de·​car·​cer·​a·​tion (ˌ)dē-ˌkär-sə-ˈrā-shən How to pronounce decarceration (audio)
: release from imprisonment
Early data show that crime has remained level in most cities that have released incarcerated people, and that crime rates are functionally unrelated to decarceration.Cynthia Roseberry
There is much talk of defunding the police but little of decarceration—freeing from prisons people who are locked into place because they don't have the financial wherewithal to afford the gentler and more understanding criminal justice system.Erik Sherman
also : the practice or policy of reducing the number of people subject to imprisonment
Decarceration is the effort to limit the number of people who are detained behind bars, either by limiting who is sent to prison in the first place or by creating avenues to release people already in custody. Martha Paynter et al.
decarceration efforts/strategies/policies
the decarceration movement

Example Sentences

Recent Examples on the Web The criminal justice system has moved toward decarceration, but people coming out of custody are almost 10 times more likely to experience homelessness. New York Times, 2 Apr. 2022 The commitment to decarceration and decriminalization persists. Matthew Continetti, National Review, 5 Nov. 2022 When New York City’s second COVID wave arrived, in late 2020, there was no concomitant wave of decarceration. Rachael Bedard, The New Yorker, 24 Mar. 2022 DeAnna Hoskins, president and CEO of JustLeadership USA, a national organization dedicated to decarceration, created the first office of re-entry in Hamilton County. Madeline Mitchell, The Enquirer, 2 Nov. 2020 Hochul’s highhandedness encapsulated an attitude toward crime and punishment that has been shaped by the decarceration movement. Rich Lowry, National Review, 8 Nov. 2022 Because of the virus, such decarceration efforts suddenly made speedy progress. Kelly Servick, Science | AAAS, 17 Sep. 2020 San Francisco’s crumbling, seismically unsafe County Jail No. 4 will close its doors for good Sept. 5, with decarceration efforts related to COVID-19 clearing the path to do so months ahead of schedule. Megan Cassidy,, 25 Aug. 2020 Boudin, like others in his cohort, promised to work to reform the criminal-justice system by focusing on, among other tactics, decarceration and addressing root causes of crime. David Marchesephoto Illustration By Bráulio Amado, New York Times, 28 Feb. 2022 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'decarceration.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


de- + (in)carceration

First Known Use

1963, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of decarceration was in 1963

Dictionary Entries Near decarceration

Cite this Entry

“Decarceration.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 30 May. 2023.

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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