Criminologist Todd Clear of Rutgers University credits an “innovative strategy” that sent many parole violators to rehabilitation programs rather than returning them to prison. Drug courts and a falling crime rate also have contributed.
Fewer people are going to prison in New Jersey these days and the numbers continue to drop, reports NJ.com. Those incarcerated in New Jersey—including men and women in prison, juveniles in detention, and detainees still in halfway houses—dropped this year to 19,619, from 21,123 in 2013, a decline of more than 15 percent. The state’s inmate population has fallen more from its peak in the 1990s than any other state, says the advocacy group The Sentencing Project. Since 1999—when more than 31,000 people were behind bars in New Jersey—the number of inmates has plunged by more than a third. “New Jersey leads the nation in prison population reduction,” said criminologist Todd Clear of the Rutgers School of Criminal Justice.
Crime has been going down, but that doesn’t really tell the story of what’s happening in the state’s prisons, says The Sentencing Project’s Marc Mauer. He attributed the inmate decline partly to creation of drug courts that focus on diverting people from prison, as well as changes in the parole system that make it less likely someone will be put back behind bars for minor violations of their parole. More than a decade ago, the state decided that instead of sending many violators back, they were sent to workshops to address the issue that got them in trouble. “That cut returns to prison by about half,” said Clear. “It was an extremely successful, innovative strategy.” The percentage of those serving time for drug crime is down more significantly than for inmates convicted of any other offense.