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VA Prison Population Shrinks, Following National Trend

An annual report from the non-profit Vera Institute of Justice shows the U.S. prison population continues to shrink, including in Virginia.

There was a 1.8 percent decline in the number of people incarcerated in state and federal prisons over the last year. It’s a difference of about 20,000 people. Virginia’s prison population dropped by about the same percentage-a difference of about 500 people across the state.

Jacob Kang-Brown, a researcher with Vera, says states that are seeing the biggest declines have started rejecting or reducing mandatory minimum sentences.

“Changing how certain crimes are classified. So theft crimes, classifying those as misdemeanors, which might be a short jail sentence, as opposed to a prison sentence,” Kang-Brown said. “And it’s things like developing real substantive alternatives to incarceration.”

Kang-Brown said while Virginia has reduced its prison population, it is still relatively high compared to other states.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced Wednesday he would no longer support additional mandatory minimum sentences.

Vera researchers said the nationwide decline is driven by a large decrease in the number of people housed in federal prisons, as well as big declines in seven states, including Missouri and Delaware, which saw populations decrease by more than 5 percent.

Prison populations in some states are actually on the rise. Kentucky, Indiana, and Mississippi all saw their prison populations grow over the last year.

The study includes year-end 2017 and 2018 data that researchers collected from state corrections departments and the federal Bureau of Prisons.

Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.
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