ACLU: Reduce Crime by Reducing Prison Sentences

Posted August 9th, 2011 at 9:00 pm (UTC-5)
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A report from the American Civil Liberties Union says several U.S. states have reduced crime – and saved money – by putting fewer people behind bars.

The report, released Tuesday, says one in 99 people living in the U.S. are in prison, making the country the world's largest incarcerator.

But it said a number of states that have adopted “tough on crime” policies – which tend to refer to policies that promote harsh prison sentences – have recently been promoting alternatives to jail time.

For instance, Texas has changed the penalty for possession of small amounts of drugs like marijuana to probation, instead of time in jail. The state has also invested in drug treatment programs and implemented non-prison penalties for people who violate their parole without committing new crimes.

As a result, Texas saw its crime rate drop to its lowest level in more than 35 years. The ACLU says the number of people in Texas prisons has not grown in four years, and the state estimates it has saved some $2 billion.

ACLU deputy legal director Vanity Gupta says these examples show mass incarceration is not necessary to keep the public safe. Gupta says it shows that a “more rational” criminal justice system can also “better protect our communities.”

The six states featured in the ACLU report include Texas, Kansas, Mississippi, South Carolina, Kentucky, and Ohio. The report also looks at reform processes ongoing in four other states – California, Louisiana, Maryland, and Indiana.