Inmate numbers lowest since '72

NEW YORK — Spurred by budget crises, California and Michigan together reduced their prison populations by more than 7,500 last year, contributing to what a report says is the first nationwide decline in the number of state inmates since 1972.

The overall drop was slight, according to the Pew Center on the States, just 0.4 percent, but its report suggests there could be a sustained downward trend because of keen interest by state policy-makers in curtailing corrections costs.

"The political and policy environment has changed drastically," said Adam Gelb, director of the Pew Center's Public Safety Performance Project. "There's now a realization on both sides of the aisle that there are research-based strategies to protect public safety and hold offenders accountable without sinking ever more public dollars into prisons."

According to official state data collected by the Pew Center, 1,403,091 people were under the jurisdiction of state prison authorities on Jan. 1, down by 5,739 from a year earlier. In 1972, there were 174,000 prisoners. The report will be released today.