NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Strategies to Reduce Prison Population Growth

March 12, 1999

Criminologist John J. DiIulio Jr. is suggesting a five-point plan to stabilize and even reduce the prison population over the next decade. "Until recently," he writes, "increased incarceration has improved public safety." But he has concluded that current laws put too many nonviolent drug offenders behind bars.

Noting that the U.S. prison population is now approaching two million, DiIulio contends that the justice system is becoming less capable of distributing sanctions and supervision rationally -- especially where drug offenders are concerned.

Here are the five policy options he would like to see implemented:

  • Repeal mandatory-minimum drug laws, release drug-only offenders, and mandate drug treatment both behind bars and in the community.
  • Reinvent and reinvest in probation and parole -- while, at the same time, emphasizing public safety as a priority.
  • Stop federalizing crime policy, and modify federal sentencing guidelines.
  • Study and promote faith-based crime prevention and restorative justice -- which aims at restoring the peace that crime robs from victims, perpetrators and the community.
  • Redouble efforts to prevent juvenile crimes.

DiIulio cites 1997 U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that if present incarceration rates were to remain constant, 5 percent of Americans would be imprisoned during their lifetimes. He argues that a continuation of this trend need not occur.

Source: John J. DiIulio Jr. (Princeton University and the Manhattan Institute), "Two Million Prisoners Are Enough," Wall Street Journal, March 12, 1999.


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