What Eric Holder and Rick Perry have in common: Reducing the number of Americans incarcerated

Published: Friday, Aug. 16 2013 1:20 p.m. MDT

United States Attorney Gen. Eric Holder speaks to the American Bar Association Annual Meeting Monday, Aug. 12, 2013, in San Francisco. In remarks to the association, Holder said the Obama administration is calling for major changes to the nation's criminal justice system that would cut back the use of harsh sentences for certain drug-related crimes. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)


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One in 34 Americans is currently in “correctional supervision” — either in prison, on probation or parole — and it is faced with that fact — and the massive cost that comes along with it — that Attorney General Eric Holder has announced that the federal government will take steps to reduce the number of people going to prison for, “no truly good law-enforcement reason.”

The Economist takes a look at the numbers that might be behind the motivation — a jump of the federal prison population from 24,000 in 1980 to 219,000 in 2013, and a 600 percent increase in the federal prison program's funding — as well as noting how similar steps taken by states, chiefly Texas under Gov. Rick Perry, have had positive effects.

“As Mr Holder noted, these policy shifts mirror similar ones that more than half of all American states have enacted over the past decade. The wave began with Texas — then as now led by Mr Perry — which in 2003 passed a law sending people convicted of possessing less than a gram of drugs to probation rather than prison. In 2007 Texas allocated $241m for drug-treatment and alternatives to prison for non-violent offenders. Between 2003 and 2011 violent crime in Texas fell by 14.2%. The state’s prison population has also declined steadily. Sentencing reform passed in Georgia — where one in 13 adults is imprisoned, on probation or on parole — will save the state an estimated $264m over the next five years. Kentucky’s is forecast to save the state $400m while reducing its prison population by 3,000 over the next ten years.”

Read more on The Economist.

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