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March 31, 2022

BJS releases new report on "Correctional Populations in the United States, 2020 – Statistical Tables"

I just noticed that last week the Bureau of Justice Statistics released a new accounting of correctional populations in this document titled ""Correctional Populations in the United States, 2020 – Statistical Tables." The first page of the 14-page document provides this overview and "highlights":

At yearend 2020, an estimated 5,500,600 persons were under the supervision of adult correctional systems in the United States, 11% fewer than at the same time the previous year.  This was the first time since 1996 that the total correctional population dropped to less than 5.6 million.  About 1 in 47 adult U.S. residents (2.1%) were under some form of correctional supervision at the end of 2020, a decrease from 1 in 40 (2.5%) at the end of 2019.  This report summarizes data on populations supervised by probation or parole agencies and those incarcerated in state or federal prisons or in the custody of local jails. 

  • About 7 in 10 persons under correctional supervision were supervised in the community (3,890,400) at yearend 2020, while about 3 in 10 (1,691,600) were incarcerated in a state or federal prison or local jail.
  • The decline in the correctional population during 2020 was due to decreases in both the community supervision population (down 276,700 or 6.6%) and the incarcerated population (down 294,400 or 18.9%).
  • From 2010 to 2020, the correctional population decreased 22.4% (down 1,588,400 persons).
  • From 2010 to 2020, the decrease in the probation population accounted for 63.1% of the total decline in the correctional population.
  • Among persons under community supervision at yearend 2020, the majority were on probation (3,053,700), while a smaller portion were on parole (862,100).
  • During the past decade, the parole population was the only segment of the correctional population to increase, growing from 11.9% of those under correctional supervision in 2010 to 15.7% in 2020.
  • At yearend 2020, about 2,140 per 100,000 adult U.S. residents were under correctional supervision.
  • The incarceration rate dropped each year during the last decade, from 960 per 100,000 adult U.S. residents at yearend 2010 to 660 per 100,000 at yearend 2020.

March 31, 2022 at 05:32 PM | Permalink


Population of USA = 332,000,000. Number behind bars = 1,691,600. Percentage of population behind bars = one half of one percent.

Based on having ONE HALF OF ONE PERCENT of the population behind bars, and 99.5% not, the pro-criminal lobby constantly, and without a hint of embarrassment, trashes the United States as "incarceration nation."

That same lobby, with equal concern for the truth, also constantly blares that the USA imprisons a higher percentage of its people than any other country, even as it knows full well that the published incarceration figures for China, Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, Russia, and numerous others cannot possibly be trusted and in all likelihood are false.

Then they tell us how religiously faithful they are to "the data."

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 31, 2022 8:16:42 PM

It is a good to note, Bill, that our imprisoned population is down from its peak about a decade ago and that it has never been more than 1% of the total adult population. But we still imprison roughly 4X per capita the number that the US imprisoned for most of the 20th Century (until the mass increase beginning at start of the Nixon era) AND we also imprison roughly 4X most western nations. I think it fair, based on those realities, to still call the US incarceration nation.

Even if you want to question the data from shady regimes and say our imprisonment rates are, in fact, somewhat more comparable to the likes of China, Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, Russia, that is still not very nice company. Those countries do not claim to prioritze fredom and liberty like we claim to. And data that we do have suggests we are truly a world leader here, and surely incarcerate more per capital than at least 95% of the nations in the world:

Since our country charted a constitution committed to the "Blessing of Liberty" and since Prez Lincoln rightly said our nation was "conceived in liberty," I think a true commitment to the Founders and Framers would lead one to be ever eager to see the US do comparatively a lot better. But maybe Americans cannot and should not really aspire to be as free a nation like Japan, which has an incarceration rate that is 1/10 what the US has.

Posted by: Doug B. | Mar 31, 2022 8:43:00 PM

Doug --

Do we call our country "Methodist nation"? If so, I never heard of it, and it would be nuts, notwithstanding that we have seven to eight times the number of Methodists here than we do incarcerated people, and we have more Methodists than any other country. (In case you're wondering, we have between 12,000,000 and 15,000,000 Methodists).

Nor am I entirely comfortable with your comparing the US only to caucasian (you say "western") countries. Why so limited? Are non-caucasian countries somehow inferior? Why is that?

"Even if you want to question the data from shady regimes and say our imprisonment rates are, in fact, somewhat more comparable to the likes of China, Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, Russia, that is still not very nice company."

Where did I say our imprisonment rates are "comparable" to those in the specified countries? As I attempted to make crystal clear, I have no idea (and I suspect you don't either) what the actual incarceration rate is in any of them, so I wouldn't know what the comparison would be. But one way or the other, my point remains unrefuted: The sentencing reform side cannot possibly say that the US has the highest incarceration rate in the world, because they don't know what the incarceration rate is in any number of other countries, including some big ones. They're just blowing smoke in order to smear the United States. That is, as you would say, "not very nice." It's also dishonest.

In fact, America is (still for the moment) a free country. Yes, some criminals (a small minority of them) are in prison, but they are there mainly because of their own risible choices, not ours. If they would make better choices
-- like not stealing stuff and dealing honestly with other people -- the prison population would plummet. Do you disagree?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 2, 2022 3:39:29 PM

Bill, crime rates have plummeted over the last quarter century --- FBI index crimes in 2019 were roughly half of what they were in 1991. But the US incarcerated population doubled over that time from roughly 1 million to 2 million. So, sadly, I am not confident that in the US a lot less crime will mean a lot less imprisonment.

I am confident that it is not dishonest to claim that the US now has an incarceration rate that is 4 times higher than it had for most of the 20th century AND still has the highest KNOWN incarceration rate in the world. We do not look so good if we think caging people is bad when we compare the US to countries throughout the ENTIRE world, as I did with my prior link and will do so again: https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/incarceration-rates-by-country

You are welcome to say you are proud of our historically and globally high incarceration rates, but you are the one being dishonest if seeking to obfuscate the reality that the US now has historically and globally high incarceration rates.

Posted by: Doug B. | Apr 2, 2022 7:14:55 PM

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