New prison admissions in the US are at a 20 year low.
Over at his group blog Keith Humphreys, a professor of psychiatry Stanford, recently pointed out that new prison admissions are at a historic 20 year low. Humphreys goes on to point out that this is a pretty recent phenomena:
“When President Obama was elected, the rate of prison admission was just 3% below its 2006 level, which was very probably the highest it has ever been in U.S. history. But by the end of Obama’s first term, it had dropped to a level not seen since President Clinton’s first year in office.”
I’m sure there are a variety of reasons for this new trend but the major contributing factors are probably America’s overall declining crime rates and the great recession. The first reason is pretty obvious, fewer crimes mean fewer people being sent to the prison. While the great recession probably resulted in fewer prison admissions due to budgetary constraints. Simply put, the federal government can fund prison expansion indefinitely via deficit spending, but most states are required to balance their budgets every year making prison sentences that much more difficult in a time of austerity and across the board budget cuts. Put it all together and I suspect that in states with big budget crunches you see a lot more people being put on probation or into other diversion programs than you did before 2008.
But keep in mind America remains the most jailing society on the planet and even with modest cut backs in the number of people getting sent to prison now, we will probably remain so for a very long time.
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