Our “tough on crime” laws are actually tough on municipal, local and state budgets…
I don’t think it can be hammered home enough how anomalous America’s incarceration rate has become in the world, and in history. Russia is the only other “superpower” that incarcerates its citizens at a rate comparable to ours. There is no Western European country, no Asian power, no large Latin American country in the Top Ten — on this metric, at least, America truly is exceptional. The chart also reflects the end result of fairly recent developments; the U.S. did not historically have an unusually high incarceration rate. (For that chart, click here or see this Christian Science Monitor piece).
Number one in jailing means we have about 2.3 million Americans in prison. That is a prison population a bit larger than Latvia and a bit smaller than Jamaica fully paid for and housed by tax payer dollars. It’s like if you took the city of Houston and made it into a giant prison. And as the chart from the CEPR study shows, even as crime is falling, our incarceration rate is skyrocketing.
Reducing prison populations by right sizing our sentencing and rehabilitation efforts for non-violent offenders would be an excellent way to reduce public expenditures at federal state and local levels in the medium to long term (5 to 20+ years).