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State Prison Populations Show Upswings, Declines

April 11, 2015
Newsweek reports on The Sentencing Project's recent analysis revealing broad variation in nationwide incarceration trends.

Newsweek reports on The Sentencing Project’s recent analysis revealing broad variation in nationwide incarceration trends: “Since 1999, 34 states have seen “at least a modest decline” in their prison populations, but 16 have recorded upswings, according to new data released by The Sentencing Project that demonstrate incarceration rates vary dramatically between states.”

New Jersey had the biggest drop in inmates since 1999, at 29 percent, while New York experienced a 27 percent decline and California’s since 2006 was 22 percent. Overall, nine states posted double-digit drops. Meanwhile, five states showed double-digit growth, with Arkansas topping the list at 17 percent, the Sentencing Project’s report states.

The changes in New Jersey, New York and California can be attributed in part to policy changes. In New Jersey, drug courts have steered many low-level narcotics offenders to supervised treatment rather than prison, according to the Sentencing Project. New York also saw increased use of drug treatment-diversion programs, and most importantly it overhauled the 1973 Rockefeller Drug Laws that, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union, created “extremely harsh prison terms for the possession or sale of relatively small amounts of drugs” and largely affected low-level, nonviolent offenders. In 2009, the Rockefeller law mandatory minimum sentences “were eliminated or reduced,” a Sentencing Project analysis said, “and the revisions were made retroactive for persons still incarcerated under the old law.”

Read the full article in Newsweek.

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