JAIL POPULATIONS DECLINING MORE RAPIDLY THAN PRISONS
Washington, D.C. - An analysis of new data on jail populations in the U.S. shows that the number of people confined in local jails is declining at a more rapid rate than in state and federal prisons. The Sentencing Project finds that from 2007-2010 the incarceration rate in jails declined by more than three times the rate of prisons, 6.6% compared to 1.8%.See the DOJ report (pdf), which notes that: "Local jails admitted an estimated 11.8 million persons during the 12 months ending midyear 2011, down from 12.9 million persons admitted during the same period in 2010 and 13.6 million in 2008. The number of persons admitted in 2011 was about 16 times the size of the inmate population (735,601) at midyear 2011."
“The sustained decline in both prison and jail populations has produced no adverse effects on public safety,” stated Marc Mauer, Executive Director of The Sentencing Project. “We now have the opportunity to free up resources for public safety initiatives that do not depend on record rates of incarceration.”
The analysis is based on data released today by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) in its annual report of individuals in jail, Jail Inmates at Midyear 2011. The report shows a decline in the number of inmates for the third consecutive year. In its reports, BJS provides figures for jail populations at midyear and for prison populations at the year’s end. Jails are local facilities that generally house persons awaiting trial or serving short sentences, while prisons are run by state and federal governments to confine persons sentenced to one year or more of incarceration.
The BJS report also documents a sharp 23.4% reduction in the number of juveniles housed in adult jails between 2008-2011. The practice of housing juveniles with adults has come under criticism from a broad range of organizations because of increased exposure to violence and abuse.
The Sentencing Project is a national non-profit organization engaged in research and advocacy on criminal justice policy.
Surprisingly, the reduction does NOT stem from expanded diversion programs. Nationwide, 62,816 defendants were "supervised outside of a jail facility" at mid-year 2011, down from 72,852 at the same point in 2008.
Inmates held on immigration detainers were one of the few countervailing trends: ICE detainers accounted for 3.3% of local jail inmates in 2011 nationwide, compared to 1.7% in 2005 (the 21st century floor).
Exceeding the national trend, Texas jail populations have reduced 9.5% overall since 2008, according to the Commission on Jail Standards, with Harris and Bexar Counties registering especially significant declines. Grits compiled this data (which includes prisoners housed out of county) from TCJS reports from the last five Aprils:
By arbitrarily picking April as the measuring stick, these data likely understate Texas' true jail population decline since jail populations max out in the summer. According to press reports, e.g., Harris County's jail population topped out at more than 12,000, including out of county inmates.
I'm curious: Why do readers think jail population declines (and smaller reductions in the prison incarceration rate) took so long to materialize after crime began to go down 20 years ago? Does it have more to do with crime trends or how localities are processing cases pretrial (personal bonds, GPS monitoring, etc.)? Are recent reductions sustainable or a mere blip on the radar?
Grits' sense is that these reductions represent just the beginning of what's possible. IMO there's a lot more slack in the system to take up, and a lot more county budget savings to be had from jail population reductions if local officials - particularly those concerned with high taxes - will embrace the meme.
See related, recent Grits posts: