We would ask our readers across Arkansas and elsewhere this today, based upon a fundamental finding in a recent criminal justice-focused report: If rates on crime are shown to be dropping, and bipartisan support for material reform in the criminal law realm is strongly in evidence, why does the number of incarcerated individuals across the country tick steadily upward?
That is a query that centrally emerges in a recent report from the Washington, D.C., research and advocacy group Sentencing Project, which periodically issues findings regarding the nation’s justice system.
The Project’s latest report is somewhat anomalous, as noted in today’s post headline. On the one hand, it cites a clear “trend” marked by a consistently higher prison population. Yet on the other hand, it questions why that should be the case, given clear public sentiment favoring reform that might reasonably produce more equitable outcomes for a select prison demographic and realize significant cost savings at the same time.
According to the Project, there are five times as many inmates in American prisons presently than there were in 1984.
And the number of those locked away for a lifetime is at an unprecedented level, with many thousands of those individuals being sent away — seemingly forever — for crimes they committed before the age of 20.
And additionally of note is this: The number of persons in Arkansas and nationally sentenced to a lifetime in prison are heavily comprised of offenders who were convicted of nonviolent offenses.
Many people — indeed, a wide swath of the public, and on both sides of the great American political divide — view that outcome as egregiously wrong and collectively clamor for substantive change marked by alternative outcomes and appreciable cost savings.
Their hopes might certainly materialize, given an estimate that it can cost taxpayers $1 million or more annually to house an inmate in one of the country’s penitentiaries.
Criminal justice reform is high-profile subject matter, and a topic that is virtually assured to remain at center stage in an ongoing and clearly momentous public debate.