WASHINGTON, March 17 (UPI) -- The number of inmates in U.S. state prisons dropped last year for the first time in nearly 40 years, a Pew Center on the States study indicates.
The center's report, released Wednesday, said that as of Jan. 1 there were 1,403,091 people under state prison jurisdiction, 5,739 fewer than on Dec. 31, 2008. The report said the drop was the first in yearly figures since 1972.
However, when federal prisons are added, the total incarcerated population in the United States was up 1,099. Federal prisons had 6,838 more prisoners as of Jan. 1, totaling an all-time high of 208,118.
The center said 27 states, led by California's reduction of 4,257, reported drops in prison population while the other 23 reported increases, with Pennsylvania increasing the most at 2,122.
"The decline is happening for several reasons but an important contributor is that states began to realize there are research-based ways they can cut their prison populations while continuing to protect public safety," said Adam Gelb, director of the center's Public Safety Performance Project. "In the past few years, several states have enacted reforms designed to get taxpayers a better return on their public safety dollars."
The center said common policy changes include ordering "low-level offenders" to non-prison sentences and accelerating release of non-violent inmates.