The high rate of incarceration in the U.S. is a significant factor in state and local governments' current budgetary strains, according to a new study from the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). The report, "The High Budgetary Costs of Incarceration," estimates that cutting the incarceration rate for non-violent offenders would reduce state and local budgets by almost $15 billion per year, about one-fourth of their annual corrections budgets.

The study finds that the rate of incarceration in 2008 — 753 per 100,000 people — was 240 percent higher than it was in 1980. According to the report, the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, a rate that is seven times higher than the average for other rich countries. "Shifting just half of the non-violent offenders from prison and jail to probation and parole could save state and local governments $15 billion per year," said John Schmitt, a senior economist at CEPR and lead author of the report, in a statement.

The study claims that some of the main causes of the rise in incarceration rates are "mandatory minimums" policies and "three strikes" laws that often lead to long prison terms for non-violent offenders. Research on the connection between crime and incarceration suggests that state and local governments could shift non-violent offenders from jail and prison to probation and parole with little or no deterioration in public safety, according to CEPR. "Looking back on the last 30 years, the idea of 'locking people up and throwing away the key' has done very little to combat crime, but it has created a tremendous burden for state and local governments." Schmitt said.

Download "The High Budgetary Costs of Incarceration."

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