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posted by LaminatorX on Sunday October 19 2014, @03:52PM   Printer-friendly
from the supply-and-demand dept.

After rising rapidly for decades, the number of people behind bars peaked at 1.62 Million in 2009, has been mostly falling ever since down, and many justice experts believe the incarceration rate will continue on a downward trajectory for many years. New York, for example, saw an 8.8% decline in federal and state inmates, and California, saw a 20.6% drop. Now the WSJ reports on an awkward byproduct of the declining U.S. inmate population: empty or under-utilized prisons and jails that must be cared for but can’t be easily sold or repurposed. New York state has closed 17 prisons and juvenile-justice facilities since 2011, following the rollback of the 1970s-era Rockefeller drug laws, which mandated lengthy sentences for low-level offenders. So far, the state has found buyers for 10 of them, at prices that range from less than $250,000 to about $8 million for a facility in Staten Island, often a fraction of what they cost to build. “There’s a prisoner shortage,” says Mike Arismendez, city manager for Littlefield, Texas, home of an empty five-building complex that sleeps 383 inmates and comes with a gym, maintenence shed, armory, and parking lot . “Everybody finds it hard to believe.”

The incarceration rate is declining largely because crime has fallen significantly in the past generation. In addition, many states have relaxed harsh sentencing laws passed during the tough-on-crime 1980s and 1990s, and have backed rehabilitation programs, resulting in fewer low-level offenders being locked up. States from Michigan to New Jersey have changed parole processes, leading more prisoners to leave earlier. On a federal level, the Justice Department under Attorney General Eric Holder has pushed to reduce sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. Before 2010, the U.S. prison population increased every year for 30 years, from 307,276 in 1978 to a high of 1,615,487 in 2009. “This is the beginning of the end of mass incarceration,” says Natasha Frost. "People don’t care so much about crime, and it’s less of a political focus."

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  • (Score: 2) by frojack on Sunday October 19 2014, @10:30PM

    by frojack (1554) Subscriber Badge on Sunday October 19 2014, @10:30PM (#107637) Journal

    Last year's drop in violent crime was mostly the result of a slight decline in one category, simple assault, which is violence that does not involve a weapon or serious injury. There were no statistically significant changes in most other crime types.

    Most simple assault is not even reported. People get punched out, and know damn well the police will not do anything about it, because they didn't see it happen. (you'd be amazed how often you see variations of this theme reported in the news).

    I don't doubt that crime is in fact going down. I never said it wasn't.
    I just pointed out that we don't have consistent numbers on the issue.
    Also, crime statistics do not include crime against prisoners in jails.

    No, you are mistaken. I've always had this sig.
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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 19 2014, @11:02PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 19 2014, @11:02PM (#107639)

    I don't doubt that crime is in fact going down. I never said it wasn't.
    I just pointed out that we don't have consistent numbers on the issue.

    Ah, that is much clearer! You are not saying that crime is increasing, but just that even though it is decreasing we don't really know that, because statistical analysis is, um, inconsistent? Wait, isn't this the exact same thing you said about the walruses? Why would the numbers not be consistent? If they were not, we would expect some different, consistent numbers proving that instead of an argumentum ad ignorantiam. Instead the FBI and the current Federal administration have "political" reasons to falsify crime statistics? Nah, this is still conspiracy theory territory. I hear that if you spray vinegar around your house, it neutralizes the con-trail chemicals. Before it's too late.