The United States still has the largest known incarcerated population in the world.
“If we keep working on the kinds of criminal justice reforms that we’re doing right now, it’s going to take us 75 years to reduce the population by half,” said Rachel Barkow, a sentencing expert at New York University School of Law and author of “Prisoners of Politics: Breaking the Cycle of Mass Incarceration.”
Like others who study the United States prison population, Ms. Barkow saw the significance of Thursday’s report not in the decline itself, but in how minor it was.
“The kinds of reforms we’re seeing now are really modest,” she said. “I’m glad were getting them. But this is not transformative yet.”
Slightly under 1.5 million people were in prison at the end of 2017, a slight decrease from 2016 but still a population that, if gathered in one place, would be one of the largest cities in the country.
County and city jails held around 750,000 inmates in mid-2017.
Combined, the United States would remain the world’s leader in incarceration, according to data collected by the Institute for Criminal Policy Research at Birkbeck, University of London. It is unclear, though, exactly how many people are held in detention in China, a country with a similarly high prison population.
The incarceration rates for both jails and prisons in the United States have declined by more than 10 percent over the past 10 years, the federal report found. (Prison is for people serving sentences longer than one year, while jails typically hold those awaiting trial or sentencing, or those serving shorter sentences.)
The decline in the prison population is not connected to the crime rate, which has fallen steadily over the past decades. Instead it is it the result of policy changes and court orders, and has been markedly uneven.
A drop in the federal prison population, due in large part to a 2014 decision by the U.S. Sentencing Commission to reduce sentences for drug crimes, accounts for a third of the year-over-year decline. And while some states have significantly reduced their prison populations in recent years, others continue to set records for the number of people they are keeping locked up.To read more CLICK HERE