NEW YORK — The American Civil Liberties Union’s Campaign for Smart Justice today unveiled the Smart Justice 50-State Blueprints, a comprehensive, state-by-state analysis of how states can transform their criminal justice system and cut incarceration in half.
The Smart Justice 50-State Blueprints are the first-ever analysis of their kind and will serve as tools for activists, advocates, and policymakers to push for transformational change to the criminal justice system. They are the result of a multi-year partnership between the ACLU, its state affiliates, and the Urban Institute to develop actionable policy options for each state that capture the nuance of local laws and sentencing practices.
The 51 reports — covering all 50 states and the District of Columbia — will be released in multiple phases, beginning with an initial rollout of 24 state reports. The reports are all viewable on an interactive website that allows users to visualize the reductions in jail and prison population that would result from the policy decisions that states pursue. The interactive feature is here: https://50stateblueprint.aclu.org
Each blueprint includes an overview of the state’s incarcerated populations, including analysis on who is being sent to jail and prison and the racial disparities that are present, what drives people into the system, how long people spend behind bars, and why people are imprisoned for so long. The blueprints offer a calculation on the impact of certain reforms by 2025 on racial disparities in the prison population, fiscal costs, and overall prison population. They also show precisely how a 50 percent decarceration goal could be achieved.
While more than 2 million people are behind bars in the United States, only about 10 percent are in federal prisons. Approximately 90 percent of the people incarcerated in the United States are held in local jails and in state prisons.
“Mass incarceration is a nationwide problem, but one that is rooted in the states and must be fixed by the states,” said Udi Ofer, director of the ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice. “We hope that the Smart Justice 50-State Blueprints provide necessary guideposts for activists and policymakers as they pursue local solutions that will address the stark racial disparities in our criminal justice system and dramatically reduce their jail and prison populations. Some of the reforms contained in the blueprints are readily achievable, while others are going to require audacious change. But all are needed to prioritize people over prisons.”
The state reports provide a snapshot of how reformers cannot take a one-size-fits-all approach to ending mass incarceration. For example, in Louisiana, because more than one in three people admitted to prison in 2016 were convicted of property offenses and 30 percent of all admissions were for drug offenses, one road that Louisianans could take for reducing their prison population would be reclassifying drug and many property offenses as misdemeanors rather than felonies.
In Pennsylvania, the number of people entering prison for parole violations grew by 56 percent between 2006 and 2016, suggesting that the state’s decarceration strategy should include the improvement of parole and release policies and the implementation of reforms that would drive down the number of people sent to prison due to supervision violations.
Finally, in Michigan, 16 percent of prison admissions are for drug offenses, and a majority of the people (74 percent) imprisoned in Michigan are serving time for offenses involving violence. Thus, to reduce significantly the prison population in Michigan, policymakers must focus more heavily on transforming the way the criminal justice system responds to offenses like robbery and assault, which lead to sentences that have become harsher and longer over the past decade.
The website and the reports were created by utilizing a forecasting tool developed by the Urban Institute, which can be viewed here:
The ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice is an unprecedented, multiyear effort to reduce the U.S. jail and prison population by 50 percent and to combat racial disparities in the criminal justice system. We are working in all 50 states for reforms to usher in a new era of justice in America. The ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice is fighting in the legislatures, the courts, and in the streets to end mass incarceration.
For more information about the ACLU’s Campaign for Smart Justice: