Nation’s Prison and Jail Populations Drop for Third Straight Year

Criminal justice reform is an important component of our effort to implement a 21st century approach to drug policy.  While law enforcement will always play a role in combating drug-related crime, we cannot arrest and incarcerate our way out of the drug problem.  Fortunately, some important data released last week show there are some promising trends when it comes to the high rates of incarceration in the United States.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the number of inmates behind bars in the United States dropped in 2011 for the third straight year, falling to about 2.24 million from a peak of 2,307,500 in 2008.  The report also found that the number of Americans under any kind of “correctional supervision”—a catch-all term that includes prisons, jails, probation, and parole—fell for the third year in a row.

Our National Drug Control Strategy contains an array of action items aimed at reducing the burdens that drug use and its consequences impose on our communities.  Among them are efforts to divert non-violent drug offenders into treatment instead of prison, expanding access to drug treatment for incarcerated individuals, and implementing effective reentry programs to break the vicious cycle of drug use, crime, incarceration, and rearrest. 

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