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State Prison Populations Decline for Third Straight Year

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According to statistics released today by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, state prisons across the United States continued a three-year decline in the number of prisoners in 2011.

The number of state prisoners fell from 1,314,446, to 1,289,376. This represents a 1.9 percent drop in state prisoners. This decline was sufficient to offset the increase in federal prisoners to create an overall drop in the number of all prisoners of 1.3 percent.

The entire correctional population (state and federal prisoners, jail inmates, parolees, and probationers) dropped 1.4 percent between 2010 and 2011. This is the third consecutive year of decreasing correctional populations.

In 2011, 2.9 percent of adults were under some form of correctional supervision, or about 1 in 34, the lowest rate since 1998.

Earlier this year, data revealed that violent crime dropped 3.8 percent between 2010 and 2011, down 15.5 percent since 2002, while property crime dropped 0.5 percent, down 19.9 percent since 2002.

Even as fewer prisoners are behind bars, streets across America are safer every single day. While no amount of crime is acceptable, this decline in both incarceration rates and crime rates is due in some measure to the smart-on-crime policies and conservative criminal justice reforms enacted in an ever-growing number of states.

By putting dangerous, violent offenders behind bars, and appropriately rehabilitating and supervising non-violent and low-risk offenders, state prisons can more efficiently keep citizens safe, while easing budgetary pressures on state governments. And a focus on targeting the root causes of crime by moving away from one-size-fits-all criminal justice policies can work to keep crime rates falling.