The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, somewhere in the ballpark of 1% of the population. The number of Americans in prison has also grown enormously over the past several decades from roughly 500,000 in the 1970’s to almost 2.5 million today. The costs to deal with this large prison population are staggering and approach $100 billion annually.
Criminal justice reform has become somewhat of a hot topic recently. The United States incarceration rate is the highest in the world and there are high monetary costs associated with that. While there has been talk of criminal justice reform for many years, action has been slow to follow. Some are beginning to ask why the prison population is so high and why it couldn’t be cut back by a quarter, or even by up to a half.
One of the ways to reduce the prison population is to reduce sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. There are some states where making changes to low-level drug sentencing among other minor items could have a significant impact. However, other states, like New York, have already reduced drug sentences. Further chances to non-violent drug sentencing would only have a very minor impact on prison populations.
Unfortunately, for the majority of states that have already made changes to drug sentencing, the only remaining way to make a dent in prison population is to start discussing violent offenders. Violent offenders are those who have committed crimes such as rape, assault, gun crimes, robbery, etc. Options to reduce populations would include releasing currently incarcerated violent offenders early and reducing sentence lengths for new infractions. Unfortunately, conversations of this nature are difficult and ripe for disagreement. The free population of the United States may be willing to discuss reducing sentences for non-violent offenders…but there may not be many people who would agree with releasing violent offenders back onto the streets. After all, while the prison population has grown enormously over the past few decades, there has also been a drop in crime rates. The drop in crime may not necessarily be attributed to higher incarceration rates, but it may be hard to find state and federal politicians who will take that gamble and actually be responsible for the release of violent offenders.