If you follow the news, you may have heard that there's a bipartisan movement to stop locking up so many Americans, reported Priceonomics.com. The New York Times recently wrote, “A bipartisan campaign to reduce mass incarceration has led to enormous declines in new inmates from big cities, cutting America’s prison population for the first time since the 1970s.”
Unfortunately for reform advocates, reports of progress towards ending mass incarceration have been greatly exaggerated..
It is true that many conservatives and liberals now agree that America’s world leading incarceration rate is doing more harm than good. It is also true that that since 2009, there has been a small decline in the prison population (see the chart below).
Yet this this national trend belies a larger truth. In large swaths of the United States, the prison population continues to rise. Since 2009, about half of all states have actually increased their prison populations.
The truth is that most of the reduction we've seen in the national incarceration rate is the result of a lawsuit that forced the state of California to reduce its prison population in response to to alleged human rights violations. California’s “decarceration”—which was not the product of some emerging bipartisan consensus—accounts for the vast majority of the national reduction.
Though widespread decarceration may be on its way, it certainly is not happening yet.
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