This 45-second GIF might help explain why Republicans like Sen. Mike Lee and Reps. Raul Labrador and Paul Ryan are on board with prison sentencing reform.

Prison populations have soared in recent decades.

Here's a chart detailing the dramatic upswing in federal prison incarceration rates between 1978 and 2011:


Here's a chart detailing a similar surge in state prison incarceration rates:


And here's a chart with the increase in incarceration rates for local jails:


As the chart below shows, prison populations were relatively stable from the 1920s until the 1970s. The rise in imprisonment that accompanied tough-on-crime rhetoric and the War on Drugs is without precedent in our history.


But times are changing.

The Washington Examiner's Betsy Woodruff has been reporting on an attempt to reduce mandatory minimum sentences and prevent some non-violent drug offenders from dealing with mandatory minimums at all.

Sponsored by Tea Party darlings Lee and Labrador, the Smarter Sentencing Act is a bipartisan effort to reduce the federal prison population.

The effort recently received an added boost as Ryan announced his support for the bill.

[About the GIF: Readers will notice that the legend is rather small. I've attached a larger version below. Basically, green is the lowest, followed by yellow and then orange and red. Please also note that the GIF excludes local jail numbers].