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Safety vs. Savings, Where’s the Balance?
Thinking About Corrections

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The U.S. represents 5% of the world’s population and contains 25% of the world’s incarcerated population. China follows the U.S. holding 14% of the world’s incarcerated population. In plain English, that means the U.S. locks up a lot more people than any other country in the world—and that’s expensive.

What determines the size of correctional populations?

The Norval Morris Project’s Keystone Group commissioned author James Austin to produce "Reducing America's Correctional Population: A Strategic Plan". In it, Austin notes that "all correctional populations are the result of two key factors-admissions and length of stay (or LOS)." These two factors have driven the growth of correctional populations in the past and will be the keys to population reductions in the future. Prevention, including first admissions to any part of the criminal justice system and readmissions as a result of new sentences or revocations, could also be considered as a factor.

What needs to be done?

That’s the tricky part. There are 550,000 correctional workers in the U.S.  Over $50 billion a year is spent on corrections. It’s an entrenched industry in which many individuals, communities, agencies, and industries have come to rely on the high levels incarceration. Intentionally or unintentionally, there are many people whose livelihoods depend on the business of “keeping people locked up”. 

Even before the recent economic crisis, many groups, including participants in NIC’s Norval Morris Project, have been seeking ways to safely and significantly reduce the corrections population in the coming years.  Plunging budgets are accelerating that process.  The concern being felt in the public is that a reduction in the corrections population will correlate to a rise in crime—especially violent crime.  

NIC continues to support safe reduction of the correctional population through evidence-based strategies that seek to minimize the risk to the public.  You can learn more about the strategies and projects we are currently supporting in our Projects section.

Learn more about this topic…

Where do you stand?

Can corrections make us so safe we can’t pay for it? 




Posted Fri, Mar 5 2010 4:50 PM by Joshua Stengel

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This blog is funded by a contract from the National Institute of Corrections, U.S. Department of Justice. Points of view or opinions stated in this document are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.