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December 31, 2020

Federal prison population closes out 2020 at new modern low of 152,184 according to BOP

Screenshot 2020-12-31 at 9.56.12 AMA helpful reader recently reminded me that the last federal prison population headcount from the Bureau of Prisons in 2019 — specifically from December 26, 2019 — reported "175,858 Total Federal Inmates."  That number was itself a pretty notable decarceration achievement for the federal system: just six years earlier, in 2013, the federal prison population clocked in at around 220,000 total inmates according to the BOP.

I am focused on the last federal prison population headcount from last year because the Bureau of Prisons this morning reported at this webpage the "Total Federal Inmates" count at the very end of 2020.  Remarkably, this remarkable year has brought a decline of over 23,500 inmates, as the total now stands at 152,184

The COVID pandemic, of course, accounts in various ways for these 2020 decarceral developments.  It is hard to unpack just how much this year's decline can be attributed to a lot more persons being moved out of federal prisons or a lot fewer people being moved into federal prison.  (As noted in this post, the US Sentencing Commission released some early COVID-era sentencing data showing that the number of federal sentences imposed between April and June 2020 dropped about 40% from the usual rate.)  Interestingly, after the pace of declines in the federal prison population seemed to slow considerably in the late summer and fall, there has now been a 2000-person decline in the BOP population since Thanksgiving.  These data make me a bit more hopeful that we could end up below 150,000 total federal inmates during the first few months of 2021.

A few of many prior related posts:

December 31, 2020 at 10:29 AM | Permalink


This is a remarkable and unacknowledged phenomena that has taken place during the last 4 years.

It might be noted that during the first 5 years of the Obama presidency the federal prison population rose from 201,668 to it's all time high of 219,298 in 2013.

It will be interesting to watch the federal prison population in the coming years. This is the real statistic that indicates sentencing reform.

Posted by: beth curtis | Dec 31, 2020 5:24:42 PM

How many, if any, of the 152,000 are pre-sentencing?

Mark Haase
Minnesota Ombuds for Corrections

Posted by: Mark Haase | Jan 5, 2021 7:55:20 AM

I am wondering how many of these individuals are charged with immigration violations. In our area, nearly half of federal sentences were immigration-related, mostly people being charged, found guilty, and serving time for illegal re-entry. But the number of those convicted would have dropped significantly with the rapid expulsions of people crossing the southern border due to Title 42, and other policies that return people to Mexico. Are the drops also related to a decline in people serving time for immigration violations?

Margaret Brown Vega
Anthropology professor, immigrant advocate, abolitionist

Posted by: Margaret Brown Vega | Jan 5, 2021 8:33:18 AM

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