There’s a new figure in the world of over-incarceration worth remembering: 39 percent.
That’s the percentage of people in U.S. prisons who are “unnecessarily incarcerated,” a new Brennan Center study reported in The Atlantic. The report, which took three years to complete, studied criminal codes, criminal-justice research, and prison populations throughout the country to determine how many prisoners are incarcerated without a justifiable public-safety rationale.
The report concluded that 576,000 inmates currently locked up for crimes ranging from mail fraud to simple burglary could be swiftly released without endangering their fellow Americans. Many of those Americans view incarceration as a largely punitive tool. But the report instead focuses on whether or not prison sentences reduce crime or enhance public safety. To that end, it outlines a series of alternatives that state legislatures and Congress could adopt, ranging from electronic monitoring to community service.
The report also recommends redirecting the estimated $18.1 billion in annual savings from reduced prison costs into reentry programs and community policing, although it doesn’t otherwise focus on the impact of releasing half a million prisoners back into society.
It’s a bold, novel proposal to change the American criminal-justice system, and one sure to draw its share of supporters and critics alike.
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