What Ever Happened to Mass Incarceration Reform? | Brennan Center for Justice

With the confirmation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who ushered in a 1980’s throw-back Department of Justice directive on low-level drug offenses, it remains unclear whether there might be a return to a bipartisan approach to criminal justice reform in the 115th Congress.

…According to a recent Brennan Center analysis, even as crime declined by 10 percent from 1991-1994, prison populations exploded pre-1994 by 400 percent and doubled in the decade following the law’s passage.  With today’s well-documented growth in state and federal prison population, most people, including President Bill Clinton, accept that the 1994 incentives he championed were a mistake, rewarding states to build and fill more prisons.  

Indeed, in the more than two decades since the passage of the 1994 Crime Bill, the evidence is overwhelming that resulting incarceration rates are harming families, communities, and federal and state budgets.  Despite having only 5 percent of the world’s population, the United States has 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated at an annual cost of roughly $80 billion. 

In 2007, Texas got smart and increased the availability of drug addiction and mental health treatment for non-violent drug offenders. Then, in 2011, the Texas legislature passed legislation to allow drug offenders to reduce their sentences by completing educational programs. The result was stark — 14 percent reduction in crime, 8 percent reduction in incarceration, saving $444 million in corrections expenses and $20 million direct savings for taxpayers.  Recent reports indicate that Texas is on pace to close 8 prisons by year’s end.

By enacting new laws to eliminate some mandatory sentences for low-level property crimes and improving the parole and probation release process, South Carolina saw a 38 percent drop in violent crime and an 18 percent in their prison population, saving the state $18 million over four years.  

What Ever Happened to Mass Incarceration Reform? | Brennan Center for Justice

That time when the ethically correct thing and fiscally responsible thing to do are the exact same thing…


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