WASHINGTON (AP) — The federal prison population has dropped in the last year by roughly 4,800, the first time in decades that the inmate count has gone down, according to the Justice Department.
In a speech planned Tuesday in New York City, Attorney General Eric Holder was expected to say that the Justice Department expects to end the current budget year next week with a prison population of roughly 215,000 inmates.
That figure would represent a drop of nearly 5,000 from the inmate count at the same time last year. It would also be the first time since 1980 that the federal prison population has declined during the course of a fiscal year.
In addition, internal figures from the Bureau of Prisons show a projected drop of more than 2,000 inmates in the next year, and nearly 10,000 in the year after, according to excerpts of his remarks.
The crime rate has dropped along with the prison population, Holder said, proving that “longer-than-necessary prison terms” don’t improve public safety.
“In fact, the opposite is often true,” he said, according to the remarks.
With policies that have at times unsettled prosecutors and others in law enforcement, Holder has worked in the last year to reduce a prison population he says is costly and bloated.
In August 2013, for instance, he instructed federal prosecutors to stop charging many nonviolent drug defendants with offenses that carry mandatory minimum sentences. More recently, the Justice Department has encouraged a broader swath of the prison population to apply for clemency, and has supported reductions in sentencing guidelines for drug offenders that could apply to tens of thousands of inmates.
Holder also said there should be new ways for the government to measure success of its criminal justice policies beyond how many people are prosecuted and sent to prison.
In this era, he said, “It’s no longer adequate — or appropriate — to rely on outdated models that prize only enforcement, as quantified by numbers of prosecutions, convictions, and lengthy sentences, rather than taking a holistic view.”
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