Downscaling Prisons: Crime News

It’s not up to us to say ya or nay as to the state’s fiscal crisis and what they do about it.  We have repeatedly stated in a variety of articles on this site that the great majority of states are in a woeful fiscal jam.  They are not just cutting prisons but programs for offenders, police officers, parole and probation agents and additional programs.   

We feel the public would be shocked if they knew the real impact that the state fiscal crisis is having on the criminal justice system.   

The report below is from the Sentencing Project, an organization that would like to see dramatic declines in prison populations and a greater use of alternatives. Whether or not you agree with their fundamental premise, they offer an accurate account as to what states are doing and how they are achieving reduced prison populations.   

Whether these decreases have an impact on public safety only time will tell.  But it’s clear that states have no options; their budgets leave them no choice.   

Crime in America.Net   

Downscaling Prisons Lessons from Four States

 As states around the nation grapple with the effects of the fiscal crisis a major area of attention has been the cost of corrections. Over the past 25 years the four-fold rise in the prison population has caused corrections expenditures to escalate dramatically. These increased costs now compete directly with higher   

education and other vital services within a climate of declining state revenues. Even prior to the onset of the latest fiscal crisis, though, legislators in many states had become increasingly interested in adopting evidence-based policies directed at producing more effective public safety outcomes. In contrast to the “get tough” climate that had dominated criminal justice policy development for many years, this new political environment has focused on issues such as diversion of people charged with lower-level drug offenses, developing graduated sanctions for people on probation and parole who break the rules, and enhancing reentry strategies.  


Despite these developments, prison populations have continued to rise in the past decade, albeit not as dramatically as in the preceding decades. From 2000-2008 the number of people incarcerated in state prisons rose by 12 percent from 1,176,269 to 1,320,145, although with a broad variation around the nation. At the high end, six states expanded their prison populations by more than 40 percent – West Virginia (57 percent), Minnesota (51 percent), Arizona (49 percent), Kentucky (45 percent), Florida (44 percent), and Indiana (41 percent).   

By the end of this period, growth in state prisons appeared to have largely stabilized. In 2008, the national total remained steady, and 20 states experienced a modest reduction in their populations that year.   

While a growing trend towards stability may be emerging, this development needs to be assessed in context. Even if there should be a leveling of population growth, thatwould still leave prison populations at historic highs that are unprecedented in American history or that of any other democratic nation. The consequences of such a situation for fiscal spending, public safety prospects, and impact on communities is very troubling. 

 In this regard it is particularly instructive to examine the four states that are the focus of this report – Kansas, Michigan, New Jersey, and New York. In contrast to the 12% growth in state prison populations since 2000, these states have actually  achieved significant declines in their prison populations in recent years, and therefore offer lessons to policymakers in other states about how this can be accomplished. These declines have spanned the following periods:   

New York: A 20% reduction from 72,899 to 58,456 from 1999 to 2009   

 Michigan: A 12% reduction from 51,577 to 45,478, from 2006 to 2009   

New Jersey: A 19% reduction from 31,493 to 25,436, from 1999 to 2009   

Kansas: A 5% reduction from 9,132 to 8,644, from 2003 to 2009   

This report contains a description of the many pragmatic reforms and policies that have helped to produce these prison population reductions. What is clear in each of these cases is that the reductions only came about through conscious efforts to change policies and practices, that these states relied on many different types of reform initiatives to improve their criminal justice systems, and that these initiatives had the twin goals of reducing the prison population and promoting cost-effective approaches to public safety.   










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