More than 130 police chiefs, sheriffs and prosecutors have joined the rising chorus to reduce the number of inmates in U.S. prisons. Members of Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration are calling for, among other things, alternatives to arrests, lowering the number of criminal laws and ending mandatory minimum sentences.
Another call to reduce incarceration is hardly news, except when it comes from the people who have generally supported the sentences and laws that have quadrupled the prison population over the past 35 years. With more than 2 million people in prison, including 53,000 in Pennsylvania, the United States leads the world in incarceration.
In the past two years, advocacy groups and a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers have called for a change in course. Human rights organizations seek a more just and humane criminal justice system, while politicians lament the enormous costs.
Imprisoning one offender costs as much as $40,000 annually. Pennsylvania spends $2 billion a year on corrections, while the nation spends an estimated $80 billion.
This call from some of the nation’s top cops is significant because law enforcement’s chief concern is public safety. These leaders understand that policies to reduce the nation’s prison population also can bolster public safety.
Since 95 percent of prison inmates return to their communities, less emphasis must be put on time behind bars and more on treatment for addiction or mental health problems and reintegration into society.