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US police chiefs call for reducing prison population

Washington: A group of 130 police chiefs, prosecutors and sheriffs from around the United States called for reforms that would to reduce the US prison population.

The top cops are adding their voice as a group to others — including President Barack Obama — who want to lower the incarceration rate, which is the highest among developed countries.

“We can say from experience that we can bring down both incarceration and crime together,” said Chicago police department superintendent Garry McCarthy, speaking at the group’s first meeting in Washington.

While the US population has increased by 30 per cent since 1980, the country’s prison population jumped 800 per cent during the same period, largely due to sentences that are disproportionately harsh compared to other countries.

US prison cells are often packed with drug addicts, non-violent petty criminals, or prisoners with psychiatric problems, and are serving sentences that are so long that they often lose any chance for rehabilitation.

“Those individuals that can be saved, that want to do something positive to not recidivate and keep going to jail or prison — we’ve got to have an avenue to allow them to do that and for them to become productive members in our society,” said Houston, Texas police chief Charles McClelland.

“It is cheaper to keep someone out of jail and prevent a crime. In the state of Texas, it costs almost USD 60,000 a year to keep one inmate locked up,” he said.

Several members of the group, which includes the police chiefs of Washington DC, New York and Los Angeles, will meet with the president today.

The United States is preparing to release in November thousands of prisoners considered at low risk of returning to crime, as part of an effort to ease prison overcrowding and redress overly harsh sentences.

The release comes after the US Sentencing Commission, which sets policy for federal crimes, reduced its sentencing guidelines for drug possession.

In his weekly radio address on Saturday, Obama urged reforming the US criminal justice system, saying much of it “remains unfair” and that punishments should correspond to the severity of crimes.

“The United States is home to five per cent of the world’s population, but 25 per cent of the world’s prisoners,” Obama said. “Every year, we spend USD 80 billion to keep people locked up.