A new report from a branch of the Brookings Institution notes that the US spent $80 billion on incarceration in 2010, an expense that translates into each American paying $260 per year to house our criminals. That's up from $77 per US resident in 1980, reports CBS News. With violent crime rates down, what's behind the increase? Mandatory sentencing and repeat-offender laws, among other things, like a jump in health-care spending on an aging prison population. The report finds policy changes like "three strikes" laws have led the incarceration rate to balloon from 220 inmates per 100,000 residents in 1980 to 710 inmates per 100,000 of us. That's 340% higher than Mexico's rate, and 1,400% higher than Japan's, Vox reports.
Per the report, "the likelihood that an arrested offender will be sent to prison, as well as the time prisoners can expect to serve, has increased for all types of crime." Charles Lane, however, takes issue with the report (and others like it), which he says "downplays recent progress in favor of a scarier but outdated narrative." While mandatory minimums and longer sentences "probably do yield diminishing returns in terms of crime reduction ... the era of ever-increasing 'mass incarceration' is ending," he writes in the Washington Post. The number of state and federal inmates reached a peak in 2009 and has "shrunk consistently thereafter," he adds, noting new admissions rates have also been reduced. (Read more Brookings Institution stories.)