|US Prison Population Declined by 88,000 - Most Are Violent Or Repeat Offenders|
|By Leonard A. Sipes, Jr.|
After years of increases in the raw numbers (high from 2007 to 2011) and percentages (rates) of federal and state prison inmates, the prison population declined to historic lows in 2015.
The inmate population reached a historic high of 1,615,000 in 2009; currently the number is 1,527,000 in 2015, a drop of 88,000.
A philosophical battle: A battle for the hearts and minds of the American public and criminal justice community has been waged for decades with the philosophical argument that the United States over-incarcerates.
Support for this argument came from the nation’s governors who felt that too much of their budgets were directed to corrections.
Crime rising: We are now seeing historic declines in incarceration just as violent crime continues to rise in the United States in 2015 and probably 2016, see Crime Rates-Crime in America. It will be interesting to see if incarceration declines continue under the Trump administration.
Cut 50: There are a wide array of advocacy groups pressing for very deep cuts in prison populations (up to 50 percent), but to do that, we would have to include violent offenders and multi-repeat offenders.
Most are violent: Fifty-three percent of state prisoners are currently serving time for violent offenses. If you include past arrests and convictions, that percentage would increase substantially. If you include repeat arrests, convictions and sentences, it would include the vast majority of the prison population.
Releases are flat: It’s interesting that those released from state prisons showed little change, which means that intakes are down. This is somewhat expected due to crime rates and totals being at historic lows for over two decades (yes-it’s up for 2015 and probably 2016).
Fewer returns from parole and probation: But it also has something to do with those on parole and probation returning to incarceration. In 2015, the rate of re-incarceration for those previously released from prison was 14 exits per 100. The rate remained unchanged from 2013 to 2014 but declined from 25 per 100 in 2005. There has been a steady decrease in the use of incarceration for those on parole since 2005, see Returns to Incarceration-Crime in America.
If you take a look at those returning from parole and probation supervision back to incarceration, the numbers for individual states are scattered and dispersed to such a degree as to indicate that violations are partially driven by states doing whatever they can to keep people in the community, and not violate those on community supervision.
As stated, governors throughout the country are insisting that correctional agencies are straining state budgets.
The easiest way for correctional agencies to stay within budget is to not revoke so many people on parole and probation supervision. There are an endless number of national advocacy groups encouraging that strategy.
Thus we have a person with twenty violations of his community supervision (i.e., drug positives, minor arrests, not obeying stay away orders etc.) and in the past, he would have faced revocation. If we bounce that number up to forty violations, we dramatically increase that person’s odds for “successful” completion of supervision.
For example, in 2015, new court commitments (crimes) made up 66% (49,600) of admissions in Texas, 91% (42,600) in the federal system, 88% (30,700) in California, and 97% (29,700) in Florida. In comparison, violations of post-custody supervision (parole supervision) programs made up more than 60% each of admissions in Washington, Vermont, and Idaho.
In social media forums, correctional workers clearly state that they are violating fewer offenders not because parolees are doing better, but it’s now harder to return them to prison. Considering national recidivism data, that means increased public safety risks.
Sentencing reform: Finally, sentencing reform has been an ongoing effort in most states with an emphasis of diverting lower-level offenders from prison and reserving prison for violent or repeat violent offenders. Some states (i.e., California) are diverting many convicted from prison to jails. As the DOJ report points out, this is having an impact.
At year-end 2015, the United States had an estimated 1,526,800 prisoners under the jurisdiction of state and federal correctional authorities.
This was the smallest U.S. prison population since 2005 (1,525,900 prisoners).
The prison population decreased by more than 2% from the number of prisoners held in December 2014.
This was the largest decline in the number of persons under the jurisdiction of state or federal correctional authorities since 1978.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) had jurisdiction over 196,500 prisoners at year-end 2015, a decrease of 14,100 prisoners from yearend 2014. This was the third consecutive year that the federal prison population declined and the lowest number of federal prisoners since 2006 (193,000).
This decrease in federal prisoners accounted for 40% of the total change in the U.S. prison population.
The imprisonment rate in the United States decreased 3%, from 471 prisoners per 100,000 U.S. residents of all ages in 2014 to 458 prisoners per 100,000 in 2015.
State and federal prisons admitted 17,800 fewer prisoners in 2015 and released 4,700 more than in 2014.
More than half of prisoners in state prisons (53%) at year-end 2014 were serving sentences for violent offenses, the most recent year for which data are available.
States held 21,400 fewer prisoners at year-end 2015 than 2014 (down almost 2%). Twenty-nine states showed decreases in the yearend prison population between 2014 and 2015.
Six states showed decreases of more than 1,000 prisoners in 2015, including California (down 6,500 or almost 5%), Texas (down 2,100 or 1%), Indiana (down 1,900 or 7%), Louisiana (down 1,700 or 4%), Florida (down 1,400 or 1%), and New Jersey (down 1,100 or 5%).
Of the 18 state prison populations that grew between 2014 and 2015, Oklahoma (900 more prisoners at year-end 2015) and Virginia (up 860) had the largest increases in the number of prisoners, while the smaller jurisdiction of North Dakota (up 4%) had the most growth as a percentage of its population.
State and federal prisoners sentenced to more than 1 year declined for the second consecutive year
From December 31, 2014 to December 31, 2015, the number of state and federal prisoners who were sentenced to more than 1 year declined by 30,900, a 2% decrease.
Blacks and Hispanics sentenced to more than 1 year in state or federal prison declined in 2015
At year-end 2015, there were 523,000 non-Hispanic black prisoners sentenced to more than 1 year under state or federal correctional authority. This was a 3% decrease from yearend 2014 and a 9% decline from year-end 2005.
The number of non-Hispanic white prisoners sentenced to more than 1 year was virtually unchanged between 2005 (497,600 prisoners) and 2015 (499,400 prisoners). Hispanic prisoners sentenced to more than 1 year declined 2% between 2014 and 2015 and were down by 8% between 2010 and 2015
At year-end 2015, the imprisonment rate for sentenced prisoners of all ages was the lowest since 1997
At year-end 2015, there were 458 prisoners sentenced to more than 1 year in state or federal prison per 100,000 U.S. residents of all ages. The imprisonment rate for the U.S. population of all ages was the lowest since 1997 (444 per 100,000 U.S. residents).
The imprisonment rates decreased for all races from 2014 to 2015
In 2015, imprisonment rates for white, black, and Hispanic adults were at their lowest levels since 2005. Between December 31, 2014, and December 31, 2015, the rate of imprisonment for black adults decreased 4% (from 1,824 per 100,000 in 2014 to 1,745 in 2015).
The rate for Hispanic adults decreased 5%, from 860 per 100,000 to 820. The rate for whites also declined, from 317 per 100,000 U.S. residents age 18 or older in 2014 to 312 per 100,000 in 2015.
State and federal correctional authorities admitted 17,800 fewer prisoners in 2015 than in 2014
Federal and state correctional authorities admitted a total of 608,300 prisoners sentenced to more than 1 year in 2015, including 429,100 new court commitments.
This represented a 3% decrease from the number of prison admissions (626,100) in 2014.
In 2015, new court commitments of prisoners sentenced to more than 1 year accounted for 71% of all U.S. prison admissions, 91% of the federal system’s admissions, and 69% of admissions to state prisons.
Admissions of persons who were on community supervision following a previous prison term, which included both new offenses and supervision term violations, made up the majority of the remaining admissions.
In 2015, new court commitments made up 66% (49,600) of admissions in Texas, 91% (42,600) in the federal system, 88% (30,700) in California, and 97% (29,700) in Florida. In comparison, violations of post-custody supervision programs made up more than 60% each of admissions in Washington, Vermont, and Idaho.
Correctional authorities released 4,700 more prisoners from state and federal prisons in 2015 than in 2014
The total number of prisoners released by state and federal correctional authorities was largely unchanged between 2014 and 2015 (increasing by 4,700 releases or 1%).
A total of 60,200 prisoners were released from federal prison (up 10% from 2014), and 580,900 prisoners were released from state prisons (down less than 1% from 2014).
Fifty-three percent of state prisoners were serving time for violent offenses
More than half (53% or 696,900 prisoners) of all state prisoners sentenced to more than 1 year on December 31, 2014 (the most recent year for which state prison offense data are available) were serving sentences for violent offenses on their current term of imprisonment
Source: Prisoners, 2015, USDOJ
Reprinted with permission from http://crimeinamerica.net.
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Leonard A. Sipes, Jr has thirty-five years of experience supervising public affairs for national and state criminal justice agencies. He is the Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse and the Former Director of Information Management for the National Crime Prevention Council. He has a Post Master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University and is the author of the book "Success With the Media". He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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