N.Y. prisons post biggest population drop
POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. - Nearly 40 years after tough new drug laws led to an explosion in prison rolls, New York state has dramatically reversed course, chalking up a 62 percent drop in people serving time for drug crimes today compared with 2000.
The steep decline - driven, specialists said, by shifting attitudes toward drug offenders and lower crime - means that nearly 17,000 fewer minorities serve state time today than in 2000, groups that were hardest hit by the so-called war on drugs. Overall, the prison population declined 22 percent.
Hispanics and blacks are still vastly overrepresented in prisons, but incarceration specialists said the overall figures were impressive.
“The drop itself is really quite extraordinary,’’ said Michael Jacobson, director of the Manhattan-based Vera Institute of Justice, a nonprofit center for justice policy research.
“This is very intriguing stuff and encouraging,’’ said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, a Washington-based organization that has criticized sentencing policies as racially biased and counterproductive.
Nationally, New York charted the biggest drop in its prison rolls from 2000 to 2010, a decade when 37 state prison systems had double-digit population hikes.