America's high rates of incarceration are caused in part by public policy changes causing more prison sentences and lengthening time served

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  • A 2008 New York Times article[1], said that "it is the length of sentences that truly distinguishes American prison policy. Indeed, the mere number of sentences imposed here would not place the United States at the top of the incarceration lists. If lists were compiled based on annual admissions to prison per capita, several European countries would outpace the United States. But American prison stays are much longer, so the total incarceration rate is higher."
  • According to the Sentencing Project[2], "The National Research Council reported that half of the 222% growth in the state prison population between 1980 and 2010 was due to an increase of time served in prison for all offenses."
  • According to the Sentencing Project[2], "Since the official beginning of the War on Drugs in 1982, the number of people incarcerated for drug offenses in the U.S. skyrocketed from 40,900 in 1980 to 450,345 in 2016."[3]
  • According to an article by Vox[4], a report by the Urban Institute[5] is part of a "growing body of evidence that mass incarceration has been caused far more by rising punishments for violent offenses than drug offenses."
  • The report by the Urban Institute[5] finds that increases in mass incarceration vary by state, and that "That these trends vary so much across states suggests that the growth in time served is driven by state-level decisionmaking."

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