Hundreds of thousands of Americans are unnecessarily imprisoned, and releasing them would save billions

This image was removed due to legal reasons.

Over half a million people currently locked up in federal and state prisons are there without any good public safety-related reason according to a new analysis of data from the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law.

Some 576,000 prisoners—39 percent of the total prison population—were deemed by the Brennan Center to not pose a threat to public safety. The center made that determination using a rubric to grade the seriousness of their crime, the impact of the crime on its victims, the prisoners' intent, and the likelihood of recidivism.

"The current sentencing regime was largely a knee-jerk reaction to crime, not grounded in any scientific rationale. While it may have seemed like a reasonable approach to protect the public, a comprehensive examination of the data proves it is ineffective at that task," the report's authors write.

This image was removed due to legal reasons.

If these prisoners who don't pose a threat to public safety are released, it would save state and federal governments nearly $200 billion over the next decade—more than "the annual budgets of the United States Departments of Commerce and Labor combined," the report finds.

President Obama, frustrated with Congress's inability to pass meaningful sentencing reform for him to sign, has commuted nearly 1,000 prison sentences during his administration, most of them over the past year or so. However, this piecemeal approach is obviously not what is required to truly reform our criminal justice and prison systems.

Sam Stecklow is the Weekend Editor for Fusion.

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