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Attorney General Holder announces first drop in federal prison population in more than three decades


Attorney General Eric Holder has announced that the federal prison population has dropped by roughly 4,800 inmates since September 2013, representing the first time the federal inmate population has fallen, rather than risen, over the course of a fiscal year since 1980. He made the announcement in a speech at New York University Law School’s Brennan Center for Justice.

Moreover, Attorney General Holder announced that current Bureau of Prisons estimates project this downward trend to continue in each of the next two fiscal years. In FY15, the inmate population is projected to drop by another 2,200 inmates. In FY16, the population is projected to drop by 10,000 inmates -- or the equivalent of six federal prisons.

“This is nothing less than historic,” said Holder. “Clearly, criminal justice reform is an idea whose time has come. And thanks to a robust and growing national consensus -- a consensus driven not by political ideology, but by the promising work that’s underway -- we are bringing about a paradigm shift, and witnessing a historic sea change, in the way our nation approaches these issues.”

Holder attributed the decline partly to the Justice Department’s Smart on Crime initiative, launched last August. “Already, these changes are fundamentally shifting our response to certain crime challenges -- particularly low-level, nonviolent drug offenses. And this initiative is predicated on the notion that our work as prosecutors must be informed, and our criminal justice system continually improved, by the most effective and efficient strategies available.

“After all -- as I’ve often said -- the United States will never be able to prosecute or incarcerate its way to becoming a safer nation. We must never, and we will never, stop being vigilant against crime -- and the conditions and choices that breed it. But, for far too long -- under well-intentioned policies designed to be 'tough' on criminals -- our system has perpetuated a destructive cycle of poverty, criminality, and incarceration that has trapped countless people and weakened entire communities -- particularly communities of color.” 

While these statistics show progress at the federal level, there is similar progress at the state level, according to the Justice Department. Overall, incarceration rates have fallen by roughly 10 percent since President Obama took office, and that has occurred simultaneously with a similarly-sized reduction in crime rates.

Holder cited some statistics, including that, although the United States comprises just five percent of the world’s population, it incarcerates almost a quarter of its prisoners. The entire United States population has increased by about a third since 1980. But the federal prison population has grown by almost 800 percent over the same period.

The Attorney General’s complete remarks are available here.




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