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Prison population trends have shifted, and so have state policies

by Tim Anderson ~ September 2013 ~ Stateline Midwest »
In the 1990s, and for a good part of the last decade, no state was immune to the precipitous rise in the nation’s prison population.
Even traditionally low-incarceration-rate states in the Midwest such as Minnesota and North Dakota saw their numbers of prisoners triple.
But over the past few years, a change has occurred.
All Midwestern states have at least “bent the curve” on prison populations (see charts below), and the nation’s total number of inmates has now fallen for three consecutive years, recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics show. Iowa, Michigan and Ohio are among the states reporting declines between 2010 and 2012.
One oft-cited reason for this new trend is an overhaul of state criminal justice policies.
According to the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Public Safety Performance Project, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Ohio and South Dakota are among the states that have implemented reforms since 2007 to control the size and cost of corrections systems.
Strategies have included changing sentencing laws for lower-level offenders; revising parole decisions and eligibility standards; and employing data-driven, evidence-based strategies that invest more in community corrections and reduce recidivism.
South Dakota’s reforms were adopted this year (SB 70) amid concerns that the state would have to build two new prisons to house the state’s growing inmate population.
Under the new law, more nonviolent offenders will be diverted from prison and additional state dollars will be invested in recidivism-reduction programs. And a new state oversight council will measure performance and ensure that evidence-based practices are being employed.
The Council of State Governments Justice Center has helped lawmakers in several states — including Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin — implement reforms that aim to cut costs and improve public safety.