The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Alan Barber, (202) 293-5380 x115

Lowering Non-Violent Incarceration Rate by Half Would Result in Billions in Savings for Cash- Strapped State and Local Governments

United States Incarceration Rate Remains Highest in the World


As state and local governments grapple with record budget shortfalls,
a new study from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR)
finds that the high rate of incarceration in the U.S. is a significant
factor in these budgetary strains.

The report, "The High Budgetary Costs of Incarceration,"
estimates that cutting the incarceration rate for non-violent offenders
would reduce state and local budgets by almost $15 billion per year,
about one-fourth of their annual corrections budgets.

The study finds that the rate of
incarceration in 2008 -- 753 per 100,000 people -- was 350 percent
higher than it was in 1980. According to the report, the United States
has the highest incarceration rate in the world, a rate that is seven
times higher than the average for other rich countries.

and local governments are under tremendous fiscal pressure," said John Schmitt, a senior economist at CEPR and lead
author of the report.
just half of the non-violent offenders from prison and jail
probation and parole could save state and local governments $15
per year."

The study points out that some of the
main causes of the rise in incarceration rates are policies such as
"mandatory minimums" and "three strikes" laws that often lead to long
prison terms for non-violent offenders. Earlier research on the
connection between crime and incarceration suggests that state and local
governments could shift non-violent offenders from jail and prison to
probation and parole with little or no deterioration in public safety.

Among the key findings are:

  • In 2008, one of every 48
    working-age men were in prison or jail.
  • Non-violent offenders make up
    over 60 percent of the prison and jail population; non-violent drug
    offenders account for one-fourth of all offenders behind bars.
  • The total number of violent
    crimes in the United States was only about three percent higher in 2008
    than it was in 1980. Over the same period, the U.S. population increased
    by 33 percent while the prison and jail population skyrocketed by more
    than 350 percent.

"Looking back on the last 30 years,
the idea of 'locking people up and throwing away the key' has done very
little to combat crime, but it has created a tremendous burden for state
and local governments." Schmitt said.

The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) was established in 1999 to promote democratic debate on the most important economic and social issues that affect people's lives. In order for citizens to effectively exercise their voices in a democracy, they should be informed about the problems and choices that they face. CEPR is committed to presenting issues in an accurate and understandable manner, so that the public is better prepared to choose among the various policy options.

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