Prison populations falling amid talk of more state reforms

Stateline Midwest, Volume 20, No. 1- January 2011

For the first time since 1977, the nation’s state prison population is on the decline, and Illinois, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio and Wisconsin are among the 24 states that contributed to the decrease.

The latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics highlight incarceration trends between 2008 and 2009.They also show that the number of adults under correctional supervision (prison, jail, probation or parole) fell 0.7 percent between 2008 and 2009 — the first time that has occurred since the federal government began reporting on this population in 1980.

In recent years, prison populations have received increased attention by state leaders looking to curb costs in their criminal justice systems. Michigan, for example, has expanded the size of its parole board, closed prisons, launched new re-entry initiatives and strengthened community-supervision programs. In 2009, the prison population in Michigan fell more than in any other U.S. state in terms of absolute numbers (3,260 fewer inmates compared to the population in 2008).

Still, Michigan has the highest imprisonment rate in the Midwest, and additional reforms— some of which come from a study done by The Council of State Governments’ Justice Center — will be considered in 2011. Ideas include sentencing reform, minimizing the number of prisoners serving past their earliest release dates, and limiting the amount of additional prison time received by technical parole violators.

Indiana, which has also received assistance from the CSG Justice Center, has the region’s second-highest imprisonment rate. A review of that state’s criminal code and sentencing laws resulted in several policy proposals that Gov. Mitch Daniels endorsed in December: create a more precise set of sentencing laws for drug and theft crimes; provide judges with more sentencing options for individuals who commit the least-serious felony offenses; strengthen community supervision by focusing resources on high-risk offenders; and increase access to community-based substance abuse and mental-health treatment.