Federal Prison Population Down

Federal Policy Changes Lead to Reduction in Prison Population

Prison cellPointing to efforts to reduce mandatory sentences for non-violent offenders, as well at the impact of the Fair Sentencing Act, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced last month that officials expect a decline of 12,000 inmates in the federal prison system over the next two years. Officials have already seen a reduction of nearly 5,000 inmates over the last year.

Though the reduction is significant—the average federal prison holds approximately 1,500 inmates—Holder acknowledged that it would not likely lead to the closing of any federal penitentiaries, as many facilities are already overcrowded. Interestingly, the drop in the federal inmate population comes at a time when state prisons are showing increases. A study released in September indicates that state correctional facilities increased their numbers of inmate in 2013, the first time that has happened since 2009.

Most of the reduction has come from lighter sentencing for those charged with nonviolent offenses, such as drug crimes. The Fair Sentencing Act specifically reduced sentences for crimes related to crack cocaine. According to Attorney General Holder, the reduction in inmates will ease budget concerns without increasing the risk of violent crime. Said Holder, “Statistics have shown…that high incarceration rates and longer-than-necessary prison terms have not played a significant role in materially improving public safety, reducing crime or strengthening communities.”

In addition to implementing the Fair Sentencing Act, the U.S. Justice Department has also put a program in place that increases the number of persons recommended for presidential sentence commutations. Holder stressed that all those eligible for commutations were nonviolent offenders.

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