April 25 (UPI) -- The prison and jail populations have dropped 10 percent over the last decade, showing that changing attitudes on crime and sentencing are working, according to data released Thursday from the U.S. Department of Justice.
Incarceration rates among state and federal prisoners sentenced to more than a year fell from 506 prisoners per 100,000 in 2007 to 440 prisoners per 100,000 in 2017, the DOJ report shows. The prison incarceration rate fell 2.1 percent from 2016 to 2017, the lowest since 1997. For jails, the incarceration rate decreased by 12 percent from 2007 to 2017. It remained flat from 2016 to 2017.
James Alan Fox, a criminologist and professor at Northeastern University, said the prison population is dropping along with the overall crime rate. Violent crime in particular is down 19 percent.
The overall prison population was 1.5 million at the end of 2017, while jail inmates totaled 745,000 in mid-2017.
The number of non-citizens in prison was 7.6 percent in 2017, which is proportionate to the total population of non-citizens in the United States in the 2010 Census.
Racially, the number of black prisoners sentenced to jail fell by 31 percent from 2007 to 2017. Looking at just 2016 to 2017, the number of black offenders sentenced fell by 4 percent, the most of any racial group. An estimated 60 percent of black and Hispanic inmates in state prisons were sentenced for violent offenses, compared to 48 percent of white inmates. Nearly half of all federal prisoners are serving a sentence for drug trafficking.
Marc Mauer of the Sentencing Project, which advocates reducing incarceration rates, said the incarceration rate in federal prisons fell because of changing attitudes toward drug offenses. Drives to reduce prison crowding were also a factor. Still, the United States locks up people at five to 10 times the rate of other industrialized countries.
The U.S. justice system still falls "far short of what is necessary to end mass incarceration anytime soon," Mauer said.