Americans Embroiled in Criminal Justice System Numbers Actually Decreasing

We are still a largely over-arrested people, especially when it comes to "crimes" that harm no one except (possibly) the person committing them. But Keith Humphreys at the Samefacts blog draws our attention to a bright spot in our recent criminal justice system statistics: 

At the time of President Obama’s inauguration, the incarceration rate in the United States had been rising every single year since the mid 1970s. The relentless growth in the proportion of Americans behind bars had persisted through good economic times and bad, Republican and Democratic Presidents, and countless changes in state and local politics around the country.

If a public policy trend with that much momentum had even slowed significantly, it would have been merited attention, but something far more remarkable occurred: The incarceration rate and the number of people under correctional supervision (i.e., including people on probation/parole) declined for three years in a row. At the end of 2011, the proportion of people under correctional supervision returned to a level not seen since the end of the Clinton Administration.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics fact sheet on this from late November, noting that most of the decline came not from people literally behind bars, but in the probation system:

  • Adult correctional authorities supervised about 6,977,700 offenders at yearend 2011, a decrease of 1.4% during the year.
  • The decline of 98,900 offenders during 2011 marked the third consecutive year of decrease in the correctional population, which includes probationers, parolees, local jail inmates, and prisoners in the custody of state and federal facilities.
  • About 2.9% of adults in the U.S. (or 1 in every 34 adults) were under some form of correctional supervision at yearend 2011, a rate comparable to 1998 (1 in every 34).
  • At yearend 2011, about 1 in every 50 adults in the U.S. was supervised in the community on probation or parole while about 1 in every 107 adults was incarcerated in prison or jail.
  • The community supervision population (including probationers and parolees, down 1.5%) and the incarcerated population (including local jail inmates and federal and state prisoners, down 1.3%) decreased at about the same rate in 2011.
  • The majority (83%) of the decline in the correctional population during the year was attributed to the decrease in the probation population (down 81,800 offenders).

Mike Riggs from October on four grim effects of prison overcrowding.

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    The bad economy has hit every business hard, why not this one too?

  • ||

    Exactly. If only this were from some new policy or direction, but it's solely because money is so tight. Who knew that recessions had their up sides?

  • nicole||

    The Austrians.

    Yes, yes, I'll be here all week.

  • tarran||

    If only you lived near Boston...

  • Hugh Akston||

    She'd have a bad fake tan and an accent like an icepick in your ears?

  • tarran||

    Hugh, not all the girls in Boston look like the ones you met while following Marky Mark and the funky Bunch on tour.

  • ||

    That's Staten Island you idio...oh wait, carry on. You're 100% correct. Did you know tarran likes to go to Back Bay to shop for hipster indie albums at Newbury comics? He particularly likes Arcade Fire.

  • tarran||

    Dude... why go to the backbay when I can go to the Garage in Harvard Square?

    Newbury Comics and Anime Zakka under one roof!

  • Hugh Akston||

    So tarran faps to giant robots and tentacle rape? That surprises no one.

  • ||

    You would go to Cambridge. God, you're even worse than I imagined. You probably go to the Harvard Book Store and try to pick up chicks wearing a cardigan and holding up copies of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

  • nicole||

    Better Harvard Book Store than the Coop.

  • ||

    I don't know about that, nicole. At least you can get useful shit at the Coop. Well, let me rethink that.

  • nicole||

    At least Harvard Books knows how to pronounce the name of their own store.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Haavaad?

  • ||

    You know who else was Austrian?

  • nicole||

    Hugo von Hofmannsthal?

  • ||

    See, I knew you would get it.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Andre the Giant?

  • ||

    DON'T TALK SHIT ABOUT ANDRE

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

  • Diogenes of Sinope||

    1 in every 107 adults was incarcerated in prison or jail.

    Oh, I thought they meant we had too many bartenders!

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    1 in every 107 adults was incarcerated in prison or jail.

    Pish. That's nothing. 1 in every 82 adults is imprisoned in Warty's basement.

  • Diogenes of Sinope||

    So that's how he gets girls!

  • thom||

    If this trend continues, this is going to crimp lots of young high school graduate's plans to make six figures in the lucrative prison security guard industry. Won't somebody think of the workers who are affected by this austerity?

  • Hugh Akston||

    Just wait until drones are deployed domestically. Incarceration/probation rates will drop dramatically.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Could this just be the Culture at work? Soon, each of us will have our own drone to serve us keep us in line.

  • SugarFree||

    Tulpa's dream a reality.

  • ||

    You mean a world where he sees himself standing in sort of sun-god robes on a pyramid with a thousand naked women screaming and throwing little pickles at him?

  • nicole||

    That sounds way too fun and sexy for Tulpa's taste.

  • SugarFree||

    Tulpa has evolved past sex. He just strips the insulation off a lampcord when he feels the human emotion you call desire.

  • nicole||

    Um...and what does that do?

  • ||

    Maybe I'm projecting.

  • Pro Libertate||

    One thing you have to give Tulpa--he did offer the world order.

  • Hugh Akston||

    You know, I've never considered it from that angle before, but suddenly everything Tulpa has ever said makes perfect sense.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Ever notice that his comments are delayed? That's because his sleeper ship is receding at an appreciable percentage of the speed of light.

  • Hugh Akston||

    He does seem to get kind of upset when you laugh at his superior intellect.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    Those aren't pickles!

  • Tim||

    If you had seen "The Shawshank Redemption" you'd realize that prison can be an enormously uplifting experience.

  • Carston||

    This is kinda funny, because I know a lot of people who have gotten of probation in the passed year.

  • mad libertarian guy||

    Probation's what? To whom did the year get passed? And who did the passing?

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