Virginia's Rising Prison Rates

May 4, 2015

With 2.3 million Americans now behind bars, many states are looking at alternatives to jail time for those who commit non-violent crimes, but Virginia continues to imprison large numbers of people.

Crime in this country has fallen by more than 50% since the early 90’s, and Virginia has the third lowest rate of violent crime in the nation, but Lauren Brook-Eisen, a senior attorney with the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU says Virginia ranks 13th when it comes to locking people up. 

“We’re locking up so many people on the margins who really don’t need to be in jail or prison.  We’re now locking up not just the people that we’re afraid of, but we’re locking up the people that we’re mad at.”

While many states are offering alternative sentences to non-violent offenders - home monitoring, community service, and drug rehab programs, she says Virginia is often opting for a more expensive approach to low-level crime.

“It costs about $30-$40,000 to send someone to prison for a year, and that’s more than a lot of private colleges in this country.”

And while they’re doing time, the Brennan Center says, prisoners are not getting the job skills or counseling that could enable them to stay off drugs and earn an honest living when they get out.