Nearly 40 years after tough new drug laws led to an explosion in prison populations, New York state has dramatically reversed course, chalking up a 62 percent drop in people serving time for drug crimes today compared with 2000, reports the Poughkeepsie Journal. The steep decline — driven, experts said, by shifting attitudes toward drug offenders and the dropping crime rate — means that nearly 16,000 fewer minorities serve state time today than in 2000, groups that were hardest hit by the so-called war on drugs. Overall, the prison population declined 22 percent.
Advocates called the statistics “quite extraordinary” and “encouraging.” When compared nationwide, New York’s figures are especially stunning. Among the 50 states, New York charted the biggest drop in its prison rolls from 2000 to 2010, a decade when 37 state prison systems had double-digit population hikes. It was the state’s 1973 drug laws, championed by then-Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, that helped kick off a massive national prison buildup — and the highest incarceration rate in the industrialized world.