Governing and Sentencing Law and Policy both have noted the WaPo article on the Census report of only a 4% growth rate in prison pops over this decade so far compared to the explosion in the last decade. The usual suspects are cited as reasons, including the fact that those guys imprisoned in large numbers in the 90s are coming out right now, offsetting arrivals to a large extent. How long that lasts will depend on their recidivism rates, which aren’t promising right now since their arrival in the 90s meant most states had to severely cut reentry efforts. Maybe the Census folks should have waited for a full decade to report this stuff.
One point I’d like to add that isn’t in the article is the dramatic impact NY has on these numbers. Because of its aggressive policing while deferring large prison pop buildups, it’s actually been leading nationally in reducing crime and keeping prison pop numbers down. We’ve seen the impact on the national crime rate. There’s good reason to believe that it’s affecting this, too. Other states, such as MO, have been following aggressive info-gathering and dissemination for judges at sentencing in order to improve their knowledge of what sanctions seem to work and what ones don’t. And? Their prison pops went down last year, too. States like OK and LA that haven’t done those things? Well, OK’s pops went up about 3% last year, similar to the 90s. The point is, the slowing of the growth rate is more due to certain states pursuing effective non-incarcerative policies that reduced intake than it is a general, across-the-board phenomenon. States looking to get their continuing prison population growth under control might be well advised to look at the NYs and the MOs rather than states that have done guidelines or states that just lock and throw.
[In Doug’s comments at Sent Law, Grits for Breakfast notes the increases we’re looking at in 65-year-olds and older and in women prisoners. It’s a good time to note that offenders 50 and older generally are considered to cost 2 to 3 times the younger prisoners due to their particular health and other needs. IOW, even if populations were dropping, the increases in these numbers would keep the costs to prisons from going down and in fact may keep them higher. And what Grits doesn’t note is that one of the even more specialized demographic groups needing special care in prisons will be those females who are 50 and older. If you think this report is good news for prison costs, well, it is, compared to the 90s. But the impacts won’t be proportional to the rate of decline. Costs are going to keep rising, diverting dollars from more effective crime and victim prevention efforts.]