In 1999, conservative scholar John J. Dilulio opined in the Wall Street Journal that 2 million inmates in jail and prisons across America were enough.
By year-end 2008, it was 2.3 million, according to the annual report released this month by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The 0.8 percent rise from 2007 to 2008 was the lowest rate of increase since 2000, but the number of prisoners sentenced to more than one year still increased from 1.54 million to 1.61 million.
The increase is not inexorable. It is the result of specific choices by real human beings in 50 states, the Distict of Columbia, and in the federal system.
How do we turn the Titanic around? Well, the relentless recession has forced a degree of clarity about sentencing and correctional policies across the country. The prison population was actually down in 2o states this year.
Keep an eye on the Public Safety Performance Project at the Pew Center on the States, which is tracking these developments. There will surely be much more to come in 2010.