The Bureau of Justice Statistics recently released new data detailing incarceration rates around the United States. According to this data, current through 2016, Massachusetts had the second-lowest rate of incarcerations (behind Maine). Prosecution policies vary from state to state, producing a significant discrepancy in the rate of incarcerations around the country.
A Closer Look at the Data
Nationwide, state authorities incarcerate more people than the federal system does. By the end of 2016, states had detained a total of 1,316,205 criminals, while federal authorities had imprisoned only 189,192 people. Louisiana had the highest incarceration rate, with 760 people per 100,000 sentenced to a year or more in prison. With a much lower rate of 137 per 100,000 sentenced to prison, Maine possessed the lowest incarceration rate in 2016.
Massachusetts had a rate of 156 per 100,000 incarcerated—the second-lowest rate in the nation. However, according to the Prison Policy Initiative, even states with low rates like Maine and Massachusetts imprison a much more substantial segment of their population than most nations around the world.
Accounting for Large Discrepancies
So, what accounts for such vast differences in incarceration rates from state to state? Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy at New York University, explained, “The differences in locations’ prosecution policies matter a lot. Differences in crime rates matter some, too.”
State prosecutors and judges must adjust their practices to reduce or increase the number of prisoners, depending on the size of the state’s correctional facilities. If a state’s legislature funds and constructs an additional prison, a larger incarcerated population can be supported.
Also, incarceration rates are not the only way to measure a state’s criminal justice system. Some states that have low incarceration rates have higher rates of alternative correctional practices, such as fines, diversion, or community service.
Overall Crime Rates Trending Downward
The national focus on reducing incarceration resulted in a one-percent decrease in the number of criminals sentenced to prison in 2016. With intentional efforts to make policing more effective, cities across the nation are experiencing lower crime rates and reducing the number of people serving time in state prisons.
Help is Always Available
If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges, contact Thomas Whitney, Attorney at Law for guidance and help. We provide effective and aggressive criminal defense to clients in Amherst and the surrounding area. Call us today at (413) 256-6234 to get started with a trusted and experienced criminal defense attorney.