Research is a starting point for many activists challenging mass incarceration, including tracking state imprisonment levels and other trends. Dismantling punitive policies that contribute to high prison populations requires a collaborative approach to shift hearts and minds through advocacy, research, and other strategies.
Our new resource, U.S. Prison Population Trends: Massive Buildup and Modest Decline, documents decarceration trends in 39 states and at the federal level. Using this information with lawmakers and other stakeholders helps emphasize constructive trends but also communicates the urgency of continued reform because of the policies that contributed to the nation’s 700% growth in the prison population between 1972 and 2009.
State-by-State Data Map
It can be helpful to compare states to others across the country to reinforce the need for reform. Advocates can view state-by-state data and make comparisons with our interactive tool that provides detailed information including state prison counts, racial and ethnic disparity statistics, and disenfranchisement rates. Successful reforms have found that evidence-based materials and fact sheets designed for specific jurisdictions or constituencies helped make the case for change.
The Facts of Life
According to The Meaning of Life: The Case for Abolishing Life Sentences more people are serving life sentences today than the entire federal and state prison population in the early 1970s. Our Campaign to End Life Imprisonment website features several reports and fact sheets that document the dramatic growth of life sentences around the country and across various demographic groups.
Determining the scale of life imprisonment has helped to surface awareness and support the lived experiences of persons sentenced to life prison terms. State level data has animated legislative efforts to recalibrate punitive policies. Campaigns in several states have developed materials highlighting the growth of life imprisonment. Advocates reported finding the data helpful to inform lawmakers and other stakeholders about the scale of the problem.
Models for Reform
At a time of increasing momentum for criminal justice reform there is a need to think broadly
about how to achieve substantial reductions in prison populations. The following reports offer blueprints for policies that will better enable an end to mass incarceration within our lifetime.
- Racial Impact Statements – an overview of enacted and proposed racial impact statement laws
- Repurposing Prisons – practical examples for reusing closed prisons surface solutions for policy advocates and community organizers
- The Next Step – highlights reforms in 19 states that have scaled back excessive penalties for violent crimes
- Decarceration Strategies – an overview of five successful state efforts to substantially reduce their prison populations
- Alabama – Group of formerly incarcerated residents request inclusion on gubernatorial commission addressing prison overcrowding.
- California – Lawmakers passed SB 136, a measure to repeal a sentencing enhancement.
- Delaware – Governor John Carney signed several criminal justice reform measures including SB 47 which scaled back drug sentencing enhancements in targeted geographic zones.
- Florida – Legislators considering lowering mandatory truth-in-sentencing provisions from 85-percent of time served to 65-percent.
- Hawaii – Governor David Ige signed legislation
establishing an independent oversight commission to monitor prison conditions and prison overcrowding.
- Illinois – Governor JB Pritzker signed HB 254 – the Re-Entering Citizens Civics Education Act – which directs the Departments of Corrections and Juvenile Justice to provide peer-led civics programs throughout Illinois correctional facilities within 12 months of release.
- Michigan – Bipartisan policymaker coalition sponsored clean slate or record sealing legislation for qualifying justice involved interactions.
- Nebraska – Persons sentenced to life imprisonment submitted a sentencing reform proposal to the Judiciary Committee. The recommendation would authorize a pathway to release for life sentenced persons who demonstrate rehabilitation.
- Oklahoma – Parole and Pardon Board considered implementation of reform allowing accelerated commutation process for qualified persons.
- Pennsylvania – Correctional officials continuing effort to close second prison in two years following the opening of its largest prison in 2018.
- Washington – State lawmakers exploring prison population reduction efforts.