Our #GivingTuesday match has been extended! Until 11/30 at midnight, your #GivingTuesday gift will be TRIPLED.
The United States maintains its distinction as the nation with the highest rate of incarceration in the world. The total correctional population of 6.9 million consists of more than 2.2 million people in prison or jail and 4.7 million under community supervision on probation or parole. The nation’s correctional population is a function of crime rates, legislative and administrative policies, and practitioner decision making that vary by state and at the federal level.
After a few years of modest decline, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that the nation’s prison population grew slightly in 2013. The state prison population numbered 1,574,700, representing an increase of 4,300 since the previous year, but below its high of 1,615,487 in 2009. During that year, the number of federal prisoners showed a modest drop for the first time in several decades. The overall stability of the population in recent years indicates that deeper changes in sentencing policy and practice are necessary if the nation’s enormous prison population is to be significantly reduced.
During 2014, legislators in at least 30 states and the District of Columbia authorized a range of law changes and policies that may address the nation’s scale of incarceration. The policy changes highlighted in this report represent approaches that lawmakers can consider to address state sentencing policy and collateral consequences.
- Sentencing: At least 16 states and the District of Columbia authorized legislation to address sentencing policy, including statutory penalties that limit lengths of confinement. Notably, voters in California approved reclassifying certain low-level offenses from felonies to misdemeanors, eliminating prison as a sentencing option. Lawmakers in Mississippi scaled back the state’s truth-in-sentencing provision from 85% to 50% for violent offenses.
- Probation and parole: Three states – Mississippi, New York, and Oklahoma – adopted changes to probation and parole policies that expand sentencing alternatives.
- Collateral consequences: At least 14 states and the District of Columbia enacted legislation to scale back collateral consequences associated with a criminal conviction, including employment bans and federal felony drug bans on public assistance.
- Juvenile justice: At least 15 states adopted reforms, including eliminating juvenile life without parole as a sentencing option in West Virginia and Hawaii. Kentucky and Hawaii also enacted comprehensive juvenile justice reform measures to reduce the use of out-of-home placement for juveniles and prioritize therapeutic interventions as a public safety strategy.