Since the beginning of the century the long-standing trend of rising punitiveness seems to have come to a halt in a number of countries of the Global North. More precisely, incarceration rates have decreased in various EU countries over the last 6-8 years, that is, since the onset of what has been termed the 'Great Recession'. Most significantly, this evolution has occurred in the US prison system as well. The paper analyses whether the decline of the prison population in the US and Europe may be regarded as a homologous process. For these purposes, the paper examines the contours of the current recessive cycle both in the US prison system and the Spanish prison system, and delves into the social, economic, cultural and political conditions that may explain the recent decline. The paper thereby aims to grasp the significance of the current penal evolution and its ability to open up a period characterised by a less inhumane and more lenient criminal justice system.