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New Report: US Prison Populations Increase, Number of Youth in Prisons Declines

Posted in 2014, Research & Policy Monday, 22 September 2014

New Report: US Prison Populations Increase, Number of Youth in Prisons Declines

A recent report released by the Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), reveals that the U.S. prison population has increased for the first time since 2009. The report, “Prisoners in 2013” notes that state and federal prisons held approximately 1,574,700 prisoners on December 31, 2013, an increase of about 4,300 prisoners from year-end 2012.

This reversal in a three year trend of declining prison population rates is due to an increase in 2013 of 6,300 inmates in the state prison population. This is a significant change from a similar BJS report published about two years ago, “Prisoners in 2011,” which displayed a decline of 21,614 state prisoners at year-end 2011.

One noteworthy difference highlighted in the two reports was the California imprisonment rates. A Supreme Court ruling in 2011 requiring California to reduce its prison population resulted in a decline of 15,188 sentenced inmates from 2010 to 2011 and amounted to seventy percent of the decrease in the sentenced U.S. state prison population in 2011. The California prison population continued to decrease in 2012 contributing to the decline in the national incarceration rate. However, in 2013 the California prison population remained stable. In addition, while federal prison releases outnumbered admissions in 2013, the total number of admissions to state prisons exceeded releases for the first time since 2009. This is a change from the 2011 report which showed that the number of releases from both state and federal prisons was greater than the number of admissions.

On a brighter note, 2013 saw the first decrease in the federal prison population since 1980 which partially offset this increase in state prison populations. Also, the U.S. population grew at a faster rate than the prison population so, while the total number of people in state and federal prisons increased, the imprisonment rate actually declined slightly in 2013.

Number of Youth in Prisons Declines

Another important and promising finding from the recent report is that fewer youth were held in the custody of adult prisons in 2013. States held 1,200 youth in adult prison facilities at the close of 2013 which was nearly a 70% decrease from 2000. Prisoners age 17 or younger totaled less than a tenth of a percent of inmates in state prisons. Florida and New York held the majority of these inmates and 96% of them were males. The Federal Bureau of Prisons does not place youth age 17 and younger in the general prison population, these inmates are housed in separate contract facilities, but according to the 2013 report, the number of youth in these contract facilities also decreased by 58% since 2005. The 2011 report did not specifically comment on youth prison rates but the numbers reported in the 2013 indicate a shift in the right direction.

Despite these improvements in youth prison rates, similar racial discrepancies persisted in both the 2011 and 2013 report. Both reports indicate imprisonment rates of about 0.5% of all white male U.S. residents but around 3% for black males while Hispanic males were imprisoned at a rate of approximately 1.2% in 2011 and 1% in 2013.

While the statistics in this recent report indicate a few encouraging improvements in 2013, they still raise serious concerns about prison rates in the U.S., particularly at the state level.