Last month, the Vera Institute of Justice released a useful report with each state’s prison population as of year-end 2017. Their report fills an important gap until the Bureau of Justice Statistics publishes similar (and more detailed) numbers at the end of this year or early next. Compared to how criminal justice data usually works in this country, having numbers just 6 months old feels like a luxury.
Now, armed with timely data, we should discuss what this means and why our elected officials aren’t doing enough. But first, here are the big picture takeaways from the report:
- Total prison population is down 1% over the previous year.
- Some states are down even more, including Maryland, down 9%.
- Twenty states increased their prison populations, and half of those hit new all-time-highs.
By adding in other historical data, we can bring the broader trends into focus and highlight a hidden truth behind the slow decline of the national prison population: the sustained reductions in prison populations in just three large states — California, New York and New Jersey (plus, in the last 5 years, the Bureau of Prisons) — are responsible for a disproportionate share of the recent prison decline.
So the news that Maryland’s prison population was down 9% during 2017 is good news. And it’s even better news in the context that this one-year drop comes after 6 consecutive years of smaller decreases. But through the longer lens of history, we see that Maryland has much further to go to undo the damage caused by the 1980s alone, when its prison population grew by 8% each year for a decade.
Read the full article about mass incarceration by Peter Wagner at Prison Policy Initiative.
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