While the number of U.S. prisoners seems to have stabilized in recent years, incarceration trends among states have varied significantly, says The Sentencing Project, an advocacy group. Thirty-four have experienced at least a modest decline since 1999, while sixteen have had continued rises in their prison populations. Nine states reported double-digit declines during this period, led by New Jersey (29 percent since 1999), New York (27 percent since 1999), and California (22 percent since 2006, though partly offset by increasing jail use). Five states have had double-digit increases, led by Arkansas, with a 17 percent rise since 2008.
Prison populations have been reduced through a mix of changes in policy and practice designed to reduce admissions to prison and lengths of stay, says the organization. These include drug policy sentencing reforms, fewer admissions of technical parole violators to prison, and diversion options for persons convicted of low-level property and drug crimes. The overall pace of change is “quite modest” given the scale of incarceration, the Sentencing Project says. Total U.S. prison population declined by 2.4 percent since 2009.