Oklahoma County is not alone in facing an overcrowded, expensive and overly complicated criminal justice system. As a whole, the United States imprisons its citizens at a rate higher than any other country in the world. Since 1970, the U.S. incarceration rate has grown by more than 700 percent, and it incarcerates 693 people for every 100,000 residents. (1)
The U.S. makes up 5 percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated (2), with 58 percent of the incarcerated in a state prison, around 30 percent in a local jail and 10 percent in a federal facility (3). In March 2016, that translated to 2.3 million people in 1,719 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 942 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,283 local jails and 79 Indian Country jails (4).
And those numbers do nothing to reflect the revolving door of correctional facilities. Each year, 11 million people cycle through their local jail, with the majority of those in local facilities not being convicted for a crime (5). In the last 15 years, 99 percent of total jail growth was the detention of people who were legally innocent – individuals held pre-trial who are not convicted for a crime and do not have the money to post bail.
As the incarceration rate increases, so do the costs of a broken criminal justice system. The federal prison budget increased from $970 million to $6.7 billion from 1980 to 2013(6). On the state level, 40 states surveyed by the Vera Institute of Justice spent $39 billion of taxpayer funds on maintaining their prisons in 2010, outpacing their budgets for the year by $5.4 billion (7).
Because state policy and imprisonment drives the majority of the nation’s prison population, effective reform on a local level can have a huge impact on the national situation. Luckily, many states and communities are leading the charge to create a more effective, more affordable criminal justice system.
- New York was one of the first states to reduce its overall correctional facility population, largely because the New York Police Department shifted their policing practices. Since 1999, the state has lowered its prison population by 20,000, and in the last five years, it has closed 13 prisons. (8)
- In 2007, Texas invested $241 million to divert low-level, nonviolent offenders into drug treatment programs as an alternative to incarceration and funded rehabilitation programs to reduce the risk of recidivism. The state’s prison population then declined by 14 percent and crime rates dropped by 29 percent. (9)
- In 2014, Mississippi passed criminal justice reforms that added additional supervision of parolees in their communities while also increasing the number of people released on parole. In one year, their state prison population had reduced by 15 percent. (10)
- Before it overhauled its criminal justice system, 1 in 13 adults in Georgia were under some form of correctional control (probation, parole or incarceration), and the state was spending $1 billion on corrections. Since 2012, Georgia’s incarcerated population has reduced by 2,000 and has removed the state’s backlog of inmates in county jails. (11)
While criminal justice policy reform hasn’t gained as much traction at a federal level, the U.S. Justice Department announced in August 2016 that it plans to end its use of private prisons because they are not as safe or effective. This directive will impact 13 privately-run facilities that house 22,000 individuals. (12)
The following organizations provide more information on national efforts to reform the criminal justice system.