The United States remains the world leader in mass incarceration rates, despite a continued trend of falling crime rates, a slight decline in the prison population, and growing interest in prison reform, The New York Times reported earlier this year.
The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics released data in April showing a 10 percent decline in population across all incarceration facilities in the U.S. over the past decade, with just under under 1.5 million people in prison and about 750,000 in county and city jails in 2017.
Though some progress has been made in addressing the issue, New York University School of Law sentencing expert Rachel Barkow told the Times it will be decades before significant progress is realized at the current pace.
“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,” she said. “The kinds of reforms we’re seeing now are really modest. I’m glad were (sic) getting them. But this is not transformative yet.”
Policy changes and court orders across the U.S. have seen some states — such as New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and California — achieve meaningful drops in their prison populations; still, other states have seen marked increases.
Putting more people behind bars is part of the problem, the Times noted, but equally problematic is the increase in longer sentences.
“A record number of people are serving life sentences, according to the Sentencing Project, a group that advocates improvements to the criminal justice system,” the Times wrote. “In fact, while the United States accounts for about 4 percent of the world’s population, it has more than a third of the estimated number of people serving life sentences.”