Incarceration: Which States Can Cut Back?

Incarceration: Which States Can Cut Back?

Earlier this month, I wrote about Texas's success in reducing crime and incarceration at the same time. As I pointed out, the state was in an unusual situation when these trends started: Even taking into account its crime rates, its incarceration rate was astronomical. The relationship between crime and incarceration is tricky to evaluate, but with such out-of-whack numbers, Texas was an especially ripe target for incarceration cuts that had little risk of increasing crime.

This raises the question of which other states are in the same boat. To provide an answer, I compared the Justice Department's state-by-state murder rates with its numbers for imprisonment (defined as "the number of prisoners under state or federal jurisdiction with a sentence of more than 1 year per 100,000 U.S. residents").

Here are the results, with a regression line to give a sense of which states are above and below the overall trend:

As I noted in my previous post, despite reducing its incarceration rate, Texas is still up there. Also high: Idaho, Oklahoma, Arizona, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. These states seem most likely to benefit from prison reform without suffering higher crime.

Quick data note: You may notice that several states (Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and Vermont) are missing. I had to cut these owing to some limitations in the numbers; usually the problem was that the state operates an integrated system that includes both prisons and jails. Obviously, it doesn't work to compare prison-and-jail numbers from some states with prison numbers from others.

Robert VerBruggen is editor of RealClearPolicy. Twitter: @RAVerBruggen

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