U.S. Prison Population Hits Lowest Level in a Generation

View of main hall in state prison

According to a U.S. Department of Justice report, the country’s prison population plunged to the lowest level in nearly four decades. The report shows the number of inmates dropped to 1.53 million last year. Experts believe the change is due to federal and state reforms which include fewer sanctions for non-violent drug crimes and better drug treatment options. The department included the data in an annual report on incarcerated population.

The report also found that one in 37 adults faced correctional oversight in December 2015. This marks the lowest level in 19 years. During the same period, the number of inmates in state and federal detention facilities dropped by 35,500 inmates from a year prior. Which represents the most significant drop since 1978.

The Sharpest Drop was in Federal Prisons

According to the department, for every 100,000 residents there were 458 inmates that served more than a year in jail in 2015. A similar low level was seen in 1997, when the figure stood at 444 inmates per 100,000 residents.

Nearly half of the decline in prison population occurred in federal prisons. The U.S.A. now has about 196,500 federal prisoners, after a 7 percent drop from a year before. The drop marks a three-year string of declines.

Experts say that the federal prison drop is due to the 2015 release of 6,000 drug offenders sentenced for nonviolent crimes. In the meantime, President Barack Obama pardoned or commuted the sentences of 1,176 prisoners in federal jails. Last week alone, the president shortened the sentences of 153 inmates.

In state detention facilities, the number of prisoners slipped 2 percent between 2014 and 2015. About 29 states saw a decline in inmate population in their prisons, which now stands at 1.33 million people.

The DOJ estimates that the number of inmates in both federal and state prisons sank 6 percent from 2009 levels when it recorded a peak. However, America’s prison population is still above the 1978 levels when the records began.

Violent Crime Rates Rising

According to federal data, every day, city and county prisons host about 721,300 people in locations designed for offenders awaiting trial. When authorities added people on probation or parole to that number, they found 6.74 million U.S. residents were under U.S. justice system’s supervision late last year.

The federal findings are at odds with an earlier report that showed violent crime rates were on the rise in the U.S. In June, a study showed that the number of rapes, robberies, and shootings in 2016 was higher than the rates reported for 2015.

The study revealed that there were 307 more murders in major cities by the mid-year as compared to the same period last year. President-elect Donald Trump noted that was the largest rise in 25 years. By contrast, Obama said the violent crime rate during his two terms was the lowest in 3 to 4 decades. Both Obama and Trump were right because the president-elect was referring to violent crime rates in the country’s major cities, while Obama was referring to violent crime rates nationwide.

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