There is a great deal of discussion about the best ways to reduce mass incarceration. One topic that has received significant attention is the need to revisit parole for people who have been incarcerated for a long time. Some argue on moral grounds, that there should always be hope, and opportunity to demonstrate repentance and be rehabilitated. Some argue on practical grounds, because many people “age out” of crime, and the people who committed serious offenses when they were young are often at very low risk of committing new crimes after they have aged. I used data from the National Corrections Reporting Program to calculate how many people in prison have been in a long time. The table below shows these figures for each state in the NCRP in the last year for which the state had data, generally 2016.
Overall, 17% of US prison inmates at the end of the NCRP data had already been in prison 10 or more years, 15.5% of them violent offenders and 1.5% nonviolent offenders, so this would be the upper limit of the impact of a policy of offering parole to people who have already served at least 10 years. The table below shows that this percentage varies greatly between states, from a low of 4.4% in North Dakota to a high of 31.8% in the District of Columbia. Although most who have been in prison a long time are violent offenders, In DC, there are nearly as many nonviolent as violent offenders who have already served long sentences. If we adopt the more stringent criterion of having already served at least 20 years, we are down to only 5.6% of the national prison population, the clear majority violent offenders. But, again, states range from a low of 0% in Utah, to a high of 9.8% in Michigan. In general, the large majority are violent offenders, but a substantial fraction (9.7—19.3%) are nonviolent in New jersey, New Hampshire, DC, and Iowa.
In short, we will still have mass incarceration even if we release everyone who has been in prison for more than 10 years, as the large majority of prison inmates have served less time. But revisiting parole and working to release people who have served a long time is one way to start.
This is a table in production as part of a developing post on prisoners who have already served at least 10 or 20 years in prison. At this point I am still trying to get a nice format on the table. Even with this rough format, however, you can see that states vary greatly in the proportion of prisoners who have already served 10 or 20 years, and that although most long-serving prisoners were convicted of violent offenses, in some states a significant minority are nonviolent offenders. I will be updating this post with additional methodological details.State Prisoners, number in state, percent state is of national prisoners, % of state prisoners who have been in prison more than 10 or 20 years, % nonviolent among those in prison 10 or 20 years. (Table can be sorted by columns)
|State||# Prisoners||% of nat'l||% >10yrs||% >20yrs||% nonV >10yrs||% nonV >20yrs|
|0 NATIONAL TOTAL||1,212,756||100||17.0||5.6||8.8||4.6|