In 2008, the United States passed a dubious milestone when researchers at the Pew Center on the States determined that one in every 100 adults in America was in jail or prison.
The report, “One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008,” calculated that 2,319,258 adults were behind bars in state and federal lockups. It also estimated the price tag for this mass incarceration: States spent more than $49 billion on corrections in 2007, up a whopping $38 billion from 20 years before.
Now, a new Pew study released today provides a sliver of good news, at least for state prisons.
“For the first time in nearly 40 years, the number of state prisoners in the United States has declined. Survey data … indicate that as of January 1, 2010, there were 1,403,091 persons under the jurisdiction of state prison authorities, 5,739 (0.4 percent) fewer than there were on December 31, 2008. This marks the first year-to-year drop in the state prison population since 1972.”
California’s prison population dropped by 4,257 inmates, the third consecutive yearly decline. The report credits the drop to ongoing reforms to the state parole system.
“Over the past two years, the state has sought to cut the number of low-risk parolees returning to prison for technical violations by expanding use of intermediate sanctions to hold violators accountable without a costly return to prison.”
Still, without bigger cuts to the inmate population, the report suggests California’s prison crisis will persist.
“Despite the significant overall population decline during 2009, California’s problems with prison overcrowding remain far from resolved. In August 2009, a federal court ordered the state to cut its prison population by more than 40,000 prisoners, or about 30 percent, in two years. The state is struggling to develop a plan to meet this requirement.”