Sunday, October 16, 2011

New York State Prison Population Declines

First the good news. New York state's prison population has dropped by almost 20% since 2000. The end of the Rockefeller drug laws, which gave judges no discretion in handing down some of the harshest sentences in the nation, has not only decreased the state's prison population, but decreased the rates of racial disparities as well.

These statistics prove that the war on drugs was meant to do nothing more than put as many black people behind bars as possible. Sentences were driven by drug convictions, and the drop in those convictions results in few people in jail. Now there are roughly 7,700 fewer black people in New York prisons than there were in 2000.

The bad news is that the United States still has more than 2 million people in jails and prisons, a larger number than any other nation. Budgetary constraints are forcing some states to release prisoners early, but every state is not like New York. Despite an overall drop in crime, some states continue to build prisons, many of them privately owned and with an obvious interest in putting and keeping more people behind bars. The New Jim Crow is still alive and well, but successes must be noted.