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There are fewer Americans in prison, jail, probation, or parole than any time since 2003

(Bureau of Justice Statistics)

The US corrections population dropped to its lowest point since 2003, US Attorney General Eric Holder announced Friday.

The number of Americans in prison, jail, parole, or probation dropped to less than 6.9 million in 2013, down 41,500 compared to 2012 and hitting the lowest point since 2003, according to a report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Until 2008, the corrections population had been steadily growing for decades as all levels of government enforced tough-on-crime policies — particularly against drug offenses — that tied up more people in the criminal justice system. But states and the federal government, facing budget constraints brought on in part by the cost of maintaining large prison populations, began pushing reforms that reduced penalties for nonviolent offenders and diverted more people to punishments besides incarceration.

But the rate of decreases appears to be slowing down compared to previous years. Brian Elderbroom, a senior research associate at the Urban Institute's Justice Policy Center, argued more reforms will be needed to reduce the incarceration rate further.

"We didn't get to today's incarceration rate overnight," Elderbroom said. "We're not going to get to the imprisonment rates that we believe are more appropriate overnight."

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