Alabama Is One of Just 13 States Reducing Prison Populations, Spending & Crime Rate

By Connor Sheets

A new study has found that Alabama is one of 13 states that saw their prison spending, prison populations and crime rates decline between 2010 and 2015.

The report, released Wednesday by the Vera Institute of Justice, a New York-based nonprofit research organization, showed that Alabama is exhibiting signs that it is reducing its reliance on the prison system without experiencing a corresponding spike in its crime rate.

“[T]he 13 states featured in our report, including Alabama, have been able to both reduce the number of people held in prison and reduce spending on prisons, thus freeing up state resources for other priorities,” Chris Mai, a sentencing and corrections research associate at the institute, said via email.

“These states also all experienced a drop in their crime rates over the same period.”

Alabama is one of a number of states below the Mason-Dixon Line that saw their prison spending and populations fall without experiencing corresponding rises in crime over the study period. Five states did not complete the survey that the Vera Institute used to produce the data in its study.

“The 13 states that reduced both prison size and prison spending are Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas, and Wisconsin, which as you can see includes quite a few Southern states, but also some in the Northeast,” Mai said. “The list includes both red and blue states as well.”

In Alabama, the prison population fell by one percent between 2010 and 2015 to 31,563 people, the study found. Prison spending fell by three percent over the period, to approximately $466.5 million, or $96 per state resident per year.

“While simultaneously downsizing prison populations and spending is easier said than done, these 13 states prove that it is indeed possible,” Christian Henrichson, the Vera Institute’s research director for sentencing and corrections, wrote in a letter accompanying the study. “For those who are up to the challenge, this report makes it plain that a large sum of money is on the table.”

Meanwhile, some states have seen ballooning expenditures even as they have reduced their prison populations. California, for instance, saw a 21 percent drop in its prison population between 2010 and 2015, but its prison spending rose seven percent over the period. As of 2015, the state spent $220 per state resident per year on prisons, according to the study.