NY Experiences Unprecedented Drop in Prison Populations
Over the past 10 years, as other states across the country experienced dramatic upticks in crime and exploding prison populations, New York was experiencing something quite different. During that time, New York experienced its biggest drop in prison counts, falling 22% overall.
So what can be credited with the drop in prison populations? Ironically, it was the Rockefeller drug laws that were adopted in 1973. It was these laws that drove a boom, in prison populations and really heralded in the war on drugs. But as the prison population in New York exploded over two decades, officials struggled to keep up, building prisons and sinking millions into the criminal justice system. It was only after officials realized this rate couldn’t be maintained and was actually hurting more than helping, that a reversal in policies and practices caused the drop in numbers we see today.
According to NBC New York, the state had only built 18 prisons in the 140 years before the Rockefeller drug laws. Since they passed in 1973, the state constructed 52 prisons, increasing the number of those held within the prison walls from 13,400 to 71,538 on December 12, 1999. Now, it’s closer to 55,000.
The drop among those incarcerated for drug offenses is the most dramatic, with 62% fewer people serving time for drug offenses now than ten years ago. “The trend is an outgrowth, experts said, of factors including the diversion of more drug offenders to treatment, changes in drug laws, and lower crime rates.” Basically, the city has focused on incarcerating the most serious offenders and preventing low level crimes, which has helped make NYC a safer place.
Despite the controversy that seems to follow the NYPD, with ticket fixing, allegations of brutality, and racism at every turn, some of the department’s policies seem to be bringing about positive results, leading the city to become one of the safest in the country.
The NYPD believes their stop-and-frisk policy, which frisked 600,000 people in 2010, is a significant contributor to their lower crime rate, never mind the fact that 90% of those frisked were minorities.
More likely is that much of the change is being initiated in the courts, through sentencing alternatives. In 2000, the most common crime for which an inmate was incarcerated was third-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance. Now, it’s second degree murder.
Prison is best saved for those who pose a safety risk to society. “I would argue that the right people are being sentenced to prison,” says the state’s prison commissioner Brian Fischer. “Was prison the best alternative for drug abusers? Clearly it was not.”
This doesn’t mean drug offenders are not being penalized in the state of New York, merely that they are less likely to serve prison time than they were a decade ago. If you are facing drug charges and in need of assistance, contact us today for a free consultation on your case and to discuss your options in the changing judicial system.