Some reports of progress towards ending mass incarceration have been greatly exaggerated, reports Priceonomics. It is true that that since 2009, there has been a small decline in the prison population. Yet in large swaths of the nation, the prison population continues to rise. Since 2009, about half of the states have increased their prison populations. Most of the reduction we’ve seen in the national incarceration rate is the result of a lawsuit that forced the state of California to reduce its prison population in response to to alleged human rights violations.
Fordham law Prof. John Pfaff argues for a more locally focused view of what drives incarceration rates. Pfaff’s research on the causes of mass incarceration shows that decisions made by local prosecutors and police are the most important drivers of the increase in country prison population. Specifically, prosecutors are much more aggressive in charging individuals with felonies today than they were thirty years ago—even for the same crime. “The most important way to reduce incarceration would be to restrict the ability of prosecutors to file felony charges,” he said. “We need legally binding charging and plea bargaining guidelines like the ones judges operate under.”