07/30/2012 03:13 pm ET

Prison Population Reduction: Department Of Justice Pushes For Lower Incarceration Rates

A Department of Justice official pushed for two legislative proposals that would reduce the number of American prisoners in a country that houses more inmates than any other nation.

While speaking to the National District Attorneys Association last week, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer advocated for increasing the amount of time of time off prisoners earn for good behavior.

Currently "good time" rules allow inmates to shave 47 days from their sentence each year. Breuer called for upping that allowance to 54 days a year, a proposal highlighted by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Breuer also made a pitch to allow prisoners who complete programs proven to reduce recidivism to get up to 60 days per year of credit toward completion of their sentences.

With 2.3 million Americans incarcerated at the end of 2011, shortening prison sentences is a way for the government to save money, he said.

"We are living in an austere fiscal environment – one that demands that we do more with less," Breuer said. "That demand – at the federal level, as well as in the states and at the local level – remains pressing. And it shows no sign of lifting in the near future. Today’s fiscal austerity presents significant challenges for law enforcement."

Breuer also said that, while prisons are important for public safety, they are just one piece of the puzzle.

"They must be safe and secure, and we must maintain our capacity to imprison those who commit crimes," he said. "But, we must also recognize that a criminal justice system that spends disproportionately on prisons – at the expense of policing, prosecutions and recidivism-reducing programs – is unlikely to be maximizing public safety."

The speech comes in the wake of several states making efforts to limit the number of prisoners under their care. These steps are often taken with fiscal austerity in mind.

As a country, we have made enormous gains fighting violent crime over the past 20 years – unprecedented gains," Breuer said. "But, in an era of declining public safety budgets, we are forced to come up with new solutions to the existing crime problem. That is a challenge we will all face in the years ahead."