The United States currently incarcerates an estimated 2.2 million people, by far the most in the world. Despite having only 5% of the global population, our country has an astounding 25% of it’s prison population. There are several reasons for this, including the private prison industry and overly harsh sentencing laws that are a result of the outdated (and failed) “War on Drugs”.
How do we end this? Should we change the laws? Which ones? State or federal? Should we reduce charges for nonviolent offenses? Drug offenses? Others?
The answer to these questions is yes. Yes, laws need to be changed. Yes, both state and federal need to be changed. Yes, drug sentencing guidelines are too harsh. Yes, nonviolent offenders can go to prison for decades as a result, and this should also be changed. But other laws that contribute to mass incarceration should be changed as well if the “justice” part of our criminal justice system is to truly be applied.
Which laws should be changed? How much? What effects would reducing penalties for drug offense have? What about nonviolent offenders? Violent offenders? What would be the result?
These answers can be found in this interactive graphic. The Urban Institute has recently created a predictor called the Prison Population Forecaster. Take a few minutes and select different features to see how much or how little changing specific policies will affect mass incarceration.
By using this predictor, you can see just how many different changes are needed to bring about true justice in the US criminal justice system. It will not be an easy fix.