U.S. incarceration rate begins to decline


US_incarceration_timeline-clean-fixed-timescale.svg_-300x200Here’s good news—a decline in the rate at which Americans are being sent to prison.   It’s not the result of judges being soft on crime.  Violent crime rates also are in decline.

It is only during the past few years that there has been an actual decline in the U.S. prison population.  It took time before inmates were completing their sentences and being let out at a faster rate than new inmates were being sent to prison.

This is the same apparent paradox as the decline in the birth rate in North America, Europe and much of Asia, which hasn’t yet resulted in an actual decline in the population.  It takes time for the trend to affect the gross numbers.

The next step in lowering the incarceration rate would be to repeal the criminal laws against possession of marijuana—a victimless crime admitted to by David Brooks, Newt Gingrich, Al Gore and Barack Obama, among others, but is enforced mainly against young black men in poor neighborhoods in big cities.


U.S. Prison Admissions Are at a Two-Decade Low by Keith Humphreys for The Reality-Based Community.

Fewer People Are Being Sent to Prison.  Way Fewer by Kevin Drum for Mother Jones.

The two charts are not strictly comparable.  The large chart is the incarceration rate per million Americans; the small chart is the total prison population, which would be expected to rise in line with the population increase.  Also, the small chart cuts off in 2006 while the large chart runs to 2012.

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