Lewis Diuguid

Prison rate continues to fall

Lansing Correctional Facility
Lansing Correctional Facility

President Barack Obama on Thursday commuted the sentences of eight federal inmates who were convicted of crack cocaine offenses.

It continues his effort to do something about the unequal punishment people have been getting if they were convicted on drug charges involving crack vs. powder cocaine. The so-called war on drugs when crack cocaine was considered a menace caused an explosion in the prison population.

But states grappling with budget concerns are now trying to reduce the number of people they have behind bars to save money. Data released this week by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics and analyzed by the Pew Charitable Trusts shows that states’ prison census continues to fall.

A majority of states have reduced their imprisonment rates over the last five years, Pew Charitable Trusts reports. The states with the largest drops have had bigger decreases in crime rates than the states where the imprisonment rate is still going up.

Ten states had the largest increases in imprisonment rates, yet a 10 percent reduction in their crime rate. However, 10 states had the largest decreases in imprisonment rates but an average 12 percent reduction in crime. Those states were California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Colorado, New Jersey, New York, South Carolina and Nevada.

Adam Gelb, director of Pew’s public safety performance project said in a news release: “The conventional wisdom has been that if you wanted to cut crime you had to put more people in prison. States are shattering that myth. Leaders from across the political spectrum are increasingly backing alternatives to long prison terms for low-level offenders, and the data are showing that they getting better results at lower cost.”