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Fewer people in state prisons, new study says

The inmate population at state prisons has declined for the first time in 38 years, according to a new study from the Pew Center on the States.

According to the report, Prison Count 2010, about 1.4 million people were under the jurisdiction of state prison authorities in January of this year, about 5,700 fewer people than in December 2008. It is the first year-to-year drop in prison population since 1972, according to the report.

The reason? States have more programs to divert low-level offenders and probation and parole violators. Additionally, the report states, community supervision and prisoner re-entry programs have gotten stronger.

In Maryland the number of prisoners declined by 1,315 people, or 5.6 percent, to roughly 22,000 inmates.

Virginia saw a smaller decline of 195 inmates, or 0.5 percent, to roughly 38,000.

Since the District is not a state, people convicted in D.C. Superior Court go into the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which reported that the population of District inmates convicted in local court also declined during that same period, to 6,042 as of February, down from 6,507 in November 2008.

Mark Earley, former Virginia attorney general and president of Prison Fellowship, an international prisoner outreach program, said the reduction reflects shifts in state policy to reserve prison space for the most violent offenders and pursue alternate sentences for low-risk offenders.

“If we come together now to tackle our nation’s prisoner re-entry crisis, we can make the public safer, save taxpayer dollars and continue to see a decline in the prison population," Earley said.

--Theola Labbé-DeBose

By Theola Labbé-DeBose  |  March 19, 2010; 8:02 AM ET
Categories:  Around the Nation , Maryland , Prison Beat , The District , Theola Labbé-DeBose , Virginia  
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The majority of inmates in the US are housed in compounds without walls. They have the option to walk off and hide among the population. But none want to leave. Escaping from the long arms of the law in the US is almost impossible. Inmates would rather wait until their sentence is completed. All concrete prison walls should be torn down. They are only there for symbolic and political reasons. There is no hiding place in the US.

Posted by: melvin_polatnick | March 20, 2010 9:40 PM | Report abuse

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