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December 15, 2011

Latest official BJS numbers show historic modern decrease in prison population

Proving once again the aphorism that what goes up (and up and up and up) must eventually come down, this new press release reports on a notable new development concerning modern prison populations:

The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reported today that the number of offenders under adult correctional supervision in the U.S. declined 1.3 percent in 2010, the second consecutive year of decline since BJS began reporting on this population in 1980. At yearend 2010, about 7.1 million people, or 1 in 33 adults, were under the supervision of adult correctional authorities in the U.S.

In addition, the total U.S. prison population fell to 1.6 million at yearend 2010, a decline of 0.6 percent during the year, the first decline in the total prison population in nearly four decades. This decline was due to a decrease of 10,881 in the number of state prisoners, which fell to just under 1.4 million persons and was the largest yearly decrease since 1977. The federal prison population grew by 0.8 percent (1,653 prisoners) to reach 209,771, the smallest percentage increase since 1980....

During 2010, prison releases (708,677) exceeded prison admissions (703,798). The decrease in commitments into state prison, especially the 3.3 percent decrease in the number committed from the courts on a new sentence, was responsible for the decline in the state prison population. The time that offenders entering state prison could expect to serve on a commitment, about 2 years, remained relatively stable between 2009 and 2010, which indicates that the decline in the state prison population during the year was the result of a decrease in admissions.

Half of state departments of corrections reported decreases in their prison population during 2010. California (down 6,213) and Georgia (down 4,207) reported the largest decreases, followed by New York (down 2,031) and Michigan (down 1,365). Illinois (up 3,257) reported the largest increase, followed by Texas (up 2,400) and Arkansas (up 996).

In 2010, the U.S. imprisonment rate dropped to 497 inmates per 100,000 residents, continuing a decline since 2007, when the imprisonment rates peaked at 506 inmates per 100,000 residents. The national imprisonment rate for males (938 per 100,000 male U.S. residents) was about 14 times the imprisonment rate for females (67 per 100,000 female U.S. residents).

Among offender age groups, about 3.1 percent of black males in the nation were in state or federal prison, compared to just under 0.5 percent of white males and 1.3 percent of Hispanic males. Also, an estimated 7.3 percent of all black males ages 30 to 34 were incarcerated with a sentence of more than 1 year.

All of these interesting data and lots and lots more appear this pair of new documents:

I cannot overstate how excited I am to learn that, at the same time that US crime rates continue to hit record modern lows, we are also seeing a decrease in the number of persons incarcerated throughout the country.  And I hope and trust that all readers, no matter what their perspective on sentencing law and policy, will also see this news as cause for celebration.

December 15, 2011 at 02:01 PM | Permalink

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Comments

"...the total U.S. prison population fell to 1.6 million at yearend 2010, a decline of 0.6 percent during the year, the first decline in the total prison population in nearly four decades."

A decline of 0.6 percent is too small to have any appreciable effect on the crime rate. Equally important, when prisoners recidivate, they generally don't do it the day they get released (although that has certainly been known to happen). In addition, I wonder how much of the decline in the PRISON population is due to the ongoing transfer of California prison inmates to county jails. They're still behind bars, just not in "prison."

When there's a, say, ten or fifteen percent drop in the number of persons imprisoned, and we have three years or so to evaluate what happens to the crime rate once they're out on the street, and the crime rate continues to decline (as it has for decades when imprisonment was building up), THEN it will be time to celebrate.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 15, 2011 3:27:28 PM

i'm with you on this one bill. way way too soon to say for sure either way.

Posted by: rodsmith | Dec 16, 2011 1:37:14 AM

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