New Jersey’s prison population fell 14.8 percent from 2000 to 2009 without any need for drastic actions, reports the Newark Star-Ledger. New Jersey is one of only six states to reduce the number of prisoners over the decade. With 25,263 inmates in the system, state prisons still hold more people than they were designed for; 600 additional inmates will be double-bunked this year to save money. Officials say the overall population shrank because crime was cut, drug courts diverted many people from jail, and programs helped inmates prepare for life on the outside.
New York is the only state whose prison population declined faster than New Jersey's, by 16.4 percent. Maryland, Michigan, Delaware, and Illinois also cut their inmate numbers. While the total number of state prison inmates in the U.S. dropped last year for the first time since 1972, most states struggle with increasingly large and expensive prison populations. West Virginia packed its prisons with 65.1 percent more inmates from 2000 to 2009. Minnesota, Arizona, Florida, and Kentucky had increases from 45 to 60 percent. One big reason for the reduction in New Jersey inmates is that fewer people are going to prison. In 2000, 12,845 were sent to state prison. In 2009, there were 11,948.