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

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


For Immediate Release: June 8, 2010
Contact: Alan Barber, (202) 293-5380 x115

Washington, D.C. - 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 about 240 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.

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


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