Citing last year’s 0.8 increase in the U.S. prison population–the lowest rate of increase this decade– the Associated Press forecasts that the total may actually drop this year for the first time in almost four decades. Tight budgets have states rethinking sentencing policies and the costs that come with them. “It’s a reversal of a trend that’s been going on for more than a generation,” said David Greenberg, a sociology professor at New York University. “In some ways, it’s overdue.”
The latest U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics compilation says that 739,000 prisoners were admitted to state and federal facilities last year, about 3,500 more than were released. Among state shifts: In Texas, parole rates once were among the nation’s lowest, with as few as 15 percent of inmates being granted release five years ago. Now, the parole rate is more than 30 percent after Texas began identifying low-risk candidates for parole. In Mississippi, a truth-in-sentencing law required drug offenders to serve 85 percent of a sentence; now it’s under 25 percent.