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For 30 years, America’s correctional policies put more people in prison and kept them there longer. This practice made our country the world’s most enthusiastic jailer by far. We have roughly 2.3 million people behind bars today, or nearly one in every 100 American adults.
The painful legacy of our incarceration spree includes billions of dollars in costs, fractured families and disappointing results. Fortunately, a movement driven by facts and common sense is now steering the nation onto a wiser, more productive path.
Momentum is strongest in the states where lawmakers are overcoming political differences to unite behind cost-saving reforms that ensure violent and chronic offenders go to prison but punish those convicted of nonviolent crimes through more effective alternatives.
Texas led the way with pioneering changes back in 2007. Facing overwhelming prison growth, Texas scrapped plans to build more prisons and instead invested in approaches proven to reduce reoffending. Since then, the state’s recidivism rate has dropped 25 percent, crime rates are at their lowest level since 1968, and the state has avoided nearly $3 billion in prison costs. The reforms have since spread coast to coast, from Mississippi in the Deep South to South Dakota in our country’s heartland and Oregon out west.
Now Alaska is poised to join this growing list. We heartily applaud the state’s decision to join the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a data- driven reform process that’s been used by more than two dozen states to curb corrections costs while reducing offender recidivism and protecting public safety.