analysis released in April studied solely crime rates, and found that numbers remained steady from 2014 to 2015, though there were an uptick of murders in some cities. A study released yesterday, commissioned by the Department of Justice, had similar findings. Read more in The Guardian.

Ask Political Parties to Address Mass Incarceration

For decades, America’s two major political parties have supported mass incarceration and draconian sentencing policies, and a joint petition recently released by the Brennan Center and The Nation calls on both to change.

This would be a bold break and dramatic reversal from past party policies, which helped make the United States the world’s number-one jailer. Candidates and officials from both parties have said that now is the time to end unnecessary imprisonment.

But as the petition points out, today’s movement has largely been led by Republicans. The GOP is set to vote on a policy to reduce imprisonment at their convention. If they do, they’ll be the first major party to do so. The Democrats lag behind. 

“The consensus to reduce unnecessary imprisonment has arrived,” Inimai Chettiar, the director of the Center’s Justice Program, and Counsel Ames Grawert, wrote in an accompanying op-ed at The Nation. “But we will never see true reform until Democrats provide a solid left flank, so that compromise lands at the center, instead of to the right.” 

Sign the petition here, which was previewed in Politico. And, read Yahoo! News and NBC News for more on where criminal justice reform stands in the 2016 election.

Bail and Ban the Box: Two Ways to Fix the System

Efforts to expunge or seal criminal records are becoming more popular, Inimai Chettiar told the New York Times recently.

“There’s an awakening that we continue to punish people over and over,” she said. “This has a lot more appeal to politicians than letting people out of prison — it’s getting people back into the community and on the job.”

Nearly all 50 states allow people convicted of some misdemeanors, or who were not convicted, to shield or expunge their records after a waiting period, she said.

In a different piece for the Times, she discussed how wealthy defendants able to fund special bail conditions — like staying confined at home — exacerbate the inequality in the criminal justice system.

“It just reinforces for me the point that our entire system of pretrial detention is predominantly based on wealth,” she said.

Research Roundup

  • A Bureau of Justice Statistics study revealed that the number of prisoners age 55 or older increased 400 percent between 1993 and 2013. The major contributing factors to the aging prison population were an increase in admissions of older defendants and inmates serving longer sentences, especially for violent crimes.
  • A recent article in Social Science & Medicine studied the relationship between stop-question-and-frisk policing, psychological distress, and gender in New York City. The authors found that men, but not women, experienced more severe psychological stress and anxiety when they lived in neighborhoods with higher rates of stop-and-frisk policing.
  • The Vera Institute of Justice released a report on trends in state sentencing and corrections laws. It found that an astonishing 46 states had reformed aspects of sentencing and corrections through legislation, executive orders, and ballot initiatives in 2014 and 2015 alone. These policy changes were focused on: expanding diversion programs; supporting reentry into the community after release from prison; and reducing prison populations through sentencing reforms and reducing revocations to prison from parole.