A new study finds the Garden State is cutting crime, while at the same time reducing the number of state prison inmates.

Prisoner in jail
Dan Bannister, ThinkStock

The report, from New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, finds since 2000, New Jersey’s prison population has dropped 26 percent while the overall crime rate went down about 30 percent during that same period.

New Jersey Department of Corrections Commissioner Gary M. Lanigan says new programs and initiatives are the reason why.

According to Lanigan, education behind bars is being stepped up, new programs are helping released inmates find employment - which is reducing the recidivism rate - and mandatory drug courts for non-violent offenders are being phased in.

“Just that initiative alone since it started, has diverted 6,000 inmates from the Department of Correction custody to treatment programs in the community, while the violent offender is still being locked up,” he said. “We have the one stop centers where inmates can go after they’re released to find employment, you have initiatives such as ban the box.”

There’s also a new program that stresses education behind bars.

“As inmates are leaving our system, we attempt to ensure they have either a GED diploma or a 12th grade reading level," Lanigan said.

He also points says there is better collaboration now between the Department of Corrections, the parole board and the jails than there has been before, which means inmates are put into state facilities more rapidly and can take advantage of a number of programs designed to help them break the cycle of crime and incarceration.

“Right now, there are about 21,000 Corrections Department inmates in custody, compared to 30,000 in 15 years ago, and the recidivism rate at that same time was some 48 percent at the turn of the century, and today it’s down to 32 percent," Lanigan said.

The bottom line, he says, is that “it saves a lot of money for taxpayers, we’ve closed facilities, and we’ve moved inmates off the county jail system payroll. It’s much more efficient and saves a lot of money.”

The report, which tracked incarceration and crime rates in all 50 states, proposes a policy to offer financial incentives to states that reduce their prison populations by 7 percent over three years, provided that crime rates don’t substantially increase.