Smallest Decrease in Prison Population in 4 Years

Criminal Defense Attorney take on Antiquated Incarceration Approach

It’s hardly ground-breaking to assert that the United States is a nation programmed to send people to prison, particularly people who are poor and minorities. However, the recent data might be indicating that we are now more comfortable considering alternatives to incarceration, which is very interesting to this attorney from a criminal defense perspective. On Thursday, the Bureau of Justice Statistics announced that in 2012, the total U.S. correctional population (people on probation, parole, in prison or jail) decreased for the fourth consecutive year (down 51,000 offenders or 0.7 percent). No need to celebrate, this was the smallest decrease since 2009!

Nearly the entire drop in the total correctional population during 2012 was due to a decline in the number of probationers (down 38,300) and prisoners held in the physical custody of state or federal prisons (down 21,100). The parole population (down 500) remained relatively stable during 2012 while the jail population (up 8,900) was the only correctional population to increase.

A year ago, about 6.94 million people were supervised by the U.S. adult correctional systems, which was the equivalent to about 1 in 35 adults–the lowest rate since 1997. About 3.94 million offenders were on probation while 851,200 were on parole. Around 1.35 million where incarcerated in state prisons, 217,800 in federal prisons and 744,500 in local jails.

A decrease in prison admissions drove the decline in the U.S. prison population during 2012. A total of 609,800 offenders were admitted to state or federal prisons in 2012, the lowest number since 1999, while the number of offenders released from prison in 2012 (637,400) exceeded admissions for the fourth consecutive year. Releases from federal prison exceeded admissions for the first time since 1980—is Booker taking root?

Other findings include —


• Four states—Georgia, Michigan, New York and North Carolina—accounted for 51 percent of the total decrease in the probation population.

• Four states—Washington, Ohio, Tennessee and Idaho—reported the largest increases in probationers.

• Most characteristics of probationers remained stable since 2000-more than half (54 percent) were non-Hispanic white, about a third (30 percent) were non-Hispanic black and three-quarters (76 percent) were male offenders.


• The federal prison system had the largest prison population (196,600 inmates) in 2012, followed by Texas (157,900), California (134,200), Florida (101,900) and New York (54,100).

• California (down 10 percent) had the largest prison population decrease in 2012, followed by Arkansas (down 9 percent), Wisconsin and Colorado (down 7 percent each).

• Overall, black males were 6 times and Hispanic males 2.5 times more likely to be imprisoned than white males in 2012.

• Black males ages 18 to 19 were almost 9.5 times more likely than their white male counterparts to be in prison. Among new court commitments to state prison, more than a third each of black and Hispanic offenders, and a quarter of white offenders were convicted of a violent offense.

• Between 1991 and 2011, the number of females admitted to state prison for newly committed violent offenses increased 83 percent.