It is pretty much common knowledge that the correctional facilities in the United States are entirely understaffed and overcrowded. So much so, that many states are looking into clemency for low-risk inmates.
A lesser known fact; is that crime rates have dropped dramatically in the United States over the past few decades.
National Crime Rates
Over the past fourteen years, the national crime rate has steadily decreased by two or three percent annually. Currently, the national crime rate is at an all-time low.
Unfortunately, the national average for murder and other violent crimes has been on the rise.
The crime rate in the United States peaked in the 1990’s and has dropped approximately 65% in about 25 years. While some cities have seen spikes in murders from gang violence and drug-related crimes have increased with the heroin epidemic; the national average of assault, battery, harassment, larceny and other violent crimes and property crimes have steadily been decreasing.
The numbers speak for themselves. FBI data and crime victim data matches in that the numbers are decreasing overall. However; there is a huge separation in crimes reported and crimes convicted.
Prison overcrowding is extremely dangerous. Riots like the one at Attica Correctional Facility in New York during the 1970’s claim the lives of many. Prison overcrowding can also lead to prison breaks that which are highly reported locally but often unseen nationally.
The United States has about 1.5 million inmates.
Explanations For Overcrowding and Decreased Crime Rates
A common-sense reason for the discrepancy between crime rates dropping and prison overcrowding is that the system must be working since all the people who were committing crimes are behind bars.
There is also a rather convincing argument which claims that longer prison sentences deter people from committing crimes. Most violent crimes are crimes of passion or the result of mental illness. Neither of these instances allow for a person to think about going to prison for a long sentence.
Yet; these arguments don’t really hold water when population growth is considered. For every criminal that goes behind bars; two or three more can take their place.
What May Actually Be True
A factual argument for such high inmate population with falling crime rates is from the “war on drugs” in the late 1980’s and throughout the 1990’s.
During this time period (1986 to be exact); the Democratic Party managed to lobby for laws that imposed “mandatory minimum sentencing” for all drug-related crimes. What this essentially means is that anyone carrying the tiniest amount of a drug (such as marijuana) would have a mandatory sentence and usually one containing jail time.
The prisons are filled with non-violent offenders who were either hooked on drugs at the time of their offense or selling drugs. The horror stories include people in prison for 20 years because they sold marijuana while marijuana is now being legalized.
Thankfully, many officials are recognizing that some common sense needs to be applied to the overcrowding situations. State Governors are recognizing the need to investigate long sentences with drug and alcohol related crimes. Many times; a criminal really needed rehab and not prison time. President Obama began a mission to give clemency to thousands of victims of America’s war on drugs that went a little too far. President Trump is continuing in this effort as well.