The United States, which has less than 5 percent of the world’s population, has about one-quarter of its prisoners. But the relentless rise in the nation’s prison population has suddenly slowed as many states discover that it is simply too expensive to over incarcerate
Between 1987 and 2007 the prison population nearly tripled, from 585,000 to almost 1.6 million. Much of that increase occurred in states... that had adopted overly harsh punishment policies, such as the “three strikes and you’re out” rule and drug laws requiring that nonviolent drug offenders be locked away.
These policies have been hugely costly. ..
Michigan, which has been hard hit by the recession, has done a particularly good job of releasing people who do not need to be in prison. ..Michigan reduced its prison population by about 8 percent between March 2007 and November 2009 by taking smart steps, notably doing more to get nonviolent drug offenders out, while helping in their transition to a productive, and crime-free, life.
Not every state has gotten the message. Florida, for example, has a state law mandating that all prisoners serve a high percentage of their sentence, which is both dubious corrections policy and terrible fiscal policy.