In a report from the Brennan Center for Justice, December, 2016
This report finds the following: • Of the 1.46 million state and federal prisoners, an estimated 39 percent (approximately 576,000 people) are incarcerated with little public safety rationale. They could be more appropriately sentenced to an alternative to prison or a shorter prison stay, with limited impact on public safety. If these prisoners were released, it would result in cost savings of nearly $20 billion per year, and almost $200 billion over 10 years. This sum is enough to employ 270,000 new police officers, 360,000 probation officers, or 327,000 school teachers. It is greater than the annual budgets of the United States Departments of Commerce and Labor combined.33 • Alternatives to prison are likely more effective sentences for an estimated 364,000 lower-level offenders — about 25 percent of the current prison population. Research shows that prison does little to rehabilitate and can increase recidivism in such cases. Treatment, community 8 | Brennan Center for Justice service, or probation are more effective. For example, of the nearly 66,000 prisoners whose most severe crime is drug possession, the average sentence is over one year; these offenders would be better sentenced to treatment or other alternatives.34 • An estimated 212,000 prisoners (14 percent of the total population) have already served sufficiently long prison terms and could likely be released within the next year with little risk to public safety. These prisoners are serving time for the more serious crimes that make up 58 percent of today’s prison population — aggravated assault, murder, nonviolent weapons offenses, robbery, serious burglary, and serious drug trafficking. • Approximately 79 percent of today’s prisoners suffer from either drug addiction or mental illness, and 40 percent suffer from both.35 Alternative interventions such as treatment could be more effective sanctions for many of these individuals.