We are still a largely over-arrested people, especially when it
comes to “crimes” that harm no one except (possibly) the person
committing them. But Keith Humphreys at the Samefacts blog draws
our attention to a
bright spot in our recent criminal justice system
At the time of President Obama’s inauguration, the incarceration
rate in the United States had been rising every single
year since the mid 1970s. The relentless growth in the
proportion of Americans behind bars had persisted through good
economic times and bad, Republican and Democratic Presidents, and
countless changes in state and local politics around the
If a public policy trend with that much momentum had even slowed
significantly, it would have been merited attention, but something
far more remarkable occurred: The incarceration rate and the number
of people under correctional supervision (i.e., including people on
probation/parole) declined for three years in a row. At the end of
2011, the proportion of people under correctional supervision
returned to a level not seen since the end of the Clinton
The Bureau of Justice Statistics fact
sheet on this from late November, noting that most of the
decline came not from people literally behind bars, but in the
probation system:Adult correctional authorities supervised about 6,977,700
offenders at yearend 2011, a decrease of 1.4% during the year.
The decline of 98,900 offenders during 2011 marked the third
consecutive year of decrease in the correctional population, which
includes probationers, parolees, local jail inmates, and prisoners
in the custody of state and federal facilities.
About 2.9% of adults in the U.S. (or 1 in every 34 adults) were
under some form of correctional supervision at yearend 2011, a rate
comparable to 1998 (1 in every 34).
At yearend 2011, about 1 in every 50 adults in the U.S. was
supervised in the community on probation or parole while about 1 in
every 107 adults was incarcerated in prison or jail.
The community supervision population (including probationers
and parolees, down 1.5%) and the incarcerated population (including
local jail inmates and federal and state prisoners, down 1.3%)
decreased at about the same rate in 2011.
The majority (83%) of the decline in the correctional
population during the year was attributed to the decrease in the
probation population (down 81,800 offenders).
Mike Riggs from October on four grim
effects of prison overcrowding.