New York, New Jersey and California led the nation in reducing prison population during the last decade, while also experiencing substantial declines in crime, according to a report released today by The Sentencing Project, an advocacy group.
Between 1999 and 2012, prison populations in New York and New Jersey dropped by 26 percent, while the nationwide state prison population rose 10 percent.
California reduced its prison population by 23 percent between 2006 and 2012, compared with a 1 percent decline nationally.
During their decarceration periods, the three states experienced decreases in violent crime rates that outpaced the nation. Violent crime fell by 31 percent in New York, 30 percent in New Jersey and 21 percent in California.
“The declining prison populations of New York, New Jersey, and California were not simply the result of falling crime rates,” researchers wrote. “Rather, prisons were downsized through a mix of policy and practice changes designed to reduce admissions to prison and lengths of stay. “
Researchers pointed to a shift in enforcement priorities within the New York City Police Department, which cut felony drug arrests in half between 1999 and 2012.
In New Jersey, “the state downscaled its prisons through both front-end reforms affecting the number of admissions and sentence lengths, and back-end reforms that increased rates of parole and reduced parole revocations,” according to the report.
The majority of California's prison population decline (18.3 percent), occurred between 2010 and 2012, as part of the state's effort to comply with a court order to reduce overcrowding in prisons, researchers wrote.
“The experience in New York, New Jersey, and California over more than a decade demonstrates that substantial reductions in prison populations can be achieved without adverse effects on public safety,” researchers wrote.
They call for other states to emulate New York, New Jersey, and California, and for all states to take additional reduction measures, including focusing on long-term prisoners, addressing racial and ethnic disparities in prison populations, and reinvesting in communities most affected by mass incarceration.
Read the full report HERE.