More than two decades of The War on Drugs has proven definitively that locking people in jail is a terrible way to solve the drug problem. It has given us the world's highest incarceration rate—an incarceration problem that is worse than the problems that the mass incarceration was supposed to solve. Now, perhaps, the pendulum has begun to swing back towards sanity.
The WSJ today looks at the scattered, but hopeful, evidence of the slowwwwww beginnings of a decline in the American prison state. While noting that there are no comprehensive stats on prison closures, the bulk of evidence seems to indicate that states are starting to shut down prisons and shrink their inmate count—not from a sense of moral duty so much as from a fiscal imperative. Locking up everyone turns out to be pretty expensive.
Cash-strapped states are increasingly turning to corrections budgets in search of cuts. From 1982 through 2001, state corrections budgets more than tripled to a peak of $53.5 billion, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Now, spending is 9% below that level... in 2010, the inmate population fell for the first time in nearly four decades.