Fact Sheet: A Blueprint for Reducing Mass Incarceration in America

by Lauren-Brooke Eisen

Dec 9, 2016

America has less than 5 percent of the world's population, but nearly 25 percent of its prisoners. Our criminal justice system drives and reinforces deep-seated racial inequity. It disproportionately punishes people of color, and is the greatest civil rights injustice of our time.

Politicians, law enforcement, advocates, and economists agree we need to end the era of mass incarceration. The Brennan Center's new report, How Many Americans are Unnecessarily Incarcerated?, conducts an empirical analysis to document how many prisoners are behind bars without a justifiable public safety reason.

Mass incarceration exists because our lawmakers created it. Responding to rising crime in the 1980s and 1990s, states and the federal government enacted a series of laws that dramatically increased sentences for many crimes, and created entirely new ones. But today, crime has plummeted, reaching levels not seen since the 1960s. And, mass incarceration was not the cause. In fact, a majority of states reduced their prison populations while cutting crime.

This report is the first analysis providing a blueprint for how to safely and significantly cut our prison population. Considering a variety of factors -- including seriousness of the crime, impact on the victim, intent, and risk of recidivism -- we looked at how many people don't need to go to prison in the first place, and how many are there for too long.

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