While it might seem intuitive that reducing prison populations would negatively impact public safety – or conversely, that declining crime rates would drive down levels of incarceration – such a relationship has generally been shown to be relatively weak. This is because just as forces beyond crime rates affect incarceration levels, forces beyond incarceration affect crime.
Much of the reform activity of recent years has centered around lower-level drug offenders, with increasing support for diverting such people to treatment programs rather than prisons, as well as reducing excessively severe mandatory minimum sentencing provisions. While these initiatives have produced significant results in many cases, they represent only one aspect of a broader strategy for prison population reduction. This can be seen by examining the composition of prison populations today