Last year, I wrote a post about mass incarceration in the United States and some of the policies that got us there (see the post here. Recently, there has been some new information about these rates. The Bureau of Justice Statistics released a report called “Prisoners in 2016”, which found that the number of prisoners under state and federal control declined by 7% from 2009 to the end of 2016. While 34% of the decline was due to a reduction at the federal level, there has been a decrease at the state level as well.
As is the case in most other states, Illinois’s prison population dropped nearly 20% in the last five years. According to Dr. David Olson, co-director of the Center for Criminal Justice Research, Policy, and Practice at Loyola University, most of the decline occurred within the last couple years. This is the largest decrease in prisoners since the late 1960s and early 1970s. Dr. Olson pointed out that most of the changes are due to local practitioners making changes during the five-year time frame, not through changes in state laws and policies. More recently, changes in state laws have gone into effect so Olson and the Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform believe that the population will continue to decline, and hopefully will reach their goal of a 25% decline in prisoners by 2025.
As for public opinion on this decline, there is large public support for reducing mass incarceration. Most of the public agrees that we should reduce populations by changing sentencing for drug offenses and minor property offenses. While this is the case, Dr. Olson points out that it will be more difficult to make decisions about violent criminals and if and when they should be released from prison. Additionally, despite this decline, prisons are still significantly overcrowded (read more here).
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