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December 17, 2012

BJS releases official accounting of "Prisoners in 2011" in the United States

As reported in this official press release, the US Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics this morning released its official accounting of the total population of prisons as of the end of 2011.  Here are a few data highlights via the press release:

Twenty-six state departments of corrections reported decreases in their prison population during 2011, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reported today. California reported the largest decline (down 15,493), while New Jersey, New York, Michigan, Florida, and Texas each had population decreases of more than 1,000 prisoners in 2011.

Among states that had increases in their prison populations, Tennessee and Kentucky both added more than 1,000 inmates in 2011. During 2011, the total U.S. prison population declined for the second consecutive year, to under 1.6 million inmates or 15,023 fewer inmates than in 2010.  This represents a 0.9 percent decrease in the total prison population.

The overall decline in 2011 was due to the decrease in state prisoners, down 21,614 prisoners or 1.5 percent from 2010.  The reduction in California’s prison population under the Public Safety Realignment policy accounted for 72 percent of the total decrease in state prisoners.  The federal prison population offset the decline in the states with an increase of 6,591 prisoners (up 3.1 percent) from 2010 to 2011.

As in 2010, prison releases in 2011 (688,384) exceeded prison admissions (668,800). Admissions to federal prisons increased 12 percent (up 6,513 inmates) in 2011 while state prison admissions decreased 6.4 percent (down 41,511 inmates) from 2010.  The number of admissions to state prisons (608,166) fell to its lowest level since 2001.  Sixty-three percent (26,340 admissions) of the decrease in state prison admissions between 2010 and 2011 was due to fewer parole violators being reincarcerated.

In 2011 the U.S. imprisonment rate dropped to 492 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 (932 per 100,000 male U.S. residents) was over 14 times the imprisonment rate for females (65 per 100,000 female U.S. residents)....

In 2010 (the most recent data available) 53 percent of sentenced state prisoners were serving time for a violent offense, 18 percent for property offenses, 17 percent for drug crimes and 10 percent for public order offenses, such as weapons, drunk driving, commercialized vice and court offenses.

An estimated 188,200 sentenced state prisoners (14 percent) were serving time for murder or manslaughter in 2010, while 160,800 offenders were incarcerated for rape and other sexual assaults.  Between 2000 and 2010, the estimated number of state prisoners sentenced for any violent offense increased by 99,400 inmates, or 16 percent (from 625,600 prisoners in 2000 to 725,000 in 2010).

Inmates sentenced for drug offenses comprised 48 percent (94,600 inmates) of the sentenced federal prison population in 2011, while 7.6 percent of federal prisoners were held for violent offenses.  An estimated 11 percent (22,100 inmates) were serving time in federal prison for immigration offenses.

Because imprisonment, especially at the margins, always seems to me to be a very expensive way to try to reduce crime, I am pleased to see that the prison population in the US went down a bit in 2011.  But, significantly, it seems most of the national prison population decrease can be attributed to the Plata litigation and subsequent realignment in California.  Absent significant prison population reductions in other states in 2012, it is possible that the national prison population in the land of the free could tick back up soon (thanks, in large part, to the seemingly ever-growing federal prison population).

The full 34-page BJS report "Prisoners in 2011," which has lots and lots of interesting data, is available at this link.  Among other interesting information, this new report reveals that, as of the end of 2011, the five largest prison systems in population terms are, in order, the feds, Texas, California, Florida and Georgia.

December 17, 2012 at 11:47 AM | Permalink

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Comments

"An estimated 11 percent (22,100 inmates) were serving time in federal prison for immigration offenses."
Many immigration offenses involve persons who want to share in the American dream. Since they aren't citizens they aren't eligible to share in the dream, so we who can share in the dream, catch them and put some of them in jail. It costs $28,893.36 per year to house these inmates. (22,100 X $28,893.36 = $638,543,256.00). A quick trip back to their land of orgin is much cheaper.

Posted by: ? | Dec 17, 2012 1:39:39 PM

"Many immigration offenses involve persons who want to share in the American dream."

My father's parents wanted to share in the American dream, and came from Germany to do it. The difference is that they waited their turn in line instead of pushing ahead of others by sneaking in. I don't think it's asking too much of immigrants seeking the same dream to play by the rules.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 17, 2012 8:08:15 PM

Bill:
My relatives didn't wait their turn. They landed in New York in 1675. They were some of the first settlers in Schenectady. They took their land from Indians under the color of patents or grants given by foreign Kings. They kept a hold on "their" land through the years by fighting off the Indians, the French and the English. Today, Native Americans are still asking why my relatives (and people like Lord Amherst who gave them blankets tainted with disease)didn't "play by the rules." It just goes to show that he who has superior firepower and resolve makes the rules.

Posted by: ? | Dec 17, 2012 8:37:04 PM

? --

If I wanted to be smart about it, I'd ask why you don't give YOUR land, and/or the wealth that traces from it, back to the Native Americans. But I'll pass on that, because it's just silly. At some point, a 337 year-old grievance gets to be old news. Should the citizens of Rome still be resenting the Visigoths?

I also have a hard time seeing what your ancestors' coming to North America in 1675 has to do with illegal immigration today. There was no country, and thus no country's laws, in North America at that time. So far as I know, there was no written, much less published, code of any sort your ancestors broke by coming here.

The great majority of immigrants presently in the USA got here by complying with the federal law. Those who want to push ahead in line in front of them deserve the same amount of sympathy you'd give to anyone else who pushes ahead in line.

P.S. Congratulations on having a fantastic family history.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 17, 2012 11:09:06 PM

17% of state prisoners were sentenced for drug crimes

48% of federal prisoners were sentenced for drug crimes

The above fact really struck me. I thought that the FBI and DOJ these days are "above" worrying about drugs and instead using their limited resources fighting terrorism, white collar crime, corruption and cyber crimes. At least that is what the DOJ repeatedly claims.

Turns out that they still primarily justify their jobs with the good old war on drugs, a war that everyone by this point knows is a complete joke.

It is such a joke war -- as the HSBC settlement showed us -- that it hypocritically stops just short of the bankers who knowingly launder the drug lords' money. But if they did put the bankers in federal prison, would those be counted as drug crimes or white collar crimes? Hmm. That's a tough one. Filing them under both would be the most accurate.

Posted by: James | Dec 18, 2012 2:41:12 AM

James --

"I thought that the FBI and DOJ these days are 'above' worrying about drugs and instead using their limited resources fighting terrorism, white collar crime, corruption and cyber crimes. At least that is what the DOJ repeatedly claims."

Really? Could you quote any DOJ statement that it's going to softpeddle drug enforcement? It's quite true that DOJ doesn't go after user-only amounts of pot, but that is a miniscule sliver of the drug market. Has DOJ said it's going to take a pass on meth, herion, LSD, cocaine and the rest of them? Where was that?

"Turns out that they still primarily justify their jobs with the good old war on drugs, a war that everyone by this point knows is a complete joke."

What utter tripe. Obama ran and won on a record of drug enforcement very similar to Bush's (and Clinton's for that matter). Public opinion is about evenly divided on pot legalization, but is so overwhelmingly against the legalization of the harder drugs that the question isn't even polled, nor has any of the 50 states come close to ending the "war" on them.

It's your pro-drug fantasy that's the joke.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 18, 2012 10:31:48 AM

Hi Bill- I suppose you are right about Obama. That's what these numbers say. Same old same old when it comes to federal law enforcement, even as the states are starting to see the light on our incarceration epidemic.

Same thing goes with Obama's immigration policies, by the way. It was amazing to me that so many Latinos voted for Obama when he has been far harsher on Mexican farmworkers than Bush or Clinton, not that Romney would have been an improvement. Obama has turned "immigration detention" into a big business. It's not just about deportation anymore. It's about getting locked up like cattle for a year or two (so that a private prison corp. can make a few bucks) and THEN getting deported.

As for the drug war, there are few serious people that I know of who do not view the drug war writ large as one of the most catasptrophic social policies in human history. That's certainly the way the policies will be viewed historically. Do you think it makes sense to engage in policies that increase the price of the thing you are trying to eradicate... while meanwhile tearing apart whole communities and creating incredible levels of violence that span continents. The damage has been so widespread -- the drug war has torn apart America's soul while exacerbating the underlying problem and making the drug lords even richer.

We will perhaps never agree because you have spent a career furthering these misguided policies, but I sense that you are a good person and would humbly suggest that there is perhaps a part of you that feels incredibly guilty for being a part of something so socially devastating and hypocritical.

Posted by: James | Dec 18, 2012 12:09:51 PM

This is worrying...

Posted by: Peter | Apr 15, 2013 10:38:30 AM

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