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New CCJ report: Prison growth slowed in wake of 1994 Crime Bill

Thursday, September 12, 2019  
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The 1994 federal Crime Bill offered states billions to build more prisons, but the state prison population grew more slowly after enactment of the bill, according to an analysis released today by the Council on Criminal Justice.

The Crime Bill, which was signed 25 years ago Friday (September 13) by President Bill Clinton, sought to increase the prison terms served by people sentenced for violent offenses. While some states changed their laws and policies to qualify for the federal prison-construction funds, most states had already acted to boost sentencing severity.

As a result, the rate of state prison growth fell by about half, from about 7% annually before passage of the Crime Bill to less than 3% annually in the years following its enactment and the availability of the incentive funding.  Congress appropriated less than one third of the authorized amount, and the federal funds supported the addition of about 50,000 prison beds, or 4% of state prison capacity at the time.

The study was led by Georgia State University Professor William Sabol, a former director of the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, as part of a series commissioned by the Council on Criminal Justice. The project will examine major Crime Bill provisions in order to understand their legacy and lessons learned. Also released today is an overview of the full scope of the Crime Bill from University of Missouri-St. Louis Professor Richard Rosenfeld, a former president of the American Society of Criminology.  Additional analyses will be released over the coming months.

Additionally, three members of the Council’s leadership provided their reactions to these first papers, offering a range of views of how we can apply knowledge from the past to inform the path ahead.

Click here to read the report.

For further information, please contact Jenifer Warren at or 916-217-0780.